September 27, 1906 – US Naturalization Process Transferred to Federal Courts

The Naturalization Act of 1906, revising the Naturalization Act of 1870, was signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt. The bill was passed on June 29, 1906, and took effect September 27, 1906. [It was repealed and replaced by the Nationality Act of 1940. This act was modified in turn by the Immigration Act of 1990.]

President Theodore Roosevelt

Most importantly, the legislation established the federal government as the arbiter of naturalization policy. It created the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, which provided for the first uniform naturalization laws in the country. Prior to 1906, any “court of record” (municipal, county, state, or Federal) could grant United States citizenship. Often petitioners went to the court most geographically convenient for them.

State-level naturalization courts managed proceedings and had varying standards across the country. After September 26, 1906, naturalization could only be done in Federal courts. Other qualifications for naturalized citizenship were also specified, including the requirement that immigrants learn English and “renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, and particularly, by name, to the prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of which the alien may be at the time a citizen or subject…..”

The text of the act is here. The National Archives has a database of some naturalization records you can search here.

September 25, 2020 – Ruth Bader Ginsburg Becomes 1st Woman and 1st Jew to Lie in State at U.S. Capitol

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18, 2020 at age 87 of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer.

She became the first woman in American history to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol. She was also the first Jewish-American to lie in state and just the second Supreme Court justice. The first, Chief Justice William Howard Taft, also had been president.

Ginsburg joined the court in 1993. David Ebershoff wrote movingly after her death:

On the page her voice is the same as the one Americans came to know and revere, and that we now mourn: precise, concise, unyielding; fearless, factual, and so often focused on the marginalized. Justice Ginsburg used her voice to create opportunities for millions—this is one reason her death is painful for many of us. We reflect on those opportunities and are fearful some might close up as a result of her absence.”

You can read more about her life and tenure on the Supreme Court here.

She was known as “Notorious RBG”

September 23, 1667 – Colony of Virginia Passes Law Declaring Baptized Slaves Not Exempt from Bondage

On this day in history, the colony of Virginia passed an act declaring that “baptisme of slaves doth not exempt them from bondage.”

As the Equal Justice Institute explains, traditional British policy forbade the enslavement of fellow Christians:

When some colonial missionaries began to teach Africans about the Christian faith, enslaving colonists in the Americas grew concerned that they would not be able to continue to enslave Africans who converted. As a result, many enslavers did not permit enslaved people to learn about Christianity or be baptized.”

Because, heaven forfend they shouldn’t get to have slaves, so to speak….

landowners purchased slaves imported from Africa primarily in the 1600’s
Source: Schomburg Center, New York Public Library, Negroes just landed from a Slave Ship

September 20, 1830 – First National Meeting of Blacks

This meeting was notable not least because it was organized by a free Black sixteen-year-old from Baltimore named Hezekiel Grice. He was reacting to the uptick in anti-Black riots and oppressive anti-Black laws.

In response to Grice’s outreach, Bishop Richard Allen, who was Senior Bishop for the Philadelphia African Methodist Episcopal Churches, agreed to chair a national convention. Black organizations from seven northeastern states elected 40 men to represent them at meetings that would address Black concerns.

The delegates, representing seven northeastern states, initially met for closed session meetings beginning September 15, 1830, but opened them to the public on September 20, in spite of the mobs assembled to break up the meeting. Rev. Allen presided over the meetings as President. During this time, they produced a Constitution and addressed the organizations that sent them.

The group launched the Colored Conventions Movement, also called the National Negro Convention Movement.

The Mother Bethel AME Church has been located on the same site, 6th and Lombard Streets, since 1794 to the present. Image courtesy of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Richard Allen Museum and Archives, Photograph Collection, Philadelphia, PA.

The Zinn Education Project reports that in the Colored Conventions Movement’s Constitution, published that year, Rev. Allen addressed the “Free People of Colour of these United States.” He began his address by invoking the philosophical groundings of the United States’ own Constitution. He wrote:

Impressed with a firm and settled conviction, and more especially being taught by that inestimable and invaluable instrument, namely, the Declaration of Independence, that all men are born free and equal, and consequently are endowed with unalienable rights, among which are the enjoyments of life, liberty, and the pursuits of happiness.

Viewing these as incontrovertable facts, we have been led to the following conclusions; that our forlorn and deplorable situation earnestly and loudly demand of us to devise and pursue all legal means for the speedy elevation of ourselves and brethren to the scale and standing of men.”

Two websites in particular follow the evolution of the Black organization movement. The Colored Conventions Project features online exhibits. The Colored Conventions Project Digital Records site provides access to hundreds of collected documents of the Colored Conventions movement, spanning from the 1830s through the 1890s.

September 17, 1866 – Birth of African American Activist Mary Burnett Talbert Called “The Best Known Colored Woman in the United States”

Mary Morris Burnett Talbert was born in Oberlin, Ohio on this day in 1866. She was the only African-American woman in her graduating class from Oberlin College in 1886.

After her degree, she accepted a position as a high school teacher in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she taught science, history, math, and Latin at the high school and then at Bethel University. [This historically Black junior college was founded by the African Methodist Episcopal Church and is now called Shorter College.]

In 1887, she was named assistant principal of Little Rock’s Union High School, the only African American woman to hold such a position and the highest position held by a woman in Arkansas.

She married William Talbert in 1891 and moved with him to Buffalo, NY. She was a founding member of the Phyllis Wheatley Club, which affiliated with the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACW). The National Women’s Hall of Fame reports that she transformed the NACW into a truly national institution with structure and organizational procedures. Its first national undertaking was the 1922 purchase and restoration of the Frederick Douglass home in Anacostia, MD. She was elected president for life of the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association.

Mary Talbert, via Buffalo History Museum

The Club also established a settlement house and helped organize the first chapter of the NAACP (1910).

Buffalo’s NPR station recounts that “Talbert worked tirelessly alongside her white counterparts in the final decade of the suffrage fight. Talbert’s years working for social justice through Black women’s clubs had given her first-hand experience that many white suffragists didn’t have.”

Talbert became a prolific writer and she soon gained a national reputation. This fame gave her a platform to speak at the 1915 “Votes for Women: A Symposium by Leading Thinkers of Colored Women” in Washington, DC:

It should not be necessary to struggle forever against popular prejudice, and with us as colored women, this struggle becomes two-fold, first because we are women and second, because we are colored women. Although some resistance is experienced in portions of our country against the ballot for women, I firmly believe that enlightened men, are now numerous enough everywhere to encourage this just privilege of the ballot for women, ignoring prejudice of all kinds… by her peculiar position the colored woman has gained clear powers of observation and judgment — exactly the sort of powers which are today peculiarly necessary to the building of an ideal country.”

Talbott served as a Red Cross nurse during World War I in France, sold thousands of dollars of Liberty Bonds during the war, offered classes to African American soldiers and was a member of the Women’s Committee of National Defense. After the war, she was appointed to the Women’s Committee on International Relations, which selected women nominees for position in the League of Nations.

Mary Talbert via Buffalo History Museum

Buffalo’s NPR report points out that despite Talbert’s renown as “the best known colored woman in the United States” and her stature as a former president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, the National Woman’s Party still rejected her as a speaker at its 1921 conference. They were not interested in promoting a “race” organization and not a “feminist” one, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Black women experienced race and gender simultaneously. Despite the passage of the 19th Amendment that year, Black women like Talbert were nowhere near achieving equal rights.

Talbert died on October 15, 1923, and is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery (Buffalo).

Times have changed and not being alive anymore helps. In October 2005, Talbert was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. She is also remembered around the United States as the namesake of clubs and buildings.

September 14, 1814 – Francis Scott Key Writes The Star Spangled Banner

Francis Scott Key, born in 1779, is best remembered for having written the lyrics for the American national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Key observed the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814 during the War of 1812. The British had begun the bombing on September 13.

According to Smithsonian Magazine,

For much of the onslaught, shells and rockets fell on the fort at the rate of almost one a minute. American major George Armistead, commander of FortMcHenry, estimated that ‘from fifteen to eighteen hundred shells’ were fired during the attack.”

At the time, Francis Scott Key, a 35-year-old Washington lawyer and writer of occasional verse, found himself detained on a British ship from which he could see the fort.

He was inspired upon seeing the American flag still flying over the fort at dawn and wrote the poem “Defence of Fort M’Henry.” Key’s brother-in-law Joseph Nicholson, a commander of a militia at Fort McHenry, had the poem printed for distribution to the public. It was published within a week with the suggested tune of the popular song “To Anacreon in Heaven.” The song with Key’s lyrics became known as “The Star-Spangled Banner” and slowly gained in popularity as an unofficial anthem, finally achieving official status on March 3, 1931.

A different article in the Smithsonian Magazine by Christopher Wilson observes that because Key owned slaves, abolitionists ridiculed Key’s words during his lifetime, sneering that America was more like the “Land of the Free and Home of the Oppressed.”

Francis Scott Key circa 1825

September 11, 2001 – Tributes to Victims of the 9/11 Attack on the Twin Towers

Tributes to the victims of the 9/11 tragedy are varied and moving. Perhaps the most well-known in the “Tribute in Light” – the commemorative public art installation first presented six months after 9/11 and then every year thereafter, from dusk to dawn, on the night of September 11.

New York also has a 9/11 Memorial Museum that tells the story of 9/11 through artifacts, imagery, personal stories, and interactive technology. It includes core exhibitions, special exhibitions, and rotating displays in the Museum’s 110,000 square feet of space.

FDNY Ladder 3 firetruck recovered from the World Trade Center site after September 11, 2001. Collection 9/11 Memorial Museum, Courtesy of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Photo by Dan Winters

There are murals all around New York paying tribute to the lost, and a short list here of books, film, and art that address the tragedy.

This an anonymous poem memorializing what happened is particular affecting:

If I Knew

If I knew it would be the last time
That I’d see you fall asleep,
I would tuck you in more tightly
And pray the Lord, your soul to keep.

If I knew it would be the last time
That I see you walk out the door,
I would give you a hug and kiss
And call you back for one more.

If I knew it would be the last time
I’d hear your voice lifted up in praise,
I would video tape each action and word,
So I could play them back day after day.

If I knew it would be the last time,
I could spare an extra minute
To stop and say “I love you,”
Instead of assuming you would KNOW I do.

If I knew it would be the last time
I would be there to share your day,
Well I’m sure you’ll have so many more,
So I can let just this one slip away.

For surely there’s always tomorrow
To make up for an oversight,
And we always get a second chance
To make everything just right.

There will always be another day
To say “I love you,”
And certainly there’s another chance
To say our “Anything I can do?”

But just in case I might be wrong,
And today is all I get,
I’d like to say how much I love you
And I hope we never forget.

Tomorrow is not promised to anyone,
Young or old alike,
And today may be the last chance
You get to hold your loved one tight.

So if you’re waiting for tomorrow,
Why not do it today?
For if tomorrow never comes,
You’ll surely regret the day,

That you didn’t take that extra time
For a smile, a hug, or a kiss
And you were too busy to grant someone,
What turned out to be their one last wish.

So hold your loved ones close today,
And whisper in their ear,
Tell them how much you love them
And that you’ll always hold them dear

Take time to say “I’m sorry,”
“Please forgive me,” “Thank you,” or “It’s okay.”
And if tomorrow never comes,
You’ll have no regrets about today.”

Author Unknown

Review of “Lincoln in Private: What His Most Personal Reflections Tell Us About Our Greatest President” by Ronald C. White

Lincoln made many notes for his own reference during his lifetime, setting down his reflections on issues he was thinking about, and that he might consult later on for speeches. Lincoln scholar Ronald C. White analyzes twelve of what he considers to be Lincoln’s most important private notes, putting them in the context of the time during which Lincoln wrote them.

We learn how Lincoln struggled to put into words his understanding of slavery, democracy, the necessity of morality, immigration, and about the future of the country. Because the notes are presented in chronological order, we can also get a sense of the evolution of Lincoln’s thinking.

Lincoln always wanted to know both sides of an issue, in order to understand fully the position of the side he did not hold. For example, he read the very popular book, Slavery As Ordained of God (1857) by Presbyterian clergyman Frederick Ross and was profoundly offended by it. But it enabled him to counter the arguments for slavery it presented. In one fragment, he mused:

“Suppose it is true, that the negro is inferior to the white, in the gifts of nature; is it not the exact reverse justice that the white should, for that reason, take from the negro, any part of the little which has been given him? “Give to him that is needy” is the christian rule of charity; but “Take from him that is needy” is the rule of slavery.”

It should be added that Lincoln had already argued to himself in a note that Blacks had been deprived of education, and therefore it was not at all clear they were inherently intellectually inferior, as whites charged. Moreover, even if they were and that was the premise for slavery, “Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own.”

My own favorite of Lincoln’s remarks about slavery comes from a fragment in which he mocks the idea, as presented by Christian theologists, that slavery was “good” for some people. He wrote, “As a good thing, slavery is strikingly peculiar, in this, that it is the only good thing which no man ever seeks the good of, for himself.. Nonsense! Wolves devouring lambs, not because it is good for their own greedy maws, but because it [is] good for the lambs!!!

It is a joy to follow along with Lincoln’s intellectual evolution, and a clever way to tell the history of Lincoln and his era from a new perspective.

Evaluation: Listening to (or reading) this book is an excellent way to spend time, and I highly recommend it. White, who narrates the audio book that he authored, speaks clearly and with emotion, and held my interest throughout. The book is a bit repetitive however, but that didn’t bother me – Lincoln’s thoughts are worth repeating.

White’s love of and respect for Lincoln is evident, and as always, when reading about Lincoln’s integrity and intelligence, it’s hard not to be filled with admiration for him. It’s also hard not to feel renewed sorrow over the tragic early loss of someone so important to American ideals and destiny.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Random House, 2021. Audio by Penguin Random House Audio, 2021

September 6, 1789 – Thomas Jefferson Writes to James Madison that Every Constitution Should Expire Naturally After 19 Years

Jefferson, writing from Paris to Madison, averred that “no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation.” He therefore argued (based on the lifespans of the time) that

Every constitution then, & every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, & not of right.”

Thomas Jefferson as a young man

What about if subsequent generations had the power of repeal? Jefferson contended this was not workable because of the following factors:

The people cannot assemble themselves. Their representation is unequal & vicious. Various checks are opposed to every legislative proposition. Factions get possession of the public councils. Bribery corrupts them. Personal interests lead them astray from the general interests of their constituents: and other impediments arise so as to prove to every practical man that a law of limited duration is much more manageable than one which needs a repeal.”

Therefore, he concluded, the earth should belong to the living, and not to the dead.

You can read his entire letter here.

September 5, National Cheese Pizza Day and History of Pizza

Alexander Lee, writing “A History of Pizza” for “History Today” tells a great story:

“People have been eating pizza, in one form or another, for centuries. As far back as antiquity, pieces of flatbread, topped with savouries, served as a simple and tasty meal for those who could not afford plates, or who were on the go. These early pizzas appear in Virgil’s Aeneid. Shortly after arriving in Latium, Aeneas and his crew sat down beneath a tree and laid out ‘thin wheaten cakes as platters for their meal’. They then scattered them with mushrooms and herbs they had found in the woods and guzzled them down, crust and all, prompting Aeneas’ son Ascanius to exclaim: ‘Look! We’ve even eaten our plates!’”

We are still eating our plates all these years later.

Another website discussing the history of pizza, “Today I Found Out,” offers the fact that in the ruins of Pompeii, destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in August, 79 A.D., archeologists discovered shops containing equipment and tools consistent with those used in pizzerias.

That site also informs us that in the early 1500s, citizens of Naples started topping their flatbreads with not only cheese but tomatoes. Eating “pizza” when in Naples became a “must-do” activity for tourists. [And still is!] In 1889, when Italian royalty King Umberto I and Queen Margherita were vacationing in Naples, they tried pizza and loved it, with the queen especially enjoying the pizza with mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes. The pizza maker thereafter dedicated it to her, calling it “Pizza Margherita.”

King Umberto I of Italy and Queen Margherita of Italy

When Italian immigrants came to America at the beginning of the 20th Century, they brought pizza with them. The first known pizzeria in the U.S. (or one of the first) was opened in New York City. Time Magazine reports:

Lombardi’s is widely accepted as the first pizzeria in the U.S., when Gennaro Lombardi began selling coal-oven pizza out of his grocery store in Manhattan’s Little Italy in 1905. Before then, pizza was available in many Italian neighborhoods, but mainly it was homemade in kitchens or sold through unlicensed vendors. The word pizza (or “pizze” as it was then spelled) appears in Boston newspapers as early as 1903. Lombardi’s proved to be enormously influential pizza force, serving as the training grounds for cooks who went on to open celebrated pizzerias such as John’s and Totonno’s.”

Outside Lombardi’s Pizzeria in New York City

[It should be noted however that pizza researcher Peter Regas has found evidence from 19th-Century Italian-American newspapers in New York that there were actually other pizzerias on the scene before Lombardi’s came along. They were started by Filippo Milone, who sold off one of them to Gennaro Lombardi.]

In 1943, Chicago began over a half-century of rivalry with “New York style” pizzas when Ike Sewell opened Pizzeria Uno’s which served the “deep-dish” pie.

Still, pizza didn’t really “take off” until the 1950’s, when celebrities such as Joe DiMaggio, Jimmy Durante and Frank Sinatra, who all had Italian roots, were publicly seen enjoying pizza, according to “Today I Found Out.”

They add that the 1952 song “That’s Amore” sung by Dean Martin, which included the line “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie – that’s amore,” “did more for the popularity of pizza than a thousand ad campaigns could have done.”

Pizza Magazine (yes, there is a Pizza Magazine) reported that as of December, 2017, the world pizza market topped $134 billion, with the U.S. pizza market at over $45 billion.

On average, every person in the U.S. consumes around 23 pounds of pizza each year. That adds up to over 3 BILLION pizzas, not counting frozen pizzas. The top 5 pizza sales days are Super Bowl Sunday, New Year’s Eve, Halloween, the night before Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day.

Pepperoni is the most popular pizza, making up 36% of all pizzas ordered, but these days, you can get almost any topping conceivable. Sometimes we spring for “artisanal” pizza. But we have never gone so far as to order any pizza like the ones on this list of “The Most Expensive Pizza Slices in the World.” With toppings like “caviar that is pre-soaked in Dom Perignon,” “sprinkling of gold flakes,” or even “sprinkles of diamonds,” it doesn’t even appeal to us, to be honest. Seriously, what would you rather eat: cheese, or gold flakes?

Still, even “normal” pizzas vary around the country. As OpenCulture reports, for example:

In Buffalo, New York, pizzas are sauced right up to their circumference, leaving very little crusty handle for eating on the fly. . . .

Sauce can also swing pretty wildly – sweet, spicy, prepared in advance, or left to the last minute – but cheese is a much hotter topic.

Detroit’s pizza is distinguished by the inclusion of Wisconsin brick cheese.

St. Louis is loyal to Provel cheese, a homegrown processed mix of cheddar, Swiss, and provolone and liquid smoke.

Miami pizzas cater to the palates of its Cuban population by mixing mozzarella with gouda, a cheese that was both widely available and popular before 1962’s rationing system was put in place.

Rhode Island’s aptly named Red Strips have no cheese at all…which might be preferable to the Altoona, Pennsylvania favorite that arrives topped with American cheese slices or – the horror – Velveeta.

And where do they eat the most pizza? Pizza Magazine reports that Pakistan is the world’s fastest-growing retail market. In terms of the number of pizza delivery and takeaway outlets, the U.S. leads the global market, followed by Italy and Brazil, according to Euromonitor International. And within the U.S., the state with the most pizzerias per capita is New Hampshire – who would have guessed!

We also consume a great deal of pizza, and the more cheese on it, the better. The fact is, pizza tastes great. The American Chemical Society explains the “profound beauty” of the “chemical symphony” of pizza in this entertaining and informative video. The key to great pizza, you will learn, is the “Maillard Reaction.”

Before you watch this short video, I suggest ordering a pizza so you can conduct your own research on the appeal of pizza as it is explained….