Feb 232018
 

Today is the birthday (1868) of William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du Bois, a U.S. sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, writer and editor. Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, to Alfred and Mary Silvina (née Burghardt) Du Bois. His mother’s family was part of the very small free black population of Great Barrington and had long owned land in the state. She was descended from Dutch, African and English ancestors. William Du Bois’ maternal great-great-grandfather was Tom Burghardt, a slave (born in West Africa around 1730) who was held by the Dutch colonist Conraed Burghardt. Tom briefly served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, which may have been how he gained his freedom during the 18th century. Du Bois’ paternal great-grandfather was James Du Bois of Poughkeepsie, New York, an ethnic French-American of Huguenot origin who fathered several children with slave women.

Great Barrington had a majority European-American community. He attended the local integrated public school and as an adult wrote about racism partly based on the experience of being a minority in the town. His teachers recognized his ability and encouraged his intellectual pursuits, and his rewarding experience with academic studies led him to believe that he could use his education to empower African-Americans. Du Bois graduated from the town’s Searles High School. When Du Bois decided to attend college, the congregation of his childhood church, the First Congregational Church of Great Barrington, raised the money for his tuition.

Du Bois attended Fisk University, an historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee, from 1885 to 1888. His travel to and residency in the South was Du Bois’ first experience with Southern racism, which at the time encompassed Jim Crow laws, bigotry, suppression of black voting, and lynchings. The latter reached a peak in the next decade. After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Fisk, he attended Harvard College (which did not accept course credits from Fisk) from 1888 to 1890, where he was strongly influenced by his professor William James, then prominent in American philosophy. Du Bois paid his way through three years at Harvard with money from summer jobs, an inheritance, scholarships, and loans from friends. In 1890, Harvard awarded Du Bois his second bachelor’s degree, cum laude, in history. In 1891, Du Bois received a scholarship to attend the sociology graduate school at Harvard.

In 1892, Du Bois received a fellowship from the John F. Slater Fund for the Education of Freedmen to attend the University of Berlin for graduate work. While a student in Berlin, he traveled extensively throughout Europe. He matured intellectually in Berlin while studying with some of that nation’s most prominent social scientists, including Gustav von Schmoller, Adolph Wagner, and Heinrich von Treitschke. After returning from Europe, Du Bois completed his graduate studies; in 1895 he was the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

In the summer of 1894, Du Bois received several job offers, including one from the Tuskegee Institute, but he accepted a teaching job at Wilberforce University in Ohio. At Wilberforce, Du Bois was strongly influenced by Alexander Crummell, who believed that ideas are necessary tools to effect social change. While at Wilberforce, Du Bois married Nina Gomer, one of his students, on May 12, 1896. After two years at Wilberforce, Du Bois accepted a one-year research job from the University of Pennsylvania as an “assistant in sociology” in the summer of 1896. He performed sociological field research in Philadelphia’s African-American neighborhoods, which formed the foundation for his landmark study, The Philadelphia Negro, published in 1899 while he was teaching at Atlanta University. It was the first case study of a black community in the United States. By the 1890s, Philadelphia’s black neighborhoods had a negative reputation in terms of crime, poverty, and mortality. Du Bois’ book undermined the stereotypes with experimental evidence, and shaped his approach to segregation and its negative impact on black lives and reputations. The results led Du Bois to believe that racial integration was the key to democratic equality in American cities. His later point of view became much more complex.

While taking part in the American Negro Academy (ANA) in 1897, Du Bois presented a paper in which he rejected Frederick Douglass’s plea for black Americans to integrate into white society. He wrote: “we are Negroes, members of a vast historic race that from the very dawn of creation has slept, but half awakening in the dark forests of its African fatherland.” In the August 1897 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Du Bois published “Strivings of the Negro People”, his first work aimed at the general public, in which he enlarged upon his thesis that African Americans should embrace their African heritage while contributing to American society.

By the turn of the 20th century Du Bois became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University. Du Bois was one of the co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

Du Bois rose to national prominence as the leader of the Niagara Movement, a group of African-American activists who wanted equal rights for blacks. Du Bois and his supporters opposed the Atlanta compromise, an agreement crafted by Booker T. Washington which provided that Southern blacks would work and submit to white political rule, while Southern whites guaranteed that blacks would receive basic educational and economic opportunities. Instead, Du Bois insisted on full civil rights and increased political representation, which he believed would be brought about by the African-American intellectual elite. He referred to this group as the Talented Tenth and believed that African Americans needed the chances for advanced education to develop its leadership.

Racism was the main target of Du Bois’s polemics, and he strongly protested against lynching, Jim Crow laws, and discrimination in education and employment. His cause included people of color everywhere, particularly Africans and Asians in colonies. He was a proponent of Pan-Africanism and helped organize several Pan-African Congresses to fight for the independence of African colonies from European powers. Du Bois made several trips to Europe, Africa and Asia. After World War I, he surveyed the experiences of American black soldiers in France and documented widespread prejudice in the United States military.

Du Bois was a prolific author. His collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, was a seminal work in African-American literature, and his 1935 magnum opus Black Reconstruction in America challenged the prevailing orthodoxy that African-Americans were responsible for the failures of the Reconstruction Era. Borrowing a phrase from Frederick Douglass, he popularized the use of the term color line to represent the injustice of the separate but equal doctrine prevalent in American social and political life. He opens The Souls of Black Folk with the central thesis of much of his life’s work: “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.”

He wrote one of the first scientific treatises in the field of American sociology, and he published three autobiographies, each of which contains insightful essays on sociology, politics and history. In his role as editor of the NAACP’s journal The Crisis, he published a number of influential pieces. Du Bois believed that capitalism was a primary cause of racism, and he was generally sympathetic to socialist causes throughout his life. He was an ardent peace activist and advocated nuclear disarmament. The United States’ Civil Rights Act, embodying many of the reforms for which Du Bois had campaigned his entire life, was enacted a year after his death.

During the 1950s, the U.S. government’s anti-communist McCarthyism campaign targeted Du Bois because of his socialist leanings. The FBI began to compile a file on Du Bois in 1942, but the most aggressive government attack against Du Bois occurred in the early 1950s, as a consequence of Du Bois’ opposition to nuclear weapons. In 1950 Du Bois became chairman of the newly created Peace Information Center (PIC), which worked to publicize the Stockholm Peace Appeal in the United States. The primary purpose of the appeal was to gather signatures on a petition, asking governments around the world to ban all nuclear weapons. The U.S. Justice department alleged that the PIC was acting as an agent of a foreign state, and thus required the PIC to register with the federal government. Du Bois and other PIC leaders refused, and they were indicted for failure to register. After the indictment, some of Du Bois’ associates distanced themselves from him, and the NAACP refused to issue a statement of support; but many labor figures and leftists – including Langston Hughes – supported Du Bois. He was finally tried in 1951 represented by civil rights attorney Vito Marcantonio. The case was dismissed before the jury rendered a verdict as soon as the defense attorney told the judge that “Dr. Albert Einstein has offered to appear as character witness for Dr. Du Bois. Du Bois’ memoir of the trial is In Battle for Peace. Even though Du Bois was not convicted, the government confiscated his passport and withheld it for eight years.

Ghana invited Du Bois to Africa to participate in their independence celebration in 1957, but he was unable to attend because the U.S. government had confiscated his passport. By 1960 – the “Year of Africa” – Du Bois had recovered his passport, and was able to cross the Atlantic and celebrate the creation of the Republic of Ghana Du Bois returned to Africa in late 1960 to attend the inauguration of Nnamdi Azikiwe as the first African governor of Nigeria.

While visiting Ghana in 1960, Du Bois spoke with its president about the creation of a new encyclopedia of the African diaspora, the Encyclopedia Africana. In early 1961, Ghana notified Du Bois that they had appropriated funds to support the encyclopedia project, and they invited Du Bois to come to Ghana and manage the project there. In October 1961, at the age of 93, Du Bois and his wife traveled to Ghana to take up residence and commence work on the encyclopedia. In early 1963, the United States refused to renew his passport, so he made the symbolic gesture of becoming a citizen of Ghana. While it is sometimes stated that he renounced his U.S. citizenship at that time, and he did state his intention to do so, Du Bois never actually did. His health declined during the two years he was in Ghana, and he died on August 27, 1963, in the capital of Accra at the age of 95.

I could give you a string of quotes from Du Bois, but this one says it all:

Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: … How does it feel to be a problem? … One ever feels his two-ness,–an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder … He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.

In answering a questionnaire Du Bois wrote that his favorite food was bread and milk (and his favorite drink was ginger ale). Bread and milk is something of a surprise because it is not something I would ever think of as comfort food. To make it is simplicity itself. Tear up fresh bread into bite-sized pieces, place them in a bowl, sprinkle them with sugar, and pour in whole milk. Not my thing. I would jazz it up by using the kind of sweet, buttery French bread the bakers make here in Cambodia, probably use cream rather than milk, and sprinkle over some spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg.

Nov 262017
 

On this date in 1942 the film Casablanca premiered at the Hollywood Theater in New York. It was a moderate box office success at first, but not stellar. It was not expected to be more than a run-of-the-mill wartime movie, rushed into release to take advantage of the publicity from the Allied invasion of North Africa and the capture of Casablanca a few weeks earlier. It went on to win three Academy Awards – Best Picture, Director (Curtiz), and Adapted Screenplay (the Epsteins and Koch) – and gradually its reputation grew. Its lead characters, memorable lines, and theme song have all become iconic and the film consistently ranks near the top of lists of the greatest films in history. I saw Casablanca first in the early 1960s when old Hollywood black and white movies were the stock-in-trade of South Australian television because movies had to be at least 10 years old to be shown, and my parents (both Second World War veterans) would not have missed it for the world. My father anticipated and then cheered for the scene featuring the clash between Germans singing “Die Wacht am Rhein” drowned out by the house band and patriots singing “La Marseillaise,” and my mother got a bit weepy during the finale. I had no idea what the movie was about at age 10, but the scenes stayed with me over the years, and I’ve seen it many times since. Taken out of context it isn’t such a great movie in my oh-so-humble opinion, but you really can’t take it out of context any more. People still quote classic lines when making a point, and clips from the movie itself show up in other movies – in When Harry Met Sally, for example.  Here’s that great iconic scene:

There are plenty of complete versions of Casablanca on YouTube if you need your fix.

The story for Casablanca was based on Murray Burnett and Joan Alison’s unproduced stage play Everybody Comes to Rick’s. Story editor Irene Diamond convinced producer Hal B. Wallis to purchase the film rights to the play in January 1942. Brothers Julius and Philip G. Epstein were initially assigned to write the script. However, despite studio resistance, they left to work on Frank Capra’s Why We Fight series early in 1942. Howard E. Koch was assigned to the screenplay until the Epsteins returned a month later. Principal photography began on May 25, 1942, ending on August 3. The film was shot entirely at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California with the exception of that climactic sequence at Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles.

The cinematography of Casablanca has been much commented on. The cinematographer was Arthur Edeson, a veteran who had previously shot The Maltese Falcon and Frankenstein. Particular attention was paid to photographing Bergman. She was shot mainly from her preferred left side, often with a softening gauze filter and with catch lights to make her eyes sparkle; the whole effect was designed to make her face seem “ineffably sad and tender and nostalgic.” Bars of shadow across the characters and in the background variously imply imprisonment, the crucifix, the symbol of the Free French Forces and emotional turmoil. Dark film noir and expressionist lighting was used in several scenes, particularly towards the end of the picture.

The music for Casablanca was written by Max Steiner, who was best known for the score for Gone with the Wind. The song “As Time Goes By” by Herman Hupfeld had been part of the story from the original play. Steiner wanted to write his own composition to replace it, but Bergman had already cut her hair short for her next role (María in For Whom the Bell Tolls) and could not re-shoot the scenes which incorporated the song, so Steiner based the entire score on it and “La Marseillaise,” transforming them as leitmotifs to reflect changing moods. Even though Steiner didn’t like “As Time Goes By”, he admitted in a 1943 interview that it “must have had something to attract so much attention.” The duel of the songs between Strasser and Laszlo at Rick’s café is, of course, a critical turning point in the plot. Originally, the opposing piece for this sequence was to be the “Horst Wessel Lied”, a Nazi anthem, but this was still under international copyright in non-Allied countries. Instead “Die Wacht am Rhein” was used. “Deutschlandlied”, the national anthem of Germany, features in the final scene, in which it gives way to “La Marseillaise” after Strasser is shot.

In 1942 Casablanca garnered decent reviews.  Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, “The Warners … have a picture which makes the spine tingle and the heart take a leap.” He approved of the combination of “sentiment, humor and pathos with taut melodrama and bristling intrigue.” He also noted the film’s “devious convolutions of the plot,” and praised the quality of the screenplay and the performances of the cast.  Variety commended the film’s, combination of fine performances, engrossing story and neat direction” and the “variety of moods, action, suspense, comedy and drama that makes Casablanca an A-1 entry at the b.o. Film is splendid anti-Axis propaganda, particularly inasmuch as the propaganda is strictly a by-product of the principal action and contributes to it instead of getting in the way.” The review also applauded the performances of Bergman and Henreid and noted that “Bogart, as might be expected, is more at ease as the bitter and cynical operator of a joint than as a lover, but handles both assignments with superb finesse.” Other reviews were less enthusiastic. The New Yorker rated it only “pretty tolerable” and said it was “not quite up to Across the Pacific, Bogart’s last spyfest”.

In the 1,500-seat Hollywood Theater, the film grossed $255,000 over ten weeks. In its initial U.S. release, it was a substantial but not spectacular box-office success, taking in $3.7 million, making it the seventh highest-grossing film of 1943. By 1955, the film had brought in $6.8 million, making it the third most successful of Warners’ wartime movies (behind Shine On, Harvest Moon and This Is the Army). On April 21, 1957, the Brattle Theater of Cambridge, Massachusetts, showed the film as part of a season of old movies. It was so popular that it began a tradition of screening Casablanca during the week of final exams at Harvard University, which continues to the present day. Other colleges have since adopted the tradition. By 1977, Casablanca was the most frequently broadcast film on US television.

You might object to me saying that out of context Casablanca is not a great movie. Such judgments are personal, of course. It has the aura and mystique of the Golden Era of Hollywood which I don’t care for, and the characters are all stereotypes (archetypes if you want to Jungian), with some complexity, but no real development. Fortunately, Umberto Eco agrees with me. He wrote that “by any strict critical standards … Casablanca is a very mediocre film.” He viewed the changes the characters undergo as inconsistent rather than complex: “It is a comic strip, a hotch-potch, low on psychological credibility, and with little continuity in its dramatic effects.” He did add, however, that the use of multiple archetypes allows “the power of Narrative in its natural state without Art intervening to discipline it.” He also wrote that the movie reached “Homeric depths” and that was a “phenomenon worthy of awe.” A bit over the top towards the end there, but sums up my feelings (more or less).

Chicken Casablanca needs to be the dish of the day. There have been plenty of cocktails created to celebrate the movie if that’s your poison, but I’ll stick with chicken. This recipe uses ras el hanout as the primary flavoring, commonly used in Moroccan dishes. You’ll find recipes without it, but I hardly think they are worth considering. Ras el hanout plays a similar role in North African cuisine as garam masala does in Indian cuisine. The name is Arabic for “head of the shop” (similar to the English expression “top-shelf”) and implies a mixture of the best spices the seller has to offer.

As with garam masala, there is no definitive composition of spices that makes up ras el hanout. Each shop, company, or family may have their own blend. The mixture usually consists of over a dozen spices, in different proportions, although some purists insist that it must contain exactly 12 items. Commonly used ingredients include cardamom, cumin, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, dry ginger, chili peppers, coriander seed, peppercorn, sweet and hot paprika, fenugreek, and dry turmeric. Some spices may be particular to the region, such as ash berries, chufa, grains of paradise, orris root, monk’s pepper, cubebs, dried rosebud, fennel seed or aniseed, galangal, long pepper. Ingredients may be toasted before being ground or pounded in a mortar and mixed together. If you cannot find it locally you can get a version online.

Chicken Casablanca

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 onion, peeled and diced small
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 stalks celery, diced small
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 pint pureed butternut squash
1 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp ras el hanout
2 tsp ground cinnamon
salt and pepper
1 cup shelled fresh peas
⅓ cup raisins

Instructions

Place the chicken broth and the squash puree in a saucepan and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking or burning. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot over high heat and quickly brown the chicken breasts on both sides (in batches if necessary). Do not cook all the way through. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.

Reduce the heat under the pot to medium and add the onion. Sauté until lightly browned. Add the garlic and for another minute. Add the celery and carrot and sauté together for another 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low,  cover the pot, and leave the vegetable mixture to sweat for 10 minutes.

Pour the squash and chicken broth mixture over the vegetables in the pot, stir and bring to a slow simmer. Season the mixture with ras el hanout, cinnamon, and salt, and pepper to taste. Cover the pot and simmer for 40 minutes.

Cut the chicken breasts into chunks and add them to the pot. Stir in the peas and raisins and simmer for 15 minutes longer. You want the chicken to be cooked and juicy, but not overcooked.

Serve with plain boiled rice.