Rachel Vardi: Local Leader

Rachel Vardi is a resident of Edgemont who has developed a Curriculum about The 1937 Cockburn’s Deed Covenant Trial and Joshua Cockburn’s life for Edgemont Junior/Senior High School’s eighth grade students. She was a rising sophomore (remote learning at the time) during the summer of 2020 when she first learned of my work. Rachel was interested in learning about Edgemont’s connection to Black History as a result of her interest in The Black Lives Matter Movement. In an effort to learn more about her town’s history with the Black community, she discovered my website.

At first Rachel attempted to name the Edgemont school auditorium after the Cockburns, as well as include a history display case outside of it. Like many Edgemont residents she had noticed the anchor on Fort Hill Road, but now that she knew there was a story of racial injustice attached to it she was hopeful her efforts would help forge a connection for Edgemont students to learn about a part of American History that is mostly unknown. Rachel offered an explanation for why Cockburn’s story was important to her: “It is important that our community learns about our past. It is only by increasing education of our unjust past that we can move forward together in order to create a more inclusive future. ” Though Rachel was unable to name the auditorium in the face of school policies, she came to believe a school curriculum would, after all, be a much more beneficial outcome. She worked with the school’s administration to push the idea forward and presented her proposal in front of the entire faculty to get their support. Rachel devised a three day curriculum that she taught to Edgemont eighth graders. She is going to be a senior at Edgemont High this year (2022-2023), so Edgemont’s middle school teachers will carry on with the curriculum about the Cockburns after she departs Edgemont for college.

Rachel is thrilled that her community has dedicated the time and resources to continue to educate students about Edgemont’s history. Rachel also has begun to work with the Director of Westchester Center for Racial Equity in order to expand her curriculum past just the Edgemont school district. She is currently working on a curriculum for elementary school students at the Westchester YMCA, and has already presented to high school students there as well. Writers need readers and I am pleased to have a person like Rachel discover my work and use it to educate young people about important stories like The Cockburn’s Deed Covenant Trial and Joshua Cockburn’s life before the trial. In an era of increasing censorship of civil rights history and stories about that history, Rachel Vardi is shedding light on darkness. Thank You, Rachel.

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Filed under 20th Century Civil Rights Incidents in Westchester County New York, Civil Rights in Scarsdale-Westchester County- New York, Joshua Cockburn

Marcus Garvey

In 1914  Marcus Garvey created The United Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.) in Kingston, Jamaica. His organization sought to improve the lives of black people through education, race pride and vocational endeavors. Garvey’s organization was unique because it identified itself as Negro at a time when upwordly mobile Jamaicans sought to identify themselves as anything other than black. While Garvey’s appeal to a large group of people whose ancestors had been slaves was comendable his love of pomp and circumstance and self aggrandizing gestures often supplanted the good works he and his organization promised. 

Garvey left Jamaica for the United States in 1916. After a difficult year in Manhattan, He first traveled to Booker T.Washington’s Tuskegee Institute with the expectation that he could find support for his fledgling United Negro Improvement Association ( U.N.I.A). It was Booker T.Washington’s autobiography Up From Slavery that had first inspired Garvey to become a race leader. Garvey was impressed with Tuskegee and the model it provided for agricultural science. However he received only cursory meetings with the school’s administrators. More instructional were his visits to 38 mostly southern states where he witnessed the powerful influence black preachers had on the lives of their congregations. He also experienced strict segregation and the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan thanks to the release of D.W.Griffith’s film Birth of A Nation. 

Garvey returned to Harlem with a firmer vision of the need for black separatism, black pride and black economic empowerment. He proclaimed that blacks from the American South were fortunate because the southern system of segregation demonstrated the need and importance of racial power. Rather than acquiesce to the white power structure, black people would aquire their own power through personal and economic self sufficiency. Ultimately Garvey would call upon his followers to establish a new homeland in Africa.  

During the years 1918-1919 Marcus Garvey became the most renowned militant propagandist for the Negro. Initially skeptical of black participation in the Great War, Garvey celebrated the accomplishments of the men of the Harlem Hellfighters, the black regiment that served heroically in France. After the war he embraced the new militancy among blacks who were subjected to all the injustices that they had supposedly been fighting against in Europe. Eleven black veterans were lynched in the south. Garvey began publishing the Negro World Newspaper with an eye towards distributing it to black people throughout the Atlantic World. When the West Indian Regiment staged a mutiny in Italy after being ordered to clean the white troops’ latrines, the British government blamed Garvey’s newspaper for inciting the black soldiers. 

The fact that a newspaper published in Harlem, New York City could impact a British regiment in Italy speaks to the power of Paul Gilroy’s Black Atlantic Counterculture of Modernity Thesis. Just as social media and the internet connect like minded groups throughout the world, so did Marcus Garvey’s U.N.I.A. newspapers connect black people throughout the Atlantic World. Gilroy goes so far as to postulate that the culture of the African Diaspora created by the transatlantic slave trade was distinct from any one nation, more like a ship sailing between Africa, Europe, The Caribbean and The Americas. 

Garvey’s militancy attracted many adherents during the chaotic Red Summer of 1919. Race Riots occurred throughout the United States, the Caribbean and The British Isles. For the first time blacks fought back. Garvey’s call for race empowerment appealed to many blacks. The U.N.I.A. was unique because it had no qualification for membership. Garvey’s organization was not restricted to members of a certain class. 

 In Harlem, Garvey’s U.N.I.A. founded a laundry, a cafeteria and The Phyllis Wheatley Hotel. Garvey invited Ida B.Wells to visit the U.N.I.A. in Manhattan. He showed her the hotel, cafeteria and laundromat, complaining that his employees were not always hard working or qualified enough for their work. For this reason Wells was astounded when Garvey announced his plan for an all Negro Black Star Shipping Line. Wells warned Garvey that the plan may be too bold for the moment. Garvey responded by having her escorted from the premises and put on the first train back to Chicago. 

As it turned out Wells was correct in her assertion that The Black Star Line was too much, too soon for Garvey to take on. However, it was the media attention paid to the idea of  an All Negro Shipping Line and the subsequent sales of Black Star Line Stocks that propelled Garvey and his U.N.I.A. to new heights of fame and attention. Unfortunately, Garvey became a demagogue, a man able to stir up his followers and raise a great deal of money while doing so, but not a man able to oversee a successful shipping line. 

Between 1919-1924 Garvey became recognized as the most influential leader of Negroes. He made enemies of white leaders who feared his influence over black people and black leaders for the same reason. His differences with the N.A.A.C.P intensified. He and his organization became more racist, seeking to advocate for stricter separation from whites and to undermine the idea that people of mixed race were true Negroes. This colorization issue peaked when Garvey visited the offices of the Ku Klux Klan while on a fundraising tour of the southern states in 1923. This is what a demagogue can do. Engage with the enemies of those he claims to represent as a show of his overall brilliance. Nothing ever comes of these engagements, just media attention that brings criticism from enemies and support and excuses from followers. As Garvey faced mail fraud charges and the prospect of imprisonment, violence ensued. Garveyites loyal to Marcus Garvey assassinated the Reverend James Eason, the leading African-American Garveyite in Louisiana. Although the assassins came from Garvey’s Harlem Headquarters it was claimed that the men had acted on their own initiative. Like demagogues before and after him, Garvey blamed his critics and members of other oppressed groups when he was sentenced to prison. For the first time he issued anti-Semitic statements because the judge who presided over his mail fraud trial was Jewish. Anti-Semitism was also used to explain away the fact that The U.N.I.A. lost its bid to purchase land and establish a place for Garveyites in Liberia, Africa. 

In 1925 Marcus Garvey began serving a prison term at the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia. His job at the penitentiary was cleaning bathrooms. In this way, White America made it clear its expectation that black people were meant for only the most manual service roles. Although Marcus Garvey had behaved in a fraudulent manner, the government’s evidence was an empty envelope, presumably used to sell stock in a ship that The Black Star Line did not have possession of. Author Colin Grant points out that Warren Harding’s Secretary of State Albert Bacon Fall received a much lighter sentence for The Teapot Dome Scandal, which was at the time the greatest financial fraud ever committed in The United States. 

Garvey was deported to Jamaica in 1927. Garvey’s U.N.I.A. fell apart without its leader present. By the 1930’s Garvey was struggling financially. He’d left Jamaica for London, England where he resorted to giving soapbox speeches in Hyde Park. Meanwhile, his former ship captain Joshua Cockburn became a wealthy real estate operator in Manhattan. Garvey blamed the complete failure of The Black Star Shipping Line and his U.N.I.A. on his first Ship Captain.  

Although Garvey and his U.N.I.A. lost influence, it is notable that the parents and grandparents of more recent civil rights leaders were Garveyites. In her autobiography Rosa Parks notes that her grandfather was a follower of Marcus Garvey. Malcolm X’s father was a Garveyite. Ruth Batson, a Boston civil rights leader who started the METCO Program for Boston area schools, recalled that her mother was a Black Star Nurse. Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. states on page 33 of his book Why We Can’t Wait:

After the First World War, Marcus Garvey made an appeal to the race that had the virtue of rejecting concepts of inferiority… His movement attained mass dimensions and released a powerful emotional response in the mind of the Negro. There was reason to be proud of their heritage as well as of their bitterly won achievements in America.

In popular culture, Marcus Garvey is venerated by the Caribbean Religion of Rastafarianism. Garvey and Halie Selasie make strange bedfellows, seeing as how Garvey celebrated Selasie at first, then criticized him. Selassie completely ignored Garvey and his contingent when he came to England after being exiled from Ethiopia. Sadly Selasie later completely ignored his starving people which led to a Communist Revolution in his country. Although he had been a powerful demagogue for a brief time during the early 1920s, Garvey did not stop advocating for black people after all power was taken from him. Marcus Garvey’s greatest contribution to Western Civilization is the idea that people of African Descent have a history and have talents that have been forsaken and taken for granted and that this condition must be remedied. Although he himself became mostly forgotten in The United States his influence can be seen in Africa where The Nation of Ghana adopted the colors of the Garveyite Flag into their own National Flag.  

At present, Marcus Garvey’s impact is different based on where in the Atlantic World one chooses to look. In the United States, he is venerated for his focus on black people’s unique place in American History, what Dr.King called their proud heritage, and bitterly won achievements. So Garveyism means Black Pride and knowledge of Black History. In the Caribbean, he is a native son, especially in Jamaica where his body has been interred at Hero’s Park in Kingston since 1963. In West Africa, Garvey is remembered as the voice of anti-colonialism. But during his own time at the height of his influence, he was a demagogue who met with the Ku Klux Klan in America, struggled to have any direct influence on political events in Jamaica and the Caribbean, and never set foot in Africa while running an organization whose meetings modeled the pomp and circumstance of The British Parliament. Marcus Garvey started with virtually nothing as the son of a former slave in Jamaica, became the leader of an Improvement Association and Shipping Line in The United States was jailed and deported to Jamaica, and died penniless in London, England. Garvey predicted his experience when writing about how he became a race leader:

I read Up from Slavery…and then my doom-if I may call it- of being a race leader dawned upon me. I asked “Where is the black man’s government?… Where is his President, his country, and ..his men of big affairs?” I could not find them, and then I declared “I will help to make them.”

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Red Barber’s Moment of Truth: How a Radio Talk about St.Paul’s Message of Brotherhood helped him see the light about the Integration of Major League Baseball, with assists from Branch Rickey and Lylah Barber.


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Red Barber is an American Icon. He was one of America’s first great sports radio broadcasters. During the fall he could be heard broadcasting the biggest college football games. During the Spring and summer, he was the voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees. Barber’s folksy southern vernacular has even been immortalized in literature (James Thurber’s The Catbird Seat 1952). According to author Robert W. Creamer:

For all Barber’s Southern accent and country idiom (tearin’ up the pea patch, walkin’ in tall cotton, sittin’ in the catbird seat) he fit New York. He was sharp and intelligent, a thoroughly modern, refreshing broadcaster whose straightforward way of reporting the action attracted not only Dodger fans but baseball fans in general. (Creamer, Baseball in 41 p.55).

In the fall of 1942 Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Larry MacPhail left to join the army. His replacement was Branch Rickey, one of the most influential men in baseball history. Branch Rickey had presided over many successful seasons in St.Louis where he had run the St.Louis Cardinals. It was Rickey who created a minor league farm system for the Cardinals, which allowed the team to sign and develop young talent which could be kept under team control. Branch Rickey was a T-Totaler. He did not drink and he refused to attend baseball games on Sundays. He was a deeply religious man who spent a great deal of his limited spare time speaking at churches. Ever since he had been a college coach at Ohio Wesleyan University, Rickey had a strong sense of shame about baseball’s unwritten color line. No person of color had suited up for a major league baseball team. Although there was no specific rule against hiring players of color, it was commonly accepted that Major League Baseball was for white players only. Baseball players of color, whether African-American, Hispanic, or from the Caribbean Islands had to play in the segregated Negro Leagues. In this way, baseball mirrored American Society, which had made segregation legal with the Plessy V. Ferguson Supreme Court Ruling in the late 19th Century.

Red Barber was excited to work for Mr.Rickey as he liked to call him. Red lived with his wife Lylah and their daughter Sarah in Scarsdale, New York. Branch Rickey and his wife had moved to nearby Bronxville after he took the job with the Dodgers. The Rickey’s invited the Barbers over for a Sunday lunch. The Barbers and the Rickeys got along very well. But Red later realized that Branch Rickey had invited Red and Lylah over for a reason:

He wanted to know my wife. He knew good and well that, over and above what I thought, the wife I was married to had an influence over me, and he wanted to know what that influence was. (Ruhbarb in the Catbird Seat, Barber and Creamer, p. 254).

The importance of this Sunday luncheon revealed itself a few months later. It was Branch Rickey who convinced Red Barber that his stature as the radio voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers could be used to do good works. Red soon found himself the principal fundraiser for the Red Cross Blood Drive. This was very important work at any time but during World War II it was crucial. Red would later say that his work for the Red Cross was what he was proudest of during his time in Brooklyn.

He and Branch Rickey attended a meeting for The Brooklyn Red Cross. The meeting ran late so the two men walked to Joe’s Restaurant a Brooklyn Landmark across from the Dodger’s offices. The two men sat in a booth all alone in the back of the restaurant. Red recalls Mr.Rickey breaking up a roll and buttering pieces of it as he informed Red of the idea that would shake up the baseball world and American society. Mr. Rickey started off by telling a story of the time he was Manager of Michigan University’s Baseball Team and had gone on a road trip to South Bend, Indiana to play Notre Dame. Michigan’s catcher was an African-American from Upper Michigan. The young man’s family were the only African-Americans in the area and he had never encountered racism before. On this day the clerk at the Oliver Hotel in South Bend refused to let the young man check in because he was black. The clerk at the desk pulled back the register and said “we do not take Negroes here.”

Branch Rickey was shocked. He could not believe this splendid young man was being denied admission to the hotel. After arguing with the clerk Rickey arranged for the man not to be checked in but to be allowed to stay in Rickey’s room. A crowd had gathered and the clerk was loud and abusive as he emphasized how it didn’t matter who the young man was with, the hotel did not admit Negroes. Rickey sent the young man upstairs so he could register the other players. When he got up to his room Mr.Rickey found the young man crying as he sat on the bed, his body wracked by his sobs. The young man kept pulling at his hands and saying “It’s my skin. If I could just tear it off I’d be like everybody else. It’s my skin. It’s my skin, Mr.Rickey.” Branch Rickey grabbed another roll, broke it, and buttered it. Red recalled the anger within this bear of a man with bushy eyebrows who stared across the table at him.

“What I’m telling you is this: there is a Negro ballplayer coming to the Dodgers… I don’t know who he is, and I don’t know where he is, and I don’t know when he’s coming. But he is coming soon, just as soon as we can find him.”

Red Barber was speechless. Rickey continued to address him.

“Needless to say,” he went on, “I have taken you into my confidence in telling you this. I have talked about it only with my family. Jane is utterly opposed to my doing it. The family is dead set against it. But I have got to do it. I must do it. I will do it. I am doing it. And now you know it.” (Barber and Creamer, pp.266-267).

When Red got home to Scarsdale, he told Lylah he would have to quit the Dodgers. The way he saw things he was a southerner and in the south, there was always a line that could not be crossed. Red thought about his mother’s family in Mississippi, his birthplace. He thought of his father, who was from North Carolina. He thought of growing up in Sanford Florida. All of his life before moving to Cinncinatti in 1934 had been spent in the segregated south. Red insisted to Lylah that he had to quit the Dodgers because Branch Rickey was determined to sign a black ballplayer. Lylah fixed him a Martini and told him to think it over. He had a dream job and a wonderful home in Scarsdale. Was he really going to throw it all away over Branch Rickey’s determination to integrate Major League Baseball?

It was around this time that Harry Price, the Rector of The Episcopal Church of St.James the Less in Scarsdale asked Red to give a radio talk built on a sentence from St.Paul about Men and Brothers. According to Red:

It was the problem of the relationship between the Jews and the non-Jews in the wealthy community of Scarsdale, New York. It was going pretty good and it still is. A lot of people forgot that Jesus was a Jew. Some embarrassingly sickening things were beginning to happen. Sad things were being said. Things were being done to children. And so the rector asked me to talk about men and brothers. You were men and brothers together, and you should get along together.

Well, when I worked out that talk I suddenly found that I wasn’t nearly so interested in the relationship between Christians and Jews, Jews and Christians as I was about the relationship between one white southern broadcaster and one unknown Negro ballplayer, who was coming.
(Barber and Creamer p. 272).

Neither Red Barber nor Branch Rickey knew Jackie Robinson at this time. But Red Barber knew that Branch Rickey would integrate major league baseball soon. Red knew that he would be the man who would be broadcasting the games in which this unknown trailblazer would play.

Two years later Jackie Robinson was playing in Montreal. In 1947 Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers and made history, winning Rookie of the Year and helping the Dodgers to the National League Pennant. Off the field, Robinson’s participation and starring role in the National Pastime had ripple effects for the civil rights movement and American Society. Recalling it all in 1967 Red Barber’s overarching feeling was one of gratitude.

So if I have been able to implement to any degree the second commandment, to have concern…Well, what I am trying to say is, if there is any thanks involved, any appreciation, I thank Jackie Robinson. He did far more for me than I did for him. (Barber and Creamer p. 276)

Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to a minor league contract (fair use).

Author’s Note: Although Red Barber is quoted as stating that the incident at the hotel in South Bend occurred while Branch Rickey was the coach of The University of Michigan, it occurred when he was the coach of Ohio Wesleyan University. Rickey moved on to The University of Michigan the year after this incident occurred.

The young catcher Branch Rickey refers to in his story about encountering racism at the hotel in South Bend is Charles L.Thomas. He and Rickey remained friends. Charles L. Thomas became a successful dentist. He lived in St.Louis, Mo during the 1930s and visited with Rickey at The St.Louis Cardinals offices. He could not attend the Cardinals game because the lower bowl of Sportsman’s Park was segregated. Dr.Thomas later moved to New Mexico where he was one of only two licensed African-American dentists in the state. His interview with Mark Harris was published in the September 1947 issue of Negro Digest.

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The Memory Remains

This is a brief personal account of a baseball game my Grandfather Dan Broggi took me to in August 1973. I was ten, the same age my son Tegan is now. Dan wanted me to see The original Yankee Stadium, which was set to be remodeled and was going to close down for the 1974-1975 seasons. It was no accident that Dan took me to Yankee old timer’s day, Mickey Mantle’s first since retiring five years earlier. It was a fantastic day, one of the best of my life. I think my new title is better. I am so grateful to Tom Goldstein at Elysian Fields Quarterly for providing me with feedback after rejecting my first submission of this piece. I added the information about my fatal decision to sell the baseball cards my grandfather and I had collected. That and the fact that the remodeled Yankee Stadium was about to close for good resulted in my second submission being published.

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Catherine Impey and The Black Atlantic

In his book The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness historian Paul Gilroy developed the theory of a culture comprised of African, American, Caribbean and British influences blended with European Enlightenment ideals.  His metaphor for this cross cultural exchange of ideas between black-diaspora populations in The British Isles, the Caribbean, The Americas and Africa is the steam ship because that is how far flung activists in these regions were able to connect and communicate. Gilroy identifies one of these activists as Ida Wells, the crusading anti-lynching journalist who gained international attention due to two trips she made to The British Isles in 1893 and 1894. To the roll of names of activists who traveled and corresponded with each other across The Atlantic and around the world, must be added Catherine Impey, a white Victorian Quaker woman who lived on a farm in Street, Somerset England.

Catherine Impey was born into a family of abolitionists who had become active in the Temperance movement after the abolition of slavery had been achieved in Great Britain and The United States. Catherine was an enthusiastic member of The Independent Order of Good Templars (I.O.G.T.), an organization with rituals and social activities similar to The Freemasons but devoted to Temperance. Catherine’s participation on The I.O.G.T. allowed her to take part in meetings, travel throughout the British Isles and to the United States and engage in animated activism and discussion on her two most valued principles: Temperance and anti-racism.

According to Caroline Bressy’s book Empire, Race and Anti-Caste (Bloomsbury, 2013) Askew House,The Impey’s home in Somerset was visited by talented people of African-descent who had maintained ties after the abolition of slavery had been achieved. The poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and feminist teacher Fanny Jackson Coppin visited Askew House during the 1870’s. Ida Wells signed the guest book in 1893 leaving the following notation:

For whatever men say in blindness

and in spite of the fancies of youth

there’s nothing so kingly as kindness

there’s nothing so royal as truth. (Bressy, 8).

Quakerism was the guiding principle of Catherine Impey’s life. Quakers believe that all humans contain an inner light. By realizing the inner light inherent in all people, universal brotherhood may be achieved. The Quakers were a small minority in England by the 19th century but they were politically active in liberal politics, Temperance, and anti-racism. For Catherine Impey, a young single woman in her twenties, Temperance work allowed her to gather with like minded people not just in England but in The United States as well. Temperance activism allowed Catherine to branch out socially and to develop her intellect. Catherine journeyed across the Atlantic to America to take part in Temperance meetings. On these trips Catherine had the opportunity to engage in discussions about society and religion with talented journalists, poets, religious leaders and philosophers, many of whom were of African descent.

Catherine was heartbroken when her beloved organization was divided by controversy over segregation. In 1878 A Good Templar lodge in Kentucky asked to join The I.O.G.T. as a segregated lodge. The Good Templars in Kentucky insisted that there was no way they could accommodate negro members. The controversy raged in England, where I.O.G.T. meeting houses were integrated. The I.O.G.T. of England boasted 200,000 members. When the I.O.G.T. decided to allow segregation, The British I.O.G.T. broke away to form the Right Worthy Grand Lodge (R.W.G.L) which vowed to promote integrated Temperance lodges. Catherine felt pained by the negative influence American racism exerted upon her beloved organization.

In 1878 The. R.W.G.L. appointed Catherine Impey Secretary to the Negro Mission for The United States. In this capacity she traveled to Boston, Massachusetts for the R.W.G.L.’s International Conference at Pythian Hall. Catherine stayed at the home of William Wells Brown, an African-American author who hosted many of the renowned African-American attendees to the R.W.G.L. conference. Catherine observed that upon her first visit to America, she had “established a large circle of colored friends almost before she had any extended knowledge of white Americans.” (Bressy, 33).

When the I.O.G.T. and the R.W.G.L. agreed to unify under the banner of segregation in 1886, Catherine was devastated. She had met too many amazing talented men and women of color during her years of Temperance advocacy. She believed that the Independent Order of Good Templars had initially been founded on the belief that Temperance and Universal Brotherhood went hand in hand. She resolved to start a new organization called Anti-Caste, where writers of diverse racial backgrounds could have a forum to write about their experiences and concerns. During the late 19th Century, segregation would become the law of the land in many U.S. states. Scientific racism was embraced by thinkers on the right and left throughout the western world and Imperialism and Colonialism were practiced by the most powerful European nations. Catherine and her collaborators would be fighting an uphill battle.

Catherine traveled to Saratoga Springs, New York to take part in the conference that would determine the merger of the I.O.G.T.and the R.W.G.L. Her criticism of segregated churches in the United States was taken as a condemnation of The Christian Church. Catherine had been raising the issue of racism in the Temperance Movement for a decade but her fellow Temperance advocates accused her of putting the politics of anti-racism ahead of the organizations’ primary goal of Temperance. Catherine’s vote of dissent against the merger was the only vote opposing the merger of the I.O.G.T and the R.W.G.L. Lodges. Upon her return to England Catherine resigned from R.W.G.L. in order to form an organization that would combat racism. This was how Anti-Caste was born.

Innovations in printing in England made pamphleteers the social media influencers of their day. Pamphlets could be created with words and photographs and drawings which could be used to grab the reader’s attention. Catherine asked Frederic Douglass to come to England to speak about the plight of African-Americans in the United States. Due to her travels in The United States, Catherine knew that the descendants of the slaves were being disenfranchised in the south and that black people throughout the United States were being segregated, mistreated and ostracized. Douglass said he was too old for a transatlantic journey but recommended Ida Wells, the young investigative journalist whose work on the real reasons behind the lynching of blacks in the south had recently made her a permanent refugee from her home in Memphis, Tennessee.

Although rape was always cited as the cause for lynching, Wells’s research demonstrated that men and women of different races often had consensual affairs which were then called rape by disapproving authorities. Wells reported that African-American men and women in the south were being lynched for trying to exercise their basic civil rights: voting, using the sidewalk or speaking out against injustice. Catherine Impey traveled to the United States in 1892 and met with Ida Wells in Philadelphia. For Wells, the meeting was cathartic.

It seemed like an open door in a stone wall. For nearly a year I had been in the North, hoping to spread the truth and get moral support for my demand that those accused of crimes be given a fair trial and punished by law instead of by a mob. Only in one city-Boston-had I been given even a meager hearing, and the press was dumb. I refer of course to the white press, since it was the medium through which I hoped to reach the white people of the country, who alone could mold public sentiment. ( Crusade for Justice, 86)

Catherine Impey’s goal of having an African-American speaker visit England was brought to fruition after a wealthy Scottish benefactor named Isabella Mayo joined Anti-Caste. Mayo was an author who had inherited a sum of money from her husband which she used to finance liberal causes. Ida Wells traveled to England aboard a steamship, suffering from seasickness throughout the ten day crossing from New York to Liverpool. Catherine brought Ida home to Somerset to recover for a few days. Wells had never been treated kindly by white people before. According to her memoirs, Ida appreciated the Impey’s hospitality but found the vegetarianism practiced by Catherine and many of her colleagues to be cult- like.

After speaking on the problem of lynching in the United States in England, Catherine and Ida traveled to Isabella Mayo’s home in Aberdeen Scotland to work on the latest issue of Anti-Caste. Mayo had turned her home into a boarding house for East Indians. Mayo’s confidante Dr.George Ferdinands, a young Sri Lankan Dentist who was of mixed Indian and English descent helped Wells and Impey with the production of a special pamphlet on lynching in the United States.

Catherine Impey returned to Somerset. Isabella Mayo brought Ida Wells to cities in Scotland and then to Liverpool and Manchester England to address audiences about the crisis of lynching in the United States. During her time in The British Isles, Wells was able to speak to over a thousand people to bring attention to the atrocities being committed against African-Americans.

While Ida Wells was making an impression on British audiences, Catherine Impey made a fateful decision from her home in Street, Somerset England. While working at Mayo’s house in close association with Dr.George Ferdinands, Catherine had felt a strong attraction to the young doctor, who was half her age. When she returned home Catherine convinced herself that Ferdinands felt the same way. Catherine wrote a love letter proposing marriage. Realizing her mistake, Catherine penned a second later apologizing to Dr. Ferdinands for her first letter and begging him to tear it up. Ferdinands, apparently feeling threatened by Impey’s love letter brought it to Isabella Mayo.

Isabella Mayo was a sincere activist who communicated with such leading liberal thinkers as Gandhi and Tolstoy. But she was not enlightened when it came to Western attitudes towards women’s’ sexuality. When Catherine traveled to Aberdeen to speak with Mayo about her love letter, Mayo was at first restrained. Ida Wells observed that over the next few days Mayo became increasingly hostile to Impey. Ultimately, Mayo confronted Impey in front of Wells. Mayo told Catherine that she was a “nymphomaniac” and must disassociate herself from Anti-Caste. She then told Wells that she must join her in disavowing Impey’s behavior. Ida Wells states in her autobiography that Mayo’s treatment of Impey was the cruelest interaction she had ever witnessed. Considering the fact that Wells was driven out of Tennessee by a lynch mob, and had once been thrown off a train by angry whites, her observation is telling of the intense hostility Isabella Mayo now bore towards the founder of Anti-Caste.

Ida Wells

I had never heard one woman talk to another as she did, nor the scorn and withering sarcasm with which she characterized her. Poor Miss Impey was no match for her even if she had not been in the wrong. I really think it was the most painful scene in which I ever took part. I had spent such a happy two weeks in the society of two of the best representatives of the white race in an atmosphere of equality, culture, refinement, and devotion to the cause of the oppressed darker races. To see my two ideals of noble womanhood divided in this way was heartrending. When it was demanded that I choose between them it was indeed a staggering blow. (Crusade for Justice, 104).

Ida Wells refused to disavow Catherine Impey. She recognized that what had happened to Impey with regard to her feelings about Dr. Ferdinands was a natural thing that happened to people. Wells was controversial in the United States because she maintained that blacks and whites had consensual relationships that were then classified as rapes when white authorities felt the need to control black people. To Ida, the incident between Impey and Ferdiands was no different than incidents she had observed in Memphis. Ida’s own father was the product of a relationship between his white master and a slave, which made Ida herself a mulatto, which is how she was identified on the ship manifest for the ship that brought her to Liverpool. Ida had never heard the word nymphomaniac before she heard Isabella Mayo use it against Catherine Impey. Ida never spoke to Isabella Mayo again. She and her friend Catherine Impey made a visit to the son of the great British Abolitionist William Wilberforce in Liverpool before Ida had to leave to board her ship for the journey back to the United States.

The crisis between Catherine Impey and Isabella Mayo was devastating for anti-caste. Mayo used her power of the purse to ostracize Catherine Impey from her own creation, insisting that Anti-Caste and Ida Wells speaking tour would lose their funding unless Catherine left the organization. Catherine was later forced to make a humiliating public apology for her behavior in front of her fellow Quakers. Others in the Anti-Caste organization and anti-lynching crusade in England were forced to cut ties with Catherine. Because Ida Wells would not renounce Catherine Impey, Isabella Mayo cut Wells off and refused to pay for her ticket home. Mayo also wrote disparaging letters to Frederick Douglass and other prominent African-Americans in the United States decrying Wells support for Impey. To her credit, Wells stuck by Impey, ultimately proving to Douglass that Mayo was overreacting. Douglass, whose second wife was white and a good deal younger than he, was aware how controversial interracial unions between men and women of any age, let alone vastly different ages, could be.

Ida Wells made a triumphant return to The British Isles in 1894. She steered clear of Isabella Mayo and was saddened that the Quakers seemed to distance themselves from her. Ida regretted that Catherine and her friends did not know she had stood by her when Mayo was on the attack. The relationship between George Ferdinands and Isabella Mayo was also unique. According to The Scottish Index of Female Authors, Ferdinands was “like a son to Isabella Mayo and remained by her side for the rest of her life.” For Ida Wells, her sojourns to the British Isles were important because they taught her not to hate white people. For the first time, Ida Wells, who had been driven from her home by a lynch mob, learned that there were white people who knew that white superiority was evil and they were willing to work with her to help her and those being victimized by it.

Catherine Impey

Catherine Impey died in Street, Somerset England in 1924. Her obituary stated that her religion was her life. For Catherine, this meant working to help humanity find its inner light. Certainly, she was ahead of her time. A woman tripped up by an earthly passion for another person as she struggled to achieve her spiritual passion of civil rights for all. In this way she is reminiscent of Bayard Rustin another Quaker civil right activist, the pacifist advocate of non-violence whose homosexuality always forced him to work in the shadows of the non-violent civil rights movement of the 1960’s. Rustin is the man most responsible for the success of the 1963 March on Washington. Catherine would have enjoyed Dr.King’s I have a Dream Speech because it was about how transformative universal brotherhood could be. That was what Catherine Impey had dreamed of when she started Anti-Caste 75 years earlier.

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Gish Jen, A Great American Novelist from Scarsdale

Scarsdale can boast of at least one great American Novelist. Gish Jen moved to Scarsdale with her family in time to attend 5th grade at Greenacres Elementary School. She graduated from Scarsdale High School in 1973. Gish has published four novels, a book of short stories and two works of non-fiction. Her most recent short story No More Maybe was published in the New Yorker last month. Ms.Jen’s second novel, Mona, in the promised land was a New York Times Notable Book in 1996. Although Gish makes it clear during interviews that her work is not autobiographical, she does not hide the fact that Scarshill, the fictional town in Mona, in the Promised land, is Scarsdale in all but name. As she explained to Bill Moyers during a 2003 interview for NPR available at her website GishJen.com:

it’s a very, very, very, very different kind of community. For one thing. Scarsdale is predominantly Jewish. I think probably it was really maybe 40 percent Jewish. But there were enough Jews so that it was felt to be quite a Jewish community. And so they were acquainted with what it meant to be a minority. So, this was a place where a minority was sort of the majority. And of course, as a community, it was completely committed to being open and embracing and so on. It was still awkward there too in many ways. But always in well-intentioned ways. People would sort of say, “We’d love to hear more about your traditions.” Maybe I didn’t really want to talk about my traditions. But in any case, it was never mean. Nobody ever threw anything at us.

The fact that there was no violence directed at Gish and her brothers in Scarsdale was a welcome respite from their experiences in their previous Yonkers, N.Y. neighborhood. Gish’s brother was beaten up so often by bullies that their mother had him take Judo lessons. Kids sometimes threw rocks at the Jen children. This welcome change is reflected in the opening chapter of Mona, in the promised land. Gish Jen compares Mona Chang’s Chinese family and Scarsdale’s Jewish population:

For they’re the New Jews after all, a model minority and Great American Success. They know they belong in the promised land. (Jen, Mona, in the promised land 6). 

Here is a quote from Gish Jen’s Harvard University Massey Lecture on Art and Culture  in 2013 that speaks to the author’s actual experience of Scarsdale as a newly arrived fifth grader:

“And whereas the library at my old school, St.Eugene’s in Yonkers, New York, had been a donation library-a windowless one-room affair with dark, sagging shelves and listing, soft-edged discards-the library in Greenacres Elementary School had glass and air, and level, stout shelves packed with new, vertical books, every single one of which I read that first year after our move, including Albert Camus’s The Stranger– the cover of which I can still recall, with that thick-spoked  Algerian sun. (What, I remember wondering, are inexorable cries of hate?).” (Jen Tiger Writing 101).

At Scarsdale High School Lillian Jen was the editor of The Literary Review. She took the name Gish after the silent film star Lillian Gish while taking a film class at Scarsdale High School. Gish attended Harvard University and then Stanford Business School. She temporarily became the black sheep of her family when she dropped out of business school to pursue writing. Her parents did not speak to her for several months. Things improved when Gish was written up in the Chinese language newspaper The World News. Gish is married to David O’Connor. They have 2 children. She has lived in Cambridge, MA for many years. Gish credits her time in Scarsdale with helping her to become a writer:

Certainly, there were a lot of views about what a nice Chinese girl did and that did not include becoming an author, I hardly need to point out. There was a way that, if I had not grown up in Scarsdale, New York, in a culture where writing was this great thing, I don’t know that I ever would have thought to pick up a pen. So, in that way, I’m deeply grateful to the mainstream culture. (Gish Jen.com Interview with Bill Moyers).

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Screen Shot 2018-03-16 at 11.02.03 AMAmerican History Redux: Parallels Between President Donald Trump and President Andrew Jackson

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Sharp Knife: The War of 1812 and The Rise of Andrew Jackson

Sharp Knife: The War of 1812 and the Rise of Andrew Jackson

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Admiral George Cockburn:Destroyer of Washington D.C./ Emancipator of Slaves

_George Cockburn_ Destroyer of Washington D.C.Emancipator of Slaves

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Robert Dentler’s Trial by Fire: The Magowan Lawsuit

        Dr.Robert Dentler recalls in his autobiography The Looking Glass Self that when he agreed to work on desegregating The White Plains Public School system in 1964, Dr.Kenneth Clark, who had performed the famous doll test that was instrumental in convincing the Supreme Court to rule against segregation in public education in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision,  warned him that he would end up working on desegregation for the rest of his career to the exclusion of all other sociological endeavors. He was correct. The integration of The White Plains Public Schools served as a trial by fire for Dr.Dentler due to a 60 million dollar lawsuit brought against him, his employer Columbia University and The White Plains Public School District by Malcolm and Claire Cathleen Magowan. The Magowans were angry that White Plains Schools’ Superintendent Carroll F.Johnson had allowed Dr.Dentler and his associates to give their 11 year old daughter Claire and her classmates  a Racial Attitudes Test without their permission.

Superintendent Carroll F.Johnson declared  the integration of The White Plains Schools a success in 1968[1] and credited Robert Dentler and his team from The Center for Urban Studies for helping to make the transition smoothly. The Magowan’s lawsuit proved to be a trial by fire for both men. The conservative John Birch Society funded the lawsuit, which allowed it to drag on for three years. Dentler was prevented from using his racial attitudes test, a tool that would have provided valuable insight into how integration impacted the attitudes of students in The White Plains Public Schools.

According to his biography, The Looking Glass Self, Dentler took a position as Professor of Sociology at Columbia University in New York because it paid $2400 more per year than his position at Dartmouth college did[2]. His associate at Columbia, Dr.Bernard Mackler, believes that Robert Dentler needed to be in New York City because he had a passion for improving Urban Education. “Robert was born and raised in Chicago, he and I met at The University of Kansas where he was getting his Doctorate in Sociology. Robert hated Kansas. He needed to be in the city. Dartmouth was too isolated for him.”

Dentler founded The Center for Urban Studies which later became known as The Center for Urban Education (CUE). The primary focus of Dentler’s work for CUE  would be the desegregation of urban school districts. He worked for New York State Education Secretary Dr.James Allen’s taskforce to advice how to desegregate The New York City Public Schools. Dr.Kenneth Clark also served on the taskforce. Although their recommendations were not implemented Dentler was recommended by Dr.Allen to Carroll F.Johnson the Superintendent of The White Plains Public Schools, who was determined to integrate his school system.[3] 

Johnson and Dentler were like minded when it came to the issue of school integration. Johnson was born in Georgia and had witnessed first hand how segregated schools resulted in inferior education for minority students. Both Dentler and Johnson felt that it was high time to honor the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education deciscion which by 1964 was a decade old.

Dr.Dentler believed that a racial attitudes survey test was an important desegregation tool. Studies had shown that children ages 6-12 had not internalized racial prejudices of their own but did reflect attitudes learned at home. Dentler gave his own children Deborah and Eric the test. Deborah Dentler recalls feeling guilty for saying that she would not want Hungarians for neighbors because they were Communists. The question had listed ethnic groups and asked if there were any that you wouldn’t want for a neighbor. The plan was to track student answers to test questions for a five year period. The goal was to develop quantifiable data that could demonstrate the positive impact of school integration on racial attitudes of the students who were integrated.[4] One of the more alarming statistics from the data Dentler had already collected was that segregated Black and Latino students had more negative views of themselves than the white students who were surveyed did. These results, for students in the metropolitan New York area, were for students in predominantly Black and Latino schools ten years after the Brown Decision. Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark doll tests had found similar results and helped to sway the Warren Court to issue their ruling against segregated public education in 1954 .

On June 15,1964 Dr.Dentler and his associates from CUE gave the Racial Attitudes Test to a group of 6th graders at The Post Road School in White Plains. Young Claire Cathleen Magowan told her parents about it after school. That same evening there was a PTA meeting which Dr.Dentler attended to explain the tests. The Magowans and some other parents were very upset that the tests had been given without their knowledge or consent. Concerns about how the information gathered from the tests would be used were expressed. Dentler insisted that confidentiality would be maintained but that the tests would continue. One parent was so upset that she fainted and had to be carried out on a stretcher.[5] 

Parents later explained to reporter Mary Flynn that they were bothered by the questions on the test.[6] :

Given a Negro, a Russian, a German, a Japanese and an Irishman, Who would you like as a friend? Who would you like to have in your club? Who would you have over for dinner?

Given a Negro boy and girl and a white boy and girl, who would you sit next to on the bus?  Which one gets into trouble? Which one concentrates on Math? Which one would you play with? Which one wouldn’t you like as a friend?

Agree or Disagree

Negro children are dumber than white children.

Negro boys use more bad words than white boys.

Negro children are as smart as white children.

The parents were upset by their childrens’ reactions. Some kids felt the questions were not very nice. One child said he knew the test was about the busing. One child told his mother that one question had a picture of “two Negro kids and two regular kids.”


The White Plains chapter of the  NAACP was opposed to Dr.Dentler’s Racial Attitudes Test. In a newspaper article listed as exhibit 13 in the Magowan v Johnson, Dentler, White Plains Board of Education case states that they asked  school superintendent Dr.Caroll Johnson to destroy the tests and not use them in the future. Albert Corum, President of the NAACP Chapter for White Plains, stated that their request to see Dentler’s test was rejected. The NAACP issued this statement regarding the Racial Attitudes Test

 “ The thoughts of citizens, whatever they may be, must remain inviolate… certain questions posed to young children tended to raise doubts and give the impression of seeds of truth and formed an atmosphere of prejudice in minds that had not been conscious formerly of false stereotypes.”

Superintendent Johnson decided that the tests had to be destroyed. A Notary was hired to watch Robert Dentler burn each test on July 3, 1964. Dentler lamented the loss of valuable information. He tried to look over the tests but there was not enough time. The Magowans were not satisfied. They demanded to see the original test. Dentler refused. In May 1965 The Magowans sued him and The White Plains Public School System for 60 million dollars claiming that Dentler had planned to profit from the tests, that the tests were given without permission and violated their young daughter’s Constitutional rights.

Malcolm and Claire Magowan were not happy with Johnson’s decision to destroy the tests. They still wanted to see what the actual test looked like. Dentler notes in his autobiography that his old enemy The John Birch Society paid for the Magowan’s lawsuit. “Turning over the test would be tantamount to publishing an upcoming exam in the school newspaper,” he explained.[7]

Providing legal support for the Magowan’s lawsuit fit neatly into The John Birch Society’s playbook. This secret group of far right anti-Communists was created in 1958 by a Massachusetts candy manufacturer named Robert Welch. Renowned conservative William F.Buckley Jr. described the organization for Commentary Magazine:

Welch refused to divulge the size of the society’s membership, though he suggested it was as high as 100,000 and could reach a million. His method of organization caused general alarm. The society comprised a series of cells, no more than 20 people per cell. It was said that its members were directed to run in secret for local offices and to harass school boards and librarians on the matter of the Communist nature of the textbooks and other materials they used.[8]

Certainly Dentler’s Racial Attitudes Test qualified as “other materials”.

        The case dragged on for three years. The Magowans lost their first lawsuit but the judge allowed them to have it retried. As they waited for their case to be heard by The New York Supreme Court, Claire Magowan was quoted in The Amsterdam Recorder Sept.16, 1967:

 “All we wanted to find out was who gave the test, and we still can’t. They keep saying,’Trust us. We know what’s best for your child.’ We will find out who gave that test if we have to go all the way to the Supreme Court. They just won’t talk to us. that is all. It is sad when you have to hire an attorney to talk to the superintendent of schools. We’ve gone through all the channels. It costs a lot of money to protest. But we will see it through, regardless of what it costs.” Justice Joseph P. Hawkins presided over the Magowan’s appeal. He was sympathetic to them. Quoted in the same article for The New Amsterdam Record as Mrs.Magowan he “chided the defendants for their ‘patronizing’ approach.”[9] 

According to Dentler’s autobiography, Hawkins initially ruled in The Magowan’s favor. Dentler’s  lawyers found out that the clerk who drafted the decision, was a friend and neighbor of the Magowans. The judge ruled for the defendants. They would not be liable for the 60 million dollars demanded by the plaintiffs.

        Superintendent Johnson noted in an article he wrote about The  White Plains Public School’s Integration success that there was a small group of vocal parents who strongly opposed integration. They complained that resources that could have been allocated elsewhere were being drained by the cost of busing Negro students throughout the White Plains School District.

        The idea that the Civil Rights Movement was a Communist Conspiracy was  a fundamental tenant of the John Birch Society during the 1960’s. The year the Magowan’s filed their lawsuit, The John Birch Society set up an office in White Plains and claimed to have doubled their membership in the New York suburbs[10]. In his opposition to the plaintiffs motion to dismiss the case dated 12/27/1968, The Magowan’s attorney  Robert A. Clark asserted that there were links between Dr.Dentler’s testing plan in White Plains and Communism. He targeted the fact that Dentler’s Institute of Urban Studies received a $7800 grant from THE NEW WORLD FOUNDATION (Clark capitalized all the letters of the foundation). He found the New World Foundation’s mission statement to be concerning:

The right education for children; The relationship to life and the ethics, of industry and commerce etc… as is set forth according to its articles of incorporation which is set forth in Exhibit 2.

Clark maintained that the grant meant that Dentler had received monetary compensation for his work with the White Plains School District.  He went on to cite the reading list provided by The Institute for Urban Studies for curriculum consultation  arguing that known communists were on the list. Herbert Aptheker Secretary of the Communist Party U.S.A. was listed as the author of a book on The History of the Negro in America. W.E.B. Dubois presence on the list for his famous work The Souls of Black Folk also drew Clark’s ire. “The list ends up with W.E.B. Dubois whose ideas and beliefs need no introduction.”

        Clark entered Dr.Dentler’s 1960  doctoral dissertation Attitude Change in Volunteer Service Groups: Group Composition, Solidarity and Environment as Correlates of Change. Clark notes that the authors Dentler cites in his paper state that the best years to achieve social change are from the third through the sixth grades. This was not a secret. Dr.Dentler wanted to study children who were too young to form their own racist attitudes but were old enough to articulate racial attitudes they may have picked up from their parents.

        Attorney Clark’s concerns that integration efforts manifested by men like Caroll Johnson and Robert Dentler were a form of Communism is reflective of the great shift in Americans’ views about race and bigotry. During the early 1960’s conservative commentators openly expressed concerns that mixing people of different races or religions would hurt families because bigoted family members would not tolerate it.[11] By 1968 no one was claiming the right to be a bigot or worried about protecting those who were bigoted. Instead arch conservatives expressed the concern that external forces were forcing people to change their personal beliefs against their will. Attorney Clark interprets this as Communist in his formal complaint. The John Birch Society’s official attitude towards the civil rights movement was that it was working to create a Negro Soviet Republic in The United States.[12] 

        Ultimately, the 60 million dollar lawsuit was not about protecting young Claire Cathleen Magowan’s civil rights. It was aimed at making life difficult for those who were trying to implement the Brown v Board of Education decision ten years after it had been made.


[1] Johnson, Carroll F.  Achieving Racial Balance- -The White Plains Story. A Comprehensive Report. Jan 68.Journal Cit- School Management; v12 n1 Jan 1968.

[2] Dentler, Robert A. The Looking-Glass Self: A Memoir. Technical Publications Inc. Waltham, MA. 2002. P. 166.

[3] Dentler, p. 176.

[4] Dentler, Robert A., Elkins, Constance Intergroup Attitudes, Academic Performance, and Racial Composition, The Urban R’s: Race Relations as the Problem in Urban Education, Dentler, Robert A., Mackler, Bernard and Warhauer, Mary Ellen. Published for The Center for Urban Education by Frederick A.Praeger New York, 1967.

[5] Dentler, Robert The Looking Glass Self.

[6] Flynn, Mary, Destruction of Tests Honored, Parents Told. The Reporter Dispatch, 17 June 1964.

[7] Reporter Dispatch, Destruction of Tests… 17 June 1967

[8] Buckley, William F. Goldwater, The John Birch Society and Me. March 1, 2008. Commentary Magazine.

https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/goldwater-the-john-birch-society-and-me/. Viewed 12/4/2016.

[9] Parents File Two Suits Over Racial Test Given Pupils,Amsterdam Recorder,  16 September, 1967. P. 18.

FultonCountyHistory.com. Viewed December 4th, 2016.

[10] Birch Society Begins Big Membership Push.Knickerbocker News. P 18. Albany, New York. Fulton History.com. Viewed December 8, 2016.

[11] Sokolosky, George. “The Scarsdale Case.” Editorial. Ironwood Daily Globe [Ironwood, MI] 20 Jan. 1961: 4. NewspaperArchive.com. Web. 30 June 2011

[12] Tabachnik, Rachel The John Birch Society’s Anti-Civil Rights Campaign of the 1960s, and Its Relevance Today. Political Research.Org. viewed December 4th, 2016.

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