February is Black History Month in the US. But what does it mean? Donald and Diana are joined by Mark McCormick, New York Times best-selling author and journalist to talk about the origins of Black History Month, why it matters and how Australians and other non-African American people can pay homage to the contribution of African Americans throughout history.
Each February marks Black History Month in the US. Other countries, including Canada, the Netherlands and Ireland now also observe it. In essence, the month is about celebrating and recognising the contributions of African Americans throughout history. In schools and other learning institutions, students participate in a range of essay and oration competitions, put on plays and otherwise take part in activities designed to illuminate the advances made in society due to the contribution of black Americans.
Some dissenters (including high profile people such as Morgan Freeman) argue that why should black history be confined to a month? They contend that black history is American history. A full transcript of the episode is available (check the 'transcript' link).
Although we don't officially observe Black History Month in Australia, Mark gives us some great ideas for how we can all learn more about African American history and culture, and why it's so important that we do.
About our guest, Mark McCormick
Mark McCormick is executive director of the Kansas African American Museum in Wichita and a New York Times best-selling author with 20 years of journalism experience as a reporter, editor and columnist. He serves as a trustee on the William Allen White Foundation at KU School of Journalism and has been a professional in residence at the University of Oklahoma.
In 2015, he co-wrote African Americans of Wichita with Arcadia publishing. In 2017, Mark published Some Were Paupers, Some Were Kings: Dispatches from Kansas.
In April 2018, Mark joined the ACLU of Kansas as the Director of Strategic Communications. Previously, he served as the Executive Director of the Kansas African American Museum in Wichita, Kansas.
He is the proud recipient of over 20 industry and community awards, including three gold medals from the Kansas City Press Club.
Links to resources talked about in this episode (good to start with these if you want to bone up on your African American history):
Donald Betts: 00:00 You are listening to episode six, Black History Month, what's it all about, with special guest Mark McCormick.
Diana Elliott: 00:10 I'm Diana Elliott and I'm a freelancer writer from Melbourne, Australia.
Donald Betts: 00:14 And I'm Donald Betts. I'm a former US State Senator from Kansas.
Diana Elliott: 00:18 We talk about hot topics relevant to Americans and Australians; what makes us different and what makes us similar.
Donald Betts: 00:24 It's not the place, but a state of mind: Greenland.
Diana Elliott: 00:38 Hi, Donald.
Donald Betts: 00:39 Hey, Diana.
Diana Elliott: 00:40 This is exciting learning about Black History Month.
Donald Betts: 00:43 Yeah, I know. I mean, I've learned about it pretty much my whole life.
Diana Elliott: 00:46 Yeah, and I'd never heard of it until you mentioned it. Like all things Greenland, it's fantastic to highlight where there are differences in our cultures-
Donald Betts: 00:56 That's right.
Diana Elliott: 00:57 ... and Black History Month ... well, tell us what it is before we go on to Mark.
Donald Betts: 01:00 Well, Black History Month, for me in particular, is a month that we've always celebrated in February. I believe that it has something to do with President Lincoln and signing the emancipation proclamation legislation that freed the slaves, and his birthday is in February. President's Day is in February. It's a month where we kind of set aside some of the differences and try to understand black culture, African American culture, and the contributions we've made to America.
Diana Elliott: 01:35 So, it started in 1926, when it was called something different. It was called Negro History Week.
Donald Betts: 01:39 That's right, and it was one week.
Diana Elliott: 01:41 Yeah, and then, in 1970, it was changed to Black History Month when black educators and students at Kent University proposed it as Black History Month. Then, it seems that after that by 1976, President Ford recognised it during the US Bicentennial celebrations. So, it's pretty entrenched now.
Donald Betts: 02:04 Yeah, it's pretty entrenched. It's known, and it's come to the point where people are saying, "Black history is every day. So, why do we just settle-
Diana Elliott: 02:14 Have a month dedicated, yeah.
Donald Betts: 02:15 ... for one month, you know? But it is at least one month where we really focus on the achievements of African Americans in America.
Diana Elliott: 02:24 So, it's important to you as an African American to pay homage to this month?
Donald Betts: 02:29 Yeah, definitely because then the culture's not forgotten. My ancestors are slaves and when they arrived to North America, many of them, they lost their language, the culture, the background, family. So, as an African American, where am I from? Who am I? So, Black History Month gives us a little bit, a little piece of where we're from and who we are and where we come from, which is really important to pass that culture and that history down to our children. I think that's important. That's important for us as a people to understand where all of us are from and our contribution to the fabric of Australia and the US.
Donald Betts: 03:19 Every culture has some sort of celebration. The Irish, the Indian, the South Asian, the East Asian, the Jewish community. Everyone, the Muslim community. Their own language. The Latino community has a language, they speak Spanish, and people from all over the world have their language. But for African Americans, we had a language, but we don't know the language. So, this is our way of contributing and our culture and showing the world that we have a culture and now it's being mimicked and appropriated all over the world through the music and sports and talent and inventions. So, it's spreading. It's being shared, and that's, I believe, what culture should be about. Sharing and embracing each other.
Diana Elliott: 04:16 Yeah, learning from each other. Well, I'm really excited to learn more about Black History Month and to listen to our special guest, Mark, today.
Donald Betts: 04:24 Awesome. Let's do it. Hey Mark, I want to introduce you to Diana Elliott, my cohost here on Greenland.
Diana Elliott: 04:37 Hi, Mark.
Mark McCormick: 04:38 Hi, how are you?
Diana Elliott: 04:39 Good, thank you-
Donald Betts: 04:39 Thank you for joining us today on Greenland to talk about Black History Month and what it means for not only me, I mean, I'm ... for Black History Month, I'm born in February, February 8th. So, yeah, it's important to me, this month. Very important to me because I was born in this month. But Diana, what do you think? When you hear about Black History Month, what comes to mind?
Diana Elliott: 05:10 Well, I have to admit, as an Australian, we don't ... it's not really a thing here. So, when you mentioned, "Oh, we should do an episode on Black History Month," to be honest, I was like, "Oh, okay. Sure. What is Black History Month?" So, this is fantastic to have you on, Mark, and also have Donald's views about it because when I did a bit of research, it was something that I realised originated in America, but it obviously is observed in some other countries like Canada and I think the Netherlands as well. But in Australia, we don't formally recognise it, which begs the question ... you know, we do have African Americans living here, albeit there probably aren't that many of you, are there?
Donald Betts: 05:49 No, well, indigenous as well. I mean-
Diana Elliott: 05:51 Well yes, and we do have an indigenous week, NAIDOC week, that's in July, that I think the purpose and origins of that are somewhat different to Black History Month. So, I'm ready to learn. Bring it.
Donald Betts: 06:05 Mark, teach us-
Diana Elliott: 06:08 About the origins of Black History Month; why it started and what it's original purpose was, and does that still have resonance today?
Mark McCormick: 06:19 Well, I should tell you first, I really appreciate the invitation. I hope I'm up to the task-
Donald Betts: 06:27 Of course you are. Of course you are-
Mark McCormick: 06:29 It's a very difficult discussion, even today in this country. In large point because of its origins, in a large part because there are people who don't want to fully acknowledge what happened in the past and how the past still shapes today and still shapes the future. One of the best descriptions that I've heard about Black History Month is from Randall Robinson. I don't know if you guys remember Randall Robinson, the guy that started TransAfrica.
Mark McCormick: 07:00 He was an outspoken man with regard to South African apartheid. But he talked about the reason that we have Black History Month is because our history is segregated and it reflects a lack of acknowledgment of personhood for an entire segment of people who in large part built the infrastructure of the country. At one point, the bodies of the Africans held in slavery was worth more than all of the over industries combined in this country. That's still a very sore subject in a country that likes to talk about freedom, equality, egalitarianism, the constitution and more.
Mark McCormick: 07:52 The country was born in a kind of twoness, where we were trying to acknowledge our better angels, while at the same time holding people in bondage. So, lot of who we are as a nation has taken on the kind of twoness. We have a nation that is very wealthy and yet, there are lots of people in this country who are very, very poor. There are people who can't afford the medicine that they need in order to treat illnesses that they have. There's a homelessness issue. There's a lot of child poverty. I worked at a newspaper as late as 2012, and it was in a region called the Ozarks here. Kind of a rural area. The poverty in that region was devastating. It was shocking even to the readers of the Springfield News-Leader, that's where I worked.
Mark McCormick: 08:53 So, in a lot of ways, when we discuss race in this country, it has a lot to do with who we are sort of in our soul and in our spirit. There is a spirit that comes from the African American perspective in this country that is one of rejuvenation. Then, there's a tragic history too. So, I thought it was important to kind of start there, that real history shouldn't be based on anyone's colour. It should be based on a contribution. It should be based on what people did, not on melanin or who has it and who doesn't.
Diana Elliott: 09:39 Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, are you saying, Mark, that the genesis of the Black History Month was basically to correct that narrative of history in America that was skewed towards the white perspective?
Mark McCormick: 09:52 Yeah, a lot of the history of Africans who were brought to this country was hidden. I think the man who created it, Carter G. Woodson, understood that. He understood the importance of knowing yourself, knowing about yourself, knowing about your history, and it really began as Black History Week. It didn't start as Black History Month. It started as Black History Week. It has grown since then and there have been some famous people. If I remember right, Morgan Freeman didn't really like the idea of Black History Month-
Diana Elliott: 10:29 No?
Mark McCormick: 10:29 ... felt like is passe. In a way, I can kind of understand where he's coming from. So, we ought to just tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth as opposed to having these dual tracks of history. It's just, again, I think the country has just had a difficult time coming to terms with what has happened to the people in this country that Jesse Jackson recommended be called African Americans to tie them to a continent not just to a colour.
Diana Elliott: 11:06 Yeah, it's interesting. Donald and I had a question from one of our listeners. We have a segment that invites such things, and that was one of the questions was, "Is it appropriate or desired for someone like Donald to be called a Black American or an African American?" You know, what's his preference? We had a little chat about that-
Mark McCormick: 11:22 So, what did you say, Donald? What'd you say?
Donald Betts: 11:24 Well, like I said, I'm a proud black man. I'm a black man. I mean, it's obvious that I'm black, you know? I live in this skin. But I consider myself an African American because I am an American. But I hold on to that African as a remembrance of my ancestry, and from where I came. I just did one of those DNA tests and I saw on Facebook you posted the ancestry.com, and I'm like, "Oh, I messed up. Now the police have my DNA." I guess it just makes me a better citizen, so that I don't commit any crimes. But I received my report and it showed between 30 and 40% Nigerian.
Mark McCormick: 12:15 Oh, interesting.
Donald Betts: 12:17 Then, I go back and then I start ... it traces you through the history from 1700, and I have a little bit of Norwegian, a little bit of English, and it just ... you can see where that slave ship kind of picked up the ancestors and brought them to North America. Then, that's where a big part of my history lies. So, I'm not just African or just a black person, but I have a history. I have a background. I have a story. For me, as an African American, I want to know that story.
Donald Betts: 12:54 When I meet my Latino counterparts or my Asian counterparts or my English counterparts, everyone has a history or a language, or they can trace back generations and generations. But I just longed for that knowledge of, "Who am I?" I think that's a big part of what we deal with in African American culture. We don't really know who we are in terms of our history and generational history. So, for me, it was refreshing to know at least I'm 30 to 40% Nigerian. At least I can trace back to somewhere where I'm from, and go back that [inaudible 00:13:35], right?
Mark McCormick: 13:35 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Donald Betts: 13:35 So, in terms of African American, I am an American. I love America, I'm an American to the core. I mean, I'm also an Australian citizen now, to the core. I'm a dual citizen. So, I am really an African American Australian [inaudible 00:13:53] tag along-
Mark McCormick: 13:58 That's interesting.
Donald Betts: 13:59 So, I just adopt [crosstalk 00:13:59]-
Mark McCormick: 13:59 It's interesting.
Donald Betts: 13:59 ... it's an individual thing, I guess for me.
Mark McCormick: 13:59 I've actually heard it both ways, bro. I've actually heard it both ways; that to just say that you're black or you're just a colour, it doesn't tie you to the continent of your origins. It doesn't tie you to the history, the long beautiful history before slavery. I've also heard it the other way, that if you're just African American, it ties you really just to the North American continent, really, and not to the people around the world who are people of colour. That if you count people of colour around the world, they outnumber white people 12 to 1 and you're really no longer a minority. It's really more of a political label as much as anything else.
Mark McCormick: 14:50 I just think that if you're a free person, you ought to be able to define yourself, not be defined by someone else. So, if you want to call yourself, that's cool. If you want to call yourself African American, that's cool. You ought to be able to define yourself however not have textbooks define who you are or your importance. A historian that I read a lot, John Henrik Clarke, and I learned this from another man named Asa Hilliard, I don't know if you remember Asa Hilliard-
Donald Betts: 15:23 Yep.
Mark McCormick: 15:23 He was an Egyptologist. I got to spend several days with him when I was a reporter in Louisville, Kentucky. He came and he was speaking to the public schools. I took this quote from him that he took from John Henrik Clarke. He said, "It is impossible to continue to oppress a consciously historical people." He wasn't talking about the degree to which you can create weapons and armaments, the kind of army you could muster. It was simply that knowledge of who you were that would create the will that would not allow you to continue to be oppressed.
Mark McCormick: 15:59 It gives you a sense, I think, that people understood that power and that's why our history here in this country was hidden from us. That, even today, we are uncovering page after page of history that has been lost. What it does to people, to their spirits, to their aspirations, to me, has been what has caused me to want to ... even as a journalist, to write about history, even though that wasn't my major. But as a journalist, I wanted to write about it because it's often very interesting, it often gives you a sense for why things are today, and how they'll be tomorrows. That's why it's always one of my favourite subjects.
Donald Betts: 16:46 That's awesome.
Diana Elliott: 16:48 Just on that point around the recording of the history, because I think it was almost part of this whole story was around ... was it the Native American Indians who didn't have that documented history, and therefore, so much of their identity and their history of culture has sort of been lost. Is Black History Month, if you could just talk in a practical sense of what actually happens. I mean, is it the case that every school then does their history subjects around black history? What does it mean?
Mark McCormick: 17:22 Yeah, that's a great question, and your insight coming from another country, from another continent is really interesting to me. So, where Don and I come from, the public schools recognise black history. There will be essay contests. The teachers will pull out stories about famous African Americans like Martin Luther King. Some of them talk about this inventor, George Washington Carver. They don't really talk about him in any real depth. But they talk about what he did in terms of the peanut, and all the products that he created from the peanut.
Mark McCormick: 18:09 What they don't talk about is how he rescued southern agriculture through this idea of crop rotation. They were growing so much cotton they were draining the soil of all its nutrients. If you would rotate the crops, and sometimes with peanuts, you could put nitrogen back into the soil and it could continue to be productive soil. In that regard, he rescued southern agriculture. But he'd been reduced to the peanut. In the same way that Dr. King is reduced to his I Have a Dream speech. Not as a person who was really a revolutionary, and I know that's controversial to say because there are people who don't believe he was a revolutionary.
Mark McCormick: 18:52 But if you were in this country talking about a radical redistribution of wealth, like two of our presidential candidates are talking about. If you love black people, and if you love poor people that much that you become such a danger that someone feels like they need to take your life, I think that's pretty important. That's more than just having a dream, right?
Diana Elliott: 19:14 Yes.
Donald Betts: 19:16 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mark McCormick: 19:16 So, that's what I think is the importance of it, absent any kind of real integration of this information into the school curriculum. I think it should continue and I think that's always been the challenge here in this country. Do people really want an integrated society? Do you really want integrated and truthful history, or do we continue on these separate paths? So again, to your point about what happens. There's a period of time in school during the month where there will be a play, there will be oratory contests, there will history contests, they'll start examining a number of firsts. Who was the first person to do this; who was Garrett Morgan, the person who created the traffic light and the gas mask; who was Carter G. Woodson; who was George Washington Carver, people like that.
Mark McCormick: 20:15 They don't really get into a lot of the political people. I think there's still a fear about ... we want to share some history, but not history that might be truly liberating and I'm kind of speaking for myself-
Diana Elliott: 20:31 So, if you feel it's a bit sort of light? Yeah, it's perhaps-
Donald Betts: 20:32 Surface.
Diana Elliott: 20:32 Yeah, you're reducing things to caricatures as opposed to the deeper ...
Mark McCormick: 20:38 Yeah, for instance, we saw this recently in the Southwest part of America where there's a large Hispanic population. They stopped teaching Hispanic history, about how much of Mexico extended far into what we consider now the United States, as far north as Colorado, Utah, and much of California. They found that in these Chicano study courses, the students would have this kind of awakening and they would feel like, "Oh, we're not just what we've been taught we were about. We were much different. We were much greater people than we're depicted. We like the idea of defining ourselves, not being defined by others."
Mark McCormick: 21:27 That's why people continue to play with the textbooks. We had a controversy here, I think last year, where a textbook company was referring to slaves as workers, not as slaves; as though they had some sort of choice in the matter. It's funny, and yet these kinds of things are-
Diana Elliott: 21:50 It's frightening, yeah.
Mark McCormick: 21:51 ... happening. It gives you a sense for how high the stakes are that you're really talking about how people think of themselves, their character formation, how they think of themselves is kind of tied up in how other people treat them. If you did not come from a family like mine; my family, the last generation came from an all-black town in Oklahoma and they came there because they escaped alabama in the sort of post-slavery era where they saw a lynching and said, "We need to get our family out of here."
Mark McCormick: 22:27 So, they escaped at night but were chased by nightriders, which are basically Klansmen, and they sought refuge on a Indian reservation, an American Indian reservation. They protected them and then helped them get from alabama to Oklahoma. So, my family's been very purposeful and intentional about sharing all of this history-
Donald Betts: 22:52 Mark, I think our families took the same path from alabama to Oklahoma. The Betts family, the [Curries 00:22:59], we all came from alabama straight through to Oklahoma. Guthrie and Tulsa, and all of those areas, then back straight up to Wichita.
Mark McCormick: 23:10 Did you go to Langston?
Donald Betts: 23:11 No, my grandmother and my grandfather went to Langston-
Mark McCormick: 23:14 Interesting.
Donald Betts: 23:15 ... and Tuskegee. Tuskegee Institute at the time.
Mark McCormick: 23:18 Oh.
Donald Betts: 23:18 Yeah.
Mark McCormick: 23:20 You might share with the audience what Langston is.
Donald Betts: 23:23 Langston is a HBCU, so a historically black college or university.
Diana Elliott: 23:26 Okay.
Donald Betts: 23:28 It's in Langston, or Guthrie, Oklahoma. Maybe two hours away from Wichita. Just under two hours from where we are.
Diana Elliott: 23:37 I'm interested, if I can ask this question, about your thoughts, both Donald and Mark, about if you're familiar with the 1619 Project that the New York Times has done. Have you heard of that, Mark? Are you familiar with-
Mark McCormick: 23:52 Oh, I have.
Diana Elliott: 23:53 Yeah, because-
Mark McCormick: 23:54 I have, and there's a bit of a controversy about it as well.
Diana Elliott: 23:57 Yeah. So, just for the audience, that is a project by the New York Times, it's sort of a podcast series, but I think it started as an article to talk about, and correct me if I'm wrong, Mark, because I finally listened to the first two episodes. But I was just absolutely blown away by the content. It just sort of ... as a white Australian person who had really no understanding of black American history, really, beyond what's mainstream, it just blew my mind, the depth of the injustices there. I found it really rich in content and in helping to change my perspective and make me more informed. But I'm interested to know what you think is-
Mark McCormick: 24:45 I thought it was strong as well. Again, and I'm someone who reads a lot of books about history. I ran an African American museum for six years. Prior to that, I wrote about a lot of African American history in our state, and I just recently left a national board of trustees for the Smithsonian's African American museum of history and culture.
Diana Elliott: 25:14 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mark McCormick: 25:14 This is something that I've been involved in and interested in really from childhood. I thought it was an amazing accomplishment. I will say though, that ... there's a professor that I hold in high, high regard, Clayborne Carson, he is Dr. King's biographer. He spoke at one of our conferences. He said that there is still so much information about Dr. King that is still not known, that it could take another 80 years for educators and researchers to get through all of that content.
Mark McCormick: 25:56 Well, he was very critical of the 1619 Project. He said that when he inquired about who they were using as some of their sources, who were they talking to in terms of background, he said they were close lipped about who they were talking to. He didn't really like the methodology. I think to the layman, someone like me, the methodology isn't as important, but I do care about the truth behind the work. But he was really bothered by it. I would like to talk to him more and get a sense. But I thought it was magnificent and I think that history really does have the power to bring what has become a very fractured culture together; that somehow knowing the truth will help.
Mark McCormick: 26:54 Let me give you a for instance, and this is something that I was thinking about from the time that Donald asked me to appear on the show. So, my background is largely about the history here in Kansas, and I talk about Kansas as the social conscience, the social fault line for this country in a lot of ways. The bloodiest conflict yet today that the country has endured was the Civil War and in many books that you read, you will find that the Civil War began here in Kansas over the issue of slavery. In the history books, our state is known as bleeding Kansas-
Donald Betts: 27:41 That's right.
Mark McCormick: 27:42 ... it was a territory before it was a state. There was a push from people across the border in Missouri to have Kansas enter the union as a slave state, and there were people here who fought back. The fighting here got extremely bloody. There was a man named John Brown who was known a marauder, if you're from Missouri, coming over, killing Missourians to keep them from over populating the state and then allowing the state to vote for slavery-
Donald Betts: 28:20 And John Brown was a white American.
Mark McCormick: 28:23 Yes, he was a white man. That's why in many ways, he's still depicted as a crazy man, because in that era, and as late as the 1970s, it was really hard for people to understand why a white man would give his life to setting black people free. There's a book about it that really explains it well. It's called Lies My Teacher Told Me. It's by James Loewen. They talk about how incredibly sane he was, how thoughtful he was. He went to Virginia and attacked an armoury and he was going to take the munitions, the guns, the ammunition, and give it to slaves and lead a slave rebellion when he was caught and he was hanged as a traitor.
Mark McCormick: 29:10 But to a lot of people, they think of him as-
Donald Betts: 29:13 The hero.
Mark McCormick: 29:14 ... this crazy man. Yeah, well, to African Americans, they think he was a hero. Malcolm X said he was like one of the only white men in history that he had respect for. So, think about this bloody conflict that the nation endured beginning here in Kansas. Some of the first soldiers in the Civil War, came from the first Kansas coloured regiment, right?
Diana Elliott: 29:36 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mark McCormick: 29:37 So, then you move a little forward in time and there was the temperance movement, which was prohibition, where we outlawed alcohol. This was the first state to outlaw alcohol. We were the first-
Donald Betts: 29:52 You couldn't even fly over the state and drink alcohol. You couldn't be in an aeroplane drinking alcohol.
Diana Elliott: 29:57 What?
Donald Betts: 29:57 No flyover state.
Mark McCormick: 29:57 Exactly.
Diana Elliott: 29:57 No flying high.
Donald Betts: 30:01 No flying high. Then, Dockum Sit-in-
Mark McCormick: 30:08 Yeah, I was leading up to that.
Donald Betts: 30:09 Oh, okay.
Mark McCormick: 30:09 So, then you move into the Civil Rights Movement and there was a cafeteria worker in Wichita named James Thompson. This was just a few months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour. He wrote a letter to an African American newsletter. He mailed it from Wichita to Pittsburgh, and he said, "You know, if we're going to go across the seas and fight for other people's liberation, we ought to fight for a double victory. We ought to fight for victory abroad, but victory at home as well, for our own humanity and for our own freedom." He called it the Double V Campaign and it swept the country.
Mark McCormick: 30:57 That began in Wichita with that cafeteria worker. Martin Luther King's lawyer, a man named Donald Hollowell was born in Wichita, and in Dr. King's hometown of Atlanta, they called Donald Hollowell Mr. Civil Rights. He's the person that integrated the University of Georgia and he got the famous journalist, Charlayne Hunter-Gault into the University of Georgia. As Donald was mentioning, our dear friend that we have in common, Gretchen Eike wrote a book called Dissent in Wichita, that really talked about Wichita having the first successful student led sit-in anywhere in the country; 18 months before the more famous ones happened in Greensboro.
Mark McCormick: 31:46 So, I mean, all the way up to the 1990s, where Wichita was embroiled in the abortion struggle, Kansas has been this social fault line that anything important ... it's interesting because here in country, if it didn't happen in Los Angeles or New York, it really isn't important. But a lot of these ideas really began in places like Kansas, which was kind of a laboratory. Then, the clinical trials happened out in the country. But the ideas were formed here, the ideas of populism and things like that began here in this state.
Mark McCormick: 32:28 So, I would always talk to people who were on the museum board for example, and I would start talking about Kansas. For instance, the new museum that opened in Washington DC, the African American museum of History and Culture, would not have been possible but for the influence of Kansans. Our former senator, Sam Brownback, he brought the bill in the senate to create the museum. Kansas had more original board members on that original board of trustees than any other state.
Diana Elliott: 33:03 So, what's your view of this current state of play then, using Kansas as the sort of ... the fault line as you say, reading it, how are you feeling where things are at now?
Mark McCormick: 33:15 We're still very much involved. I mean, one of our former congressmen is Mike Pompeo, who is now very much involved in this controversy that is really kind of shaking the country. We have a woman as a governor now.
Donald Betts: 33:34 The third woman from Kansas to be Governor.
Mark McCormick: 33:43 Yeah, no other state can say that.
Donald Betts: 33:45 Nope.
Mark McCormick: 33:46 I mean, we're the first.
Diana Elliott: 33:47 Yep.
Mark McCormick: 33:48 Yeah, no other state can say that. People are hoping that we're a kind of barometer for the rest of the country because the state is very republican. It's very red. That's what I guess it means here. If you're red, you're republican. They're hoping that the fact that we have a democratic Governor in such a red state, that there may be hopes for the democrats to level the political playing field. So, I think people are hoping that Kansas gives the rest of the country some hope to balance the power imbalance happening in the country. I hope that makes sense.
Diana Elliott: 34:24 Yeah.
Donald Betts: 34:25 Well, Mark, you know I have a bit of history for you.
Mark McCormick: 34:27 Okay.
Donald Betts: 34:28 I've created a little history for the African Americans in Australia, and I've just been notified, and it's not certified, but from what I understand that I am the first African American to achieve the JD in Australia. So, that's a bit of history-
Mark McCormick: 34:44 Oh, wow. Congratulations, man.
Donald Betts: 34:44 Thank you. Thank you. So, in the spirit of Black History Month, there you go.
Mark McCormick: 34:50 Well see, there again, Kansas is once again in the mix here.
Donald Betts: 34:55 That's right. Straight from Kansas. There's no place like home.
Mark McCormick: 35:00 In the mix here. So, do Australians, for example ... do Australians know about the Ku Klux Klan here in America?
Diana Elliott: 35:08 Well, we do. We know the headlines of it, yes. And certainly, we could recognise the outfits and I suppose the evil acts perpetrated by them.
Mark McCormick: 35:20 Well, our state was the first to get rid of them by legal means. Were you aware of that, Donald?
Donald Betts: 35:27 No, I was not aware of that.
Mark McCormick: 35:29 Yeah.
Donald Betts: 35:30 That's good. That's interesting news to hear that-
Mark McCormick: 35:35 Well, it was interesting that the device that was used was a very legalistic one. This was one that you would understand being a lawyer. The attorney general brought a case against the Klan, for some of the usual reasons; you know, the public terror and things like that. But the Klan here was operating according to the attorney general, and this was back in the 1920s, that the Klan was operating like a foreign corporation and they were operating without a charter. They would have had to have gone to what would have been the Kansas corporation commission, whatever version of that existed then and ask for the charter.
Mark McCormick: 36:18 Well, the Klan hated Catholics, almost as much as they hated ... probably more in this state, than they hated people of colour. Because the Klan here was very patriotic and very Christian. They didn't view Catholics as true Christians. The Kansas corporation commission, that version of it, was full of Catholics. So, the Klan didn't feel like they could go to them and get the charter. So, the lawsuit was argued in court and the Klan appealed it to the supreme court, but the supreme court said, "We won't hear it." So, the lower court ruling stood and they had to dismantle their operation here in Kansas. This happened in the 20s. The man for whom my journalism school is named ran for governor on the platform of anti-Klan. His name was William Allan White.
Diana Elliott: 37:19 Well, that's a beautiful lesson for us to kick off Black History Month. Mark, is there any other things you think you would encourage listeners to do to honour Black History Month, even if they're not living in America where it's officially observed?
Mark McCormick: 37:35 Yeah, I think people should just read more. I get so much from these books. I feel like even if I read every single book that I have, there'd be 100,000 more that I would want to read. There is some really wonderful and powerful books out there that kind of help shape, I think, who I am. One of the first books that had a huge impact on me was the autobiography of Malcolm X. I had a friend who used to read it once a year and he said he'd always find something new in it.
Diana Elliott: 38:17 Okay.
Mark McCormick: 38:18 There's another one, The African Origin of Civilization. That's another wonderful book. I'd recommend Taylor Branch's trilogy that began-
Donald Betts: 38:27 Oh, yeah.
Mark McCormick: 38:28 It begins with Parting the Waters.
Donald Betts: 38:29 Yeah, beautiful.
Mark McCormick: 38:29 Those are wonderful.
Donald Betts: 38:32 Even Gordon Parks-
Mark McCormick: 38:33 You know-
Donald Betts: 38:34 ... A Learning Tree. That's something the family can get around and sit around and read. Gordon Parks is from Kansas.
Mark McCormick: 38:43 Yeah, that's wonderful. Yeah, I'm sitting here looking at A Hungry Heart. That was another one of Gordon's books.
Donald Betts: 38:48 Oh, yeah. That's right.
Mark McCormick: 38:49 Yeah, I just think that ... and A Choice of Weapons. That's a wonderful one too.
Donald Betts: 38:53 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mark McCormick: 38:56 I just think that there is an ignorance that has driven a wedge between the citizens of this country and there are people who are promoting that ignorance because it continues to give them leverage to hold on to power. I think the way we dismantle it is by learning more about each other and learning the truth and then start trying to live that truth.
Donald Betts: 39:18 Wow, Mark, that's a phenomenal way to end, brother.
Diana Elliott: 39:22 Indeed.
Donald Betts: 39:22 Thank you.
Diana Elliott: 39:23 And we will put links to all of those books on our website and the 1619 podcast that talks about a different version of African American slavery, which if you can't be bothered reading, then please listen to that. It will really get into your head. It certainly did with me anyway. So, thank you so much for your time today, Mark. That's been extremely enlightening, particularly for me, and I'm sure many Australians learning about Black History Month and kicking us off in the right way. Yeah, let's read about it. Let's take responsibility to learn and shine a light on a history that we don't often get exposed to.
Mark McCormick: 40:03 Well, thank you for having me. Thank you for having me. I guess at some point, you're going to have to share this brother back with his country and with his state because we miss him. He was quite a contributor when he was here.
Donald Betts: 40:17 Thank you, Mark. Thank you very much. Now, you are officially a Greenlander.
Diana Elliott: 40:21 Yes. Welcome to the family.
Mark McCormick: 40:22 Thank you.
Donald Betts: 40:22 Welcome to the family, brother.
Mark McCormick: 40:24 Thank you, I'll take it. Take care, bye bye.
Diana Elliott: 40:27 Bye.
Donald Betts: 40:27 Bye bye.
Diana Elliott: 40:38 Thanks so much for listening to us today on Greenland. If you'd like to become a Greenlander, visit greenlandthepodcast.com and follow the links to subscribe. We'd also really appreciate it if you could leave us a review on your chosen podcast listening app. That really helps us to kind of percolate to that top and to also get a nice little bit of feedback from you guys. If you'd like to send us an email, you'll find links to contact us on our webpage as well. So, thanks again for listening and we'll see you next week.