Campaign Stops and the Klan

A pair of interesting pieces in today’s Wall Street Journal. First a book review of Michael Cohen’s Live from the Campaign Trail by David Shribman ’76:

This year, so far, we have heard two speeches that aspired to greatness: Mitt Romney’s treatise on religious freedom and Barack Obama’s “more perfect union” remarks on race relations in America. Both were ambitious and provocative, but they were also derivative, haunted by echoes from nearly a half-century ago, when Sen. John F. Kennedy addressed the Houston Ministerial Association in September 1960. It was there that Kennedy attempted to address concerns that the nation would not elect a Roman Catholic to the White House.

The great American campaign speech is obviously hard to pull off and, for the readers among us, now hard to find. Students no longer stand before classrooms and recite the hallowed words of past office-holders and -seekers, and the small volumes of political speeches that once lined every American library – I cadged some splendid ones when Dartmouth’s Baker Library disposed of its collection 35 years ago – are a thing of the past.

Also of interest is this piece by Dorothy Rabinowitz:

Keith Sampson, a student employee on the janitorial staff earning his way toward a degree, was in the habit of reading during work breaks. Last October he was immersed in “Notre Dame Vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan.”

Mr. Sampson was in short order visited by his union representative, who informed him he must not bring this book to the break room, and that he could be fired. Taking the book to the campus, Mr. Sampson says he was told, was “like bringing pornography to work.” That it was a history of the battle students waged against the Klan in the 1920s in no way impressed the union rep.

The assistant affirmative action officer who next summoned the student was similarly unimpressed. Indeed she was, Mr. Sampson says, irate at his explanation that he was, after all, reading a scholarly book. “The Klan still rules Indiana,” Marguerite Watkins told him – didn’t he know that? Mr. Sampson, by now dazed, pointed out that this book was carried in the university library. Yes, she retorted, you can get Klan propaganda in the library.

The university has allowed no interviews with Ms. Watkins or any other university official involved in the case. Still, there can be no disputing the contents of the official letter that set forth the university’s case.

Mr. Sampson stood accused of “openly reading the book related to a historically and racially abhorrent subject in the presence of your Black co-workers.” The statement, signed by chief affirmative action officer Lillian Charleston, asserted that her office had completed its investigation of the charges brought by Ms. Nakea William, his co-worker – that Mr. Sampson had continued, despite complaints, to read a book on this “inflammatory topic.” “We conclude,” the letter informed him, “that your conduct constitutes racial harassment. . . .” A very serious matter, with serious consequences, it went on to point out.

Read the whole thing.