Monday, April 22, 2019

Kate Smith: "All men are equal and have an equal right to enjoy the fruits of this earth."

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The memory of Kate Smith—best known for her soaring rendition of Irving Berlin's God Bless Americahas been sullied over the past few days by accusations of racism against the mid-20th century singer. Two sports teams (The New York Yankess, and the Philadelphia Flyers) have decided to pull their regular use of Ms. Smith’s rendition of God Bless America as a result of this controversy. Further, the Flyers even went so far as to remove a statue of Smith which hearkened back to their Stanley Cup victories of the 1970s when she appeared before games as a good luck charm to belt out the tune.

All this happened ostensibly because Ms. Smith sang a couple of minstrel songs in the 1930s (out of the 3,000 that she recorded during her career) which used words and imagery that are considered racially offensive today. It should be pointed out that other artists of the time (both Black and White) recorded similar songs using the same terms—indeed, such imagery was commonplace in traditional songs as well-known as Swanee River and Old Kentucky Home.

I don’t know if Ms. Smith was racist in her heart or not. But the chivalrous part of me can't stand the idea that a woman dead for 30 years and unable to defend herself is having dirt kicked on her gravestone. I did a little research about Ms. Smith as a result of this controversy, and I ran across the following quote which she said on the public airwaves on the day after VJ-Day (Victory over Japan Day, for those of you in the Millennial generation, 😉), August 15, 1945:
"Millions must be fed and clothed. Other millions must be taught an entirely new way of life: a philosophy which does not include aggression and cruelty and the absolute worship of a Hitler or a Hirohito. They must be taught that there is no super-race, that all men are equal and have an equal right to enjoy the fruits of this earth and the tranquility and decency to which the truly civilized subscribe."
This quote formed part of the closing of Ms. Smith’s radio program on that date. The program, entitled Kate Smith Speaks, broadcast on CBS radio from the late 1930s through the late 1940s. For a while, it was the most popular program on daytime radio. The quote may be found in the book, Kate Smith Speaks: 50 Selected Original Radio Scripts, 1938-1951 by Richard Hayes.

Call me crazy, but this statement does not sound like the sentiment of an inveterate racist to me. Perhaps other evidence will emerge, but at this point, the accusation of racism against Kate Smith looks fairly ridiculous, particularly when compared against how selflessly she used her talents during her lifetime. As Dan Cirucci detailed in a column over the past weekend: "during World War II, she traveled nearly 520,000 miles to entertain troops and sold a record $600 million in war bonds in a series of round-the-clock radio appeals. One of these, a 24-hour marathon on Feb. 1, 1944, raised a record $110 million in pledges." Indeed, these charges against Smith seem so ridiculous that they may be a cop-out.

My suspicion is that the perceived problem with Kate Smith, as identified by the massive corporate sports culture, is less about racism than about three little words that make them supremely uncomfortable these days:



Unknown said...

Very well said Gloria and thank you!

Nora said...

Well this is exactly what Communists did to anyone who opposed them, even to rival Communist groups - they called their rivals "fascist" and ostracizeo, defamed, and bullied them for the party's own political gain. Except today the don't call themselves communists, and they call their victims racist instead. You know what "racist" has come to mean these days? It means you have just won an argument with a "liberal" and the liberal has nothing intelligent and rational left to say and so resorts to personal attacks.

Florentius said...

That's true enough, Nora. It should be pointed out that the Communists hated Kate Smith for obvious reasons. According to this article, the American Communist Party newspaper, The Daily Worker, trashed Smith in 1949 for daring to criticize the repressive Communist regimes in Eastern Europe.

They did the same thing to Pope Pius XII. One would think that people would eventually wise up to these tactics.

Florentius said...

And as if the above wasn't enough to convince you, here's a statement made by Kate Smith earlier in that same year, 1945:

"It seems to me that faith in the decency of human beings is what we must have more of, if there is to be a future for all of us in this world. We read in the papers every day about conferences on the best way to keep the peace. Well, I'm not an expert on foreign affairs—and I don't pretend to know all the complex things that will have to be done for a lasting peace. But I am a human being—and I do know something about people. I know that our statesmen—our armies of occupation—our military strategists—may all fail if the peoples of the world don't learn to understand and tolerate each other.

"Race hatreds—social prejudices—religious bigotry—they are all the diseases that eat away the fibers of peace. Unless they are exterminated it's inevitable that we will have another war. And where are they going to be exterminated? At a conference table in Geneva? Not by a long shot. In your own city—your church—your children's school—perhaps in your own home. You and I must do it—every father and mother in the world, every teacher, everyone who can rightfully call himself a human being. Yes, it seems to me that the one thing the peoples of the world have got to learn if we are ever to have a lasting peace, is—tolerance. Of what use will it be if the lights go on again all over the world—if they don't go on ... in our hearts."

And this is the woman they are trying to brand as a racist? Taken from Don't Touch That Dial: Wartime Radio And Racial Stereotyping, where the quote is introduced as "one of the strongest and most impressive individual denunciations of racism."