Magazine article American Heritage


Magazine article American Heritage


Article excerpt

Before Slavery

In the May/June issue, "The Most Underrated National Turning Point" is listed as 1619, "when some twenty Africans were brought to Jamestown by a Dutch trading vessel. What if the tobacco growers of Virginia had simply turned them away? ... Or [if] they didn't want slaves competing with freemen in the fields ?" Writes Bernard A. Weisberger: "That day in 1619 made us a biracial (later to become a multiracial) society, like it or not. And I am surprised how rarely I see it referred to with the gravity it deserves."

I agree partially with Mr. Weisberger on the importance of that day, but, according to The Negro Almanac: A Reference Work on the Afro-American, compiled and edited by Harry A. Ploski and James Williams, those 20 black Africans came to Jamestown not as slaves but as indentured servants in 1619. They were freed and given land after a stipulated term, as were white indentured servants. They were even allowed to vote. White Irish and Negroes were even offered for temporary sale in the same newspaper ads while indentured.

A Virginia law of 1661 ruled that black slaves were to be "perpetual servants." Maybe that is the day that should really be considered "The Most Underrated National Turning Point" in our history.

Harry Fleischman West Orange, N.J.

Ruined Money

"Cents and Sensibility" (September 2000) reminded me that visual elegance is not all that has been lost thanks to "progressive" changes to our currency. Other sensuous elements have been sacrificed as well.

When the first clad coins were issued, my grandfather, a retired Pittsburgh steelworker, returned from the bank and called me into the kitchen. In one hand, he held a handful of clad coins; in the other, the same number of all-silver coins.

He gave the silver coins a shake, then dropped them onto the kitchen table, where they rang musically until the last coin had spun to a stop. It was a sweet sound, full of good memories: my dad jingling his pocket change when he was getting ready for work; the sound of silver being counted for ice cream from a street vendor.

Sweeping the silver aside and with a gesture of disdain, my grandfather then threw down the clad coins. They clanked, making a dull, dead sound.

"Well, they've done it," he said with disgust. "They've ruined our money."

Thank you for Mr. Dorgan's beautifully written piece. Future generations will never know the pleasure of touching, holding, jingling, and admiring the lovely everyday artwork that we used to take for granted.

Roberta Nordbeim-Wallace Manlius, N.Y.

Colleen's Castle

In "Overrated & Underrated" (May/ June issue), Jeanine D. Basinger mentioned Colleen Moore among the silent film stars (she was the original wearer of the geometric haircut Louise Books made famous).

Colleen Moore used her movie money to build an elaborately furnished Fairy Caste that toured America from coast to coast, raising almost $650,000 between 1935 and 1939 for children's charities.

After the Depression, the Fairy Castle went to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. It has been there on exhibits for the past half-century and today close a million people view it each year. During a mid-1930s visit to Chicago, 22,000 visitors in a single day. One of them, my widower father, persuaded Colleen Moore to abandon California, move to cold, windy Chicago, marry him, and raise his two children. As my mother could attest, he was obviously a salesman.

Homer Hargrave, Jr. Indianapolis, Ind.

The Utility of Conventions

I would add only one observation to Terry Golway's delightful and persuasive discussion of the continuing importance of party nominating conventions in this primary, driven, media-saturated era ("The Conventional Wisdom: Why It's Wrong," July/August issue). The sole important function of modern conventions that Golway neglects is their role in providing the nominees with the opportunity to unify their parties prior to the general election campaign. …

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