Monthly Archives: January 2010

Videos for the Classroom: Lynchings of Italians in the 19th-20th Centuries

This clip is extremely disturbing to watch, so please use caution in your classrooms.

To buttress my argument from last week, i.e. images of Italians, I’m enclosing a clip from a documentary about the Italian-American experience.  This segment deals mostly with the 1891 New Orleans lynching of Italians, but also has brutal images of lynchings all across the American South. 

According to the documentary, 39 Italians were lynched before World War I, mostly due to their “non-white” nature.

Before Pauly D and Mike “The Situation from MTV’s Jersey Shore start throwing their Italianness around like a gob of hair gel, maybe they should look at the sacrifices their ancestors made in order for them to enjoy their “lifestyle.”


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This Day in History 1/8: The Battle of New Orleans

The minute you saw the title, you must be thinking, “Oh God, not that fucking song.”

Yes, in fact.  Three versions of that fucking song, to be exact.

Today marks the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans, the final battle in the War of 1812.  It was technically the battle that never should have happened, as it occurred after the signing of the treaty ending hostilities.  Regardless, the decisive win against overwhelming British forces made Andrew Jackson a national hero and inspired a country song that has been redone by too many country artists to count.

Today we present three versions of the classic “Battle of New Orleans.”  The first is the classic 1959 version by Johnny Horton, followed by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.  Lastly, John Rich of Big & Rich performs the song on Marty Stuart’s show.  Hope you enjoy them.

And if you hate the song, fuck off…you commie.

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A Positive Counterpoint to MTV’s “Jersey Shore.”

1891 Lynching of Italians in New Orleans

“The little jail was crowded with Sicilians, whose low, receding foreheads, dark skin, repulsive countenances and slovenly attire proclaimed their brutal nature.” – newspaper report about the 1891 lynching of Italians in New Orleans.

MTV's "Jersey Shore" Proof that the victims of the 1891 lynching died in vain.

Sound like a pack of animalistic criminals…or those overcoiffed wastes of space on a certain new show on MTV?

MTV’s “Jersey Shore” is not one of my favorite shows.  The fact that every clown featured on this show is Italian-American does bother me, a lot.  Old stereotypes of greasy, illiterate and violent “guidos” have come raging back to the surface—stereotypes that should have been buried with the last episode of “The Sopranos.”  Would it kill these idiots to put on Brooks Brothers suits and take diction lessons once in a while—they got the money for it, after all.

 Lastly, there’s a problem with nomenclature.  I’m sorry, Snooki, but “guido” is not a term used with pride.  Along with “guinea”, “wop” and “greaseball”, it denotes a time when Italians were treated as second-class citizens, often discriminated and seldom respected until we gradually assimilated into American society.    

Yet I’m not here to bury the show.  Snooki and The Situation can use all the sunscreen they want.  It makes no sense to knock on a show that has gained a loyal following, albeit a slightly depraved following. 

Instead, I’m here to offer a more proactive, positive solution to this problem.  Instead of violent thugs and lecherous buffoons in hair gel, let’s provide Hollywood with positive stories about the struggles and achievements of Italians—ones that are not in the Mafia, affiliated with the Mafia, aspire to look like Mafiosi ,nor entertainers whose benefactors may or may not be Mafiosi.  This covers just about everyone from Al Capone to Frank Sinatra.

Part of the problem is the lack of suitable subjects.  If you take away the Sopranos, the Corleone family, Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever, the pickings get a little slim.  Yet there are other Italians that would make excellent movie material.  Here are some examples so that Hollywood producers don’t have to think too much:

Giuseppe Garibaldi – I don’t know why Hollywood hasn’t done a film about Garibaldi, because his life is tailor-made for an epic.  Leader of revolutionary movements in Brazil, Uruguay and Italy, Garibaldi is considered Italy’s greatest national hero for his daring military exploits—often against incredible odds.  The British historian A.J.P. Taylor called him “the only wholly admirable figure in modern history,” and was the symbol of Italians worldwide in the 19th century.  He was even considered to lead the Union Army during the American Civil War.  All without hair gel or gold chains.

Maria Montessori Maria’s great for that gritty classroom drama, “Blackboard Jungle” Italian-style.  This groundbreaking educator and writer still impacts classrooms today.     Project-based learning, cognitive development, differentiated instruction: all have some influence from Montessori’s work with poor children in Rome in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Her work is especially timely since many of the “Jersey Shore” folks suffer from a decided lack of schooling.  If you have any doubt, read Snooki’s expletive-laced tirade against the sponsors who dropped her show.

Philip Mazzei – this Italian scientist and liberal thinker could make a great biopic involving the American Revolution.  In 1773, Mazzei and a group of Italians go to Virginia to introduce Mediterranean crops like grapes and olives.  He develops a close relationship with Thomas Jefferson, so much so that the phrase “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence was lifted almost verbatim from Mazzei’s writings.  He also served as a secret agent, smuggling arms to Virginia through the Revolution.  He also wrote one of the first histories of the American war of independence, published only two years after the end of the war.

Enrico Fermi – If John Nash got the Hollywood treatment, then Fermi’s definitely due.  The Nobel Prize-winning physicist, who created the first nuclear chain reaction, was an incredibly compelling personality.  He excelled in experiments and in the classroom.  His work on the atomic bomb stemmed from his own experience fleeing Fascist Italy due to government persecution and new anti-Semitic laws (his wife was Jewish).  Lastly, the guy knew that his work on nuclear reaction meant a premature death, which he accepted with humility and humor.  It’s got Oscar written all over it.

 Let’s work to give our people the role models they deserve.  At the very least, let’s show the morons on “Jersey Shore” that Italians can do a lot more beside cause holes in the ozone layer with their hair products.

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Don’t Touch that Package! The Changing Face of Terrorism in America

Terrorism is always “new”, or “unprecedented”, even if we’ve seen it before.

Our shock and anger at recent events is genuine, especially attacks such as 9/11, Oklahoma City or even the recent thwarted attempt to blow up a plane by a Nigerian malcontent.  Yet the extremists, misanthropes, wackjobs, loons and gun nuts of history feel slighted.

 Why can’t John Brown get much love, his broadsword still soaked in the blood of proslavery Kansans?  The anarchists, the Al Qaida of early modern America, feel cheated, especially after numerous successful bombings.  The Weathermen could use your support, especially after trying to extend the Peace decade through violence.

 The KKK?  The FALN?  The Jewish Defense League?  Black September?  Most of these clowns have a body count to put Al Qaida to shame—and they still get second fiddle.

Today at the Neighborhood, we’re committed to correcting this problem.  Let’s look at some important terrorist acts and groups of the pre-2001 United States.






Bleeding Kansas/The Pottawatomie Massacre (1856)

No Dorothy, you weren’t in Kansas, because you’d have a sword in your belly if you were.  Kansas was in chaos in 1856, as both pro-slavery and abolitionist guerrilla gangs ravaged the countryside in order to convince Kansas to be admitted as a slave or free state.  Pro-slavery men ransacked Lawrence in a killing spree.  In response, hyper-religious maniac John Brown and his sons corner five pro-slavery settlers at Pottawatomie Creek and hack them to death with broadswords.  Brown becomes a secular saint in the Union during the Civil War—and that’s as close to heaven as John got.

 The Haymarket Riot (1886)

It was your run-of-the-mill labor rally in Chicago, and then the anarchists make it interesting.  Today, it’s difficult to understand the threat of anarchism, but at the time it was right up there with “Japs” and “Commies”.  We’re not sure who did it, but someone threw a bomb into the rally.  The police open fire on the crowd, killing twelve people and setting the labor movement back twenty years.  Thank God that in the 21st Century anarchy is relegated to a Sex Pistols song.







The Wall Street Bombing (1920)

Anarchists went hog wild in the first two decades of the 20th Century.  First they assassinate a sitting President in 1901.  Then came a series of mail bombings to prominent business and political leaders in 1919.  The final blow came in 1920, when a horse cart, loaded with TNT and metal projectiles, parked itself in front of J.P. Morgan’s bank at the corner of Wall Street and Broad Street in New York City.  As the symbol of American capitalism, Morgan was public enemy # 1 for the anarchists.  The bomb would kill 38 people and injure 400, even though it exploded in the early morning.  Morgan kept the damage on its façade as a battle scar—no terrorist would bring down the “House of Morgan”, only Chase Manhattan Bank.








The Ku Klux Klan (1865-1877; 1918-1933; 1950s-present)

Besides bankrolling the bedsheet industry, the KKK has the distinction of waging the longest terrorist campaign in US history—longer than the anarchists, the FALN, or Al Qaida.  Their first wave followed the Civil War, and produced open conflict with US occupation forces in the South.  Since hating blacks wasn’t enough, they threw in Jews, Catholics, immigrants, labor unions, you name it.  By the 1920s the Klan was downright respectable.  Never fear, they returned to their ugly self in the 1950s, and have stayed that way since.  Although, to be honest ,the Ku Kluxes have seen better days: half the Klan are FBI informants, and the other half are applying to be informants.









George Metesky, the “Mad Bomber” (1940-1956)

Everyone who’s had a beef with the electric company can empathize with this maniac.  George Metesky was injured on the job working for Consolidated Edison in Waterbury, Connecticut.  He lost his job, got no compensation for his injuries, and developed a deep-seeded hatred of Con Ed.  Most people would sue, but George fixed up a bomb—dozens of them.  Of the 33 bombs he planted, 22 went off, injuring 15 people.  No place in the city was safe: Grand Central Terminal, Pennsylvania Station, Radio City Music Hall, the New York Public Library, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the RCA Building, the New York City Subway, movie theaters, hallways, elevators, even public toilets.  Use his case when arguing for a disability claim.






The FALN (1970s-1980s)

The Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN, were a paramilitary group seeking the independence of Puerto Rico from the United States.  A noble cause, except when it came to their methodology, which involved at least 120 bombings between 1974 and 1983.  Their greatest hits include Macys Herald Square (1969), Fraunces Tavern (1975), which killed 4 and wounded more than 50, a slew of buildings in April 1975 and again in 1977, the Shubert Theatre on Broadway in 1979, and a notable assault of the campaign headquarters of both Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush in 1980.  Bill Clinton decided to pardon 16 FALN members in 1999, which didn’t help their reputation at all.  On top of all this, Puerto Ricans still cling to commonwealth status in referendum after referendum.  Talk about futility.







The Weathermen (1970s)

The Weathermen, or the Weather Underground, was one of the more notorious of the many zany organizations that sprang from the New Left movement of the 1960s.  Their violent uprising against the Vietnam war, American “oppression” and the establishment of a proletarian dictatorship would span the 1970s, culminating with the Brinks robbery fiasco of 1981.  In the process, the group claimed bombings on the Pentagon, the US Capitol and the State Department, among others.  Starting with the “Days of Rage” protests in Chicago in October 1969, the Weathermen focused most of their attention on Vietnam.  Upon our pullout in 1973, they, like so many remnants of the flower power decade, became irrelevant.  Today, many people know one of the most important Weathermen: Bill Ayers, professor and buddy to Barack Obama.  Hey Mr. President: try not to piss of those old hippies—they apparently bite.






The Jewish Defense League (1970s-2002)

Those who used to watch Jerry Springer at his best may remember the JDL.  They were the guys in yarmulkes that would come in fists swinging at the Klansmen on stage.  The JDL was founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1968 to combat Anti-Semitism in the United States—with an emphasis on the word “combat.”  These guys would take anybody on: the Klan, neo-Nazis, even the Soviet Union (their bombings of Soviet places of interest in the 1970s are what drew them attention).  Yet their use of violence has branded them a terrorist group by the FBI, and the killing of Arab-American activist Alex Odeh, the attempted assassination of Arab-American Congressman Darrell Issa and attempted bombing of a mosque in Culver City, California pushed them over the edge.  Their website claims that the group renounces terrorism, but the jury’s still out.  Still, for a time the JDL pretty much obliterated the Woody Allen-like caricature of a wimpy Jew.

 As always, I know the list isn’t exhaustive. The Black Nationalist Party, the various white supremacist groups, the Unabomber, antigovernment militias, pre-2001 Islamic fundamentalism—all worthy of study. 

Let us know of other terrorist actions in the United States that I may have forgotten.  More importantly, see if your students can weigh the costs and the benefits of terrorist actions–and see if violence can truly be avoided.

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Happy New Year To the Neighborhood!

The year 2010 is finally upon us, and we here at the Neighborhood would like to think back and reflect on the past 9 months or so of its existence.

Back in March, Mr. D was a bored, often frustrated teacher who needed a way to vent to a larger audience.  To that end, Mr. D’s Neighborhood was born.  Since its inception, thousands of visitors have stopped by, many to leave lasting imprints on me and my work.  I want to take this time to thank my many readers who have made the Neighborhood the success that it is.

By far, the most popular post on this page was actually written as a lark: This Day in History 7/16, the history behind the “ultimate weapon.”  The number of hits for that post alone is simply mind-boggling.  This must be either a credit to the piece or the fact that so many whackjobs out there are looking up recipes for weapons. 

I’m guessing a little of both.

Other highlights included the ever-popular Jeopardy! saga, my musings about Las Vegas, my rantings on Teach for America, the Disney cartoons from WWII, and of course our first contest, History’s Greatest A**hole.

Yet with this New Year, we cannot rest on our laurels.

The Neighborhood will still be on the forefront in history education, with resources, links and interesting facts to share with students, colleagues and friends.  This year is a big anniversary: the 150th anniversary of the election of Abraham Lincoln.  I plan on putting more Lincolniana at your disposal, which makes the Civil War buffs salivate.

Furthermore, 2010 marks the centennial of the Mexican Revolution, an often-overlooked period in our continent’s history.  We here at the Neighborhood will right this wrong with as much data, media and resources so that any fool can be experts on Pancho Villa or Francisco Madero. 

Lastly, I’d like to thank some folks that have supported and read the Neighborhood, almost since its inception.  Deven Black, my old warhorse buddy from our TAH grant days, never ceases to amaze with his wit, his resources, his ingenuity, and his integrity.  Blighter, the author of Ozymandias, the first blogger to follow the Neighborhood, will always be in my debt.  Also, the folks at Multimedia Learning LLC, and their Social Studies and History Teachers Blog, for allowing me access to their materials and the ability to share them to our readership.  JD2718, Bronx math teacher, agitator and blogger, gave us our first recommendation on his site.  Many of our fans include the folks at the NYC Department of Education. especially Phil Panaritis and Brian Carlin. 

A big thanks to all our fans…keep reading, as 2010 proves to become even better!

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