Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,
As I prepare poems to read at today’s celebration of Martin Luther King at the Sacramento Convention Center, I wonder what tone I should strike. Should I read something with the grain, benignly celebratory of shared values, or against the grain, drawing our attention to the social justice challenges that we continue to face? It’s not difficult to find antagonists to confront, politically or poetically.
Probably the most famous of the political and cultural antagonists of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was George Wallace. After Wallace was elected governor of Alabama as a Democrat (ouch!), with no Republican standing up to oppose him, he insisted on being sworn in standing on a gold start that marked the spot where Jefferson Davis had been sworn in as the President of the Confederate States of America. Wallace’s first speech as Alabama’s Governor in 1963 contained his most famous line, and one of the most prominent public pronouncements of racism in the 20th century: “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Later that year he used similar rhetoric when he himself physically barred African-American students from enrolling in the University of Alabama.
Ironically, Wallace had been endorsed by the NAACP when he first ran (unsuccessfully) for Governor in 1958, for in that campaign he talked about improving roads and schools, but had lost to a candidate who inflamed racist tensions and divisions in Alabama, promising to keep African Americans from participating in the political process. Wallace himself adopted this strategy in subsequent elections. Like many villains of American politics, Wallace not only heightened divisions, but villainized those he opposed, primarily African Americans. Using the power of his bully pulpit and the media, Wallace convinced voters that such villains were to blame for their own tribulations in life. In his book The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics, historian Dan T. Carter points out that Wallace’s supporters saw the civil rights movement as an indication of the “erosion of the cultural values that underlay the social system.” When he ran for President in 1968, Wallace won a slate of southern states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi. To this day, Wallace is the most recent third-party candidate to have earned pledged electoral college votes from any state.
I would like to say that our politics have changed significantly since George Wallace was earning votes. Certainly, today’s Democratic party would differ with Wallace on almost every issue, and the name of George Wallace the politician is not as well known today, with schoolchildren in many states learning about the racist former governor of Alabama only from Dr. King’s most famous speech, in which the segregationist is not even mentioned by name:
“I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today!”
But in many ways, there is much more work to be done. We still have lessons to learn from the man whose life we celebrate today. Reverend King’s words still resonate with us today because of their uplift, their hopeful message about Americans being defined by our shared ideals, rather by our divisions. Even in King’s lifetime, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited “recipients of Federal financial assistance” (including sheriffs and the police) from engaging in acts of “discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin.” Other protected categories have been added since then, thus writing into law the application of American egalitarian and democratic ideals. With King and other leaders as our examples, I look forward to seeing how we might continue to strive towards those ideals, in 2018 and beyond. Happy Martin Luther King Day!
Tonight’s Quiz will feature questions about some of the topics raised above. Even the Shakespeare question will have a MLK theme to it. Expect also questions about cities with revealed similarities, Special K, Johnny Depp, Capricorn and other astrological signs, median heights, tart fruits, 24 pins, collective joy, Machiavelli, Liam Neeson, Las Vegas, Nobels, answering calls, botany, Kirk Douglas, big grosses, birthday presents, Germany, small coins, people named Tobin, famous novels, cities named after counties, favorite vegetables, Gary Oldman, American sitcoms, anticipating feathers, authoritarians, continental electricity, baseball teams, songs about singing, northern California, fun with calculators, and, as has already been mentioned, Shakespeare.
This coming Thursday night is Poetry Night in Davis. Trinidadian poet and storyteller Angela Davis and reformed lawyer Laura Rosenthal will be the featured performers at the Natsoulas Gallery at 8. You should join us!
Thanks to everyone who came to my book release party Friday at the Avid Reader. I will have copies of the book Pub Quizzes: Trivia for Smart People with me at tonight’s Pub Quiz. See you tonight!
Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:
- Mottos and Slogans. Found in Riverside County, Indio, CA uses the slogan “City of Festivals” because of cultural events held in the city every year. What is the most notable such festival?
- Newspaper Headlines: New Laws for 2018. On January 1 of this year, which of the following became the last state in the nation where drivers are not allowed to pump their own gasoline around the clock? Is it New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, or New York? It’s true that people in Oregon now have to pump their own gas.
- Four for Four. Which two of the following novels were written by Charlotte Brontë? Agnes Grey, Jane Eyre, Vilette, Wuthering Heights.