The Man is an audio novel set in the first decades of the 20th century
The stories and original songs are written by Steve Gillette
Track 8. “Old Jim Crow”
Probably the most famous black performer up until then was Bert Williams, who worked with the Ziegfeld Follies. At one point they said he made ten thousand dollars a week. Story was, he and Florenz Ziegfeld went out for a drink and when Ziegfeld ordered a martini, the bartender said, “That’ll be fifty cents.”
Ziegfeld put a five dollar bill on the bar and said, “Give us each one and keep the change.” But the bar tender pointed to Bert and said, “His’ll be fifty dollars.” Bert said, “That’s good,” and took a roll out of his pocket. He peeled off five one-hundred dollar bills and said, “I’ll take ten.”
© 2010, Compass Rose Music, BMI
The Jim Crow persona is a theater character created by Thomas D. Rice in the 1820s. Rice traveled widely and popularized a racist depiction of African-Americans and their culture. The character was based on a folk trickster named Jim Crow that had long figured in stories popular among black slaves. Rice also adapted and popularized a traditional slave song called “Jump Jim Crow.”
The character is dressed in rags and wears a battered hat and torn shoes. Rice applied blackface makeup made of burnt cork to his face and hands and impersonated a very nimble and irreverently witty black field hand. In doing so, he pandered to the perception of African-Americans as lazy, untrustworthy, dumb, and unworthy of integration. By the end of the 19th century the term was applied to the laws that restricted the movement and activities of Negros; laws that enforced racial segregation to disenfranchise and remove political and economic gains made by black people during Reconstruction.
It’s the unfairness of this that I focused on in my song, the idea that this fictional character was being used to justify the perpetuation of inequality. In a sense, blaming the victim. But in personifying the Jim Crow laws as the villain, I may have confused the listener and inhibited his or her empathy with the downtrodden. This sort of thing can be confusing. Something for songwriters to think about.
Musically the song is a straight eight bar blues in the key of C. The chord progression is one bar each of C, G, F and F minor, then just a half bar each of C, A, D, G, and C, F, C, G. Think about the way that the F minor, (the iv chord) uses the flatted third of the blues scale.
Here are the lyrics:
Well old Jim Crow, he don’t know
Plants his roses where the flowers won’t grow
Give me nothin’ I can use
Nothin’ but a lifetime of the blues.
Old Jim Crow, seems so long ago
Said he wadn’t ever gonna trouble me no more
I got nothing left to lose
Nothin’ but a lifetime of the blues.
From the book:
Our little guy was such a joy in our lives. He was just getting into that stage when the 'why' questions lead on endlessly to other 'whys' and we went to great lengths to indulge him. But then we would push back. We’d say, “Well now, let’s see.”
When he asked why the moon keeps changing her shape, Lorraine and I looked at each other in surprise. Where did he get that? That feminine pronoun for the moon? Who said anything like that?
He had big ears, I mean in the sense that he heard everything, and words would come back to us at the oddest times. But had he heard the moon referred to as a woman? I always loved that line from the Scottish ballad, "Sir Patrick Spens,” that went “Last night I saw the new moon, with the old moon in her arms" but I didn't remember any occasion where Little Johnny would have heard that.
Still, we took him at his word and pencils and paper came out, and diagrams were made of the earth and moon and the sun and how they would change positions in a celestial dance. Soon we realized that we were overwhelming the little mind with concepts that had only relatively recently been worked out by the astronomers. Still he seemed to master some aspects of it, and for a time the 'why' reflex had been pacified.
Both sets of grandparents doted on him. Mary had become quite a baker in the years since our austerity, and she plied him with treats, which we made efforts to discourage while enjoying them ourselves. Jack already had him imitating his left hand on the piano. Johnny would sit beside Jack on the piano bench and watch for the lowest note, and as quickly as he could, he'd strike the same note an octave lower. His timing was silly, of course at first, but eventually he would anticipate the pattern and before we knew it, he was playing a reasonably musical bass part to Jack's boogie woogie.
Lorraine's mom, Yvonne would get right down on the floor with him and help him find the right block or the right piece of the puzzle, or to offer a lap when he got sleepy. She was remarkably fit. She had volunteered with the federal program of the Women’s Land Army of America (WLAA.) She worked in her own small garden, and in the larger community garden. The program was modeled on the British Women’s Land Army created to replace male agricultural workers who were called up to the military. WLAA members were sometimes known as “farmerettes.” Lorraine and her mom were involved from the beginning.
New York Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer conducted raids of suspected ‘reds’ starting on New Years Day 1920. Six thousand were arrested the first day, and two thousand the next. Most of the charges did not hold up. He said, “The Department of Justice has undertaken to tear out the radical seeds that have entangled American ideas; the IWW, the most radical socialists, the misguided anarchists, the moral perverts and the hysterical neurasthenic women who abound in communism.” Lorraine bristled at at least five of those assertions. She said he was an idiot.
On January 5th, the Boston Red Sox agreed to sell Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for $100,000, plus a $385,000 loan. Ruth hit 54 home runs to everybody’s amazement. The previous record was 25. He asked to have his salary doubled to $20,000.
On January 17th Prohibition began as the Volstead Act, the eighteenth amendment to the Constitution, became the law. Nobody quite knew what to expect. At first it seemed pretty innocuous. The act allowed wine and cider to be made from fruit at home, but not beer. Up to 200 gallons of wine and cider per year could be made. Some vineyards grew grapes for home use.
Doctors were able to prescribe medicinal alcohol for their patients. After just six months of prohibition, over 15,000 doctors and 57,000 pharmacists received licenses to prescribe or sell medicinal alcohol. Prohibition was successful in reducing the amount of liquor consumed. Cirrhosis death rates, admissions to state mental hospitals for alcoholic psychosis, arrests for public drunkenness, and rates of absenteeism all declined. There was to be much more to the story of prohibition.
On January 19, the American Civil Liberties Union was founded "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States." Its focus was on freedom of speech, primarily for anti-war protesters. It was founded in response to the Palmer raids, which saw thousands of radicals arrested in mass dragnets which violated their constitutional search and seizures protection.
We came to learn about the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. It severely shackled German industry. It deprived Germany of control over its own affairs. It demanded $33 billion in reparations from the destitute German people. In an article in The New Republic called "The Economic Consequences of the Peace," a young British economist named John Maynard Keynes called Wilson a fool, a “blind and deaf Don Quixote.” Keynes pointed out that the peace treaty merely continued the deprivations of wartime, warning that it would bring misery to Europe. He said it would cause “the rapid depression of the standard of life of the European populations to a point which will mean actual starvation.”
Wilson believed that any shortcomings of the terms of the peace could be addressed by the establishment of the League of Nations, since any problem created by the treaty, he reasoned, could be solved by the League. Only the League, he thought, could make peace last. Two days after returning to the United States, he delivered the Treaty of Versailles to the Senate and explained its provisions, including the League of Nations, asking, “Dare we reject it and break the heart of the world?”
In the Senate, what little support Wilson had came from fellow Democrats; Republicans proved implacable. The Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Henry Cabot Lodge, had the 264-page treaty printed, announced that he would convene hearings on the subject, and then all but tabled the matter, stonewalling for two weeks while he had every word read aloud.
Wilson, still suffering with the flu he had caught in Paris, decided to take his case to the nation and left Washington on September 3, 1919, for a seventeen-state train tour. “I promised our soldiers, when I asked them to take up arms, that it was a war to end wars,” he told his wife. “If I do not do all in my power to put the Treaty into effect, I will be a slacker and never able to look those boys in the eye.”
In Nevada, his face began to twitch; in Utah, he sweated through his suit; by Wyoming he was incoherent. Finally, in Colorado, on October 2, 1919, he stumbled while mounting the stage. “I seem to have gone to pieces,” he said. He lost the use of his left side. For five months, he was hidden in the West Wing of the White House, unseen, even by his cabinet. He was unable to engage with members of the Senate, and when he did not respond to the compromises that the Senate imposed on membership in the League of Nations, in March they voted it down.
On February 12, the Conference of London had begun. The leaders of the United Kingdom, France and Italy met to plan the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire.
On February 24, Adolf Hitler presented his National Socialist Program in Munich to the German Workers’ Party. The party renamed itself the Nationalsozialistische Deutche Argeiterpartei, the Nazi Party.
That summer, Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association met in New York, and 25,000 people attended, including Rainy and me.
The Nineteenth Amendment, ratified in August 1920, meant that women were able to vote for the first time in a National election. The slate of candidates included Harding and Coolidge, opposed by the Democrats W. W. Cox and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Eugene V. Debs was the Socialist candidate. He was in prison but received votes nonetheless.
Al Jolson’s name appeared on the sheet music for Harding’s campaign song, “Harding You’re the Man for Us.” It’s doubtful that Jolson actually wrote it, but his popularity did help to circulate the publication. Not that it was needed, Harding defeated Cox 16 million votes to 9 million. Jolson’s recording of “My Mammy,” was a huge success.
In August, Paul Whiteman and his Ambassador Orchestra recorded "Whispering." This was his first recording for the Victor Talking Machine Company. It was an enormous hit. It stayed at number 1 for eleven weeks and sold over two million records. “Japanese Sandman” was on the ‘B’ side, and both were played incessantly to become familiar to everyone in the country. This success became the basis for Whiteman’s building a music company that surpassed any before its time.
At noon on September 16th a bomb was detonated on a horse-drawn cart in the financial district of Wall Street. The plotters had employed two bombs. The first brought out a large crowd so that the carnage of the second bomb was that much greater. 38 people died in the two blasts and 143 were seriously injured. The bombing was never solved, although investigators believed it was carried out by followers of the Italian anarchist Luigi Galleani.
Also in September, eight Chicago White Sox players were indicted for fixing the 1919 World Series. A young boy walked up to Shoeless Joe Jackson and begged, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” With just a few games left in the season, as the Cleveland Indians and the White Sox were battling for first place, the Chicago owner suspended the eight players. Cleveland finished two games ahead of Chicago and three games ahead of the Yankees to win their first American League pennant.
In October, Cleveland beat the Brooklyn Dodgers five games to two to win the Series. In game 5, Bill Wambsganss, the Cleveland second baseman, made the first unassisted triple play in a World Series. Lorraine explained to me that he had caught a line drive hit by Clarence Mitchell, he quickly stepped on second base to put Pete Kilduff out before he could return to the base, and then tagged Otto Miller coming from first. That series also saw the first grand-slam home run in World Series history when Elmer Smith hit a home run with bases loaded.
Once a week we'd visit Lorraine's parents for dinner. Sometimes these occasions included other Columbia faculty members and even students, especially if the student was from some exotic place like Pakistan or the Belgian Congo. We often shared the table with her parents’ best friends, Don and Fiona Embry. Dr. Embry was a professor of economics, and had some pretty controversial theories about the role of money in recent international affairs.
In these first months after the Armistice, there were so many topics of concern. Often the discussion turned to the Treaty of Versailles, Wilson's Fourteen Points and his hopes for the establishment of a League of Nations.
In one discussion, Dr. Embry put forth the idea that Wilson was being manipulated by a powerful group of bankers and industrialists. He contended that Colonel Mandell House, who was an advisor to the president, was actually his handler, that he had groomed Wilson for the presidency from his Princeton days, and was part of a larger plan to establish a central bank in America and to bring us into the war.
Dr. Embry admitted that it was a radical idea, but only asked that we consider that Wilson might have been vulnerable to an appeal to do something for the world on the scale of a League of Nations, his dream, while in reality, he would be kept from achieving that dream after having served his masters and outlived his usefulness.
Colonel House, who was not a colonel at all, actually lived in the White House. He was Wilson’s constant minder and took his marching orders from the circle of financiers and politicians who had placed Wilson in office and had chosen his cabinet. In the treaty negotiations in France, House was guided by British foreign secretary Edward Grey.
According to this theory, Wilson was surrounded by powerful men who steered him to further their own agenda. One of these men was Robert Lansing, who replaced Bryan as Secretary of State. Lansing was a partner in the powerful Wall Street law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell. During the war he appointed his nephew John Foster Dulles to the War Industries Board, and at the war’s end, he sent him to France to help negotiate the treaty. The treaty was largely written by Sullivan & Cromwell where Dulles and his younger brother, Allen, were also partners.
A list of their clients read like a page of Who’s Who. It included the Rockefeller family and Standard Oil, J. P. Morgan, The United Fruit Company, and one of the more notorious robber barons of the day, E. H. Harriman, whom President Teddy Roosevelt called an “enemy of the Republic.” One of the great ironies was that the powerful team of players was able to entice Roosevelt to run against Taft in a third party effort which ensured the election of Wilson. Who else would have had the wherewithal to accomplish this kind of thing?
Dulles later helped to create the Dawes plan, which purported to alleviate some of the burden of war reparations on the German people, but also gave American companies leverage to invest in rebuilding German industry. This helped Germany to make their reparation payments to France and England, who owed that money to the US. Dulles went on to help the big American corporations build up Nazi Germany as a bulwark against Soviet Russia. This was because what all of these corporations feared most was communism, not Hitler.
Sadly, we became aware that the president had suffered what seemed like a series of strokes, and was unable to successfully influence the passage of the Treaty. Without the League of Nations the world would likely be driven into another war. Nobody seemed to know how this could be avoided.
Wilson was quite embittered at the end of his life, and came to regret many of the things he had acceded to. Most consequential of these, if you don’t count the war, was the creation of the Federal Reserve which turned America’s financial sovereignty over to a private bank. He was to write:
“The government, which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of the bosses and their employers, the special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy.” He also wrote that, “Some of the biggest men in the United States, in the field of commerce and manufacture, are afraid of somebody, are afraid of something. They know that there is a power somewhere so organized, so subtle, so watchful, so interlocked, so complete, so pervasive that they had better not speak above their breath when they speak in condemnation of it.”
© 2012, Compass Rose Music, BMI
The Eighteenth Amendment instituted prohibition in the U. S. in January of 1920.