Sunday, May 12, 2019

How Lee HS Students Chose the Original "Rebel Emblem"

In the early days, they didn't call it a "mascot," but rather an emblem. And while we know from the 10-minute video produced this past winter that the emblem made its first public appearance in the 1943 Lee High School Echo yearbook (Wyoming, Michigan), it was actually decided on several years prior.

According to accounts in several editions of the Ariel student newspaper, the Varsity Club met on April 18, 1939 to consider about a dozen different designs for the "Rebel Emblem."  During the meeting, they selected two entries by students Norman Alyea and Fred Praasterink. The club then appointed Willard Brandel and Merle Verberg to take the two designs to the Art Craft Novelty Company to be drawn by a professional artist.

A week later, the Varsity Club placed the artist's conceptions of the two designs in the hallway display case at Lee, likely to invite feedback from other students before a final selection was to be made. The club planned a special meeting at the end of the week to vote on the selection. Unfortunately, there were no more reports in the Ariel nor were there any graphic illustrations but it's presumed that the Rebel emblem highlighting the 1943 yearbook is what the club voted to approve, and likely what morphed into a sew-on patch that began showing up on letter sweaters and some athletic uniforms. This version of the Rebel emblem lasted into the 1960s only to be phased out and replaced by the Confederate battle flag.

There is mention in the October 5, 1939 Ariel that the senior class rings would include a "special design of the Lee High Rebel." The Echo yearbook published the previous spring included a photo of a girl's hand sporting a class ring with what appears to be that same design, although it's too small and grainy to be certain.

In all of this process, it appears from the published evidence that only students were involved in the decision-making, however the Varsity Club did have a faculty advisor.

1943 Echo Yearbook Rebel Emblem
1946 Echo Yearbook Cover
1946 Lee High School Track Team
LHS Varsity Letter and Rebel Emblem patch

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Lee High School Ariel: Rebel Theme

I have been asked by folks to post the Lee High School (Wyoming, Michigan) Ariel newsletter pages from the several different student newsletters published during the 1958-59 and 1960-61 school years that were referred to in the video. As a historian, I feel obligated to do so.

If you haven't already, you are encouraged to view the 10-minute video at to gain broader context for these articles. 

Please note, especially if you are seeing this for the first time, that the majority of the symbols, and in particular the Confederate battle flag, have not for the past two or more decades adorned the halls, classrooms, publications, or clothing of Lee students and their school.

Friday, May 10, 2019

The Day Student Voice at Lee High School Got the Attention of the Board

In 1936, with help from the Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA), Godfrey-Lee and Wyoming Township set about building a new "playground" complete with a lighted football field, track, tennis courts and baseball field. The project was truly a community undertaking and it employed 615 men on depression-era relief using hand labor, as much of the dirt dug out to create the “bowl” for the football field was moved by the use of shovels and wheelbarrows. The excess dirt was used to fill in the swampy low areas of Happy Hollow along what today would be the visitors’ seating area of the football field.

Lee Field was an important project for the community as it provided needed work for men in the district who were desperate to provide their families with the necessities of life. At the same time, it developed a blighted area into a very useful athletic field at a nominal cost to the local taxpayers. When the field opened in 1938, Lee High School was the envy of the larger schools in the area. 

The field was dedicated on Friday, September 23, 1938 and the ceremonies included a “mile-long parade, headed by a police motorcycle escort, followed by the crack Neal Fonger Post American Legion drum corps of Grandville.” Also participating were the Urbandale-Galewood fire department, the Business Men’s association, Lee band, school traffic squads from Lee, Godfrey and Holy Name School, the football teams, Burlingame Congregational Boy Scouts, Godfrey-Lee and Holy Name PTAs, Catholic Order of Foresters, Boy Rangers, Progressive (dramatic) Players of Holy Name, and a number of other organizations.  In fact, the entire community was excited about the new field and expected to take part in some way. It was noted by the press that 2,000 people lined the streets to witness the parade and 5,000 gathered for the dedication event, “by far the largest event ever to held in any suburban area in the Grand Rapids district.”

Original gate to Lee Field on Godfrey Avenue

Oddly, there was no football game scheduled as part of the dedication. Instead there were speeches; many, many speeches. Eleven to be exact and it forced the program to drone on.

Following the dedication of the new Lee Field in September 1938, a storm erupted over criticism in the student newspaper of the "endless speeches" that took place that evening.  The eleven speeches caused the program to run nearly four hours which led to the cancelling of an intra-squad football contest and other student events.

The students in particular were not happy.

Ward Tibbet was the teacher-advisor for the three-year-old student publication title the "Ariel."  At the time, it was a popular, daily mimeographed sheet that had begun as an aid for Tibbet's English classes.  Students and staff paid for a copy of the Ariel and the proceeds went towards production of the annual yearbook.  From newspaper articles of the period, Tibbet was a very popular young teacher.

On Tuesday morning following the dedication, the Ariel contained a front-page article that proclaimed, "11 speeches were about 10 too many," and proceeded to ask a number of questions provided by the students to Tibbet.  One particular question was, "Why did every member of the board of education have to talk?"  Still another asked, "Why weren't the Lee groups allowed to do their stuff after waiting from 7 to 11 o'clock?"

On Wednesday evening, the board of education met with Superintendent Roy Head on another matter, but the Ariel's editorial came up in discussion.  The board directed Superintendent Head to suspend Tibbet until the evening of October 10, at which time they planned to hold a hearing on the matter.  Tibbet was informed the next morning prior to the start of the school day and a substitute teacher filled in for him.

Students gathered after returning from lunch on the front lawn of Lee High School

Just prior to the 1:00 pm bell for students to return to classes following lunch, a student strike broke out with about three hundred students staying outside of the building and posting picketers at the doors.  Students took up placards and marched or rode in cars around the district, loudly voicing their dismay that a popular teacher might lose his job.  

Students united to save Mr. Ward Tibbet's job

Despite Tibbet's encouragement from his home that students return to classes, the demonstration went on for most of the afternoon.  Student leaders issued a statement, which read in part:

"We, the students of Lee high school think that Ward Tibbet has certainly received a raw deal in being suspended and perhaps dismissed from our teachers' staff because of writing the general opinion concerning the dedication of the new field.  We are all of the same opinion as Mr. Tibbet and the biggest majority of our parents feel the same as we do, that the field is for sports and the benefit of the school, and not for the good of the board and the speakers….  Mr. Tibbet was one of our best teachers and has done more for the students' interest at Lee high than any teacher there, spent his own money and time for their interests and we feel that if he is not reinstated and given a fair deal it will cause a lot of trouble at our school."
Students marched along Burton Street to bring their grievance to the
attention of the community

Beset with pleas for immediate resolution of this case, the board met before school on Friday morning and decided to reinstate Tibbet to his teaching duties.  Because board meetings were closed in those days, the only indication of what occurred was a statement from Superintendent Head that "the difficulties between Mr. Tibbet and the school board have been ironed out…"  

Nothing more was heard of the matter, however the incident did prove that students can have a strong voice when they are united in a just cause. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Statue for Abe Lincoln? Maybe not so fast

There's little doubt that anyone who has studied our 16th president in depth will find he was a complicated man as well as a man of his times. We're usually quick to criticize the past based on present morals and opinions, but after reading the research I'm not so sure Kalamazoo officials should rush towards a decision on erecting a statue of Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln, like many abolitionists leading up to the Civil War, abhorred slavery, but as far as empathy for African-Americans, that's about where it ended. The war began as a means of preserving the Union while blocking slavery in newly admitted states and territories. Lincoln had no initial plans to free the slaves and in fact would have accepted slavery in the existing southern states if that's what it took to keep the Union together. In other words, he was willing to punt the problem down the road if necessary.

Obviously, as president his views changed and emancipation moved slowly to the forefront. But his stance on equality in all aspects of life did not change. He firmly did not believe whites and blacks were equal, or that they could ever be equal. He believed as did the majority of whites that their race was superior over the African race.

Ronald White Jr., in his substantial biography titled A. Lincoln (Random House 2009), told of Lincoln's views on colonization rather than the two races learning to live and work together. This was a similar view to that of Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner who expressed his concern that slavery would eventually destroy our nation and the best solution was to relocate anyone with African blood to an island in the Caribbean or to Central America. Rather than simply try to explain what White wrote about Lincoln and what the president said, here's an excerpt from the book (with my highlights):

A. Lincoln: A Biography by Ronald C. White, Jr. (2009)
In a more recent publication, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham's The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels (Random House 2018), reinforced White's point that Lincoln did not necessarily favor equality or at least had not evolved to that point.

The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels, Jon Meacham (2018)
African-American historians have also concluded the same regarding Lincoln although noting as I have that the president's views were evolving over time and one has to wonder how different Reconstruction might have been had he lived. But that would only be conjecture and all we have to go on is the recorded history of his public speeches or written notes: Esteemed Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in his just-published book Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow (Penguin Press 2019), explains further how being an abolitionist of slavery did not infer "being a proponent of the fundamental equality of black and white people, or the unity of the human species..."

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow,
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (2019)
Carol Anderson, Chair of African American Studies at Emory University, is more concise as she points out Lincoln's early flawed thinking in White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (Bloomsbury 2016).

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, Carol Anderson (2016)
Certainly credit is due where it was earned and Abraham Lincoln was the principle leader behind the ending of slavery. Frederick Douglass, a black abolitionist who had escaped the bonds of slavery, pointed this out in 1875 during a speech while unveiling a monument to emancipation: “in his heart of hearts he loathed and hated slavery.” This was certainly a change in attitude by Douglass as early in the war he was quoted as saying, “Abraham Lincoln is no more fit for the place he holds than was James Buchanan, and the latter was no more the miserable tool of traitors than the former is allowing himself to be.” Distinguished historian James A. McPherson noted in a review written for The New York Review of Books (3/29/2007):

But in Douglass’s view, Lincoln backslid after issuing the proclamation. Just as the President had seemed too slow in 1862 to embrace emancipation, he seemed similarly tardy in 1864 to embrace equal rights for freed slaves. For a time Douglass even supported efforts to replace Lincoln with a more radical Republican candidate for president in the election of 1864.

My point with this post is not to disparage Abraham Lincoln or throw him into the gutter with those disgusting Americans throughout history and even today who see the white race as supreme over blacks and other races. Rather, during this difficult time of continuing to reconcile our past differences and attempting to unite all Americans regardless of race, this just might not be the right time or it may never be the right time to raise a statue of our 16th president in Kalamazoo. Rather, the city leaders might want to engage a more inclusive discussion of the merits of honoring Abraham Lincoln and the appropriate way of doing so.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

My Retirement Reading List

I have always been a voracious reader even though I tend to read slowly for physical reasons. I also have a habit of reading several books simultaneously which helps to keep me from losing interest in any one of them. Rarely do I set a book aside and fail to complete it but sometimes I may set it aside for a year or more before I pick it back up.

Since I retired as a school superintendent on June 30, 2017, I have had an appetite for historical works and in particular biographies. I learned from an author that reading biographies is a better way to learn about our history since it becomes more personalized. Great biographical authors will detail events as they were interacted in, with, or by the principle subject. So far, I have found that to be true.

There are other topics that I take an interest in that are included in the list below. Some are related to my passion as a local historian, others to my continuing interest in our public education system. For better or worse, here is my list which includes at the end the three books I'm currently reading. And just a note, regardless of how it looks reading is certainly not the only activity I'm engaged in but it is certainly one I enjoy.

Part I: Books I have read since 7/1/17 (not necessarily in order):

Ullrich, Volker. Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939

McAfee, Andrew. Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing our Digital Future

Termin, Peter. The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejidice and Power in a Dual Economy

Formisano, Ronald P. Plutocracy in America: How Increasing Inequality Destroys the Middle Class and Exploits the Poor

Kelly, Kevin. The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that Will Shape Our Future

Callahan, David. The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Guilded Age

Wadhwa, Vivek. The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future

Lewis, Michael. The Undoing Project: A Friendship that changed Our Minds

O’Reilly, Bill. Killing England: The Brutal Struggle for American Independence

Avlon, John P. Washington’s Farewell: The Founding father’s Warning to Future Generations

Orvell, Miles. The Death and Life of Main Street: Small towns in American Memory, Space and Community

Anderson, Sherwood. Poor White

Davies, Richard O. Main Street Blues: The Decline of Small-Town America

Vance, J.D. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Kirk, Stephen. First in Flight: The Wright Brothers in North Carolina

Sobel, Robert. Coolidge: An American Enigma

Lewis, Sinclair. Main Street

Whyte, Kenneth. Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times

Stampp, Kenneth M. America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World

Hilton, George. The Electric Interurban Railways in America

Grant, H. Roger. Electric Interurbans and the American People

Chernow, Ron. Grant

Cooper, William J. Jr. The Lost Founding Father: John Quincy Adams and the Transformation of American Politics

Meijer, Hendrik. Arthur Vandenberg: The Man in the Middle of the American Century

Lewis, Sinclair. It Can’t Happen Here

Hitchcock, William I. The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s

Greenberger, Scott S. The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur

Illich, Ivan: Deschooling Society

Merry, Robert W. President McKinley: Architect of the American Century

Hutchinson, Alex. Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance

Gave, Keith. The Russian Five: A Story of Espionage, Defection, Bribery and Courage

Caplan, Bryan. The Case Against Education: Why the Education system is a Waste of Time and Money

Dintersmith, Ted. What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers across America

Robinson, Ken. You, Your Child, and School: Navigate Your Way to the Best Education

Golinkoff, Roberta Michnick. Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us about Raising Successful Children

Burcar, Colleen. It Happened in Michigan: Remarkable Events that Shaped History

Lewis, Tom. Divided Highways: Building the Interstate Highways, Transforming American Life

Borneman, Walter R. Polk: The Man who Transformed the Presidency and America

Meacham, Jon. The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels

Fallows, James M. Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America

Churchwell, Sarah. Behold, America: A History of America First and the American Dream

Rosen, Jeffrey. William Howard Taft: The American Presidents Series: The 27th President, 1909-1913

Mayer, Milton Sanford. They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45

Jeffers, H. Paul. An Honest President: The Life and Presidencies of Grover Cleveland

Strauss, William. The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us about America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny

Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War, 1848-1861

Socol, Ira; Moran, Pam; Ratliff, Chad. Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools

White, Ronald C. Jr. A. Lincoln

White, Richard. Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America

Lewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me

Hoock, Holger. Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden

Cooper, John Milton Jr. Woodrow Wilson: A Biography

Beschloss, Michael R. Presidents of War: The Epic Story, from 1807 to Modern Times

Stoddard, Francis R. The Truth about the Pilgrims

Baker, Bruce D. Educational Inequality and School Finance: Why Money Matters for America’s Students

Halberstam, The Fifties

Boles, John B. Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty

Westover, Tara. Educated

Hetherington, Marc. Prius or Pickup? How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America’s Great Divide

Meltzer, Brad. The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington

O’Reilly, Bill. Killing the SS: The Hunt of the Worst War Criminals in History

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War

Dourcet, Armand. Teaching in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Standing at the Precipice

Luxenberg, Steve. Separate: The Story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation

Philbrick, Nathaniel. The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Part II: Books I am currently reading as of 4/11/19:

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution

Gates, Henry Louis Jr. Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow

Kelly, Joseph. Marooned: Jamestown, Shipwreck, and a New History of America’s Origin