Fair Use Blog

Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Now available: full text of “Slavery in Auburn, Alabama” (1907)

Now available on the Fair Use Repository website: I have just made available the full, transcribed text of Slavery in Auburn, Alabama, a small 18pp booklet from the Alabama Polytechnic Institute Historical Studies (published by Auburn University, then known as Alabama Polytechnic Institute) written by Meriwether Harvey.

I found the booklet on the shelves at the Auburn University RBD Library, an aging, decaying reprint booklet carefully tucked into a protective grey cover, and decided that this document of local history deserved preserving. So I have spent the past couple days reading and transcribing the text into digital form.

The booklet was written in 1907, and its viewpoint very emphatically reflects the views common among wealthy white families and former slaveholders (like the Harveys) in and around Auburn, Alabama, a small college town in what was then rural East Alabama. It is romanticized, although concerned enough with points of detail and description that that only causes a problem in some parts of the booklet. At times, the text is oblivious, or frankly racist. It makes some blanket claims about the local slave trade that are almost certainly self-serving lies told by the author’s sources. However, the booklet seems to have been based primarily on first-hand interviews with slaveholding white families and a few interviews with African-American residents who had been born under slavery, and whether intentionally or unintentionally provides fascinating points of detail, and anecdotes reflecting the reminiscences, the self-justifying fantasies, and also the anxieties of white slaveholders in East Alabama, as well as some of the range of experiences of slavery in east Alabama, and the operation of the slaves’ economy, despite its frustrating limitations. Some excerpts:

Slavery in Auburn, Alabama (1907)

By Meriwether Harvey

[…] Corn shucking was another great occasion in the negro’s life. The owner would have all his corn hauled up and thrown on the ground at the crib door in a big pile; then he would invite his neighbors’ negroes to come to his house on a certain night to a corn shucking. Only the men were invited; as they came they could be heard in the distance singing corn songs. I have tried to record some of these songs, but I find they were a jargon; they had no real words, only a tune. Some disinterested man would lay a long pole in the middle of the pile; then two negro men would choose sides, as is done today in spelling matches, and the two sides would enter into a contest to see which could first finish their side of the pile. The leader, dressed in a stove pipe hat and feather, walked up and down on the pile and gave out the corn song. The whole crowd answered him in the chorus. As they shucked, they would throw the corn into the barn in front of them and the shucks behind. When they had finished about half of the pile, corn whiskey was passed; thus they worked till eleven o’clock, when [13] they had a big plain supper. After eating the put the shucks in pens made for the purpose. By twelve they had finished, and then the frolic began. They danced about the great bonfire that had been burning all the time behind them, so that they might have sufficient light to shuck the corn, the lights and shadows making a strange and ghostly scene. After the supper the owner of the plantation, the giver of the corn shucking, or sometimes the overseer, was seized and carried about on the shoulders of some of the negroes. The other negroes followed, all singing at the top of their voices. About two or three o’clock in the morning they all went home.

[…] The treatment of slaves was generally good because the negro was property and was cared for as such. [sic] I have interviewed only one man who ever saw a slave unmercifully beaten. [sic] A great many negroes would run away; some of them were chronic runaways, and were so seemingly without any cause whatever. A few of these chronic runaways were chained at night. Certain people all through the country kept fox hounds for tracking runaway negroes, who would go off into the swamps and woods. It was often impossible to catch them in any way except with dogs. They were seldom bitten by the dogs when over taken; they would climb a tree if one was near at hand, but if they were caught on the ground, the dogs were so trained that they circled around the negroes, without going close to them. Negroes always aided a runaway by slipping to him something to eat. Mr. H. never had a negro to lie out more than three days, and never offered more than ten dollars as a reward for his return. Mr. B., with the aid of another man, caught a negro who had been in the woods seven years. He advertised the negro, and in due time returned him to his master. The slave turned out to be the most faithful of a large number of slaves. Mrs. D. says of her whole [15] number of slaves, which was between one hundred and fifty and two hundred, there was never a runaway; Mr. B. knows several such cases. Uncle West would run from the plantation up to Mr. F. R.’s residence whenever the overseer told him to do what he did not wish to do, or threatened to whip him. None of the negroes ever did any other kind of running away.

The overseers were men selected for their practical farming ability, and their business was to oversee the negroes and look after the farm and the planting. Sometimes an overseer was discharged, or brought to trial, when he mistreated a negro. One of Mr. W. H.’s overseers whipped two of his negroes, who hid in the swamp. Some of the other negroes came from the plantation to Auburn to tell their master. He decided the whipping unjust and paid the overseer up and let him go.

When an overseer was hired it was understood that he was to ride the country as a patrol; also the young white slave-owners of the neighborhood patrolled on certain nights. A negro was not allowed to leave his master’s plantation without a pass stating where he was going and when he was to return. This had to be signed, either by the overseer or the master. If the negro was caught away from home without a pass, he was whipped with a leather strap by these patrols. The usual punishment for being away from home without a pass was ten to twenty lashes, but in exceptional cases thirty-nine lashes might be given. These patrols went usually Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons and nights, but they also went out any night when they thought they might catch negroes roving about. They patrolled the roads, visited the plantations, and searched the cabins; if a negro was caught in a cabin away from home, he was taken off a good way from the negro quarters and whipped. Of course the whipping depended upon the offense, the mood of the patrol, and the negro whipped. Sometimes people who did not own negroes would catch a [16] negro without a pass and beat him badly, but the regular patrol did not do this.

The negroes were punished as a rule, by whipping; the whip was a leather strap so that it would not cut the skin. The foreman was the boss and did the whipping, but the owner, or overseer, was there to witness it. On some plantations the overseer did the whipping, but the master was usually present. Negroes were not whipped for small offenses; a foreman would sometimes dislike a certain negro and would beat that one unmercifully. As a rule, the overseer was more kind and merciful than the foreman. If there was a large number of hands, the foreman spent his whole time bossing; if the number was small, he would work awhile and then boss awhile. He lorded it over the other negroes. The worst whipping was often done by the negro parents.

[…] Slavery was not without its dark side. There were near Auburn several instances of cruel treatment to slaves. In one case they were not properly fed, in another, they were not sufficiently clothed. How far this was due to the lack of means of the masters is now hard to determine. In some cases they seem to have been overworked. In one or two they were treated roughly and punished severely. In one case a slave stabbed his master, but did not kill him. The slave was tried and hanged. Public opinion disapproved of cruelty on the part of masters. One man was indicted three times for ill treatment of his slaves, especially for failing to supply them with sufficient food and clothing. He was fined each time.

[18]There were some old negroes who did as they pleased and went where they pleased. These negroes were too old and infirm to be of any value. Mr. H. had four or five such, two of whom were blind women. They made money by making baskets and selling chickens and eggs. These negroes were not what were called free negroes. Uncle Burl Dillard was in reality a free negro, but he nominally belonged to the Dillards. He made ginger bread and persimmon beer, which he sold. He also had a wagon and mule, and went through the country buying old rags which he took to Columbus and there sold. His wife, Aunt Kitty Dillard, was a slave.

The negroes had the greatest contempt for poor white folks, that is people who owned no negroes. Every one speaks of their faithfulness. They would divide anything they had with their masters and would steal from their neighbor rather than their master. Only cribs and smoke houses were locked. They thought their folks the greatest in the world, and what belonged to the master was always spoken of as theirs. They were respectful to every one except poor white folks. Mr. R.’s negroes came from South Carolina and would not associate with other negroes because they thought South Carolina negroes far superior to any of the negroes in Auburn. In 1847 Aus Harvey went to Mexico with his master. When they left, the mother of Mr. Harvey made Aus promise to bring her son back if he should die. Mr. Harvey died with yellow fever, and true to his promise, Aus brought the body home. He paid his own fare and that of the corpse by cooking and doing various things. He told parties that the corpse was a piece of furniture he was bringing to Alabama. Finally, he got the body as far as Montgomery; then the family sent for it. There were many examples of faithfulness, too numerous to be told.

–Meriwether Harvey, Slavery in Auburn, Alabama (1907)

“Enemies In Almost All Our Institutions”: The Rise and the Tactics of the Cheka under Dzerzhinskii, from W. Bruce Lincoln, Red Victory: A History of the Russian Civil War (1989), 381-385.

The following passage comes from pp. 381-385 of Chapter 11, The Struggle to Survive in W. Bruce Lincoln’s book Red Victory: A History of the Russian Civil War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989). The passage is cited as a source in recent revisions of Wikipedia:Cheka, but the text of the passage was not yet fully available online, so here it is, for reference. Hyperlinks have been added; footnotes are from the original text.

[…] Rather than admit the real enemies they faced were an acute lack of civic responsibility among the people they ruled, the Bolsheviks proclaimed bungling, shirking, and sabotage to be the reason for their inability to mobilize the working men and women of Russia in the cause of economic reconstruction. To deal with such spectral foes required a massive invasion of Russians’ daily lives. For the first time in their modern history, the men and women of Russia became responsible not only for what they said and did, but for what they thought.

Now openly acknowledged by the Bolsheviks’ Central Committee as an instrument for fulfilling the will of the Party and the proletariat,[112] Dzerzhinskii‘s Cheka became the Bolsheviks’ chief defense against their inability to mobilize Russians to rebuild their nation’s economic life. Although its brutality against the Whites continued unabated in those areas where Bolsheviks still vied for control, the Cheka now became an instrument to coerce a nation as [382] it began to search for enemies of the people among peasants, Red Army soldiers, workers, bureaucrats, and even loyal Bolsheviks. The form of our struggle against our enemies must change, Dzerzhinskii told the Central Executive Committee in February 1919 as he argued (very prematurely, it turned out) that the battle against the Whites had been won. They now are trying to worm their way into our Soviet institutions so that, once they have infiltrated our ranks, they can sabotage our work. Nothing could have expressed more clearly the Bolsheviks’ increasingly paranoid response to the crises that surrounded them. We know that we have enemies in almost all our institutions, Dzerzhinskii concluded, but we cannot smash our institutions. We have to dig out clues and try to catch them.[113] Its resources now focused upon government offices, trade unions, factories, villages, and party headquarters, the Cheka declared war against the Russians. In this struggle, the organs of the Cheka must become an instrument for realizing the centralized will of the proletariat, Lenin told the Fourth Conference of Provincial Chekas a year later. He therefore insisted that the Cheka must become a weapon for creating the sort of discipline that we have been able to establish in the Red Army [in society as a whole].[114]

Dzerzhinskii shared all the fears of internal enemies that plagued Lenin and his comrades. Power had not softened him physically or morally, for he had continued to live a thoroughly ascetic life, even when others had begun to enjoy the comforts that their newly won positions made possible. Although he had exercised the power of life and death over men under the most trying conditions, Dzerzhinskii still remained true to his once-stated ideal that a Chekist must always have a cool head, a warm heart, and clean hands.[115] His features sharpened by age and the burdens of office, Dzerzhinskii now resembled the Grand Inquisitor more than ever. When his appointment as commissar of internal affairs in March 1919 enabled him to combine the personnel of the Cheka with the much larger institutional and financial resources of one of Soviet Russia’s most important commissariats, he shaped the two into an institution of uniquely pervasive coercive abilities. Eventually, the Cheka became reorganized as the GPU, the acronym for Gosudarstvennoe politicheskoe upravlenie (State Political Administration), which, popular gallows humor bitterly remarked, really stood for the phrase Gospodi, pomilui umershikh, or Lord, have mercy upon the dead.[116] With a clear mandate to act as the Party’s special [383] instrument to rout out sedition and sabotage wherever it might threaten the Bolsheviks’ efforts to move ahead with Russia’s economic reconstruction,[117] Dzerzhinskii‘s Cheka became in every sense the avenging sword of the Revolution.

As the Cheka expanded its work beyond those Civil War fronts where it faced enemies in open battle, it took control of Russia’s railways, waterways, frontiers, cities, large towns, factories, and government offices. Everywhere, it searched for White Guardists, saboteurs, and shirkers who might be trying to undermine Russia from within. Far distant were the days when Dzerzhinskii had carried the Cheka‘s entire files around Petrograd in a briefcase. Now the Cheka‘s dossiers about real, suspected, and imagined enemies numbered in the tens of thousands. How a person’s parents and grandparents had been employed, where and how they had lived, and whom they had entertained in their homes all became important, as things written or said in days long past returned to haunt innocent Russians. Inheritor of the tsarist belief that it was in man’s nature to do evil, the Cheka lived with the frustrating conviction that most crimes inevitably would go undiscovered and unpunished. Its agents always tried to uncover new crimes in the course of every inquiry. One should never … confront [a suspect] … with material evidence convicting him of guilt at the beginning of an interrogation, the Cheka instructed its interrogators. It is important to ascertain first other participants in the case and the possibility of other as yet undisclosed crimes.[118]

As they violated the minds and bodies of their victims, the Cheka‘s inquisitors abandoned every moral principle that guided the behavior of civilized men and women. Usually, prisoners were questioned late at night after they had been kept without sleep and fed starvation rations for long periods. Hunger and disease were part of everyday life in Cheka prisons, but so were physical and psychological tortures. Rapes of female prisoners by Cheka guards and interrogators were so commonplace that they occasioned comment from superiors only if performed in some particularly brutal or perverted fashion. Threats against relatives, whippings, and beatings (during which interrogators sometimes gouged out one of the victim’s eyes) were everyday methods of extracting confessions, but each Cheka headquarters evidently developed certain specialties. The Cheka in Voronezh rolled its prisoners around inside a barrel into which nails had been driven, while the Cheka in Kharkov used scalping as a preferred form of torture. In Armavir, the Cheka [384] used a death wreath that applied increasing pressure to a prisoner’s skull; at Tsaritsyn, they separated prisoners’ joints by sawing through their bones; and, in Omsk, they poured molten sealing wax on prisoners’ faces, arms, and necks. In Kiev, Chekists installed rats in pieces of pipe that had been closed at one end, placed the open end against prisoners’ stomachs, and then heated the pipes until the rats, maddened by the heat, tried to escape by gnawing their way into the prisoners’ intestines.[119]

Like the sword of Damocles, the threat of death hung over every prisoner of the Cheka, not only because interrogators terrorized prisoners with mock executions,[120] but because real executions occurred very often. Estimates of men and women killed by Cheka executioners between 1918 and the end of the Civil War in 1921 vary wildly from a few thousand (Dzerzhinskii‘s lieutenant Martyn Latsis set the total for this period at 12,733)[121] into the hundreds of thousands, and one estimate set the number of Cheka victims for the somewhat longer period between the October Revolution and Lenin‘s death at the astronomical figure of one and three-quarters million.[122] Although they do not take into account those killed when the Cheka suppressed hundreds of insurrections against Soviet authority, the best estimates set the probable number of executions at about a hundred thousand,[123] or about seven times the number killed by the tsarist government during the entire century before the Revolution. That staggering statistic becomes even more appalling if we remember that it does not include those who died in Cheka prisons from disease, hunger, or beatings. To this day, it remains impossible to do more than guess at the number of men, women, and children whose lives were snuffed out by the Cheka between 1918 and 1921.

If any estimate of the Cheka‘s victims must remain an uncertain conjecture, the methods by which they met their deaths are far better known. Chekist executioners sometimes crucified their vctims in Ekaterinoslav and Kiev. In Odessa, they favored chaining White officers to planks and pushing them slowly into furnaces or boiling water. The Sevastopol Cheka preferred mass hangings. In other places, the Cheka beheaded its victims by twisting their necks until their heads could be torn off. Some executioners had their victims stoned to death. Denikin‘s investigators discovered corpses whose lungs, throats, and mouths had been packed with earth. Other victims died after being chopped apart with axes. Still others were skinned alive. Severing arms and legs, disemboweling, blinding, cutting [385] off tongues, ears, and noses, and various sorts of sexual mutilation often prolonged victims’ agonies before the executions.[124]

Most commonly, an executioner fired a single bullet into the base of his victim’s skull. When larger numbers of prisoners needed to be killed quickly, as in cases where sudden advances by White forces threatened their liberation, Cheka firing squads and machine-gunners did the killing. As the armies of General Denikin advanced toward Kiev, more than four hundred Cheka prisoners met their deaths in that fashion on the night of August 26, 1919. In Kharkov, the Cheka killed seventy-nine in a single night, and there were reports that some two thousand died in Ekaterinodar during one twenty-four-hour period in August 1920.[125] The whole of it was coated with blood–blood ankle deep, wisps of hair, and the like, investigators from Denikin‘s forces reported after they visited the main Cheka slaughterhouse in Kiev. A conspicuous object, their report concluded, was the wooden block upon which the victims had to lay their heads for the purpose of being brained with a crowbar, with, in the floor beside it, a traphole filled to the brim with human brain-matter from the shattering of the skulls.[126]

  1. [112]Obrashchenie TsK RKP(b), p. 250.
  2. [113]Dzerzhinskii, pp. 254-255.
  3. [114]Lenin, Rech’ … na 4-i konferentsii, pp. 370-371.
  4. [115]Quoted in Legett, p. 187.
  5. [116]Quoted in Mel’gunov (1925), p. 265.
  6. [117]Obrashchenie TsK RKP(b), p. 250.
  7. [118]118. Quoted in Gerson, p. 150.
  8. [119]119. Mel’gunov (1925), p. 111.
  9. [120]See, for example, Berkman (1925), p. 166.
  10. [121]121. Latsis (1921), p. 9.
  11. [122]Mel’gunov (1925), p. 111.
  12. [123]Chamberlin, II, p. 75; Gerson, pp. 172-176; Leggett, pp. 466-468.
  13. [124]Mel’gunov (1925), pp. 78-81, 172-187.
  14. [125]125. Chamberlin II, p. 83, note 16; Leggett, p. 200; Mel’gunov (1925), pp. 73-74, 174-175.
  15. [126]Ibid., pp. 75-85; Leggett, p. 200.

New York Herald, 18 January 1874: “The Communists of New York–Their Secret Meetings and Movements,” and “The Communists: Meeting to Arouse the Second Assembly District”

Here are a pair of stories from the New York Herald in 1874, on “The Communists” and their meetings. The stories are typical examples of mainstream journalism reporting on radical movements in the wake of the United States’ first great Red Scare — the reaction to the Red uprisings in France in 1871 and the proclamation of the Paris Commune. Although the communards had been conquered, massacred and exiled by the Versailles government years before in 1871, the economic depression following the Panic of 1873, and an upsurge in worker protests and labor organizing, left many mainstream papers panicked about the prospects for conspiracy and insurgency in the United States.

Many thanks to Jesse Walker for pointing me to this issue of the Herald.

These stories appeared on Sunday, January 18, 1874. First, on p. 6, the column advertising “To-Day’s Contents of the Herald” includes the following item:


More on that in a minute. But first, in another column on p. 6:

The Communists of New York–Their Secret Meetings and Movements.

That there exists in the city of New York a disturbing element known as the “Communists” was demonstrated on Tuesday last in Tompkins square, and again last night in Cosmopolitan Hall. Although frustrated in Tuesday’s open attempt to defy the lawful authorities which forbade their assembling, or at least their parading the streets in procession, there is no knowing at what hour or by what preconcerted and secret action they may commit some overt act and cause widespread consternation among the community.

These dangerous conspirators against society are not confined to New York nor to Paris; they are spread the world over. They declare, as one of the prisoners arrested on Tuesday last did, that the red flag is their only flag; that they spit upon all other flags; that they demand equal rights in all things, the equalization of property, the apportionment of “good things,” and “free love,” as it is commonly known, in its broadest sense. They have no religion and no respect for person or station. In New York the body is controlled in a mysterious manner by an unseen so-called “Committee of Safety,” only a few of whom have appeared upon the surface. The movements of this committee are as secret and mystical as those of any known secret organization. Their leaders attempt to cover their own peculiar objects and schemes by advocating–nay, “demanding”–the employment of laborers upon the public works. These laborers, it is known, are mostly Irish Catholics, and if by their demands they succeed in securing employment for this class of people they take all the credit therefor, and hope thereby to win the Catholic laboring element to their side and obtain their assistance in their machinations. In these ridiculous demands, however, they have thus far failed. And when the Irish Catholic laborers are made to realize the hideous conduct of these Communists during their reign of carnage and terror in Paris, when the highest prelate in their Church in that unfortunate metropolis–the beloved Archbishop Darboy–together with other venerated and venerable magnates of the Church, was savagely butchered by these frenzied semi-barbarians, and the sacred shrines of their churches ruthlessly robbed of their precious jewels and treasures, they shun, as they would a pestilence, all affiliation with these foes of Christianity and civilization as well as of law and order. Evidence of this may be gleaned from the fact that of the large number of arrests at Tompkins square on Tuesday not a single Irish Catholic was found among the number. And another significant fact may be mentioned here–that of all those arrested, with only two or three exceptions, none were either native born or adopted citizens or foreigners who had declared their intentions of becoming citizens; in short, the great majority were men who recognized only the “red flag” as the flag of their nationality, and who “spat upon all others.” The Communists attempt to cajole the German laborers in the same way they have the Irish; but they to almost as great an extent have failed with them as with the Irish. It is even intimated that the Communists have threatened to burn schoolhouses in order to give employment in their reconstruction to both Irish and German laborers.

It may be asked, where does all the money come from to support the extraordinary operations of these men–men who work like machines, or as an engineer moves his locomotive, with people’s passions for tramways? They must have money, though professedly poor and starving, for if allowed to appear in procession they are ready to make a gorgeous display of banners and legends, of regalia, gold shields and other paraphenalia that must have cost thousands of dollars. At their meetings, which are seldom held twice in the same place or at the same hour when the places are changed, they have a free lunch at which many a poor fellow, out of work and out of money, is glad to get the wherewith to appease the pangs of hunger. These cost money, and it is the best possible way for them to spend it. The leaders–the engineers of the “Committee of Safety”–do not seem to be very impecunious, one of them (if not of this, of some other similar, if not so radical an organization) exhibiting in his shirt bosom on a certain occasion a thousand dollar breastpin while shrieking for “bread or blood.” The money to support all these things, we say, must come from some source, or may it not be here already? May not the booty of the plundered churches of Paris be now furnishing the material aid to carry on these nefarious projects–projects so menacing to the peace and safety of this whole community? It is known, as has been before intimated in this paper, that large amounts of precious stones, without setting, and concealed in balls of wax, together with numerous other treasures, the spoils of the Paris churches we refer to, were secretly conveyed to this country during the temporary but sanguinary régime of the Communists in Paris. Hence is it not reasonable to suppose that the product of these treasures of the sanctuaries is employed in the work of these incendiaries, conspirators and revolutionists?

We do not think that there is any immediate cause for serious alarm in regard to the operations of these desperate people; but it manifestly behooves the authorities to take such steps as will prevent their obtaining the upper hand in any single demonstrative movement they may undertake.

On the first column p. 10, the Herald carries its second story:


Meeting to Arouse the Second Assembly District.

Startling Words for the City Authorities


Several Addresses from Members of the Committee of Safety–What the Commune Intends To Do.

The Communists, it would seem, are moving and organizing in reality, and, judging from the speeches delivered at the meeting which took place last evening at Cosmopolitan Hall, corner of Catharine street and East Broadway, are determined upon asserting their rights to assemble in the public parks of the city. Quite a number of the organization were present, representing almost every nationality. Applause was freely given whenever any of the speakers alluded to the Police Commissioners or the police as tyrants and despots.

Citizen Banks

was on hand at an early hour, and as each newcomer made his appearance he would immediately rise and grasp him by the hand, and at the same time whisper to him in a subdued tone information of a secret character. About eight o’clock there were about sixty or seventy present. Citizen Banks then stepped up to the table at the further end of the room and called the meeting to order. He proposed that Mr. Roger Burke be requested to act as chariman. The motion was seconded and carried, and

Mr. Burke mounted the rostrum.

All eyes were now turned upon Citizen Burke, and as he prepared to deliver his address of thanks a faint applause greeted his ears. As soon as order was restored Citizen Burke delivered himself of hte following speech:–

Citizen Burke’s Speech

Gentlemen–I am thankful to you for having elected me to this position. It is not the first time that I have held similar positions among workingmen. I am sorry to state that last evening one of our meetings was broken up by the police, and several of those present were “pulled.” I am happy to be able to announce to you that every district in the city is undergoing a thorough organization. This district, however, is more behind than any other, and we must endeavor to protect our organization here also. The police have endeavored again to infringe upon our rights, for to-day, hearing of our proposed meeting this evening, they were sent around to dissuade the workingmen from putting in an appearance. I understand that at this very moment policement in citizens’ clothes are placed around the building to watch us, and that detectives are also in our very midst prepared to note down every word we may give utterance to. The Committee of Safety desire, for the purpose of perfecting our organization, that every one present this evening step forward and transcribe his name upon the roll. At this juncture onf of the audience requested information of the speaker as to whether or not the police of New York city had been empowered to amend the constitution of the United States so as to prevent the right of free speech. This remark was received with applause by the entire assemblage.

Having concluded his remarks, Citizen Burke then introduced

Citizen Elliott.

Citizen Elliott announced the fact that the German wards were already thoroughly organized and that the only thing which remained to secure a thorough and effective organization was the enrolment of the English speaking wards. The proper manner of procedure, the speaker stated, for those in sympathy with the movement now on foot to redeem the workingmen was to perfect district and ward organizations throughout the entire city, the same as is done previous to the holding of the political elections. Rumors had gone abroad that the Committee of Safety had determined to resign their trust, but such was not the case. The

Committee of Safety

would always remain in active existence. The members of that committee had pledged themselves to remain true to the principles which led to their organization. They would never relax their efforts, but would work night and day to promote the great cause of the workingmen. Not one of them sought any office, and they were all pledged never to accept any. The Committee of Safety have, moreover, determined to carry the cases of the men now in custody who were arrested for participation in the meeting on Tuesday last before the State courts, and no labor nor expense would be spared to free them from bondage. On last Tuesday the country at large had seen a most dastardly outrage perpetrated upon the rights of the workingmen.

Commissioner Duryee

had charged his police upon inoffensive workingmen like so many “bulldogs” (Voice in the audience–“Shame! Shame!”) When a demonstration is made again let the workingmen go out in large numbers so that the police or military will not dare to resist them. (Loud applause. I request that those who are present here this evening will, before they depart, come forward and sign the roll so that we can form a good nucleus to perfect a solid organization in this ward.

Citizen Banks

was then introduced. During the interval between the organization of the meeting and the conclusion of the speech of Citizen Elliot the audience was considerably increased by the entry of quite a number of prominent Communists.

Citizen Banks immediately opened his remarks by alluding to the outrage committed by the police on last Tuesday. He then continued in the following strain:–To-night, again, it appears to me that an attempt is being made to intimidate us from holding our meetings as citizens and workingmen, and a second outrage is being perpetrated upon us. We are denied the right of even meeting in peace and quietness in this hall. Police guard all the entrances, and detectives have been placed in our midst to watch our every movement. This I consider even a greater outrage than the one which was perpetrated on Tuesday last; for they have even busied themselves in warning the workingmen to keep away, telling them that if we met there would be trouble. The committee, however, have met here in defiance of the police. We are not to be terrified. We are not to be coerced into giving up our rights as citizens. Outrages such as these leave men no other remedy than military action and to be prepared militarily, in order that we can meet whenever we desire to exchange opinions and prepare for action. At Tompkins square they prepared an anbuscade for us, and without a word of warning began an indiscriminate clubbing. Those who were endeavoring to run in order to escape laceration were clubbed unmercifully–one workingman being killed outright and another now lies at the point of death. The time has come and we

must now prepare for the worst.

We must resist as workingmen, and as such we must endeavor to put down all monopolies. Under the present laws which govern society how much better off are we than the former slaves in the South? (Voice in the audience–“They were well fed.”) Yes, they were well fed, and they were cared for and provided with work, which we are denied. We are not even as fortunate as were the negroes. Talk about free America and the Stars and Stripes! Why, the Stars and Stripes are in disgrace. We must prepare to

fight those opposed to us.

We are tired of political demagogues. We have had enough of them. They talk about the Communists. The Communists are the only ones who look after the rights of the workingmen. (Loud applause.) Nowadays the workingman who dares to say a word draws down upon his head the anger of the press. The competitive system in existence makes all the trouble. We want the system of universal co-operation, and to this opinion we must all incline. The man who does not labor robs the man who does. He hires you for his good only and robs you of the profit which belongs to your labor. Independent action on the part of the workingmen is the only way we can gain our ends, and if we cannot meet pacifically we must organize militarily. We must have no sympathy for anybody but our families, and if the police will not allow us to meet quietly we must go armed to our meetings.

Other Speakers.

Citizen Samuels, of the Committee of Safety, then addressed the meeting, and was followed by Citizen Leander Thompson, chairman of the Committee of Safety, and Citizen McGuire. Subsequent to the speech of Citizen McGuire, Citizen Elliot offered and read the following resolutions, which were unanimously adopted:–


Whereas we are passing through a great financial crisis which has thrown us suddenly out of employment; and whereas there is no destruction of the real wealth of the country, but speculation in gold, stocks and the people’s lands, sanctioned by the government, has been the sole cause of the panic; and whereas we are industrious, law-abiding citizens, who wish to avoid all outrage on person or property, and deprecate violence or injustice in any form; and whereas we desire only the means of obtaining the necessities of life, not as objects of charity, but as law-abiding citizens, whose right it is to demand work of the government which we have always protected and supported; therefore, we are

Resolved. That we will not eat the bread of idleness nor starve in the midst of plenty; but that we demand work, and pay for that work, now and without delay.

Resolved. That we demand the rigid enforcement of the eight-hour system on all private as well as public work, and the instant and entire abolition of the whole government contract system.

Resolved. That if the government will not furnish work for the unemployed, we, through our Committee of Safety, will in this our time of need supply ourselves and our families with proper food, shelter and clothing and will send all our bills for the same to the City Treasury to be liquidated, until such times as we shall obtain work and pay.

Resolved. That we demand an immediate and permanent reduction of twenty-five per cent on all house rents until the 1st of May to the unemployed of all classes.

Resolved. That, in the furtherance of the objects set down in the above resolutions, we will enroll our names and organize, not in the interest of any political party, but in the interest of all the people who are suffering from the present condition of affairs.

Resolved. That we will appoint from this mass meeting a committee of twelve workingmen, residents of the ward, to organize the working classes of the ward and co-operate with the German ward organizations.

Resolved. That we will support and sustain the Committee of Safety in its work of securing the above objects.


After a somewhat lengthy address from Mr. McMicken, of the Committee of Safety, the meeting adjourned. Those who had not already signed the roll of membership were then again invited to do so. Some fears had been entertained that when the meeting was over some altercation, if not a serious disturbance, might occur between the police and the men who had attended the meeting, but nothing took place that could in any way be considered reprehensible. The men quietly dispersed to their homes, without even hovering around the building.

A little further down p. 10, in the column on court reports, there is the following report from the Court of Special Sessions:

Court of Special Sessions.

The Tompkins Square Rioters.

Before Judges Kilbreth, Flammer and Kasmire.

Benjamin Sugden, Peter Ackerman, Charles Green, Lorenzo Solestro, Jacob Eickhoff, Herman Zizachefsky, Thomas McGraw, Terence Donnelly, James Donohue and Joseph Hoefflicher were arraigned at the bar of Special Sessions yesterday, charged with assault and battery on several different officers and with aiding and inciting riot.

They were arrested last Tuesday, in and near Tompkins square, at the time of the workingmen’s demonstration, and have been locked up in Essex Market Prison ever since. Counsellor Theodore E. Tomlinson appeared for all of them except Hoefflicher and demanded for his clients a trial by jury. Their cases were, therefore, sent to the Court of General Sessions. Counsellor Price appeared for Hoefflicher and asked that his case might be tried in the Court of Special Sessions. The trial was set down by the presiding magistrate for next Tuesday, when all the witnesses are expected to be present. The prisoners were then removed to the Tombs prison and are at present confined on the fourth tier of that institution. Some of them are accused of felonious assault and battery, while others have no complaint against them except meting and talking wildly in the streets.


Review of C. L. James’s The French Revolution, from the New York Times (April 25, 1903)

We’ve been spending some time lately gathering material on C. L. James (1846-1911), the prolific but reclusive Anarchist pamphleteer and song-writer of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. James was something of an intellectual heavy in his day, and maintained frequent correspondence with (among others) The Alarm, Liberty, Free Society and Mother Earth, but he has since been almost entirely forgotten. Well, if the Fair Use Repository is good for anything, hopefully it is providing a platform for some diligent un-forgetting.

Along with a steady stream of pamphlets and articles, James wrote a book-length History of the French Revolution; for to-day’s post, we have a very mildly positive review of the book that ran in the New York Times, of all places, on April 25, 1903. Well, it’s certainly a kinder review than some he got in the Anarchist press. In any case, here we are.

The French Revolution

New York Times, April 25, 1903

History of the French Revolution. By C. L. James. Pp. 343. Cloth 8vo. Chicago: Abe Isaac, Jr.

A sketch of the French Revolution by a theoretical Anarchist is likely to have whatever interest attaches to a peculiar point of view. Mr. James seems to be a theoretic Anarchist, and his book has the special interest that might be expected of such a work. It is, in fact, a readable essay, for the most part moderate in expression, usually distinguished by lucidity of style, and apparently based on wide reading. After that the book is a piece of special pleading. Mr. James’s method is not to exult over the bloodshed and madness of the Revolution, rarely to defned, though often to excuse, the atrocities of the time.

The Reign of Terror he regards as a dreadful period, and the Government of that time one of the worst that the world has known, but one of the strongest. He thinks the idyllic time of the revolution was the period of a year or more before the execution of the King, when France bordered close upon true anarchy, being almost without government. This opinion, as might be expected of an Anarchist, Mr. James is fond of repeating. He also declares that the influential men of the Revolution were not Socialists or Communists. Even while he condemns the government of the Jacobins, and many of their tyrannical measures, as a consistent Anarchist must, he is anxious to find acts of theirs to praise, and he is not often struck with the absurdities of the time. But perhaps Mr. James with all his keenness is a little defective in the sense of humor.

The attitude of the author is best illustrated by concrete examples. He appreciates the virtues of Louis XVI., and thinks imprisonment would have been better than death in his case, but believing him to have been guilty of the crimes of which he was convicted, is not struck with the travesty of justice implied in a trial by Judges who were constantly under the eyes and influence of an outspoken populace bitterly hostile to the accused. The Queen he thinks to have been guilty also of treason, but he is moved to generous disgust at the revolting charges of Hébert. Nevertheless he hardly permits himself one expression of pity for her fate, though he thinks her death a political mistake. The September massacres, the atrocities of Lyons and of Nantes he does not defend, but impliedly excuses by citing parallels in the doings of settled governments. This last is his favorite method of excuse, and it is sometimes effective. He pities the Girondists, but thinks they brought upon themselves their hard fate. Of Danton’s end he says: Thus died, in the noblest of causes, the best champion of freedom whom the crisis of his time produced. Robespierre he does not defend so earnestly as do some recent students of the period, possibly because he cannot forgive Robespierre’s ambition to be dictator. Marat’s demand for 200,000 heads, though repeated in open convention, Mr. James thinks hardly more than a piece of insincere bravado. He pronounces the terrible doctor of the sewers the most misrepresented man in the revolution.

This book is well worth reading, if only that one may see how hard it is for the historian, however intelligent, to do much more than make ex parte statement of his case. It is well, however, that we should have such a statement from the revolutionary side, for the larger part of what has been written on the subject in English deals with it from the very opposite point of view.

“To Drive Anarchists Out of the Country,” from the New York Times (March 4, 1908)

In line with some of our other recent material from the anti-immigrant and anti-Anarchist panic of the 19-aughts, here is a long front-page story from the New York Times in 1908, in which the Times declared that The United States has declared open war on Anarchists. The form that the war would take was a mass crackdown on immigrants — one of the first major immigration enforcement actions in United States history — in order to round up and deport Anarchists with radical political beliefs.


Secretary Straus Orders Immigration Men to Co-operate with Police in Locating Criminals.


Added Precautions to be Taken in Excluding Aliens–Three Assassinations Were Plotted in Chicago.

Special to The New York Times.

WASHINGTON, March 3.–The United States has declared open war on Anarchists. As a result of the great increase in crime and the growing boldness of those who are enlisted under the red flag, Commissioners of Immigration and immigrant Inspectors have been instructed by Secretary Straus of the Department of Commerce and Labor to ally themselves with the police and detectives of the cities and aid in putting an end to terrorism. The order was issued to-day, and is said to have the hearty indorsement of President Roosevelt.

Secretary Straus orders that the immigration authorities shall take steps necessary to securing the co-operation of the police and detective forces in an effort to rid the country of alien Anarchists and criminals falling within the law relating to deportation.

Secretary Straus’s Order.

The order of Secretary Straus follows:

To all Commissioners of Immigration and Immigrant Inspectors in charge: It is hereby directed that, with a view to promptly obtaining definite information with regard to alien Anarchists and criminals located in the Untied States, you shall confer fully with the Chief of Police or the Chief of the Secret Service of the city in which you are located, furnishing such official with detailed information with regard to the inhibition of that statute against aliens of the criminal classes, explaining the powers and limitations imposed by said statute upon the immigration officials with respect to such persons.

You should call to the attention of the Chief of Police or Chief of the Secret Service the definition of Anarchist contained in Sections 2 and 38 of the act of Feb. 20, 1907, and the provisions of Section 2 placing within the excluded classes persons who have been convicted of or admit having committed a felony or other crime or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude, pointing out that if any such person is found within the United States within three years after landing or entry therein he is amenable to deportation under the provisions of Section 21 of said act.

The co-operation of said officials should be requested, making it clear that in order that any particular Anarchist or criminal may be deported, evidence must be furnished showing (1) that the person in question is an alien subject to the immigration acts; (2) that he is an Anarchist or criminal as defined in the statute; (3) the date of his arrival in the United States, which must be within three years of the date of his arrest; (4) the name of the vessel or of the transportation line by which he came, if possible, and (5) the name of the country whence he came, the details with respect to the last three items being kept at the various ports of entry in such a manner as to be available if information is furnished with respect to the Anarchist’s name, the date of his arrival, and the port of entry.

It is desired that the above indicated steps shall be taken at once and that no proper effort shall be spared to secure and retain the co-operation of the local police and detective forces in an effort to rid the country of alien Anarchists and criminals falling within the provisions of the statute relating to deportation.

Uneasy Over Anarchy’s Spread.

The Administration has viewed with increasing uneasiness the spread of Anarchy and Socialistic teachings. The threats made against citizens of wealth and position are becoming more numerous with every month. The attempt to kill the Chief of Police of Chicago, the riot in Philadelphia following the dispersal of an Anarchistic meeting, and the threats made against clergymen have brought the Government to a realization that something must be done to make life and property more secure.

With the activity of the immigration authorities and the police in running down criminals in the United States, there will be taken added precautions against admitting to the country any more of the same class. The examination of the hordes of aliens that come yearly to these shores will be made so severe that it will in the future partake of the nature of an inquisition. The Government is beginning to realize that it has been employing too lax methods in the past.

A case in point, they say, is the presence in this country of Emma Goldman. This woman is declared to be a firebrand and an Anarchist of the most rabid type. She went abroad some months ago, and at that time it was openly stated that she would not be readmitted to the country. In spite of these declarations Miss Goldman is back again in the United States spreading the propaganda of revolutionary Socialism.

It is cases such as these, in the opinion of officials, that lend encouragement to the vicious element. The laws, in the first place, are held to be too lenient, and secondly, they are not administered with the severity the situation demands. More stringent laws, coupled with emphatic application of them, are said to be the crying need of the time.

As the law now stands, an Anarchist may go about unmolested by the police after he has spent three years in this country and has not been connected with the perpetration of a crime in that time. He is immune from deportation. It does not matter whether the criminal is a citizen or not, he can legally resist all efforts to return him to the country from whence he came.

Possible to Exclude Anarchists.

It is possible, however, under the existing law to exclude Anarchists. The law declares that, among others, there may be excluded from the country anarchists, or persons who believe in or advocate the overthrow by force or violence of the Government of the United States or of all government or of all forms of law, or the assassination of public officials.

Section 20 of the Immigration act, which covers the exclusion of aliens, provides: That any alien who shall enter the United States in violation of the law shall, upon the warrant of the Secretary of Commerce and Labor, be taken into custody and deported to the country whence he came at any time within three years after the date of his entry into the United States.

Section 21 provides that in case the Secretary of Commerce and Labor shall be satisfied that an alien has been found in the United States in violation of this act, or that an alien is subject to deportation under any law of the United States, he shall cause such alien within the period of three years after landing to be taken into custody and returned to the country whence he came.

This makes it mandatory upon the Secretary to deport any alien Anarchist whom he may discover who has not been in the country three years.

General Enemies of Society.

In addition to these provisions, which ordinarily would cover the case of an Anarchist, a separate section dealing with enemies of society generally was included in the act. Section 38 says:

That no person who believes in or who is opposed to all organized government, or who is a member of or affiliated with any organization entertaining and teaching such disbelief in or opposition to all organized government, or who advocates or teaches the duty, necessity, or propriety of the unlawful assaulting or killing of any officer or officers, whether of specific individuals or of officers generally, of the Government of the United States, or of any other organized government, because of his or their official character, shall be permitted to enter the United States or any territory or place subject to the jurisdiction thereof.

This section shall be enforced by the Secretary of Commerce and Labor under such rules and regulations as he shall prescribe. That any person who knowingly aids or assists any such person to enter the United States or any territory or place subject to the jurisdiction thereof, or who connives or conspires with any such person or persons to allow, procure, or permit any such person to enter therein, except pursuant to such rules and regulations made by the Secretary of Commerce and Labor shall be fined not more than $5,000, or imprisoned for not more than five years, or both.

The New York Times, March 4, 1908, pp. 1-2.

Have You A Country? (Revolt, January 15, 1916)

This is a letter published in Vol. I, No. 2 of Revolt (dated January 15th, 1916), an Anarchist newspaper edited by Hippolyte Havel and published by the Revolt Publishing Association, 63 East 107th Street, New York, N. Y. The copy came to us by way of a facsimile edition published by The Match!, a journal of Ethical Anarchism, published from Tucson, Arizona. The letter was contributed by Robert Minor, and appears on pp. 6-7 of the issue.

British Labor shows fight. The army poison hasnt twisted their brains as much as their bosses had hoped for. It gives a fellow’s heart a quicker throb to know that even in the mob-crazy war country, Labor can hold up its head and be Labor still. In times of peace, workers know that capitalists are their enemies; in time of war they are often fools enough to go fight their friend workers of another country for the sake of the capitalist enemies that they have been fighting at all other times. They’ve got to learn better, and it looks as though the English are learning. Hurrah for the English! (That means English Labor, not the Greedy British Empire, their greatest enemy.)

They are not perfect by a long sight, but neither are we, nor any other labor. They are improving, that’s the point. They have got their bosses so badly worried as to be afraid to make a daring stand for their crooked privileges. It is really amusing. Go to it, friends; you may weaken and be fooled later on, but even then, the little start you have made in defying conscription will not be forgotten, and the world will profit by the example.

May we do as well here in America. It’s our turn now. Conscription is at the door, the back door, trying to sneak in. Stand up, American Labor! You ought to do even better, without the disadvantage of actual war upon you. You haven’t any country. No labor, anywhere, has any country. So don’t be patriotic. Be Labor. And fight to GET your country, not to help your bosses hold it.

HAVE you a country? Then, why do you pay rent?

Robert Minor.

If it moves, tax it; if it keeps moving, regulate it; if it dies…

Now available thanks to Stephen Smith at Market Urbanism:

I apologize for the lack of posts for the last few days – I just moved to DC (a few blocks north of H Street, right by Gallaudet, if anyone’s curious), and I have yet to begin another rewarding relationship with Comcast. But, I’m here at work (I started interning at Reason magazine today), and I’ve got some free time, so I wanted to post this excerpt from Fogelson’s Downtown (I’m almost done!) that illustrates perfectly the shift from the second to last phase of Reagan’s joke about government, as applied to housing policy:

If neither public authority nor private enterprise could overcome the obstacles to urban redevelopment on its own, perhaps they could overcome them by working together. Or so the downtown business interests and their allies hoped. The trouble was that public authority and private enterprise were not used to working together. Through the mid nineteenth century public authority had routinely joined forces with private enterprise to stimulate economic development. But later this practice gave way to what might be called, for lack of a better term, an adversarial arrangement. Under this arrangement, public authorities granted private companies a franchise to build and operate the street railways, gas systems, and other public utilities other than the waterworks. They also regulated these companies. Under the watchful eyes of the courts and state legislatures, public authorities regulated the building industry as well. They established fire zones, drafted building codes, imposed height limits, and formulated zoning regulations. They also granted building permits – and, at least in theory, inspected everything from elevators to fire escapes.

This adversarial arrangement was the subject of a nationwide debate in the early twentieth century. Some Americans attacked it as one of the principal sources of corruption in cities. Others defended it as the most ...

Read the whole thing at Market Urbanism.

Emma Goldman Now Alien (New York Times, April 9, 1909)

This is a side column from Page 2 of the New York Times on April 9, 1909, reporting the U.S. Attorney’s success in convincing a federal court to strip Emma Goldman of her citizenship, which she had gained by marriage to a naturalized citizen in 1887.


Deprived of Rights of Citizenship by Disenfranchisement of Her Husband.
Special to The New York Times.

Buffalo, N.Y., April 8.–Judge Hazel, in the United States Court this morning, granted an order canceling the citizenship papers of Jacob A. Kersner. Through this order all rights of citizenship also are taken from Kersner’s wife, who is none other than Emma Goldman, the woman leader of the Anarchists in this country, whose fiery teachings, it was charged by many, incited Leon Czolgosz to the assassination of President McKinley.

The order was granted upon motion of Special United States Attorney P. S. Chambers of Pittsburg, and the evidence upon which it was based was presented principally by Kersner’s own father, who was subpoenaed from his home at Rochester.

Kersner obtained his citizenship documents in 1884, when the statutes governing such procedure were quite lax compared with the present laws. He was two years under age at the time. Three years later he married Emma Goldman. She was a foreigner herself, but by virtue of her marriage to a citizen she was clothed with the rights of citizenship. Emma was only a girl, then, and had barely begun the career that later connected her so closely with the Reds in the public eye.

The New York Times (April 9, 1909), Page 2.

Parking lots as tax arbitrage during the Great Depression

Now available thanks to Stephen Smith at Market Urbanism:

I’ve learned a lot from Fogelson’s Downtown, but one thing that I had absolutely no idea about before I read this book was how Depression-era tax policies encouraged downtown landlords to tear down their buildings and replace them with parking lots (emphasis mine):

By the mid 1930s the owners of Detroit’s Temple Theater, a nine-story office building that had once been the home of the city’s most successful vaudeville house, had had enough. In a city reeling from the Great Depression, the vacancy rate for office buildigns was running between 35 and 40 percent. With tenants hard to find – and rents, which had been falling steadily, hard to collect – the Temple Theater no long paid. In an attempt to lower property taxes and operating expenses, its owners did what other downtown property owners in Detroit and other cities had done. They demolished the building and turned the site into a parking lot. [These] were commonly referred to as “taxpayers.” The “taxpayers” were as much a legacy of the depression as the “Hoovervilles,” bread lines, soup kitches, and dance marathons. They symbolized downtown in the 1930s as much as skyscrapers, department stores, and high-rise hotels had in the 1920s. [...]

Things were much the same in downtown Los Angeles, where so many buildings were torn down and replaced by parking lots or “taxpayers” in the 1930s that by the early 1940s roughly 25 percent of the buildable land was used to store autos. In a business district of less than one square mile there were no more than nine hundred parking lots and garages, with space for more than sixty-five thousand cars. [...]

By tearing down the buildings, the owners could lower their tax bills and reduce their operating expenses. By replacing them with parking ...

Read the whole thing at Market Urbanism.

by the rivers of Babylon

Now available thanks to bkmarcus at lowercase liberty:

The Way of Herodotus: Travels with the Man Who Invented HistoryThis is from The Way of Herodotus: Travels with the Man Who Invented History by Justin Marozzi:

I entered Babylon with an invading army and now I leave in the last available Coalition convoy. The occupation forces are moving on. Camp Babylon is closing down and Polish and American forces are relocating south-east to the town of Diwaniyah. The desecration of Babylon, for the time being at least, is over.

I hitch a ride in one of the few unarmoured Humvees and immediately feel uncomfortably exposed. It’s too late to do anything about it. I’m lucky to get a seat. Body armour has been hung over the doors, almost as an afterthought, to provide a modicum of protection, but serves only to underline how vulnerable the vehicle is. We set off in an untidy straggle like a snake slithering away from trouble. The end-of-an-era atmosphere hangs heavily in the air. I am a short-term impostor but these men have been here for months in what will be a shameful footnote in Babylon’s history. Everyone knows the Iraqis can’t wait for the invaders to leave this place, the symbol of their country’s unrivalled history. Most of the soldiers couldn’t care less. They have just been doing their job.


‘Dudes, get this,’ says one of the sergeants in the Humvee, turning to me. I see a dusty self-portrait in his wraparound sunglasses. ‘Justin, you’ll like this, these guys are Brits. Check out our farewell-to-all-this-bullshit song.’

He pushes a button on his portable stereo and a tinny voice vibrates through the sand-smothered speakers. It is an anthem of my childhood. Boney M. 1978.

By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down
Ye-ah we wept,
When we remembered Zion …

The wind rushing through the Humvee snatches some of the music away, but I know the words. They have lodged in my memory and cannot be removed. The soldiers hoo-rah and whistle. ‘Rock ‘n’ roll, baby!’ one of them screams, kicking off another round of celebrations. Their time in Babylon has come to an end. They are a step nearer home.

The ‘Rivers of Babylon’ lyrics were directly lifted from Psalm 137, a melancholic meditation on slavery by the Jewish captives in Babylon, sitting on the banks of the Euphrates. They are enslaved in a foreign land, far from their home, where their captors mock their religion and demand they entertain them with ‘one of the songs of Zion’.

‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’ they reply, utterly bereft. The Babylonians are foreigners, no part of the covenant God made with Abraham. These barbarians have laid waste to Jerusalem, and the Jews, missing their religion, longing for their temples, urge each other not to forget what happened in their homeland, to remember their tormentors’ orders to raze the holy city to the ground -’Raze it, raze it, to its very foundation!’ Now they wish only vengeance upon their captors. This is no New Testament turn-the-other-cheek response to their humiliation and captivity because we are in the fire-and-brimstone Old Testament world of an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. But all this bloodlust proved too much for Boney M, otherwise so faithful to Psalm 137. The group wisely left out the final verses.

0 daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed,
Happy the one who repays you as you have served us!
Happy the one who takes and dashes
Your little ones against the rock!

Read the whole thing at lowercase liberty.