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I made a field trip yesterday to the U.S. National Park Service-preserved farmhouse and dairy goat farm in Flat Rock, North Carolina where the Swedish-American poet Carl Sandburg lived after World War II with his goat-raising wife Lillian (whom he met hanging out with socialists), daughters, and grandchildren until his death at the age of 89 in 1967. As a person who is fascinated by early 20th Century radicalism in the U.S., it piqued my curiosity to learn that Sandburg had been a socialist. Apparently, he more or less gradually downplayed this fact to fit into the U.S. society of letters and remained at heart "Radical Carl."

Thurgood Marshall spent the night in the house once, and the NAACP honored Sandburg's lifelong support for African-Americans. Some of the language in his early poems was decidedly offensive in its use of the N word and patronizing references, to my mind at least. But it arguably never evidenced intended disrespect. It would appear that Sandburg recognized for instance, ala Cornel West, that the music of the African-American, both as slave and "freed" worker, represented a means of liberation and dealing with centuries of, needless to say, constant alienation, wicked mass injustice and humiliation, and literal pain. The parallel I would draw is the way that Sandburg coarsely discussed Chicago prostitutes, but also humanized them as real victims and workers with no recourse and constant abuse.

The house is filled with thousands of Sandburg's books just the way he left them. It is fascinating to be this close to the artifacts of a writer, particularly one I have long appreciated for his Abraham Lincoln biography. It is not my intention in this blog to demonstrate high brow taste or perform a rigid doctrinal analysis of anything. If it disappoints you that I have loved the Lincoln biography since I read it twenty years ago as a searching adult living in the Deep South, I am sorry. (You might not like the fact that for years I carried it with me to second grade classes on Lincoln's birthday dressed up as a low-budget imitation of the great human either. I gave it up because I was unable to remember all the trivia second graders playing stump-the-dead-president expected of me.)

The park service guide was excellent. She turned off the lights as she politely ushered us out. She invited any other questions. As I was leaving to go look at the goats, I took advantage of the opportunity to ask her if she knew if Sandburg's collection had any of the works of Karl Marx. She did not know but suggested I check the online archives of the NPS, which I have now done. I am proud to say that Sandburg had not one but four copies of the Communist Manifesto (dated 1888, 1903, 1939, and an undated booklet version), and that these are apparently the only four copies of the Communist Manifesto or any work of Karl Marx in the possession of the NPS.

Before the tour, I had visited the bookstore and bought cheap paperback copies of "Chicago Poems" and "Cornhuskers," published during the time frame I understood Sandburg had supported Eugene Debs for U.S. President. I thought maybe I could mine the books for indicia of socialism. I was not disappointed. Although much of the poetry is purely aesthetic (and the quality of his poetry in general invited much criticism from critics both during his lifetime and after), some of it is most definitely socialized. I was particularly struck by this poem about Don Macgregor, "Memoir of a Proud Boy." I love these lines:

He had no mother but Mother Jones
Crying from a jail window of Trinidad:
"All I want is room enough to stand
And shake my fist at the enemies of the human race."
Well done Brother Carl.

It turns out that a meeting with Macgregor even influenced La Cucaracha, and a verse relating to Pancho Villa, making it into the important folk song collection the folk-singing guitar-strumming Sandburg later assembled into book form. Because of Sandburg, Macgregor now is not forgotten. Well done indeed.


Brother Francisco

[Originally published August 9, 2013, at, where it was the second substantive post at that then newborn leftist baby of Daily Kos's Galtisalie, a/k/a Francisco Nejdanov Solomin, which has now started to crawl all around the living room, knocking over things, especially the myth that democracy and socialism do not belong together. To learn more about Don Macgregor, please see Hellraisers Journal: Mother Jones Hails Pancho Villa & Mexico "where the 'bandits' are gentlemen" and the comments that are part of that diary. Daily Kos' JayRaye is the expert on the history of Hellraisers, including Mother Jones and those she directly influenced in her lifetime, so major props to her and the Hellraisers Journal group at Daily Kos for making history part of the continuing struggle for justice for the workers of the world!]

Originally posted to Galtisalie on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 03:42 AM PST.

Also republished by Hellraisers Journal, Anti-Capitalist Chat, Rebel Songwriters, Protest Music, History for Kossacks, and ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (13+ / 0-)

    garden variety democratic socialist: accepting life's complexity|striving for global stewardship of our soil and other resources to meet everyone's basic needs|being a friend to the weak

    by Galtisalie on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 03:42:54 AM PST

  •  What a delightful Diary, Galtisalie, thank you! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Galtisalie, JayRaye

    Poetry and the role and history of its authors have never been subjects to which i've felt particularly drawn in my life.  After reading your fascinating account, though, i think i now may have to work a little harder at opening up those domains more to my awareness.  Thanks!

    Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

    by lehman scott on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 04:56:29 AM PST

    •  You are too kind. I like poetry of the left very (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      freerad, JayRaye, lehman scott

      much, especially Neruda's existential stuff. To learn about the leftist poets' lives is often worthwhile. Regards.

      P. S. I wrote you a detailed reply in a comment yesterday that sadly disappeared into the ethos. Going back to read your diaries when time permits. Appreciate your solidarity work and looking forward to seeing your project when it's completed!

      garden variety democratic socialist: accepting life's complexity|striving for global stewardship of our soil and other resources to meet everyone's basic needs|being a friend to the weak

      by Galtisalie on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 05:54:08 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  if memory serves (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Galtisalie, JayRaye

    and google just confirmed, sandburg wrote the foreword to the great autobiography of oscar ameringer, "its a great life, if you don't weaken", which is itself a great find if you are interested in history. i found one on abebooks for about  10 bucks.

    drones are a cost effective way of generating enough new terrorists that calls to cut military spending will fail.

    by just want to comment on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 05:23:08 AM PST

    •  Great to know. Thanks! Do you happen (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      to recall the basis for his disagreement with John Lewis of UMWA? I'm hoping JayRaye will enlighten me on this too!

      I've never read that book and will have to do so.  Thanks again. Regards.

      garden variety democratic socialist: accepting life's complexity|striving for global stewardship of our soil and other resources to meet everyone's basic needs|being a friend to the weak

      by Galtisalie on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 05:58:11 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The internal strife w/i the UMWA during 1920s (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        is too long and complicated to be explained in a comment.

        In a general kind of way, I can say that Lewis was ruthless in his rise to power. And the conflict within the union during his rise to power was intense, esp in Illinois where John Walker was a long-time power within the union. Splinter miners' unions were formed. Mother Jones, for example is buried in a miners' cemetery that was not established by the UMWA.

        John Lewis is known as the labor hero who established the CIO, and he deserves credit for that.

        He deserves full credit for the part he played in establishing the CIO, but there is another story to be told about Lewis concerning his rise to power, and in his later years, his promotion of Tony Boyle up the ranks of the UMW.

        He left the UMWA in the hands of Tony Boyle, a man even more power-hungry and ruthless than he ever was.

        God spare me the Heart to fight them... I'll fight the Pirates forever. -Mother Jones

        by JayRaye on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 11:51:42 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary, Galtsalie. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dave in Northridge, Galtisalie

    Wonderful to learn more about Carl Sandburg.
    And to be re-introduced to this wonderful poem.

    I think I remember reading the poem many years ago maybe in high school, but it had little meaning for me then since I didn't even know who Mother Jones was then, nor the part that MacGregor played in the struggle of the miners.

    MacGregor will make an appearance in Hellraisers again. After the Ludlow Massacre, the UMW and C. F. of L.  put out "A Call to Arms." MacGregor responded. He threw down his pen and picked up a gun. He led the miners at the Battle of Walsenburg.

    My only quibble with your diary is that I am not an "expert." I still have much to learn.

    For example, I learned something new from this diary which  makes my day!

    God spare me the Heart to fight them... I'll fight the Pirates forever. -Mother Jones

    by JayRaye on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 06:54:15 AM PST

    •  The poem references the Battle of Walsenburg: (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      With eighty men and rifles on a hogback mountain.
      The Hogback:
      ...rises about two hundred feet and stretches westward from the northern edge of downtown [Walsenburg]. Covered with scrub brush, the ridge offered high-ground protection for attacking the massive Walsen mine and the smaller McNally mine to the south. In one of the many intriguing side stories, the miners were operating under the leadership of Don MacGregor, the Denver Express reporter who had ridden into the strike district aboard General Chase's first troop train. After the deaths at Ludlow, MacGregor traded his pen for a gun and joined the miners who had regrouped in the Black hills...
      from Martelle's Blood Passion.

      God spare me the Heart to fight them... I'll fight the Pirates forever. -Mother Jones

      by JayRaye on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 07:57:27 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Sandburg was very accessible (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JayRaye, Galtisalie

    In my doctoral dissertation, which was about the bookseller Jake Zeitlin, who had an outsized effect on the cultural life of Los Angeles during the 1930s and '40s, I learned that he met and became friends with Sandburg as a young adult in Fort Worth, Texas.  This is how I described it:

    Zeitlin himself began a productive friendship with Carl Sandburg, to whom he was introduced by Franklin Wolfe, a former reporter for the Chicago Daily News, a former activist in radical politics in Southern California and a friend of Clarence Darrow, who had settled in Fort Worth.  Zeitlin attended one of Sandburg’s lectures and guitar recitals at Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 1922, and they sat up until the early hours in the morning in Sandburg’s room at the Adolphus Hotel, with Zeitlin singing a number of songs and Sandburg trying to record them in the notation that he would use in the American Songbag, Sandburg’s first book and the book that brought Sandburg to national attention because Sandburg accepted the heterogeneity of American folk music as one of the country’s strengths.  Zeitlin had developed an interest in folk songs while growing up in Fort Worth.  He had heard the songs on ranches and listened to some of the people who worked for his father sing during long drives in the truck or with a team of horses.  He had also heard the songs coming from services at what he called the “Holy Roller” church on the back lot of a house his family owned in the African American section of Fort Worth and absorbed them.  Zeitlin recalled that he didn’t know where he “got the notion that these things constituted a form of literature, but [he] felt that [he] should put them down.”  Zeitlin and Sandburg kept in close touch until Sandburg died in 1967.
  •  Hey Galtisalie, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I thot you might be interested in this link to the Congressional Hearings which took place in Colorado in February of 1914.

    MacGregor's testimony begins on page 905 and he is recalled to testify on page 922. Fascinating stuff.

    You don't have to click on the free eBook, only if you want to.

    You can read all of it straight from the "preview".

    Search with 905 and then with 922 and you'll be able to read all of his testimony. It's very long, but very interesting.

    God spare me the Heart to fight them... I'll fight the Pirates forever. -Mother Jones

    by JayRaye on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 07:24:01 AM PST

  •  some other famous socialists . . . . (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JayRaye, Galtisalie

    Helen Keller
    Jack London
    George Bernard Shaw
    Bertrand Russell
    George Orwell
    HG Wells
    Clarence Darrow
    WEB DuBois
    Stephen Jay Gould

    In the end, reality always wins.

    by Lenny Flank on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 07:28:00 AM PST

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