Kennedy and the No Nothings

From: DOMINIC ANGERAME (email suppressed)
Date: Sun Aug 30 2009 - 14:34:00 PDT

For the romantics. Here is an email from a good friend of mine. Whether it be the no nothings or the knew nothings.

Dear friends,

I heard of Teddy's death on CNN in my Helsinki hotel room.  My connections to the Kennedy brothers --  Jack, Bobby, and Teddy -- come from a shared Boston Irish heritage.  JFK was my first political hero. In 1946 he ran for Congress as a legitimate war hero to represent the part of Boston where I grew up.  My sisters, like so many other young women, swooned over his handsome looks.  He always had their votes.  I can remember his delivering the Fourth of July (my birthday) speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia in 1961. 

The Kennedys symbolized the rise of the Boston Irish to political power and economic success. It began in the early 20th century with the election of "Sunny Fitz" [Fitzgerald], Ted's maternal grandfather, as one of the first Irish mayors of Boston.  Up  to then the "Yankees" [the Protestant descendents of the Puritans and Anglicans] dominated the political and business life of the city.  They did not welcome the hoards of impoverished and barely literate refugees from the Irish Famine [1846-48] and the thousands more that came in their wake.

The extremist "The Know Nothings" burned Catholic churches and convents and drove priests out of the state. In the public schools, students were taught that the Pope was the Anti-Christ.  It took decades to break the Yankees' dominance.  No concessions were granted.  Getting the right to vote and just wages for work was a long struggle. 

There's a saying, that to be Irish is to have your heart broken. For me that came with the assassinations of John and Bobby.  JFK and his brothers showed me that education (and some money) meant that I didn't have to repeat the ways my parents (and the way the many generations of dirt-poor farmers in Ireland before them lived). 

Teddy was no saint.  (Who is?)  He drank too much at times and chased after too many women.  But he was at the center of almost every progressive action for almost 50 years, from civil rights in the South and integrating the public schools in Boston to opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He long worked for health care reform -- a goal which still eludes this country.

Each of you knows what it is to be defamed and unjustly treated solely because of your heritage and who you are.  It's now ironic to think that some 19th century physical anthropologists said that the Irish weren't white, that is, equally human to Anglo-Saxons and other Northern Europeans and therefore not entitled to full citizenship and civil rights.  They saw the Irish as a drunken priest-ridden incorrigible lot spawning too many children.  How things have changed.

RIP,  Teddy.

[As I write this note in France, I'm watching live the funeral services from Mission Church in Roxbury on a computer.  This is the same church my mother brought me almost every Wednesday for a perpetual [i.e., never ending] novena service to seek relief from her many sorrows -- my father's and brother's drinking, my birth defect, etc. etc,]


John Norton
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415-558-9066 (phone)
415-863-4158 (office/fax)
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