Black History Month: Frances Harper—Words for the Hour
Men of the North! it is no time
To quit the battle-field;
When danger fronts your rear and van
It is no time to yield.
No time to bend the battle's crest
Before the wily foe,
And, ostrich-like, to hide your heads
From the impending blow.
The minions of a baffled wrong
Are marshalling their clan;
Rise up! rise up enchanted North!
And strike for God and man.
This is no time for careless ease;
No time for idle sleep;
Go light the fires in every camp,
And solemn sentries keep.
The foe you foiled upon the field
Has only changed his base;
New dangers crowd around you
And stare you in the face.
O Northern men! within your hands
Is held no common trust;
Secure the victories won by blood
When treason bit the dust.
['T]is yours to banish from the land
Oppression's iron rule;
And o'er the ruined auction block
Erect the common school.
To wipe from labor's branded brow
The curse that shamed the land,
And teach the Freedman how to wield
The ballot in his hand.
This is the nation's golden hour,
Nerve every heart and hand,
To build on Justice as a rock,
The future of the land.
True to your trust, oh, never yield
One citadel of right!
With Truth and Justice clasping hands
Ye yet shall win the fight!
In celebration of Black History Month, we will post an inspirational cultural item each day.
February 5, 1997: Switzerland’s largest banks create a fund to compensate Holocaust victims
As the Nazi menace became evident, hundreds of thousands of Western European Jews attempted to secure their assets (much of it liquidated in fire sales after pogroms like the Reichskristallnacht) in bank accounts in Switzerland and neutral countries. These refugees or their couriers were often unable to communicate account details to relatives who managed to escape the Nazis. Moreover, descendants’ access to these accounts was often blocked by missing paperwork such as death certificates (which the Nazi neglected to issue). These dormant accounts and those holding assets directly plundered by the Nazis and their allies were shrouded in secrecy.
Perhaps thousands of individuals had petitioned banking authorities for decades with no success but beginning in 1995 the World Jewish Congress (WJC) marshaled these individual efforts and launched a class-action lawsuit. They were also able to build bi-partisan support for their effort to recover these funds. Stymied by the Swiss in their search, researchers spent hundreds of hours scouring tens of thousands yellowed U.S. intelligence dispatches.In their search they discovered that much of the hundreds of millions of dollars in gold stolen by Germans during the war remained within Swiss banks. They learned that while the Swiss would not disclose account details they may have used some of the deposits to help the Polish government indemnify Swiss citizens who had their property seized by the Communists.
In time, the pressure brought by the WJC lead the banks to publish the names of thousands of foreign account holders whose accounts had been dormant since 1945 as well as a number of dormant accounts opened by Swiss residents who may have been acting as proxies for Jews in other parts of Europe. One survivor whose father’s name was not on the list but continues to search was quoted as saying “I cannot give up…It has gone too far.”
The dogged persistence of others like her and of the World Jewish Congress was rewarded on this day in 1997.
The story of the resilience of the WJC and the effort to create an effective coalition is ably narrated by John Authers and Richard Wolff in The Victims Fortune.
February 4, 1783 Britain proclaims formal end to hostilities with the U.S.
After the thirteen American colonies declared their Independence there was the small matter of the British to consider. Today, given the sheer size and population of the United States it is hard to imagine how they could possibly lose.
230 years ago, it was not a foregone conclusion. The colonies had just transformed themselves into states. They had no infrastructure for raising and supplying and army. Relatively few colonists were interested in volunteering. They had previously depended on Britain for such manufactures. Inflation was rampant and local merchants would not sell to the revolutionaries who had only paper money from new-born states whereas the British paid with gold and silver.
On the other hand, the British were the largest navy a well-equipped army and access to the greatest Empire the world had yet known, including Canada. The Americans only had support from French.
Yet from 1775 George Washington and the revolutionaries remained resilient. In 1781, with the help of the French commander Count Jean Baptiste de Rochambeau, they defeated Britain’s Cornwallis at Yorktown. This victory sapped Britain’s will to continue the war and proved the value of the Americans’ perseverance. On this date, the British would declare a formal end to hostility as they negotiated a formal peace with the Americans, Spain and France.
On this day, George Washington proved the virtue of resilience in pursuing and achieving even the most ambitious goals.
Feb 2, 1943: Germans surrender at Stalingrad reversing the tide of World War 2
The Battle of Stalingrad was until the battle of Leningrad, the most bloody battle in human history. In just over 5 months of fighting, the Red Army suffered approximated 750,000 casualties. A comparison of pre- and postwar censuses shows that of half a million civilians living in Stalingrad before the war barely 1,500 remained. Over 40,000 died in just the first two days of bombing. Countless others suffered starvation as both armies turned to pets, then to vermin then to each other for sustenance.
Prior to the battle, the Nazi übermentschen and their allies were presumed invincible by the Soviets and their western allies. Indeed, over 50,000 Soviet citizens joined the German side in the battle in the hopes of preserving themselves after a Soviet defeat that seemed inevitable. So certain, were the Soviet leaders themselves that defeat was on the horizon that much of the city’s food was moved out before the battle.
Yet, the performance of those Russians who stood to defend the city in door to door combat and the Red Army that ultimately encircled the Axis forces engulfed by the vastness of the Russian steppes bear testament to the virtue of perseverance in even the most dire circumstances. Prior to the resistance of these Soviets starved for food and confidence, it was certain that the Germans would successfully march through Europe. But on this day seventy year ago the Nazis were turned back and the tide of the man’s most gruesome war turned.