JANUARY 2021

JANUARY 2021
The Final Count

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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

LETTER FROM THE BIRMINGHAM JAIL

In January of 1963 white supremacist George Wallace took the oath as governor of Alabama. He concluded his inaugural address by pledging, “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth....I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.”  It was a call for a nation of inequality. It was a call for hatred and moral bankruptcy for generation after generation. It was a denial of any hope for a better world, ever. And it was all that white America in 1963 had to offer the world. But....
...I actually begin this story on Monday, 2 April, 1963, when the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. (above)  from Atlanta, Georgia, arrived in Birmingham, Alabama - “...the most segregated city in America...” - at the invitation of Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. Over the previous 80 years there had been 30 documented lychings of black men and boys in the surrounding county. None of these murders was ever solved. There is no indication that anybody ever tried to solve any of them. The city had no black police officers, the county no black sheriff's deputies, and it had suffered so many dynamitings of black homes and business – 21 over the previous decade - none of them solved - that it had earned the nickname of “Bombingham, Alabama”.
On Tuesday, 3 April, Rev. Shuttlesworth's Bethal Baptist Church filed a request for a parade permit to protest segregation of public services. The self avowed white supremacists City Commissioner Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor (above), immediately denied the permit. On Wednesday, 10 April a state court issued a preliminary injunction against 139 named individuals, including King and Shuttlesworth, baring them from “...participating in or encouraging....boycotting, trespassing, parading, picketing, sit-ins, kneel-ins, wade-ins, and inciting or encouraging such acts." The next day Dr. King announced,, “We cannot in all good conscience obey such an injunction which is... (a) misuse of the legal process”
Then on 12 April, 1963, Dr. King was arrested while attempting to lead a march on city hall. On that same Good Friday both Birmingham papers, the Morning Post Herald and the Evening News, published an open letter signed by 12 white clergymen, repeatedly urging “local” negro leadership to reject “outsiders” Although they never mentioned Dr. King by name, they strongly urged “...our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations.”
Dr. King was being held in solitary confinement. It would be three days before he read the so-called “Call for Unity”. But when he did his anger and frustration boiled over. He began to immediately scribble a response on the margins of the newspaper. When finally given pens and paper, his counterargument, “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, would be one of the most impassioned and yet pragmatic defenses of freedom in 20th century America.
WHILE confined here in the Birmingham city jail,” he began, “I came across your recent statement calling our present activities "unwise and untimely." Then he added, “...since I feel that you are men of genuine good will...I would like to answer your statement...” He went on to justify his presence by reminding his white colleges he was the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, with 85 affiliates across the south, including one in Birmingham which had invited him to come. 
“Beyond this”, he continued, “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.” As a Christian, he said, he could not “...sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Then he added, unknowingly speaking to future generations, “Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider.”
King noted the disapproving clergy called the protests unfortunate. “I would say...it is even more unfortunate that the white power structure of this city left the Negro community with no other alternative.” He pointed out Birmingham's “...ugly record of police brutality...” 
He reminded the white clergymen, “There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham”, (population of 340,000) “than in any other city in this nation.”
King also reminded the clergymen that promises had been made the previous September by local business to remove “humiliating racial signs from the stores.” But, “As the weeks and months unfolded, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. The signs remained.... So we had no alternative except that of preparing for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and national community.” 
He assured the doubtful clergymen the black community of Birmingham had asked themselves “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" Only when they could affirm that position of non-violent confrontation, did the Birmingham campaign begin.
Even then, they postponed their non-violent protests to avoid municipal elections. “This reveals,” wrote Dr. King, “we did not move irresponsibly...”.  However, “After this we felt that direct action could be delayed no longer.” 
He then explained to his critics, “You are exactly right in your call for negotiation. Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action...(to) dramatize the issue (so) that it can no longer be ignored.” He then added, “Too long has our beloved South land been bogged down in the tragic attempt to live in monologue rather than dialogue.” And he pointed out that “...privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light...but...groups are more immoral than individuals.”
King then made it personal. “For years now I have heard the word "wait." It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This "wait" has almost always meant "never." Blacks had 350 years of waiting to be treated as equals, he wrote,  “But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will...
...when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity...when...you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park...
...when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger" and your middle name becomes "boy"...then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait”.
He reminded the clergymen that St. Augustine had written, “An unjust law is no law at all”. And he defined an unjust law as one which, “....a majority compels a minority to follow”. Thus, “ All segregation statutes are unjust because...(they give) the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.” Segregation always, wrote King, "...ends up relegating some persons to the status of things.”
He reminded the sneering clergy of what they themselves had admitted in their “Call for Unity.” “Throughout the state of Alabama,” wrote Dr. King, “all types of conniving methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties without a single Negro registered to vote, despite the fact that the Negroes constitute a majority of the population.” 
To drive the point home, he added, “An unjust law is...inflicted upon a minority which...had no part in enacting or creating because it did not have the unhampered right to vote.”  In defending his methods, King reminded the clergymen civil disobedience was “...practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions...before submitting to certain unjust laws....” Using more recent history, he reminded his fellow Americans, '... everything Hitler did in Germany was "legal...".
Then he added, “ I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is...the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice... who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek...”, but who constantly advises blacks to “...wait until a more convenient season.”
And he questioned the white clergymen's logic in admitting civil disobedience was peaceful but,
...must be condemned because they precipitate violence.” King asked, “...can this assertion be logically made?” In answering that question he stated the obvious. “Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.” 
He then chastised the clergy, saying, “We will have to repent...not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” And he reminded the whites citizens of Birmingham of an historical fact. “The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations...If his repressed emotions do not come out in these nonviolent ways, they will come out in ominous expressions of violence.”
King admitted because  civil disobedience  invited confrontation, it might be considered an extreme position. But he asked, “Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist? -- "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist? -- "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but...Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?”
And finally he felt compelled to call out the hypocrisy of the clergies' support for the racist Birmingham police, saying, “... if you would watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls...
...if you would see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys, if you would observe them, as they did on two occasions, refusing to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together...(then)... I'm sorry that I can't join you in your praise for the police department.”.  He told these leaders of the white churches of Birmingham, that he had always preached that the greater sin was “....to use moral means to preserve immoral ends.”
And he closed by commending the demonstrators for “...their willingness to suffer, and their amazing discipline in the midst of the most inhuman provocation.” And he predicted, “ One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage.”
And he signed the letter, as he signed all his letters, “Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.”

                                      - 30 - 

Monday, January 18, 2021

QUEEN OF DENIAL Chapter Six

 

I know the bust of Nefertiti is not sentient. It is not aware of its surroundings or of itself. At its core it is limestone, the compressed bodies of billions of single celled living creatures, coral and plankton, that once had some chemical level of awareness. And I have imagination enough to dream of a universe where any life, once having been sparked, survives in some sense.  And I can dream of what it must have been like for cold stone to have the sculptor's warm hands cut and file and shape and soften its surface, combining in some small way his imagination, his life, and some small portion of the breath of a Queen of the Nile and thus impart that shadow of life into cold stone.
In Thutmose's universe his stone and plaster image of Neferetiti became one of the five parts that made up the living woman; Ib, (her emotional heart), Sheut (her ever present shadow), Ren (her living name), Ba (her personality) and Ka (what we would call her soul). It is thought her left eye was left unfinished in order to prevent the capture of Nefertiti's Ka by the stone. But could it not be that the stone and plaster image had its own Ka, or heart or shadow? And if so, what must have it been like to have slowly emerged from the darkness of nonexistence, to be born into existence slowly, and to have then been loved and admired for decades, before being abruptly thrown to the floor, abused and defiled, and then abandoned and forgotten -  buried in sands for 3, 000 long dark lonely years.
And then the light returned. Meticulously, the sand was brushed away, and once again warm human flesh touched her surface, lifted her up, and human eyes fell upon her shape and color, and human imaginations beheld her image, as a visitor from eons past. And then, in what must have seemed like a startlingly violent instant, she was traveling, whisked 2,000 miles from the place of her creation, into a new temple, a temple dedicated not to a god, but to the Ka of humanity, to that one part of humanity that no other creature on Earth has ever possessed but humans: our imagination. It seems that the bust of Nefertiti has enjoyed a most eventful Akh, or afterlife. She does indeed, live again.
When they first brought her to the Neuss (New) Museum, on Museum Island in the Spree River in Berlin, Germany, it was a re-dedication. The building had been erected in the 1840's, and was, like the Pharaoh’s new capital, a technological innovation – at the time. Instead of plaster, the New Museum was built with concrete poured over iron supporting rods with a brick exterior. The first floor contained Egyptian and German collections, and plaster casts of Greek and Roman sculptures (below). 
But the arrival of the Queen inspired changes. The central Greek courtyard was given a glass roof, and converted into space to display Ludwig Borchardt's collections from Akanetan, referred to by its modern Arabic name of Armarna. And it was here (below) that Nefertiti found her new throne. But it  did not prove to be a permanent abode.
In January of 1933 a new Pharaoh came to town.  Adolf Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany. His new Reich minister, Herman Goring, began looking for a way to quickly and cheaply improve Germany's diplomatic standing in the world. At the time Egypt was nominally ruled by the debauched King Fariouk Fouad, but the real power behind his throne was Britain. And it occurred to Goring that returning the pilfered bust of Nefertiti on the occasion of his coronation, might cause the King to look favorably upon German diplomatic entreaties.  Letters were exchanged with the offer. But when Hitler got wind of the idea he killed it because he was convinced Nefertiti looked to be a member of his mythical“Aryan master race”  And that was, as far as I can tell, the last good thing Hitler did for Germany until he shot himself.
Adolf confidently started the Second World War on September 1st, 1939, and even though Goring had assured citizens that Berlin would never be bombed, in an abundance of precaution Nefertiti was boxed up and temporarily locked away in the vault of the Prussian Governmental Bank. Then, on the night of 25 August, 1940, 70 obsolete British bombers dropped 21 tons of bombs on Berlin, hitting empty fields and damaging some houses. The worst injuries were some cuts and bruises, and the bombers never came near to hitting the airport, which has their target. 
The biggest causality was Hitler's equilibrium. He ordered the construction of three massive anti-aircraft gun towers in the center of  the city. The largest (above) was built in the Tiergarten park, adjacent to the Berlin Zoo. It was 7 stories tall to allow the guns clear fields of fire. The walls were of reinforced concrete 26 feet thick, the ceilings were 16 feet thick. It was so large it could shelter 5,000 civilians, and many of Germany's most valuable artistic treasures, including Nefertiti, were moved there in the fall of 1941. And there she stayed, hidden again, as safe as if she were still buried in the Egyptian sands, for another four and a half years, until the Soviet armies approached Berlin.
On 6 March, 1945,  Nefertiti made yet another trip, this one of 200 miles southwest to the rolling hills of the Thuringian Forest, where she was left for safe keeping 2,100 feet below ground level in a salt mine under the village of Merkers-Kieselbach. Late in March she was joined by 100 heavy woolen coats, 100 tons of gold bars, 550 bags of German currency (above) and 27 Rembrandt paintings. Two weeks later the entire cache was captured by soldiers of the 3rd American Army under General George S. Patton. Within days the entire treasure was transferred another 100 miles southwest to a bank vault in Frankfurt. There was so much loot that it took 2 convoys of 17 heavy trucks each. Being capitalists, the Americans shipped the gold first.
After Germany surrendered on 5 May, 1945, the Queen of the Nile was moved to Wiesbaden, Germany, on the north bank of the Rhine River. Here they brought her out into the light again to be examined by experts, and the public was even allowed to gaze upon her face. There she remained, transferred into German control, until 1956, when she was moved to the Dahelem museum in the American sector of Berlin. She could not return to Museum Island because the Neuse had been blasted to ruin during the war (above), and besides, the island was in East Berlin, the zone controlled by the Soviets.  When the East Germans demanded she be handed over, the West Germans decided to transfer her to the Egyptian museum in the Charlottenburg neighborhood of Berlin. And there the Queen stayed for almost forty years - a human life time, but a blink of the single eye to Nefertiti. Then in 1989, the East German government collapsed.  In October of 1990 Germany was officially one nation again, and Berlin one city, and it became a matter of national pride for the Germans to return their Egyptian queen to her German throne.
In 2005 the German government began a 295 million Euro rebuilding of the Neuse, under a plan drawn up by English Architect David Chipperfield. And in 2009 the Queen once again held court in the Neuse Museum in the German capital. Her journey from the banks of the Nile to and from the banks of the Spree and to and from various bank vaults has been described as both “adventurous and beyond comparison”, and earning her the number two spot on Time Magazine's list of “Top ten plundered Artifacts”.  Egypt still wants her back, and Germany still intends upon keeping her.  And while one identity is barely 200 years old and the other goes back 4,500 years, both countries view Nefertiti as a national icon.
If you think about it, its a crazy situation, because she isn't really the queen of the Nile. She is limestone and plaster and paint, an image of a one time queen of a long dead empire that culturally has little in common with either of today's nations. And if, like Pinocchio, she were to arise tomorrow morning, as a real woman, she would be a very confused lady, no matter which city appeared before her eye. So far she has not had the afterlife she envisioned. And it may get stranger yet.
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Sunday, January 17, 2021

QUEEN OF DENIAL Chapter Five

 

I call it the $390 million lunch. It was held alfresco on the banks of the Nile, late morning, Monday, 20 January, 1913. The host of this cannibal's soiree was the "tactless and brusque” archeologist Ludwig Borchardt (above), 50 year old special attache of the German Embassy in Cairo and director of the German Oriental Society, which had just finished its sixth season of excavations of the abandoned capital city of Akanaten.  He looked a bit like a doofis, but Borchardt had spent two years cataloging the Egyptian Museum, and was the first to realize the Great Pyramids of Giza were not merely tombs, but a necropolis complex.  He had even studied the best forgers in the Cairo market.  No one knew ancient Egypt better than Ludwig Borchardt, and he was hungry for more. 
His main course this day was Gustave Lefebvre (above),  a 33 year old Frenchman fluent in classical Greek, who had studied in Athens, was an expert in Ancient Greek and Egyptian literature and had been working in Egypt since 1902. Lefebvre was no slouch. Nevertheless, Borchardt was about to him eat him for lunch.
The meal began with a feast, the best that could be supplied to distinguished Europeans in the age of imperialism, complete with copious quantities of good French wine.  And after the calf had been fatted, Bourchardt led his victim first into the hot office tent to read the carefully inventoried list of finds, and then into the larger darker tent where the finds were laid out in open boxes, as dictated under the Egyptian “Partage” law.  For 30 years every foreign expedition had been required to divide its finds "√† moiti√© exacte" – into two financially equal shares - from which the Egyptian Museum would take their choice. In 1912 the law was strengthened to also allow the Museum to retain any particular item from the expedition's share. It was a first attempt to stem the wholesale European theft of Egyptian heritage, which had been going on for over three hundred years.
Except the new law said the division was supposed to be held at the museum on Wasim Hasan street in downtown Cairo, not in the field.  And there were no Egyptians in authority at the Egyptian Museum, -  there had never been.  No Egyptians were qualified.  Since the French invaded in 1798, and the British replaced them in the 1882, Egyptian history had been yet another resource to be exploited by the patriarchal European colonialist. Their excuse was they meant well.
But even with the best of intentions, the most valuable bits and pieces of Egyptian history ended up being owned by the Germans, the English, the French and the Italians. If they could have boxed up the pyramids brick by brick and shipped them home, they would have. What was about to happen here at Arkanaten would be a good example.
Just after lunch, back on 6 December, 1912,  Ludwig Borchardt received a note from Ahmed al-Sabussi, one of his Egyptian foremen, informing him that a “flesh-colored neck with red bands painted into it” had been uncovered at a building then identified as P47.2, room 19. Later it would be determined to have been the studio of Thutmose, when an ivory horse blinker was found in a courtyard rubbish pit inscribed with his name and his occupation - “sculptor”. 
Ludwig (above), sensing something, important, raced to the site and was presented with the now completely uncovered bust. The instant he looked at it, Borchardt knew it was Nefertiti because of her flat topped crown, and he knew it was extraordinary. He wrote in his diary, “You cannot describe it with words. You must see it....Colors as if just applied. Work is outstanding.” They even took the time to take photographs.
Borchardt noted that the bust was missing its left eye, and offered a reward of £5 if it could be found. (It would not be) Then, because it was getting dark, he ordered Professor Herman Ranke (above, left) to guard it overnight.  Ranke later boasted, that night he slept next to the beautiful Nefertiti. In the morning Borchardt had the queen moved to his own tent, and he kept her there, out of sight, until Gustave Lefebvre arrived in January to oversee the division of spoils – er, artifacts.
In the office tent Lefebvre noted that atop the left hand column of the inventory were listed ten stone artifacts, including a rare limestone colored “folding alter” a sort of  TV tray (above),  a duplicate of one  already the prize of a Berlin museum. Midway down the right hand column of 25 plaster busts, was listed “a colored gypsum bust of a princess of the royal family”. In fact it was Nefertiti. In addition, the Frenchman was shown a photograph of each artifact, although Bruno Guterbock, secretary of the Society, who was present, admitted the photo of Nefertiti was “not exactly the most advantageous.” Borchardt himself later confessed the picture was composed so as hide her beauty, but also“ to refute, if necessary, any later talk...about concealment.”  The slight of hand, worked. The affable Lefebvre accepted the Germans had divided the finds into “approximate equivalency”. In fact, it seemed more than fair. The Egyptians got all the stone artifacts while the Germans were keeping only the cheaper plaster ones.
Then they went into the larger, darker storage tent, where all the boxes were sitting, open, available for inspection. Guterbock was now very nervous. He had warned Borchardt about his “"obfuscation of the material.” The box containing Nefertiti was in a back row, open as all the crates were, her blue crown hidden beneath a black wig. But if Lefebvre should bother to lift the two and a half foot tall statue he would know immediately it was far too heavy to be made of plaster. Borchardt assured his secretary that if caught he would simply say it was all a mistake. But, as the German had anticipated, after a “superficial examination” of the artifacts, Lefebvre approved of the German division of the spoils, thanked his host, and headed back to Cairo.  If the lady was a fake, Borchardt was going to a lot of trouble to get her out of Egypt in secret,
Within hours the lady began a 2,000 mile journey to Berlin, Germany. There she was presented to the man who had paid for her excavation, the cotton importer and clothing exporter, Henri James Simon (above). He was the sixth richest man in Germany, a self described Prussian Jew, known as the only collector who brought more objects out of Egypt than Napoleon. And he donated them all to German museums. However, the bust of Nefertiti was so beautiful that Simon held onto her for a year, in part at the urging of Borchardt.  Even after the rest of the expedition's hoard went on public display in the Berlin Museum in 1914, the lady was kept hidden.  At the end of June that year the Archduke Franz Joseph Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were gunned down in Sarajevo, Serbia. Within a month all of Europe was sucked into war, and for four years archeology became an unaffordable luxury.
The war ruined Simon.. The British blockade cut him off from his cotton and his customers. In 1917 he donated everything he still held to the Berlin Museum.  And in 1924 “she who comes in beauty” went on public display for the first time, even though Borchardt strongly advised against it. The queen of the Nile was an instant hit, producing headlines around the world, and long lines to gaze upon her face. The Europeans running the Egyptian Museum were offended and demanded the lady back. When it was clear there was no legal option, they canceled all German Egyptian digs in 1925. They later relented on that, but they never stopped asking that Nefertiti be returned.
For a long time there had been doubts about the authenticity of the limestone folding table top or altar which Borchardt had used to entice and distract Gustave Lefebvre. The hieroglyphic for truth (Maat) was misspelled in four separate places on the panel, and in the carvings Akhenaten is shown as left-handed, unlike every other depiction of him (above). And then in 2008 Italian scientists examined the the panel under ultraviolet light, and apparently what had looked like a patina of 3,000 years of weathering was merely a darker base color of paint. Even though the actual paper was never released for peer review, respected Egyptologist Rudolf Krauss, a curator at the Berlin Museum from 1982 to 2007, declared publicly that the altar was a fake perpetrated by Borchardt.  Fellow Berlin curator, Dietrich Wildung, called the altar rubbish, and Christian Loeben, director of the Egyptian collection at the August Kestner Museum in Hanover, Germany called it an absolute forgery. But without the full paper, detailing methodology and results, it is impossible to speak with certainty.
If Borchardt was enough of a scoundrel to have faked the altar, can we trust he did not also fake the bust of Queen Nefertiti? The insurance companies have decided to avoid difficult questions like that, and merely set a price on the head of a Queen of the Nile. That figure is now at $390 million.
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