As American as Cherry Pie

What if the real reason that Ron DeSantis and other Republican officials want to place gag orders on the teaching of African-American history has less to do with race than with labor?

The question would be inescapable to anyone reading of what contemporary historian Gunnar Myrdal called the “mass lynching” of African-Americans by whites in East St. Louis, Ill., on July 2, 1917.

Before there was racial conflict, the white laborers in the factories and stockyards along the Mississippi were starting to unionize, as were workers from coast to coast. In immigrant cities such as Lawrence, Mass., in 1912 and Paterson, N.J., in 1913, and in mining communities such as Ludlow, Colo., in 1914 and Matewan, W. Va., in 1920, the magnates called on law enforcement to keep unions at bay. In East St. Louis, the Aluminum Ore Co., Armour Meat Packing, and others sent agents across the rural deep South to recruit black men with guarantees of steady jobs and high wages.

None of it was true. As the blacks soon learned, they were there for white workers to see and fear as replacements.

All of this is documented in Never Been a Time: The 1917 Race Riot that Sparked the Civil Rights Movement, a book published in 2008, a decade before the 1619 Project drew the ire of those who want to bury America’s past under a security blanket of nothing-to-see-here–and before the history of Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street” forced itself into the national consciousness.

Author Harper Barnes points out that East St. Louis was the deadliest race riot in America until the aftermath of Rodney King’s beating by LA police in 1992, but he warns against comparison. In 1992–as in the 1960s in Watts, Detroit, and Newark, and ever since–the violence was all in the streets. In East St. Louis–as in numerous similar cases from Wilmington, N.C., in 1898 to Tulsa in 1921–white mobs raided Black neighborhhoods pulling men, women, and children out of their burning homes, sometimes throwing them, dead or alive, back into the flames.

The sight of newly arrived blacks disembarking trains may have inflamed white workers over an immediate concern for their jobs, but it became a pretext for running cars through black neighborhoods with a shooter firing a rifle out of every window at the middle-class homes of families that had been there for generations. As in Tulsa, it wasn’t that blacks were lazy and prone to crime that motivated white backlash, but that blacks were industrious and successful.

And the North was not the safe haven that we might like to believe. Says Barnes:

Race riots, as black militant H. Rap Brown suggested in the incendiary 1960s, are “as American as cherry pie.” Long before the black riots of the sixties, whites rioted against blacks in cities across the country. Decades before the Civil War, in such Northern bastions of abolition such as Cincinnati, Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and New York, and in smaller cities and towns throughout the North, blacks were attacked in the streets by gangs of whites, and their neighborhoods were invaded and sacked. African-Americans were severely beaten and killed, and black homes and institutions–including schools, churches, and even orphanages–were destroyed by white mobs long before the end of slavery.

That would be enough for DeSantis and his ilk with their fabricated objections to “critical race theory” to want America’s inconvenient history suppressed. But Barnes offers more, including an observation by Sherwood Anderson a century ago calling East St. Louis “the most perfect example, at least in America, of what happens under absentee ownership.”

Or, as cartoonist Aaron McGruder (The Boondocks) quipped, “the inner city without an outer city.

Both quotes, like much of Never Been a Time, reveal as much about America’s economic reality as its racial divide. At the start of Black History Month, which is now effectively banned in America’s fourth most populous state, DeSantis can celebrate a suppression of labor history as much as of racial history.

The rest of us would do well to re-connect the two.


Manifest Identity

Among American history’s most misquoted lines is, “The British are coming!”

On his horse over a year before independence was declared, Paul Revere was himself British as were all the townspeople and farmers along his route. Using that word would have been nonsensical. Since the troops stationed in Boston were commonly called “Regulars” by the colonists, it is likely he used that term. Of course, by the time the first talking film was made, the word “Regular” fell flat and “British” seemed more to the point.

To this day we forget that the revolution did not begin with one united population seeking independence, but with a confederation of 13. And even after Thomas Paine coined the galvanizing name, United States of America, people still thought of themselves according to colony or region, Pennsylvanians and Virginians, or Carolinians and New Englanders.

A new book, Indivisible: Daniel Webster and the Birth of American Nationalism, traces the evolution of how we perceived ourselves from our break with England to our break with each other. Gradually, our identity was defined less by state than by region, North and South, with the slave economy as the wedge between all attempts by John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and others to make E Pluribus Unum come true.

Others, most notably John Calhoun, were determined to maintain the South’s distinct identity of white supremacy and slave economy, and a skewed Constitution enabled the South to do exactly that: The wildly disproportionate Electoral College, the equally disproportionate composition of the Senate, and the 3/5ths clause which counted enslaved people as 60% of a person for the sake of a census upon which representation in the House and the Electoral College was based–while not allowing those enslaved people themselves to vote.

Today, the 3/5ths rule is long gone, but a disproportionate Electoral College and Senate remain in a document that many Americans–especially Southerners for much the same reason they did two centuries ago–consider sancrosanct.

Enter a third region into the mix, the West, and the countdown to Civil War begins. According to author Joel Richard Paul, the South wanted to counter the spread of Northern industry into the Great Lakes region with a spread of their own slave economy into Mexico (and Cuba). At the time, Mexico stretched north all the way into northern California and what is now Wyoming. The South wanted more slave states, and with Tennesseans flooding into Texas–and with Southern presidents such as Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and John Tyler calling the shots–a fabricated war that would result in at least one new state was inevitable.

Polk’s rallying cry of “American blood on American soil,” was as false as the absurd retroactive claim that Texas was part of Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, but the imagination of the nation was captured by the idea of a unified and enlarged identity. Writers at the time responded to a call from Ralph Waldo Emerson for a national literature, especially Herman Melville who set that identity on ships that sailed the world, and Walt Whitman whose “Song of Myself” was sung with America as his persona. As if to galvanize the whole “Young America” movement, a New York newspaper editor coined the phrase “Manifest Destiny.”

Ulysses Grant, a young officer of low rank when we attacked Mexico, would later call it “a wicked war” in his post-presidential memoirs, and there is a reason that the Mexican War is the only war with no plaque or monument anywhere in Washington, DC.

Still, as we learn in Indivisible, the Mexican War began our turn from regional identities toward a national one even as the standoff between North and South spiralled toward secession. War can do that. This where Daniel Webster played what may be called the lead role in the tragic drama.

There were others. John Quincy Adams, the only former president to later serve in Congress, was a leading voice of abolition in the House for 17 years, spending much of that time fighting Southern gag orders on the subject of slavery. Henry Clay worked as long and as tirelessly for compromises that, while not challenging slavery where it existed, would prevent its spread westward. Andrew Jackson’s military victories–some by way of his deceit of Native American tribes that trusted American treaties–made him a popular hero who advocated a strong union despite his uneasy alliance with the rabid Carolinian Calhoun necessitated by Old Hickory’s support of slavery. And then there was Martin Van Buren “whose obsequiousness and flattery were unmatched” but who “never drank his own poison.”

Above them all, Webster was the orator who drew the crowds, with a charisma that often made his opponents a bit more accomodating. His “Second Reply to Hayne” in 1830, a 30,000-word blaming the South’s economic problems on slavery while “arguing that the prosperity of the North and West was due to their reliance on free labor,” became required reading for decades in public schools. To this day, historians regard it as “the greatest extemporaneous oration ever delivered before Congress.”

Indivisible is generous with quotes of pointed passages Webster aimed at South Carolina’s quest for nullification, of rhetorical flourishes describing the cooperative country to be passed on to future generations, and barbs that made the chamber roar:

If we were to allow twenty-four states each independently to decide what laws were valid, he joked, “it should not be denominated a Constitution. It should be called, rather, a collection of topics for everlasting controversy.”

Paul does not shy away from one of the most controversial disputes of American history: Did Webster betray his Northern constituents and his own humanitarian principles when he endorsed the Compromise of 1850 with its abhorrent Fugitive Slave Law?

The short answer, clearly, is yes. Less clear is that the South would have split in 1850 without it, and so Webster, at the behest of Clay who appeared at his Washington door with a hacking cough on a stormy January night, reconsidered his firm, long-time stand that gave abolitionists hope. Webster’s mantra, “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable,” was about to separate the man himself. For the sake of Union, Webster caved and sacrificed a liberty that Northerners held dear.

Other historians have vascillated on the truth and consequence of this move of a man who, from an early age, had his sights set on a presidential bid. Was Webster calculating that political gain in the border states and the South would more than compensate for losses in New England? Or was he sacrificing himself for the sake of avoiding a Civil War?

According to Paul, Webster was buying time. In 1850, industry in the North was not developed enough to prevent secession. Ten years later, that changed. Paul suggests that secession would have been successful had it happened a decade sooner. Given the amount of cotton and tobacco traded to England, Europe, and–as a result of a treaty engineered by Pres. Tyler in 1844–China, the South likely would have had allies that would not import manufactured goods from the North at that scale for at least another five years.

Indivisible ends with the death of Webster in October, 1852. Just months earlier he was vying with incumbent Millard Fillmore for the Whig nomination for president. Fillmore was the second Whig vice-president to ascend to the presidency after the death of a military hero within months of their inaugurations. Back then vice-presidents tended to be hacks chosen for their appeal in a region opposite the presidential candidate. Remarks Paul:

It would not be the last time a polarizing president from New York relied on southern and nativist support for his reelection.

That coincides with descriptions of Andrew Jackson that, if you remove the military references, echo descriptions we hear today. If you ever wondered why Jackson’s portrait was so often a backdrop for White House pronouncements from 2017 through 2020, and why the plan to replace him on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman was scrapped, consider this one:

Jackson… regarded the federal bureaucracy with suspicion. He feared that civil servants formed a shadow government or deep state that would impede him. The president set to work to “clean out” the embedded elite… He vaguely alluded to “widespread corruption” in government and insisted on firing civil servants… Jackson did not claim that these men were incompetent or corrupt. He simply wanted to replace them with civil servants who would be beholden to him.

Other presidents fare much worse in Paul’s estimation. When Whig stalwarts Webster and Clay vied for the presidential nomination in 1848, the party opted instead for Gen. Zachary Taylor, well-known to the public as “Old Rough and Ready” despite his dubious conduct of the Mexican War. Says Paul, “once more, inexperience and ignorance proved to be a winning combination in presidential politics.”

Many other passages in Indivisible you could file under, “History repeats itself,” or “Doomed to repeat,” or “The Past is not Dead.” As well as two blurbs on the back cover, not for what they say, but for who wrote them: Jamie Raskin and Anita Hill.

During a month when the governor of Florida signs a bill forbidding the teaching of African-American history in the state’s public schools on the grounds that it has “no educational value,” we might wonder if we are repeating the decade leading to the Civil War.

We may no longer think of ourselves according to our native states or geographic regions, but it is clear that, our nationalism notwithstanding, we have yet to think of ourselves as “American” in any honest sense of the word.


Harpooneers of this World

More than anything, I wanted Chapter 62, “The Dart,” a more common word by which whalers called a harpoon. To get it, I asked for a ten-minute slot on the ungodly midnight watch.

That’s how the Moby-Dick Annual Marathon is divvied up. Each of the 25 hours it needs is a watch, all of which starts at noon Saturday and concludes at about 1:00 pm Sunday. Since 62 falls midway in the 135 chapters, I put in for 12:30-12:40 am and got it.

Three years ago, I guessed too late and read 69 and 70, “The Funeral” and “The Sphynx,” both strong stuff, as is every chapter in a long book that frequently bounds from comic to ponderous, from whimsical to confrontational, at times all at once. In 2020, I was mesmerized all the way to dawn’s invasion of the 3rd-floor windows of the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s reading room, inhaling as much as hearing every word.

True, I twice sat in the adjacent coffee room, conversing with a young couple who drove up from Maryland, and then with the owner of a boat shop who flew in from Chicago.  He told me that there were readers from California and Europe.  I don’t think there was as much of that this year, as there were noticeably fewer people listening in the wee hours, and far fewer sleeping bags in the wide corridor to the elevator. But, as Ishmael doesn’t hesitate to sometimes admit, I could be wrong.

Following the Sunday morning “Chat with Scholars,” one of several sideshows held during the main event, I had a memorable conversation with a recent graduate of College of the Atlantic up on the Maine coast. A Texas native, she’s now working for the National Parks Service in New Bedford, and may be the only person who has ever noticed that Ishmael describes an object that “fell to Ahab’s feet,” and remembered that Ahab had just one foot.

If only the world would pay a fraction of that attention to detail.

Details draw me to “The Dart.” The first of two compelling reasons is something that no one writing newspaper columns, as I’ve been doing for 40 years, can resist: Decades, perhaps a century before the term was coined, Herman Melville wrote an op-ed column.

In the persistent voice of Ishmael, one who challenges conventional wisdom every chance he gets, it opens with a description of how the whale boats were manned as they leave the ship in pursuit of a whale. He then finds fault: The harpooneers participate in the rowing, leaving them exhausted when it’s time to throw a 25-lb. spear. He offers proof: Low success rates. A solution: Leave them idle. Followed by a litany of reasons–“no wonder…”–that states a need. Followed by a concession of what will be compromised: The speed of the whaleboat. Countered by a claim of why the loss is negligible compared to how much more will be gained: Accuracy and efficiency.

In the best op-ed style, he ends the chapter with a “kicker” to drive the point home:

To ensure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooneers of this world must start to their feet from out of idleness, and not from out of toil.

Coming at the end of about 650 words–standard op-ed length–that line by itself is the second reason I wanted “The Dart.” I memorized it long ago, a metaphor that applies to anyone if you replace the two nouns, “dart” and “harpooneers” with others that share the relationship of an object and the people who use it. To ensure the greatest efficiency of art, the artists of this world… To ensure the success of any attempt to influence a distracted public, the activists of this world… Call it an echo of Hamlet’s “the readiness is all.” At the reading, I was able to look up from the book and scan the audience. Most had their eyes down, reading along. Those looking at me sat bolt upright.

Not bad for people who had been up some 17 hours and counting. I was lucky that a friend from King Richard’s Faire read a half hour after I did, Chapter 66, “The Shark Massacre,” describing what happened to a whale’s carcass after it is stripped of blubber and oil and dropped back into the sea. Vinny, the tour de force of Toe Jam Puppet Band wildly popular with children in southeastern Massachusetts, might have been typecast for it:

[A]ny man unaccustomed to such sights, to have looked over her side that night, would have almost thought that the whole round sea was one huge cheese, and those sharks the maggots in it.

We broke for the coffee room after he was done. Much of our conversation was about how Ishmael’s jokes, his whimsy and mischief, are much more prominent when heard aloud. And, oh, how they make Ishmael’s portentous and profound passages more palatable. He stayed until past 4:00 am when another friend of his read.

Another mutual friend was with Culture*Park Theater performing “Midnight on the Forecastle” (Chap. 40) on the museum’s auditorium stage, the only chapter that is performed rather than read, and with song and dance. Elizabeth, formerly of King Richard’s Gypsy Dancers, played Tashtego, one of the harpooneers, as she did three years ago.

But there was a new cabin boy. This year’s Pip, a New Bedford fourth-grader named Josiah Bodden, gained a fan club in the former whaling capital of the world when he faced the audience, jolted forward, fell to his knees, slid toward the front of the stage, threw his head back, shut his eyes, clasped his hands over his head, and closed the chapter with a prayer:

Oh, thou big white God aloft there somewhere in yon darkness, have mercy on this small black boy down here; preserve him from all men who have no bowels to feel fear!

An hour or so later, the co-founder of the Newburyport Melville Society read “The Chart” (Chap. 44) which describes Ahab, alone in his cabin, studying maps rolled onto with their corners pinned into the wooden table. My bare description may make it seem like dry stuff, but Patricia, like so many of the 211 readers, made Ishmael’s mystical narration so vivid that the chapter’s kicker landed with the full force and relevance of any pronouncement today:

God help thee, old man, thy thoughts have created a creature in thee; and he whose intense thinking thus makes him a Prometheus; a vulture feeds upon that heart forever; that vulture the very creature he creates.

Not long after that, the Newburyport Melville Society convened across the street in the Moby Dick Brewery for clam chowder and pints of Ishm-Ale. That, plus the unlimited coffee supplied by the museum overnight, the presence of Vinny, and especially the extra rush of adrenaline after delivering “The Dart” made it easy to stay awake past dawn.

Had planned to start home at sunrise, as I did last time, but couldn’t resist a Portuguese omelet at Tia Maria’s European Cafe, also across the street.  Refreshed, I went back in for another scholarly session and a chat with my Newburyport friends before starting home well after 11:00.

Halfway home, I had to stop at Starbuck’s in Quincy, just off the highway, and sat for half an hour with a tall, black, dark roast before finishing the trip.  How’s that for poetic karma?  Starbuck helped guide me home from my pursuit of the White Whale.


Screenshot by Richard K. Lodge, cropped by Lenovo.
Vinny Lovegrove, Photo by another reader, Cora Peirce of the Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts & Rhode Island.

American Ecclesiastes

Took me by surprise to learn that William Lloyd Garrison was a dedicated teacher.

We think of him as a leader of the Abolitionist movement and as the co-founder, publisher, editor, and lead writer for The Liberator, a newspaper that appeared every week for 34 years.

He didn’t quit until the Emancipation Proclamation was delivered and it was clear that the Union was about to win the Civil War. After that, he became a leading voice for women’s suffrage. He also added his voice to the call for Prohibition, but he can be forgiven that lapse. Two out of three ain’t bad.

So how did he find time to teach?

Historian Kabria Baumgartner, a professor at Northeastern and a resident of Newburyport, tells us that Garrison instituted apprenticeships at The Liberator to serve a dual purpose: to produce the paper and to teach young Black men “the power of the pen and the power of the press.”

In Newburyport’s 3rd Annual William Lloyd Garrison Lecture at the Old South Church, just around the corner from where he was born and raised, Baumgartner took most of us by surprise. Her title, “I Will Be Heard: Antislavery Printing and Youth Activism at William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator Office,” hinted at a talk that at times was more about the technology of typesetting than the history of race relations. So the surprise was not his inclusion of Blacks in the process, but that he and co-founder Isaac Knaap, another Newburyport native, made a point of grooming them to send them elsewhere.

Elsewhere was across a country that was expanding by the day, down the Ohio, across the Mississippi, to the Rockies, where they would establish independent Black-owned newspapers. Baumgartner reminds us that this was a time when the Southern states were passing anti-literacy laws, banning pamphlets from the North, and putting bounties on the heads of influential pamphleteers such as David Walker whose “Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World” set the stage for Frederick Douglass, another leader of the Abolition movement.

She then spoke of something most of us never hear in school. Newspapers in the North that called for Abolition lived with violence an ever-present threat. At least three died, burned to the ground in New York, Ohio, and in Alton, Illinois, where the white publisher was fatally shot trying to fend off a pro-slavery mob. When The Liberator published a sketch of the riot, Elijah Lovejoy became a martyr for the Abolitionist cause.

Another surprise–and another item that this native New-Englander never saw in a textbook–was Baumgartner’s revelation of “drapetomania.” To counter all criticisms of slavery, Southern politicians concocted the myth of “benevolent” conditions, a myth that I do recall from my 1950s & 60s texts. By 1851 the plantation owners feared that the number of runaways would make the myth impossible to believe.

To their rescue came a Mississippi doctor named Samuel Cartwright who “hypothesized” that the desire to escape was a mental illness–drapetomania is a combination of the Greek words for escape and madness–that resulted when owners became friendly with servants. This only confused the servants who…. Ya, right!

The concept was immediately mocked and satirized in the North. In the South? Don’t know about drapetomania, but in their howling objections to The 1619 Project, we heard several Republican office holders, on both federal and state levels, insist that slavery, for the most part, was “a benevolent institution” and the enslaved lived comfortably and well–an absurd claim echoed today by the absurd dismissal of January 6 as “a normal tourist day.”

Baumgartner, the author of last year’s In Pursuit of Knowledge: Black Women and Educational Activism in Antebellum America, did not shy away from today’s echoes of the mid-19th Century. She compared the anti-literacy laws to Florida’s recent “anti-woke” law and to the “boogeyman” reactions to critical race theory, calling it “a false debate.”* She hit closer to home when she addressed New Hampshire’s passage “of what is effectively an anti-critical race theory law.” Speaking of New Hampshire teachers:

Some of them are very nervous and scared that if they are teaching about Black history, any aspect of it, someone’s watching them, might report them. They might lose their job… Those laws are very, very similar, eerily similar to the anti-literacy laws passed in the South in the 1830s to suppress Abolitionist literature… There’s a direct tie.

As a friend told me later on, her “calling out New Hampshire for its CRT law, and [its] chilling effect on education, was admirable… [I]f ever there was a call for action where someone asks ‘Is this still going on, and what can I do?’ that was it.”

In a tone that suggests something Baumgartner has repeated hundreds of times, she sighed that CRT “is not taught in elementary or high schools,” only “in law schools.” She said it twice.

At the risk of reading into her words, Baumgartner’s use of boogeyman suggests a belief that CRT has become a term to mean anything about race and discrimination, both present and past. As whites who complain about it are quick to claim, CRT makes their children “uncomfortable.”

Without her saying it, that may have been the most, well, uncomfortable echo in Baumgartner’s talk. Coming at the end of “I Will Be Heard,” it was a sharp reminder of what she said earlier of Daniel Laing Jr., an independent Black printer in Boston, likely one of Garrison’s apprentices though there is no record of it. His marriage was announced in The Liberator, if that helps.

Already renowned and respected as a printer of books and pamphlets that fueled the Abolitionist cause, Laing’s dream was to become a doctor. He and two other Black men entered Harvard Medical School in 1850 but were soon expelled after protests by Harvard’s faculty and other students.

According to the stated grievance, Laing and his two friends made Harvard’s white people “uncomfortable.”

Garrison would have been proud. Whether Laing was his apprentice or not, making people uncomfortable was his life’s work. Moreover, when all else fails, it’s a potent educational tool. But there were no failures in Baumgartner’s assessment of William Lloyd Garrison as a teacher, the role that made his most far reaching, if least known contribution toward a more perfect Union.

As a postscript to the lecture, and to this blog, Baumgartner was followed by five vocalists accompanied by one pianist sent by The Performing Project of Lawrence to sing a song of worship that two friends tell me is from the soundtrack of The Color Purple (1985). I still have figured out the song’s title, but I’m working on it, and will post, as soon as it comes, an answer to my query at:

Meanwhile, you can hear it on the video pasted below, starting at the 1:05:10 mark. If you can identify it, please let me know.


*Applications of 19th Century laws to today’s gag orders and other curbs on discussion of climate change, reproductive rights, and gender issues in various Southern states are easy to make. Texas’ law offering $10,000 bounties for information on women seeking abortions could be modeled on the infamous Fugitive Slave Law.

Photo by Richard K. Lodge

E Pluribus Rio

Over 45 years ago, National Geographic ran a cover story on the Ohio River that began with a startling claim:

The Ohio carries more water than the Mississippi to their confluence at Cairo, Illinois.*

If that wasn’t enough, the magazine went on to remind this already pop-eyed and drop-jawed reader that Cairo is 125 miles south of St. Louis where the Missouri joins in. Therefore, the Ohio carries more water than the Mississippi and Missouri combined.

Don’t know what geography textbooks say today–at times I wonder if geography is even taught today–but in the Eisenhower-Kennedy years, their lists of the world’s longest rivers always hyphenated ours: Mississippi-Missouri.

As a kid who imagined myself as an American citizen at an early age–writing a letter to Richard Nixon while wearing a Jack Kennedy pin when I was nine–I found the hyphenation vaguely insulting. Other continents’ river names stood alone: Nile, Amazon, Yangtze, Yenisey. Ours needed help.

But there I was, a grad student taking a cartography class faced with the topographical fact that most of the water flowing through New Orleans and the Delta into the Gulf of Mexico is not on either side of the hyphen favored by record keepers, but from the uncredited Ohio.

Past 70, I learn that Herman Melville called the Mississippi bluff a century before I was born on the banks of New England’s industrial-grade Merrimack River. While setting the last novel published in his lifetime, The Confidence-Man, on a Mississippi steamboat, he observed the confluence in St. Louis. He then read a book titled A Condensed Geography and History of the Western States: or, the Mississippi Valley (1828) which confirmed what he thought he saw.

An elegiac description of it was found in his desk after he passed. Scholars believe it was intended as a prologue for Confidence-Man, but that Melville decided it was too “expansive” to suit the “restrained” tone of the novel.

Lucky for me he didn’t feed it to the fire, as I learn I was not alone in my quest for geographic truth, topographic accuracy, cartographic precision. True, Melville never mentions the Ohio, but by that same token, while telling others of my discovery 40 years ago, I’ve never mentioned the Tennessee River that joins the Ohio within 40 miles of Cairo.** And it is the Tennessee, not the Ohio, that FDR’s New Deal tapped for hydro-electric projects to help take us out of the Depression.

All that matters is that, unlike the solo performances of the Nile in Africa, the Amazon in Brazil, the Yangtze in China, ours is the effort of many, a fluid E Pluribus Unum. I’ve mentioned just four, but just look at a map and consider the stretch of the Arkansas, the Cumberland, the Red, the Canadian, the Wisconsin, the Minnesota, the Des Moines, and the Platte, North and South.

Once again, I’m indebted to Melville. This time for bringing this memory to the surface and into this installment of “Mouth of the River,” and I am attaching his description of the Mississippi-Missouri confluence below.

Must say, though, that I now wonder if Melville, who spent most of his youth in Albany and his senior years in New York City, knew that the Hudson–which connects the two with a series of straight lines joined by slight angles rather than the sweeping curves characteristic of rivers–is technically not a river, but a fjord.

If you doubt that, just look at a map.

Melville’s River

As the word Abraham means father of a great multitude of men, so the word Mississippi means father of a great multitude of waters.  His tribes stream in from east and west, exceeding fruitful the lands they enrich.  In this granary of a continent, this basin of the Mississippi, must not the nations be greatly multiplied and blest?

Above the Falls of St. Anthony, for the most part he winds evenly on between banks of fog or through tracts of pine over marble sands in waters so clear that the deepest fish have the visible flight of the bird.  Undisturbed as the lowly life in its bosom feeds the lordly life on its shores, the coroneted elk and the deer, while in the walrus form of some couched rock in the channel, furred over with moss, the furred bear on the marge seems to eye his amphibious brother.  Wood and wave wed, man is remote.  The unsung time, the Golden Age of the billow.

Like a larger Susquehannah, like a long-drawn bison herd, he browses on through the prairie, here and there expanding into archipelagoes cycladean in beauty, while, fissured and verdant, a long China Wall, the bluffs sweep bluely away.  Glad and content, the sacred river glides on.

But at St. Louis the course of this dream is run.  Down on it like a Pawnee from an ambush foams the yellow-painted Missouri.  The calmness is gone, the grouped islands disappear, the shores are jagged and rent, the hue of the water is clayed, the before moderate current is rapid and vexed.  The peace of the Upper River seems broken in the Lower, nor is it ever renewed.

The Missouri would seem rather a hostile element than a filial flood.  Larger, stronger than the father of waters, like Jupiter he dethrones his sire and reigns in his stead.  Under the benign name of Mississippi it is in truth the Missouri that now rolls to the Gulf, the Missouri that with the Timon snows from his solitudes freezes the warmth of the genial zones, the Missouri that by open assault or artful sap sweeps away forest and field, graveyard and town, the Missouri that not a tributary but an invader enters the sea, long disdaining to yield his white wave to the blue.


The cartography class I mention was at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD, about 60 miles north of Sioux Falls on the Sioux River, a tributary to the Missouri you can see on this map, though it is unlabeled. The Sioux is honestly more of an occasional flood plain than a recognizable river, something that can be said of many rivers in the Plains. Notice the proximity to the Des Moines and the Minnesota, tributaries to the Mississippi. As I recall, I lived within 20 miles of the divide between the two basins.

*Vesilind, Priit J. “The Ohio–River with a Job to Do.” National Geographic, 151, No. 2 (Feb. 1977), 245-273. (Accessible online if you have a subscription.)

**This was as far as Huck Finn and Jim wanted to go in pursuit of freedom, Cairo being the southernmost tip of Illinois, a free state, while every state south was slave. They needed to get off the Mississippi and onto the Ohio, but they missed the juncture due to heavy fog. That necessitated Huck’s decision: Either turn in the runaway Jim for his own freedom and a bounty, or aid and abet Jim, making himself a fugitive for violating Southern state laws. That scene may well be American literature’s finest moment.

Melville’s Time Warp Again

When my friend Louis hears of a book about to be published, he goes online and puts a hold on it at his public library.

That’s a step ahead of my habit.  My local library has a “New Books” display in its lobby that I veer right toward, always finding at least one appealing title.

Today, however, I went online looking for a specific edition of Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade published in 1857—on April Fools’ Day to be exact.

What filled my screen was a book of the same title published just last month:  Maggie Haberman’s Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America.

Call it inevitable:  Ever since the Calf of Babel descended the golden escalator in his own tower in 2015, he has gained comparisons to characters created by Herman Melville over a century and a half ago.

A bitter and bemusing irony cannot be lost on Melville fans recalling that the author of Moby-Dick and “Bartleby the Scrivener” died in obscurity in 1891, all his books long out of print.

So estranged was he to public life that he ordered a tombstone with a blank scroll for his final resting place. A middle finger to the world? A white flag?

Not until the Roaring 20s did an admiring grad student write a biography that set off “The Melville Revival.”  Not sure if this has lasted into the 21st Century, but at the time I left teaching in 2002, several of his titles were still staples of school curricula—“Bartleby,” “Benito Cereno,” and Billy Budd.

Wouldn’t surprise me if college teachers, for the sake of immediate relevance, added Melville to their reading lists soon after the “American Carnage” inaugural address on Jan. 20, 2017.

Or high school teachers if they have anything that can honestly be called academic freedom, as this is the stuff that those who harp on “Woke Culture” do not want young people to hear.

Most everyone I know agrees that there was no redeeming quality to the Trump Administration. A few exceptions will cite his business deregulations, overlooking consequences to the environment, to workers, to consumers.

As I’ve started telling these folks, it’s a bit like crediting cancer as a weight-loss program.

However, for us Melvillians, maybe there is a redeeming quality if we take some consolation in a second revival for our guy.

A character who is part of American mythology and known even to those who haven’t read the book, Moby-Dick‘s Ahab was cited from the start of the MAGA campaign all the way to this month’s election.

Trump’s claim that he “could shoot someone” echoed Ahab’s “strike the sun” boast, and in reference to Trumper Kari Lake’s refusal to accept defeat, Nicole Wallace of MSNBC quipped that “Arizona is Donald Trump’s white whale.”

Between those were essays in several publications.  Under the headline, “What Melville Can Teach Us about the Trump Era,” Ariel Dorfman of The Nation tells us that:

Melville could have been presciently forecasting today’s America when he imagined his country as a Mississippi steamer (ironically called the Fidèle) filled with “a flock of fools, under this captain of fools, in this ship of fools!”

So, yes, it was inevitable that a book with a Melville title would describe him.  And it’s no surprise that a large chunk of the promo for Haberman’s book applies just as much to Melville’s:

The through-line  is the enduring question of what is in it for him or what he needs to say to survive short increments of time in the pursuit of his own interests. Confidence Man is also, inevitably, about the world that produced such a singular character, giving rise to his career and becoming his first stage.

As you might guess, I put a hold on the new Confidence Man and am now awaiting its arrival in any of the 36 members of the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium.

But I won’t be holding my breath.  According to the MVLC website, mine is the 166th hold on just 36 copies—one for each library—none of which have yet arrived here in the northeast corner of Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, I’ll content myself with Melville’s trip down the Mississip, grateful to him for limiting it to a single day—April Fools’ no less—while bracing myself for the seven-year-and-counting ordeal outlined by Haberman.

By that time, Louis might be able to tell me all about it.


Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York. Photo by Michael Boer:

Spare the Thoughts & Prayers

When my book about busking, Pay the Piper! appeared in print, I gave a reading at Jabberwocky Bookshop here in Newburyport and introduced myself thus:

Hello! My name is Barbara Ehrenreich, and I’m here to talk about my new book, Nickel and Dimed.

Most in attendance knew me as a busker, or street-performer, and so they got the joke’s stereotype of playing for little more than spare change. For all I know, they may have inferred an unstated reference to the book’s subtitle: On (Not) Getting by in America.

But I went on to tell them that Piper had more in common with another Ehrenreich book, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, that appeared six years after her 2001 classic.

At that time I was just beginning to assemble various essays I had penned about busking, and so any title with the word “Streets” was bound to command my attention. Dancing did not disappoint. as I was able to reinforce my own book with references to its final scene, where Ehrenreich and a friend ascend from a New York subway, into music on the sidewalk.

As I wrote in a chapter titled “A Call to Un-Mall,” Dancing is a call for a “vibrant public life… a must-read for any busker or renfaire performer, practicing or would-be, who may ever doubt their own sense of purpose.”

I also sent her an email to tell her that Crackerjack is a brand name with an upper-case C and no s at the end, a common mistake that could have caused her a problem if not corrected by the second edition. Of course, I used that as a way to mention my own project with scenes that illustrated the point and purpose of Dancing.

Next day, she sent thanks for the correction, offered names of a couple book agents, and wished me well.

According to The Guardian, her son accompanied the announcement “with a comment redolent of his mother’s spirit”:

She was never much for thoughts and prayers, but you can honor her memory by loving one another, and by fighting like hell.

For an idea of how completely that single line captures a woman who always went against the grain of conventional wisdom and the grind of safe conformity, here’s a sampling of what she wrote:

No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.

Of all the nasty outcomes predicted for women’s liberation… none was more alarming, from a feminist point of view, than the suggestion that women would eventually become just like men.

We love television because television brings us a world in which television does not exist.

In fact, there is clear evidence of black intellectual superiority: in 1984, 92 percent of blacks voted to retire Ronald Reagan, compared to only 36 percent of whites.

Employers have gone away from the idea that an employee is a long-term asset to the company, someone to be nurtured and developed, to a new notion that they are disposable.

Marriage is socialism among two people.

Take motherhood: nobody ever thought of putting it on a moral pedestal until some brash feminists pointed out, about a century ago, that the pay is lousy and the career ladder nonexistent.

America is addicted to wars of distraction.

The titles of her more than 20 books–ranging from women’s rights to workers’ rights to the inequities of the American healthcare system–reveal a commitment to social justice as deep and as long as that of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Lewis:

  • Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream
  • This Land Is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation
  • Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America
  • Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy
  • For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women
  • Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer

Other titles are just as enticing, but as I start to recall that email she sent me, and what I believe she was telling all of her readers, I better get back to adding titles of my own.

Barbara Alexander Ehrenreich died on September 1. She was 81.


A Thanksgiving Toast

Getting in the mood for another turn in the Moby-Dick Marathon Reading, I picked up a copy of Redburn which Herman Melville published in 1849, two years before Ahab’s monomaniacal quest for revenge against Mother Nature.

Far from a whaler in the South Pacific, Wellingboro Redburn–no wonder he later calls himself “Ishmael”–narrates from aboard a merchant vessel that plies its trade between New York and Liverpool.

And from the nooks and crannies of Liverpool, where dire poverty is an amble away from riches from all over the world unloaded on the docks, and where he sees “very many painful sights” and hears many a “low, hopeless, endless wail” that make him ask:

“What right had anybody in the world to smile and be glad, when sights like this were to be seen?”

A question he’ll answer with another question:

Surrounded as we are by the wants and woes of our fellow-men, and yet given to follow our own pleasures, regardless of their pains, are we not like people sitting up with a corpse, and making merry in the house of the dead?

Similar conscience-rattling passages appear in Moby-Dick, for which Redburn is a worthy forerunner with generous helpings of Ishmaelish wit and whimsy and a spread of topics and musings as diverse as the Thanksgiving feasts we are about to enjoy. Who knew that a line-by-line commentary on a classified ad or a spoof of a guide book could be as funny as a monologue on late-night TV?

Still, if we are to at all attach religious sentiments to Thanksgiving–and to any of the holidays soon to follow–then it is Melville’s reminders of the human condition that are most relevant today. After watching 500 German immigrants board The Highlander in Liverpool for passage to America, risking the diseases that thrive in close quarters necessarily kept shut during long Atlantic storms, he muses:

There is something in the contemplation of the mode in which America has been settled, that, in a noble breast, should forever extinguish the prejudices of national dislikes.

He then rhapsodizes on how they will populate farms from Pennsylvania to Texas and the Dakotas, adding this:

Settled by the people of all nations, all nations may claim [America] for their own. You cannot spill a drop of American blood without spilling the blood of the whole world… We are not a narrow tribe of men… whose blood has been debased in the attempt to ennoble it by maintaining an exclusive succession among ourselves. No: our blood is as the flood of the Amazon, made up of a thousand noble currents all pouring into one. We are not a nation so much as a world…

Taken alone, that could well be a Thanksgiving toast. What, after all, was the first Thanksgiving feast at Plymouth Colony?

Taken in the context of the earlier passage, it forms as clear an expose of America’s contradiction–and I dare say of Christianity’s contradiction–as anything written on the pages of newspapers or shown on television news today.

People appearing at our southern border, or flying in from Ukraine or the Middle East, or from African, Asian, or Pacific Island nations beset by hunger, drought, or rising seas may not be “following… pleasure,” by they are certainly fleeing pain so that their children might someday live in peace.

Most of us who will fill plates with turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, green beans, corn cobbler, followed by pecan, pumpkin, and apple pies are children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren of immigrants such as Melville described. They boarded boats in Liverpool, Naples, Hamburg, Bremen, Marseille, all for the same reasons that swell the Rio Grande today.

None of them would begrudge us as we “smile and be glad,” but it’s hard to imagine that they’d approve America’s treatment of families now fleeing violence-torn dictatorships in Central and South America–to which the US government, at best, has turned a blind eye these past fifty years.

As Melville concluded 173 years ago:

Adam and Eve! If indeed you are yet alive and in heaven, may it be no part of your immortality to look down upon the world ye have left. For as all these sufferers and cripples are as much your family as young Abel, so, to you, the sight of the world’s woes would be a parental torment indeed.

More immediately, would not our own ancestors who yet look upon us from pictures we place on walls and mantles feel insulted by the slurs such as “illegal aliens” and betrayed by any American’s animosity toward and fear of immigrants today?

A rhetorical question? Maybe. But just as much as Melville’s toast, the answer defines Thanksgiving Day.


Time to Use the F-Word

My good friend Helen Highwater, who lives on a handsome pension provided by a most productive career as a writer and editor, was not pleased by my recent use of an f-word to describe one of America’s two major political parties:

Here and now, if THEY are fascists, are WE not socialists? Both terms can be justified from grains of the truth. Both fan the flames on the other side, pushing us apart.

To me, use of the word fascism seems increasingly ineffective rhetoric. Both sides use it against the other. What is fascism? My favorite definition comes from The American Heritage Dictionary.*

In my own words: The wedding of capitalism and government, under which lies and fear-mongering are business as usual.

That was a reference to my blog’s claim that lies and fear are all there is to Republican political ads, as if they turned FDR’s claim on its head and are campaigning entirely on fear itself. Helen did back off a bit:

Maybe I am lily-livered. Does sound a lot like Trump & MAGA.

Our 2 parties are both fluid enough (and corrupt enough) to reverse their principles in a relatively short time. Both sides are against it until they are for it . Both sides have their own vision of what freedom means, and it always means contradicting the other side.

Meanwhile, Bernie remains the most clear-eyed pol on the scene.

Yes, we are socialists, I answered, referring to roads and bridges, airports and railways, fire and police protection, public schools and libraries, Medicare and Medicaid, public parks and restrooms, water fountains and snowplows.

Being upfront about it–calling things what they are–is precisely what makes Bernie “the most clear-eyed pol on the scene.” That was all I said at the time, still taken back by her “both sides” remarks. I’ve never claimed the Democrats are or ever were anywhere near blameless, and I certainly have a public record of criticisms of Obama, both Clintons, Al Gore, all the way back to Michael Dukakis. And I still think Debbie Wasserman Schultz should be in jail.

But to imply that Democratic faults and missteps in any way offset attempts to overturn an election, to discredit elections before they happen, and elect candidates in swing states who vow to control the vote in 2024? Can I compare Newburyport’s Turkey Hill to Alaska’s Denali? It has snow. Sometimes.

Such talk is paralyzing at the very worst time for us to be paralyzed.

Before I made this case, Helen wrote again:

Watched the DeSantis v. Crist debate.

Moderator was from a Sinclair affiliate. Looked like a Barbie doll with extra eye make-up. BUT she handled it fairly and firmly.

Sinclair is a right-wing chain of news outlets. The “Barbie doll” look of news anchors at right-wing outlets was the subject of my recent blog, “Lashing Out.”

Like other debates this season, the format does not give the candidates more than 60-seconds for any response, with 30-second rebuttals. Brutal. Even closing statements are 60-seconds. There are no opening statements–they go right into questions, but every candidate I have seen uses their first 30-seconds for a standard thank-you opening statement.

Seems designed to elicit sound bites. Or is it “out of respect” for the short attention spans of R candidates and most of the audience?

Like Demings at Rubio, Crist was very aggressive against DeSantis. And effective in my view. DeSantis actually called him a donkey at one point. He just smiled, and said he could take the heat, then blasted DeSantis for being a bully toward women, students, and minorities.

“”Donkey”? When DeSantis was asked about Dr. Fauci, he said he wanted to “throw that elf across the Potomac.” Belittling names and thuggish insults are a hallmark of fascism, and upwards of 40% of American voters relish it.

As I’ve written before: We should not have been surprised in 2016 when Trump “got away” with his ridicule of a handicapped reporter and his “grab ‘m by” comment. Not only did he not lose votes by those remarks, he gained from them. DeSantis has learned the lesson quite well, which is why just yesterday Trump excluded him from a Florida rally where he appeared with Marco Rubio.

I noted the difference between the American Heritage definition (below) and Helen’s (above):  Violence.

Can anyone name a single Democrat anywhere since George Wallace who threatened, implied, or hinted at it?  Meanwhile, even lily-livered Lindsey Graham hints at it.  Poll workers have quit in droves, some run out of town. Been to any town hall meetings lately?

All these years, it’s been an absolute that nothing be compared to Hitler and the Nazis.  Today I wonder just how much that self-imposed mental blinder helped pave the way for 2016.  Of course they call us fascists.  All while swastikas appear on the banners, the bumpers, and the tattoos at their rallies.

Now we know what the lyric “look away” in “Dixie” really means.

Helen herself pointed out the tactic regarding Cheney over a decade ago:  Accuse opponents of your own crimes. Hell, they go further.  Biden, Hillary, Pelosi are pedophiles. Should we speak more guardedly to accommodate that?

Speaking of Pelosi, I sent that answer just hours before a thug broke into her San Francisco home and beat up her husband while yelling, “Where is Nancy?” Like the armed and masked “poll watchers” in Arizona this week, this is the ripple effect of January 6. Seems to me that if elected Republican officials can continue to call Jan. 6 a “normal tourist day,” then we should be calling it exactly what it was and still is.

Helen and I aren’t all that far apart in this debate, and I have to admit that she’s the more pragmatic. As she just responded:

I’ll practice guarded restraint to get along with various family, friends, & strangers. Still, when they are willing to talk, I am too.

Maybe I’ve been listening to too many friends in self-help programs, but I’ve come to believe you can’t solve problems until you call them by honest, accurate names.

But if you want to know how I really feel, make it two f-words.


* Fascist (n).

1. often Fascism

  • a. A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, a capitalist economy subject to stringent governmental controls, violent suppression of the opposition, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.
  • b. A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a system of government.

2. Oppressive, dictatorial control.

Of Abolition & Abortion

A new book provocatively titled The Color of Abolition offers a look at William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass that few have ever seen and that many may rather not see.

Any quick description of it would be enough for those who regard everything in absolutes to either dismiss it as “bashing” or revel in having yet two more progressive heroes brought low–no matter that no one on either side of that divide will ever read the book.

As one who has read it, I’ll offer that, while it reveals shortcomings of Garrison and Douglass, allies-turned-rivals, it does far more to highlight the work of both as vital to bringing about the Emancipation Proclamation.

As well as highlighting the mostly unknown work of one Maria Weston Chapman of Weymouth who gets equal billing in a book subtitled, How a Printer, a Poet, and a Contessa Moved a Nation.  Born of the manor–and with five sisters “all single and all devoted to the movement” serving as her staff–Weston Chapman helped underwrite the Underground Railroad and raise legal fees to protect those caught in the North after escaping the South.

Here’s where the surprise regarding Garrison begins.  Weston Chapman didn’t just keep The Liberator afloat.  She became its de facto business manager, and often its editor, filling in for Garrison during his speaking tours and more-than-occasional medical leaves.  Like Garrison, she also wrote much of the copy.

If that wasn’t enough, she arranged Douglass’ speaking tours and gave him introductions to influential patrons in both America and England–all while organizing auctions of pricey European donations held by a network of women throughout New England and New York.

This triumvirate worked well enough to force the issue of slavery onto the floors of Congress following years of a gag order imposed by the South.  Among the highlights of The Color of Abolition is its treatment of the debate–still maddeningly relevant today–over whether the Constitution is a pro-slavery document.

This is where Garrison and Douglass parted ways.  Garrison held that it was, and therefore there could be no political solution, only disunion.  Douglass saw potential in the document for a political solution.  He negotiated with Whigs, Northern Democrats, and the short-lived Liberty and Free Soil parties before befriending Abraham Lincoln who, two months before the assassination, told him that there was no one in America whose opinion he valued more.

On the surface, it was a meeting of two true Americans while the uncompromising, humorless (due to chronic ill-health?) Garrison and the intense, “privileged” Weston Chapman fade into oblivion–except that author Linda Hirshman doesn’t let us forget that it was Garrison’s (and Weston Chapman’s) Liberator that moved the earth in ways that would put Lincoln in the White House, and made it possible for Douglass to get anywhere near it.

We can also credit Hirshman for filling us in on this unknown role of women–and a leading role of one woman, not to mention her own literal sisterhood–in the Abolitionist movement.  As she says in her introduction, “no social movement in American history matters more.”  As the author of Reckoning: The Epic Battle against Sexual Abuse and Harassment (2019) as well as Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Changed the World (2015), she should know.

My hunch is that she undertook a history of Abolition for its parallels to what is unfolding today regarding abortion.  Seemed clear to everyone with the exception of senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska that all three Trump appointments to the Supreme Court were intended to overturn Roe v. Wade.*  Just as clear as when the Fugitive Slave Act was intended to impose Southern oppression in Northern states, no matter the South’s own claims of “states’ rights” and the euphemistic “popular sovereignty.”

Hirshman describes the anguish of Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice Lemuel Shaw in upholding the hated law.  Prior to that he was legally able to rule in favor of those who escaped enslavement.  She notes that Shaw was the father-in-law of Herman Melville who turned him into a model for the anguished Capt. Vere in his last novel, Billy Budd.

Today, Shaw and Vere may both serve as models for judges across the nation faced with state laws that place bounties on women who cross state lines, with severe penalties for family, friends, nurses, and doctors who assist and care for them.  Hirshman’s description of the Fugitive Slave Act makes it easy, if chilling, to see how it will serve as a model for a national law to outlaw abortion should the Republicans regain control of Congress and the White House.

But Hirshman’s ultimate verdict is not entirely bleak.  Speaking of her three leading characters:

Their relationship raises all the questions of whether an alliance across race, sex, and class can survive.  The answer is unsurprisingly yes.  And no.  Their paths to abolition reflected the rise of the movement.  Their alliance fueled a crucial decade.  And their breakup, sending Douglass to the politicos, perversely led to its triumph.

What if the Republican breakup of Roe v. Wade sends women and men who never before voted–as well as young people who have just reached voting age–en mass to the polls?

Could it be that Trump’s three cynical appointments to the Supreme Court will perversely lead to America’s way out of today’s Dark Ages?


*If you wonder why I name just two Republican women when every Republican senator voted in favor of Trump’s three appointments, it’s only because the rest of them, including a few women, were–and still are–in on the scam.