Chautauqua (New York) and the Use and Abuse of Selective Memory: Is There A Dark Side to the Lakeside Resort

By Williams-Myers, A. J. | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, July 31, 1994 | Go to article overview

Chautauqua (New York) and the Use and Abuse of Selective Memory: Is There A Dark Side to the Lakeside Resort


Williams-Myers, A. J., Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


Chautauqua (New York) And The Use And Abuse Of Selective Memory: Is There A Dark Side To The Lakeside Resort

INTRODUCTION:

In the nineteenth century the world was confronted by an ideology of race that had its roots in the transatlantic trade in Africans and their enslavement throughout the Americas beginning as early as the 16th century.(2) By the second half of that century the white world had created a virulent, vicious form of white supremacy, backed up by the deadliest military technology ever invented.(3) Armed with its ideology of race that was supported by a pseudo-science of white superiority, the white world set in motion a "scramble" for conquest that by the second decade of the twentieth century many of the so-called Third World countries were occupied by white foreigners.(4)

The United States took her place among those conquerors. She was present at the 1884-85 Berlin Conference in Germany that divided up Africa (the U.S. had interest in Liberia, West Africa). She demonstrated her "white man's burden" through the conquest of the Philippines in the late nineteenth century war with Spain. And as a result of that war she also annexed both Cuba and Puerto Rico. In the early twentieth century, and while taking her precedent from the foreign policies of presidents Washington and Jefferson, the United States disregarded the independence of Haiti and forcefully occupied that country. American leaders also made the decision to occupy the Dominican Republic in those early years.(5) The worldview of the American people in the nineteenth century mirrored the worldwide ideology of white supremacy.

Still caught in the grip of the peculiar institution in most of the country, but soon to witness its demise in the north approximately 30 years before the start of the Civil War, white America flexed its white supremacist muscles. Black America was marginalized to the socioeconomic development of the country so that white immigrants could sustain intergenerational mobility up the ladder of success.(6) In the wake of slavery's demise in the North, in the early 19th century, cities across the region were engulfed in numerous "anti-Negro" riots by whites. The Jacksonian period was democracy as its worst for Black America.(7) The defeat of the "Seminoles" in Florida, the conquest of Mexico, and the subsequent annexation of the western territories in the "Mexican Cession", and the "pacification" of the Native Americans on the Plains demonstrated that white supremacy would have its way in North America, if not all of the Americas.(8) The Civil War, although fought to save the union, did result (as a military strategy) in the emancipation of the African. But the strength of the ideology of race was so formidable that the collapse of "Radical Reconstruction" ushered in the reunification of North and South.

CHAUTAUQUA: A LAKESIDE RESORT

The rise of Jim Crowism in face of the collapse of Reconstruction, and inevitably the appearance of the dictum of "separate but equal," interestingly paralleled the rise of the Chautauqua movement in western New York. Chautauqua is touted in present-day literature as "the most American thing in America," the place where presidents reclined and those of some renown collect, and as a place where "religion, rightly understood, should be essentially cheerful and optimistic."(9) The western New York resort was visited by seven United States presidents, from Grant to Franklin D. Roosevelt who appeared there in 1936. There were other noted personalities such as the "Great Commoner" -- William Jennings Bryan, Governor and Mrs. Alfred A. Smith, Amelia Earhart, and Senator and Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy.(10) During the summers of the early twentieth century, Thomas A. Edison was in residence at Chautauqua. It is assumed that the above personalities were in one way or another involved in the Chautauqua events held at the time of their visits to the lakeside resort.

Since 1874 the Chautauqua movement has stood as a bastion of Christian faith, education, and self-reconciliation. …

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