A Recollection: The Gettysburg Address


Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln (Photo credit: casually cruel)

This has been an unusual month for me.  For the first time in a long time I’ve reflected on the Gettysburg Address.  You know, there used to be a time where you were basically inundated with stories, reflections, memoirs, about significant dates and times in the media, school, church and other institutions about significant moments in history.  Unlike today, to use a word, our holidays and historical events were institutionalized and were generally celebrated the same way, all of the time.  I didn’t know it as a kid, in a way, we were taught to perpetuate a system…of so-called traditional holidays and events that sustained a social order.

Now, I don’t usually spend a lot of time thinking about stuff like this, but I was watching Channel 56, Detroit’s PBS station, airing of a documentary about the Declaration of Independence.  Watching the show, I discovered a lot of things about the purpose of the speech, its importance, the expectations and the actual reaction that I didn’t know.  It was all pretty dramatic in the PBS way and extremely captivating.  It illuminated the varied back stories of many of the players of that time.  One key part of history that I previously didn’t know was the importance of the relationship President Lincoln had with his butler, a black man.  Even though he was thought to be a free man, he was still subjected to the prejudice and racism of those times.  His proximity to the president did not make it any easier for him and there were times when Lincoln had to fight to have him at hand.  And this is where I started “reflecting” I went back to a time when I was still in elementary school and my older brother, Isaac came in from his school with the homework assignment to memorize and recite the Gettysburg Address.

Now we were the type of kids that shared homework with each other.  We would all sit around the dining room table, most of the time with our heads down closely to our papers, pencils scratching on paper…you know the drill…nowadays it would be called “nerdville”, but back then it was called being A-students.  Very Eisenhowerish!  Anyway, Isaac came home with his assignment and as I recall we all stopped working to listen to Isaac work on the piece.  Isaac was a pretty good orator and for the longest time, he was the only one in the family that aggressively pursued the limelight.  “Four score and seven years ago…” we heard the starts and stops as he was learning it.

He was doing all right too, improving every step of the way, that is, until our father woke up!  My father was a very intelligent man, but sometimes when he would try to help, he could set you back for days, if not months or years.  So when daddy awakened, we all scattered and basically Isaac was left by his lonesome to deal with him.  I can’t remember everything, but for some reason I remember laughing a lot!  My father, who was a smart man when he was sober, always thought he was smarter when he was drunk.  And as long as you were not the object of his attention, you were allowed to laugh…secretly.  You couldn’t get too carried away with your glee because tomorrow it could be your turn with the beast.

Because of this little recollection, I gave Isaac a call and we discussed this event and the speech.  Not surprisingly, he remembers the rehearsals, the speech and the importance of the address.  Why don’t we acknowledge the speech in the same universal way today?  I have another question for Isaac also.  Since Nolan at the time was a pre-dominantly white school, why does he think he was picked to recite the speech?

IsaacIsaac’s Response

Arthur, yes I do remember having to recite the speech, and the drama that went into doing it.  I do not remember any discussion about how or why I was chosen.  On reflection it seems appropriate given the changes going on in our society.  When I enrolled at Nolan Jr. High, the school was about 3% African-American so to demonstrate the significance of the Address perhaps I was the default choice.  I remember struggling to remember the words.  The 267 words of the address seemed like thousands, and all of you were so supportive, listening time and time again, as I recited over and over, the words President Lincoln spoke.  And yes there was Daddy “offering” his help.  He did offer me some advice that worked, though.  He showed me how I could remember the address by singing it instead of reciting it, and yes, it really did help.

The biggest problem wasn’t just reciting the address, it was understanding “it’s” meaning.  To understand the address I had to try and understand the meaning of the Civil War.  Was this a war about freedom?  The right to establish individual and societal freedoms.

Was this a war about equality?  The acknowledgement that African-Americans were whole people, not the 3/5th of a person, that they had been designated.

Was this a war about slavery?  The right of all people to live free from subjugation by other peoples.  There was very little said, or discussed, when it came to the subject of slavery.  It was as though, with all the talk of American exceptualism, no one wanted to talk of, or teach about, America’s shame.  (I wonder if that would have been considered playing the race-card?)

So with not having an understanding of the war, and not having heard President Lincoln’s original address, I had to establish my own points of emphasis in delivering the speech.  I chose the opening line, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” and this from the close, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

I thought that summarized the speech very well, and for an 11 year old, I was quite proud, but on reflection I see I may have missed the point, perhaps altogether.  Yes the beginning and the ending are important, but I believe, the real significance is here, “…but, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here…”

And though the address was given in commemoration of the fallen Union soldiers, it must be noted that the casualties were almost equally divided between two camps.  So many people, White people, Black People, Native Americans and others sacrificed so much.  At Gettysburg alone more than 7,800 people lost their lives, almost 40,000 were wounded, captured or missing.

Compare those numbers with this, from the start of the war in Afghanistan in October, 2001 until August of 2008 the “wars in Afghanistan and Iraq cost 4,683 American lives and resulted in 30,490 wounded.  That’s over a period of nearly 8 years.

The Battle of Gettysburg lasted just 3 days, July 1 to the 3rd, 1863.

But more than a remembrance of what had occurred there, President Lincoln used his address to remind America of what we were fighting for:

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion…”

11 year old Isaac didn’t really have a grasp of the significance of what he was reciting then, but I have a better understanding of the Address now.  I look around and see the same battles, for the same reasons, being fought today and it saddens me.  But the fact that we are still fighting, that we haven’t given up or given in, lifts my spirits and gives me hope.  Hope, “—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain…”

Here is the complete Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.



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Single Payer! It Cures What Ails Us!

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This is the third and last installment from the blog…The Only Things Certain in Life Are DEATH AND TAXES! Thanks to my brother Isaac for his well thought answers and contribution to my blog!

Arthur, you asked “how would you save Medicare? How would you deal with Healthcare? How would you fix the Economy? Three questions that are inextricably tied together. In fact, there is no way to fix the economy without fixing healthcare and by “extension” Medicare.

“By extension Medicare” is a play on words, but extending Medicare to all American citizens would be, I believe, the fix America needs. Medicare is the most successful single-payer health system in the world. By availing it to everyone you broaden the contributor pool, spreading the cost over a substantially larger user pool, reducing the cost to all concerned.

One of the principle arguments against single-payer is that it is a “government run bureaucratic insurance plan” that will limit choices and dictate the care that people receive. I would argue that what we have now is a business run bureaucratic insurance plan that limits choices and dictates the care that people receive, that has the added burden of making a profit for its shareholders. The government would not be so burdened.

The Affordable Care Act actually corrects a part of the problem by limiting the amount that insurance companies can spend on administrative cost such as advertising, bonus’, etc. Think about it though, those costs affect what care the patient is able to receive. I was struck by the vehement opposition to the inclusion of a single-payer component in the ACA, principally by the insurance companies, who complain that the government has an unfair advantage, that people would flock to a Medicare for all system, but for me, that’s all the more reason to use it.

A single-payer, Medicare for all system would reduce waste and fraud. It would open up competition, not just with healthcare providers, but with pharmaceutical companies as well. It is a rarely discussed fact that currently Medicare cannot negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower prices for their products. It is insane that countries like Canada and the United Kingdom pay in some cases far less than Americans for the exact same medications.

Sometimes all you have to do is look at who lines up on which side of an issue to determine what side a person should stand. Those for single-payer include:

  • American Medical Students Association
  • The American College of Physicians

Even the American Medical Association, for its own reasons, such as payment of claims, supports some form of single-payer system. At “The Health Care Blog,” author Michael Millenson writes:

“A newly released study commissioned by the association found that insurance company bureaucracy and a “chaotic” claims process is draining time from patient care, diverting as much as 14 percent of physician revenue and costing “as much as $210 billion annually, without creating value.”  http://thehealthcareblog.com/blog/2008/06/21/ama-endorses-single-payer-health-care-sort-of/

Mr. Millenson also references a statement from Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP)” that says:

“Because the U.S. does not have a unified system that serves everyone, and instead has thousands of different insurance plans, each with its own marketing, paperwork, enrollment, premiums, and rules and regulations, our insurance system is both extremely complex and fragmented…With a universal health care system we would be able to cut our bureaucratic burden in half and save over $300 billion annually.”

The PNHP has a Single-Payer FAQ” page that is a must read if one wants to better understand what it is all about. http://www.pnhp.org/facts/single-payer-faq

Those against single-payer are the healthcare insurance industry and the pharmaceutical companies. Hmm, I wonder why? The argument that it would ration care is not valid because healthcare is already rationed, by the insurance companies, by what you can afford. The argument that it would not save money is also not valid because it would reduce administrative cost, reduce overcharging and fraud. The argument that it would decrease compensation for providers is not valid too; what will occur is an increase in the pool of covered people, increased efficiency in payments to providers. The argument that the quality of care would decrease, “WHY?” The argument that it would take medical decisions away from doctors and patients is not valid because those decisions are currently being made by insurers now. That’s part of the problem we are dealing with.

The hard truth is that, economically, the costs related to healthcare are holding this country down in terms of growth. This is from KaiserEDU.org:

“Health expenditures in the United States neared $2.6 trillion in 2010, over ten times the $256 billion spent in 1980. The rate of growth in recent years has slowed relative to the late 1990s and early 2000s, but is still expected to grow faster than national income over the foreseeable future. Addressing this growing burden continues to be a major policy priority. Furthermore, the United States has been in a recession for much of the past decade, resulting in higher unemployment and lower incomes for many Americans. These conditions have put even more attention on health spending and affordability.

Since 2002, employer-sponsored health coverage for family premiums have increased by 97%, placing increasing cost burdens on employers and workers. In the public sector, Medicare covers the elderly and people with disabilities, and Medicaid provides coverage to low-income families. Enrollment has grown in Medicare with the aging of the baby boomers and in Medicaid due to the recession. This means that total government spending has increased considerably, straining federal and state budgets. In total, health spending accounted for 17.9% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2010.” http://www.kaiseredu.org/en/Issue-Modules/US-Health-Care-Costs/Background-Brief.aspx

The Affordable Care Act addresses some of these problems, things are better than they were, but in my opinion, it doesn’t go quite far enough. Single-payer, in conjunction with the ACA may solve many of them. Is this a perfect solution? No it isn’t. But contrary to Voltaire in his poem “La Begueule,” perfect need not be the “enemy of the good.”

Fixing Healthcare/Medicare requires a 99% solution. (Another play on words?) The fact is there is 1% of our population that does not have a healthcare problem. What we need is a solution for the rest of us. Solving the Healthcare/Medicare problem will go a long way toward fixing the Economy and pretty much whatever else ails us.

You can find more of Isaac’s writings at www.declarativeusa.com

The Only Things Certain In Life Are DEATH AND TAXES!

What A Great Breakdown On How Taxes Are Divided And Distributed!

What A Great Breakdown on How Taxes Are Divided and Distributed!

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My brother Isaac took the time to respond to the questions at the end of my blog, “The Only Things Certain In Life Are DEATH and TAXES! Due to the length of his response it will be published in two parts.

What a great breakdown on how are taxes are divided and distributed. Good job. What I find truly fascinating is what a small percentage of our taxes go for the things that significantly impact the middle class.

At the federal level less than 15% of our tax dollars go to areas like: Science and Technology (1%), Education, Training, Employment and Social Services (3%), Agriculture (1%), Veterans Benefits (3%), Transportation (2%). Areas like Energy, Community and Regional Development, get less than 1% of our Federal Income Tax dollars. To be fair some of these areas do receive tax subsidies and grants.

The true irony is that, though these departments account for such a small part of the budget, they are the ones most vulnerable to cuts. Across the board cuts, of virtually any amount, would effectively eliminate the capability of some departments to do their jobs.

As for your questions…

How would I save Social Security? First, I would make sure the money owed to Social Security, by the government, is shown prominently in the budget as a debt owed. There is more than 2.5 trillion dollars currently “borrowed” from the Social Security Trust Fund and those monies should be visible and accounted for. As that money can only be borrowed by the government, and is subject to interest, we should be sure that when money is borrowed its use is for projects that will provide a return on investment. Never again should that money be used to fund things like wars. Could you imagine if just half of that 2.5 trillion dollars had been dedicated to transportation and infrastructure, education, energy or perhaps Veterans Benefits what could have been done? I would also raise the interest on money borrowed from the fund as an added incentive to choose, wisely, [the use] of any borrowed money.

I would look into possibly raising the cap on the amount of income subject to tax. The current cap is $90,000. I would consider raising it, perhaps 50%. This could allow higher payouts, keeping them in line with the true cost of living, not just the cost of being alive. It may be argued that this is nothing more than a tax increase, but I would argue that it is more than a tax increase. It’s also an increase in benefits, and an increase in the security that you may require later in life.

And lastly, I would consider some sort of “means testing.” You know, when you purchase other forms of insurance it is accepted that you are paying for something just in case you need it. Hoping, for the most part, that, you won’t need it. But happy to have it, if you do. Social Security should be something like that. As much as we complain about insurance premiums, we’re happy not to need to use it, and if we get some of it back in rebate, well, so be it.

If I were at a place in life financially, where I could live comfortably, I would gladly fore go my Social Security, especially if [say] I would pay no taxes on money drawn from retirement accounts. Capital gains and money made on investments are already taxed at a minimum rate.

More to follow in Part Two!

You can follow Isaac at his blog at www.declarativeusa.com

The Soundtrack of My Life – The 60’s


English: The disc for the first The Shirelles ...

English: The disc for the first The Shirelles song to top the Hot 100, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A couple of weeks ago I asked my brother Isaac Littsey, a talented and very knowledgeable person on music, to write a little something about Black Music Month.  In his own words…

June is “Black Music Month,” so when my brother, Arthur, asked me to write a few words about its significance I struggled a bit.  Black music is so far reaching and broad that to try to reduce it to a few simple paragraphs would, in my opinion, not do it justice.  At least not the justice it deserves.  So what I’m going to try and do is give you a look at Black Music as the soundtrack of my life.  Now I’m sure each of us has a “soundtrack” or at the least, we have music that when we hear a particular song, we remember either where we were or what we were doing, when the song was popular.  There were so many songs that were part of my soundtrack that what I’ve done was, go on my computer, put on my list of “soul classics,” and as they played, just sit back and reminisce.

WOW, the very first song that played was “Soldier Boy,” by the Shirelles.  The year was 1962.  I was starting my junior year in high school (Pershing High School/Detroit for all of my alumni friends).  This was before Motown became a significant musical entity and there was not a lot of “black music” being played on the radio.  American Bandstand was still in its adolescence and to hear the Shirelles sing that song on the radio was a real awakening.  You’ve got to remember that the Vietnam War was going on at the time.  I was in the R.O.T.C. and catching a lot of flak about my uniform and that song became some sort of validation for my cohorts and me.  The teasing stopped as soon as the refrain “Soldier boy, oh my little soldier boy, I’ll be true to you” began.  With that song and others like “This is Dedicated to the One I Love”, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?and “I Met Him on a Sunday” (remember “da doo ron ron ron da doo ron ron) the soundtrack began.

There were others then and later like the Chantels, the Jaynets (remember “Sally Goes Round The Roses?”), the Crystals (Uptown, He’s a Rebel) who along with performers like Nat King Cole, Jackie Wilson, Clyde McPhatter, Ray Charles, Brook Benton, all of whom gave “pop music” some “soul” and helped elevate soul music performances to prominence.

This was also the time of talent shows and “street corner symphonies.”  I was fortunate to go to school with some of the best of the local talents, like the fellows who would become The Dramatics.  Here’s a shout out for Elbert Watkins, my friend, who passed in 1992 (Ron Banks, “Wee Gee” Howard, Johnny Mack Brown, Lenny Mayes, and Tony Hester who, also, are no longer with us).  Gino Washington (“Gino Is a Coward”) and Demetrius Cates of the Fabulous Counts were schoolmates, as well.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two people who played a significant part in my soundtrack.  Grady Pounds, perhaps the finest pure singer I’ve known (his renditions of “So Much in Love,” by the Tymes and “Farewell My Love” by the “Temptin” Temptations are two of my all time favorites) and Carl Holloway, definitely the finest drummer I’ve known.  None of those elaborate drum sets for Carl.  He could do it all with a snare, a tom, a bass drum, a cymbal and a high-hat.  Hey, if you read this fellas, “holla back.”

It was around this time when I started connecting music to my personal experiences.  Little Anthony and the Imperials“Going Out of My Head” just started playing.  Music had just added a voice and words to my developing interest in love and falling in love.  When I was walking around totally confused about what was happening to me, the words of the music became my screenplay.  The words to the soundtrack of my life.

There were the Ronettes (“Do I Love You, Be My Baby, Walkin’ in the Rain”), there was Gene “Duke of Earl” Chandler asking, “What Now?” and wanting us to “Just Be True,” there were the Impressions (“Little Young Lover, Gypsy Woman, Minstrel and Queen, I’m the One Who Loves You”).  In fact, it was with the Impressions that I first heard Jerry “the Ice Man” ButlerJerry Butler’s “Need to Belong, Make It Easy On Yourself” and “He Will Break Your Heart,” were stand-ins for all the words I thought at the time, but hadn’t the nerve to say.

Confused at the time about my relationship with “love”, I was encouraged by knowing that I could be both Mary Well’s “Two Lovers.”  When Mary sang “My Guy,” “The One Who Really Loves You,” when she reminded me “What’s Easy for Two, Is Hard for One” (“Let’s get together and go for a walk in the park”), my oh my!  Ooh, “You Beat Me to the Punch” just played from my song list!  What I loved about Mary was that, through the daze and the haze, she would always be “Your (my) Old Stand By.”

As nervous a time as it was, though, there was The Intruders to help me transition from “Cowboy to Girls,” and Archie Bell and the Drells to show me how to “Tighten Up.”

During the summer “Heatwave” we were “Dancin’ in the Streets” to Martha and the Vandellas.  My favorite songs by then were “Come and Get These Memories” and “Jimmy Mack.”  And I remember skating to “My Baby Loves Me.”

There was Justine “Baby” Washington’s “I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face” and “That’s How Heartaches Are Made.”  Maxine Brown’s “Oh No, Not My Baby” and Jimmy Ruffin’s, “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?”  Oh yeah, I can’t leave out Ms. Jackie Ross.  The refrain of those French horns on “Selfish One” was a clarion call to the dance floor.

Before there was the Jackson 5, we had the Jackson 2.  I’m talking about Chuck and Walter Jackson (related only by their talent).  Chuck Jackson with “Any Day Now,” “Tell Him I’m Not Home,” and my favorite “I’m Your Man.”  Walter Jackson with “It’s All Over” and “It’s an Uphill Climb from the Bottom.”  This was music that not only set the scene, it told the story.

And then there were the Dells.  Yes, the Dells.  The soulful harmonies, the tight interaction of melodies and backgrounds, made slow dancing one of the most pleasurable actions on the dance floor.  I’m still amazed at how long Marvin Junior held that note in the song, “Stay in My Corner.”

And speaking of the dance floor, how about the time when “The Godfather of Soul” James Brown recorded “Live at the Apollo” with the long version of “There Was a Time” (Hey hey, I feel alright…One time, uh!).

The Friends of Distinction helped me with “Going in Circles,” and along about that time the Originals with “Baby, I’m For Real” helped me to explain what I didn’t have the words to say.

Other songs that might not be as well known, from that time were Jimmy Williams’ “The Half Man,” Tony Clark’s “The Entertainer,” Ruby and the Romantics “Hypnotized,” The Radients “It Ain’t No Big Thing,” and how about Sammy Turner’s “Lavender Blue (Dilly Dilly),” or “Elephant Walk” by Donald Jenkins.  I know I am leaving some really important tunes out, my soundtrack and possibly yours as well, but maybe you’ll include them in your soundtrack and let me know about them.

With the emergence of black radio, we were blessed with great deejays…the people who became conductors and arrangers of my soundtrack.  People like Ernie Durham, Butterball the Jr., Leon Isaacs (out of Chicago but airing on WJLB weeknights at 9:00 or 9:30, somebody help me out here?) and a young Donnie Simpson, whose family lived just down the street from me.

There were so many others.  The rest of the Motown groups (the aforementioned Temptations, the Supremes, the Four Tops…), the Atlantic groups and singers (Aretha Franklin, the Spinners, Ben E. King, the Drifters…).  There was Stax-Watts with Isaac Hayes, the Bar-Keys, Rufus and Carla Thomas (father and daughter), Booker T & the MG’s.  So many artists, so much music…I would need more space to mention them all.

I’ve really enjoyed this trip back in time and I hope your musical experience matches or exceeds mine.  One thing though, it seems we are going to need more than one “Black Music Month” a year to cover them all.

I am looking forward to knowing, with your comments, about the soundtrack of your life.

Isaac Littsey, Jr. 


Isaac also has a blog of his own and you can read his comments at www.declarativeusa.com

Also read “Black History Month: The Work of Wendy Woods Jackson”