Friday, December 07, 2007

General Who?

If I asked most people who General John Hunt Morgan was, they would say, “General who?”

But there are a few others who would say, “What have you found out about him?”

I found out quite a bit about the General, during the period when he escaped from an Ohio Union prison in 1863 and fled to Kentucky with his assistant, Captain Thomas Hines. They were searching for my great-grandfather Pryor. They figured he would help the pair get back into the fighting between the Confederate Army and the Union Army.

And they were right. Pryor managed to get them through Union Army lines and back to the South. But Pryor had to flee to Canada, where he waited out the Civil War.

I always wanted to know why my great-grandfather went to Canada. With the help of family papers, papers from the family of the author/poet Wendell Berry (his great-grandfather Pollard worked with Pryor to help Morgan escape) and memoirs of Thomas Hines about written 1893, I managed to put the full story together. It is in a book due to come out soon called General Morgan’s Legacy—a Modern Civil War Story.

I called the book by that title because Pryor and Hines owed partially their political and judicial careers to their part in the escape of Morgan. It is a novel about a modern industrialist who dug into his past and found the story. His story is a novel, but Morgan’s story is about as true as I could make it.

I believe I have added new information to the existing body of Civil War lore.

Jenna Six Debacle

I was watching a baseball game on TV recently when I saw a wonderful sight. People streamed into the stands and sat down to watch. They were people of all kinds and nobody cared who sat where as long as he or she had the correct ticket number. They watched the game and ate their hot dogs and went home in peace.


Such a sight would mean nothing to young people, but to those of us who have been around a few years, it is little more than a miracle. Many of us dreamed that it could someday happen, but we didn’t know it could come to pass with out deadly struggles.

Thanks to cool heads, people of all races can go and do what they want and nobody cares! I saw it in my lifetime and I am grateful to have seen it.

And then there was the ugly scene in a town called Jena, where some ass decided a tree would look good if it had nooses on it. Then kids of one race ganged up on a kid from another race and a minor war began.

I have been a teacher in public schools and I have looked out at a classroom of faces of Palestinian kids, Caucasian kids, Chinese kids, Black kids and Hispanic kids and thought to myself, “this is where tolerance begins.”

There are two places where race has no meaning. One is in church and the other is in school (a kind of secular church). A teacher teaches all who enter the room. He or she doesn’t have the time or inclination to favor one group or the other.

One time I taught in a middle school. And it had a tree on the campus that provided a very pleasant shade on sunny days. It was also the site of segregation. Yep! Only eighth graders were allowed to sit under that tree. They were the seniors of the school, and it was their privilege, their earned right, to relax under its branches during lunch.

Teachers in that school were mostly white but there were some black and Asian teachers also, and perhaps a Hispanic teacher from time to time. The majority of students were Asian. There was no hint of racial intolerance at the school. The subject didn’t come up because it didn’t have to. It was unthinkable. Parents and teachers just did not contemplate any differences based on the color of someone’s skin.

And then there is the Jena school blow-up. How could such a thing happen in the year 2007? I do not live there and cannot speculate, except to think that perhaps the teachers decided that the “modern” thing to do was let the inmates run the asylum.

Yes, modernity happens. In 1972 when my son was in a large high school, the principal was trying to find a room where students could smoke cigarettes because, “they were going to do it, anyway.” Now, most campuses are “smoke free” and even teachers do not smoke on them.

I like what the radio host Dennis Prager once said: “There are only two races—the decent and the indecent.” He is a wise man.