Category: American Lives
Posted by: an okie gardener
Tim James, first-round pick of the Miami Heat in 1999, now on duty with the U.S. Army in Iraq.

"I think of myself as a patriot," James said. "I wanted to give back to a country that gave so much to me."

Story here.
Category: American Lives
Posted by: an okie gardener
My day calendar reminds me that today is Benjamin Franklin's birthday.

Brief biography from The Independence Hall Association of Philadelphia.

Benjamin Franklin, born in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 17, 1706, may by his life alone be the most profound statement of what an American strives to be.

PBS biography.

He was one of the most extraordinary human beings the world has
ever known. Born into the family of a Boston candle maker, Benjamin
Franklin became the most famous American of his time. He helped
found a new nation and defined the American character. Writer,
inventor, diplomat, businessman, musician, scientist, humorist,
civic leader, international celebrity . . . genius.

The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. Yale collection online.

A link page from The Independence Hall Association of Philadelphia. Includes a link to a virtual tour.
Category: American Lives
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Quoting the President of the United States:

"For nearly 30 years, the proceedings of the House of Representatives have been televised -- unfiltered, uninterrupted, unedited, and live. For this we can thank the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network, or C-SPAN. And for C-SPAN, we can thank a visionary American named Brian Lamb.

"C-SPAN is not what you'd call exciting TV -- (laughter) -- though some of the call-in shows do have their moments. (Laughter.) It is, however, a tool that enlivens democracy, and informs and educates citizens of all ages -- at all hours.

"C-SPAN channels fill 17,000 broadcast hours a year. But you can watch for years and never hear anyone say the name Brian Lamb. Even Brian never says it.

"With his low-key manner, this native of Lafayette, Indiana likes to stick with substance. He's not there to provide commentary, or give much reaction either way. Yet vast numbers of Americans consider themselves fans of Brian Lamb. A writer from The Washington Post called it a "cult of non-personality." (Laughter.) The truth is, we've all seen him, and he's conducted some of the most fascinating interviews we have ever heard. As one C-SPAN watcher said, when you listen to Brian "You feel like he's just like you, only smarter." (Laughter.)

"Brian Lamb has spent most of his life in broadcasting, in a career that has taken many turns. The first program he ever hosted, back in the Midwest, was called "Dance Date," -- a side we haven't seen much of. (Laughter.) Brian Lamb is a Navy veteran; a former social aide here at the White House. In fact, when Brian was here a few months ago to interview a historian in the Lincoln Bedroom, the maitre d' of the residential staff of the White House remembered him from those days.

"The network Brian Lamb created has been called "scrupulously nonpartisan, [and] inherently patient." Committee hearings, and campaign events, and conferences, and rallies are shown from beginning to end, without editorial comment or interpretation. C-SPAN has no agenda, and only one assumption: that interested viewers are intelligent, and can make up their own minds about what they see and what they hear.

"An informed citizenry has been the strength of America since the days of the New England town hall. C-SPAN has revived the town-hall spirit for a modern, continental nation. For his enormous achievement and his personal modesty; for his high standards, and his contribution to our democracy, America is grateful to Mr. Brian Lamb. (Applause.)"

The Presidential Medal of Freedom citation reads:

"Brian P. Lamb. As the driving force behind the creation of C-SPAN, Brian Lamb has elevated our public debate and helped open up our government to citizens across the nation. His dedication to a transparent political system and to the free flow of ideas has enriched our civic life. He has helped empower Americans to know and understand their government and hold it accountable. The United States honors Brian Lamb for his efforts to ensure that his fellow citizens are well-informed participants in the American system of self-government through reflection and choice."

My thoughts: Amen.

Transcript from the ceremony via the White House website in full here.
Category: American Lives
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Originally delivered as a Wednesday night lecture at Seventh and James Baptist Church in January of 2006:

Around six PM on Thursday evening, Dec. 1, 1955, headed home after finishing her work day as a seamstress at a downtown Montgomery department store, Rosa Parks stood in front of Court Square waiting for the Cleveland Avenue Bus.

She hurriedly boarded the bus and found an empty seat. A few moments later, she would refuse to surrender her seat to a white passenger. The police would come, they would arrest her, and a pivotal moment in modern American history would commence.

“Let me have those seats,” the bus driver had called back over his shoulder, seeing that a white passenger was standing.

Rosa was sitting next to an African American man and across the aisle sat two African American women. Although the driver was speaking to all four of them, not one of them moved.

The driver called back a second time: “Y’all make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats.”

The man next to Rosa began to stir, and then stood and moved into the aisle.

Rosa looked across to see that the other women were also complying.

Rosa eased over to the just-vacated window-seat and, for lack of a better word, she “dug in.”

“I could not see how standing up was going to make it light for me,” she would later say.

”The more we gave in and complied, the worse they treated us.”

The driver saw that she was not moving and asked one more time if she was going to stand up.

“No,” she said.

“Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have you arrested,” he said.

“You may do that,” Rosa Parks said.

By the time the police arrived a few minutes later, the back of the bus was quietly emptying out. When one of the policeman asked Mrs. Parks why she didn’t stand up, she asked him: “Why do you push us around?”

And he replied: “I do not know, but the law is the law, and you are under arrest.”

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Category: American Lives
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Last week, I posted a few oblique comments related to the perilous condition of education at our institutions of higher learning. The inspiration for my pessimism was the so-called Coyote Ugly Manifesto, an anonymous declaration of grievances emanating from a coterie of disgruntled Baylor law students.

The post in full here (scroll down for the "Manifesto").

The vital issue at the core of the relatively insignificant controversy is the changing culture of American education, which ultimately will determine who we will be as a people. My worst fear is that the local incident is symptomatic of a dangerous national trend. On the other hand, I can hope that the "Coyote Ugly" abomination is merely an aberration; I can certainly testify that those sour sentiments do not characterize the Baylor lawyers with whom I have been acquainted over time. In fact, much more representative of the spirit of Baylor Law is...

My favorite Baylor lawyer:

Portia, Baylor BA, 1998; Baylor JD, 2002.

Roots. Portia grew to maturity in a single-parent, working-class home in red-state America. She lived in a series of apartments, where she and her older sister shared a bedroom. Portia began working after school and on weekends when she was fifteen, earning spending money and enough extra cash for teenager essentials. She would not have a car of her own until she was twenty-one, when she could contract for one with her own money and credit. Early in her life, her mother often worked overnight shifts at the hospital as a phlebotomist, and Portia's extended family became important caretakers and role models. The village proved instrumental in raising the child.

Education. In public school, she found a welcomed venue to demonstrate her exceptional talents. Nevertheless, from K-through-college, she felt intense pressure to make grades; she was working without a net. Good marks meant better schools, which would mean a good college, which meant a good law school, which meant a better life and more opportunity. Failure at any level equaled unwanted additional limits to who she wanted to be. She went to every class; she did her homework every night; she aced every test. She made her way to Baylor, where she fell in love (first with the institution and later with an extremely fortunate history grad student). She completed her BA in history in four years, working part time during the school year, fulltime during the summers. But she will tell you that the most important thing she learned at Baylor was how little she knew.

Not surprisingly, when she matriculated at Baylor Law School, she did not complain about the work load. She was wise enough to understand that her opportunity to learn was golden and much more than she had a right to expect. One of her profs would later describe Portia as a student willing to receive instruction rather than argue that her untaught instincts were correct.

A young married woman, she began her tenure as a law student with a three-month-old infant. As a third year, expecting another child, she did not ask for special consideration, save for the opportunity to take two final exams a few days early. She had not complained the day her PC prof kept her standing at her seat for most of the hour. She was not "offended;" she saw no malice in the encounter. To the contrary, she valued that moment immensely and understood completely why that brand of equality was essential to her experience. She scheduled the birth of her second son two days after completing the winter quarter and Practice Court II.

What did Baylor Law School produce? Although she did not lose any of her humanity (some of her admirers might call it her "sweetness"), Portia emerged a force. She understood the value of hard work, accuracy and personal responsibility. She learned to speak softly and carry a big stick. Pity the less savvy observer who commits the fatal error of underestimating her fire and ability. Woe to the unthinking boob who crosses her or attacks some less-equipped person under her protection. Her causes are generally not flashy--but they are always worthy, and they enjoy a skilled and vigorous advocate.

Baylor Law School cannot claim complete authorship of Portia. In addition to her will to succeed, much of who she became was the product of good fortune and sacrifices and encouragement from a host of important loving influences in her life. However, the rigor, discipline and tradition of Baylor Law School provided an essential component in the formation of her character. If we as a people are to survive the horrific hurdles that our future holds, we must eschew the temptations of therapeutic education and commit ourselves to strenuous learning and the yield it produces. We need more Portia's and far fewer "Coyote Ugly" bomb throwers.
My grandfather Taylor always referred to November 11 as Armistice Day. He had fought in Europe in WW1, one of the thousands and thousands of young men dislocated from their farms and dispatched to France.

Born in 1896 in the house built by his father, who had homesteaded 80 acres of north Missouri prairie, my grandfather's early life took place a few miles from home: the country school a mile and a quarter south down the dirt road that ran in front of the house; his parent's Primitive Baptist church about 4 and 1/2 miles north and west; the local Methodist church with its revivals and suppers less than a mile away; the nearest train station about six miles distant; a country store about a mile and a 1/2 west; and the county seat 10 miles away. No radio. All national and international events were old news by the time they reached the community. Then, with the entry of the United States into the Great War, my grandfather and those like him moved into military life, and were transported to France. I can't imagine the culture shock or sense of displacement those young men experienced.

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Category: American Lives
Posted by: an okie gardener
Every Fourth of July in my childhood had a similar pattern. From daylight till dusk I engaged in destruction with firecrackers, blowing up empty cans (way out back by the barn so my mother would not realize that shrapnel was involved), and closer to the house creating tableux with toy soldiers and cars that I subjected to a barrage of Black Cats. The barn cats made themselves scarce that day.

Even when I became old enough to work in the hayfield, the evenings remained the same as in childhood. We stopped work in the early afternoon, cleaned up, and began setting up the grill. My mother made the ice cream and Dad and I went outside to crank it.

About this time our neighbors from the farm south of us would come over: Doris and Fred Robinson. Fred would sit outside with us while we turned the ice cream maker; Doris would go inside with Mom. Supper was grilled burgers and ice cream. Finally it would be dark enough to set off fireworks. Our house was on a ridge so we also could see the neighbors' Roman Candles and rockets.

Fred was a jolly man, given to self-deprecating humor. He had been born in Illinois, then come to northern Missouri to work on a relative's farm as a hired man. He spent his youth during the Depression as a hand on several farms. One story he told several times was of a farmer he worked for who would give him one .22 shell every Saturday afternoon and tell him to go get something for supper, usually squirrel. Nothing was wasted in those hard days. When WW2 came he served in the Army in Europe, then came home, married his sweatheart, joined the local Primitive Baptist church eventually becoming a deacon, and farmed as long as his health permitted before he and Doris sold the place and moved into town.

He told a few war stories, mostly in his self-deprecating style. One I recall was set in the Battle of the Bulge. He told how he and his unit went without sleep for over 72 hours. He would finish the story by saying "You wouldn't think a person could stay awake that long, but if you're scared enough you can." His unit also liberated a concentration camp. He told how the GI's gave the liberated prisoners their rations, which the survivors usually threw up. He would close the story with "I never thought human beings could be so thin and live."

Fred is gone now, as so many of that generation are. He was quiet, probably easy to overlook unless you knew him. All the time I remember him he looked like what he was in his overalls--a Missouri farmer. But, as a young man, he helped defeat tyranny and free a continent. He was so self-deprecating in his war stories that I did not learn until I read his obituary that he had received 3 Bronze Stars.

He was an American, an ordinary man who did extraordinary things when duty called.
Category: American Lives
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Note: This essay is the third installment in a series entitled, "American Lives," which spotlights great Americans, famous and anonymous, who have lived exemplary American Lives.

This particular piece is something of a departure, in that it spotlights a young person who is in the very earliest stages of living an exemplary American life. Nevertheless, his already compelling story is instructive.

Jonathan Treviño is eight years old and lives in a “colonia” in Peñitas, Texas, approximately eight miles north of the United States-Mexico border. Thanks to the vision of John Shary, a developer from Omaha, and a 320-day growing season, the Rio Grande Valley is one of the largest citrus producers in the world. But the Valley is not a lush garden spot. The climate is dry, averaging twenty-three inches of annual rainfall, and the days are hot and dusty. This area is also one of the poorest in the nation, with a per capita income of $9,899, according to the Census Bureau.

Jonathan lives on a crudely paved street off a farm road that connects via another road to the state highway north, which connects to an interstate highway that traverses the heartland of America. He lives in an unfinished home with his parents and his two brothers (ages ten and sixteen) and his two sisters (ages three and thirteen). The children all attend public school, where they have won many ribbons and other honors for their academic achievements, which they proudly display on their bedroom walls. The family has several bookcases filled with Bibles, other religious literature, textbooks, children’s stories, and American history, including the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Most of these volumes are in English.

For Jonathan, summer days are spent playing with cousins and friends and his brother, Sebastian. Their oldest brother, Orlando, works in the fields with his dad during the break from school. Jonathan and Sebastian play football (American) and catch “horny toads” and geckos and do their best to stay clear of red ants, scorpions, and rattlers.

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Category: American Lives
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Note: This essay is the second installment in a series entitled, "American Lives," which spotlights great Americans, famous and anonymous, who have lived exemplary American Lives.

These notes on the passing of a friend were penned a few years ago. Alvin was not a public official, but he embodied service to his community.

“Alvin Sams, 63, died at his home in Lorena on Monday,” read Tuesday’s newspaper. “Services pending at Wilkirson-Hatch-Bailey.” Although I had received the news for the first time via the telephone the evening before (and cried), the stark reality of the newsprint jarred me again. The death of Alvin Sams was a shock. True, Alvin was relatively young—but it was much more than just his age that defied acceptance. He was vigorous. He was full of life. He was Alvin. Of course, death comes to us all at some point. For those of us with a connection to the funeral business, our experience confirms an immutable truth: the circumstances and timing of our demise are as unpredictable as the ultimate outcome is certain. Nevertheless, the loss of Alvin found all of us who knew him unprepared. We assumed (oblivious to the laws of nature) that Alvin would go on forever.

Alvin was a Waco institution. He had a generosity of spirit that came through in every conversation, and people naturally responded to him. Sometimes it seemed as if he knew everyone in town. His roots and worldview were working class. Raised on Bell’s Hill in South Waco, Alvin graduated from University High. Alvin threw the local paper as a youth, worked at a gas station on the Circle as a young man and drove an ambulance during the mid-1960s. He went to work for Wilkirson-Hatch Funeral Home in 1969, and he never left. Over the next thirty-three years, Alvin personified consummate professionalism, but he never lost his common touch. While quite comfortable with (and beloved by) bankers and executives, he reflexively comprehended truck drivers and mechanics. The diversity of mourners, the enormous turnout, and the outpouring of emotion at his own service matched his ample and authentic love for his community.

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Category: American Lives
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Note: This essay is the first installment in a series entitled, "American Lives," which spotlights great Americans, famous and anonymous, who have lived exemplary American Lives.

As we glide comfortably into the twenty-first century, social commentators ask if this generation of Americans will embrace the ancient cause of liberty. Because we live in a free society dependent on enlightened self-government and public service, each generation is called upon to embrace the mantle of citizenship. Free men and women dedicated to upholding sacred institutions handed down from our heroes of the past must give new life to Democracy.

Lt. Colonel Charles Yates, USAF-Ret is one of our heroes. Through tenacity and a desire to serve, Charles and millions of Americans like him met every challenge of their critical times. Our generation inherits the blessings of freedom, security and prosperity from men like Charles Yates. If we are to meet the challenges in our future, we do well to appreciate and emulate his model American life.

Born in Rutherford, Tennessee in 1924, Charles Clancie Yates inherited a tradition of stubborn self-reliance, independent thinking and devotion to duty from his Gibson County antecedents. Men of that region, who intrepidly pioneered the Northwest Tennessee frontier during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century, a few generations later, bucked the prevailing tide of secession as the Civil War approached. A significant number of them volunteered to fight for the preservation of the Union; one of those volunteers was W. C. Bell, maternal great grandfather to Charles Yates. By the 1920s, however, like most rural Southerners, residents of Rutherford battled an enemy at least as furious as civil war: the onset of the Great Depression.

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