On Saturday, April 20, 2019, The Philadelphia Flyers covered their statue of Kate Smith. The following day, they removed it. (Photo by USA Today)
On Armistice Day (Now Veteran’s Day), November 11, 1938, Kate Smith inspired America. That day, she sang Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” for the first time on national radio.
It was a very dark and depressing time in America. After a brief recovery in 1933, the American economy fell into a what was then called “The Second Depression” or “The Roosevelt Depression” while the rest of the world had long recovered. It was exactly 20 years after the day Americans thought they had brought permanent peace to the world by defeating the German Kaiser in World War I. Yet Germany’s new leader, Adolf Hitler was even more aggressive than the old Kaiser. His new army occupied neighboring Austria, much of Czechoslovakia and now threatened France and Poland. Just days before, Hitler’s stormtroopers viciously attacked thousands of Jews in Germany. In just a few days, 200 synagogues were burned, 7,500 Jewish owned shops were looted, and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Mussolini’s Italy had invaded Ethiopia. Japanese soldiers had murdered more than a million of men, women, and children in the Chinese city of Nanking alone. In Communist Russia, millions were rounded up and sent to camps where they disappeared. The world seemed helpless to stop them. America was weak, divided, broke, and afraid.
It was then that 31 year old Kate Smith sang this song that became the prayer that inspired and help unite Americans for the first time in many years.
Some 31 years later, Kate Smith was rediscovered in Philadelphia. In 1969, the Flyers hockey team began playing her iconic recording of “God Bless America” at the beginning of each game. During those years, the Flyers changed from a lackluster team to champions who won the Stanley Cup championship in 1974. As the Flyers became winners, Philadelphia fans stood up and enthusiastically sang along whenever Kate Smith’s “God Bless America” was played.
Kate Smith died in 1986 at age 79. The following year, the Philadelphia Flyers erected a statue of her outside their Spectrum Arena. When the Spectrum was demolished, they moved it to the parking lot of its Xfinity Live! Arena.
After the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the New York Yankees baseball team began playing Kate Smith’s “God Bless America” during the 7th Inning Stretch of every home game at Yankee Stadium.
Last Friday, April 19, the New York Yankees suddenly announced that they “suspended the use of Kate Smith’s recording of ‘God Bless America’ while they “investigate an allegation of racism against the late singer”.
The following day, Saturday, April 20, the Flyers covered the statue of Kate Smith with what looked like a giant burka with bungee cords. Today, Sunday, April 21, the statue was removed.
Any “allegation of racism” against Kate Smith is an outrage and an insult to every American. Kate Smith recorded thousands of songs during her career. The “allegation of racism” is based on two of them recorded in 1931 and 1933 when Kate was 24 and 26 years old.
The 1931 song was “That’s Why Darkies Were Born”. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrPG9Z161F8
If our public schools and colleges still taught real American history, it would be obvious to everyone that this song was not racism, but an attack on racism. It was a powerful indictment of the oppression of blacks in the South, then controlled by white Democrats.
Today’s high schools and colleges no longer teach “The Great Migration”. This was when millions of blacks escaped racism in the South to build safe, prosperous and vibrant communities in the north. This included the Northside and Westside of Atlantic City, and Harlem in New York.
During this time, whites in those areas embraced the music, humor, and culture of those newly arrived blacks just as they incorporated those of Jewish, Irish, and Italian immigrants into our American culture.
“That’s Why Darkies Were Born” delivers a universal message familiar to Jews, Christians, Irish Italians and almost every immigrant to America. Its introduction says that “the colored man” was singled out for oppression. The song’s lyrics then explain that this suffering taught him to “sing” and “fight the Devil” to overcome injustice and redeem others. Isn’t that the theme of the Passion of Christ that millions of Christians remembered this Easter Weekend?
Someone had to pick the cotton,
Someone had to pick the corn,
Someone had to slave and be able to sing,
That’s why darkies were born;
Someone had to laugh at trouble,
Though he was tired and worn,
Had to be contented with any old thing,
That’s why darkies were born;
Sing, sing, sing when you’re weary and
Sing when you’re blue,
Sing, sing, that’s what you taught
All the white folks to do;
Someone had to fight the Devil,
Shout about Gabriel’s Horn,
Someone had to stoke the train
That would bring God’s children to green pastures,
That’s why darkies were born.
That song was popular with both black and white audiences, and was a civil rights anthem for years. It was performed by many well-known black entertainers, including civil rights (and Communist) celebrity Paul Robeson. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vG-GjRNHAw
By the way, although “darky” is now a slur, at the time, it was just the opposite. As with “people of color”, it was used with pride and often with humor as an alternative to the “N” word or anything close to it. It was especially popular with black soldiers during the Civil War. The band of the black 54th Massachusetts Regiment (described in the movie “Glory”) marched in parades to the tune of “Kingdom Coming/Year of Jubilo” which used that word. That song was so offensive to southern white that it was usually whistled instead of sung. It was a song of “darkies” laughing when “Lincoln gunboats” and “Yankee soldiers” made “the master run away”! (“We ain’t whistling ‘Dixie’!)
Kate Smith also sang “Pickaninny Heaven”. Today, Pickaninny is offensive. However, in the 1930’s it was not. It was slang that had been used by blacks and whites for hundreds years. It probably came from the Caribbean as a shortened version of the Spanish/Portuguese words for small child, “pequeno nino”.
At the time, New York City was a melting pot and having mainstream entertainers bring the slang, humor, and culture of an ethnic group into their performance was often a sign of acceptance and inclusion.
Very few Irish at the time were offended by “Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z71pGDq9FbY
Very few Greeks at the time were offended by “Yes We Have No Bananas”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDd8shcLvHI
Very few Jews at the time were offended by “Second Hand Rose”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZhBJwy3AOA
An honest and complete history of America would teach that while American blacks faced discrimination, insults and ridicule from time to time in the North, so did almost every other group of newcomers. Very few people came to America with privilege.
The greatness of America was that it offered the opportunity to overcome discrimination, insults, and ridicule through talent, education, and work.
It is a tragedy that this is no longer taught in our public schools, colleges, or entertainment industry.
Is it because Democrats run those places? Is it because the Democratic Party wants to divide Americans into groups who feel they are victims, and need a government run by Democrats to protect them?