History and art: Lyndon Johnson, Civil Rights, Vietnam, Stephen Stucky, the Dallas Symphony, and “August 4, 1964”

August 4, 2017

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Jaap van Zweden, presents the premiere of Steven Stucky's oratorio

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Jaap van Zweden, presents the premiere of Steven Stucky’s oratorio “August 4, 1964,” with soloists, from left, mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor, soprano Laquita Mitchell, tenor Vale Rideout, and baritone Robert Orth. Photo from the National Endowment for the Arts, Jason Kindig

In an era when our president and Congress appear unable to deal with one issue on a good day, it may be instructive to look back to a day upon which one U.S. President handled a lot, all at once.

On August 4, 1964, President Johnson awoke to the news that two U.S. Navy ships cruising in the Tonkin Gulf had been fired upon by North Vietnamese Navy gunboats; then the FBI called and announced that the bodies of three civil rights workers had been found, young men registering African Americans to vote in Mississippi.  Both of these events rumble through history like a Rocky Mountain avalanche to today; either was a make-or-break event for any presidency.  

Lyndon Johnson dealt with them both, the same day. And though Vietnam did not turn out for the best, it’s useful to note that Johnson’s call for Congress to grant authority to act on the Tonkin incident got results just three days later.

Sadly we note that Stephen Stucky, the composer of this great piece, died of brain cancer on February 14, 2016.

“August 4, 1964,” is an oratorio covering a remarkable and fantastic coincidence in the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.  On that day, the bodies of three civil rights workers who had been missing for nearly seven weeks, were found in shallow graves near Philadelphia, Mississippi — they were the victims of violence aimed at stopping blacks from voting.  The incident was a chief spur to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

And also on that day, the U.S.S. Maddox reported it had been attacked by gunboats of the North Vietnamese Navy, in the Gulf of Tonkin.  The Gulf of Tonkin incident led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave Johnson the authority to expand and escalate the war in Vietnam, which he did.

Cover for the CD of the Dallas Symphony's performance of Steven Stucky's

Cover for the CD of the Dallas Symphony’s Grammy-nominated performance of Steven Stucky’s “August 4, 1964,” Jaap van Zweden conducting.

The Dallas Symphony commissioned the work, from composer Steven Stucky and librettist Gene Scheer, in commemoration of President Johnson’s 100th birth anniversary — he would have been 100 on August 27, 2008.  The works were premiered in Dallas in 2008.

The music is outstanding, especially for a modern piece.  The Dallas Symphony played at its flashiest and most sober best, under the baton of new conductor Jaap van Zweden.  It was a spectacular performance.  According to the New York Times:

Mr. van Zweden, hailed in his debut as music director a week before, scored another triumph here. And the orchestra’s assured and gritty performance was rivaled by that of the large Dallas Symphony Chorus, both corporately and individually, in shifting solo snippets charting the course of the fateful day.

The strong cast, mildly amplified, was robustly led by the Johnson of Robert Orth, last heard as another president in John Adams’s “Nixon in China” in Denver in June. Laquita Mitchell and Kelley O’Conner, wearing period hats, were touching as Mrs. Chaney and Mrs. Goodman. Understandably, the taxing role of a high-strung McNamara took a small toll on the tenor of Vale Rideout in his late aria.

The entire thing deserves more commentary, perhaps soon.  There is stellar history in the choral piece.  And there is this:  Consider that Lyndon Johnson, the best legislator and second most-effective executive we ever had as president, got hit with these two crises the same day.  On the one hand the nation got the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, executive orders and government support to end segregation and the evils it created.  On the other hand, we got stuck with the disaster of the Vietnam War.

How would the nation fared had a lesser person been in the White House on that day?

(August 4 is a busy, busy day in history; much to think about.)

More: 

This is an encore post.

Much of this is an encore post.

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History in art: August 4, 1964, and the Dallas Symphony

August 4, 2014

On August 4, 1964, President Johnson awoke to the news that two U.S. Navy ships cruising in the Tonkin Gulf had been fired upon by North Vietnamese Navy gunboats; then the FBI called and announced that the bodies of three civil rights workers had been found, young men registering African Americans to vote in Mississippi.  Both of these events rumble through history like a Rocky Mountain avalanche to today; either was a make-or-break event for any presidency.  

Lyndon Johnson dealt with them both, the same day

“August 4, 1964,” is an oratorio covering a remarkable and fantastic coincidence in the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.  On that day, the bodies of three civil rights workers who had been missing for nearly seven weeks, were found in shallow graves near Philadelphia, Mississippi — they were the victims of violence aimed at stopping blacks from voting.  The incident was a chief spur to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

And also on that day, the U.S.S. Maddox reported it had been attacked by gunboats of the North Vietnamese Navy, in the Gulf of Tonkin.  The Gulf of Tonkin incident led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave Johnson the authority to expand and escalate the war in Vietnam, which he did.

Cover for the CD of the Dallas Symphony's performance of Steven Stucky's

Cover for the CD of the Dallas Symphony’s Grammy-nominated performance of Steven Stucky’s “August 4, 1964,” Jaap van Zweden conducting.

The Dallas Symphony commissioned the work, from composer Steven Stucky and librettist Gene Scheer, in commemoration of President Johnson’s 100th birth anniversary — he would have been 100 on August 27, 2008.  The works were premiered in Dallas in 2008.

The music is outstanding, especially for a modern piece.  The Dallas Symphony was at its flashiest and most sober best, under the baton of new conductor Jaap van Zweden.  It was a spectacular performance.  According to the New York Times:

Mr. van Zweden, hailed in his debut as music director a week before, scored another triumph here. And the orchestra’s assured and gritty performance was rivaled by that of the large Dallas Symphony Chorus, both corporately and individually, in shifting solo snippets charting the course of the fateful day.

The strong cast, mildly amplified, was robustly led by the Johnson of Robert Orth, last heard as another president in John Adams’s “Nixon in China” in Denver in June. Laquita Mitchell and Kelley O’Conner, wearing period hats, were touching as Mrs. Chaney and Mrs. Goodman. Understandably, the taxing role of a high-strung McNamara took a small toll on the tenor of Vale Rideout in his late aria.

The entire thing deserves more commentary, perhaps soon.  There is stellar history in the choral piece.  And there is this:  Consider that Lyndon Johnson, the best legislator and second most-effective executive we ever had as president, got hit with these two crises the same day.  On the one hand the nation got the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, executive orders and government support to end segregation and the evils it created.  On the other hand, we got stuck with the disaster of the Vietnam War.

How would the nation fared had a lesser person been in the White House on that day?

(August 4 is a busy, busy day in history; much to think about.)

More: 

This is an encore post.

Much of this is an encore post.


Little Rock’s Central High School, monument for civil rights

July 1, 2011

On the way out of Little Rock, Arkansas, after our day at the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, we stopped at the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site.

Little Rock Central High School in 2011, photo by Ed Darrell - use permitted with attribution

Little Rock Central High School in 2011, photo by Ed Darrell - use permitted with attribution

In 1957 nine African American kids tried to enroll at the school, breaking high school segregation in Little Rock.  After assuring President Dwight Eisenhower that the Arkansas National Guard would preserve the peace, Gov. Orval Faubus ordered the Guard to keep the students out.  Eisenhower called up the Guard to federal duty, and sent in the 101st Airborne from the regular U.S. Army to enforce the desegregation rules.  (Imagine any president doing that today!)

Pre-Art Deco front of Little Rock Central High School, built in 1927 - photo 2011 by Ed Darrell, use permitted with attribution

Pre-Art Deco front of Little Rock Central High School, built in 1927

Eventually Little Rock closed down all the schools for more than a year, and then federal courts ordered the schools opened, but desegregated.  One black student graduated that first year, Ernest Green.  The other eight all graduated, but from other schools around the world.

Today, it’s history, even in Little Rock.

Little Rock Central High remains in use today.  The National Park Service maintains a visitor center across the intersection from the school, with the old Magnolia Oil gas station, restored, on another corner, and a monument to the Little Rock Nine and civil rights on the remaining corner  (Magnolia Oil was absorbed into Mobil, which took on Magnolia’s flying horse emblem).  Our Dallas Independent School District, Teaching American History Grant group visited in mid-June.  Classes were out.   The visitor center remains open year around.

I was particularly curious to see whether and how the historical events, and the commemoration of them, affect the school itself.

Hallway inside Little Rock Central High School, photo by Ed Darrell, use permitted with attribution

The hallway outside the auditorium on the main floor of Little Rock Central High School.

On the inside, it’s a normal American high school — though in a grand building (I’d compare this to Ogden, Utah’s Ogden High School, a WPA-style project of a decade later’s construction, and a grand old building students and citizens have come to love).

Walls bear posters from student clubs.  Signs direct students to classes, or the auditorium, or the lunchroom.  The office looks more like the 1970s than the 1930s — I suspect it has been updated.  Ceilings have been redone since 1927, with newer fluorescent lighting and acoustic ceiling tiles, which only brings the architecture of 1927 down to 1970s box-style building standards.

Sign announcing a club meeting, Little Rock Central High School, 2011 - photo by Ed Darrell, use permitted with attribution

Walls of Little Rock Central carry notices of club meetings, much as in 1957. Some of the clubs have changed; the Gay-Straight Alliance probably was not active in LIttle Rock in 1957. Changes in U.S. culture in the 54 years since the Little Rock Nine, are reflected in the citizens and their actions, and not necessarily in the physical buildings.

It’s a working school, and not a monument on a pedestal frozen in time in any sense.

The school opened 30 years before it became an icon in the struggle for civil rights.   It is a massive structure, intended perhaps as a sort of monument to Little Rock and to Education.  NPS describes it at their website:

Built in 1927 as Little Rock Senior High School, Central was named “America’s Most Beautiful High School” by the American Institute of Architects.

Designed as a mix of Art Deco and Collegiate Gothic architectural styles, the building is two city blocks long and includes 150,000 square feet of floor space. More than 36 million pounds of concrete and 370 tons of steel went into the building’s construction. It cost $1.5 million to construct in 1927. The school received extensive publicity upon its opening. An article in the Arkansas Gazette said, “we have hundreds of journalists in our fair city for the dedication” of the new high school.

At its construction, Central’s auditorium seated 2,000 people and included a 60 x 160 ft. stage that doubled as the gymnasium. A new library was built in 1969 and named for longtime principal Jess W. Matthews.  In 1953 the school’s name was changed to Little Rock Central High School, in anticipation of construction of a new high school for white students, Hall High School in Pulaski Heights.

Computer classroom at Little Rock Central High, June 2011 - photo by Ed Darrell; use premitted with attribution

Computer classroom at Little Rock Central High - Historic preservation cannot prevent the updating of classroom technology. Wiring these classroomms for computer networks must be quite difficult.

I thought it interesting that the original construction did not include a library.  The auditorium’s doubling as a basketball gymnasium explains the massive stage — suitable for Las Vegas, really.  “Multi-purpose” building for schools originated much earlier than the 1970s as I had imagined.  The 1927 plans included neither the tendency to overbuild fschools for athletics, nor today’s pre-occupation with making schools appear as academic enclaves.

Visiting the site you can learn that the $1.5 million cost consumed the entire building budget for the district in 1927.  In keeping with the separate but equal doctrine of the times (see Plessy v. Ferguson), the Little Rock district “planned” to build a high school for blacks at the same time.  No money remained for either design or construction.

City leaders — I would imagine black city leaders, without much help from whites, but I may be too cynical — raised money to pay the same architects to create a complementary design for the school that would be called Dunbar.  Private funding paid for construction, too.  Exactly this sort of discrimination against blacks roiled across America from 1896 into the 1950s — only 16 states banned discrimination by race, with laws that were not always enforced.  These issues were key to several of the cases rolled into the Supreme Court appeal that we usually call simply The Brown Decision — facilities were involved in the cases in Topeka, Kansas, Prince Edward County, Virginia, Delaware, and Washington, D.C.

Looking at Little Rock Central High School today one can see the physical manifestation of the insidious separate but equal doctrine, and understand perhaps why it collided with the drive for rights in Little Rock, at the corner of 14th Street and South Park Street.  The school’s address is listed as 1500 South Park.  14th Street, running along the north edge of campus, has been renamed Daisy L. Gatson Bates Drive, in honor of the NAACP organizer who provided wise counsel, sage advice, a ride to school on most mornings and friendship to the students who made up the Little Rock Nine.

A large amount of history resides in Little Rock.

Ha! — You don’t need to rely on my photos at all.  Turns out NPS has a photo slide show at their website.  Note how my ideas paralleled theirs — and honest, I didn’t see that before our tour.  Actually, the auditorium curtains were closed, nor did we get into the balcony — the photo from NPS is much better than any I got.

Nota bene: The intense, three-year program of study of U.S. history for this three dozen or so teachers is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, a Teaching American History Grant.  Such grants fund the study of American history for teachers across the nation, to spur better teaching from greater understanding and knowledge of history.  These grants generally float at the top of the pool of programs to be cut first when the budget axes fall.  We are grateful to the Department of Education.  And while my writings here do not necessarily reflect the views of any of my employers, past or present, they should — and the Senate, Department of Education and others in the stream of funding would be well-advised to continue these grants.


Somebody get that on tape: August 4, 1964, and the Dallas Symphony

September 22, 2008

The piece just premiered — I hope some lucky recording company has the good sense to take the tapes of the Dallas Symphony’s performances this past week, and release them quick.

“August 4, 1964,” is an oratorio covering a remarkable and fantastic coincidence in the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.  On that day, the bodies of three civil rights workers who had been missing for nearly seven weeks, were found in shallow graves near Philadelphia, Mississippi — they were the victims of violence aimed at stopping blacks from voting.  The incident was a chief spur to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

And also on that day, the U.S.S. Maddox reported it had been attacked by gunboats of the North Vietnamese Navy, in the Gulf of Tonkin.  The Gulf of Tonkin incident led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave Johnson the authority to expand and escalate the war in Vietnam, which he did.

The Dallas Symphony commissioned the work, from composer Steven Stucky and librettist Gene Scheer, in commemoration of President Johnson’s 100th birth anniversary — he would have been 100 on August 27.

The music is outstanding, especially for a modern piece.  The Dallas Symphony was at its flashiest and most sober best, under the baton of new conductor Jaap van Zweden.  It was a spectacular performance.  According to the New York Times:

Mr. van Zweden, hailed in his debut as music director a week before, scored another triumph here. And the orchestra’s assured and gritty performance was rivaled by that of the large Dallas Symphony Chorus, both corporately and individually, in shifting solo snippets charting the course of the fateful day.

The strong cast, mildly amplified, was robustly led by the Johnson of Robert Orth, last heard as another president in John Adams’s “Nixon in China” in Denver in June. Laquita Mitchell and Kelley O’Conner, wearing period hats, were touching as Mrs. Chaney and Mrs. Goodman. Understandably, the taxing role of a high-strung McNamara took a small toll on the tenor of Vale Rideout in his late aria.

The entire thing deserves more commentary, perhaps soon.  There is stellar history in the choral piece.  And there is this:  Consider that Lyndon Johnson, the best legislator and second most-effective executive we ever had as president, got hit with these two crises the same day.  On the one hand the nation got the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, executive orders and government support to end segregation and the evils it created.  On the other hand, we got stuck with the disaster of the Vietnam War.

How would the nation fared had a lesser person been in the White House on that day?


Marriage rights and civil rights giant, Mildred Loving, 68

May 5, 2008

We learned today that Mildred Loving died Friday in Milford, Virginia.  She was 68.

2007 was the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court Decision in which she played a key role, Loving vs. Virginia. In that decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state laws against interracial marriage are unconstitutional.

The romance and marriage of Mildred and Richard Loving demonstrate the real human reasons behind advances in civil rights laws.  They left Virginia to avoid facing prosecution for having gotten married; but when they wanted to be closer to family, they wrote to then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. He referred them to the American Civil Liberties Union, who financed the case to get the law changed.

Richard and Mildred Loving, screen capture photo from HBO documentary,

Richard and Mildred Loving, screen capture photo from HBO documentary, “The Loving Story.”

See the post from last year on the anniversary of the decision. The Associated Press wrote today:

Peggy Fortune [daughter] said Loving, 68, died Friday at her home in rural Milford. She did not disclose the cause of death.

“I want (people) to remember her as being strong and brave yet humble — and believed in love,” Fortune told The Associated Press.

Loving and her white husband, Richard, changed history in 1967 when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld their right to marry. The ruling struck down laws banning racially mixed marriages in at least 17 states.

“There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the equal protection clause,” the court ruled in a unanimous decision.

Her husband died in 1975. Shy and soft-spoken, Loving shunned publicity and in a rare interview with The Associated Press last June, insisted she never wanted to be a hero — just a bride.

“It wasn’t my doing,” Loving said. “It was God’s work.”

Mildred Jeter was 11 when she and 17-year-old Richard began courting, according to Phyl Newbeck, a Vermont author who detailed the case in the 2004 book, “Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers.”

Richard died in 1975.

History loses another hero.

Update: Just as one more showing of how things have changed, this is the headline of the story of Mrs. Loving’s death in the Fredericksburg, Virginia, Free Lance-Star, the local newspaper in Mrs. Loving’s home county, Caroline County:  “CAROLINE HEROINE DIES

I’ll wager the Virginia headlines were quite not so glowing in 1967.


Former Arkansas teacher remembers, long before 1957

September 27, 2007

Poignant story from the Associated Press, via Teacher magazine, about the Emancipation Proclamation, picking cotton, Brown v. Board of Education, and education.


50 years after Little Rock: Lesson plans

September 27, 2007

Tolerance.org features a solid lesson plan on what the nation should have learned from the events in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957 — when nine African American students challenged segregation and sought to enroll at Little Rock’s Central High School. It’s timely — the actual anniversary is this month. This is a key point for Texas’s U.S. history standards:

September 2007 – This month, our nation marks the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine’s attempt to integrate schools. Have we really learned how to break down barriers?

This lesson plan is excerpted from the 2007-2008 Mix It Up Planner. Learn more about national Mix It Up at Lunch Day, to be held on Nov. 13, 2007!

Objectives:

  • Students will draw conclusions about boundary crossing from history and literature.
  • Students will identify boundaries in their classroom or school, cross those boundaries, report back and reflect on what they learned.

Tolerance.org carries several lesson plans teachers will find useful.


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