Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Allman Brothers Band – "Whipping Post" (1969)

Sometimes I feel
Sometimes I feel
Like I've been tied to the whippin' post

An 1859 newspaper account reports that when two male slaves and one female slave who had run away from the estate belonging to Robert E. Lee’s family were captured, Lee personally took up a whip to punish the female.

Lee always denied that story, and the late historian Michael Fellman thought it was "extremely unlikely" that Lee used a whip on that female slave.  

But as Fellman pointed out, slavery was so inherently violent that "it cast all masters in the roles of potential brutes.”

Robert E. Lee
Another newspaper story published in Northern newspapers during the war quotes another slave belonging to Lee's family, who described a whipping he received after he tried to escape:

[Lee] stood by and frequently enjoined [his overseer] to “lay it on well,” an injunction which he did not fail to heed; not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done. 

After white supremacist Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people in Charleston, SC, in June of this year, the California State Legislature passed a bill that would have required schools named after Confederate leaders to be renamed.

Dylann Roof
Governor Jerry Brown vetoed that legislation.  Here’s part of his veto message:  

I am returning Senate Bill 539 without my signature.  This bill would prohibit the naming of any school, park, building or other public property after certain persons associated with the Confederate States of America. . . .  As far as we know, only two schools, and a street in Stockton would be affected by this law.  Existing local processes provide for the naming or re-naming of public facilities, and in several cases local residents have voiced their opposition and have succeeded in re-naming schools and other public property.  Local governments . . . are quite capable of deciding for themselves which of their buildings and parks should be named, and after whom.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez
California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who had co-sponsored the bill that Brown vetoed, then wrote to the San Diego Unified School District and asked them to rename an elementary school in her district that has carried Robert E. Lee’s name since it was opened in 1959.  From her letter to the school board:  

Recent tragedies have revived the debate over Confederate-related symbolism in our country.  The flag in particular, and anyone associated with this army, in general, have been associated with intolerance, racism and hate, none of which have a place in our schools. . . . The area in which the elementary school is located . . . deserves a school named after someone we can all admire.  Robert E. Lee is not that person.

The San Diego school district responded to Assemblywoman Gonzalez’s letter by asking students, parents, and other community members what they thought about changing the name of the school, whose students are overwhelmingly Hispanic.  (Only 5.5% of the students are African-American, and only 2.5% are white.)

Robert E. Lee Elementary School in San Diego
By a 59% to 39% margin, students wanted to rename the school.  (Only 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders were allowed to participate in the survey, but I still can’t fathom why any weight at all would be given to the opinion of elementary school students on this issue.)

The adults who were surveyed saw things differently – only 24% wanted to remove Robert E. Lee’s name from the school, while 67% opposed changing the name.

The San Diego Board of Education has approved a long list of names for schools.  Sixteen of those names were preferred by at least four of those who took part in the survey.  The most popular of those potential names was that of the African-American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass
Tied for second in popularity were suffragette Susan B. Anthony and Robert Alvarez, who was the named plaintiff in a 1931 court challenge to the segregation of white and Hispanic children by a San Diego County school district.  (The California court that decided that case did so because its reading of the law was that Hispanics were white.)

Others garnering votes included Amelia Earhart, Fred “Mr. Rogers” Rogers, Harry Truman, Simón Bolívar, the Columbia space shuttle, and Bob Hope.

The most popular prospective name among those surveyed was Archie Buggs, a policeman from the neighborhood who had been shot and killed in 1978.  Because his name was not on the approved names list, San Diego’s School Names Committee would have to approve it before the Board of Education could consider it.

Slain San Diego police
officer Archie Buggs
Other popular prospective names that were not yet on the approved names list included local baseball star Tony Gwynn (who died just last year), Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, Dr. Seuss, Bruce Lee, and Oprah Winfrey.

A 2007 study by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research found that it is increasingly rare for school districts to name schools after people – especially former Presidents – and increasingly common for them to opt instead for school names that are more generic, such as neighborhood names or geographic features.

Here are some of the specific findings of that study:

   –  An overwhelming majority of public school districts nationwide did not have a single school named after a U.S. President as of 2007.

   – In Minnesota, the naming of schools after Presidents declined from 14 percent of schools built before 1956 to 3 percent of newer schools.

   – In New Jersey, naming schools after people dropped from 45 percent of schools built before 1948 to 27 percent of schools built since 1988.

   – A public school built in Arizona in the two previous decades was almost fifty times more likely to be named after such things as a mesa or a cactus than after a President.

   – In Florida, nature names for schools increased from 19 percent of schools built before 1958 to 37 percent of schools built in the previous decade.  (Of almost 3,000 public schools in Florida, five honored George Washington, while eleven were named after manatees.)

Manatee Elementary School in Viera, FL
Why are school districts increasingly reluctant to name schools after people?  According to the Manhattan Institute report, 

The difficulty with naming a school after a person is that it may provoke a debate over whether that person is worthy of emulation. . . . To some, [Thomas] Jefferson articulated the founding principles of our nation, while to others he was a slaveholder.  In New Orleans, the school board voted in 1997 to forbid naming schools after anyone who had owned slaves, forcing the renaming of a school honoring George Washington.

In the next 2 or 3 lines, we’ll take a closer look at the politically-incorrect skeletons hidden in the closets of some of our former Presidents.

The cover of the "At Fillmore East" album
Some critics swear by the 22-minute-long live version of “Whipping Post” that takes up the entire final side of the Allman Brothers Band’s live double album, At Fillmore East, which was released in 1971.  Click here to listen to the live version.

If you don’t have time for the live version, here’s the original studio recording of the song, which was released on the band’s eponymous debut album in 1969:

Click below to buy the studio version of the song from Amazon: 

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