The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, January 10, 2004

And the feisty Mrs Sinclair...

...deserves a snippet of her own.

Sinclair is (having read half the book) discreet about his womenfolk. His first marriage, to one Meta H. Fuller, did not work out (he does not mention her name).

But he had better luck with his second, the Mississippian Mary Craig Kimbrough [1], who sounds as if she was quite the handful, but lasted him nearly fifty years.

There's a sentimental piece at the end of Chapter XVI on Kimbrough and her Daddy; and, in Chapter XXIV, an instructive piece of observation un-anachronised (as surely it would in retelling) by Sinclair's modern pinko equivalents:

There is a picket in support of the striking Colorado miners outside the Rockefeller offices at 26 Broadway. Sinclair and others are duly arrested and carted off to the cop-shop, and thence
to the Tombs prison, where the ladies sang the Marseillaise...

The picketers were fined, and, needless to say, refused to pay the fine.

Meanwhile, Mrs S, after dealing with a mother (one senses a touch of the Scarlett O'Hara bolshiness running in the family!) who had shlepped all the way from the Magnolia State to get her baby out of jail (another AP fairy-tale!), took her place on the picket-line. Sinclair says
I was amused to observe that the police did not arrest her, nor did the newspapers ridicule her. Was it because she was a woman? No, for I have seen the police beat and club women doing picket-duty--working-women, you understand....No, it was not because my wife was a woman; it was because she was a "lady." It was because in the files of the New York newspapers there reposed a clipping recording the fact that her father was "one of the wealthiest men in this section and controls large banking interests."

...It happens that M.C.S. is conspicuously and inescapably what is called a "lady"; she not merely looks the part, she acts it and speaks it in those subtle details that count most. All her young ladyhood she spent as what is known in the South as a "belle"; incidentally, of course, as an ungodly little snob. She has got over that; but in case of an emergency like our Broadway affair, she naturally used every weapon she had. Against the New York reporters and the New York police department she used the weapon of snobbery--and it worked.

In the South, you see, a "lady" takes for granted the slave-psychology in those she regards as her "social inferiors." Not merely does she expect immediate obedience from all members of the colored race; she feels the same way about policemen in uniform--it would never occur to her to think of a policeman as anything but a servant, prepared to behave as such. I assured her that she might not find this the case with the husky sons of St. Patrick who lord it over the New York crowds. But M.C.S. answered that she would see.

Far be it from me to know to what extent she did these things deliberately; my advice in such matters is not sought, and I am allowed to see the results only. What I saw in this case--or rather learned about later--was that M.C.S. arrived in front of 26 Broadway an hour late, clad in supple and exquisite white broadcloth, military cape and all; and that on sight of this costume the New York City police department collapsed.

For two weeks the "lady" from the far South marshalled the demonstration, walking side by side with eminent poets from California, and half-starved Russian Jews from the East side slums, and gigantic lumber-jacks from the Oregon forests. ..for two weeks the New York police department devoted itself to keeping everybody else off the sidewalks in front of 26 Broadway, so that our "free silence" advocates might have room to walk up and down undisturbed. They even had mounted policemen to clear lanes in the street, so that the cars might get through; and when some one hired thugs to try to pick quarrels with us and cause a disturbance, the police actually drove the thugs away...

And lest you think that M.C.S. is still a snob, and got a sense of triumph from all this, I ought to add the humiliating truth--that each day after going through with her ordeal, she would come home at night and cry! She would talk quietly and firmly to the reporters who came to our apartment; but after they had gone, she would be in a nervous fever of rage, because we had had to do such a "stunt," in order to get the truth into the rotten newspapers.

Contrast this portrait with the ignorance and anachronism that characterised the debate before Christmas on the liaison between Strom Thurmond and Carrie Butler that resulted in the birth of Essie Mae Washington: how impossible to accommodate in the narrow schemata of the grievance-meisters a daughter of the South who supports both Jim Crow and striking miners!

  1. Mary Craig Sinclair wrote an autobiography, Southern Belle, an edition of which is apparently in print. The ad says that
    As a child she once sat on Jefferson Davis's knee.
    Trent Lott (whose Jeffmania is retailed in several pieces in the December 2002 archive) would have been so jealous. (Or do I suspect that more Southerners claimed to have sat on Davis's knee as children than fought for the Confederacy?)

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