Oct 27, 2013

Wed, Oct 27, 1943: Navy Day

"The radio is over in the other corner of the barracks, the announcer is saying something about Navy Day so believe I'll write to the Navy to-night.
"Mother writes that the Boomington folks are expecting you home on a liberity.  You should have lots to write about.
 "I was expecting a furlough but it seems the army considers winter maneuvers more important for the time being."
 -- Letter from Dale Sooter, Camp Rucker, Ala., to my father, Cape Girardeau, Mo., Wednesday, October 27, 1943.  My father was on his first leave home from Navy duty, when Dale, his cousin and an army private, wrote this.

Oct 17, 2013

Sun, Oct 17, 1943: good feed

"It's up to Dad to write you tonight, so I had better get at it, its bed time now so don't expect much of a letter....
"We had two hard frosts last week so the kaffir is ready to be cut, have 20 acres over on Ed King that you helped plant to cut yet, and DeLoss Myers is going to start cutting it tomorrow, it didn't get ripe but will make good feed."
-- Letter from my grandfather, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Cape Girardeau, Mo., Sunday, October 17, 1943.
What my grandfather called “kaffir” or “kaffir corn” is a southern African variety of sorghum first brought to the United States in the 1870s.  It was an important source of fodder for cattle, hogs, and chickens on my grandparents’ farm.  My family letters indicate it was planted on the farm in May and June, cultivated and curled in July, and harvested from October to April.  As I discussed in an early blog post, the word “kaffir” derives from the Arabic word for “infidel” and is a highly pejorative term that white South Africans have used to refer to black South Africans (see my early post, “Sun, Jan 18, 1942: ‘kafir corn").  My sense is that it has always been seen as an offensive term by black South Africans; but I don’t think white Americans or black Americans in the 1940s had any sense that it was such a derogatory term.
            Southern African sorghum was not, however, the first sorghum to come to the Americas. People in what is now Sudan and Chad had domesticated sorghum by 4,000 B.C.E.  From there, farmers developed some twenty different varieties of sorghum and spread them throughout the savanna belt from Sudan to Mauritania.  Likewise, sorghum spread from areas in Sudan into southern Africa.
Sorghum and millet (both referred to as “guinea corn”) first came to the Americas on slave ships from West Africa.  In order to feed the enslaved Africans on board, ship captains bought food, including rice, manioc flour, sorghum and millet, meat and fish. Given the cultural expectation of both Europeans and Africans that women would cook, captains made sure to include enough enslaved African women on each ship to prepare mealsThese grains were often purchased unmilled (in the husk), because it was less expensive.  This left African women the job of milling them aboard ship with a mortar and pestle.  It also meant (whether by design or not) that leftover grain could be planted in the Americas, while milled grain could not have been.   
Throughout the three and a half centuries of the transatlantic slave trade, some twelve million enslaved Africans were forced onto ships.  Many died during those voyages, but some ten million arrived in the Americas alive.  At least 35,000 slave voyages brought these men and women to the Americas, and likely each one voyage brought African plants as well.  It was the leftover provisions from these voyages, which allowed some enslaved Africans to continue cultivating these plants in the Americas.
References to “guinea corn” (sorghum or millet) in Brazil appear as early as 1587.  The two grains became crucial to the subsistence and export economies of the Caribbean, based on the labor of enslaved Africans.  The grains were well adapted to the aridity of many Caribbean islands, where they fed both humans and livestock.  When white slaveholders brought African slaves from Barbados to the Carolinas, African crops including sorghum raised in slaves' subsistence plots, came with them.  These slaves also continued African agricultural practices, such as intercropping nitrogen-fixing black-eyed peas with cereals.  By the early 1700s, whites recognized the value of sorghum for feeding livestock as well.  Sorghum has had an important role in American agriculture ever since.  Beyond its role in feeding livestock, most Americans are likely familiar with it today in the form of molasses.  In the 1990s, sorghum ranked fifth among U.S. crops in acres planted (after corn, wheat, soybeans, and cotton).
          (Sources: Judith A. Carney and Richard Nicholas Rosomoff, In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World [Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009], 16-19, 65, 75, 144-48, C. Wayne Smith and Richard A. Rederiksen, Sorghum: Origin, History, Technology, and Production [John Wiley & Sons, 2000]).

Oct 14, 2013

Thu, Oct 14, 1943: Kappa Rho sweater

"I suppose you have heard of the KK's plan for wearing the Kappa Rho sweater once a week to keep the old K.P. tradition alive.  The Pi Eps managed to get 5 4F's or student preachers back.  Do you know where Jerry Morral is?  He bought my sweater and I would kind of like to have it back."
-- Letter from Everett "Sammy" Samuelson, Camp White, Oreg., to my father, Cape Girardeau, Mo., Thursday,  October 14, 1943.  Sammy was my father's classmate at Southwestern College.  By this time, they were both in the military, but still interested in news about their college pep clubsStudent preachers and 4-F's (men judged not physically or mentally qualified) were exempt from the draft and the only male students on the campus at that time

Oct 10, 2013

Sun, Oct 10, 1943: river boats

“After seeing a really good musical- "Stormy weather" with Lena Horne, Bill Robinson, Fats Waller, Cab Calloway and an all Negro cast -- we dropped down to the riverfront about 11 P.M. to watch the boats.  A couple of oil barges went by and we learned a lot about river boats from a local merchant who was down to take an order for supplies from a govt. steamer.  He says the oil barges we saw -- about 100 to 150 feet long and not more than two ft. above water -- will hold as much oil as 6 trains with 80 tank cars apiece.  So that's why it's such a cheap form of transportation-- even upstream."

--Letter from my father, Cape Girardeau, Mo., to my grandmother, Bloomington, Kans., Sunday, October 10, 1943.

Oct 6, 2013

Wed, Oct 6, 1943: Pearl Harbor

“Today was a busy one for me.  I was well occupied from 1 to 6 P.M. with three classes -- Problems of Labor and Industry, Psychology (and the first pop quiz of the year), and International Relations, as well as A Cappella Choir and a talk in Naval History class by Seaman Wells.  He is one of the four or five men stationed here who went through Pearl Harbor, and his account of the raid was really good. Especially interesting were the facts that he brought that were withheld from the public for obvious military reasons for over a year.  For one thing 6 of our 9 battleships there were sunk -- and the only other three battleships we possessed were in the North Atlantic.  Also, civilian Japs living on the island attempted to break into Hickam Field, and the Japs had perfect information on the location of all major ships -- this happened to be the biggest concentration of ships in years there.  The most interesting parts of his talk were the numerous personal incidents he told about the battle.  I'll give you a better account of this speech when I return home.”
-- Letter from my father, Cape Girardeau, Mo., to my grandfather, Bloomington, Kans., Wednesday, October 6, 1943. 
            I apologize for the racial slur in this letter and I apologize to my father, who if he were alive would be chagrined to see how he expressed himself as a young man.  My father, a professor of Japanese history, would never have used that word later in life.  Indeed, when he transcribed some of these letters, he changed the word to "Japanese."  The word was considered offensive by Japanese Americans in the 1940s, but was widely used by white Americans to refer both to Japanese Americans and to their Japanese military enemy.  Only a few U.S. newspapers in the 1940s tried to avoid the term in news coverage.  The word appears throughout my father’s letters and it's impossible to quote the most interesting passages of these letters without using it.
            Seaman Wells was repeating unsubstantiated rumors that began to circulate immediately after Pearl Harbor: that Japanese civilians in the U.S. had aided the attackers.  Secretary of the Navy Knox began blaming the disastrous events of Pearl Harbor on a “fifth column” of Japanese Americans soon after the attacks.  Others in the administration, including J. Edgar Hoover and John Franklin Carter, disputed Knox’s assertions.  But those and similar rumors, along with existing racist attitudes, helped create the climate that led to the internment of Japanese Americans.
          (Sources: Tetsuden Kashima, Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians [Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997], 55; Daily Tulean Dispatch, November 6, 1942).

Oct 3, 2013

Sun, Oct 3, 1943: blanket leave

"I'm coming home, maybe, in the very near future.  Blanket leave will be issued to all trainees on the station starting on Saturday October 23 at 1 A.M.  The reason for the lateness of the starting hour is that our football team plays here the night before and Lieut. Morrissey evidently wants to insure a big crowd for the game. Also, our company has been assigned the task of marching and presenting some physical exercises for the crowds half-time entertainment....Tell Dad to have all the work he wants done lined up and Barbara to have my phonograph in good shape.  Stanley can have a piano solo prepared or maybe a vocal solo would be more reasonable, and Mom can prepare the bed, so I can spend the most of my leave asleep."

-- Letter from my father, Cape Girardeau, Mo., to his family, Bloomington, Kans., family, Sunday, October 3, 1943.  This was my father’s first leave after joining the Navy in July 1943.