Requiem For “My Mammy”


I was just running an errand, and on the Sirius XM 60’s Channel they were playing the top 40 songs from this date in 1967 (my favorite year). And what should come on but The Happenings, the Four Seasons-imitating group best known for “See You In September” and the whitest group in history, singing “My Mammy,” the Al Jolson trademark song that he originally sang in blackface.  (I apologize for using the non- “Jazz Singer” version of Jolson singing the song, but an article about blackface got Ethics Alarms banned from Facebook, and I don’t want to give them provocation to have me shot The video above also has another Jolson standard, “April Showers.” There’s nothing wrong with more Jolson; he was one of the great ones.)

I had forgotten that The Happenings had a mild hit with it as the follow-up to “I Got Rhythm.” “My Mammy,”music by Walter Donaldson and lyrics by Joe Young and Sam M. Lewis, is a terrific, tingles-up -the-spine song and performance piece (“I’d walk a million miles for one of your smiles!”), but I assume it is now impossible to present because of its blackface connotations.

The loss of “My Mammy” isn’t  a great tragedy, but it’s still a tragedy. Big chunks of our culture are going to be torched before this insanity burns itself out, if it ever does. I have a feeling that I’ll be fighting this battle for the rest of my life.

Comment Of The Day: “Saturday Ethics Freakout, 6/20/2020: Fake News, Resignations, Topplings And Cancellations…But Also Hope,” Item #4

The toppling of a statue of our 18th President and the Civil War general who defeated Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, in San Francisco should disabuse the historically literate of any misconception that all of the George Floyd demonstrators are concerned with “systemic racism.” Dishonoring Grant, as well as Francis Scott Key, whose statue also was pulled down, is signature significance for enmity toward the United States itself. 

Steve-O-in-NJ performed a service for all of us by taking the time to provide a concise and informative summary of this important American’s life of public service for Ethics Alarms readers. There are several references to Ulysses S. Grant on the blog; the most extensive was this segment of the President’s Day post in 2015:

My son is named after Grant, arguably the nicest and most sensitive of our Presidents. (How this sensitive man was able to sacrifice his soldiers in the thousands to win the horrible battles he did is an enigma.) As a cadet at West Point he drew pictures of horses obsessively; in the field, he refused to allow any of his men to see him unclothed. He loved his wife passionately, and wouldn’t allow her to get her badly crossed eyes fixed, because “God made her that way.” When his daughter was married, he retired to his bedroom and could be heard sobbing for over an hour.

As President, he was fatally handicapped by his nature, which caused him to trust people he shouldn’t and allowed others to exploit his good nature. The result was several scandals engineered by his appointees and associates, including Crédit Mobilier and the Whiskey Ring. Yet he had a natural aptitude for leadership, as his superb autobiography proved on every page. He could manage and lead; what he was bad at was manipulation, deceit, pretense, and retribution—in short, politics.

In one odd area, his customary sensitivity was completely lacking. He hated music of any kind.

Here is Steve-O-in-NJ’s Comment of the Day on Item #4 in the post, “Saturday Ethics Freakout, 6/20/2020: Fake News, Resignations, Topplings And Cancellations…But Also Hope”:

Apparently a lot of people don’t know their Presidents or their Civil War history. The man on the statue in Richmond is Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, and General-in-Chief of all the Confederate Armies. The man in the San Francisco Park, although likewise bearded and in the uniform of the time, is his polar opposite. Born Hiram Ulysses Grant in Ohio, he adopted the name Ulysses Simpson Grant when he was admitted to West Point to avoid the embarrassing initials H.U.G. Graduating 21st of 39, he never planned to be a career officer.

During the Mexican-American War, where he was “an untidy young captain” as opposed to Lee being pronounced “the very finest soldier I ever saw in the field” by General Winfield Scott, and which he opposed as a land grab, he discovered he was actually a skilled officer, and began to change his mind about what he would do for a career. However, he left the army in 1854 after he was found drunk on duty and offered the choice of resigning or being court-martialed.

For the next seven years, Grant struggled between farming, real estate trading, and a few other things, none of which he was very good at. At one point he pawned his gold watch to buy his family Christmas gifts. He did not vote for the first Republican candidate for the presidency, John Fremont, because he could see this would probably lead to the country splitting in two. He did during this period acquire a slave named William Jones from his father-in-law. However, he found he didn’t have it in him to force him to work, and manumitted him before a year had passed. As the election of 1860 approached, he found himself becoming increasingly opposed to slavery.

Grant was a civilian when the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, and initially Lincoln’s top military officer, George McClellan, turned down his request to be recommissioned. However, before the month was out, the governor of Illinois made him his military aide and a colonel, tasked with mustering in the Illinois militia. By August, old General Fremont, who he hadn’t voted for, made him a general himself and a district commander. That November he won the first major Union victory of the war at Fort Donelson. The following April his victory in the bloody Battle of Shiloh (for which he was roundly called a butcher and accused of drunkenness again) killed Confederate hopes of conquering the Mississippi Valley. That November he assumed command of the Army of the Tennessee, and ordered freed slaves to be incorporated into the ranks.

You probably know or should know the rest: the taking of Vicksburg, the brief reverse at Chickamauga, the taking of Chattanooga, his naming to supreme command (btw, before this, only Washington had held the three-star rank), and the slow, methodical advance into the South on five fronts. It took a year and was not without some reverses and mistakes, but ultimately he forced the Army of Northern Virginia under Robert E. Lee to withdraw from the Confederate capital at Richmond and flee west. On April 9, 1865, Lee tried to break through the Union cavalry screen, but was forced to abort the attack when he topped a ridge and saw two untouched full corps of Union infantry. He had no choice but to surrender.

Grant was actually heartbroken to receive the surrender of a man he had served with, even though he considered the Southern cause one of the worst ever fought for. He granted generous surrender terms, including letting the officers keep their personal sidearms and the soldiers keep their horses. He also stopped all celebration among his own men, reminding them that the rebels were now their countrymen again. He later personally opposed any attempts to try Lee and his officers for treason, since he had promised otherwise at the time of the surrender.

He actually became Secretary of War for a time during the presidency of Andrew Johnson, but issues with the appointment led to a complete break between the two men. He remained popular, though, and was elected the next president, in an attempt to unify the nation. During his presidency he actively fought the Ku Klux Klan and fought for civil rights for the freedmen, including the Fifteenth Amendment. His policy toward the Indians unfortunately fell apart in his second term. His reputation among historians was low until recently, due to scandals among his cabinet. It has enjoyed a revival recently, starting with a biography by Edward Jean Smith in 2001.

So, what do we take away from this long story (which could be a lot longer)? Ulysses S. Grant was, like all men, human, and like most humans, had feet of clay. Like most men, he passed through some difficult times, some of which were his own fault, and, like most men, he was probably given some opportunities that he might not have deserved. However, I can confidently say that he made more than the most of his second chance in the US Army, and was the right man at the right time to deal with the greatest crisis this nation has ever faced on the battlefield. He was as good a strategist and tactician as Lee, he just had the good fortune to have at least three lieutenants who were almost on the same level (Sherman, Thomas, Sheridan), while Lee had only the one (Jackson, whose loss he never recovered from). I can say with confidence that he was a man of his word, even when it might have been expedient not to be. I can also say with confidence that he did the best anyone could with the almost impossible task of putting a broken and embittered nation back together again.

He never betrayed the oath he swore twice, and he never once considered turning against his nation, although he did leave its service for a time. He never struck a blow against a fellow American, save one who was in open rebellion. He was not in sympathy with the Southern cause, and thought it was wrong, however, in the end he realized that continued hostility toward the defeated states would be counterproductive. He did not display any particularly racist attitudes or belief that one race was superior to another, in fact he incorporated freed slaves into his army. Continue reading

Monday Evening Ethics Feature, 10/28/2019: Boo! Lyric Woking! Name-Calling! And Much, Much Worse…

Good evening.

1. World Series ethics observations:

  • It was little noticed, but Houston Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole did something admirable and unusual last night on the way to dominating Washington Nationals hitters and leading his team to a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. At one point in the game, Nationals first-baseman Ryan Zimmerman laid off a tantalizing pitch just off the plate with two strikes on him. Cole could be seen saluting the batter and saying “Good take!” It is rare to see a baseball player acknowledge an adversary’s skill on the field.

I wouldn’t mind seeing such gestures more often.

  • The President not only attended the game last night, but stayed unusually long for a dignitary, who usually go to baseball games to be seen more than to watch. Trump stayed until the 8th inning, when much of the discouraged Nats fandom was streaming to the exits. I wrote last week that I hoped he would subject himself to the fans’ ugliness, and they responded as we knew they would, loudly jeering and chanting “Lock him up!” It was a black eye for Washington, D.C., not President Trump.

Continue reading

More Cultural Bulldozing: Political Correctness Gets H.P. Lovecraft, Woodrow Wilson Of The Geeks

The bust says it all...

The bust says it all…

Really bad and dangerous ideas take hold and thrive because, like a particularly deadly virus, they pop up in so many places at once, especially dark corners and exotic locals. The current progressive contagion of airbrushing history, toppling icons and cultural bulldozing–one of several  habits of successful totalitarians being embraced by the left these days—is such an idea. As usual, defenders of this thought-inhibiting and unjust practice behave as if it is the epitome of common sense and virtue, when in truth it is the  opposite.

To the credit of the followers of the World Fantasy Award (for literature in the fantasy an horror field), the administrators’ decision to cave to political correctness and retire an H. P. Lovecraft bust (designed by black humor cartoonist Gahan Wilson) as its symbol—H.P. was like, Woodrow Wilson, a white, Western culture supremacist —was not met with universal approval. Nonetheless the Award’s head honchos did it.

They did it to mollify the social justice zealots in the organization’s midst, who insisted on sending the message that currently non-conforming ideas and beliefs should be punished decades or even centuries later by pretending that legitimate and important contributions to art, politics, science and civilization didn’t exist, if the man or woman involved stepped across a political correctness line that didn’t exist when it was stepped over. All it takes to justify eradicating any honor, recognition or symbol of cultural gratitude is for a major historical figure in any field to have been shown to have engaged in, thought about (or consorted with those who engaged in or thought about) practices that the current culture, with assistance of many years of debate and experience that the toppled never had, now finds misguided, objectionable, offensive or wrong.

The proper punishment for this retroactive crime, these spiritual brethren of Stalin believe, is banishment, rejection and shame in the very field where the individual’s positive accomplishments reside. This is necessary to keep future generations from being influenced by ideas that might trigger discomfort among true believers of the official creed.

Thus, reason doctrinaire Princeton kids who have figured out The Great Truths at their tender age, Woodrow Wilson’s major contributions of strengthening and burnishing the name of the college, leading the United States for two terms, including through a world war, and devising the concept of the United Nations, no longer warrant respect and memorial, because he was, like so many other Southerners of his time, an unapologetic white supremacist. Of course, so was Abraham Lincoln and much of the nation, but that cuts no ice with the practitioners of merciless presentism. It isn’t just the views of the long dead that are being punished, you see. It’s a warning to non-conforming thinkers alive yet. Watch out! it says. Your thoughts, inspirations and ideas are impure and wrong, and you are still vulnerable to real punishment, not just the post-mortem fate of being defiled and forgotten. Continue reading