History Buzz July 27, 2009: Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s Arrest, President Obama and Race in America

HISTORY BUZZ:

POLITICAL HIGHLIGHTS:

BIGGEST NEWS STORIES:

  • Obama Tries to Move Past Gates Furor: The White House expressed hope that it has put behind it a controversy surrounding President Barack Obama’s remarks on the arrest of African-American scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. But the incident highlights the challenge facing Mr. Obama in addressing the issue of race and in keeping the debate focused on his broader agenda.
    David Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Obama, said Sunday that he believed the president’s expression of regret for his initial statement that the police “acted stupidly” was having “the desired effect.”
    “People are talking more constructively now,” Mr. Axelrod said on CBS’s “Face The Nation.” “The steam has gone out of this. Instead of heat being generated, more light is being generated.”
    The incident highlighted social divisions that Mr. Obama hoped had been eased by his election as the nation’s first African-American president. The emotions triggered by his comments on the Gates arrest suggest that the issue of race continues to hang over his presidency….. – WSJ, 7-26-09
  • Obama, Gates and the American Black Man: NYT, 7-25-09
  • Gates Says ‘Yes’ to Beer With Crowley: “It was very kind of the President to phone me today. Vernon Jordan is absolutely correct: my unfortunate experience will only have a larger meaning if we can all use this to diminish racial profiling and to enhance fairness and equity in the criminal justice system for poor people and for people of color.
    And to that end, I look forward to studying the history of racial profiling in a new documentary for PBS. I told the President that my principal regret was that all of the attention paid to his deeply supportive remarks during his press conference had distracted attention from his health care initiative. I am pleased that he, too, is eager to use my experience as a teaching moment, and if meeting Sgt. [James] Crowley for a beer with the President will further that end, then I would be happy to oblige.
    After all, I first proposed that Sgt. Crowley and I meet as early as last Monday. If my experience leads to the lessening of the occurrence of racial profiling, then I would find that enormously gratifying. Because, in the end, this is not about me at all; it is about the creation of a society in which ‘equal justice before law’ is a lived reality.” – Henry Louis Gates in The Root (edited by Henry Louis Gates) (7-24-09)
  • Black males’ fear of racial profiling very real, regardless of class: Several African American professionals find professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s recent encounter with police all too easy to relate to. Their lingering question is when to speak up…. Lawrence Otis Graham, the author of books about affluent African Americans, says wealthy blacks may actually be subjected to more racial profiling than other African Americans…. – LAT, 7-24-09
  • Case Recalls Tightrope Blacks Walk With Police: ….Like countless other blacks around the country, Mr. Medley was revisiting his encounters with the police as a national discussion about race and law enforcement unfolded after the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard’s prominent scholar of African-American history. Professor Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct last Thursday at his home in Cambridge, Mass., while the police investigated a report of a possible break-in there. The charge was later dropped, and the Cambridge Police Department said the incident was “regrettable and unfortunate.”
    In interviews here and in Atlanta, in Web postings and on television talk shows, blacks and others said that what happened to Professor Gates is a common, if unacknowledged, reality for many people of color. They also said that beyond race, the ego of the police officer probably played a role…. NYT, 7-23-09
  • Obama doesn’t regret ‘acted stupidly’ remark about Henry Gates Jr. arrest: What’s everyone so upset about?
    That was President Obama’s response Thursday night during an ABC News interview when asked if he regretted his “acted stupidly” comment during Wednesday night’s press conference.
    “I am suprised by the controversy,” Obama told ABC’s Terry Moran. “I think it was [a] pretty straightforward comment that you probably don’t need to handcuff a guy, a middle-aged man who uses a cane, who’s in his own home.” – NY Daily News, 7-23-09
  • Cop who arrested black scholar is profiling expert: The white police sergeant accused of racial profiling after he arrested renowned black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his home was hand-picked by a black police commissioner to teach recruits about avoiding racial profiling.
    Friends and fellow officers — black and white — say Sgt. James Crowley is a principled police officer and family man who is being unfairly described as racist.
    “If people are looking for a guy who’s abusive or arrogant, they got the wrong guy,” said Andy Meyer, of Natick, who has vacationed with Crowley, coached youth sports with him and is his teammate on a men’s softball team. “This is not a racist, rogue cop. This is a fine, upstanding man. And if every cop in the world were like him, it would be a better place.”
    Gates accused the 11-year department veteran of being an unyielding, race-baiting authoritarian after Crowley arrested and charged him with disorderly conduct last week…. – AP, 7-23-09
  • Police Chief Responds to Obama’s Remarks: The top police official here defended the officer who arrested Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., and said his department was “deeply pained” by President Barack Obama’s remark that Cambridge police “acted stupidly” in the case.
    Commissioner Robert Haas called Sgt. James Crowley “a stellar member of this department” who properly followed police procedure and had no racial motivation in arresting the 58-year-old African-American scholar at his home last week. Authorities dropped the disorderly conduct charge this week.
    But Mr. Haas said he would convene a panel to examine the incident and ways to avoid such incidents, which he said “we deeply regret.”… – WSJ, 7-23-09
  • “The good news about the Henry Louis Gates fiasco”: When I heard that prominent black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested for breaking into his own home in Cambridge, Mass., it made me proud of America. It may seem paradoxical to focus on the positive side of the preeminent scholar’s public humiliation. This is, after all, a distinguished staff writer for the New Yorker, the man who helped Oprah find her roots. It may seem that there’s no positive side at all. (His own neighbor, a Harvard magazine employee, didn’t recognize him and called the cops. How pathetic is that?)
    But last night I happened to be reading a book that put the whole incident into context, a volume that never fails to chill me: “We Charge Genocide,” a petition brought before the U.N. in 1951 that makes a very convincing case for defining the treatment of African-Americans in the U.S. as a genocide. This remarkable book consists, in part, of a litany of shocking bias crimes committed against black citizens across the country — and only documented ones occurring between 1945 to 1950. A typical entry reads: “February 13 — ISAAC WOODWARD, JR., discharged from the Army only a few hours, was on his way home when he had his eyes gouged out in Batesburg, South Carolina, by the town chief of police, Linwood Shull … [A]n all-white jury acquitted Shull after being out for 15 minutes.” And so on, for 50-odd hair-raising pages. Believe me, Toni Morrison couldn’t top it…. – James Hannaham at Salon.com, 7-22-09
  • Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and the Police in “Post-Racial” America: This past Thursday, the renowned Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., author of Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man, was reminded that sometimes, there’s just one.
    It is the way that his white neighbor, Lucia Whalen, looked at him as he stood on his porch with his luggage, attempting to nudge his jammed front door open. That look that somehow confuses a nearly sixty year old bespectacled professor with a blue blazer who cannot walk without the aid of a cane, as a crafty black burglar practicing his illicit deeds at 12:30 PM in the afternoon. Likely imagining herself as some courageous vigilante protecting the sanctity of her exclusive neighborhood to the unending praise of her grateful neighbors, she instead must bear the ignominious title of “the white lady who called the cops on ‘Skip’ Gates'” from dinner party to dinner party like a Scarlet K-K-K .
    It is the way that Officer James Crowley, who responded to Ms. Whalen’s misguided vigilance, looked at the MacArthur fellowship winner standing in his own foyer, as if to make humiliatingly literal the W.E.B. Du Bois lament from The Souls of Black Folk, “Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house?” Gates, understandably exhausted from the return flight from China he had just taken, responded to the officer’s insistent questioning of his identity with frustration — but did indeed prove his ownership of the residence and right to be there…. – Brandon M. Terry at the Huffington Post, 7-22-09
  • If it can happen to Skip Gates …: For many, it was a startling portrait: the normally reserved Harvard University professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr., standing on his front porch in handcuffs, appearing to yell as police officers surrounded him. Yet those were the images that circulated Tuesday, as news of Gates’ controversial arrest – and the subsequent dropping of charges against him – circulated on Web sites and television.
    Stephen L. Carter, a Yale University law professor and novelist, felt like he was watching a scene unfold from one of his own books. Carter has written scholarly works along with bestsellers about the lives of upper-class African Americans, including those in academe, and his fiction often illustrates how wealthy blacks draw suspicion in posh environs like private beaches or Ivy League campuses.
    “If it can happen to Henry Louis Gates, possibly the most prominent black scholar in the country, and in his home town, then it can indeed happen to any of us,” Carter, author of The Emperor of Ocean Park, wrote in an e-mail to Inside Higher Ed.
    “Odd, isn’t it? Here we are in the age of Obama, and some things haven’t changed. Blackness is associated in the public mind with wrongdoing; if we are spotted in an unexpected locale, we must be up to something.”… – Inside Higher Ed, 7-22-09
  • Skip Gates and the Post-Racial Project: Over the past several days a strange characterization of Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has emerged. Many are portraying him as a radical who easily and inappropriately appeals to race as an excuse and explanation. This image of Gates is inaccurate. In fact, more than any other black intellectual in the country Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was an apolitical figure. This is neither a criticism nor an accolade, simply an observation…. – Melissa Harris-Lacewell in The Nation, 7-21-09
  • The Root Editor-in-Chief Henry Louis Gates Jr. talks about his arrest and the outrage of racial profiling in America: I’m saying ‘You need to send someone to fix my lock.’ All of a sudden, there was a policeman on my porch. And I thought, ‘This is strange.’ So I went over to the front porch still holding the phone, and I said ‘Officer, can I help you?’ And he said, ‘Would you step outside onto the porch.’ And the way he said it, I knew he wasn’t canvassing for the police benevolent association. All the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I realized that I was in danger. And I said to him no, out of instinct. I said, ‘No, I will not.’…. – Henry Louis Gates Jr. in The Root, 7-21-09
  • Police Drop Charges Against Black Scholar: Authorities agreed to drop a disorderly-conduct charge against renowned Harvard University African-American studies scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., who had been arrested at his own home last week after police answered a call about a suspected break-in there.
    The arrest had sparked concern that Mr. Gates was a victim of racial profiling, a controversial practice in which police allegedly use race as a factor in identifying criminal suspects.
    In a joint statement, Mr. Gates’ lawyer, the City of Cambridge, Mass., its police department and the county district attorney’s office called the July 16 incident “regrettable and unfortunate.” The statement added that “this incident should not be viewed as one that demeans the character and reputation of Professor Gates or the character of the Cambridge Police Department” and that “all parties agree this is a just resolution to an unfortunate set of circumstances.”
    In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Gates said the situation “shows our vulnerability to the caprices of individual police officers who for whatever reason are free to arrest you on outrageous charges like disorderly conduct.” Mr. Gates called a police report alleging he yelled at an officer and was uncooperative “a work of sheer fantasy.”
    Mr. Gates, a Harvard professor and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, said he hadn’t decided whether to pursue any legal action. He said if the officer who arrested him, Sgt. James Crowley, “sincerely apologized, I would be willing to forgive him.”… – WSJ, 7-21-09
  • Gates chastises officer after authorities agree to drop criminal charge: Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. chastised a Cambridge police officer today and demanded an apology after authorities agreed to drop a disorderly conduct charge against the renowned African-American scholar.
    Gates accused the officer who arrested him at his Cambridge home of having a “broad imagination” when he summarized last Thursday’s confrontation in police reports, and he denied making several inflammatory remarks.
    “I believe the police officer should apologize to me for what he knows he did that was wrong,” Gates said in a phone interview from his other home in Martha’s Vineyard. “If he apologizes sincerely, I am willing to forgive him. And if he admits his error, I am willing to educate him about the history of racism in America and the issue of racial profiling … That’s what I do for a living.”
    Gates, 58, was handcuffed and booked last Thursday following a police investigation into a suspected burglary at his Ware Street home near Harvard Square. A passerby spotted Gates and his driver, who had dropped him off from the airport, trying to push the front door open and called the police. The door had been jammed. Police responded and arrested Gates after they said he became belligerent.
    Earlier today, the Middlesex district attorney’s office announced plans to drop criminal charges against Gates. The City of Cambridge and the police department recommended today that prosecutors not pursue charges in a joint statement from authorities and Gates that called the confrontation “regrettable and unfortunate.”
    “This incident should not be viewed as one that demeans the character and reputation of professor Gates or the character of the Cambridge Police Department,” the statement said. “All parties agree that this is a just resolution to an unfortunate set of circumstances.”
    Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons said in a statement that the controversy illustrated “that Cambridge must continue finding ways to address matters of race and class in a frank, honest, and productive manner.”… – Boston Globe, 7-21-09
  • Henry Louis Gates Jr. Arrested: Colleagues of Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard’s most prominent scholar of African-American history, are accusing the police here of racism after he was arrested at his home last week by an officer investigating a report of a robbery in progress.
    Professor Gates, who has taught at Harvard for nearly two decades, arrived home on Thursday from a trip to China to find his front door jammed, said Charles J. Ogletree, a law professor at Harvard who is representing him.
    He forced the door open with the help of his cab driver, Professor Ogletree said, and had been inside for a few minutes when Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge Police Department appeared at his door and asked him to step outside.
    Professor Gates, 58, refused to do so, Professor Ogletree said. From that point, the account of the professor and the police began to differ…. – NYT, 7-21-09
  • Black scholar’s arrest raises profiling questions: Henry Louis Gates Jr., the nation’s pre-eminent black scholar, was arrested at his home near Harvard University after forcing his way through his front door because it was jammed. Gates was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge last Thursday after police said he “exhibited loud and tumultuous behavior.” He was released later that day on his own recognizance. An arraignment was scheduled for Aug. 26. Police refused to comment on the arrest Monday…. – AP, 7-21-09
  • Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrested outside his home, calls Cambridge police ‘racist’: A distinguished black Harvard University professor was handcuffed and dragged off his porch to jail after Massachusetts cops mistook him for a burglar. Henry Louis Gates Jr., one of the nation’s most renowned scholars of African-American history, was busted when he repeatedly accused a cop of racism for confronting him, police said. “Why, because I’m a black man in America?” Gates, 58, demanded, the police report said…. – NY Daily News, 7-21-09
  • Harvard professor arrested, racism accusations: An acclaimed black US scholar accused a police officer in Cambridge, Massachusetts of racism for investigating reports of a break-in as he entered his own house, after which he was arrested, police records have shown.
    Henry Louis Gates, 58, considered a preeminent professor of African American studies at the prestigious Harvard University, was charged with disorderly conduct. Police cited his “loud and tumultuous behavior.”
    Gates was seen by a passing woman to be attempting entry to the front door of his house — which was damaged — along with another black man, according to the police report from July 16.
    The woman alerted the police and by the time a uniformed officer arrived Gates was inside his home and reporting the faulty door to the Harvard Real Estate office, said a statement later released by Gates’ lawyer, Charles Ogletree.
    The other man at the scene was Gates’ hired driver.
    “Professor Gates informed the officer that he lived there and was a faculty member at Harvard University,” Ogletree said.
    According to the police report, Gates repeatedly told officers at the scene that “this is what happens to black men in America.”…. – AFP, 7-20-09

THIS WEEK IN HISTORY:

IN THE NEWS:

OP-EDs & BLOGS:

REVIEWS & FIRST CHAPTERS:

  • James MacGregor Burns: Judicial Roulette PACKING THE COURT The Rise of Judicial Power and the Coming Crisis of the Supreme Court NYT, 7-26-09
  • James MacGregor Burns: PACKING THE COURT The Rise of Judicial Power and the Coming Crisis of the Supreme Court , Excerpt – NYT, 7-26-09
  • Rich Cohen: A Land and a People ISRAEL IS REAL An Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and Its History NYT, 7-26-09
  • Allis Radosh and Ronald Radosh: Zionist in the White House A SAFE HAVEN Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel – NYT, 7-26-09
  • Richard Brookhiser: MEMOIR Conservatively Speaking RIGHT TIME, RIGHT PLACE Coming of Age with William F. Buckley Jr. and the Conservative Movement WaPo, 7-26-09
  • Bradley Graham: MILITARY HISTORY A Warrior Fighting the Wrong War BY HIS OWN RULES The Ambitions, Successes and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld WaPo, 7-26-09
  • Art Historian Anthony Blunt: Memoirs of British Spy Offer No Apology – NYT (7-23-09)

PROFILED & FEATURED:

  • Andrew Roberts: The history man who loves to party – U.tv.news (7-26-09)
  • 10 Reasons Why Apollo 11 Moon Landing Was Awesome: Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Forty years ago mission commander Neil A. Armstrong and lunar module pilot Edwin Eugene ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, Jr. walked on the moon while command module pilot Michael Collins orbited above. Today however, marks the 40th anniversary of the day people really reacted to what just happened. As with all major events in time, there is always a day of reflection…. – Wired, 7-21-09
  • Ehud Netzer: An Israeli archaeologist is certain he has solved the mystery of the biblical figure’s final resting place – Barbara Kreiger in Smithsonian Magazine (7-1-09)

QUOTED:

INTERVIEWED:

  • Reinhard Siegmund-Schultze: Historian discusses new book on an academic exodus that saved lives and changed mathematics Mathematicians Fleeing from Nazi Germany: Individual Fates and Global Impact Inside Higher Ed (7-27-09)
  • Robin Hood Discovery: An Interview with Julian Luxford – www.medievalists.net, 3-25-09

HONORED, AWARDED &APPOINTED:

  • Marvin Dunn: Historian digs for stories of black settlement and its massacre (Rosewood) – Miami Herald (7-24-09)

SPOTTED:

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

EVENTS CALENDAR:

  • Woodrow Wilson Center Holding Summer Institutes for High School Teachers: U.S. and the Cold War: THE UNITED STATES AND THE COLD WAR July 26-July 31, 2009 – Press Release (7-25-09)
  • Woodrow Wilson Center Holding Summer Institutes for High School Teachers: U.S.-China Relations U.S.-China Relations July 26-July 31, 2009 – Press Release (7-25-09)
  • August 1, 2009: An Evening with Ken Burns: Kens Burns has been making documentary films for more than 30 years. Since the Academy Award-nominated Brooklyn Bridge in 1981, he has gone on to direct and produce some of the most acclaimed historical documentaries ever made. The late historian Stephen Ambrose said of Burns’ films, “More Americans get their history from Ken Burns than any other source.” This evening will afford Chautauqua an opportunity to hear one of the most influential documentary makers of all time. Chautauqua Institutition. For more info 716-357-6200. – Jamestown Post-Journal, 5-21-09
  • Inaugural Semester-long seminar on Constitutional History offered at N-Y Historical Society this fall: Lincoln’s Constitution will be taught at the New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, on Thursday afternoons from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. The seminar will be held on September 17 and 24 and on October 1, 15, 22, and 29, 2009. NYHS Press Release (7-20-09)

ON TV:

  • BBC to launch new series on history of Christianity – Religious Intelligence, 6-19-09
  • C-SPAN2: BOOK TV Weekend Schedule
  • PBS History Detectives: Mondays at 9pm
  • History Channel: Weekly Schedule
  • History Channel: “Hippies” – Monday, July 27, 2009 at 2pm ET/PT
  • History Channel: “Sex in ’69: Sexual Revolution in America” – Monday, July 27, 2009 at 9pm ET/PT
  • History Channel: “Return of the Pirates” – Tuesday, July 28, 2009 at 2pm ET/PT
  • History Channel: “Life After People & That’s Impossible: Eternal Life” – Tuesday, July 28, 2009 at 8pm ET/PT
  • History Channel: “Moonshot” – Saturday, August 1, 2009 at 8pm ET/PT
  • History Channel: “Art of War” – Saturday, August 1, 2009 at 8pm ET/PT

BEST SELLERS (NYT):

COMING SOON BOOKS:

  • Gil Troy: Reagan Revolution : A Very Short Introduction, July 30, 2009
  • Constance Rosenblum: Boulevard of Dreams: Heady Times, Heartbreak, and Hope along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, August 1, 2009
  • David Freeland: Automats, Taxi Dances, and Vaudeville: Excavating Manhattans Lost Places of Leisure, August 1, 2009
  • William A. DeGregorio: The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, Seventh Edition, August 15, 2009
  • Brooks D. Simpson: The Reconstruction Presidents (Paperback), August 18, 2009
  • Richard C. Hoagland: Dark Mission: The Secret History of NASA (Revised), September 1, 2009
  • Douglas Hunter: Half Moon: Henry Hudson and the Voyage That Redrew the Map of the New World, September 1, 2009
  • Noah Andre Trudeau: Robert E. Lee: Lessons in Leadership, September 1, 2009
  • Annette Gordon-Reed: The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (Paperback), September 8, 2009
  • Jon Krakauer: Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, September 15, 2009
  • Dean C. Jessee (Editor): The Joseph Smith Papers: Revelations and Translations, Volume 1: Manuscript Revelation Books, September 2009
  • James Patterson: The Murder of King Tut: The Plot to Kill the Child King – A Nonfiction Thriller, September 28, 2009
  • Timothy Egan: The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America, October 19, 2009
  • Gil Troy, Vincent J. Cannato, eds.: Living in the Eighties, October 23, 2009
  • L. Fletcher Prouty: JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy, (Paperback), November 1, 2009
  • Edward Kritzler: Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean: How a Generation of Swashbuckling Jews Carved Out an Empire in the New World in Their Quest for Treasure, Religious Freedom–and Revenge, (Paperback), November 3, 2009
  • Anthony Haden-guest: Last Party: Studio 54, Disco, and the Culture of the Night (Paperback), December 8, 2009

DEPARTED:

  • Lionel Casson: Who Wrote of Ancient Maritime History, Dies at 94 – NYT (7-24-09)
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