Saturday, October 11, 2014

Bronson L. "Bo" Parker Talks About The Pledge of Allegiance

As to biographical information, i. e., who I am; well I'm still trying to figure that one out. For more than half a century, I've hidden behind words, first as a news and sports reporter with a BS in Journalism from UT-Knoxville, my hometown.

Following that career, a quarter century was spent writing historical non-fiction.  So, it was with a lot of naiveté and way too much self confidence that I decided some five years ago to write a novel, a mystery. I managed to get a well-known mystery writer with some forty books published to review my first manuscript.  He sent me an eleven-page, single spaced letter. The first page and a half told me what I had done correctly.  The other nine and a half pages listed the things I needed to learn. I am still learning.

THE PROVIDENCE OF DEATH can be ordered as a POD trade paperback through Amazon, B&N or your local book stores, as well as an ebook for your Kindle.

The Pledge of Allegiance to the US flag is a popular subject. Ask Amazon for a list of books. The response will be over 75,000 titles. There is an adage that the more books and articles written on a historical subject; the higher will be the number of differences regarding facts. Research on the Pledge proved the truth of that adage. For what follows below, original documents or quotes from sources I deemed reputable, were used to separate fact from fiction.

Speaking of fiction: to those of you among Kaye’s readers who’ve asked about the second Joe McKibben novel, I can only say that a few of life’s surprises, including an unanticipated move to Raleigh, North Carolina, have created a longer delay than planned. I’m at that stage where Dorothy Parker (no relation) said, “I can’t write five words but that I change seven.”

The thirty-one-words in the Pledge probably represent America’s most widely known and most often recited phrase. However, what is not as well known is how the Pledge became a part of our culture. The original version, nine words shorter than the current version, first appeared in a Boston magazine titled The Youth’s Companion on September 8, 1892.

At this time in our history, less than three decades after the end of the Civil War, there were no state or federal regulations at to where the American flag could be displayed, or how it could be used. It has been written that beyond military bases, the flag was seldom seen at public venues.

Daniel Sharp Ford, owner and editor of the magazine want to change this through the publication’s premiums department.  For some time, one of the heavily promoted premiums had been the sale of the American flag to schools. The ultimate goal was to sell a flag to every school.  The Pledge and its proposed use was a logical next step in this plan.

Every morning, as envisioned by the magazine, students at each school would stand and recite the pledge as the flag was raised. To further involve students in the daily ritual, the magazine published what it called the pledge salute, to be performed by students while reciting the words. Instructions on performing the pledge included these directions.

“At the words, ‘to my Flag,’ the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.”

The first “official” use of the Pledge and salute would to be on opening day of the World’s Columbian Exposition, scheduled to open in Chicago in October 1892. It would an event to honor the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in America.

Officials at the magazine, led by the owner’s nephew by marriage, James Upham, and Francis Bellamy, a minister who had joined the magazine’s staff, began a campaign among national educators and politicians to gain support for the plan. It won the backing of the National Education Association, and President Benjamin Harrison who issued Presidential Proclamation 335.

It reads, in part, as follows:  “Now, therefore, I, Benjamin Harrison … do hereby appoint Friday, October 21, 1892, the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus as a general holiday for the people of the United States.”

[Note: In 1492, when Columbus recorded in his ship’s log that America had been reached on October 12th, the Julian Calendar (O.S.) was still in use.  The Gregorian Calendar (N.S.) had become the standard calendar used throughout most of the world at the time the proclamation was written. On the Gregorian calendar (N.S.), which dropped some dates, added a plan for leap years, and changed the beginning of the New Year, the 21st  (N.S.) aligns with the 12th  (O.S.). That seems to be the logic used to select the date for the proclamation.]

But construction at the expo site fell behind. The Chicago Historical Society offers this explanation. “Although dedication ceremonies were held on October 21, the fairgrounds were not opened to the public until May 1, 1893.”  Francis Bellamy is quoted as saying he heard the Pledge for the first time on the 21st when “4,000 high school boys in Boston roared it out together.”

The Pledge of Allegiance took the nation by storm, receiving overwhelming public acceptance and usage. Ford and his staff celebrated their success with a special edition of the magazine.

The first dispute regarding the Pledge focused on its authorship, a question that was not settled until 1957. In accordance with magazine policy, the author had not been identified when the Pledge was first published. However, it was a common assumption that Francis Bellamy wrote both the pledge and instructions for the salute.

After James Upham’s death in 1905, his family discovered documents that were presented to the public as proof that he, not Bellamy, wrote the pledge. In 1939 the United States Flag Association appointed a committee to heard arguments from the Bellamy and Upham families. The committee ruled that Bellamy was the author.

In 1956, when the question of authorship once again arose, the Library of Congress joined the fray. It appointed a panel to review the issue. A year later, the Library of Congress Legislative Reference Service issued a 148-page report, which in part was published in the Congressional Record for Sept. 11, 1957.

 “It is the opinion of the members of this committee that the author of the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag was Francis Bellamy of Rome, New York, and not James B. Upham of Malden, Massachusetts.”

In addition to the debate of authorship, other groups began in 1923 to “refine” the wording of the Pledge This action is described in an abstract written under the sponsorship of the Smithsonian Institution.

A National Flag Conference, presided over by the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution, ordained that ‘my flag’ should be changed to ‘the flag of the United States,’ lest immigrant children be unclear just which flag they were saluting.” The following year, the Flag Conference put a finer point of clarification on the issue further by adding “of America” after United States.

As the nation moved through the 1920s and into the 1930s, a national controversy arose¾not with the Pledge itself, but with the salute. Mussolini’s National Fascist Party in Italy, and later Hitler’s Nazi party in Germany, adopted the “Saluto Momano,” a salute used by leaders during the Roman Empire. Scenes showing this salute became a part of newsreels in American theatres.

The visual similarity became a point for debate in the public eye. Newspapers took sides. Some made the debate more contentious by publishing pictures of children giving the salute without the flag being shown. This was pointed to as proof that the salute showed support for the Nazi cause.

It was at this point in the Pledge’s history that the Jehovah’s Witnesses became part of the story. The group had been in existence since the 1870s, but events of the 1930s moved them front and center in the debate regarding the Pledge and the salute.

In 1933, Adolf Hitler ordered that Jehovah Witnesses in Germany be banned for their refusal to participate in saluting Nazi flags in schools and other events. Two years later, the leader of the Jehovah Witnesses in America denounced all flag salutes. He urged his followers to refuse compliance.

Later that year, in the fall of 1935, in Minersville, Pennsylvania, two students from a Jehovah’s Witness family refused to stand and say the pledge. The local school board expelled the students. Their parents sued, and won decisions in lower courts.

But the school district fought the battle up the judicial ladder to the U. S. Supreme Court. In 1940, the court agreed to hear Minersville School District v. Gobitis (“a printer's error enshrined a misspelling of the Gobitas family name in constitutional case law”). The court ruled in favor of the school district by an 8-1 margin. Yes, students could be required to stand and recite the pledge.

Jehovah Witnesses ignored the court’s ruling. Their continued refusal to stand and recite the pledge was based on their beliefs that forbade a pledge of allegiance to anything but God. What followed during the days after the Court decision led parts of the country into a dark moment in the nation’s history.

In a report to the Justice Department, the American Civil Liberties Union documented the violence. At least 1,500 Witnesses were physically attacked or harassed in over 300 locations, mostly in small rural towns. The report also included the following.

A mob of 2,500 burned the Kingdom Hall in Kennebunkport, Maine. In Litchfield, Illinois, police jailed sixty Witnesses, “ostensibly protecting them from their neighbors.”  In Parco, Wyoming, Witnesses were tarred and feathered.

American Legion posts organized to join the protest. Legion members “forced Witnesses from a trailer camp in Jackson, Mississippi and escorted them across state lines to Louisiana where they were passed from county to county, finally winding up in the vicinity of Dallas, Texas."

Others were “jailed for sedition, for distributing literature, for holding a parade, and for canvassing without a license.” There was one report of castration, but no documentation that any Witnesses were killed. However, as newspapers across the country carried reports on the acts of violence, a public backlash against the Supreme Court grew among the general population.

In 1943, the court found a way to end the national furor it had created. It agreed to hear the case entitled West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. By a 6-3 margin, the 1940 ruling was reversed. Students could not be punished for refusing to stand and recite the pledge. But the Court left many of the details regarding usage of the Pledge to individual states.

The issue of the “Saluto Momano” salute was put to rest on Dec. 22, 1942. Congress, through Federal legislation, commonly called the Flag Law, added the following language. The salute would be “standing with the right hand over the heart” during the recitation. The arm raising involved in the original salute was eliminated.

Adding “under God” to the Pledge became a controversial issue that has been debated to this day. An attorney, a chaplain in the Illinois Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, is given credit for first adding the phrase to the Pledge in the 1940s. The National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution officially recognized him as the originator with an Award of Merit.

The Board of Directors of the Knights of Columbus made the change official within its organization. In 1951, it adopted a resolution stating that “under God” would be a part of the pledge used to open KoC meetings.

Then began the campaign to make the change official via federal legislation. All efforts failed until Congress, with the urging of President Eisenhower, passed a bill adding “under God” to the Pledge. The president signed the bill on Flag Day, June 14, 1954.

Leaving details of administering the Pledge to individual states and adding the words “under God,” have fueled debates, disagreements, and lawsuits that are ongoing regarding the Pledge’s role in public schools. The headlines from a series of ten articles, published since 2011, in one publication, The Huffington Post, reflects the polarization of opinion that exists.

 “Make Recitation of Pledge of Allegiance Mandatory as an Educational Tool” (December 6, 2013)
 “Teacher Suspended For Making Student Say The Pledge Of Allegiance” (November 7, 2013)
 “School's Pledge Of Allegiance Canceled Because... Government Shutdown” (October 16, 2013)
 “Stand Up for Liberty by Sitting Out the Pledge of Allegiance” (June 3, 2013)
 “Ariz. Bill Requires Students To Swear Oath To Constitution Under God To Graduate” (January 28, 2013)
 “Michigan House Passes Pledge Of Allegiance, Flag Mandate” (September 18, 2012)
 “Nebraska To Require Public Schools To Allocate Time For Pledge Of Allegiance” (August 14, 2012)
 “State Senate Backs Bill Requiring Pledge Of Allegiance In Schools” (January 12, 2012)
 “Why One Group Wants This Out Of Schools” (November 8, 2011)
 “One Nation Under God?” (May 25, 2011)

While there appears to be no end in sight regarding differences of opinion as to the Pledge’s place in our public educational system, there is one important fact to remember. What started as an idea published in a magazine as a sales promotion has survived for 123 years without a single serious effort to seek the Pledge’s total elimination.


Columbus Day

Differences of opinion surrounding the Pledge also extend to Columbus Day. It did not become a federal holiday until 1937. But on October 12, 1899, “New York City’s Italian population organized a celebration of the discovery of America.” In 1907, Colorado became the first state to formally adopt October 12 as Columbus Day. The city has held a parade on that date since 1909 according to the parade organization’s website.
An area’s history determines on what date and how the day is observed. The official day varies between the 8th and the 14th, except one. Our forty-ninth state ignores Columbus Day to celebrate “Alaska Day” on October 18, the date in 1867 when Russia formally ceded the land to America.

Others bow to local history for a name.  Hawaii calls it “Discovers’ Day” to commemorate the Polynesian discovers of the islands. In South Dakota, it is called “Native American Day.” In California, some cities have hedged their bets by not taking sides. In Berkeley, Sebastopol, and Santa Cruz, it’s “Indigenous People’s Day.”

The Youth’s Companion

There is a bit of historical trivia associated with the name of the Boston firm that published the magazine, The Perry Mason & Co. This company name was a fictitious one, which may have been the reason it later became well known among fans of Earle Stanley Gardner. He has been quoted as saying that the magazine was a favorite of his when he was a small boy. Later, as a writer, he used the publishing company’s name for his now famous fictional character.

1 comment:

Vicki Lane said...

Fascinating, Bo! So, like Mother's Day, it all began as a sales promotion. How American!