Category Archives: Unique Content

Activism wrapped in capitalism: Josh Clark Davis on Activist Entrepreneurs in the 20th Century

“We now know that, during the Cold War, consumerism came to be increasingly tied to American citizenship in a particularly gendered form of privatization that occasionally surfaced into public politics,” noted Elaine Lewinnek in her review essay on architecture and consumerism in the July 2017 issue of the Journal of Urban History.[1] As evidenced by Lewinnek’s statement, it would be hard to deny the power of consumerism in American culture. More recently in the twenty first century, Presidents have framed consumerism as a central aspect of citizenship and a means to happiness amidst tragedy. “Get down to Disney World in Florida,” President George W. Bush told the American public after the 9/11 attacks. “Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.” Our current president arguably occupies the White House due in large part to his success hawking what he perceives as “the good life” whether through reality TV or the odd cable shopping network; he even included a random, tone deaf plug for his winery as his disastrous August 15th press conference concluded. On the left, consumerism has no shortage of critics; Naomi Klein and Michael Moore regularly assail Corporate America.

Unsurprisingly, academics have found in consumerism a rich cultural vein from which some profound revelations about post World War II America can be extracted. Lizabeth Cohen’s A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (2003) remains mandatory reading for anyone studying ideas, government policies, and ideologies related to post World War II twentieth century consumerism and citizenship. Numerous other historians have contributed significantly to the discussion. Robert Weems, Lawrence Glickman, Kathy Piess, and Susan Benson serve as just four very notable examples; collectively they address class, race, and gender in America through an exploration of consumer behavior and activism.[2] One could easily add Meg Jacobs and Tracey Deutsch, who each have shared their own insights relating to “economic citizenship” particularly in regard to the government’s promotion of this idea, and its connection to gender.[3]

The study of consumerism includes the spaces that postwar shoppers inhabited. William Leach examined how business, finance, industry, and government intersected to create the nation’s mass consumer culture in the early decades of the twentieth century United States.[4] Long the dean of vernacular retail architecture, Richard Longstreth documented and illustrated the processes by which suburban and urban retail were transformed by business leaders, consumers, and in many cases, cars, both in terms of geography and the new spatial relations that business created for shoppers and the shopping experience.[5]

Gabrielle Esperdy and Andrew M. Shanken have also contributed work that comments on consumerism in other ways.[6] Esperdy explores the Modernization Credit Plan, part of the National Housing Act of 1934 as well as two public relations programs run through the Federal Housing Association, “Modernize Main Street” and “Better Housing Program.” She argues that though ignored, these smaller aspects of the New Deal program cast a broad influence such as through the mobilization of $5 billion in a depression era attempt to improve store fronts while promoting the idea of retail “main streets” as a symbol of commercial uplift and solution to economic decline. In many ways, Shanken’s work picks up soon after Esperdy leaves off with architects and urban planners attempting to puzzle out a postwar economic program during World War II. In doing so, he traces the discourse that popularized modernism in the U.S., provided new urban planning models, and impacted the nation in ways that exceeded architecture.

I will not even mention studies on international cities or parallel transnational works. They are legion and for our purposes here, regrettably omitted.

Josh Davis

Yet while the force of consumerism has received domestic and transnational attention, among historians the focus most often remains on corporate entities (or large scale enterprises), government planning, and a consumerist public that sways from apathy to resistance. Many, though not all, of the historians above discussed consumerism amidst the expansion of mass consumer culture in the 1920s, the rise of the social welfare state during the New Deal, World War II era U.S. and even the postwar prosperity of “consensus liberalism”.

Fewer scholars have endeavored to study the small business side of the consumerist politics during the 1960s and 1970s. In his new book, From Head Shops to Whole Foods: The Rise and Fall of Activist Entrepreneurs, urban historian Josh Clark Davis explores the intersection of 1960s/1970s social movements and small business activism that promoted black power and civil rights, feminism, drug reform (ok, access to and legalization of marijuana), and natural food.

Focusing largely on bookstores, small presses, head shops, and organic food markets, Davis argues that “activist entrepreneurs” reimagined “the products, places, and processes of American business,” and by doing so, laid the groundwork for an admittedly “less radical” vision but one that “lives on—albeit fragmented and diluted—in the language, products, and goals of countless American companies today.”[7] Despite Davis’ less optimistic view of the business landscape, it remains difficult to deny that the idea of corporate citizenship, at the very least in terms of rhetoric, today bears some relation to the efforts of Davis’ activist entrepreneurs. The irony of politically radical entrepreneurs establishing the, or perhaps more modestly, a template for the corporate citizen of today will not be lost on readers.[8]

Whole Foods Head Shops.jpg

The book traverses the United States. Davis carries us to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Detroit, and elsewhere. Activist entrepreneurs believed small businesses to be “the backbone of democracy” as “community institutions.” For example, Washington D.C.’s Drum and Spear Bookstore, specializing in works by black authors and promoting black nationalism and civil rights, operated as an arm of a non-profit. The owners of the Psychedelic Shop in San Francisco transformed a part of their business into a meditation room, “The Calm Center”, in an attempt to make the store “a headquarters for hippies seeking community and enlightenment as well as a refuge from the increasingly rough streets in the Haight.”[9] In this way, though not focused on the physical architecture like Longstreth or Leach, Davis explores these businesses as spaces of ideology and political engagement.

Throughout Davis navigates a variety of causes and businesses, most struggle with the same multi-armed tension: maintaining a successful business while critiquing capitalism and all it’s evils, promoting a political cause, and embodying the values of the social movement—be it feminism, the counterculture, civil rights, black power, or natural food—that served as its foundation. In some cases, most notably natural foods, labor practices and policies conflicted with business.

Resistance to entrepreneur activism not only came from without, but also from within. Many activist entrepreneurs endured attacks from the social movements they hoped to advance; distrust of capitalism by civil rights leaders, particularly among the black power wing of the movement, often led to criticism. “The central contradiction in activist business was that entrepreneurs who objected to capitalism still had to make money to survive,” writes Davis. They weren’t exploiting idealism and politics for financial gain, however. Davis’s activist entrepreneurs were grinders who “wanted their enterprises to survive in the long term.” There was rarely the opportunity to sell out for wealth and fame. “[T]he greatest threat to activist entrepreneurs was not being co-opted but simply going out of business,” notes Davis.[10]

Though the tension between dedication to the movement and the ability to stay afloat as a business tested all activist entrepreneurs, it manifested itself the most vociferously in the feminist movement. Granted, black bookstores initially struggled to win over some black nationalists, especially those who viewed capitalist enterprises warily, but by the late 1960s, most had embraced it.

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“Women are happening”, Women’s Interart Center, NY, NY, 1967-1978, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Within feminism, the idea of activist businesses proved more divisive. Susan Sojourner, owner of The First Things Bookstore in Washington D.C., noted that most “movement non-businesswomen” believed that activist entrepreneur enterprises sought to rip off, exploit, leach and profit from feminism. In this way, From Head Shops to Whole Foods documents the fault lines and points of disagreement among various movements.

In the case of feminism, some activist entrepreneurs clearly felt that too many feminists promoted a mythical womanhood. Lorraine Allen, owner of a specialty toiletry company Equation Collective, explained the plight of her fellow female activist entrepreneurs by skewering such ideas. “Just when the movement tried to perpetuate the myth that some women are somehow intrinsically, i.e. unmaterialistic [sic] here we come along with our balance sheets and income statements.”[11] Davis explores this dynamic through a number of feminist business including credit associations, book stores, publishers, and others. Efforts to create umbrella organizations that thread various feminists businesses together for economic and political gain, often met with resistance from critics inside the movement.

 

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Malcolm X, half-length portrait, seated, facing right, during press conference in offices of the National Memorial African Book Store, New York City, 1964, New York World Telegram & Sun Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Whatever the political gains achieved by black nationalist and feminist book stores, both contributed to the critical growth of each community’s economic base. Black and feminist bookstores increased the numbers of businesses owned by women and minorities but also nurtured customers’ interest in feminism and civil rights. Each contributed to an expansion of the public sphere that included a more diverse set of voices; however, both fell victim to their success. By the 1990 and 2000s, chain stores snatched up black and feminist authors. With declining readership that eventually shuttered the physical locations of even Barnes and Noble, most black and feminist bookstores soon closed their doors, unable to compete. For feminist presses, those that persisted shed or downplayed their affiliation to the movement. Due to the focus on both black and feminist entrepreneurs, these chapters put Davis in dialogue with Weems, Cohen, Deutsch, Glickman and others.

Unlike bookstores and printing presses, head shops and organic food outlets exhibited a slightly different arc: ideologies mattered less, lifestyle mattered more. Each began as alternatives to “America’s dominant consumer culture.” In the case of head shops, many activist entrepreneurs believed consumerism to be “alienating, conformist, puritanical, and ‘plastic.’”[12] But head shops also did not operate as “ideological clearing house[s] for radical social movements” or serve as collectives or cooperatives.[13] That being said, politics did seep into the scene; anti-war activism of the late 1960s and early 1970s influenced both head shop entrepreneurs and their customers. In general, however, head shops grew out of the counterculture’s distrust of materialism, an interest in Eastern religions, and tendency toward self-exploration (chemical and otherwise).

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The modern day descendent of Davis’s 1960s head shop activist entrepreneurs; “Window of the Space Cowboy Smoke Shop, which calls itself ‘the highest head shop in the world,’ in Breckenridge, Colorado”, Carol M. Highsmith, August 8, 2015, Carol M. Highsmith Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

When the 1980s arrived with Reagan’s War on Drugs and the efforts of parents groups like Dekalb Families in Action (see Michael Massing’s The Fix for a good composite of the anti-drug parent movement of the late 1970s and 1980s), head shops faced public criticism and legislative marginalization. Eventually, entrepreneurs allied with the marijuana legalization movement and free speech advocates. It was a narrower activism than the anti-materialism and anti-war politics of the 1960s and ‘70s, but activism nonetheless.[14]

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Photoprint used by the U.S. Treasury Department to document the increasing traffic in marijuana, 1943-1945, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

What most head shop owners did not highlight in this fight was the racial inequality at the heart of the War on Drugs. Instead, they often adopted a “color blind analysis of drug laws” that failed to highlight the criminal justice systems implicit racial bias. NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) also stood guilty of such sins of omission, and Davis cynically describes how NORML found it “politically effective to celebrate marijuana and its young white users as innocent, everyday Americans instead of challenging the prevalent stereotypes of African American drug users as dangerous criminals.”[15]

 

Like head shops, natural or organic foods began without being tethered to a single ideology. Rather, the natural food movement operated as a Rorschach test—the cause you ascribed to it said much more about you than the enterprise itself. “Environmentalism, pacifism, animal rights, anarchism, and the counterculture—all contributed to natural foods’ ideological profile in the early 1970s,” argues Davis. The embrace of numerous movements rather than a single one enabled activist entrepreneurs in the industry to “recast their business as a form of political resistance against powerful corporations, environmental degradation, and even war and animal cruelty.” Still, while this gave activist entrepreneurs a broader appeal it also meant they lacked the kind of frenzied attachment to their business enjoyed by those counterparts wedded to a single cause.[16]

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A modern day non-Whole Foods natural food store, “Talal Cockar’s 2011 mural “Tierra y Libertad” fills much of a wall on the Big Hollow natural-foods store building, part of the Laramie Mural Project in downtown Laramie, Wyoming”, Carol M. Highsmith, June 6, 2015, Carol M. Highsmith Collection, Prints and Photographs, Library of Congress

Considering the dominance of Whole Foods over the past decade and its recent buyout, it would not be surprising if Davis’ work on organic food draws the most attention from the media and general public. The natural foods movement did not begin with Whole Foods, but rather sprang from the ideas of Japanese writer and spiritual leader George Ohsawa. In his book Zen Macrobiotics, Ohsawa advised readers to eschew sugar, canned goods, produce grown with nonorganic pesticides and fertilizers, and almost all animal products. His followers established Erewhon in the mid-1960s in Boston while promoting the macrobiotic lifestyle. Despite running afoul of the FDA, Erewhon gained its economic footing and by 1971 reported annual sales of $1.8 million. With locations in Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Toronto, it laid the groundwork for a transformation of the grocery industry.[17]

Labor practices bedeviled many natural food stores. “Some of the most successful businesses resisted efforts by employees or activists to organize unions,” writes Davis, “rejecting the idea that organized labor should play a role in securing workplace democracy.”[18] Labor difficulties aside and in terms of economic growth and presence in the American marketplace, organic foods prove the most successful of Davis’ examples. However, whether in spite or because of their success, the industry endured the criticism from a variety of constituencies including accusations of “cliquish dogmatism,” excessive prices, and “hostility toward people of color, the poor, and organized labor.”[19]

Just as feminist businesses attempted to create umbrella organizations and associations that might bind them to each other more tightly, both politically and economically, similar efforts were made among natural food producers. The formation of the Organic Merchants (OM) “counterculture trade association” sought to create a network of activist entrepreneurs as a means to address distribution problems. Many of these entrepreneurs argued that corporations would never be effective in the natural food business. Paul Hawken, the co-founder of OM, disparaged efforts by corporate America as too opaque, too focused on profits, and too dependent on what and he others viewed as corrupted advertising. “If you are in a truly meaningful business, there is no need to promote yourself other than being open, honest and communicative to your customers,” he would tell journalists. “[T]here is nothing truthful in advertising.”[20]

Cooperatives also arose in the mid-1970s as a means to increase inclusivity and democratic organization. Having lived in NYC for nearly a decade I can’t even tell you how many oddball stories about the famed Park Slope Coop I heard from friends. Now a resident in one of the nations’ most liberal suburbs, Takoma Park, I’ve witnessed Coop politics first hand, sometimes rational and thought out, sometimes not. At the very least, cooperatives raised questions about just what made for the best, most just, business model: “the cooperative model of shared ownership, the spiritually informed and consensus driven management model of companies such as Erewhon, or labor unions?”[21]

Whole Foods emerged from this activist ether. After studying earlier natural food stores like Brookline, Massachusetts’s Bread and Circus and Los Angeles’s Mrs. Gooch’s Ranch Market, John Mackey opened the first Whole Foods market in Austin, Texas. Mackey aggressively expanded the business; unlike his counterparts, Mackey sought to acquire competitors and later sold large portions of the business to venture capitalists, hence facilitating this growth. Such decisions represented a clear break with the more democratic impulses of the movement.

Later Mackey adopted a libertarian politics that eschewed organized labor and government intervention. In retelling the company’s history, Mackey conveniently neglected to mention that Whole Foods once accepted a critical loan from the government following a damaging flood to its Austin store in the 1980s. The company’s environmentalism aligned with the libertarian ideal advocating for businesses to adopt a social consciousness rather than depend on government regulation of the environment.

“[U]nlike most activist businesses, Mackey emphasized individual fulfillment at the expense of social equality and workplace democracy,” notes Davis. In Mackey’s estimation, inequality was natural, struggles for equality were manifestations of national selfishness. While Mackey outwardly embraced social causes like environmentalism, he always kept his eye on the capitalist prize: “We must make sure that we do not become so involved in social/environmental/global issues that it negatively affects our ability to serve our stakeholders,” he noted in a 1988 handbook for Whole Foods.

Davis is right to lament the dissolution of entrepreneurial activism, but at the same time, the efforts of all his subjects also helped bring their movements and the issues that animated them into the mainstream. The decline of black and feminist bookstores, and independent bookstores generally, deserves to be mourned. However, the fact that both brought black and female authors to the broader culture such that big chains began to stock them also merits some level of celebration. What was lost, perhaps, was a sense of community and the store as a space for political debate, reform, and resolution.

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Our more traditional idea of 1960s activism, [Anti-Vietnam war protest and demonstration in front of the White House in support of singer Eartha Kitt], Thomas J. O’Holloran, January 1968, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
At least in some small way, what happened to black bookstores parallels the fate of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. HBCUs spent decades educating black America, and doing it well, only to witness declining enrollments with desegregation as African American students chose schools that had previously denied them admission due to race. At the risk of sounding simplistic, both deserved better but in capitalism we often don’t get what we deserve—rather, we get what the market dictates. Such observations hardly count as revelatory, but since From Head Shops to Whole Foods is the newest addition to the History of Capitalism series from Columbia University Press, it seems appropriate.

Relatedly, the cooption of entrepreneurial activism by companies such as Whole Foods demonstrates capitalism’s consistency regarding commodification. For example, organized labor and workers pushed the idea of “industrial democracy” during World War I as a means to break up the autocratic control of big business over their labor. After the war, employers soon adopted the same phrase and attached it to mealy-mouthed company unions that failed to deliver anything like the gains workers made during, and then lost after, the Great War. Here too, the reader encounters similar processes at work. Yet, and this remains just one testament to the complexity of Davis’ work here, if this co-option resulted in better corporate citizenship and more activist consumers, then activist entrepreneurs undoubtedly contributed something vital to American capitalism.

 

If there are aspects of the book to critique, as there are with any work, one might point to the lack of any transnational perspective. Despite the fact black nationalists and feminists circulated ideas internationally, there is no real attention to this facet of any of the movements. Secondarily, in moments, it feels as if Davis jumps from example to example and that one unifying thread for each chapter does not always emerge. These are pretty minor quibbles.

In the end, Davis book makes a valuable contribution to the study of American capitalism and consumerism. It reveals some well-worn paths in American history but in new ways, while also establishing some of the ironic origins of today’s corporate citizens.

[1] Elaine Lewinnek, “Modern Architecture, Consumer Citizenship, and the Fate of American Downtowns”, Journal of Urban History 43. (July 2017): 526.

[2] Robert E. Weems, Desegregating the Dollar: African American Consumerism in the Twentieth Century, New York University Press, 1998; Lawrence Glickman, Buying Power: A History of Consumer Activism in America, University of Chicago Press, 2010;

[3] Meg Jacobs, Pocketbook Politics: Economic Citizenship in Twentieth Century America, Princeton University Press, 2006; Tracy Deutsch, Building a Housewife’s Paradise: Gender, Politics, and American Grocery Stores in the New Deal, University of North Carolina Press, 2010).

[4] William R. Leach, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture, Vintage Books, 1993.

[5] Richard Longstreth, City Center to Regional Mall: Architecture, the Automobile, and Retailing in Los Angeles, 1920-1950, M.I.T. Press, 1997; Richard Longstreth, The Drive-In, the Supermarket, and the Transformation of Space in Los Angeles, M.I.T. Press, 1999; Richard Longstreth, The American Department Store Transformed, 1940-1960, Yale University Press, 2010.

[6] Gabrielle Esperdy, Modernizing Main Street: Architecture and Consumer Culture During the New Deal, University of Chicago Press, 2008; Andrew M. Shanken, 194X: Architecture, Planning, and Consumer Culture on the Home Front, University of Minnesota Press, 2010; Kathy Piess, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York, Temple University Press, 1986; Susan Bension, Counter Cultures: Saleswomen, Managers, and Customers in American Department Stores, 1890 – 1940, University of Illinois Press, 1987

[7] Josh Clark Davis, From Head Shops to Whole Foods: The Rise and Fall of Activist Entrepreneurs, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), 4, 8.

[8] Davis, From Head Shops to Whole Foods, 245.

[9] Davis, From Head Shops to Whole Foods, 58,94

[10] Davis, From Head Shops to Whole Foods, 31.

[11] Davis, From Head Shops to Whole Foods, 149.

[12] Davis, From Head Shops to Whole Foods, 84.

[13] Davis, From Head Shops to Whole Foods, 85.

[14] Davis, From Head Shops to Whole Foods, 120.

[15] Davis, From Head Shops to Whole Foods, 121.

[16] Davis, From Head Shops to Whole Foods, 191.

[17] Davis, From Head Shops to Whole Foods, 171.

[18] Davis, From Head Shops to Whole Foods, 179.

[19] Davis, From Head Shops to Whole Foods, 180.

[20] Davis, From Head Shops to Whole Foods, 195.

[21] Davis, From Head Shops to Whole Foods, 203.

“Housing for All?”: Putting History to Work in Cambridge, MA

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Rep. Marjorie Decker (Moderator), Barry Bluestone, Charles Sullivan, and Corrine Espinoza. Courtesy of Cambridge Historical Society.

This post by Hope J. Shannon belongs to a series highlighting urban and suburban public history projects.

During the fall of 2016, the Cambridge Historical Society (CHS) in Cambridge, Massachusetts held a three-part symposium titled “Housing for All?” The symposium brought historical perspective to housing issues in both Cambridge and the Boston metropolitan area, and shows one of the many ways history can be put to work in conversations about contemporary problems. I spoke to Marieke Van Damme, CHS Executive Director, about the symposium, its outcomes, and what CHS hopes to achieve by organizing this kind of innovative programming. Read on for our interview and to learn more about how you can have these kinds of conversations in your communities and neighborhoods.

Hope J. Shannon (HJS): What was the symposium? What did it do?

Marieke Van Damme (MVD): Our 2016 fall symposium, “Housing for All?” was the culmination of our year thinking about housing in Cambridge.

In 2015, the Cambridge Historical Society, as a result of serious strategic planning, decided to further refine our community programming. We decided to theme our years, and have all of our programming, events, publications, etc. relate to that theme. It was important to us that the theme be an issue that Cambridge is facing today. We knew that to be relevant to our community, to truly serve as a resource, we had to contribute to the conversation. We believe historical perspective is often lacking in discussions about the present and future, and so we set out to fill that gap and provide much-needed background.

Our first year of themed programming was 2016, and we chose to talk about housing. It’s a serious issue in Cambridge, and one of the first topics people talk about when they get together. We decided to frame our year as a question (“Are We Home?”) because we think this is more inviting to our audience. Instead of the “all-knowing” historical society telling you what you should know about housing in our city, we are asking our neighbors to share their experiences, and to participate in the conversation. As we know, so many of us are not represented in our local historical narratives, and we hope small, subtle changes in how we speak and present information will help change that. We want to be welcoming to all. We can’t be a true historical society if we only collect and share some of the stories of our city, and leave so many out.

When coming up with our set series of annual programs (that change with the different annual themes), we decided that our culminating fall program would be a symposium for a more in-depth, traditional look at an issue. (Other events throughout the year include Open Archives, History Cafes, walking tours, and a fundraiser. More information on our programs is available on our website.)

The Fall Symposium is a two- or three-part event featuring panel speakers with a moderator. In this way, it is traditional. However, we tried a few new techniques to make it more engaging:

  • We place significant emphasis on our differences with other organizations. We make it known, repeatedly, that we are a humanities-based organization. We are not a city-funded or activist group. We bring people together in a slowed-down setting and talk about historical events, precedents, and perspective. We don’t lobby, and we don’t want our audience to mistake our event for a city council meeting. Yes, there is urgency around the issue we are discussing, but the event is meant to be a pause button, not a fast forward.
  • We let it be known, through our remarks and choice of speakers, that the average Cantabrigian’s viewpoint and experience has value. Yes, “experts” are important, but everyone has something to share.

    2016 symposia 3 photos (15)
    Courtesy of Cambridge Historical Society
  • We laid down ground rules at each event, expressed verbally by me in my opening remarks, but also in our handout. They were: listen well, ask questions based on genuine curiosity, and think and speak with empathy.
  • We held the events in three different public locations; two were public library branches and one was a community center. They set the right tone of inclusion and openness we were going for.

We were honored that we won a Leadership in History Award from AASLH for this event!

HJS: Who were the community stakeholders involved in the planning and in the symposium discussion? Did the CHS form new relationships? How did the various community interests shape the project?

MVD: It being our first year of new programming, we really pulled off the event with few resources and the dedication of a small group of people. We couldn’t have done the event without very generous funding from the Mass Foundation for the Humanities, and the Cambridge Savings Bank. Their support allowed us to, among other things, pay speakers, market the event, and pay for a programs consultant.

We planned an ambitious three-part series, with three speakers plus one moderator at each event (a total of 12 speakers). To find our speakers, we asked around our networks, reached out to housing activists, and researched experts on the internet. Everyone was so generous to give of their time and participate. Having three events allowed us to delve into the past, present, and future of affordable housing. Of course, we could have had a dozen events and still not adequately covered the topic (one of our attendees wrote on our follow up survey that we were “thirty years too late” discussing the topic).

This year, with more advance planning, we formed an advisory group to help us with the symposium (focusing on changes to Kendall Square in relation to this year’s theme, “What Does Cambridge Make?), and we are already forming a year-long advisory group for 2018’s theme “Where is Cambridge From?” You can never start too early. The good news is that the relationships we formed last year have carried into this year, and have many new friends and contacts to ask for help.

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Courtesy of Cambridge Historical Society

HJS: Did the symposium provide you with any new insights about the history of Boston’s metropolitan area, Cambridge, and/or urban history more broadly? If yes, what were they?

MD: Definitely. Our challenge when planning the event was always “Is it a regional issue, or a Cambridge issue?” The answer was usually “both.” While Cambridge and Boston are often inseparable, distinctions can be made. This is also why personal stories are so important and make all the difference in showing the humanity behind the data.

HJS: What’s next for CHS?

MD: We’ve had a great year so far with “What Does Cambridge Make,” and are looking forward to our final events of the year– 2 History Cafes, and the Fall Symposium. Planning is already underway for 2018!

More about our History Cafe series here.

More about the 2016 Housing for All series here.

Finding Religion in Honolulu: The LGBTQ Metropolitan Community Church of Hawai’i

In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court issued a ruling that would prove prescient. Ninia Baehr and Genora Dancel, along with two other couples, had filed a lawsuit against the state in order to have a marriage license issued to them. At the time, Hawaii state law banned same sex nuptials. Surprisingly, while the court did not revoke the ban, it did issue a 3-1 majority opinion that would propel same sex marriage forward and spur the backlash against it. “Marriage is a basic civil right” and that “on its face and as applied,” the Hawaii law “denies same-sex couples access to the marital status and its concomitant rights and benefits,” wrote Justice Steven H. Levinson in the court’s majority opinion. When President Bill Clinton signed the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Congress cited the ruling as a compelling reason for the passage of the law. Mainland states feared having to honor same sex marriages from Hawaii–hence the reason for DOMA defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

At the time, the Baehr lawsuit appeared to be “quixotic”, noted the New York Times in 2013. Indeed, even within the LGBTQ community, the idea of gay marriage was controversial, sometimes even divisive. Literary critic Edmund White noted as much in his memoir City Boy: “Back then we had no notion of ‘gay marriage’, partly because many of us were equally opposed to marriage for straight people … As the [1970s] wore on, we became more and more convinced that monogamy – and even the concept of the couple – was outdated.”[1] White, of course, did not speak for the entire LGBT community, but he represented a powerful strain of thought among many within it at the time. Yet, two decades later, Hawaii became one of over two dozen states to sign same sex marriage into law; later Obergefell v. Hodges made same sex marriage the law of the land.

Normally when one thinks of LGBTQ history, New York or San Francisco dominate narratives, however, Honolulu clearly has its own history in this regard. A 1971 newsletter/pamphlet from the city’s Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), a branch of the larger MCC evangelical LGBTQ movement started in 1968 Los Angeles, provides insight into Honolulu’s gay history and a window into the national connections beginning to emerge among the Gay Liberation of the 1970s.

Perry in Detroit
Flyer, Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit, 1971-1973, Frank Kameny Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

In 1968, Troy Perry held the Metropolitan Community Church’s first service. It began in Perry’s Huntington Park living room, but by 2016, according to the MCC’s website, the Christian organization encompassed 300 congregations and 43,000 members in 22 countries across the globe. As Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons surmised in their 2006 work, Gay L.A., “it is probably the world’s largest employer of gays and lesbians.”[2] According to Heather Rachelle White, author of Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights, the founding of the MCC, “catalyzed a gay religious movement that quickly eclipsed predecessor efforts.”[3]

MCC LA photo from card
Los Angeles Metropolitan Community Church, 1973-1974, Frank Kameny Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

A former Pentecostal clergyperson, Perry had been defrocked due to his homosexuality, but never let go of his belief in Christianity. Perry did, however, express a healthy skepticism regarding traditional churches potential for accepting gay Christians. “[M]ost organized religions have been no more helpful to us than an empty well,” he wrote in 1972.[4] Thus, he embarked on creating a network of affiliated churches open to gay and lesbian Christians. Perry’s “strong features, penetrating hazel eyes, and towering six feet” naturally drew listeners as did his penchant for pithy quotes refuting scripture-based homophobia: “I’m not saying Jesus was homosexual, but if he lived today, people would be suspicious, he never married, he ran around with 12 men all the time and was betrayed by a kiss.”[5]

Within only a few years, the MCC movement had spread to several other cities and states including Honolulu, Hawaii. One of the most prominent LGBTQ political activists of the 1960s and 1970s, Frank Kameny—whose papers are located in the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress—followed the expansion of the MCC and collected newsletters from several of its churches. One such newsletter from the Metropolitan Community Church of Hawaii, located in Honolulu, provides insight into the city’s gay community and the issues most important to its the LGBT residents.

The MCC also provided a space for community beyond bars. Though gay bars had proliferated in the post WWII era and were undoubtedly important in forging a gay community, they often remained under surveillance by local law enforcement; police in Los Angeles and elsewhere frequently harassed, arrested, or outted patrons and owners. Moreover, in the search for identity and companionship, many gay men and women eschewed the bar scene more generally. “[I]t is difficult for [gay men and women] to get to know each other as people in the bars and other such meeting places,” noted the Honolulu MCC newsletter. “One of the valuable functions of the church is that it provides a place where people can relate to other peoples as individuals, rather than merely as sexual contacts.”[6] Institutions like the MCC provided both visibility and community.

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Cover, “ka leo ola o Hawaii newsletter”, Metropolitan Community Church of Hawaii, March 21, 1971, Frank Kameny Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

The Honolulu church represents the power of this movement. Judging from its March 1971 newsletter, the Honolulu MCC engaged the public in a number of ways. Its pastor, Reverend Hanson, often addressed American Studies classes at the University of Hawaii; he attempted to convey to students the difficulty of gay life in 1970’s America. Due to the secrecy of gay life, promiscuity proved easier and safer “in some ways, since living with one person makes it necessary to decide what to tell other people, such as parents and co-workers.” “The strong pressures brought against such a relationship lead to the failure of many,” Hanson would tell the students, “which is why MCC requires a six months’ trial period for a couple before a marriage may be performed.” [7]The very fact that the church sanctified gay marriages demonstrates its prescience.

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“The Catalyst” newsletter, Metropolitan Community Church of Denver, June 4, 1972, Frank Kameny Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Even the church’s small numbers—according to the newsletter, its most recent service counted 43 attendees—were related to sexuality, since many gay men and women feared being unmasked to a then hostile public. Moreover, the church’s prominence would draw unwanted attention to homosexuality. Nonetheless, the church continued to engage the broader community. Additional efforts at outreach included meetings with local police to express parishioner anxieties regarding surveillance and harassment. [8]

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“Rapping with the Police”, “ka leo ola o Hawaii newsletter”, Metropolitan Community Church of Hawaii, March 21, 1971, Frank Kameny Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Political concerns also drew the church’s attention. In 1971, the state legislature had begun to consider revoking Hawaii’s anti-sodomy law. State Rep. John Carroll (12th district) met with church members and assured the church that he was in favor of the revision, noting that he “strongly opposed . . . the hypocrisy of our current laws, and has supported changing them for several years. What people do in private should not be a matter for public concern, as long as the public is not harmed by it,” Carroll told listeners.

Mainland politics also drew the scrutiny of MCC newsletter editors Alan Chapman, Dick Roberts and Ned Will. Frank Kameny’s 1971 campaign for Washington D.C.’s non-voting seat in Congress received coverage, and the editors wrote of Kameny’s effort positively for forcing the media to acknowledge the LGBTQ community: “Kameny’s campaign has a major plank; the recognition of a Homosexual Citizen as a full member of society.”

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Campaign poster “Jack Baker for MSA President, 1971, Frank Kameny Papers, Manuscript Division Library of Congress

Minnesota’s Jack Baker, who with his partner Michael McConnell attained the nation’s first gay marriage in 1971, also drew ink. Baker had been denied a position in the University Minnesota Library and had sued arguing this denial stemmed from discrimination. Baker had first gained national attention in his successful 1971 run for University of Minnesota Student Government President; now his victory in federal court added to his LGBT rights resume. Unfortunately, a Federal Appeals court reversed the decision later that same year.

Kuhio Day

While the newsletter tells us little about the ethnicity, race, or gender of church members, it did highlight native history in both its graphics and articles. One such example was this March 1971 piece on the 100th anniversary of the birth of “The Citizen Prince” Prince Kuhio Kalanianaole. “He was democratic in demeanor, dignified yet affable,” the editors wrote. “His chief contribution to constructive legislation was his work toward the enactment of Congress in 1921 of the measure creating the Hawaiian Homes Commission of which he was one of the first members.” While many date the Hawaiian Renaissance to the mid-1970s, when a series of events and protests signaled a new interest and political awakening of native Hawaiian culture, the newsletter suggests that at some small level this was occurring even earlier.

USA directory MCC

Though it might be a solitary newsletter, this single issue tells us a great deal about aspects of Honolulu’s LGBTQ culture. Perhaps congregation members were a minority among the larger gay population, but they were active not only in the church but in the surrounding community. Church congregants expressed an awareness and interest in politics, local and national, while highlighting aspects of the state’s native history.

 

[1] Edmund White, City Boy: My Life in New York City during the 1960s and 1970s, (New York: Bloomsbury, 2009), 99-100.

[2] Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons, Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians, (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006), 260.

[3] Heather Rachelle White, “Proclaiming Liberation: The Historical Roots of LGBT Religious Organizing, 1946-1976”, Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 11. 4 (May 2008): 103.

[4] Troy Perry, The Lord is My Shepard and He Knows I’m Gay: The Autobiography of the Rev. Troy D. Perry, (Los Angeles: Nash Publishing, 1972), 5.

[5] Faderman and Stuart Timmons, Gay L.A.; “Life in Christ”, Metropolitan Community Churches Newsletter Volume I Issue II, Christ Church, Baltimore, Maryland, July 1972, Frank Kameny Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

[6] Metropolitan Community Church of Hawaii, “ka leo ola o Hawaii newsletter”, Vol 1 Issue 10, Honolulu, Hawaii, March 21, 1971

[7] Metropolitan Community Church of Hawaii, “ka leo ola o Hawaii newsletter”, March 21, 1971

[8] Metropolitan Community Church of Hawaii, “ka leo ola o Hawaii newsletter”, March 21, 1971.

Joan Didion’s Honolulu

Critics often assail Joan Didion with accusations of solipsism. At first glance, Didion’s writings regarding her time in Honolulu confirm such assertions. “I am a thirty four year old woman with long straight hair and an old bikini bathing suit and bad nerves sitting on an island in the middle of the Pacific waiting for a Tidal Wave that will not come,” Didion wrote in 1969.[1] Yet travelogues often hinge on this sort of alien, even alienated in Didion’s case, viewpoint. The Atlantic’s Adrienne Lafrance recently summarized this reality: “Travel writing is traditionally concerned with the writer’s sense of belonging, or lack thereof—the spectacle of being somewhere new, the sense of displacement one feels.” With this premise agreed upon, revisiting essays from Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979) shows that Didion did reveal some profound truths about America—though admittedly to a far lesser extent about Hawaii.

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Before diving into her work on the city, we should discuss a couple of relevant points. No doubt, in some respects Didion falters; taken together her two essays – the first “Letter from Paradise, 21 19’ N., 157 52’ W.” and the second “In the Islands” – traverse more than a decade from 1966 to 1977. Throughout each, Didion failed to really illuminate native culture. While she does not completely ignore Hawaii’s racial and cultural complexity, it is only presented through the perceptions of whites. As we noted in our bibliography for the city, for mainland writers the islands function as means to discover who we are, rather than the archipelago’s own history. For better or worse, Didion perpetuates this tendency.

Some readers will argue her criticism of American consumerism feels rote. While it is true that reading critiques of mid century American consumerism from the twenty-first century feels more nostalgic than groundbreaking, this actually testifies to Didion’s power as a writer. Her dry but ruthless vision of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and its patrons defined the period so completely that watching the Season Six premiere of Mad Men, in which Don vacations at the Royal Hawaiian and pitches their director on a new ad campaign, feels cribbed from Didion’s account. In the end, two themes emerge: the power of tourism and the breadth of the military’s influence.

Tourist Trap

Unsurprisingly, Honolulu drew from Didion an almost ineffable response. “And so, now that it is on the line between us that I lack all temperament for paradise, real or facsimile, I am going to find it difficult to tell you precisely how and why Hawaii moves me, touches me, saddens and troubles and engages my imagination,” she confessed, “what it is in the air that will linger long after I have forgotten the smell of pikake and pineapple and the way the palms sound in the trade winds.”[2] For a writer who leaned toward skepticism and doubt for much of her life–as Eric Avila pointed out she rendered Los Angeles of the same period “the paranoid capital of the world”–this is no small feat.[3]

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The Royal Hawaiian, Ryan Reft, June 2017

Of course, even in such moments of appreciation, Didion clearly embodies the fish-out-of-water, stranger-in-the-land lens of the travelogue. For Didion, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel–a Waikiki landmark–is not just a place to lay one’s head, but “rather a social idea, one of the few extant clues to a certain kind of American life.” Of course, all great hotels, she concludes, operate as “flawless mirrors to the particular societies they service.”[4] The hotel’s opening in 1927 “made all things Hawaiian–leis, ukuleles, luaus, coconut leaf hats, and the singing of ‘I Wanna Learn to Speak Hawaiian’–a decade’s craze at country club dances across the United States,” she writes. The Royal, a haole creation, reflected Hawaii through an Anglo lens for an Anglo culture; a territorial influence cast across a continent an ocean away, but defined by American occupiers rather than native peoples.

From its establishment to the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the hotel catered to a certain crowd. The kind of people who sunbathed behind the exclusive ropes of the hotel’s reserved beach space discovered that “their nieces roomed in Lungita at Stanford the same year, or that their best friends lunched together during the last Crosby.”[5] Midwestern newlyweds, Seattle Mayors, and San Diego magnates rub elbows with “Australian station owners, Ceylonese tea planters, [and] Cuban operators.”[6] This vision of Hawaii, more or less “a big rock candy mountain in the Pacific,” was conveyed to the mainland through newspaper photos of “well fed Lincoln Mercury dealers relaxing beside an outrigger….”[7] The tumult of the 1960s, according to Didion, never reached Honolulu shores: “the cataclysms of the larger society disturb it only as surface storms disturb the sea’s bottom, a long time later and in oblique ways.” This last statement rings false; the mid-1970s witnessed a resurgence of Hawaiian cultural pride and protest, which goes largely unmentioned in her work.

War and Peace

Though it remains unclear she would define it as such, Didion pushes out into the waters of American imperialism. Amidst the Vietnam War, the island’s ties to European and American imperial ambitions and global conflict seem overwhelming and obvious, but according to Didion, Hawaiians viewed war differently. WWII “cracked the spine” of the Big Five (a handful of families/companies that dominated Hawaiian business and social affairs), opened up a closed economy, and brought new people and new ideas from the mainland. “War is viewed with a curious ambivalence in Hawaii,” Didion noted, “because the largest part of its population interprets war, however unconsciously, as a force for good, an instrument of social progress.”[8]

The way Didion sees it, for Hawaiians the war released them from the bondage of sugar plantation feudalism and brought investment. It also opened up society in other ways. The elite Punahou School, once reserved for missionaries and their children’s children, now served a far broader swath of the population; nearly one third of its students came from Asian and Asian American homes. Chinn Ho, a local boy climbed his way up to millionaire status; he started at the bottom and worked his way into the power elite.

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Haoles prided themselves on the island’s cultural “melting pot”, though racism lay just beneath the surface. For example, when one woman informs Didion that some white Hawaiians did mingle with local Asians she framed it in less than noble terms. “The uncle of a friend of mine … has Chinn Ho to his house all the time,” the acquaintance confided; Didion characterized this as akin to saying “‘some of my best friends are Rothschilds.’” Even progressives used dodgy logic when one island teacher grabbed the arm of a pretty Chinese girl, exclaiming to Didion, “‘You wouldn’t have seen this here before the war. Look at those eyes.’” The truth is sugar cane brought diversity to the islands; the military brought a collision between Jim Crow America and its newly acquired territory, soon to become state.[9] “The Orientals are–well, discreet’s not really the word, but they aren’t like the Negroes and the Jews, they don’t push in where they’re not wanted,” another haole resident tells her.[10]

 

Decades after World War II, Didion returns to Schofield Barracks, the setting of James Jones’ classic novel From Here to Eternity, and records what has changed and what has persisted. For her, large parts of Honolulu belong to Jones, a sentiment that at first sounds inspiring but then condescending. For native Hawaiians, the idea that Jones, who spent time at Pearl Harbor during the war before shipping out to fight at Guadacanal, could ever “own” Hawaii must grate. Yet, Jones’s vision of Oahu’s various military installations – Pearl Harbor actually refers to a constellation of military bases – for boomers like Didion remains a somber, quasi-religious place. She visits the memorial and cries. “All I know about how other people respond is what I am told: that everyone is quiet at the Arizona.”

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Schofield Barracks Military Reservation, Wilikina Drive & Kunia Road, Wahiawa, Honolulu County, HI, circa 1938, photographer unknown created by David Franzen in 1996, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Honolulu’s Hotel Street had not changed, only the destination of its patrons. Young men barely out of their teens swarmed its bars and brothels: “And the sailors get drunk because they are no longer in Des Moines and not yet in Danang.”[11] Men in search of companionship, women in search of a dollar, and military police officers in search of infractions circle one another.

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Scene from film version of From Here to Eternity 

At the National Memorial Cemetery, a site more silent than the Arizona and home to over 19,000 dead from World War II through the Vietnam War, the dead from America’s engagement in Southeast Asia had begun to arrive. “The graves filled last week and the week before that and even last month do not yet have stones, only plastic identification cards, streaked by the mist and splattered with mud,” she wrote. “The earth is raw and trampled in that part of the crater, but the grass grows fast, up there in the rain cloud.” [12]

Graves devoted to Vietnam make up a fraction of the whole and are placed in the memorial’s outer rings, most often for “local boys.” However, many mainland families choose to bury their fallen in Honolulu. “A father or an uncle calls me from the Mainland and he says they’re bringing their boy here,” the superintendent of the memorial tells her. “I don’t ask why.” [13] She attends a burial service for one such soldier killed in action; a desultory event punctuated by the superintendent’s resigned admission: “Fill, cover, get the marker on. That’s the one thing I remember about my training.”[14]

Her opinions about war might have been better couched more specifically. She never really delves into Hawaiian attitudes toward Vietnam, her examples of war bringing change stem almost exclusively from the Second World War. She witnesses the military build up connected to Vietnam and related businesses dependent on such developments, but how natives and locals feel regarding American action in Southeast Asia never comes through. If one reads letters to Hawaii’s then congresswoman, Patsy Mink, residents opposing America’s involvement in Vietnam outnumber those in favor by large numbers. Later in the mid-1970s, Hawaiians protested the military’s use of the archipelago’s smallest island, Kaho’olawe as a bombing site. Though the military and U.S. aggression abroad continued to shape Hawaii – politically, economically, and even culturally – how it was viewed locally as the century progressed remains debatable.

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Representative Patsy Mink announces the formation of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus at a press conference, Laura Patterson, May 20, 1994, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Writing decades later and from a much different perspective, Lisa Lowe aptly describes the most glaring aspect of Honolulu, and broader Asian American life, that Didion missed. The collective memories of Asian American and Pacific Island culture demonstrates the fragmented nature of history and experience, as it is a past “always broken by war, occupation and displacement,” notes Lowe. “Asian American culture ‘re-members’ the past in and through the fragmentation, loss, and dispersal that constitutes the past.”[15]

When Didion notes that there is also a Hawaii that deals only with the “past and with loss,” she does so from the perspective of a missionary’s descendent; as someone from the kind of family that believed Hawaii had been in decline since economic development and tourism reached the islands, never mind the intrusion of the missionaries. To her credit, she seems aware of this, but she never fully breaks from its mindset.

Still, for all its failings, Didion’s reflections on Honolulu remain spellbinding, profound, fluid, and flawed all at once. Mid-century America, arguably the height of the middle class, drank deeply of consumerism, tourism, and war. The California writer captured this better than most.

 

[1] Joan Didion, “In the Islands,” The White Album, (New York: Farrar, Stroux, and Giroux, 1979), 135; See also Joan Didion, “Letter from Paradise, 21 19’ N., 157 52’ W.”, in Slouching Toward Bethlehem, (New York: Farrar, Stroux, and Giroux, 1968), 187: “In an essay three years earlier also written from Honolulu, she traversed similar territory. “Because I had been tired too long and quarrelsome too much and too often frightened of migraine and failure and the days getting shorter, I was sent, a recalcitrant thirty one year old child, to Hawaii, where winter does not come and no one fails and the median age is twenty three.”

[2] Joan Didion, “In the Islands”, 188.

[3] Eric Avila, “Essaying Los Angeles” in The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of Los Angeles, Ed. Kevin R. McNamara, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 184.

[4] Joan Didion, “In the Islands”, 137.

[5] Joan Didion, “In the Islands”, 137.

[6] Joan Didion, “In the Islands”, 138.

[7] Joan Didion, “Letter from Paradise”, 189.

[8] Joan Didion, “Letter from Paradise”, 198.

[9] Joan Didion, “Letter from Paradise”, 209.

[10] Joan Didion, “Letter from Paradise”, 202.

[11] Joan Didion, “Letter from Paradise”, 194.

[12] Joan Didion, “Letter from Paradise”, 193-194.

[13] Joan Didion, “In the Islands”, 141.

[14] Joan Didion, “In the Islands”, 144.

[15] Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), 29.

 

Preserving Honolulu: An Interview with University of Hawaii’s William Chapman

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University of Hawai’i Professor William Chapman has spent a lifetime working in historic preservation. A former Fulbright scholar and two time Fulbright Senior Specialist, he knows a thing or two about preserving urban history and architecture for future generations. Chapman currently serves on three international committees dedicated to preserving historical sites: History and Theory, Historic Towns and Urban Areas, and Vernacular Architecture. Since 2000, he has been a member of the UNESCO committee for Heritage Awards in Asia and the Pacific.  The Metropole sat down with Dr. Chapman to pick his brain on Honolulu history, preservation policy, and the city’s present and future.

How did you find your way to Hawai’i? What do you do at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa?

I was recruited, in a sense. Former Keeper of the National Register and Vice-President of the National Trust Bill Murtagh had begun a historic preservation program at the University of Hawai‘i in 1986. He was here on a part-time, one term a year basis, and the Department of American Studies, where it was housed, wanted a full-time director. I was teaching then at the University of Georgia and was active in international historic preservation through the U.S. National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (US/ICOMOS). I was encouraged to apply for the job. This was in 1992. I started in the summer of 1993. I am now chair of my department but still direct our Graduate Certificate Program in Historic Preservation.

How would you describe your experience in creating the National Register Report? How did you balance planning, history, and anthropology into a document that will influence Honolulu urban policy?

The report was for a National Heritage Area focused on downtown Honolulu and the immediately surrounding area. I expanded the report to include the whole of the ancient ahupua‘a (the Hawai’ian land division). I was asked by the initiative’s leadership to write the report, based on my past work with the National Register and my experience in the preservation field. I had great help from a special Graduate Assistant we hired for the job, Geoff Mowrer, now a National Park Service employee on the island of Hawai‘i. I approached the report as a historian, bringing in some archaeological studies to cover some of Honolulu’s early years. I had written some material on the Urban Renewal Period in Honolulu and then began with the early period. Much of my writing and research was not included in the report for the Hawai’i Capital District Proposal since it would have gotten too long. The overall aim was to rethink Honolulu as an urban site, rather than just part of the consolidated government of Honolulu and Oahu. I also wanted to provide an alternative to the usual colonial histories of both Hawai’i and the city—to better understand Honolulu as a Hawai’ian city (at least in terms of its population and workforce) not simply as the creation of Euro-Americans. There is no doubt Honolulu was a response to early globalization and the beginnings of world trade, but the labor and “personality” of the place prior to 1900 was almost entirely “Hawai’ian.”

To what extent has the report made an impact in Honolulu’s development or plans for development?

So far, very little. The proposal came up against opposition in a number of quarters. Some influential owners in Chinatown did not want to be part of a National Park Service special area even if there was no regulatory component. I think the project failed to get the word out on what this might mean and most people perceived it as “yet another level of federal government interference.” This was true of some Hawai’ian leaders as well, many of which saw the effort as an encroachment on traditionally managed homestead lands in the upper part of the proposal area.

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Aerial view of Honolulu, Hawaii, Carol M. Highsmith, December 10, 2005, Carol M. Highsmith Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

I’ve read James L. Haley’s book on Hawai’i, Captive Paradise, in which he seems to suggest (and it’s possible I’m oversimplifying his argument) that Honolulu really didn’t become the true center of Hawai’i until after the whaling industry declined and sugar came on the scene in the latter part of the nineteenth century. How would you describe its development into Hawai’i’s urban/cultural/economic center?

The whaling industry kick-started the growth of the city largely through the marine chandler (supply) business. Parts of the city were devoted to the cultivation of sweet potatoes, a provision for many whaling ships. There were also ropeyards, blacksmiths, etc. The town was also a rest and relaxation area for visiting sailors and this poured quite a bit of money into the kingdom’s coffers. In 1809, King Kamehameha moved his court to Honolulu, to a site adjacent to old luakini heiau (sacrificial temple) of Pakaka from Waikiki, before returning to Hawai’i Island around 1812. By 1845, the Kingdom of Hawai‘i moved officially to Honolulu, where all functions of government operated.

This was obviously a response to the far greater economic importance of the harbor settlement over that of the old capital at Lahaina on Maui. Hawai’i continued to be an important site for the replenishment of ships’ stores and for refurbishment of ships into the 1850s and 1860s, when whaling began to decline. Sugar production, which expanded after the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 gave Hawai’i preferential tariff treatment, did in fact spark a minor boom in urban development—but this was still moderate. By the 1890s the Kingdom of Hawai’i was finding itself hard-pressed to meet its financial obligations and the Hawai’ian elite was over its head in debt. Even the overthrow in 1893 did not assure Western investors of the security of Hawai’i; only after the breakout of the Spanish American War in 1898 and the agreement to annex Hawai’i in 1900 did Hawai’i and Honolulu experience a surge in construction and urban development.

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Main St., Honolulu – Fancy goods, no date, Bain Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

One of my impressions of Honolulu, and some of this might be due to my own time in San Diego and Los Angeles, was that architecturally it felt like Southern California in many ways. From the report, prior to WWII there was some influence by California-based architects such as C.W. Dickey and Julia Morgan. How did this influence the city architecturally prior to 1945?

Honolulu indeed feels much like a Southern California town and has much in common with greater Los Angeles. The history of tract development is similar as are many of the architectural styles and the building types, notably one-story bungalows. Many of the architects working in Hawai’i moved back and forth to California, though the main cultural connection during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was San Francisco, not LA. C.W. Dickey is a case in point. He had local connections but spent much of his career in California, where he was born (Alameda) and educated (Oakland). He eventually got his architecture degree from MIT, but was very much a “westerner.”

Hart Wood, Dickey’s sometimes rival and sometimes collaborator, also spent time in both Denver and Oakland (though he was originally from Philadelphia) and had worked on the Stanford campus. He moved to Hawai’i in 1919. Probably the most similar thing about Hawai’i and California was the range of building styles. Craftsman, Spanish Colonial Revival and Mission, and Georgian Revival were all popular forms in Hawai’i as they were on the West Coast. The biggest difference was the relative quality of materials; everything had to be imported to Hawai’i so there were a number of materials economies practiced in the islands, notably single wall and double board construction. This technology, which has a parallel in California for farm buildings, especially, was widely employed in Hawai’i’s many planation camps. These types of simplified generic buildings found wide acceptance in the modest Honolulu suburbs as well. Hawai’i and LA shared a dependence on a streetcar system, which moved workers and clerks from their small houses to the central business district. The city also saw the emergence of separate satellite communities such as Kaimuki and Kapahulu, in response to the streetcar suburbs. As a cost savings, many areas did not have sidewalks and nearly all telephone and electrical wiring was strung above ground, as it is today outside of the very core of the urban district.

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Street looking towards hills, Honolulu, no date, Bain Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

I also wonder about Honolulu’s post World War II architecture. It seems to also share similarities with Southern California, but perhaps in a different way. For example, postwar California launched the ranch house, subdivisions, and an explosion in military spending and infrastructure, which in turn facilitated the expansion of housing, industry, and economic development. Did something similar occur in Honolulu because, at least superficially, there seem to be some parallels.

Actually, much of this was true for Hawai’i too in the postwar era. However, because of the scarcity of land Honolulu quickly accepted high-rise construction as an alternative to suburban sprawl. This occurred most noticeably in the resort area of Waikiki, but also downtown and in many former single-family home areas such as Makiki. The city applied zoning standards only in the mid 1960s, allowing for sporadic high-rise development in many former single-family areas as well. The first large apartment building was the Rosalei in Waikiki, built in 1956. Before that buildings were limited by the height of the longest fire truck ladder, to eight stories. There were postwar suburbs such as Hawai’i Kai, Aina Haina, and Waialai Iki, which—at least in Aina Haina—included houses by the New York-based Levitt Company and local companies such as Hicks Homes. Henry Kaiser applied the efficiencies learned in his industrial suburbs in Seattle during the war to his new development in East Honolulu. Finally, the construction of Hawai’i’s own “Interstate Highway,” the H-1, helped unify the various small commercial areas and encouraged the construction of large shopping centers. These included the Waialae Center (now Kahala Mall) built in the late 1950s, the Kaimuki Center (now Market City) and especially the megamall Ala Moana, built in 1959. The malls, in turn led to the decline of downtown Honolulu as a shopping and entertainment area, much as happened in LA.

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Aerial view of Honolulu, Hawaii, Carol M. Highsmith, December 10, 2005, Carol M. Highsmith Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Many American cities exhibit significant economic, racial, and ethnic diversity, but Honolulu must exceed most mainland metropolitan areas. How does this differentiate the city—politically, architecturally, socially—from its counterparts in North America?

As you know, Honolulu was the center of a great agricultural enterprise beginning in the 1870s but really taking off in the early twentieth century. The sugar and pineapple industries required labor. Immigrant contract labor began under the reign of King Kalākaua (reigned 1874-1891). The Chinese had been coming to Hawai’i since the mid 1850s, helping, in fact, to develop the incipient sugar industry. With passage of the Reciprocity Treaty in 1875, Kalakaua knew he needed a fresh source of labor. This would be Japan. Beginning in 1868 before Kalākaua’s reign but expanding after 1881 following an agreement with the Emperor of Japan, thousands of Japanese single men—and later families and single women—immigrated to Hawai‘i. Many planned to stay just through their contract, but then found themselves either unprepared economically or bound to responsibilities and attachments in Hawai‘i. Many of the Japanese came from the southern island, where they had eked out a living as farmers. Others came from the Japanese dependency of Okinawa. Koreans soon joined the mix, expedited by the fact Korea was under Japanese control at the time.

Soon, Europeans from places as far away as Sweden and Scotland joined the Japanese. Many of these came as technicians. Farmland on Hawai‘i Island was offered at favorable terms to entice settlers from places such as Portugal. In 1898, following a major storm in Puerto Rico, a large number of Puerto Rican families emigrated. With the defeat of the Spanish and new ties to the Philippines, there was a concurrent influx of Filipino workers after 1900. All of these ethnic groups began to occupy Honolulu as well. As a result there was a Chinatown, a Japan-town and eventually businesses operated by Filipinos. Never truly a “melting pot,” Honolulu and the rest of the Hawai’ian Islands enjoyed an ethnic balance that many sociologists saw as enviable. Army reports and the organization of sugar labor indicate strong racial “profiling.” “The Japanese were industrious but not inventive; the Chinese clever but were inscrutable; Hawai’ians were lazy,” and so on. The Hawai’i Guard, the territory’s version of a national guard, developed its units on the basis of racial “aptitudes.” Planation owners and operators created separate villages (camps) for different ethnicities. Nonetheless, the laboring classes eventually formed a sense of unity, as evidenced by intermarriage and by a growing labor movement. So by the 1930s Honolulu was indeed diverse, reflective of the diversity of the islands as a whole.

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“Kamehameha the Great” statue, Hawaii, Carol M. Highsmith, December 6, 2005, Carol M. Highsmith Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

In many cities on the U.S. mainland, FHA housing policies and HOLC housing maps emerged in the 1930s and contributed greatly to institutionalizing housing segregation. I wonder if this history differs in Honolulu; for example, since it was a not a state until 1959 perhaps these policies did not affect it as acutely or at all? Also, since Honolulu is on the island of Oahu and due to the city’s demographic diversity, did anything along the lines of “white flight” occur?

Honolulu was probably far les segregated than any other US city in the 1930s. Older upper-end suburbs such as Manoa or Nu‘uanu had tacit agreements for white-only residents. Some of these expectations were written into covenants governing new land subdivisions during the early part of the twentieth century. Certainly by the 1930s these were effectively ended. By the late 1940s and 1950s they had ended even more certainly. There was no explicit segregation in Hawai’i and most neighborhoods had a mixture of different ethnicities. Hawai’ian-haole (white Euro-American) marriages were common as well, breaching the racial barrier at both the top and bottom of the social ladder. The Japanese, which comprised as much as 60 percent of the population in the 1930s, was the last group to let up on ethnic restrictions in marriage. But by the 1960s, Japanese young people were marrying out of their own ethic bounds. By the 1950s as well, former all-white enclaves, such as Manoa, had opened up to non-white ownership and residence.

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Chinatown, Ryan Reft, June 2017

As noted in the report, urban renewal policies nearly destroyed the Chinatown community in the 1960s. Similar policies in places like Chicago often removed minority and working class communities, replacing them with highways and “economic development projects” and ultimately reinforced racism while hollowing out cities. How did urban renewal unfold in the 1960s in Honolulu and what were the consequences?

The urban renewal project in Chinatown and what was then Japan-town (the Aala area) provided opportunities for many Chinese and Japanese families and individuals. There had been significant disinvestment in both areas in the post World War II era. Many owners welcomed the opportunity to sell under the Urban Renewal Program. (The program allowed for appraisals well above the market rate, a fact that benefitted many owners.) Both Japanese and Chinese residents had been migrating to the suburbs since the 1900, leaving largely landless people still within the community. Many of these residents did in fact lose their homes, notably the many wood houses along Vineyard Street and within the Aala area. But the more prosperous ownership class clearly profited from the program. None of this really affected the racial and ethnic makeup of the city. The public housing replacing Chinatown and Aala shops now houses mostly Pacific island and Filipino populations, along with Hawai’ians and other ethnic mixes. The sum total of housing probably increased in both areas through the public housing projects, which are still there.

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Chinatown Market, Ryan Reft, June 2017

When I visited Honolulu recently, I spent some time in the Chinatown neighborhood, which seems to be undergoing a bit of a renaissance. When I spoke with one proprietor she suggested that it was within last 12-18 months that more boutique stores and restaurants began popping up around the community, but judging from the report, it would seem that Chinatown’s development/“comeback” has been some time in the making. Can you provide some context for its current trajectory? Are there any drawbacks to these changes such as gentrification possibly forcing out long time residents—or this really a feel good story?

Chinatown’s “comeback” has been slow. In the postwar period, Chinatown had become the haunt of cheap bars and dance halls and pool halls. These evolved to be even cheaper bars and go-go bars. There was widespread drug use and prostitution in the area, a legacy of earlier times, during the 1960s and 1970s. National Register nomination and the creation of a special planning district in the 1970s and 1980s helped to reverse the downward trend, though major arteries such as Hotel Street remained seedy and dangerous. The fact that many community services, including housing for the homeless and drug treatment centers, were located in Chinatown worked against the “rebranding” of the 13-acre area as an upscale gallery and entertainment zone. “First Fridays,” beginning in the early 2000s, helped to change the area’s image. But the process has been slow. It is important to realize that what is now called Chinatown included at the east (Diamond Head) end several streets more associated with downtown Honolulu than with Chinatown proper; so it is perhaps wrong to think of Chinatown’s character being altered through gentrification. Nuuanu and Bethal Streets were always part of Honolulu’s nightlife and important site of many of the city’s movie theaters. Their revival, therefore—notably the refurbishment and reopening of the Hawai’i Theatre in the 1980s—was actually simply bringing some of the old life of the area back. The large number of Vietnamese and Laotian shopkeepers and sellers at farmers’ markets has had the effect of keeping the area predominantly “Chinese” in character; many of the Lao and Vietnamese are in fact ethnically Chinese.

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Waikiki at night, Honolulu, Hawaii, Ryan Reft, June 2017

Where do you see the future of Honolulu as a city going?

We seem to be becoming a new site of luxury high-rises, growing out of the old industrial area of Kakaako. Urban renewal and new construction destroyed many of the great buildings of the 1920s and 1930s downtown. Retail commerce is shifting nearly entirely to shopping malls, making it difficult for mom-and-pop stores to survive. The elevated train, if it is ever completed, could do much to stitch together the urban fabric of the city but how this will take place is not yet apparent. I am hopeful that special attention can be given to remnants of earlier commercial centers, such as Waialae Avenue and Kapahulu Avenue, both of which retain many buildings from the 1930s through 1950s and still have an “authentic” urban character. However, this would require investment from the city, which is not at all likely. I fear Honolulu will become a rather sterile place of shopping malls and luxury high-rises, oriented increasingly to the visitor industry. I am hoping that we can revive the heritage area concept and begin interpreting through museums and information plaques and kiosks to make the city’s history more meaningful for both visitors and residents.

William Chapman is Director of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation and Professor in the Department of American Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. Educated at Columbia (M.S. in Historic Preservation, 1978) and at Oxford University in England (D.Phil. in Anthropology, 1982), he specializes in architectural recording, the management of historic districts, and materials conservation. Dr. Chapman is widely recognized as a leading authority in recording historic architecture and in policies and procedures for historic preservation at both the local and national levels.

Seeing Honolulu through A Surfing Life

Until I read Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, William Finnegan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir of his life as a surfer, I had little desire to visit Hawai’i. Like Ryan, my impression of the islands was drawn largely from Hollywood films and television, and reinforced by friends’ honeymoon photo albums on Facebook. Seen through these lenses, Hawaii seemed like a Disneyland for grown-ups—a façade purposefully constructed to show vacationers the beaches, roasting pigs, and smoking volcanoes that tourism professionals believed they wanted to see.

Barbarian Days shattered my perception of Hawai’i. Finnegan’s description of his two years living in Honolulu, attending a public junior high school and surfing with locals, provides a glimpse into the quotidian lives of Honolulu residents in the late 1960s. Stories about surfing certain waves serve as a starting point to discuss the history and geography of the Hawaiian islands; other stories, of the friendships Finnegan forged through surfing, demonstrate the complex racial and ethnic hierarchies that Honolulu’s diverse residents navigated daily, the class divisions that organized social life, and youth culture.

I picked up Finnegan’s memoir having heard positive reviews and because, after finishing my dissertation, I needed to be transported to another time and place. I had no particular interest in surfing, be it sport, recreation, or aesthetic. Within the first twenty pages of Barbarian Days, I discovered that in fact I was very interested in surfing. Moreover, I had a newfound itch to visit Honolulu.

Unlike more traditional memoirs, Barbarian Days skips around through Finnegan’s life. Rather than beginning with his childhood in Southern California, Finnegan begins the memoir with the formative surfing he did in Honolulu between 1966 and 1967. The memoir then flashes back to his earlier years before returning to Hawai’i (albeit Lahaina, on Maui) and then follows his surfing adventures in the South Pacific, Australia, Asia, Africa, San Francisco, and Madeira.

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Surf Riders, Honolulu, Charles Bartlett, c. 1920-1921, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Although I found the entire book immensely enjoyable, I think the first chapter on Honolulu is my favorite and the one that stands out most clearly in my memory. In it, we follow the young Bill as he evolves from a naïve SoCal teen with a single-minded focus on surfing to a savvy, cosmopolitan young man awakened to the reality of racism and classism. An anecdote about being picked on as the new haole (white) kid in school begins the book, signaling the end of Finnegan’s innocent ignorance. “[M]y parents sent me to the nearest junior high, up in working-class Kaimuki, on the back side of Diamond Head crater,” Finnegan writes, “where they assumed I was getting on with the business of the eighth grade, but where in fact I was occupied almost entirely by the rigors of bullies, loneliness, fights, and finding my way, after a lifetime of unconscious whiteness in the segregated suburbs of California, in a racialized world.”[1]

Through the fistfights and brawls that he found himself in during his first weeks at Kaimuki Intermediate School, Finnegan (and the reader) become increasingly aware of the racial hierarchies operating within Honolulu. As one of the few haole kids in the public junior high—most white parents sent their children to private schools—Finnegan found himself a target for bullying by “the ‘mokes’—which seemed to mean anyone dark and tough.” Seeking protection, he joined “the In Crowd,” a haole gang from whom he “began to learn, first, the broad outlines, and then the minutiae, of the local racial setup.”[2] This alliance insulated Finnegan from further torture, but it was not long before surfing expanded his social circle to include Hawaiian friends.

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Honolulu, Diamond Head and palms, 1936, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Near the house his parents rented was a surf spot that the locals called Cliffs, where Finnegan became a regular. There he met a Hawaiian teen named Roddy Kaulukukui, who was his same age and at his same skill level at surfing. Both looked up to Roddy’s older brother, Glenn, a “superb surfer, with a style that was already flowing and beautiful.” It was from the Kaulukukui brothers and their friends that Finnegan learned the ins-and-outs of surfing Diamond Head, and it was with them that he learned local surfing culture. Unlike in Southern California, where surfing was a sport of youthful rebellion, in Hawaii surfing was and remains a family affair; a sport taught by fathers to sons. Roddy and Glenn’s father was accomplished enough to have surfed some of the most advanced waves on Oahu’s North Shore. “I had always assumed that only famous surfers rode Waimea,” Finnegan recalls, but during his year living in Honolulu he “saw that local fathers rode it too, and in time, perhaps, their sons would as well.” “These people never appeared in mainland [surfing] magazines,” and yet in time he realized “there were many families like the Kaulukukuis in Hawaii—multigenerational families, ohanas rich in talent and tradition, known only to one another.”[3]

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Diamond Head, Honolulu, Hawaii, Carol M. Highsmith, December 9, 2006, Carol M. Highsmith Collection, Prints and Photographs, Library of Congress

Through the Kaulukukuis Finnegan also gained insight into Hawaiian life on the mainland, particularly how Hawaiians navigated the intersections of race and class. In an attempt to join the surfing club the Kaulukukui brothers belonged to, Finnegan found himself knocking on doors in a “posh looking subdivision high in the hills above Honolulu” trying to raise money by selling “a heavy sack of Portuguese sausage” to the affluent white residents. The organizer of the Southern Unit surfing club, Mr. Ching, gave the group “basic instruction in door-to-door salesmanship.” Explaining how the boys were to pitch the sale, Mr. Ching exaggeratedly code-switched from pidgin English: “Mr. Ching said ‘the Southern Unit,’ and the kids laughed, because he pronounced it haole-style, standard English, though it was usually said ‘da Soddun Unit.’”[4] When, a few weeks later, Roddy transferred into one of Finnegan’s classes at school, Finnegan realized his friend could similarly play both the role of Hawaiian surfer and “haole-style” student: “Like Mr. Ching in his fund-raising spiel, Roddy abandoned briefly, his normal pidgin and spoke standard English.”[5]

Boat and Palm tree outline at a Hawaii Beach.
Boat and Palm tree outline at a Hawaiian beach, Carol M. Highsmith, 1980-2006, Carol M. Highsmith Collection, Prints and Photographs, Library of Congress

Through his parents, Finnegan gained an adult perspective on Honolulu society, particularly its class divisions. His father, a television producer, had moved the family to Oahu to make a TV show. This work regularly brought him into (contentious) contact with the state’s labor unions, and Finnegan observed that although workers—and particularly non-white workers—had benefitted from organized labor, “By the mid-‘60s… Hawaii’s labor movement, like much of its mainland counterpart, had grown complacent, top-heavy, and corrupt, and my father, although he came to personally like some of the union bosses he fought daily, never seemed much edified by the struggle.”[6] His mother, meanwhile, found “the provincialism of Honolulu … suffocating.” Although she hid her distaste from the family and “threw herself into making the most of life in an insular, reactionary town,” in retrospect Finnegan reflects that when she traveled to “the outer islands she found, I think, a Hawaii more to her liking—not the Babbitty boosters and country-club racists of Honolulu.”[7]

Although I can only assume that today Honolulu differs markedly from the city that Finnegan explored with his friends 50 years ago, Barbarian Days nonetheless invites readers to see Hawai’i, and Honolulu more specifically, as a place populated by residents. Tourists hardly appear, overshadowed by descriptions of riding city buses, babysitting siblings, and crushing on girls—indeed, without the social life that surfing provides Finnegan, little about his junior high experience would be remarkably Hawaiian. Yet, it’s this vision of Honolulu and Hawai’i that I appreciated and that opened my mind to a possible visit. My appreciation of surfing, however, will probably remain limited to YouTube videos.

Avigail Oren is co-editor of The Metropole. She recently completed her Ph.D. in History at Carnegie Mellon University. More of her writing can be found here.

[1] William Finnegan, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, (New York: Penguin Books, 2015), 3. Big wave surfer Laird Hamilton also talks about being bullied as a haole in the documentary Riding Giants.

[2] Finnegan, Barbarian Days, 10.

[3] Finnegan, 16.

[4] Ibid., 30.

[5] Ibid., 31.

[6] Ibid., 21.

[7] Ibid., 24-5.

A Tour of Honolulu From Atop a Tiny Skateboard

Translated as either “calm bay” or “sheltered harbor,” Honolulu is, after Auckland, New Zealand, the second largest city in Polynesia; it has been since 1845 the capital of the Kingdom of Hawai’i, and it is by far the most populous of the state of Hawai‘is metropolitan areas with just under 1,000,000 residents.[1] Honolulu has the distinction of being the only state capital in the United States that was the seat of government of a nation overthrown and annexed against the wishes of its monarchy and people.[2]

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For many Hawaiians this is not a scene of liberation, “Raising U.S. flag over Hawaii”, Pan-Pacific Press Bureau photo, August 13, 1898, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

I have been thinking about Honolulu since the fall semester of 2001. I was a PhD student at the University of Arizona and had, in one of my classes, many of the members of the university’s Hawai‘i Club, an organization for students with connections to Hawai’i and other Pacific Island nations and cultures . A quest to teach U. S. history from the perspective of Hawai‘i to benefit those students that semester has led to something of a personal quest to learn about the culture of our most unique state. My observations below have as their basis a tour I made of much of the city of Honolulu while riding a 68 centimeter-long Hawaiian koa wood Arbor Pocket Rocket mini-cruiser skateboard.

Visually, Honolulu is an unusually beautiful American city, set on the lush southern coast of the 3,900,000 year-old volcanic island of O’ahu.[3] Western parts of the city sit at the base of the Wai’anae Mountains, eastern sections extend in to the canyons of the Ko’olau Mountains, and the city’s center sections encircle its harbor and the extensive bay called Pearl Harbor. The sole thing that most mainlanders know about Honolulu, and Hawai’i for that matter, is the coverage their middle and high school textbooks provide about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor not quite seventy six years ago.[4] The distinctive curvilinear 1962 memorial that hovers above the submerged U. S. S. Arizona is Hawai’i’s single most frequented tourist site. Political Scientists Kathy Ferguson and Phyllis Turnbull describe it as “a significant national memory site,” which allows visitors to see oil seeping from the tomb of hundreds of sailors and marines in the water below and to contemplate the subsequent effort to win World War II, one of the defining moments in American history.[5] Equally poignant are the many signs of kamikaze pilots’ bullets visible on the exteriors of hangars and the walls of officers’ houses at Hickam Air Force Base, now Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.[6]

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The “black tears” of the crew of the U.S.S. Arizona, Ryan Reft, June 2017

People arriving in Honolulu for the first time are often surprised when they learn that the city has interstate highways. About ten miles east of the Arizona on Interstate Highway H1 is the section of the city where most of the tourists stay, Waikīkī. The hotel industry in Waikīkī is large enough to be responsible for something like 8% of Hawai‘i’s gross state product every year, and is represented by a seemingly endless stand of high-rise buildings with windows straining to offer guests a view of the Pacific.[7] Waikīkī is one of the surreal spaces in our country in which the difference between what is and what was are so drastic that an observer is left incapable of believing they are in the same place. As Gaye Chan and Andrea Feeser note in Waikīkī: A History of Forgetting and Remembering, this section of Honolulu was popular with Polynesians because its streams offered fresh water, and as a result, early Hawaiians established a thriving community in which they grew taro, built homes, religious temples, and fish ponds, and surfed.[8]

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U.S.S. Arizona, Ryan Reft, June 2017

In early photographs of Waikīkī, one can follow the idyllic beach, with its gentle wave, to the volcanic cone Lē’ahi, or Diamond Head, at its end.[9] But about a hundred and ten years ago, the beachfront began to transform into a place of recreation and escape for mainlanders. Surfing historian Joel Smith has written of Alexander Hume Ford, who in 1909 began the Outrigger Canoe Club to promote surfing in Waikīkī.[10] Jack London shared his surfing and leisure experiences at Waikīkī with readers around the world in his book The Cruise of the Snark, and the famed Native Hawaiian multi-Olympic sport gold-winning athlete Duke Kahanamoku joined the Outrigger Canoe Club in 1917.[11] During this era, financiers constructed a number of elaborate hotels designed to appeal to wealthy tourists seeking a tropical paradise. The Moana, which opened in 1901, and the Royal Hawaiian, built in 1927, helped to permanently transform Waikīkī, a bucolic village Native Hawaiians inhabited for generations, into the tourist and resort center of Honolulu.[12] The white beaux-arts exterior of the Moana, now the Moana Surfrider, and the pink Moorish exterior of the Royal Hawaiian still stand, although it is difficult to make them out because the bright white high-rise hotel towers that now line nearly the entire 2.5 kilometer length of Waikīkī’s beach dwarf them.[13]

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Sheraton Moana Hotel, Waikīkī’s first hotel, Honolulu, Hawaii, Carol M. Highsmith, 1980-2006, Carol M. Highsmith Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

A fascinating spot for understanding the history and culture of Honolulu and Hawai’i is the intersection of Punchbowl and South King Streets in the city’s center. Directly to the west is the 1883 statue of Kamehameha the Great, a chief and warrior from the Island of Hawai‘i who through military conquest of the islands of Maui, Molokai‘i, and O‘ahu, and diplomatic agreement with Kaua’i, became the unifier and first monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1810 and lived nearby from 1810 until 1812.[14] Kamehameha instituted the kapu system of laws in Hawai’i, developed international relations between his kingdom and other nations, and with his outstretched arm, feathered cloak (‘ahu ‘ula) and headdress (mahiole), and spear (ihe), has since served as a symbol of the Hawaiian people.[15] The statue stands directly in front of the 1874 Ali‘iolani Hale, which served as offices for the Kingdom’s government and now is the Hawai’i Supreme Court, which in 1993 made national history by being the first American state supreme court to declare that denying gay couples the right to marry constituted discrimination.[16]

Behind the Ali’iōlani Hale sits the Hawai’i Attorney General’s Office, from which have emerged some of the strongest arguments against the current president’s policies on immigration. One block further is the modernist 1977 Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana’ole Federal Building and U. S. Courthouse, where in April 2017 courtroom decisions elicited the U. S. Attorney General’s comment that “I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power.”[17] About six blocks to the northwest of the Ali‘iolani Hale is Honolulu’s Chinatown, which developed as a center of Chinese community and commerce in the mid-19th century as the terms of Chinese sugar laborers ended and they sought other financial opportunities in Hawai’i.[18]

Most of the present buildings post-date the large conflagration of 1900 that destroyed much of the neighborhood in an effort to end an outbreak of the bubonic plague, but the area remains a center of civic pride in a city and state that celebrate their remarkably long-lived ethnic integration.[19] As University of Hawai‘i Music Professor Frederic Lau has noted, mid-nineteenth century agricultural laborers and commercial workers arriving from China, Korea, Japan, Okinawa, the Philippines, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Spain, and elsewhere in Polynesia intermarried with Native Hawaiians, African Americans, and haoles, or white Americans, resulting in “Hawai‘i’s  rainbow [multicultural] society” in which “many local-born children are known to be descendants of mixed-race marriages that often include three or four ethnicities.”[20] The result is the notable menu feature of many of Honolulu’s and the Hawaiian Islands’ restaurants; as Geographer Ines Miyares explains:

Most plantation workers were poor and would bring tins containing one or two items of simple fare for the midday meal. Despite their differences, workers would share bits of their meals, sometimes introducing each other to new foods. The Chinese introduced rice, chicken, and duck; the Japanese, various forms of fish and the use of teriyaki; the Koreans kimchi; the Puerto Ricans, pork and various spices such as saffron; the Portuguese, sweet bread and doughnuts. The sharing of food evolved into a tradition among plantation workers and became known as the “mixed plate” or the “plate lunch.”[21]

One of Honolulu’s storied restaurants noted for this mélange of cuisines, ‘Ono Hawaiian Foods, will serve its last plate lunches in August after fifty-seven years of business near Waikīkī.[22]

Turning left at Punchbowl and King, to the south one sees a distinctively New England style religious edifice erected in coral, the 1842 Kawaiaha‘o Church, from which the Congregationalist missionary Hiram Bingham led his quest to Christianize the Native Hawaiian population.[23] His arrival in 1820 occurred just after the abandonment of the kapu system in 1819, the result of Kamehameha’s son’s violation of a major kapu just six months after ascending to leadership of the Kingdom.[24] The impact of Bingham’s and other missionaries’ efforts was deep and devastating for Native Hawaiians as Christians, teamed with American business leaders, spent much of the rest of the nineteenth century leading efforts to rid Native Hawaiians of their land, religion, worldview, language, lifestyle, foodways, and customs, including hula and surfing.[25] Just behind the church sits the New England-style building complex constructed by other Protestant missionaries between 1821 and 1840, today used as the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Museum.[26] Turning east and then to the northeast, there appear a series of government buildings—first the Honolulu Mayor’s Office, the Honolulu City Hall, the Hawai‘i State Library, and the Hawai‘i State Archives. Looming largest in this complex is the Hawai‘i State Capitol, a modernist 1969 design by architect John Warnecke, with whose work, including John F. Kennedy’s grave, Stanford University’s Meyer Library, and the mathematics-science complex at the U. S. Naval Academy, mainlanders are likely familiar.[27]

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Hawaii State Archives, Honolulu, Ryan Reft, June 2017

Finally, directly to the north of the intersection of King and Punchbowl sits the ‘Iolani Palace, which holds perhaps the deepest meaning of all of these buildings for Native Hawaiians. Completed in 1882 under the oversight of King David Kalakaua, its telephone, electricity, lighting, and plumbing made it in a technological sense the first “modern” building in Honolulu.[28] Kalakaua’s reign had great impact: he brought widespread literacy to the Hawaiian people, he signed the Reciprocity Treaty that gave the United States operations in Pearl Harbor in exchange for duty-free Hawaiian sugar exports to the U.S., and he made substantive efforts to revive hula, surfing, and other cultural expressions that had suffered for five decades under missionaries’ influence.[29] Kalakaua’s commitment to the perpetuation of Native Hawaiian culture is recognized by the annual Hilo-based Merrie Monarch Festival, which showcases competitive hula dancing.[30]

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‘Iolani Palace, Ryan Reft, June 2017

 

Kalakaua’s rule was also notable for the numerous efforts of American planters and entrepreneurs, among them Sanford Dole, to wrest control of the Hawaiian Kingdom and to convince the United States to annex the islands for their financial gain.[31] After Kalakaua’s death in 1891, his sister Lili’uokalani ascended to the throne and lived in the ‘Iolani Palace under similar pressures from whites. Lili’uokalani spent much of her rule defending her monarchy, the independence of the kingdom, and perpetuating elements of Hawaiian culture.[32] In 1893, some American businessmen colluded with U.S. Marines to occupy the ‘Iolani Palace grounds, effectively deposing Lili’uokalani and creating a pseudo-government of their own leading.[33] The next year, Dole declared Hawai‘i as a republic under his leadership, and Lili’uokalani was arrested in 1895 after her supporters tried to restore her to her throne; she lived in the ‘Iolani Palace for eight months as a prisoner.[34] In 1896, whites banned the teaching of Hawaiian language in the kingdom’s schools, a long-lived scar on the soul of Hawaiian culture.[35] On August 12, 1898, from the windows of Washington Place, a royal home just 250 feet from the ‘Iolani Palace, Lili’uokalani watched Americans unfurling patriotic bunting and celebrating the official, and illegal, annexation of Hawai’i by the United States.[36] Washington Place remained her home, from which she wrote defenses of her monarchy and the Native Hawaiian people, until her death in 1917; inside one if its rooms, Lili‘uokalani, a trained musician, completed perhaps the most celebrated classical composition in the Hawaiian songbook, “Aloha ‘Oe.”[37]

‘Iolani Palace also holds great meaning for many Japanese American Hawaiians. As in other Pacific-bounded locations in the United States during World War II, the U.S. government set up internment camps in Hawai‘i, and 24 kilometers from the ‘Iolani Palace sit the remains of the Honouliuli Internment Camp, which had a wartime population of 4,000 Asian and Asian American residents. Former Honolulu resident, President Barack Obama, declared it a national monument in 2015.[38] However, the ‘Iolani Palace was the site of one of the great moments of Asian American pride when, on March 28, 1943, before a crowd of 20,000 onlookers assembled on the palace grounds, 2,600 Japanese American men took the oath of office as members of the United States Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team and went off to Europe to fight in the war; they remain the most decorated military unit in American history.[39]

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Japanese-American volunteers . . . nearly 3,000 new American soldiers of Japanese ancestry–assembled at ‘Iolani Palace grounds, Honolulu“, for the farewell ceremony honoring them en masse, United States Office of War Information, March 1943, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Just two blocks southwest of the ‘Iolani Palace, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit is constructing the Downtown Station—the eighteenth of twenty-one planned stops on the city’s 32-kilometer elevated light rail system.[40] Although since the project’s inception the goal has been to ease traffic on the city’s freeways, light rail construction has faced a similar issue as building those freeways: the disturbance and destruction of ancient Native Hawaiian burials.[41]   As a non-Native Hawaiian student of Hawaiian culture and language, I have begun to learn about the significance with which Native Hawaiians treat all aspects of the natural world and the reverence Native Hawaiians demonstrate toward their kupuna, or ancestors. I have also come to understand that nearly all places in the Hawaiian Islands are inextricably bound with the sacred Hawaiian past, including religious sites, homesteads and village sites, locations of agriculture and aquaculture, places noted in proverbs and chants, and locales with close associations to the natural and spiritual worlds. It is of little surprise, then, that any construction in Honolulu, let alone a public transit project necessitating digging in the ground, will inevitably disturb cultural, religious, and burial sites. Paulette Kaleikini, a self described “activist for our kingdom,” raised the issue of the light rail’s disturbance of ancient graves along its route before the Supreme Court of Hawai’i, prompting the court to order a halt to construction while the state and archaeologists investigated further disturbances along the planned route.[42] Kaleikini also protested a construction project back at the intersection of Punchbowl and King because that area, too, sits above ancient burials.[43]

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Aloha building at night, Ryan Reft, June 2017

Kaleikini’s efforts represent just one of a myriad of examples of the Native Hawaiian cultural revival that has had many facets, including an active Native Hawaiian sovereignty movement,[44] the reestablishment of teaching Hawaiian language in schools across the islands,[45] a resurgence in Hawaiian music in both composition and instrumentation,[46] and, like Kaleikini’s steps, a wider recognition, acknowledgment, and protection of Native Hawaiian sites.[47] One of the institutions at the center of both the celebration of Hawaiian culture and the protest against the appropriation of that culture’s artifacts is the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, a campus of buildings 4.8 kilometers northwest of the King Kamehameha Statue. There are few places on the planet at which one can learn more about Native Hawaiians and other Polynesian groups through photographs, manuscripts, and cultural objects which the museum curates and displays. However, many Native Hawaiians consider the holding of cultural artifacts and human remains to be a violation against their ancestors, and have utilized the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to challenge the Bishop Museum’s continuing to curate sacred objects and human remains.[48]

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The crux of the controversy, “Brochure advertising Hawai’i, 1899” from the Bishop Museum, Ryan Reft, June 2017

One of the most anticipated days of 2017 for tens of thousands of Honolulu residents was directly connected to Native Hawaiian cultural revival: the June 17 return of the canoe Hōkūle’a to the city’s harbor, its home port. In 1973, anthropologist Ben Finney, waterman Tommy Holmes, and artist Herbert Kane created the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Honolulu and set about building the Hōkūle’a, an ocean voyaging canoe.[49] Finney later recalled that with sailing skills learned from Caroline Islands traditional navigator Mau Pialug, Hōkūle‘a’s first “voyage from Hawai‘i to Tahiti and return in 1976 helped to inspire what has become known as the Hawaiian renaissance.”[50] During the past 41 years, Hōkūle‘a has proved that Polynesians were capable of deliberately sailing long distances across the Pacific and settling previously uninhabited islands. The project has also led other Polynesian cultures to build and sail similar traditional canoes, prompted cultural revivals among other indigenous peoples, and inspired native peoples in every port in to which it has sailed.[51]

Hōkūle‘a is also deeply connected to two other primary agents of the Hawaiian Renaissance. Immortalized on a small plaque on board the canoe is Eddie Aikau, a big wave surfer and the first lifeguard at O‘ahu’s Waimea Bay, who died after Hōkūle‘a capsized in 1978 off of the island of Lāna‘i; Aikau sought help by paddling to shore on his surfboard, but disappeared, prompting Hōkūle‘a’s navigator, Nainoa Thompson, to note that “at a deeper level, Eddie tried to rescue not only the crew of the Hōkūle‘a but the symbolism and dignity of the canoe because he knew it carried the pride of his people.”[52] Surfer Mark Foo, commenting that Aikau enjoyed engaging particularly large swells, noted that “Eddie would go,” a phrase which has become inspirational to Native Hawaiians that one will find on bumper stickers and tattoos, and in graffiti, around Honolulu.[53]

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Example of burgeoning Hawaiian pride in the early 1970s, “Kuhio Day from the Metropolitan Community Church of Hawaii in Honolulu”, circa 1971, Frank Kameny Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Hōkūle‘a also has a unique connection to Honolulu native Israel Ka‘ano‘i Kamakawiwo’ole, a noted ukulele player who initially rose to fame as part of the music group Makaha Sons Of Ni‘ihau. Although Iz propelled himself to international acclaim as a solo artist with his one-take melding of Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World,” it was his recording of the song “Hawai‘i 78,” in which Iz asks how the monarchs would feel seeing condominiums and freeways on their sacred Honolulu lands, struck a cord with many Native Hawaiians and helped to propel his album, “Facing Future,” to its status as the best-selling Hawaiian music album in history. When Iz died at age 38 from complications due to his obesity in 1997, the state ordered flags flown at half-mast, and Iz’s body was laid in state in Hawai‘i’s Capitol Building.[54] After his body was cremated, Honolulu residents gathered along the city’s beaches. Iz’s producer Jon de Mello, who was on board the Hōkūle’a, recalled that “all the big semi-trucks on the island of O’ahu had their air horns blowing. And from the ocean we could hear the echo, the bounce off the mountain ranges.”[55] Then, from the Hōkūle‘a, Iz’s ashes were thrown into the Pacific and the winds offshore of his hometown.

Hawai‘i’s is a state of unique towns, such as Hanalei on Kaua‘i, Hale‘iwa and Makaha on O’ahu, Kalaupapa on Molokai’i, Lahaina and Hāna on Maui, and Hilo and Kailua-Kona on Hawai‘i Island. Together they collectively offer a sense of the kingdom’s, and state’s, culture, history, and natural beauty. But only Honolulu is a true urban center, a place contested in its meanings, confronted with many of the ills and challenges of other American and global cities, but truly unique among the world’s centers of population. I highly recommend a skateboard as a means of seeing the city on an intimate scale. Of course walking or cycling would be great too, as would a traditional Polynesian canoe or a surfboard.

H. Gelfand is Associate Professor of History, Honors, and Interdisciplinary Studies at James Madison University. He teaches courses on topics such as sports, the environment, and San Francisco, and his current research focuses on surfing and the environmental movement and on Robert F. Kennedy’s civil rights advocacy.  Gelfand is also the chair of the Bergen County (New Jersey) Historical Society Historic Preservation Committee, and since June 2016 has been a student of Hawaiian language.

[1] Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Elbert, Hawaiian Dictionary (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986); United States Census Bureau Statistics for Honolulu County, Hawai’i, 2016, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/honolulucountyhawaii/PST045216 (accessed 22 June 2017).

[2] See, for example, Haunani-Kay Trask, From A Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai’i (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1999).

[3] David Sherrod, “Hawaiian Islands, Geology,” in Rosemary Gillespie and David Clague, Encyclopedia of Islands (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), p. 406.

[4] Carolyn Anderson, Television Histories (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001), pgs. 143-144.

[5] Michael Tsai, “Oil Continues To Flow From The USS Arizona,” Honolulu Star Advertiser, 30 November 2016; Michael Ruane, “After 74 Years, Bones From Pearl Harbor Tomb Ship May Be Identified,” Washington Post, 6 December 2015; Kathy Ferguson and Phyllis Turnbull, Oh, Say, Can You See: The Semiotics of the Military in Hawai’i (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).

[6] Shane Cuomo, “Hickam Quiet On This December 7,” Air Force Print News, 7 December 2005.

[7] “The Economic Contribution of Waikiki,” State of Hawai’i Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism, 2003.

[8] Gaye Chan and Andrea Feeser, Waikīkī: A History of Forgetting and Remembering (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2006), p. 5.

[9] “Two Natives With Outrigger Canoes At Shoreline, Honolulu, Hawai’i,” photograph, 1920, Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/93500256/ (accessed 28 June 2017); Photograph of Native Hawaiian Surfer, photograph 1, in Claire Martin, “Surfboard Design, Catching A Wave From Old Hawai’i,” New York Times, 21 December 2013, Business Section p. 3.

[10] Joel Smith, The Illustrated Atlas of Surfing History: Wave Riding from Antiquity to Gidget (Waipahu: Island Heritage Publishing, 2016), pgs. 85-88.

[11] Jack London, The Cruise of the Snark (New York: Macmillan, 1911); Smith, The Illustrated Atlas of Surfing History, pgs. 90-91. On Duke Kahanamoku, see Gary Osmond, “‘Modest Monuments’: Postage Stamps, Duke Kahanamoku, and Hierarchies of Social Memory, Journal of Pacific History (Vol. 43, No. 3, December 2008), pgs. 313-329.

[12] Chan and Feeser, Waikiki, p. 84; Derek Paiva, “A Look Back at Hawai’i’s Earliest, Most Historic Hotels,” Hawai’i Magazine (online version, 23 December 2016, accessed 3 July 2017).

[13] “Royal and Moana Hotel at Waikiki Beach,” photograph, 1935, in “Aloha Hawaii Scrapbook,” University of Hawaii at Manoa Hawaiian Rare Photograph Collection, http://digicoll.manoa.hawaii.edu/hawaiianalbum/Pages/viewtext.php?s=search&tid=36&route=basicsearch.php&sterms=waikiki&s=browse (accessed 26 June 2017).

[14] Glenn Wharton, The Painted King: Art, Activism, and Authenticity in Hawai’i (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2012), pgs. 81-86; Gavan Daws, “Honolulu In The Nineteenth Century: Notes on the Emergence of Urban Society in Hawai’i,” The Journal of Pacific History (Vol. 2, 1967), p. 77.

[15] Jennifer Thigpen, Island Queens And Mission Wives: How Gender and Empire Remade Hawai’i’s Pacific World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014), pgs. 10-29.

[16] The Hawai’i Supreme Court case is Baehr v. Miike, Supreme Court of Hawai’i, 910 P.2d 112 (1996), 80 Hawai’i 314.

[17] Alexander Burns, “Hawai’i Sues To Block Trump Travel Ban; First Challenge To Order,” New York Times, 9 March 2017, p. A13; “Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana’ole Federal Building and U. S. Courthouse,” General Services Administration, https://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/204031

(accessed 29 June 2017); Charlie Savage, “Sessions Dismisses Hawai’i As ‘An Island In The Pacific,’” New York Times, 21 April 2017, p. A15.

[18] Gavan Daws, “Honolulu In The Nineteenth Century: Notes on the Emergence of Urban Society in Hawai’i,” The Journal of Pacific History (Vol. 2, 1967), p. 81.

[19] Gary McDonogh and Cindy Wong, “Beside Downtown: Global Chinatowns,” in Marina Peterson and Gary McDonogh, eds., Global Downtowns (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), p. 278; James Mohr, Plague And Fire: Battling Black Death and the Burning of Honolulu’s Chinatown (New York City: Oxford University Press, 2005).

[20] Frederick Lau, “Serenading The Ancestors: Chinese Qingming Festival in Honolulu,” Yearbook for Tradtional Music (Vol. 36, 2004), pgs. 130-132.

[21] Ines Miyares, “Expressing ‘Local Culture’ in Hawai’i,” Geographical Review (Vol. 98, No. 4, October 2008), p. 524; Samuel Yamashita, “The Significance of Hawai’i Regional Cuisine in Postcolonial Hawai’i” in Ku Robert Ji-Song, Manalansan Martin, and Anita Mannur, Eating Asian American: A Food Studies Reader (New York City: New York University Press, 2013); Rachel Laudan, The Food Of Paradise: Exploring Hawai’i’s Culinary Heritage (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1996).

[22] Lorin Gill, “After 57 Years, ‘Ono Hawaiian Foods Is Closing For Good,” Honolulu Magazine, 28 June 2017 http://www.honolulumagazine.com/Honolulu-Magazine/Biting-Commentary/June-2017/One-Last-Laulau/

(accessed 28 June 2017).

[23] John Andrew, Rebuilding The Christian Commonwealth: New England Congregationalists and Foreign Missions, 1800-1830 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1976), pgs. 151-170.

[24] Jennifer Fish Kashay, “From Kapus To Christianity: The Disestablishment of the Hawaiian Religion and Chiefly Appropriation of Calvinist Christianity,” Western Historical Quarterly (Vol. 39, No. 1, Spring 2008), pgs. 19-27.

[25] Elizabeth Buck, Paradise Remade: The Politics of Culture and History in Hawai’i (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993), pgs. 101-120; Isaiah Walker, Waves Of Resistance: Surfing and History in Twentieth-Century Hawai’i (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2011), pgs. 26-27.

[26] Laurel Spencer Forsythe, “Anglo-Hawaiian Building in Early Nineteenth Century Hawai’i,” Perspectives In Vernacular Architecture (Vol. 6, 1997), pgs. 161-173.

[27] Rosa Lowinger, “Conserving Otto Piene’s Kinetic-Light Sculptures in the Hawai’i State Capitol,” APT Bulletin: The Journal of Preservation Technology (Vol. 42, No. 2/3, 2011), p. 39.

[28] Charles Peterson, “The Iolani Palaces and the Barracks,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (Vol. 22, No. 2, May 1963), 91-103; Randall Biallas, “Building Automation System at Ionali Palace, Honolulu, Hawai’i,” Bulletin of the Association for Preservation Technology (Vol. 13, No. 1, 1981), pgs. 7-8.

[29] Jon Van Dyke, Who Owns The Crown Lands of Hawai’i? (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2008), pgs. 96-99, 118-120; Adrienne Kaeppler, “Festivals Of Pacific Arts: Venues for Rituals of Identity,” Pacific Arts (No. 25, December 2002), pgs. 12-14; Ben Finney, “Surfing In Ancient Hawai’i,” Journal of the Polynesian Society (Vol. 68, No. 4, December 1959), pgs. 330-331.

[30] Amy Stillman, “Hawaiian Hula Competitions: Event, Repertoire, Performance, Tradition,” Journal of American Folklore (Vol. 109, No. 434, Autumn 1996), pgs. 357-380.

[31] Carol MacLennan, Sovereign Sugar: Industry and Environment in Hawai’i (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2014), pgs. 233-236.

[32] Miriam Fuchs, “The Diaries of Queen Lili’uokalani,” Profession (1995), pgs. 38-40.

[33] Lydia Kualapai, “The Queen Writes Back: Lili’uokalani’s Hawai’i’s Story By Hawai’i’s Queen,” Studies in American Indian Literatures (Vol. 17, No. 2, Summer 2005), pgs. 32-62.

[34] Jon Van Dyke, Who Owns The Crown Lands of Hawai’i? (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2008), p. 178.

[35] Sam Warner, “ ‘Kuleana’: The Right, Responsibility, and Authority of Indigenous Peoples to Speak and Make Decisions for Themselves in Language and Cultural Revitalization,” Anthropology and Education Quarterly (Vol. 30, No. 1, March 1999), pgs. 70-74.

[36] Virginia Price, “Washington Place: Harboring American Claims, Housing Hawaiian Culture,” Buildings And Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum (Vol. 16, No. 2, Fall 2009), pgs. 48-72.

[37] Lili’uokalani, “My Own Nation,” in Daniel Cobb, ed., Say We Are Nations: Documents of Politics and Protest in Indigenous America Since 1877 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015), pgs. 13-18; Jim Tanquanda and John King, The ‘Ukulele: A History (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2012), pgs. 28-33; Malcolm Chun, No Ma Mamo: Traditional and Contemporary Hawaiian Beliefs and Practices (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2011), pgs. 42-45.

[38] Molly Solomon, “Once Lost, Internment Camp In Hawai’i Now National Monument,” “Code Switch,” National Public Radio, 16 March 2015.

[39] Gregg Kakesako, “65 Years, 1 Legacy: Weekend Activities Honor the World War II Service of Japanese Americans,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 30 March 2008, p.1.

[40] Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit Route Map, http://www.honolulutransit.org/ride/route-map (accessed 30 June 2017).

[41] “Plans For Hawaiian Highway Hit Snag Over Ancient Burial Ground,” New York Times, 25 November 1985; Adam Nagourney, “After 40-Year Battle, Train May Roll For O’ahu,” New York Times, 4 January 2012, p. A10; Adam Nagourney, “Hawaii Struggles To Keep Rail Project From Becoming A Boondoggle,” New York Times, 21 March 2016, p. A10.

[42] Tiffany Hill, “Meet Paulette Kaleikini: The Woman Who Stopped The Rail,” Honolulu Magazine, 25 June 2013 http://www.honolulumagazine.com/Honolulu-Magazine/December-2012/Meet-Paulette-Kaleikini-The-woman-who-stopped-the-rail/?cparticle=2 (accessed 28 June 2017); Mark Abramson, “Hawaii Supreme Court Overturns Ruling On Burials Along Honolulu Rail Route,” Pacific Business News, 24 August 2012 https://www.bizjournals.com/pacific/news/2012/08/24/hawaii-supreme-court-overturns-ruling.html (accessed 28 June 2017); Mischa Wanek-Libman, “Hawai’i Approves Transit Archaeological Survey; Construction Could Begin In A Month,” Railway Track And Structure News, 10 August 2013 http://www.rtands.com/index.php/passenger/rapid-transit-light-rail/hawaii-approves-transit-archaeological-survey-construction-could-begin-in-a-month.html

(accessed 28 June 2017). The court case is Paulette Ka’anohiookalani Kaleikini v. Wayne Yoshioka et al, 24 August 2012, Supreme Court of Hawai’i, No. SCAP-11-0000611.

[43] Tiffany Hill, “Meet Paulette Kaleikini: The Woman Who Stopped The Rail,” Honolulu Magazine, 25 June 2013 http://www.honolulumagazine.com/Honolulu-Magazine/December-2012/Meet-Paulette-Kaleikini-The-woman-who-stopped-the-rail/?cparticle=2 (accessed 28 June 2017).

[44] See, for example: Janis Magin, “Occupation Of Palace Area Invigorates Native Hawaiian Movement,” New York Times, 3 May 2008, p. A14; John Titchen, “Anniversary Stirs Hawaii Sovereignty Movement,” New York Times, 18 January 1993; Haunani-Kay Trask, “Feminism And Indigenous Hawaiian Nationalism,” Signs (Vol. 21, No. 4, Summer 1996), pgs. 909-916.

[45] See, for example: Laiana Wong, “Authenticity And The Revitalization Of Hawaiian,” Anthropology and Education Quarterly (Vol. 30, No. 1, March 1999), pgs. 94-115; Suzanne Romaine, “Signs Of Identity, Signs Of Discord: Glottal Goofs and the Green Grocer’s Glottal in Debates on Hawaiian Orthography,” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology (Vol. 12, No. 2, December 2002), pgs. 189-224; Chieko Tachihata, “Hawaiian Sovereignty,” The Contemporary Pacific (Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 1994), pgs. 202-210.

[46] See, for example: Stephanie Teves, “Tradition And Performance,” in Stephanie Teves, Andrea Smith, and Michelle Raheja, eds., Native Studies Keywords (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2015), pgs. 257-269; John Troutman, Kika Kila: How The Steel Guitar Changed The Sound Of Modern Music (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016), pgs. 200-206; Fay Akindes, “‘Na Mele Paleoleo’ (Hawaiian Rap) As Liberatory Discourse,” Discourse (Vol. 23, No. 1, Winter 2011), pgs. 82-98.

[47] See, for example: Greg Johnson, “Caring For Depressed Cultural Sites, Hawaiian Style,” in Lindsay Jones and Richard Shiels, eds., The Newark Earthworks: Enduring Monuments, Contested Meanings (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016), pgs. 262-276; Davianna McGregor, Nā Kua’aina: Living Hawaiian Culture (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2007); Scott Fisher, “Hawaiian Culture And Its Foundation In Sustainability,” in Jennifer Chirico and Gregory Farley, eds., Thinking Like An Island: Navigating A Sustainable Future In Hawai’i (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2015), pgs. 7-27.

[48] See, for example: Greg Johnson, “Ancestors Before Us: Manifestations Of Tradition In a Hawaiian Dispute,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion (Vol. 71, No. 2, June 2003), pgs. 327-346; Greg Johnson, “Naturally There: Discourses of Permanence in the Repatriation Context,” History of Religions (Vol. 44, No. 1, August 2004), pgs. 36-55; Greg Johnson, “Social Lives Of The Dead: Contestation and Continuities in the Hawaiian Repatriation Context,” in Marc Ross, Culture And Belonging In Divided Societies: Contestation and Symbolic Landscapes (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), pgs. 45-67.

[49] William Grimes, “Ben Finney, Anthropologist Who Debunked Theory On Island Settlement, Dies At 83,” New York Times, 18 June 2017, p. A23; Douglas Martin, “Kawika Kapahulehua Dies; Hawaiian Seafarer Was 76,” New York Times, 27 May 2007, p. A32.

[50]Ben Finney, “The Sin At Awarua,” The Contemporary Pacific (Vol. 11, No. 1, Spring 1999), p. 6.

[51] Ben Finney, Sailing In The Wake Of The Ancestors: Reviving Polynesian Voyaging (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 2004); Nainoa Thompson, “Hōkūle’a’s Voyage Of Hope,” 28 March 2017, Patagonia Books, http://www.patagonia.com/blog/2017/03/malama-honua-hokuleas-voyage-of-hope-part-4-right-direction/ (accessed 30 June 2017).

[52] Isaiah Walker, Waves Of Resistance: Surfing and History in Twentieth-Century Hawai’i (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2011), pgs. 115-122.

[53] See, for example: Stuart Coleman, Eddie Would Go: The Story of Eddie Aikau, Hawaiian Hero (New York: Random House, 2004); Brook Sutton, “‘Eddie Would Go’ Is About So Much More Than Sending It,” “Adventure Journal” Blog, 14 July 2016 https://www.adventure-journal.com/2016/07/eddie-would-go-is-about-so-much-more-than-sending-it/

(accessed 30 June 2017).

[54] Jim Tranquada and John King, The ‘Ukulele: A History (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2012), pgs. 157-158.

[55] Renee Montagne, “Israel Kamakawiwo’ole: The Voice of Hawai’i,” National Public Radio, 9 March 2011.

Three Days in Honolulu

There is something undeniably charming about the Honolulu Airport’s late 1950s/early 1960s aesthetic. I’m not sure about smelling “tuberose and plumeria” upon arrival as one writer promised, but that might be because I don’t actually know what either of those scents smell like. I do know that the airport’s baggage claim area has distressingly low ceilings for anyone taller than six foot two.

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I’ll be baldly honest; I had never been to Hawaii and I was wary. Sure, I enjoyed the three part Brady Bunch episode in the 1970s, Hawaii Five-O, Magnum P.I. and movies like North Shore and Blue Crush, but all as ironic entertainment. Actually spending nearly two weeks on the islands that nearly killed the Bradys and launched Tom Selleck’s career seemed daunting in my aging hipsterdom. Well as usual, I was wrong.

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For this travelogue I’ve focused only on my three days and two nights in Honolulu, the “crossroads of the pacific” as Edward Beechert’s book’s subtitle announces. We stayed in Waikiki, at a “hip” hotel. How hip you ask? Like 1950s teddy boy hip. For example, on our last day, the hotel’s pool area hosted the Miss Waikiki Beauty Pageant. In regard to the latter, let me tell you haven’t lived until you’ve instructed those working the event on the proper mechanics of the black and tan, and then watched them shotgun their frothy drinks in an orgy of bad decision making. Gross, but I digress.

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Believe it or not, the Ms. Waikiki beauty pageant was held here; black and tans were inexplicably shotgunned afterwards

During the mid 1800s, Honolulu really came into its own as the whaling industry declined and the sugar industry ascended. If one believes historian Gavan Daws, the city’s expansion occurred rather haphazardly. “Civil carelessness gave the ground plan of the town its shape, and the skyline, seen against the inland mountain ranges was ragged,” he wrote fifty years ago in the Journal of Pacific History. “By the [18]60s the era of thatch and adobe was coming to an end. More and more Honolulu was emerging as a town of wood and stone.” Design was less than innovative, argued Daws, and too many of the architects and builders in the city were “average men, with average imaginations, and frontiermen’s tastes.”[1] Admittedly, one can take some of Daws’s observations with a grain of salt. He often gives too much of a pass to the American missionaries who settled in Honolulu and the other islands in the 1820s and seems to echo some of their fairly racist opinions regarding Native Hawaiians.

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Regardless of Daws’ ideological biases, the city boomed. The consumer demand generated by the California Gold Rush denuded the city of produce and goods, which led to inflation that exceeded the purchasing power of locals. “Well, I will tell you something of how we live – or, rather, how we don’t. We have not bought a bunch of bananas in many months,” missionary Samuel Castle wrote to a friend at the time, “much of the time we have neither Irish nor sweet potatoes … Almost every species of fruit is beyond our means.”[2] As whaling and sugar intersected in their cycle of decline and ascension, America’s economy beckoned. Honolulu stood unrivaled among Pacific ports. The commander of the U.S. Pacific fleet wrote that in fact Honolulu was “more important than ever.” California’s statehood simply cemented the relationship. Americans began decamping for the Golden State, a “wave of immigration” that promised to reach Honolulu—making the islands “the West Indies of the Pacific Coast,” as one editor wrote.[3] In the early part of the twentieth century, California architects like C.W. Dickey and Julia Morgan contributed to local design with a number of buildings that can’t help but remind observers of Progressive-era Southern California. Even today, driving around Honolulu, it evokes a certain SoCal atmosphere but with a Polynesian tinge. Considering much of its development occurred in the post-World War II period, military spending shaped large parts of Oahu, for better and worse. One wonders how much its housing and economic development resembled or paralleled California’s.

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Mixing Asian American culture with American consumerism in Waikiki

 

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Waikiki at night
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Chinatown market
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Indeed, Chinatown’s biggest strawberry shortcake for the taking!

California serves as only one influence on the city. Sugar production brought Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and Filipino workers to labor on the islands. Between the native population, the newly arriving haoles, and the sugar cane workers, Hawaii’s demographics transformed into a multicultural stew. Honolulu’s Chinatown, burned entirely to the ground in 1900, stands as just one testament to the globalizing nature of nineteenth century commodities, capital and labor. The neighborhood’s architecture, much of it built after the fire, has a distinct early- twentieth-century feel; more recently constructed buildings – to borrow from the ubiquitous HGTV series House Hunters – have a mid-century modern aesthetic. Dive bars, up and coming restaurants like the Pig and the Lady, and sprouting boutique stores mark Chinatown as perhaps the local gentrifying neighborhood. Of course, our taxi driver cautioned us one evening against venturing out into its streets, noting that there were “a lot of homeless there” and it wasn’t the kind of place you wanted to stay “after dark.” Needless to say, when the sun went down we wallowed in its narrow alleyways and imbibed on mai-tais at the dingiest of watering holes, taxi drivers be damned!

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A taste of Honolulu street art in Chinatown

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One of Chinatown’s “newer buildings”; inside you find a bookstore, art gallery, and coffee shop

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The Hawaii Theater, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and located in downtown Honolulu/Chinatown, remains arguably the “Pride of the Pacific”

Obviously, the military occupies a notable place in the local economy, politics, and layout of Oahu. Manifest Destiny, to paraphrase Dave Chappelle, is a helluva a drug and the United States’s addiction to expansion led it to violate laws and human rights. American interlopers sought control of Pearl Harbor and through negotiations with the kingdom eventually leveraged it over the sugar trade in 1877. Imperialists like Alfred Thayer Mahan felt no guilt in deploying the strong-armed tactics required to secure the port. “In our infancy we bordered on the Atlantic only; our youth carried our boundary to the Gulf of Mexico; to-day maturity sees us upon the Pacific,” wrote Mahan in his famous The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783. “Have we no right or no call to progress farther in any direction?” One might answer the Captain’s question today with a studied Lebowskian, “Well, that’s just your opinion man”, but again, I digress.

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The Pearl Harbor Memorial site; the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in the background; pictures above taken aboard the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial

Though it took many years for the U.S. military to dredge the harbor and clear it of coral, Hawaii, and more specifically Pearl Harbor’s, strategic military importance from the late 1800s thorough the current day only increased. It’s here that a visitor begins to think about the morality of Hawaii or, more precisely, the morality of America’s presence in the archipelago. Pearl Harbor stands as a sobering memorial to the Second World War and those who died in the December 7, 1941 attack on the military installation, yet quietly, almost like a whisper, one wonders about the kind of privations and death American imperialism in the Pacific caused in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

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Surfing as resistance and as emblem of heritage; “Kai Pualena” by CJ Kanuha, 2016  at the Honolulu Museum of Art
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The coolest Buddha? Guanyin, The Bodhisattva of Compassion circa 9th/10th century; taken at the Honolulu Museum of Art

During the early twentieth century, Waikiki and Diamond Head emerged as popular tourist destinations for European and American visitors; tourism reshaped the city’s economy and depictions of its native populations. Postcards and stereoscopes of the early 1900s depicted the islands through sexualized images as a means of marketing Honolulu and other Hawaiian destinations to the broader white American public. Native women were Orientalized, presented as sensuous, accessible and sexual while native men were emasculated, portrayed as “insignificant, incapable, and disappearing,” as historians such as Jane Desmond, Ty Kawika Tengan, and Isaiah Helekunihi Walker argue.[4]

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Beach in Waikiki area; Diamond Head in background

Keep in mind, that for all the fun in the sun one discovers in the city, historians have found deeper meaning in recreational activities accessible on Honolulu’s beaches. Sure, today Waikiki is kitted out in corporate chain stores and restaurants, “a concentrated zone of souvenir dealers and luggage dragging hordes that feels like a cultural protectorate of the airport” noted one writer in a recent take on the famous tourist area.[5] However, decades before the unrelenting development of the late twentieth century, during the 1920s the Waikiki Beachboys—native surfers who worked in tourism as guides, instructors, and entertainers, writes Walker—challenged racist norms and gendered hierarchies.

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The board housed at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu references legendary surfer and waterman, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku

The battle between an organization of native surfers known as the Hui Nalu, from which the Waikiki boys later sprung, and their counterparts, the exclusively white Outrigger Canoe Club, worked at several levels. The two groups duked it out over who had greater athletic prowess on the beach, a means by which the Hui Nalu rejected the ethos of colonization. Through these contests, native Hawaiians refuted stereotypes regarding sexuality and masculinity while also benefitting financially through a thriving concessions business. “In ka po’ina nalu [the surf zone] they defied tourist portrayals of Hawaiian men as passive, nearly invisible Natives,” notes surfing historian Isaiah Helekmunihi Walker. “Rather than being exploited, victims of tourism, the Beachboys defied rather than bolstered common stigmas.” Native Hawaiians in Waikiki made money, established businesses, and, perhaps most notoriously considering American racial and sexual attitudes of the day, publicly romanced white women. “Through such interactions, Waikiki Beachboys violated social rules of an American society governed by anti-miscegenation laws and threatened haole hegemony by conquering endangered and privileged property,” writes Walker. “In many ways sexual encounters with white women in the surf became a mark of identity for these men …”[6] Undoubtedly it was an imperfect exercise of agency, one that hinged on sexist notions of gender, but it reveals the Beachboys agency nonetheless. When wandering around Waikiki, it helps to remember that though it might be a tourist trap today, real meaning lies beneath the placid surface.

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Hawaiian state capital building; the open air interiors served as a protest space where SOS held a massive rally in 1971 in an effort to battle environmental degradation and over development

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Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat-Sen lived in Honolulu fro 1879 to 1883
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Great and very affordable dim sum can be had here; near the Sun Yat-Sen statue

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Though Hawaiian culture was subsumed by mainland America during and after World War II, in the 1970s a movement that became known as the Hawaiian Renaissance emerged and led to new forms of activism. Hawaiian historian George Kanahele explained its importance to audiences in the late 1970s, writing that “it has created a new kind of Hawaiian consciousness; it has inspired greater pride in being Hawaiian; it has led to bold and imaginative ways of reasserting our identity …” Native protests over the military bombing of Kaho’olawe eventually resulted in the curtailing and later ending of the island’s bombardment. The voyage of the Hōkūle’a which demonstrated that ancient Polynesian sailors had intended to reach the islands and not “accidently” stumbled upon them, reinvigorated Hawaiian pride in their historical roots. Polynesians it turns out, were top notch seaman capable of traversing the treacherous ocean and discovering the most isolated archipelago in the world. The rise of the Save Our Shores (SOS) organization which promoted environmentalism and native pride in the 1960s and 1970s, serves as the final example from these three snapshots of activism from the decade. “The Blacks, Chicanos, American Indians, and others have reasserted their rights and their roots,” Kanahele noted in 1977. “No doubt the Hawaiian cultural and political activism is part of that legacy.”[7]

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King Kamehameha’s statue, across from ‘Iolani Palace is draped in lei’s each year around his holiday
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‘Iolani Palace
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Palace interior; dining room

Today, you can see this pride on display during the Kamehameha Day Parade, held this year on June 10, when Hawaiians gather on Honolulu streets to celebrate the birthday of King Kemehameha, the great unifier of the islands. The ‘Iolani Palace, built by King David Kalakaua, stands as further evidence of this heritage—after decades of restoration, it embodies this cultural pride and awareness. Upon its completion, the palace was completely wired for electricity, well before the White House could claim the same. Ironically the palace is located across from the state capital, which resembles mid-century California architecture. For those interested in Hawaii’s long history, the Bishop Museum in Honolulu provides great insight into its Polynesian roots and pre-European past.

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Ground floor of the Bishop Museum

To be clear, Honolulu and the island of Oahu are but one slice of Hawaii. Each island has its own personality, and its people have their own identity.If you visit, though, don’t sleep on the state capital. While it is easy to be hypnotized by mai-tais on the beach, there is much more there there. In what other American city will you find Sun Yat Sen plaza (where excellent and very affordable dim sum can be had)? Built along the canal on the edge of Chinatown, it memorializes the Chinese revolutionary’s time in the city. If you look past the mid range shopping and chain restaurants, an ocean of culture lies before you. Dive in.

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‘Iolani Palace

[1] Gavan Daws, “Honolulu in the 19th Century: Notes on the Emergence of Urban Society in Hawaii”, The Journal of Pacific History, Vol. 2 (1967): 80-81.

[2] James L. Haley, Captive Paradise: A History of Hawaii, (New York: St. Martin’s, 2014), 168.

[3] Harold Whitman Bradley, “California and the Hawaiian Islands, 1846 – 1852,” Pacific Historical Review, 16.1 (February 1947): 27-28.

[4] Isaiah Helekunih Walker, Waves of Resistance: Surfing and History in Twentieth Century Hawaii, (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2011), 88-89.

[5] Wells Tower, “The Hawaii Cure”, New York Times, March 21, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/21/magazine/hawaii-travels-escape.html

[6] Walker, Waves of Resistance, 75.

[7] Walker, Waves of Resistance, 106.

Hysterically Hating on Seattle: Seattle in Pop Culture Part III

“[T]here really never will be another Silicon Valley,” Margaret O’Mara wrote in 2008, “the Valley remains a truly unique ecosystem for technological innovation, with specialized niches and decades‐old interpersonal networks. However, it’s no longer the only game in town. The people and firms of the Valley are part of a global supply chain in which many places – including Seattle – play an important role.”[1] O’Mara, author of Cities of Knowledge: Cold War Science and the Search for the Next Silicon Valley, would know. The University of Washington historian cut her teeth documenting the burgeoning knowledge economy of the mid-to-late twentieth century—a history that came sharply into focus during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

As O’Mara explained, this was not to say Seattle hadn’t demonstrated an attention to technological advancement. “Like the Bay Area and other gold‐ and silver‐rush cities of the American West, it has a long tradition of supporting innovators and iconoclasts,” she reminded readers. Still, obstacles persisted. Though its venture capital pool was maturing, it had not reached the dizzying heights of the Valley. University of Washington was a formidable research institution, but not quite a Stanford of the 1950s; the Emerald City undoubtedly attracted talent, but it did not always produce it, as did its Northern California counterpart. In the end, the reality persisted that Silicon Valley occurred at a specific moment in time, in a particular place, in an economic climate spurred by endless postwar military investment.

When Amazon moved its headquarters to a “multi-block development” in the city’s South Lake Union neighborhood circa 2008, O’Mara noted that this reflected a trend away from the suburbanization of the tech industry; some observers referred to such suburban environs as “technoburbs” and “nerdistans”; advocates preferred Silicon Valley, Silicon Prairie, or even Silicon Forest “but never Silicon City.” To be fair, O’Mara acknowledged that New York City did dub its tech sector, “scattered across Manhattan,” Silicon Alley. Likewise, L.A. alluded to its own west side agglomeration of tech by nicknaming it “Silicon Beach.” Still, O’Mara’s larger point remained essentially correct: “The gradual emergence of an alternative, more urban model for the high‐tech district is a result of the growth and diversification of the technology industry and its workforce.”[2]

Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods suggests that the company’s massive growth will continue. It has been hiring lawyers and other professionals left and right from the East Coast. This influx of young professionals promises to continue reshaping city culture; inevitably some newcomers will chafe at the Pacific Northwest metropolis’s notoriously earnest persona.

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Enter Bernadette Fox, the protagonist at the heart of Maria Semple’s second novel, Where’d You Go Bernadette? Fox and her husband Elgin Branch, an IT savant employed at Microsoft (MS), decamped from Los Angeles years ago, gave birth to a child, Bee, and settled into life in the city, living in an the increasingly dilapidated, “Straight Gate,” a former Catholic School for “wayward girls”.

Seattle did not bring out the best in Fox. A former McArthur Grant recipient and gifted architect, she fell off the map upon arrival—creating a sort of ghoulish aura around her. In an email, former mentor and fellow architect Paul Jellinek, warns Fox that a failure to attend to her creative side would result in disaster: “People like you must create. If you don’t create, Bernadette, you will become a menace to society.”[3]

Jellinek’s prediction, though not wholly accurate, was not far off. Fox navigates the city sparingly, leaving the home only when ferrying Bee to her school or dinner with Bee’s friend Kennedy. She shops over the internet via a South Asian online assistant, Manjula Kapoor. She rages silently at motorists: “The drivers here are horrible. And by horrible, I mean they don’t realize I have someplace to be.”

Despite her own travails, she is not a source of empathy for the downtrodden. “Seattle. I’ve never seen a city so overrun with runaways, drug addicts, and bums. Pike Place Market: they’re everywhere. Pioneer Square: teeming with them. The flagship Nordstrom: have to step over them on your way in,” she confides to Jellinek. “Seattle is the only city where you step in shit and you pray, ‘Please god, let this be dog shit.’”[4] Fox remains unimpressed by local fashion. Seattle women choose from two hairstyles: “short gray hair and long gray hair. You go into a salon asking for hair color, and they flap their elbows and cluck, ‘Oh Goody, we never get to do color!’”[5] She takes issue with men’s aesthetic choices as well: “fathers only come in one style here, and that’s outdoorsy.”[6]

Her daughter’s school, the Galer Street School, located next to a fish factory, often smells of salmon and the parents reek of the kind of kumbaya sincerity that has earned the city its humorless reputation. After a school fundraising event goes horribly, but hysterically, wrong one parent—a psychiatrist who once worked with residents in post disaster New Orleans and Haiti and now works as a Swedish Medical Center counselor—evaluates students for PTSD. “During the walk to the bus, I was able to listen, express curiosity, and simply ‘be’ with the child,” she relates to parents in an email. “We are still weighing whether or not to have an all-school assembly, a kindergarten only gathering, or a parent forum to collectively process this traumatic event.”[7]

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Even the coffee shops have that vaguely craftsman feel, “Mugsy Expresso, Seattle Way”, John Margolies, John Margolies Roadside America photo archive, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Seattle’s vernacular architecture receives the Fox treatment as well. When shopping for houses, Fox compares house hunting to shopping at IKEA, where “you can’t believe how cheap everything is, and even though you may not need a hundred tea lights, my God they’re only ninety nine cents for the whole bag?” More specifically, Seattle’s famed collection of Craftsman homes gets no love from Fox:

“Everything else is a Craftsman. Turn-of-the-century Craftsman, beautifully restored Craftsman, reinterpretation of Craftsman, needs-some-love Craftsman, modern take on Craftsman. It’s like a hypnotist put everyone from Seattle in a collective trance. You are getting sleepy, when you wake up you will want to live only in a Craftsman house, the year won’t matter to you, all that will matter is that the walls will be thick, the windows tiny, the rooms dark, the ceilings low, and it will be poorly situated on the lot.” [8]

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Perhaps traffic would be better with more “Giant Cones”, this one  part of the art walk along Seattle’s waterfront, Ryan Reft photographer, 2008

City planners do not fare much better. Asleep at the wheel for decades, the zoning commissioner must have handed the reins over to the “Soviets,” she argues. Five lane intersections bedevil her waking hours: “whoever laid out this city never met a four way intersection they didn’t turn into a five way intersection.” Elaborating, she says of the non-craftsman apartment buildings: “They never met a beautiful view they didn’t block with a twenty story old folks home with zero architectural integrity. Wait, I think that’s the first time the words “architectural” and “integrity” have ever been used together in a discussion of Seattle.”[9]

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“Fire Station, Seattle Washington”, Carol M. Highsmith, September 22, 2009, Carol M. HIghsmith’s America, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Semple, a former television writer for Arrested Development, imbues the story with a healthy sense of humor and based the story on her own struggle with acclimating to Seattle after moving from Los Angeles. “I was in a miserable mind frame, and I found that I was driving around and all I was thinking about were funny things about how awful Seattle was,” she told the New York Times in 2012. “I would do these riffs in my head and I would polish them in my head. It was poisonous and self-pitying.”[10] Clearly, Fox serves as Semple’s exaggerated literary avatar and she tells the story not through a clean straight narrative but rather through what one might describe as a series of primary sources, many from a variety of perspectives: F.B.I. files, diary entries, police and psychiatric reports, letters, emails, report cards, blog posts, newsletters and magazine articles.

Other aspects of life in twenty-first century Seattle emerge in the novel. For decades, Pacific Northwest natives have looked askance at transplants from California. I personally can remember taking the city’s underground tour in the 1990s and baked into the presentation were jokes about Californians driving up real estate prices.

Shane Updike, a school administrator, went to college at Seattle University during the mid-1990s and moved back to the city in 2007 after nearly ten years teaching public high school in New York City. “House prices in Seattle have risen pretty dramatically over the past 4 or 5 years,” he told The Metropole recently. The tech boom, foreign investment by homeowners overseas, and a tight housing stock have all contributed to the sharp increase in housing prices. “Another huge factor is that people are moving to the city from the San Francisco area for tech jobs, and to these people, homes are relatively inexpensive compared to the bay area.  These people have money and help to drive up the cost of housing.”[11]

Though from the Southern limits of the Golden State, Fox and Elgin represent this exact demographic. As one character tells Fox during a heated argument: “Nobody realized you were the people from L.A. who came to Seattle and bought a twelve thousand square foot building in the middle of a charming neighborhood and called it your home.”[12] In the wake of Microsoft, Amazon, and an expanding tech sector, this feeling has only grown. “Seattle, with the tech industry generally and Amazon specifically, is booming economically and people are moving here,” confirms Updike.

The novel also skewers Seattle’s self-image as a “compassionate,” tolerant city. Fox mocks the city for its attempts to address pressing social issues like low riding trousers. “And the mayor said he wanted to get to the root of why kids sag their pants. The fucking mayor. Don’t get me started on Canadians. It’s a whole thing.”[13]

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Yet one more shot of Seattle’s iconic Public Market, photograph Ryan Reft, 2008

Neither is Fox convinced by claims of metropolitan diversity. Overhearing a conversation in the grocery store about the city’s cosmopolitanism, Fox can’t resist: “Encouraged I asked, ‘Really?’ She said, Sure, Seattle is full of people from all over. ‘Like where?’ Her answer, ‘Alaska. I have a ton of friends from Alaska.’ Whoomp there it is.”[14]

Semple also gets at the vast change in American culture that has unfolded with the spread of technology. People continually comment on Elgin Branch, Fox’s husband and Microsoft “celebrity”, and his famed TED talk regarding one the company’s new cutting-edge products, the Samantha 2; when the F.B.I. gets involved due to Fox’s dangerous internet habits, even the investigating agent, Marcus Strang, references the presentation. “P.S. We all loved your TEDtalk,” he writes. “I’d love to see the latest on Samantha 2 if time permits.”[15] Unsurprisingly, Fox thinks little of Microsoft’s larger ambitions: “Well, on Microsoft’s walls are maps of the world, and in case you’re still unclear about their dominion, under these maps are the words: THE WORLD.”

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“View of Lake Union, Seattle, Washington”, Carol M. Highsmith, September 22, 2009, Carol M. HIghsmith’s America, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

How did Seattle react to the book? Local alternative websites like The Stranger endorsed it, describing Where’d You Go Bernadette? as “the funniest novel ever written about Seattle,” and nominated it for its 2015 Genius Award in Literature. Some residents, however, remained “miffed” about Semple’s take on the city—particularly about women’s hair, if one bookstore customer is to be believed. In the end, though, all great cities must learn to laugh at themselves, especially at the things that make them notable. “It’s just not a funny place,” Semple told the Times, but apparently it can be.

 

[1] Margaret O’Mara, “We are not ‘the next Silicon Valley’”, crosscut.com, February 18, 2008.

[2] Margaret O’Mara, “Amazon joins a parade of high tech to the urban core”, crosscut.com, December 20, 2007.

[3] Maria Semple, Where’d You Go Bernadette, (New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2012), 136.

[4] Semple, Where’d You Go Bernadette, 127-128.

[5] Semple, Where’d You Go Bernadette, 128.

[6] Semple, Where’d You Go Bernadette, 125.

[7] Semple, Where’d You Go Bernadette, 78-79.

[8] Maria Semple, Where’d You Go Bernadette, 25

[9] Semple, Where’d You Go Bernadette?, 126- 127.

[10] Julie Bosman, “A novel asks Seattle to laugh at itself”, New York Times, August 15, 2012.

[11] Shane Updike, interview with author, June 25, 2017.

[12] Semple, Where’d You Go Bernadette?, 86.

[13] Semple, Where’d You Go Bernadette?, 128.

[14] Semple, Where’d You Go Bernadette?, 132.

[15] Semple, Where’d You Go Bernadette?, 170.

Documenting Lynching and its Influence: The Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Clinic at Northeastern University is Doing Just That

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Jay W. Driskell, Ph.D.

In his 2003 work, The Contradiction of American Capital Punishment, University of California law professor Franklin E. Zimring suggested that a correlation existed between lynchings and capital punishment; states with more of the former participated at higher rates in the latter. Zimring’s statistics, Elaine Cassel argued, “should give pause to anyone who believes that the death penalty is somehow the product of reasoned deliberation, rather than simple mob vengeance.”

The connection between vigilantism, specifically lynching, and state sanctioned executions points to the possibility that America’s judicial and law enforcement infrastructure has internalized a disturbing set of values that have historically been shaped discriminatorily by race and class. Despite this possibility, no real database accounting for the nation’s history of lynching exists. A new a joint project between Northeastern University and its Civil Rights and Restorative Justice clinic is attempting to create a public digital accounting of this history.

Though the project is ongoing, historian and lead researcher Jay W. Driskell believes not only have historians not fully identified the number of lychings that occurred throughout U.S. history but that the practice might have been subsumed and obscured by the nation’s law enforcement structures. The Metropole sat down with Driskell to discuss the role of lynching in our national history, the methods used in documenting this violent past, and what the results of his study might mean in regard to the American legal system.

Can you tell us a little about yourself, how you ended up doing this kind of research? How has it informed your own views on history?

I am a historical consultant and researcher based in Washington D.C. I got involved in this project because my first book was a history of the Atlanta NAACP in its early years, so I was familiar with the organization and its records. This project is being jointly conducted between the Northeastern University School of Law and its Civil Rights and Restorative Justice (CRRJ) clinic. It is the result of a 2007 conference organized by NEU Law Professor Margaret Burnham on cold cases of the 1960s. After that conference, Prof. Burnham and MIT political science professor Melissa Nobles decided to look backwards to the Jim Crow era. The scope of the research covers 13 southern states chronologically from 1930 to 1954 picking up from where Stewart Tolnay and E. M. Beck left off in their widely-used inventory of lynchings. This database is part of each scholar’s respective research on racial violence in the Jim Crow period.

NAACP Box

My part in this project is to uncover every lynching I could discover between 1930 and 1954. We are initially focusing on three main repositories: the NAACP Papers in the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress; Department of Justice (DOJ) records located at the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA); and eventually records of the FBI. So far I am deep into the first two; the F.B.I., however, is of course it’s own beast.

What have I learned about history from all this? As somebody who has studied both labor and African American history, I always knew history was really violent. It wasn’t until I looked at the history of lynching in a very concentrated way that I came to reckon with the brutal nature of our nation’s history. Through this research, more than ever I understand what this violence looks like on an individual basis, case after case after case—and I’ve looked at hundreds of cases. When I uncover a new case, I sometimes think about my father and how old he was at the time of this killing. For example, in 1948, a political activist named Robert Mallard was murdered by a mob in Toombs County, GA for driving black voters to the polls in the recent gubernatorial election. In 1948, my dad was 14 years old. This was not that long ago. There have been mobs of thousands of angry white people, attacking a jail and killing an African American man and this happened in our parents’ lifetimes. Some of the perpetrators and participants in these lynch mobs are still alive – and unpunished. The kind of violence that the Ku Klux Klan and others unleashed was really just yesterday, and I am nowhere near certain that it won’t come back. This sort of history makes the world seem very fragile to me.

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Silent protest parade in New York [City] against the East St. Louis riots, 1917, Underwood and Underwood, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
What have you learned about navigating these collections and these archives? Do you have any tips for other historians in regard to archival research?

Let me start with the NAACP. The thing I’ve learned about the NAACP is that when you get to the 1930s and early 1940s, every week they are about to close their doors because it’s run on a shoestring. Yet, there’s this moment where they realize in many parts of the country, they are the only organization doing civil rights work. Sure there’s the International Labor Defense (ILD), the Communist Party, and other groups, but the NAACP is often the only game in town. And this means that everyone is writing the NAACP asking them to take their case. Their resources are stretched so incredibly thin that they can’t do it all. For example, in 1934 NAACP president Walter White read an account of an oil field worker named Ed Lovelace, who was beaten and then burned alive in the town of Wink, TX. White wired the president of the San Antonio branch to investigate. Given that Wink is nearly 400 miles from San Antonio, and it was the site of a violent mob murder of a black man, it would take a tremendous amount of courage for another black man to take this risky journey. Instead, the San Antonio branch looked in the local newspapers for any coverage. Finding none, the case was closed as far as the NAACP was concerned. But, I can’t help but wonder had the local branch made the journey or if the national office had the resources to send an investigator, the murder of Ed Lovelace might well have been counted as one of the fourteen lynchings that the NAACP recorded in 1934.

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“N.A.A.C.P. Began Anti-Lynching Fight Says Chas Macfarland”, 1919. NAACP Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

After World War II, the organization has almost the opposite problem. The relative prosperity of the war years and the impact of the Great Migration caused the NAACP’s membership to surge. They grow so quickly that the bureaucracy sustaining the organization becomes so complex that things get misfiled, overlooked and lost in the records. So even though the papers look like they are in order – and in many ways they are—there is a lot of chaos in them. If you are patient and willing to do the work, there is a lot of new material to be harvested.

Also, many researchers focus too much on the microfilmed portion of the NAACP papers. What’s available on microfilm is really a small slice of the larger collection.

With that in mind, everything I said about the NAACP goes double for the DOJ at NARA. The DOJ is a vast, vast, agency and NARA is a massive archive. What gets recorded often depended upon how much the secretary or clerk working that day felt like filing. The main thing about working at NARA is that you have to work with the archivists. There is no way to productively navigate NARA’s holdings without the help of these archivists and their highly specialized knowledge of their subject areas. No historian, no matter how smart, will have mastered these records as they have. The NARA archvist I’ve been working with most, Haley Maynard, has been indispensable to the success of this project so far.

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Report of the Secretary to the Anti-Lynching Committee, November 14, 1919, page 1. NAACP Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Why is MIT creating this lynching database?

The CRRJ intends it to become a public history resource.

How does a historian go about gathering and organizing all this data? What has been your method? Did it change as you visited different archives?

When I started this project, I thought the NAACP had done a very good job of reporting on lynchings. In many ways they had. For its time, the organization was very thorough. The problem, however, was that the character of lynching changes over the course of the 1920 and 1930s. In the words of Howard Kester who worked with the NAACP as a white southerner and thus could do undercover investigations of lynchings, it went “underground.” It became less spectacular and ritualistic and, as a result, harder to find because these killings are no longer showing up in press accounts.

So to address this part of my methodology involves recreating the event itself in my head. When you do this it really reveals how lynchings, despite their horrific nature, could be obscured. For example, who are the people who knew the most about this event? First, obviously, the victim, but unless they survived, that voice is forever silenced. The second tier is the perpetrators. When lynching was brazen and public, you can find the perpetrators in the press bragging about it. Sometimes, knowing when they are going to get off, they even sell it to the media as in 1955 when J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant killed Emmett Till and sold their story to Look Magazine. Over the course of the 1920s and 1930s as the NAACP ratchets up public pressure for anti-lynching legislation, lynchers fall silent and stop bragging.

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Report of the Secretary to the Anti-Lynching Committee, November 14, 1919, page 2. NAACP Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

This brings us to the third tier of people who are paying relatively close attention to who is being killed and by whom. This comprises the universe of law enforcement officials, at both the local and the federal level. There are two big reasons that law enforcement is paying attention. First, are those cases where law enforcement is either sanctioning or participating in the lynching. Second, they opposed lynching because it interrupted their monopoly on violence. While lynchers were technically breaking the law by committing murder, this act of killing was also a direct challenge to police prerogatives as the only legitimate purveyors of such violence. That’s the police. Notice, we haven’t even gotten to the NAACP yet.

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A tragic and ironic depiction, particularly in light of Dr. Driskell’s early findings,  of the “lynching problem” from 1899; “The Lynching Problem”, Louis Dalrymple, Puck Magazine, 1899. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The fourth tier is the press, often newspaper reporters. Small town reporters were often members of the community committing the lynching and were often members of these lynch mobs – either as participants or observers – so they give very detailed accounts. This is where modern newspaper databases have really helped my research. Chronicling America, ProQuest historical newspapers, and other newspaper digitization projects have really changed the game. For example, the NAACP had to depend on local townspeople sending them clippings; otherwise the organization had no real way to know about lynchings that occurred. So today we have access to identified lynchings that appeared in the local press at the time but the NAACP did not know about because maybe they didn’t have a branch in that town or no one in the town was brave enough to go the post office to mail a clipping to a New York address. You get the idea. This includes the black press too; shockingly the NAACP did not have full access to the black press. In fact the black press was harder to get at since they were often under-capitalized and over-extended, perhaps only issuing one publication a week. Also, even if there were lynchings, the local black press might not have covered it because these presses operated under local conditions and were sometimes unable to report freely.

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Group of African-Americans, marching near the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., to protest the lynching of four African-Americans in Georgia“, 1942,  NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs, Library of Congress

Then finally, at last you get to the outer tier comprising groups like the Tuskegee Institute and the NAACP, but as you can see they are all very removed from the center of the event. It’s almost like they are the external valence shells on this historical atom. So my goal as a researcher became not to bounce around the outer most orbit of that atom, but rather to determine how to get to the center. The key has turned out to be tier three, the police and law enforcement, because they are the ones, for reasons explained already, paying attention and–crucially–keeping records. If those records wind up in the FBI or DOJ, they are at NARA. That’s the road that will take you to the center of that atom.

In turn, that changed the way I structured the research project. To begin, I went through all the names of lynchings we had already collected. I then made a name database of lynching victims, but as I discovered in the newspapers, they also often listed the names of the perpetrators, more frequently than one would think. In addition, the DOJ often lists cases under the name of the killer, so in some places you only have th name of the killer. You can then use the DOJ litigation index at NARA to find the case number that is linked to that particular killer’s name, which hopefully reveals something about the event that was otherwise lost to time. So far, it has proven pretty fruitful; I’ve even discovered a number of cases the NAACP did not know about.

For example, I found a file in the DOJ records with a 1933 letter from Corinne Banks to FDR. Banks, who lived in Chicago, was the sister of Hirsch Lee, who had been lynched earlier that year. Lee was a 14 year old boy who lived with (and possibly worked for) a white family and had a friendship with a white girl in that family. A rumor spread that it was more than friendship and the family (along with other white men in the area) took Lee to the woods and killed him. They dismembered his body and left it in the woods. The DOJ wrote back to Banks to say they had no jurisdiction in this murder case. There is no indication that the NAACP or any other civil rights group ever found out. What struck me the most was the similarities to the 1955 Emmett Till case. How many Emmett Tills were there?

So in regard to what historians have argued, many historians suggest that lynchings peaked after WWI with another spike during the Great Depression, but then it goes into a long term decline. However, and please keep in mind this is still preliminary and based on this early research, while I think lynching did decline, it did not decline as much as we like to think it did.

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James Weldon Johnson to Walter White regarding a proposed anti-lynching bill, January 24, 1938, NAACP Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Now I’m going to expand on this but keep in mind this is mostly just my opinion and not that of the CRRJ. That being said, I am willing to theorize that based on this research there is a baseline level of anti-black violence in US history that has proven very difficult to reduce. Some historians have discussed this, like Michael Pfeifer in his 2006 book, Rough Justice. He theorizes lynching declines because the death penalty takes its place. However, what I am discovering is that maybe the form of this baseline anti-black violence changes from lynchings to police killings. Lynch mobs became less necessary for the maintenance of white supremacy because officers of the law are serving the same function in killing mostly black or Latino men. When confronting black or Latino suspects they use excessive force that leads to death far more often than they do with whites. This was something very clear to those counting lynchings in the 1930s through the 1950s. A 1934 letter from a local NAACP investigator in Alabama to the NAACP describes this relationship:

“If we listed all of the cases where officers go with the intention of killing the man, we would have many more lynchings than any other organization lists. I was told by a teacher in Selma, Ala. that ‘the reason we have no lynchings around here is this: when a Negro gets out of line the officers go and bring him in dead – that is the general rule here’.”

So I am also looking at police brutality files in the NAACP and DOJ records. When the US goes from being predominantly rural to predominantly urban in the 1920s, it changes a great deal about American life particularly in how populations are surveilled and policed. You have the Great Migration bringing African Americans into cities in record numbers but also rural whites moving to urban America (to say nothing of European immigrants who came in the preceding decades). What used to get solved by lynching in the countryside starts getting addressed by professional or semi-professional police forces. Just to complicate this further, I think an older definition of lynching as popular justice, as spectacular, as carnivalesque, and this idea that historians have bracketed its era as ending in 1930, has prevented people from seeing the possible connection between the decline in lynchings and the increase in police killings and brutality. To test that out you would need a reliable adequate number of how many people killed by police over the past century and that work has not been done.

May 1941 Marshall to White LBJ
Even LBJ voted against anti-lynching laws (he did so consistently throughout his congressional career), in the third paragraph Marshall offers commentary on the congressman from Texas; Thurgood Marshall to Walter White, May 1, 1941, NAACP Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Is it safe to assume that the shift from lynchings to police brutality was due to political changes that resulted in anti-lynching campaigns (particularly by the NAACP) and the growing civil rights movement? Would you explain this shift another way or add to it?

Another complexity to think about is when lynchings do begin to decline, the NAACP and others link this decline to their repeated attempts to pass anti-lynching legislation. Though the NAACP never managed to pass an anti-lynching law, there is at least some evidence that keeping the issue of lynching before the public reduced the number of lynchings. In 1938, as Congress is debating an anti-lynching bill, at least four lynchings are averted by sheriffs explaining to the mob that a lynching would only empower the NAACP and other supposed enemies of the South.

But, there’s not enough solid evidence that it was the NAACP’s efforts to pass anti-lynching laws that led to lynching’s decline. It’s very possible that the NAACP increasingly needed to justify why it was prosecuting a fight, which they never win, at least in terms of legislative victories. Since the failure of the Dyer Bill in 1921, all attempts to pass anti-lynching legislation foundered in the face of a southern, white supremacist filibuster. But an anti-lynching law is NAACP President Walter White’s baby. The NAACP has a finite amount of resources and White must show his board of directors and others that there is a reason to pursue this anti-lynching campaign. White’s argument, at the risk of being too simplistic, is that the campaign, even if a failure legislatively, did marginalize lynching as an act such that it declined. White and the NAACP need to generate a narrative of success along the lines of “this hasn’t been a fruitless battle”; using these resources for anti-lynching makes sense particularly when for most of its history, the NAACP is a resource-strapped, zero sum institution. Because the NAACP starts to believe this narrative, I think they wind up undercounting the actual number of lynchings–particularly into the 1930s and 40s.

One last thing to add: I’d caution people who are doing this sort of research that it is emotionally impossible to distance yourself from the topic. You might see hundreds of dead bodies each week on television but it’s not the same. It’s case after case—and some cases go into great, disturbing detail. For instance, in NAACP investigative reports I came across the phrase “beaten to a pulp or jelly” again and again. I realized that this is not just a metaphor, but a literal physical state. I’ve asked some doctors I know if this was possible, and it is. If beaten hard enough, for a long enough time, flesh and blood and bone coagulates into a something like a jelly. That can make it hard to sleep at night. It’s something you can’t just harden yourself to; it takes a heavy emotional and physical toll. So, give yourself time to breathe, and carry on the work.

Jay Driskell is a historian whose work explores the relationship between race, gender and the forging of effective political solidarities in struggles for power within the urbanizing, segregating South. His first book, Schooling Jim Crow: the Fight for Atlanta’s Booker T. Washington High School and the Roots of Black Protest Politics (University Press of Virginia, 2014), traces the changes in black political consciousness that transformed a reactionary politics of respectability into a militant force for change during the fight for black public schools in Atlanta, Georgia.

Driskell also runs a historical consulting business for institutions and individuals who require access to the wealth of historical resources in the DC-area. Major clients have included the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, the Smithsonian Institution Archives, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the National Labor College