Selma: Did Martin Luther King, Jr. love America?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Selma
Still from Selma-the-Movie

CARE TO READ MORE? Film reviewer Edward McNulty gave the movie “Selma” 5 out of 5 stars. Click the photo to read McNulty’s entire review.

This weekend begins the 50th anniversary of the historic Selma to Montgomery marches. I was just a kid then, but I remember the horrific images of Bloody Sunday—the 7th of March, 1965—when hundreds of marchers were stopped, beaten, and tear-gassed on the Edmund Pettus Bridge by police and county posse. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the next two marches, the last one making it to Montgomery under federal protection.

All week we’ll discuss the marches and their effects, but today I want to ask this: Did MLK love America?

I raise this question in part because of recent claims that Obama doesn’t love America. It’s ironic that his patriotism has been called into question on the anniversary of the Selma marches. It began when former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani said in a speech that the president “doesn’t love America.” Overall, about a third of all Americans (35%) say Obama doesn’t love America, according to a poll. Republicans are much more likely to say Obama doesn’t love America, while the vast majority of Democrats (85%) say he does.

So, what about Dr. King? Did he love America? The answer depends more on when you ask than who you ask.

In the 1960s, King was one of the most hated figures in America, according to public opinion polls at the time. “A number of survey items asked about King in the mid-sixties show him more reviled than revered,” wrote political scientist Sheldon Appleton in 1995. In fact, King was “one of the most disliked American figures in the age of public opinion polling.”

For example, consider the results from a survey technique called the scalometer. This technique presents a respondent with a 10-point scale ranging from +5 to -5. In 1966, 41% of Americans rated King -5. Almost seven of ten Americans (68%) gave negative ratings.

Twenty years later, a huge shift in public opinion took place. In 1987, 76% of Americans gave King a favorable rating. This favorable rating has held firm. In 2013, for example, a poll by Rasmussen Reports showed that 80% of Americans had a favorable view of the great civil rights leader. Almost half had a very favorable view.

I have no doubts that King loved America, and that Obama loves America. They were what I call “critical patriots” in my recent book United America. They see what America should be and can be—and want to the nation to live up to its ideals.

What’s your opinion of Martin Luther King, Jr.?
Did he love America?
Does the president?

Share this series with friends …

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Children’s Values: Just how much curiosity do we want?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Children's Values
Colorado school students protest conservative curriculum

Click this collage of headlines to jump to the Los Angeles Times story.

“Curiosity” is a good value to teach our children, millions of Americans agree—however, the Pew report we are examining this week shows that liberals and conservatives are likely to disagree on its relative importance.

The eruption of protests among students and teachers in a suburb of Denver, this week, may reflect this difference. Pew did not ask specifically about the Colorado case, but a political split over “curiosity” appears to be part of the Colorado conflict.

THE NEW  YORK TIMES REPORTS, in part: “ARVADA, Colo.—A new conservative school board majority here in the Denver suburbs recently proposed a curriculum-review committee to promote patriotism, respect for authority and free enterprise and to guard against educational materials that “encourage or condone civil disorder.” In response, hundreds of students, teachers and parents gave the board their own lesson in civil disobedience. On Tuesday, hundreds of students from high schools across the Jefferson County school district, the second largest in Colorado, streamed out of school and along busy thoroughfares, waving signs and championing the value of learning about the fractious and tumultuous chapters of American history.”

The students are concerned about more than “curiosity,” but their comments in national news media make it clear that their desire to be curious is a prime motivation. In the hundreds of news reports streaming out of Colorado, teenagers are quoted as saying that they want to ask probing questions in their American history classes. They are wary of being taught from textbooks that they fear may be slanted, now, toward conservative viewpoints on our history.

PEW FOUND—Liberals are much more likely than conservatives to value curiosity as a quality they would like to see in children, according to the new Pew survey we’ve been consulting this week. Over eight of ten consistently liberals (86%) say that curiosity is especially important for to teach children. A third say it is among the most important values. Just over half of consistently conservative Americans (55%) say that curiosity is a very important value for children, with 6% saying that it is among the most important.

What do you think about the school protest this week?

Do you think the protests are motivated partly by curiosity—or other motives?

How would you resolve the Colorado conflict?

Star-Spangled Music Week: What did 1914 writers think about 2014?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Star-Spangled Music Week
Scientific American 1914 issue with Woodrow Winson quote on the cover

WHAT DID 2014 LOOK LIKE A CENTURY AGO? To many American journalists, the future looked rosy! “The door of opportunity swings wide before us,” Wilson wrote in this 1914 issue of Scientific American. As we see on this cover, journalists 100 years ago also took pride in America’s patriotic symbols.

This weekend marks the 200th anniversary of the writing of our national anthem. One-hundred years ago was the Star-Spangled Banner’s centennial.

What did Americans think then about the bicentennial in 2014?

This month, celebrations of the bicentennial abound. We’ve discussed the Smithsonian Institution’s “Raise a Glass to History” event this evening, the “Proudly We Hail” half-time show at the University of Michigan football stadium tomorrow, and the giant panda cub Bao Bao, winner of the Smithsonian’s Summer Showdown of American symbols. Yesterday, the 13th anniversary of 9/11, we paused to remember the victims of the tragedy, and the threat posed today by the jihadist group ISIS.

ISIS and 9/11 were beyond thought and imagination in 1914, even though World War I already was raging among the European powers. The world in 2014—as imagined in 1914—was a much more peaceful place, according to a 1914 editorial in the Baltimore Sun that was just reprinted. In fact, “the most signal advance which the world will make in the next century will be moral and intellectual in character….” Science and sociology would enhance human health and eradicate poverty. And so on.

The Baltimore Sun editorial was right in line with what other major American publications were predicting that year. President Wilson wrote a letter to Scientific American magazine about the nation’s future role in the world. “It will be a signal service to our country to arouse it to a knowledge of the great possibilities that are open to it in the markets of the world. The door of opportunity swings wide before us,” Wilson wrote. “Through that door we may, if we will, enter into rich fields of endeavor and success.” The Scientific American editors were so impressed that they quoted the first line of Wilson’s letter on the magazine’s cover.

Most predictions about the future prove wrong, but the Baltimore Sun writer 100 years ago got one right—and it’s about the Star-Spangled Banner:

“Let our hope and prayer be that a hundred years from now, whatever other changes time may have wrought, the people of 2014 may still see the same banner waving over them that waves over us, and still symbolizing the principles of justice, brotherhood and equality of opportunity.”

How will you mark the bicentennial of our national anthem?

Does it make you feel good to hear the national anthem—or see the flag flying?

Note: In case you’ve been wondering about the outcome of the Raise a Glass to History competition, the winner is Gunpowder Cream—a concoction made of pure maple syrup, aged rum, English Breakfast tea, lemon juice, whipped cream, and cinnamon.

Star-Spangled Music Week: Do alcohol and patriotism mix?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Star-Spangled Music Week
Raise a Glass to History Smithsonian

PATRIOTIC COCKTAILS? Click on these images from the Smithsonian Channel to visit the “Raise a Glass” website.

This weekend marks an historic event in American history: It’s the 200th anniversary of the birth of our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner. (You’ll can read more about this historic milestone in Stephanie Fenton’s Holiday column.)

Shall we raise a glass to history?

You can do so at the Smithsonian Institution’s “Raise a Glass to History” celebration on September 12th in Washington, D.C., held at the National Museum of American History. The event features the nation’s top mixologists making cocktails “inspired by our spirited past” like Fort McHenry Flip, Colonial Ties, Of Thread and Theory, This Conflagration Nation, and Pickersgill Cocktail.

Simon Majumdar, the Food Network’s “toughest critic,” will host the event. Music is provided by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. A ticket is $200 because, well, it’s the 200th anniversary. Proceeds cover costs and benefit programming and research.

Francis Scott Key wrote his poem “Defense of Fort McHenry” on September 14, 1814, after witnessing the bombardment of the fort by the British the night before. He was inspired by the Stars and Stripes waving over the fort, indicating an American victory. It was a turning point in the long and brutal War of 1812.

Two hundred years later to the day, September 14, 2014, the University of Michigan features a faculty recital of Poets & Patriots: A Tuneful History of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Conducted by Jerry Blackstone, it includes a chorus and soloists, plus narration by musicologist Mark Clague. The event is free and open to the public. It takes place a 4 PM at the Hatcher Library, Room 100.

How do you plan to celebrate the bicentennial of our national anthem?

How well do alcohol and patriotism mix?

Get Out the Vote: Good news about old age? You’re more likely to vote.

This entry is part 3 of 10 in the series Get Out the Vote
Voter Turnout by Sex and Age 2008 US Presidential Election

SOURCE: US Census Bureau.

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER: Contributing columnist Terry Gallagher is exploring the values Americans place on voting. This is his third column …

If you’re looking for a bright spot in the declining voter participation rate, look up.

The numbers are clear: The older you get, the more likely you are to vote.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that more than three-quarters of Americans older than 65 are registered to vote, compared with fewer than half of those aged 18 to 24.

In the 2008 presidential election, more than 70 percent of Americans between 65 and 74 years old voted, compared with just over 40 percent of those aged 18 to 24.

Political scientists differ about why one group votes more than another but social pressure to conform with the expectations of your neighbors and friends definitely plays a role.

“Even when you’re old enough to live in a retirement community, it turns out, there’s peer pressure,” according to a recent column by Detroit News columnist Neal Rubin. Rubin was writing about a suburban Detroit retirement community where 919 residents out of 1039 are registered to vote.

And vote they do: 87 percent in November 2012, compared with an overall national rate of around 57 percent. In that year’s primary election, more than 64 percent of the residents voted, compared with around 25 percent elsewhere.

“We were almost worried we were going to run out of ballots,” the city clerk told Rubin. “It was a great problem to have.”

No wonder most politicians are reluctant to suggest reducing Social Security benefits, what Tip O’Neill called “the third rail of American politics.”

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS THIS SUMMER: Terry Gallagher has written about a wide range of topics. You can read more than 100 of his past columns by clicking on this link. Email us at [email protected] with suggestions for Terry. And Please, we always invite you to comment (below) or to share this column on Facebook (use the blue-“f” icons).

Get Out the Vote: Gerrymander got you locked up? Or will you go vote?

This entry is part 1 of 10 in the series Get Out the Vote
Original 1812 Gerrymander

BICENTENNIAL CREATURE: Did you know that gerrymandering was named in 1812? This election strategy is nearly as old as the United States itself, although no one held a bicentennial parade for this strange creature in 2012. Click on this original newspaper cartoon to read more of the history at Wikipedia.

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER: This week, welcome back contributing columnist Terry Gallagher!

Primary elections are being held across the country this week, but who cares?

With widespread gerrymandering that guarantees one-party rule in many districts, primary elections are more important than ever when selecting our representatives.

So why do so few voters show up? According to a headline in the Washington Post a few weeks ago, “Voter turnout in primary elections this year has been abysmal.”

The Post reported, “Overall, voter turnout among the 25 states that have held primaries is down 18 percent from the 2010 election. There were almost 123 million age-eligible voters in these primary states, but only about 18 million of them voted.”

In 2010, the New York Times’ redoubtable FiveThirtyEight analytic column reported that participation in primary elections has declined steadily since 1966, especially among Democrats. One significant factor is that in many states, primary voters are required to register by party and fewer voters are willing to identify with one party or the other.

It’s not just the primaries, though: turnout in general elections has been declining for decades, too.

“During this same period, other forms of political participation have also declined, such as voluntary participation in political parties and the attendance of observers at town meetings,” according to Wikipedia.

The Our Values research has shown that an American core value is our embrace of freedom, usually taken to mean the right to participate in politics and elections.

So why don’t we get out and vote?

How about you? What will you do this week?

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS THIS SUMMER: Terry Gallagher will write one more OurValues series this summer. He also is working on a book-length collection of his reflections on American culture and values. In recent years, he has written about a wide range of topics: baseball, generosity, friendship, death, the Catholic church and home-made soup. You can read more than 100 of his past columns by clicking on this link. Email us at [email protected] with suggestions for Terry. And Please, we always invite you to comment (below) or to share this column on Facebook (use the blue-“f” icons).

American Symbols: I don’t have the missing star—but I could!

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series American Symbols
Benjamin McKeehan who served in the Kentucky Volunteers in the War of 1812

Benjamin McKeehan who served in the Kentucky Volunteers in the War of 1812

The 15th star from Old Glory—the original flag that flew over Fort McHenry—is missing. I swear I don’t have it. But I could!

Tomorrow is Flag Day, a time when Americans celebrate the beloved American symbol, the stars and stripes. This Flag Day is special because this year is the 200th anniversary of the date when Francis Scott Key wrote the poem that became our national anthem.

So far, we’ve featured a rendition of the anthem as it was sung in Key’s day, courtesy of our friends at Star Spangled Music. We invited you to RAISE IT UP!—the “group sing” of the anthem that takes place tomorrow. We viewed the worst national anthem nightmare, and discussed the mystery of the missing star taken as a souvenir from the flag that survived the bombardment of Fort McHenry.

Today, I’ll tell you why I could have the missing star.

I am a descendant of Benjamin McKeehan, a Scotsman who immigrated to the United States in 1810—just in time to sign up for the War of 1812 and fight the British. The Scots and the British were not exactly friends, and Benjamin eagerly joined the fight. He enlisted in March 1812, according to the Roll of Captain Ambrose Arthur’s Company, Boswell’s Regiment, of the Kentucky Volunteers. (My aunt, who lives today in this part of Kentucky, says she knows the descendents of Ambrose Arthur.)

It was theoretically possible that Benjamin got the 15th star as a souvenir—after all, he was there. In fact, there’s an historical marker that commemorates his service. The star could be a family heirloom passed down from generation to generation.

But here’s the best evidence that I don’t have it. As I mentioned in Wednesday’s column, the missing 15th star was “cut out for some official person.” Benjamin, however, was just a private in the army, so it couldn’t be him.

Which American symbols mean the most to you?

Does seeing the flag or hearing the national anthem make you feel good?

Do you have any treasured American symbols?