Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Historic Places: Landmark for Peace Memorial

On April 4, 1968, Robert Kennedy arrived in Indianapolis to make a speech as part of his presidential campaign. Shortly before his scheduled stop, he learned of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, and his advisors discouraged him from speaking to the Indianapolis crowd which was expected to be filled with black voters who often came out in droves to hear RFK and his strong civil rights message. Kennedy refused to cancel the speech and quickly prepared to break the tragic news to a potentially hostile crowd.

The site where Robert Kennedy stood and informed the black community of Indianapolis of Martin Luther King Jr's death is now the Landmark for Peace Memorial. His speech can be heard here. It was touching to see parts of it memorialized at the Landmark for Peace. His words are as relevant today as they were 52 years ago.

"I have bad news for you, for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight.

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice for his fellow human beings, and he died because of that effort.

In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black--considering the evidence there evidently is that there were white people who were responsible--you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization--black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another.

Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: "In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.

So I shall ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, that's true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love--a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times; we've had difficult times in the past; we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; it is not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.

Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people."
(Text of Robert Kennedy's speech copied from the JFK library here.) 

In the wake of Martin Luther King Jr's death, riots broke out across the country. Indianapolis is one of the few major cities that did not experience widespread violence in reaction to the beloved leader's assassination, and Robert Kennedy is often credited for that. He revealed his own heart, his own pain about losing his brother to a murderer's bullet, and it made him vulnerable and empathetic to people who had lost someone who felt like a loved one, even if they had never met him. Robert Kennedy was one of the few people who was able to bridge the gap between people who were hurting and those with the power to make changes.

Just two months later, Robert Kennedy, another man who "dedicated his life to love and to justice for his fellow human beings," was shot and killed after giving a speech celebrating his victory in the California primaries.

Before visiting this park, I had no idea that this beautiful monument existed. I was expecting a plaque that most people passed without realizing what it was. Imagine my excitement when I saw this breathtaking sculpture of two men remembered for striving for peace and unity. They reach toward each other, reach for peace, reach for a better future. Let's not disappoint them. 


Photos are property of Samantha Wilcoxson

Read more about Robert Kennedy in my Remembering RFK blog series.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Historic Places: Venice

I was supposed to be on a flight to Venice today. Our family planned this trip months ago to celebrate my daughter's graduation from high school. Then Coronavirus happened, and travel from US to Italy isn't even currently allowed. So, let's look at the history and some memories of Venice together.

Before the 6th century, the area that is now Venice was a lagoon sprinkled with islands home to fishermen and salt harvesters. Through the succeeding centuries, the Venice we know and love was built up, fought over, and gaining prominence. Bridges and canals were built to connect more than one hundred islands with a broad Grand Canal in the center.

While gondolas are no longer the main form of transportation within Venice as they once were, they are still what comes to most people's minds when they imagine visiting Venice. Small motorboats may be more practical for locals, but tourists can't resist the romantic (unless you have your three kids with you) gondola ride. There are boardwalks and alleys in Venice but no automobiles.

Architecture of Venetian homes along the canals provides a tour through history with glimpses of  Byzantine, Gothic, and Renaissance facades. What they have in common is their situation toward canals rather than streets as found in most cities. Cruising down the canals of Venice provides a wide variety of architectural details that give Venice it's unique style.

Venetian trade and banking has largely been replaced by tourism. Instead of cargo, cruise ships of visitors dock in Venice for passengers to enjoy excursions and tours. One industry that has endured for centuries in Venice is glass making. Many visitors purchase an exquisite sample of Murano glassware as a souvenir of their time in Venice. Tourism has so heavily impacted Venice that very little 'regular life' beyond tourism remains.

Piazza San Marco has long been the heart of Venice, and is its largest open gathering area. Most of Venice is tightly packed together around narrow canals, so entering the Piazza feels like entering a carnival. The view from the square is dominated by San Marco Basilica and the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace). The Palace was the center of government in Venice beginning in the 9th century, but much of the current structure dates from the Renaissance era. The Basilica, said to be the resting place of Saint Mark the evangelist, was originally the Doge's private chapel. However, the grand Byzantine structure is more of a cathedral than personal prayer closet. The piazza is surrounded by souvenir shops and gelato counters.

Flooding, pollution, and heavy traffic have all taken their toll on the medieval city and it's canals. UNESCO has stepped in to help preserve the architecture and artwork. Few places in the world feel as much like entering another world like Venice. If you have visited, what was your favorite part?

All photos are property of Samantha Wilcoxson.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Daughters of the Greatest Knight

My guest today is a talented nonfiction author with a gift for shining a spotlight on medieval ladies. Sharon Bennett Connolly's latest book is an in-depth, yet accessible study of women of the 13th century, including the remarkable daughters of history's Greatest Knight, William Marshal.

Welcome, Sharon!

~ Samantha


The Marshal Sisters: A Guest Post by Sharon Bennett Connolly

It is impossible to talk about anything related to Magna Carta without mentioning the man who has come to be known as ‘the Greatest Knight’: William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, and his family. Marshal was one of the few nobles to stay loyal to King John throughout the Magna Carta crisis. That is not to say that John and Marshal did not have their differences, nor that their relationship was always smooth sailing. However, William Marshal was famed for his loyalty and integrity and maintained his oaths to King John throughout his reign, regardless of the distrust between the two of them.

The children of William and his wife, Isabel de Clare, cannot fail to have benefited from William Marshal’s rise through the ranks from fourth son and humble hearth knight, to earl of Pembroke and, eventually, regent for King Henry III. Their father’s position as a powerful magnate on the Welsh Marches, and the most respected knight in the kingdom, saw William’s daughters make advantageous marriages in the highest echelons of the English nobility.

Their eldest daughter was Matilda, also known as Maud or Mahelt. Given that her parents married in 1189 and she had two elder brothers, Matilda was probably born in 1193 or 1194. The Histoire de Guillaume le Mar├ęchal wrote glowingly of Matilda, saying she had the gifts of ‘wisdom, generosity, beauty, nobility of heart, graciousness, and I can tell you in truth, all the good qualities which a noble lady should possess.’ The Histoire goes on to say; ‘Her worthy father who loved her dearly, married her off, during his lifetime to the best and most handsome party he knew, to Sir Hugh Bigot.’ Unfortunately for Matilda, her husband, the eldest son of the earl of Norfolk, was among the rebels during the Magna Carta crisis; their eldest son was taken hostage by the king when their castle at Framlingham surrendered to the royal army. It must have been a comfort to Matilda that, on John’s death, her son’s welfare would have been supervised by the new regent, the boy’s grandfather. When Hugh died in 1225, Matilda married for a second time just a few months later, to William de Warenne, Earl of Warenne and Surrey, uniting the Bigod, Warenne and Marshal families. The marriage appears to have been one of convenience rather than love but produced 2 children, a boy and a girl. Matilda’s son by her second marriage, John de Warenne, join his 3 Bigod half-brothers, Roger, Hugh and Ralph as pall bearers for their mother’s coffin at her funeral in 1248.

The next daughter, Isabel, was at least six years younger than Matilda, born in 1200. She was married to Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford, who was twenty years her senior. Gilbert was the son of Richard de Clare, earl of Hertford, and Amicia, coheiress of William, Earl of Gloucester. Gilbert’s aunt, Amicia’s sister, was Isabella of Gloucester, the discarded first wife of King John, who had held the earldom of Gloucester until her death on 14 October 1217, when it passed to Gilbert. Both Gilbert and his father were named among the twenty-five barons appointed as Enforcers of Magna Carta in 1215; as a consequence, father and son were excommunicated at the beginning of 1216. After the death of King John, Gilbert sided with Prince Louis of France and was only reconciled with the royalist cause after the battle of Lincoln in May 1217, despite having married Isabel, the second daughter of the regent, William Marshal, in 1214. Like her older sister, Isabel had found her husband’s family were on the opposing side to her father in the Magna Carta crisis and the civil war that followed. They had 6 children together before Gilbert’s death in October 1230, as he returned from an expedition to Brittany. Isabel was married again, not 6 months later, to the king’s younger brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall. The early deaths of at least 2 children put a strain on the marriage and Richard had been seeking a divorce before Isabel was safely delivered of the longed-for son and heir, Henry of Almain in 1235. Isabel herself died in childbirth, in 1240, her baby son, Nicholas, died the same day.

The next-youngest of the Marshal sisters, Sibyl, was born around 1201: she was married to William de Ferrers, fifth earl of Derby. Unlike her elder sisters, Sibyl and her husband played little part in national affairs. Ferrers had been plagued by gout since his youth and led a largely secluded life. He was regularly transported by litter and had never fully recovered from an accident, sometime in the 1230s, while crossing a bridge at St Neots in Huntingdonshire, whereby he was thrown from his litter, into the water. He succeeded to the earldom of Derby on his father’s death in 1247 but died in 1254. Sibyl gave birth to 7 children, all daughters: Agnes, Isabel, Maud, Sibyl, Joan, Agatha and Eleanor. Sibyl died sometime before 1247 and was laid to rest at Tintern Abbey, alongside her mother.

William and Isabel Marshal’s fourth daughter, Eva, was born in about 1203 in Pembroke Castle, and so was only 16 when her father died – and 17 when she lost her mother. As a child, she spent several years with her family in exile in Ireland, only returning to England when her father was finally reconciled with King John in 1212. Sometime before 1221, Eva was married to William (V) de Braose, Lord of Abergavenny, son of Reginald de Braose and grandson of Matilda de Braose, who had died of starvation in King John’s dungeons in 1210. William de Braose was a wealthy Norman baron with estates along the Welsh Marches. Hated by the Welsh, who had given him the nickname Gwilym Ddu, or Black William, Eva’s husband had been taken prisoner by Llywelyn in 1228. Although he had been released after paying a ransom, de Braose later returned to Llywelyn’s court to arrange a marriage between his daughter, Isabella, and Llywelyn’s son and heir, Dafydd. During this stay, Eva’s husband was ‘caught in Llywelyn’s chamber with the King of England’s daughter, Llywelyn’s wife’. He was hanged on Llywelyn’s orders, leaving Eva a widow at the age of 27, with 4 young daughters, all under the age of 10. Despite the discomfort caused by Llywelyn’s execution of Braose, the marriage of Isabella and Dafydd went ahead, following some impressive diplomacy on Llywelyn’s part. Eva never remarried and spent her widowhood managing her own lands. She was caught up the revolt of her brother, Richard, in 1234 and appears to have acted as intermediary between her brother and the king. She died in 1246.

The youngest Marshal sister was Joan, who was still only a child when William Marshal died in 1219, being born in 1210. She is mentioned in the Histoire as having been called for by her ailing father, so that she could sing for him. Joan was married, before 1222, to Warin de Munchensi, a landholder and soldier who was born in the mid-1190s. When his father and older brother died in 1204 and 1208 (possibly), respectively, Warin was made a ward of his uncle William d’Aubigny, Earl of Arundel. He was ill-treated by King John, who demanded 2,000 marks in relief and quittance of his father’s Jewish debts on 23 December 1213. He was ordered to pay quickly and pledged his lands as a guarantee of his good behaviour. However, this harsh treatment drove him to ally with the rebel barons and he was captured fighting against the royalist forces, and his father-in-law, at the battle of Lincoln, on 20 May 1217. He was reconciled with the crown and served Henry III loyally on almost every military campaign of the next forty years. His marriage to Joan Marshal produced two children; John de Munchensi and a daughter, Joan, who would marry the king’s half-brother,

William de Valence, fourth son of Isabelle d’Angoul├¬me and her second husband, Hugh X de Lusignan, Count of La Marche. It was through his wife and, more accurately her mother, that William de Valence was allowed to accede to the earldom of Pembroke following the extinction of the Marshal male line. Joan died in 1234 and so never saw her daughter marry and become countess of Pembroke in 1247.

The various experiences of the 5 Marshal daughters serve as a demonstration of the divide caused among the nobility caused by the Magna Carta crisis, with several of them finding themselves on the opposite side to that of their father. It must have caused great anxiety for a family which appears to have been otherwise very close. These 5 young women also provide a snapshot of the fates of women in thirteenth century England, death in childbirth, early widowhood and second marriages arranged for personal security rather than love. What is evident is that, just like their father, these girls were an integral part of the Magna Carta story.

Sharon Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history her whole life. She has studied history academically and just for fun – and even worked as a tour guide at historical sites. For Christmas 2014, her husband gave her a blog as a gift – www.historytheinterestingbits.com – and Sharon started researching and writing about the stories that have always fascinated, concentrating on medieval women. Her latest book, Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England, released in May 2020, is her third non-fiction book. She is also the author of Heroines of the Medieval World and Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest. Sharon regularly gives talks on women's history; she is a feature writer for All About History magazine and her TV work includes Australian Television's Who Do You Think You Are?

Connect with Sharon on her blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Luminous Blog Tour

The last two weeks have been an adventure as I have traveled to some wonderful blogs to talk about Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl and Catherine Donohue. If you weren't able to visit each stop, they are listed below. Thank you to all the lovely book bloggers who welcomed me to their turf!

Luminous Blog Tour Stops:

Coffee Pot Book Club - Life in the Time of the Radium Girls
Stephanie Churchill - A Book Review of Luminous
Regina Jeffers - Worker's Compensation and the Radium Girls
History the Interesting Bits - Worker Exploitation at Radium Dial
Suzy Henderson - The Forgotten History of the Radium Girls
Paula Lofting - An Excerpt from Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl
The Writing Desk - Author Interview
Judith Arnopp - The Society of the Living Dead
Pam Lecky - Author Interview

Do you have your copy of Luminous?

Get it now on Amazon worldwide.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Remembering Robert F Kennedy

Bobby Kennedy for President: A Dream Lost read one headline in the days following June 6, 1968. The murder was tragic in so many ways. Bobby had been devastated by the assassination of his closest brother, President John F Kennedy. He was a 42 year-old father with 10 children and an 11th on the way. And America lost something increasingly rare, a politician who truly cared about people, who could connect with them regardless of differences and who could understand their plight though he didn't share it, who didn't want power for his own purposes but to help others.

As Arthur Schlesinger puts it in his book, Robert Kennedy and His Times, "He never had the chance to fulfill his own possibilities, which is why his memory haunts so many of us now." Bobby was thoughtful, but not an intellectual. His tireless work ethic caused some to call him ruthless, but he was sensitive - to his own failures and the needs of others. 

He overcame some of his personal obstacles in order to serve his country. When he joined his brother's campaign for the Massachusetts House of Representatives, one of the other campaign workers said, "Words came out of his mouth as if each one spoken depleted an already severely limited supply." Years later, Bobby would draw thousands to hear him speak. Crowds were eager to catch a glimpse of him. They stole his cuff links and tore his clothes in an effort to have a memento of him.

Bobby also set himself apart from the Kennedy clan by steadfastly adhering to his Catholic beliefs. He was faithful to his wife, cared about the poor, and regularly attended mass. According to Schlesinger, he "was determined to win the $2000 prize offered by Joseph Kennedy to all his children who did not drink or smoke till their twenty-first birthday." Even when married with children, he and Ethel did not have alcohol or ashtrays in their home.

His name was actually Robert FRANCIS Kennedy
but this is lovely fan art just the same.

When Bobby decided to run for president in 1968, it was reluctantly, and he was late to the game. A whirlwind campaign began on March 16, 1968, and these last months of Bobby Kennedy's life are an exemplary demonstration of who he was and what his values were.

He did much of what we expect from a politician on campaign. He spoke at universities and had dinners with local political leaders, but he also did plenty of the unexpected. Bobby took the time to visit Indian reservations and held impoverished babies. Crowds lined the streets, not just when he entered a town, but sometimes stretching for miles. And Bobby didn't just wave. He had his car slow down and even stop, often making him late to see 'more important' men. He leaned out into crowds, but to the dismay of his bodyguard, who knelt in the vehicle and held Bobby around the waist to keep him from being torn from the vehicle.

The bodyguard, Bill Barry had his work cut out for him, trying to keep Kennedy safe, while Bobby was insistent that no one be hurt or pushed away. Barry said, "I wanted him to be President of the United States for the sake of my children and generations to come. It was not just a professional job with me." People simply loved Bobby, but they left him bruised and bloody from their grasping.

Bobby was emotional, and this was often revealed in his speeches. Calling for an end to war in Vietnam, he asked one crowd about the things that might have been accomplished by the men who had died. Included in a lofty list that included curing cancer and founding a university, he asked, "Which of them might have taught a small child to read? It is our responsibility to let those men live."

On April 4, the Kennedy caravan was on its way to Indianapolis when they received the news of Martin Luther King Jr's assassination. Concerned for his safety, many discouraged Bobby from speaking. The crowd he was to address was expected to be 70% African-American, and they had not yet heard the news. The learned of the murder from Bobby.

"I have bad news for you, for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight. Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice for his fellow human beings, and he died because of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black - considering the evidence there is that there were white people who were responsible - you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country....Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love. For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times."

He then quoted Aeschylus. "In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."

 Many major cities in the United States suffered violence and riots that night and in the nights that followed, but Indianapolis was not one of them. Kennedy also called the widow, Coretta Scott King, and asked what he could do to help her, although some discouraged him from getting involved during the campaign. She needed help arranging for her husband's body to be brought home from Memphis to Atlanta. Bobby made the arrangements.

Kennedy's victory speech at Ambassador Hotel
moments before he was shot
At his next campaign stop, Bobby mentioned the rioting. "No martyr's cause has ever been stilled by his assassin's bullet. No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero, and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people." But he did not stop there. "There is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books, and homes without heat in the winter."

He also wasn't afraid to speak uncomfortable truths. When a student at a Catholic university pointed out that the draft got blacks out of the ghetto, he didn't hold back. "How can you say that we can deal with the problems of the poor by sending them to Vietnam?" He challenged them, as those with the power to do something, to get up and make changes.

He was serious and driven, but also occasionally revealed a quick wit. Once, when asked what was the difference between him and McCarthy, he joked, "Charm, sense of humor."

People lining the tracks as RFK funeral train passed
What could Bobby Kennedy have done for America if he had not been shot in the early hours of June 5, 1968? It's difficult to imagine the suspense hanging like a cloud over the nation as doctors worked to save his life, only to admit defeat at 1:44am the next day.

Americans had learned to mourn Kennedys less than five years earlier, and they came out in droves again to say goodbye to Bobby. People were so eager to demonstrate their sorrow that two mourners were hit by a train and killed as they tried to touch the train carrying Bobby Kennedy's body to Washington DC. At the Democratic National Convention in August 1968, Ted Kennedy, the youngest and only surviving Kennedy brother spoke.

"If my brother's life, and death, had one meaning above all others, it was this: that we should not hate but love one another, that our strength should not be used to create the conditions of oppression that lead to violence, but the conditions of justice that lead to peace."

Additional Suggested Reading:

Robert Kennedy and His Times by Arthur M Schlesinger, Jr
85 Days: The Last Campaign of Robert Kennedy by Jules Witcover
The Last Campaign: Robert F Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America by Thurston Clarke