Posts with the tag: George Floyd

The Archivist’s Nook: Never Say NEVER

Redskins quarterback “Slingin’” Sammy Baugh in 1937, the year that the NFL team moved from Boston to Washington, D.C. Baugh’s passing game is credited with revolutionizing the sport.

On July 13, 2020, the Washington Redskins announced that they would finally be retiring the team name—a move that the team’s owner, Dan Snyder, had repeatedly resisted, perhaps most vehemently in 2013. His exact words: “We’ll never change the name. […] It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

Controversy over the team’s name and logo stems not only from the term “redskin” but from the use of American Indian iconography in mascots, in general. My own high school in Montgomery County, Maryland—Poolesville High School—used the Indians as its mascot from 1911 all the way up until 2002, when the community’s vote to keep the problematic mascot had to be overruled by the county’s Board of Education; at that time Poolesville reluctantly adopted the Falcons as its new mascot. The term “redskin,” meanwhile, has been likened to the N-word: a term denoting skin color which through years of derogatory use has become offensive. Wikipedia has an entire page devoted to the Washington Redskins name controversy; it traces the dispute back to the 1960s, when it was presumably raised in connection with the Civil Rights Movement.

Since the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, however, calls for racial justice have been falling less on deaf ears. Dr. Maria Mazzenga, Curator of the American Catholic History Research Center, sees the reconsideration of the team name as part of a broader “historical consciousness shift generated in part by Floyd’s murder and the demonstrations that followed”; the reconsideration came about in earnest after the @Redskins participated in #BlackOutTuesday on June 2, at which time others were quick to call out the team’s hypocrisy. A team with a racial slur for a name had no leg to stand on when it came to standing against racism, critics argued.

Located in the nation’s capital, The Catholic University of America (CatholicU) has a short but momentous history with the Washington, D.C., NFL (National Football League) team. Established in Boston as the Braves in 1932, the football team was renamed the Redskins in 1933; the new name was devised to help avoid confusion with a local pro baseball team (which was also called the Braves) without giving up the reference to indigenous Americans. In February of 1937, the Redskins relocated to Washington, D.C., where the CatholicU Redbirds were enjoying a heyday.

Octagonal orange invitation to the Orange Bowl Victory Dinner, February 3, 1936. The CatholicU Flying Cardinals narrowly defeated Ole Miss in Miami the month before—hence the play on words.

In his centennial history of Catholic University, C. Joseph Nuesse refers to the arrival of athletic director Arthur J. “Dutch” Bergman in 1930 as the beginning of “a new era” (Neusse 274). Under Rector James H. Ryan and Dutch Bergman, ““Big time” intercollegiate football became a prime objective of the university’s athletic program” (Neusse 274). According to CatholicU alumnus and local historian Robert P. Malesky, “Bergman was paid a higher salary than any faculty member, causing considerable consternation, though his winning record over his decade at the school caused an equal amount of joy” (Malesky 91).

On New Year’s Day, 1936, the CatholicU Cardinals narrowly defeated Ole Miss in the second-ever Orange Bowl (the first was held on January 1, 1935). The score was 20–19. Malesky describes the game as a nail-biter: “CUA jumped out to a 20–6 lead, but then Ole Miss came back strong, scoring 13 points late in the game. A missed point after a touchdown for Mississippi was the critical difference” (Malesky 92). At the helm was Bergman. The 1936 yearbook also lists the Assistant Backfield Coach as recent alumnus Thomas Whelan—a star athlete who entered Catholic University in 1929 on a football scholarship and who upon graduation (in 1932) played professionally for the Pittsburgh Pirates, soon-to-be Steelers. Incidentally, Whelan and Bergman also teamed up off the field; between 1936 and 1938, the two ran a tavern together in the Brookland neighborhood adjacent to the CatholicU campus.

“Former Stars Coach Catholic Eleven,” reads the Associated Press caption. Pictured left to right: Dutch Bergman, Sammy Baugh, Wayne Millner, and Forrest Cotton. Associated Press Photo, 1939.

A 1939 photograph shows the thickset Bergman standing alongside his assistant coaches in the CatholicU stadium, which had been dedicated in 1924 under Rector Thomas J. Shahan and which was situated more or less in the area now occupied by the Pryzbyla Center and the Columbus Law School. The two coaches standing in the center of the photograph were contemporary “stars with the Washington Redskins football team”: quarterback “Slingin’” Sammy Baugh—a “future hall of famer”—and Wayne Millner, an offensive and defensive end who had played for Notre Dame before going pro (Malesky 91). According to Malesky, “Baugh was not a full-time coach but did come out a few afternoons during the season to instruct CUA’s quarterbacks” (Malesky 91). The fourth man in the photograph is Forrest Cotton, another Notre Dame alumnus. Of course Bergman was himself a noted alumnus of the Fighting Irish. Standing about five feet eight inches tall and weighing 145 pounds, he earned the nicknames Little Dutch and The Flying Dutchman for his quickness. His roommate was the legendary George Gipp, a fact which he joked would overshadow any of his own accomplishments.

In CatholicU history, Bergman goes down as the “all-time winningest varsity football coach” and to this day holds “the highest winning percentage (.649) in school history” (McManes). According to the same article from CatholicAthletics.com, “CUA dropped football in 1941 because of the outbreak of World War II and didn’t field another team until 1947.” In that interim, Bergman went on to coach the Redskins in the 1943 season (at which time Sammy Baugh was still quarterback). In 1948, Bergman became the manager of the D.C. Armory—the corporation that lobbied for the construction of RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. At the time of his death in 1972, Bergman was still managing the D.C. Armory and RFK Stadium. As Washington Post sports writer Bob Addie mused, “The handsome silver-haired man who died Friday night (August 18, 1972) got his wish—he never retired.”

Dutch Bergman, pictured third from left. The handwritten note on the back of the photo states: “Sports writers & Eddie La Fond. Orange Bowl – Jan. 1, 1936.” La Fond, pictured in the center wearing a light-colored hat, succeeded Bergman as CatholicU athletic director under the administration of Joseph M. Corrigan (1936–1942).

 

Works Cited

Brady, Erik. “Daniel Snyder says Redskins will never change name.” USA TODAY Sports. https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/redskins/2013/05/09/washington-redskins-daniel-snyder/2148127/. May 9, 2013. Accessed July 20, 2020.

Malesky, Robert P. The Catholic University of America. Charleston, SC, Arcadia Publishing, 2010.

McManes, Chris. “Former coach Dutch Bergman distinguished himself in all walks of life.” Catholic University Cardinals. https://www.catholicathletics.com/sports/fball/2012-13/releases/dutch_berman_feature_story. December 14, 2012. Accessed July 20, 2020.

Neusse, C. Joseph. The Catholic University of America: A Centennial History. Washington, D.C., The Catholic University of America Press, 1990.

The Archivist’s Nook: The Great Depression Revisited

The novel coronavirus pandemic has left record numbers of Americans jobless—inviting comparisons between now and the Great Depression almost one hundred years ago. The Archives at the Catholic University of America (CatholicU) is well positioned to offer a historical perspective on current events. Two particular collecting strengths from the Depression era, relating to Catholic views on government and entertainment, crisscross the economics and culture of the period—and resonate in our own day.

Monsignor John A. Ryan earned the nickname “Right Reverend New Dealer” for his support of FDR, but not in the way you might expect. In fact, it was New Deal detractor Charles Coughlin who first coined the epithet—intending it to be an insult.

Following the stock market crash of October 1929, the United States plummeted into an economic depression from which it would not fully recover until the onset of World War II. In 1933, unemployment peaked at 24.9% and Franklin Delano Roosevelt assumed the office of the president. In 1935, he signed the Social Security Act—introducing among other things the unemployment insurance program from which some 40 million Americans are currently seeking relief in the wake of “the unprecedented wave of layoffs” triggered by the pandemic. On the morning of Friday, June 19, 2020, The New York Times reported that, for the thirteenth week in a row, more than one million unemployment claims were filed.

Striking his best American Gothic pose, Monsignor John O’Grady (right) was raised by farmers in Ireland and served farmers and others as a priest in the Diocese of Omaha, Nebraska. Read more about his role in the Making of Modern Catholic Charity.

The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives holds the papers of several Catholic supporters of FDR’s New Deal programs, including Patrick Henry Callahan, Francis Joseph Haas, John O’Grady, and John A. Ryan—who was nicknamed “Right Reverend New Dealer.” The digital exhibit Catholics and Social Security recounts the active role that Catholic Charities played in shaping New Deal legislation and the Social Security Act in particular. Importantly, though, the CatholicU Archives also document the activities of Catholic detractors of the New Deal—most notably Charles Coughlin. The Social Justice Collection consists of the weekly publication of the National Union for Social Justice (N.U.S.J.), which served as Coughlin’s political vehicle. Another digital exhibit, Catholics and Politics: Charles Coughlin, John Ryan, and the 1936 Presidential Campaign, details the conflicting views of the two Catholic priests on FDR’s (first) reelection campaign.

Meanwhile, against the backdrop of the worst economic crisis in U. S. history dawned the Golden Age of Hollywood. The fact that moviegoing actually spiked during the Depression has been cited amidst other financial meltdowns: during the Great Recession of 2008, for instance. The phenomenon is commonly rationalized in one of two ways: escapism or catharsis. No doubt entertainment has served similar ends during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has found a new mode of delivery—skipping theaters altogether. After a long spring of streaming from the safety of the sofa, will the appetite for the big screen return?

Back in 1933, as the popularity of moviegoing grew, the church hierarchy’s concerns—mostly about the portrayal of sexuality and crime (especially the glorification of gangsters)—also grew. In response, the church founded the Legion of Decency. The Legion was ultimately subsumed into the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Communications Department/Office of Film and Broadcasting (OFB), for which the CatholicU Archives serves as the official repository. The OFB records include about 150 boxes of film reviews and ratings for movies released from the 1930s onward.

One such movie has recently come back under scrutiny: Gone with the Wind (1939). The highest-grossing movie of all time, the star-studded epic set in the American South has routinely been criticized for perpetuating harmful stereotypes of African Americans. Heeding calls for racial justice incited by the murder of George Floyd, the subscription streaming service HBO Max temporarily took down the controversial classic in June 2020.

Production still from Gone with the Wind (1939). In 1940, Hattie McDaniel (right) became the first African American to win an Oscar for her performance as “Mammy”—a common stereotype of enslaved black women responsible for rearing their enslaver’s white children. From the Press Information folder created by the Publicity Department of New Line Cinema Corporation (Collection 10, Box 51, Folder 56).

Gone with the Wind happens to be historically important to the Legion of Decency. When it was re-released in 1967 (having been reformatted from the standard 35mm into the wider 70mm film stock), it became the first movie for which the Legion (then known as the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures, or NCOMP) changed its rating “without any alterations in the motion picture” [1]. For this, the President and CEO of MGM was “particularly grateful”; he welcomed the new A-II rating (morally unobjectionable for adults and adolescents) and jumped to the conclusion that “the cloud around this classic has been removed” [2].

Upon its release in 1939, Gone with the Wind had been rated B (morally objectionable in part, for all). The Legion’s objections: “The low moral character, principles[,] and behavior of the main figures as depicted in the film; suggestive implications; [and] the attractive portrayal of the immoral character of a supporting role in the story [which is to say, the prostitute]” [3]. Referring to the original objections—including “the famous use of the word “Damn” by Mr. Gable”—one Catholic reviewer wrote, “By the standards of 1967, these elements are rather harmless” [4].  But other elements not originally objected to had since (at the height of the Civil Rights Movement) become top-of-mind, as they have again today [5]:

One moral factor however which must be considered which did not seem quite so obvious years ago is the attitude of the film toward the South, slavery, and the negro. […] The slaves are presented as being content with their lot. […]

This is a ridiculous and immoral attitude, and not fair—we are shown the plantations but not the slave quarters. […] In view of this I recommend the Office reclassify the film AIII, for Adults, and that some observation be made on our attitude toward the treatment of the Negro in the film.

For more about Catholics and the Great Depression, please see the newly-launched research guide: Special Collections — Great Depression Resources.

 

Notes

[1] “NCOMP Upgrades Rating of ‘Gone With The Wind’,” Times Review, LaCrosse, Wis., September 15, 1967. OFB Reviews, Collection 10, Box 51, Folder 55.

[2] Letter from Robert H. O’Brien to Father Patrick J. Sullivan, September 1, 1967. OFB Reviews, Collection 10, Box 51, Folder 55.

[3] Letter from Mrs. Eva Houlihan, Secretary to Right Reverend Monsignor Thomas Little of the Legion of Decency, to Reverend Hilary Ottensmeyer, O.S.B., November 13, 1964. OFB Reviews, Collection 10, Box 51, Folder 55.

[4] and [5] “Gone with the Wind: Screened-Friday, May 5, 1967,” Rev. Louis I. Newman. OFB Reviews, Collection 10, Box 51, Folder 55.