National History Day

Herb Block: Dissent, Democracy, and the Average American

Herb with some of his favorite cartoons.

Herb with some of his favorite cartoons.

When I began my career as a history teacher, political cartoons were an easy tool to engage students in the days before the Internet. I could cut them out of local papers and news magazines, and even copy them out of the cartoonist’s books. The cartoon is a wonderful analytic teaching tool that allows for students to  read a cartoon’s parts and also develop their own cartoons by focusing on the parts and symbols in a cartoon. Political cartoons, as an art form, predate the United States. In its brief 237 year history, there have been only been two cartoonists to define political eras. Thomas Nast defined the progressive era after the Civil War with his cartoons on Boss Tweed and monopolies along with his renderings of the now iconic images of Santa Claus, the Republican elephant, and Democratic donkey. In the 20th century, the title belongs to Herb Block, or as he is better known, Herblock. Block’s drawings of American events covered 72 years! His cartoons displayed a unique view of events, some controversial for the time period. But his career, drawings, and topics show the importance of a free press to dissent against the powers that be in order to reach the average American. For Herb Block, this right was his responsibility.

Herb was born in Chicago in 1909. His father, a chemist, was also an avid artist and cartoonist who submitted cartoons to Puck. Life, and Judge. From him, Herb gained his love of drawing. In addition, his father worked part-time for the Chicago Reporter while Herb’s brother worked at the Tribune. Working in the press was in the family blood. It was in high school that Herb began his artistic career writing and drawing for the school newspaper. It was during this time that his father suggested he merge his two names for what would become his signature – Herblock. He would take these two skills to the next level in college. He attended both Lake Forest College during the day and the Art Institute at night. He also got a part-time job as a cartoonist at age 19 for the Chicago Daily News.


After graduation, Herb took a position with the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) out of Cleveland. Herb with paycheck in hand, had a unique perspective of the New Deal and was a proponent for many of FDR’s early New Deal policies to help those who suffered during the Depression. After several New Deal policies, programs, and acts were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, FDR tried to pack the Supreme Court with more justices. Herb took offense. Herb’s actions reflect the right of the press to dissent and air grievances through art.

Herb said,

Political cartoons, unlike sundials, do not show the brightest hours. They often show the darkest ones, in the hope of helping us move on to brighter times. And they all represent personal views.

In the years before Word War II, Herb took a stand against fascist dictators in Europe. In the wake of World War I, the US had taken a staunch isolationist point of view in the 1920s and 30s. Very few Americans wanted the US to take an active role in European affairs. Herb’s cartoons were a dissent against the isolation. Using simple iconic images, Herb was able to get his point across. The cartoons about Germany, Italy, and Spain earned Herb his first Pulitzer Prize in 1942.

However, not everyone was pleased with his cartoons including his boss. The president of NEA, Fred Ferguson, took offense with what he viewed as Block’s own personal view and not the view of the NEA.  While awaiting Ferguson’s rebuke in New York, news broke of Herb’s win. The prize vindicated Herb and only further substantiated his cartoon viewpoints.


In 1943, Herb was drafted into the army at the age of 33. He drew cartoons and published articles for the Army. It is after World War II that Block begins his prime years. In 1946, Block took a position at the Washington Post and never looked back. Block drew for the paper with complete autonomy over 40 years. In those 4o years, Block’s works came to define the Cold War, Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, and Watergate. He would add 3 more Pulitzers to his shelf in 1954, 1973, and 1979.

For Herb, this era was of particular importance. Herb said,

The Fear-Filled Forties and Fifties were a dark period, when the spread of communism abroad increased anxiety and frustration at home. The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) had long been in the business of looking for “subversives.” The hunt was now joined by many groups, large and small, official and self-appointed. If we couldn’t crush communism abroad, a person could nail a neighbor at home. All kinds of super-patriots – from congressional committees fed by J. Edgar Hoover’s aptly named “raw files” to a New York state grocery operator – compiled lists of “un-Americans.” Simply seeing a person’s name on such a blacklist was enough to prompt entertainment and broadcast executives to ruin careers.

In response to McCarthyism, Herb not only coined the phrase but ridiculed the accusations.


50's hblock2

hblock5 s03479u

Through the Sixties, Herb’s keen eye and pen created a unique look at Civil Rights, the Nuclear Arms Race, and Vietnam. However, it was Watergate where Herb rose above the pack and created a series of cartoons I still use with my students. Combined with Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting, the paper, in and of itself, helped to bring down the presidency of Nixon.

hblock10 ST/HERBLOCK

s03469u hblock11

Herb continued after Nixon to make many more classic cartoons. But what these two eras and ten cartoons above show is that Herb was not afraid to step on a few toes to expose the truth even if it involved the President or the Congress. In addition to his Pulitzers, Herb also won several awards for his lifetime of work including the ACLU and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Where Herb stands out is that his drawing exemplifies the American ideal of a free press. He chose to speak out for those who couldn’t speak by drawing for them. His outrage against the events of the day turned into dissent and a redress of grievances, something he considered a right and inherent in the Bill of Rights. It was this belief that drove his work. His responsibility to was to speak for the common man and to them.

In the 1800s, political cartoons were an important part of the press and the fabric of America. The majority of Americans could not read in the 1800s but they could read a cartoon. For immigrants, the cartoon was the news. For Herb, he continued this tradition in the 20th century reaching a large portion of Washington, D.C. and the nation through the rebukes and outrage found in his art. For Herb, though, the cartoons he drew were something he thought of as common sense and filled with humor as politicians were called to task for their actions which is the responsibility of a free press.

To take a few key objects, a couple of symbols, and sum it up in one simple sentence is a true art form. Herb did that for 72 years until his death in 2001. His cartoons were the “water-cooler” discussions during the peak of America’s problems. Mike Peters of the Dayton Daily News said of Herb’s importance to and influence on the craft,

He was the father of political cartooning for everybody. As I said in my eulogy [at Herb Block’s National Cathedral memorial service], you would see him walk in like Obi-Wan Kenobi — he was the person whom everyone knew and he knew everything. He would tell you [something] only if you asked. … He walked around the newsroom a sweet little guy, but then he would shut the door and then, it was [as if] you could hear him breathing and turning in to Darth Vader. ht_Herblock_090922_ssvThere was the dichotomy of him being so kind with his hound dog eyes and face. Then he would get in there and become [this other guy]. … He brought down giants. … Like with [Joseph] McCarthy, he knew historically what was going in. [Like Edward R. Murrow], he had the guts to go after McCarthy and knew how dangerous he was. To have someone like that, in that position at The Post — how cool was that?

Of the 20th century, he was the giant. There were a lot of great cartoonists, but there was not a great cartoonist in the position of being where every cartoon was a local cartoon in Washington. He influenced our government so much, and it’s true what Nixon said: “When you opened the paper … Oh my God.”

Current Chicago Tribune cartoonist described how Herb influenced him:

His work was a huge influence on me. Not so much artistically as much as conceptually. His passion and tenacity were a constant inspiration. Even when I was a kid growing up in Madison, Wisc., Herb’s work appeared almost daily in the afternoon daily. You just knew that his cartoon would pull no punches. I was amazed he could do that day after day.

As the Internet has continued to expand, the number of daily cartoonists in newspapers has dropped precipitously. It, along with the newspaper format, is a dying art form. Websites like help to get cartoonist’s work out to the public even if the cartoonist is not affiliated with a newspaper. Still, today, a political cartoon is an art form that is essential to a vibrant democracy. For 72 years, Herb Block defined that art form and its principles.

As next year’s National History Day competition begins in earnest in less than a month, I can think of no better topic that fits with the theme of Rights and Responsibilities in History than that of Herb Block.

For further reading

Books by Herb

Block, Herbert. Herblock: The Life and Works of the Great Political Cartoonist ed. by Harry Katz (2009)
Herblock’s history: political cartoons from the crash to the millennium. Library of Congress, 2000.
Herblock special report Norton, 1974
Herblock’s state of the Union. Simon and Schuster, (1972)
The Herblock gallery. Simon and Schuster, (1968)
Herblock’s here and now. Simon and Schuster, (1955).
The Herblock book (1952)
Herblock looks at Communism [1950?]


Lighting the 1893 World’s Fair: The Race to Light the World


Notice the top drawing is of a lit city

I am not a scientist. However, I do love science. To be exact, I love space science. If I had not become a history teacher, I would be teaching about outer space at some college. Instead, I chose history above all other pursuits….for a profession. I still read about space science when I can. Bu when history and science meet, as they do in this post, it is enough to break my writer’s block of the past month.

In the late 1800s, America had only begun to grasp the magical powers of science. America had always relied on engineering to build itself. From bridges and canals to railroads and telegraphs, America expanded across the continent slowly. Engineering played a huge role in spreading people and goods from one coast to the other. New methods of transportation and communication allowed the country to thrive economically. By the late 1880s, the country was in the last days of expanding on the continent and began to spread across the Pacific. We were beginning to produce more than we could consume.

As America spread, more and more people came to this country. Most settled in the cities along east coast. Those cities became more and more populated. With more people, come more problems. Cities tried lighting to enhance safety. However, kerosene lamps were not ideal. Electricity, on the other hand, was an idea whose time had finally come. By 1882, Thomas Edison began using DC (direct current) to power a street in New York. Electric street cars also began to appear around the country. But, in 1883, Nikola Tesla built his first transformer that turns AC (alternating current) from low voltage to high voltage. To contrast, AC power could travel much further with the aid of transformers while Edison’s DC current could only travel a mile before another power station had to be built.

George-Westinghouse-9528497-1-402  2244554096_b39c2c87d6_o   Nikola Tesla American Inventor
(George Westinghouse, an Advertisement for AC, and Nikola Tesla)

Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, Edison, backed by financier J.P. Morgan, and Nikola Tesla, supported by George Westinghouse, battled across the country for who would light this land. One of the first battles came at the World’s Fair of 1893 in Chicago. Meant to be a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage, the fair would be better known for a peek into the future of America. The Fair introduced the Ferris Wheel (the “Chicago Wheel”), Scott Joplin, the world’s first public “moving walkway,” phosphorescent lamps (they came before the fluorescent lamps), Cracker Jack,  Juicy Fruit gum, Quaker Oats, Cream of Wheat, shredded Wheat, and the hamburger. In addition, Milton Hershey introduced his version of Chocolate, and spray painting was on display. One of the most visited exhibits was one on electricity.


At night the fair was lit by electricity. Who would light the fair would soon light the world. Edison and Westinghouse both put in bids to light the fair. General Electric Company (Edison’s and Morgan’s company) first bid to light the fair for $1.8 million. That bid did not go over well. The two did a second bid worth $554,000. Unbeknownst to General Electric, George Westinghouse, armed with Tesla’s new induction motor, proposed to light the fair for $399,000. Westinghouse won the contract. The effect of winning the bid would change history. Tesla’s AC polyphase system would be on display for not only the US to see, but the whole world. Originally, Tesla planned on using GE bulbs but Edison, still miffed, would not sell to Tesla and Westinghouse. Instead, Westinghouse came up with a more efficient double-stopper light bulb.

At night, the fair became a scene of wonderment as the lights displayed the wonder of the fair and its location.

“If evenings at the fair were seductive, the nights were ravishing. The lamps that laced every building and walkway produced the most elaborate demonstration of electric illumination ever attempted and the first large-scale test of alternating current. The fair alone consumed three times as much electricity as the entire city of Chicago. These were important engineering milestones, but what visitors adored was the sheer beauty of seeing so many lights ignited in one place, at one time. Every building, including the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, was outlined in white bulbs. Giant searchlights — the largest ever made and said to be visible sixty miles away — had been mounted on the Manufactures’ roof and swept the grounds and surrounding neighborhoods. Large colored bulbs lit the hundred-foot plumes of water that burst from the MacMonnies Fountain.” … it “was like getting a sudden vision of Heaven.” — The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson.


On May 1, 1893, President Grover Cleveland pushed a button and near 100,000 incandescent lamps illuminated the White City. Westinghouse’s gambit paid off immediately and immensely. Over 27 million people came through the gates of the fair. Electricity, and AC current, was going to spread coast and coast and beyond. The “City of Light”, as it came to be dubbed, was powered by 12 thousand-horsepower AC polyphase generators. The fair showed how safe AC current could be. Westinghouse’s and Tesla’s exhibits displayed how electricity could reshape the nation.


The Electricity Hall – Notice the GE sign pales to Westinghouse’s

Two years after the fair, Westinghouse again bested Morgan and Edison in winning the rights to the Niagara Falls power station. AC was the future. But at the fair, Tesla, the White City, electricity and lights stole the show. The lighting of the fair marked a turning point in the AC-DC battle to power the county. The Chicago Tribune dedicated much attention to this new but old science at the time.

trib electricity

Chicago Tribune article from October 8, 1893

Tesla would regale fair goers with his life story and how AC worked much to the wonderment of the public and other scientists. Some referred to his machines as “Tesla’s Animals.” What surprised most about the difference between AC and DC was the amount of heat produced. At a constant pace, DC produced more heat in light bulbs than AC power did or could.

In the next few years, AC power would become the standard for 80% of the country and most of the world. The fair had seen to that. However for Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla, they would be pushed aside by J.P.Morgan as Morgan consolidated patents and companies. While Morgan lost the battles to light the fair and harness Niagara Falls, Morgan took over electricity, but he had to use AC power to do it.

A younger J.P. Morgan

A younger J.P. Morgan

Here is a PBS special on Tesla called “Master of Lightning”

For further reading: Devil in the White City
Here is an interesting collection of photos from the fair

The 1st Battle of Bull Run: A Turning Point in Attitudes

Stone House circa 1861

The prelude to the first battle of the American Civil War was one filled with romantic notions of what war was supposed to be. Both men and women were swept up in the cause. Towns sent off their best to live an adventure. Many young men thought they had better hurry up and get to the war before it was over. However, after the first major battle at Manassas Junction, attitudes changed in both the North and the South. This war was not be a summer’s war and home by harvest. It was to be a costly war fought over years.

From 1820 to 1860, the United States had tried to deal with the issue of slavery of in a variety of ways. However in the 1850s, new territory in the western US caused a debate over the spread of slavery and of slavery itself. Despite compromises in 1820, and then again in 1850, the road to war was coming to a head. After the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, the first shots were fired in angst between Americans. Over the next six years, the war drew ever closer. In 1859, John Brown’s raid on the arsenal Harper’s Ferry saw southern states react by creating state militias to prevent a slave uprising. In 1860, the election of Abraham Lincoln saw seven southern states secede from the Union and form the Confederate States of America. When Lincoln called for 75,000 soldiers to put down the rebellion, other southern border states joined in. What was once a Union of 34 states was no more. On April 12, 1861, the Confederacy took the federal fort at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. The Civil War had begun.

Irvin McDowell

In the watch fires of a hundred circling camps, the Union forces began to amass in and around Washington, D.C. The Confederacy positioned itself to the south in defense in both the Shenandoah Valley and the the Atlantic Coastal Plain. The Confederate troops had been well trained and disciplined. The Confederate forces had begun training in response to John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry. The Union, they were a mess carousing in the capital. After Ft. Sumter, the call came for the Union to counter and attack the South. However, General Irvin McDowell did not. Mainly a desk soldier, McDowell had come to be in charge after never having seen a field command. He may not have known how to command such a large army as this, but McDowell knew his men were not trained enough to invade the South. It did not matter. The pressure to attack in the summer of 1861 won out. President Lincoln ordered McDowell to invade. And so McDowell did on July 16, 1861. He would be back in Washington a week later.

McDowell entered Virginia with 35,000 men, enough to crush the 18-20,000 forces stationed at Manassas Junction under the command of P.G.T. Beauregard. However, the Civil War was not fought on paper. It was fought mainly in the south. Manassas Junction was only important for one reason, it had a railroad junction, and it was on the way to the Confederate capital of Richmond. There were not many such junctions in the South in 1861. The North, meanwhile, had hundreds. Irony would play the wild card quite often in this battle. The railroad connected the Shenandoah Valley and General Johnston’s troops to Beauregard’s. Combined, the two Confederate armies would equal the numbers of the Union army.

After a long march through Virginia in the summer (high heat and humidity) McDowell and the Army of the Potomac set up camp near Centreville. Strangely, McDowell ordered his men to complete the final march toward the battle field at 2:30 in the morning on July 21. By the time his men reached the battlefield, they were exhausted. At 10 a.m., the first battle of Manassas took place near Bull Run Creek on Matthews Hill. A small Confederate force of 1000 held off 10,000 Union troops for 90 minutes. When William Tecumseh Sherman’s attack on the Confederate flank collapsed the Confederate defense, the rebels retreated to Henry House Hill. But rather than attack and finish off the Confederates, McDowell, waited, and waited, and waited…until 2 p.m. The resulting delay allowed for reinforcements to arrive via railroad.

At 2 p.m., the Union attack resumed. Over the next two hours, several factors swung Beauregard’s way. First, the high ground allowed for better defensive measures. Second, J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry forces were put in to play. Third, the Union was not sure who was who. Later, the Union would wear Blue and the Confederacy, Grey. But at 1st Manassas, there was a melange of blues, greys, and reds on both sides. Finally, Thomas Stonewall Jackson’s defense of the Hill became a rallying point for the Confederacy. McDowell, intriguingly, attacked piecemeal. Rather than throw his entire army at the Hill, the Union attacked a regiment at a time. After a regiment failed, McDowell ordered another regiment in.

Johnston’s troops became the support that allowed the Confederacy and the Army of Northern Virginia to hold off the invasion. By 4 p.m., McDowell ordered a retreat to Washington. It became a catastrophe after that. With the Confederates in charge of the battlefield, every Union soldier hightailed it back to the capital, many left their guns behind. It became a disaster as the soldiers returned in disarray. The Confederates did not pursue. In addition, many spectators had come out to watch the battle including Congressmen. After the battle was over, the spectators clogged the roads back to DC and one Congressman was taken captive and held prisoner for six months by the Confederacy before he was released.

As a result of the Battle of Bull Run or Manassas Junction, this was a war that was not going to be over in a summer. Over 5000 casualties on both sides told of the cost of just one battle. Not only was this going to be a long war for the Union, it was going to be a bloody one. Napoleonic tactics had not kept up with the technology. It is hard to think of the Civil War as having a lot of technology, but the firepower contained in the .58 caliber mini-ball would require amputation in battle if used today. In addition, bored rifles created more accurate weapons along with greater use of artillery.

Shortly after the debacle, Lincoln called for 500,000 more soldiers twice. A million man army was initially going to be needed to put down the insurrection. Lincoln was also wrong. It would take much more.

Henry House – 2007

All color photographs by Anne Petty Johnson (my wife)

All other photos from the Library of Congress.

For further reading online:

Shoeless Joe: It’s All in the Numbers

Written by Donald Giebel

*At the time of this post, Donald will be a senior in high school in the fall of 2012. He has participated in History Fair four of the past five years. Next year, he will be attempting to tie the school record by winning his sixth and seventh superior ribbons at the Illinois History Expo. His previous projects have been on A.G. Spalding, Charlie Birger, and Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown. In addition to being in the History Club, Donald is a member of the National Honor Society and the Academic Team. He also participates in Soccer, Basketball, and Baseball for the school. He plans to attend the University of Illinois in the fall of 2013.


Imagine being a baseball player. You’re playing in the World Series. You hit for the best average on your team. You also have the best fielding percentage. Despite your heroic efforts, your team loses. Suddenly everyone starts accusing you of taking part in a scandal that suggests you lost the games intentionally. This is precisely what happened to Joe Jackson. This accusation cost him one of the most prestigious awards in sports. Contrary to baseball’s decision, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson deserves to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Joe Jackson was born in Pickens County, South Carolina.[1]  When he was four years old his family moved to Brandon Mill, South Carolina.[2] This would prove to be instrumental in Joe’s career. Joe was a quiet kid who was big for his age. His family could not afford to pay for education, so he grew up working 12 hours a day at the town mill. When he wasn’t working, he was playing baseball. Joe had unusually long arms which really helped him because he could extend those arms and hit the ball a mile. When Joe was ten, tragedy struck. He came down with a severe case of the measles that left him paralyzed. For two months he lay in bed while his mom attended him. Although the doctors told his mom it didn’t look good, eventually he was nursed back to health and was able to walk again.[3]

Later, when Joe was 13, he started playing for the mill’s baseball team. They made Joe a pitcher because he could throw a baseball harder than any full grown man in the mill. One day while pitching, he threw a ball that hit and broke a batter’s arm. No one else wanted to bat against Joe after that day, so he had to find a new position. Eventually he was moved to the outfield. He was there to stay.[4] One day Joe got a new pair of baseball cleats. He had never worn them before and thought he would just put them on and they would be fine. He wore them for a few games but then started to develop blisters on his feet. The next game during his first at bat he went up to the plate with no shoes. He smacked a hit to the outfield and started to run to first base. While he was running a fan noticed that he was shoeless. The fan yelled, “Hey Shoeless Joe, you son of a gun.” The nickname stuck for the rest of his career.[5]

Before long, Joe was known throughout the entire state. By 1907 Joe’s name was beginning to appear in scouting reports for major league baseball teams. In 1908 he was approached by Tom Stouch who was the manager of the Greenville Spinners. He asked Joe to play for the Spinners.[6] Tom told Joe that he would pay him $75 a month to play for the team. This was over double what Joe was making at the mill. Joe gladly accepted and his professional baseball career was underway.[7]

As soon as Joe started playing professional ball, he was a star. He was playing for the Greenville Spinners who were a minor league affiliate for the Philadelphia Athletics.  In 1908 Joe hit .346 in his first year of baseball for the Greenville Spinners. He was also promoted to the majors but hit a mere .130 in 23 at bats for the A’s.[8] In his second year with Spinners he shined again hitting .358. Yet again he failed in the majors where he hit .176 in 18 at bats.[9]  Joe was a problem in the clubhouse. He was not getting along with his teammates at all, so he was traded from the Philadelphia Athletics to the Cleveland Naps in exchange for Bris Lord.[10] This would prove to be one of the most lopsided trades in history.

Once Joe arrived in Cleveland, he was immediately assigned to the New Orleans Pelicans, a minor league affiliate of the Naps.[11] Being a minor league affiliate means the Naps could send players to New Orleans that were not ready to play in the big leagues. Joe was called up to the major leagues on September 2, 1910[12] He would never return to the minors.

For the remainder of the 1910 season, Joe played left field for the Naps. He hit an astonishing .387 in 75 at bats and smacked five triples.[13] During the off season the Naps manager Deacon Mcguire assessed the team. After looking at all of his options for left field, he figured Joe Jackson was the best. Thus, in 1911 Joe played the whole season for the Naps. He had a dazzling season and set many rookie records for batting. He finished with a .408 batting average, a rookie record that still stands today. He recorded 233 hits, which is outstanding considering the benchmark for a great season in baseball is 200 hits. He also displayed stellar speed and base running savvy when he swiped 41 bases. Joe did so well this season that he finished fourth in the American League MVP race. The 1911 season showed everyone how good Joe was and that he did deserve to be an everyday major league player.[14]

The following year Joe turned in another outstanding campaign where he hit .395 and finished with 226 hits, good for tops in the majors. He stole 35 bases and hit a league leading 26 triples. People were starting to notice Jackson’s ability and he finished ninth in American League MVP voting.[15] In 1913 he again put on a show at the plate while leading the league in hits. He finished with 197 hits and had a .373 batting average. He finished second in American League MVP voting. Many thought that he was on the brink of winning it. Sadly, this is the closest he would ever come to winning the award.[16]

After that, in 1914 Joe hit .338, but only finished with 153 hits because he was hampered by sickness all season. This season was still good enough for him to finish fifth in American League MVP voting.[17] Over the previous two seasons Joe’s average had dropped 48 points[18] ;  this drop had some people fearing that Joe was deteriorating as a player.[19]

Subsequently, in 1915, Jackson was traded from the Cleveland Naps to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Ed Klepfer, Braggo Roth, Larry Chappell and $ 31, 500.[20] He went on to hit a combined .308 for the season.[21] At the time the Indians thought that they had made out on the winning side of the deal.[22] Jackson would soon prove them wrong. In 1916 Joe burst back onto the baseball scene when he hit a staggering 21 triples and also batted .341. He eclipsed the two-hundred hit mark for the third time in his young career. The Indians now started to regret their decision to trade Joe. They got little production from their three acquired players and the money they received was wasted to pay their wages.[23]

Undoubtedly, if the Indians didn’t regret trading Jackson after the 1916 season, they definitely did after the 1917 season. During the regular season he batted .301 and also had 17 triples.[24] But the more outstanding statistic was what he did in the playoffs. The White Sox had rolled over all of their opponents in the playoffs and made it to the World Series. They were set to play the New York Giants. The Giants were considered a good team, but many people thought they didn’t stand a chance against the White Sox.[25] The Sox would go on to win the series four games to two. Jackson hit .304 with two RBI and four runs scored. He was a crucial part of the White Sox title run and showed people he could perform under the pressure of the post season. The following year Jackson would only play in 17 games because he was drafted by the military and had to work in a factory for World War I.[26]

Eventually, the 1919 season came along. During the season Joe hit .351 with 14 triples. Also, he finished third in hits with 181 and third in RBI with 96. He had a great season leading the White Sox to an astounding 88-52 record.[27] Everyone in the league thought the White Sox were the team to beat that year. So when they came up against the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series, the White Sox were heavily favored.

During the 1919 World Series the White Sox generally underperformed. They lost the first two games of the series by a combined ten runs, and no one could figure out why they were doing so bad. The Sox went on to win game three, but then lost games four and five. They were down 4-1 in the series and many feared that the end was near. Hope was restored when the Sox rallied to win games six and seven.  Sadly, when game eight came around the White Sox did not perform well. They got almost no production from any players, except Shoeless Joe. He went 2-3 with a homerun and 3RBI in game eight. The Sox lost the series despite Jackson’s heroic efforts. He hit a whopping .375 with 12 hits, five runs, six RBI, three doubles and a homerun.[28] His 12 hits set a World Series record, and his homerun was the only during the series.[29] In 1920 Jackson had another marvelous season hitting .382 with 218 hits and 20 triples.[30] Sadly, this would be the last time Jackson would ever play organized baseball.

A year after the series of 1919 was over, and even during the series, rumors started to circulate of foul play. It was rumored that the White Sox had intentionally lost the World Series. It was later found out that indeed a scandal had taken place. A few weeks before the World Series, two gamblers approached White Sox first baseman Chick Gandil. The gamblers names were Bill Burns and Billy Maharg. They wanted the White Sox first baseman to recruit other players along with himself to intentionally lose the World Series. The gamblers were willing to pay good money. The gamblers had a meeting with seven players at the Sinton Hotel where they told the players they would pay them $20,000 each for throwing the World Series.[31] Joe Jackson did not attend this meeting.[32] But the players told the gamblers that Jackson was in on the fix.[33] So when the case went to court and Bill Burns was put on the stand, he testified that Jackson was in on the fix but did not attend the meeting.[34] The case was long and hard fought on both sides, but eventually the jury gave a not guilty verdict.[35]The players were happy and all cheered when the verdict came down, but this would not last long.

Furthermore, Major League Baseball commissioner Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis wanted to send a message to all of baseball. He said, “Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ballgame, no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ballgame, no player that sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball.”[36] Landis wanted to be known as having a no tolerance policy for gambling in baseball.[37] This would have been a good idea if he had decided to investigate these claims before handing out the bans. But he was an ignorant man who clearly did not study the case thoroughly and in turn cost one of the best ball players of all time his career, Joe Jackson.

Joe Jackson clearly did not take part in the fix of the series. He set a World Series record for hits. He hit .375, the highest of any player in the series. He had double the amount of RBIs and runs scored of any of his other teammates.[38] He admitted to accepting the money,[39] but said he did not take part in the scandal.[40] He even tried to give it back. He accepted it to get back at the gamblers who would cost him the series. He even tried to approach White Sox owner Charles Comsikey to tell him about the fix.[41] Comiskey did not want to see him, and he was never able to inform him of the impending events. Sadly on January 19, 1934, Landis denied a reinstatement plea from Jackson and therefore banned Jackson and his other teammates from baseball, forever.[42]

Shoeless Joe Jackson does deserve to be in the Hall of fame. Many former major league  greats have even said this. Ty Cobb said, “He was the greatest natural hitter to ever play the game.”[43] Babe Ruth named him on his all-star team and even said that he copied Jackson’s stance because of how good of a hitter he was.[44] Joe clearly had the respect of many greats, adding credence that he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He did not take part in the fix and should not be punished for something his teammates did. His teammates even admitted he was not in on it and they only threw in his name to gain more credibility with the gamblers. Jackson is third all-time batter with a .356 career batting average which is exceptional.[45] He also has the most extra base hits in White Sox history and deserves to be rewarded for it.[46]  Upon his death bed Jackson said, “I am going to meet the greatest umpire of all — and He knows I’m innocent.”[47] Joe’s stats show how good of a player he was, but they can’t show how good of a person he was. He had integrity and love for the game and would never do anything to harm it. He is truly one of the most outstanding players in baseball history and sadly will never be recognized for it. The voters should put Joe in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

[1] Fleitz, David. Shoeless: The Life and Times of Joe Jackson. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.  2001: 6.

[2] Ibid: 7.

[3] Ibid: 9.

[4] Ibid: 10.

[5] “Shoeless Joe Jackson.” Baseball Historian. Accessed August 31, 2011.

[6] Fleitz, David. Shoeless: The Life and Times of Joe Jackson. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.  2001: 12.

[7] Ibid: 13.

[8] “Shoeless Joe Jackson.” Baseball- Reference. Accessed on September 28, 2011.

[9] “Joe Jackson Stats.” Baseball Almanac. Accessed on September 28, 2011.

[10] “Shoeless Joe Jackson.” Baseball Historian. Accessed August 31, 2011.

[11] “Shoeless Joe Jackson.” Shoeless Joe Jackson: The Official Website. Accessed on September 27, 2011.

[12] “Joe Jackson Stats.” Baseball Almanac. Accessed on September 28, 2011.

[13] “Shoeless Joe Jackson.” Shoeless Joe Jackson: The Official Website. Accessed on September 27, 2011.

[14] “Shoeless Joe Jackson.” Baseball- Reference. Accessed on September 28, 2011.

[15] Ibid.

[16] “Joe Jackson Stats.” Baseball Almanac. Accessed on September 28, 2011.

[17] “Shoeless Joe Jackson.” Baseball- Reference. Accessed on September 28, 2011.

[18] “Joe Jackson Stats.” Baseball Almanac. Accessed on September 28, 2011.

[19] Fleitz, David. Shoeless: The Life and Times of Joe Jackson. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.  2001: 107.

[20] “Shoeless Joe Jackson.” Baseball Historian. Accessed August 31, 2011.

[21] “Shoeless Joe Jackson.” Baseball- Reference. Accessed on September 28, 2011.

[22] “Joe Jackson Stats.” Baseball Almanac. Accessed on September 28, 2011.

[23] “Shoeless Joe Jackson.” Baseball- Reference. Accessed on September 28, 2011.

[24] “Joe Jackson Stats.” Baseball Almanac. Accessed on September 28, 2011.

[25] “Shoeless Joe Jackson.” Shoeless Joe Jackson: The Official Website. Accessed on September 27, 2011.

[26] “Shoeless Joe Jackson.” Baseball- Reference. Accessed on September 28, 2011.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Everstine, Eric. “1919 Black Sox Scandal.” Montgomery College. 1998.

[30] “Shoeless Joe Jackson.” Baseball- Reference. Accessed on September 28, 2011.

[31] Linder, Douglas. “The Black Sox Trial: An Account.” An Account of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox Scandal. Accessed on September 28, 2011.

[32] Pellowski, Michael. The Chicago “Black Sox” Baseball Scandal. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publisher, Inc. 2003: 49.

[33] Pellowski, Michael. The Chicago “Black Sox” Baseball Scandal. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publisher, Inc. 2003: 48.

[34] Linder, Douglas. “The Black Sox Trial: An Account.” An Account of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox Scandal. Accessed on September 28, 2011.

[35] Asinof, Eliot. Eight Men Out. Evanston, IL: Holtzman Press, Inc. 1963: 37.

[36] Linder, Douglas. “The Black Sox Trial: An Account.” An Account of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox Scandal. Accessed on September 28, 2011.

[38] “Shoeless Joe Jackson.” Baseball- Reference. Accessed on September 28, 2011.

[40] Linder, Douglas. “The Black Sox Trial: An Account.” An Account of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox Scandal. Accessed on September 28, 2011.

[41] Everstine, Eric. “1919 Black Sox Scandal.” Montgomery College. 1998.

[42] “Baseball Closed Forever to Shoeless Joe Jackson.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, (Pittsburg, PA), Jan 20, 1934. &sjid=MWkDAAAAIBAJ&pg=4100,2647565&dq=shoeless+joe+jackson&hl=en.

[43] “Cobb Calls Shoeless Joe Jackson Best Hitter In Baseball’s History.” The Milwaukee Journal, (Milwaukee, Wis), Jun 6, 1942. AAAAI BAJ&sjid=2iIEAAAAIBAJ&pg=5146,1927353&dq=shoeless+joe+jackson&hl=en.

[44] “Shoeless Joe Jackson is named on Babe Ruth’s All Star Team.” St. Petersburg Times,(St. Petersburg, Fla), Jan 25, 1931. AAIBAJ&sjid=2k0DAAAAIBAJ&pg=4593,487550&dq=shoeless+joe+jackson&hl=en.

[45] “Shoeless Joe Jackson.” Baseball- Reference. Accessed on September 28, 2011.

[46] “Joe Jackson Stats.” Baseball Almanac. Accessed on September 28, 2011.

[47] Everstine, Eric. “1919 Black Sox Scandal.” Montgomery College. 1998.


One of my students….

brought this home from the state history fair. It was not a bad day!

The student travels to Annapolis next month for National History Day. It was a pretty big deal in our small little town!

Here is the article from the local paper, The DeKalb Chronicle

Hiawatha senior qualifies for national history contest
Created: Friday, May 18, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

Hiawatha High School senior Jordan Williams was recognized as a National Award Winner at the Illinois History Fair for her performance of Mary Todd Lincoln. She advanced to the national competition at the University of Maryland in June. (Photo provided)

KIRKLAND – Bringing Mary Todd Lincoln to life earned a Hiawatha High School student a chance to participate in a national history competition next month.

Senior Jordan Williams qualified May 3 for the competition after winning the National History Day medal at the Illinois History Expo in Springfield. She’s the first Kirkland student to qualify for the national competition.

“I was really surprised but really excited,” she said. “… I’m really proud to represent Hiawatha and Illinois.”

Williams wrote a script and acted it out to prove Lincoln wasn’t insane, but that she suffered from severe depression after outliving all but one of her four sons.

Students submit projects in five categories: an exhibit, performance, website, documentary or research paper. Williams decided on a performance because she’s involved in school plays. During her 10-minute performance, she dressed as Lincoln, wearing an 1800s mourning outfit. It took Williams about three months to complete research before competing at a regional competition at Northern Illinois University in February.

Williams said Lincoln’s son tried her for insanity, and courts deemed her legally insane. After spending six months in a Batavia asylum, a female lawyer proved Lincoln was sane. Williams includes excerpts from Lincoln’s diary, and judges appreciated that Williams portrayed the emotional side of the trial.

Students who win at the state level qualify to compete at the Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest at the University of Maryland at College Park. The competition runs from June 10 to 14 and draws about 2,400 students, parents and teachers. Williams will compete against more than 100 students in the performance category.

Todd Johnson, a junior high social studies teacher at Hiawatha, said all 35 students in the Hiawatha History Club participated, 15 of whom earned superior or blue ribbons at the state level.

Williams is a history lover who has submitted projects to the competition since she was in seventh grade. She has plans to attend Loyola University in Chicago to study pediatric cardiology. Johnson said he believes her experience with the competition will give her an edge as a college student.

“We’re just excited for her,” Johnson said. “Jordan has worked very hard on this. … The skills she learned – reading, writing, making arguments and multiple points of view – will help her become a doctor.”

A New Site: Day-by-Day in the the Cuban Missile Crisis

As a teacher of history, I am always looking for new ways to invigorate my teaching and my students. A few years ago, I developed a teaching model using primary documents. In November of 2010 I presented the model at the National Council of the Social Studies Annual Conference in Denver. I have continued to develop the model from the initial lesson on the Cuban Missile Crisis into more including lessons on Civil War Baseball, The Battle of Stalingrad, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Greensboro Sit-Ins, and Hobos in the 1930s.

However, the other day I came across a site which I found to be a treasure trove of primary documents. Similar to the teaching model I designed, the John F. Kennedy Library has put online a wonderful site filled with documents about the crisis.

The site is not making me rethink the model by expanding the lesson in to a full-blown week-long simulation rather than a single day on how it began. It is literally a bonanza of documents. Up until now, George Washington University had what I thought was the best site about the Cuban Missile Crisis.

What I like about the JFK Library site is it easy to maneuver and broken down day-by-day. It’s only drawback might be a lack of video and audio. In analyzing the site, I am thinking about how students could access the site. While GWU had a large mass of documents in several forms, it is meant more for academics. The JFK Library is meant for the public. Students could easily piece together the thirteen days of the crisis in several lessons through documents on the site. Here’s an example of one document found on the JFK Library site. It is a letter JFK wrote to Khrushchev on the 28th of October.

What makes it a unique document is its color. Most kids tend to the think of the world in that time period as colorless. In fact, they think of the entire Cold War as some ancient relic of outdated ideologies. The letter itself details the feelings of relief that the crisis was over and also infers how close the two sides came to destroying each other. The micro site is filled with transcripts, letters, newspaper headlines, and other important moments from those 13 days. The site would also be invaluable for anyone doing a National History Day Exhibit or Website.

The Underground Railroad in DeKalb County – Taking Chances

My eighth grade students do a research paper each year on a topic of Illinois History. The best papers then get submitted to the Regional Illinois History Fair at NIU in DeKalb. If students do well, their paper then advances to the State History Fair in Springfield. Regardless of the National History Day (NHD) theme, there is one topic I never get tired of reading about. That topic is the Underground Railroad in Illinois. Why? Because there are so many things a student can do with the topic. There are virtually hundreds of stories of abolitionists helping escaped slaves make it to Chicago to get on a boat to go to Canada and freedom. And the reverse is true of slaves being taken back to the South.

Each year, out of 40 students, I average about 5-6 students doing research papers on the Underground Railroad in Illinois. Each one is different. No two are ever alike. Here are some examples of topics about the Underground Railroad in Illinois.
1. Owen Lovejoy – Princeton abolitionist
2. Elijah Lovejoy – printer and abolitionist publisher
3. Deacon David West – Sycamore farmer
4. The Equality Slave House – a reverse site for taking escaped slaves back to the south
5. Quilt Codes
6. Songs of the Underground Railroad
7. The Vocabulary of the Underground Railroad
8. The Mayfield Township Church
9. and dozens more!!! One PDF file list over 50 sites in Illinois confirmed to be sites on the UGGR

All throughout Illinois, there are hundreds of stories of people, who at great risk to their own life, helped former slaves on the path to Canada. Why? Why was Illinois such a hot bed for the Underground Railroad? It has to do with timing.

Illinois became a state in 1818. Illinois was bordered by Kentucky and Missouri via the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in the south and west, and in the northeast, Lake Michigan graced its shores. These geographic features made it an ideal place in which to escape. In a world where the fastest way to get from point A to point B was by water, Illinois was the place. Add in the Illinois River, it was almost a straight shot by water.

In addition, Illinois was not very populated outside of Southern Illinois in the 1820s and 1830s. The map on the right shows early Illinois counties along with its borders. Notice, the northwestern section of Illinois is labeled as the military tract. This was land set aside for veterans of the war of 1812. The border between Wisconsin and Illinois was the Illinois River in 1818. It would later be moved a little bit later. The area where Chicago would sprout up in the 1830s is not even in Illinois. Once the Erie Canal was built, Illinois would move to grab a larger share of the lake shore from Wisconsin. As a result, most of the northern part of the state was mostly uninhabited until the 1830s.

In the 1820s, Illinois had a hard time getting settled. Churches from New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Virginia started most communities. Along with the church, came the views of the church. Many of the denominations abhorred the practice of slavery and placed those views in the church doctrine. Once a community was established, it soon became a proponent of abolition. As towns began to grow up along the rivers in the 1820, the Illinois River valley soon became the route to travel.

In the 1830s, Illinois changed drastically. Several events made Illinois go from a backwater western state into an economic powerhouse and a major player in the nation and on the Underground Railroad. First the Black Hawk War paved the way for settlement of Northern Illinois. In addition, John Deere’s plow and Cyrus McCormick’s reaper made it possible to now partake in large scale farming of the thick, rich, and black Illinois prairie soil. Add in the mining of lead in Galena, the founding of the city of Chicago, and the building of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, all the conditions were in place by 1840 for Illinois to explode. And it did. Add in a real railroad in the 1840s and everything was set. In doing so, the UGRR also moved into the northern part of the state.

DeKalb County in the 1840s and 1850s was built on farming. Its location west of Chicago saw the real railroad expand westward from Lake Michigan. As a result, the area became one of the last stops on the UGRR. The aforementioned abolitionist churches were present in DeKalb County as well. The Sycamore Congregational and the Mayfield Township Church (still standing) were two churches who practiced abolition openly. In fact, many of the leaders of the churches were also the leaders of Sycamore and the county, which Sycamore is the county seat. In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act made it illegal to aid a runaway slave. So, while posters were being put up in Sycamore, the halls of government blocks away were filled with people helping the slaves to escape.

David West owned a farm east of Sycamore. He was a deacon in the local church. He built a special wagon to hide slaves as he took grain east to

David West – Sycamore Abolitionist

what is now the St. Charles and Geneva area. During the 1850s, West and his family would often climb into a buggy at night and act as decoys. When the slave catchers stopped the buggy, they would open it up to find it filled with white people. West’s 15 year old son would often drive the wagon in place of his father. Many other prominent citizens of Sycamore built special hiding places in their houses. If one drives through Sycamore today, many of the gorgeous homes built before the war still ring the downtown area.

As the slaves made their way from the Princeton area in Sycamore, many would often stay only a few days so as not to be caught. However, during the winter, the climate of Northern Illinois could wreak havoc on the escape. Many abolitionists often harbored the slaves for months. The roads would be impassable, the snow too deep, or the Lake too frozen for the slaves to go on.

At the Sycamore Public Library today, the Joiner Room is solely dedicated to the Sycamore’s role in the Underground Railroad. For any student investigating this topic, a visit there is a must. In addition, James Macon’s 2002 documentary “Wade in the Water” is also a must. The documentary (by a then college student) looks at the development of the UGRR in DeKalb County. From the unmentioned James Nickerson, Jesse Kellogg, and many others, the story of the Underground Railroad in DeKalb County is filled with rich tales of deception, bravery, and heroism. It is a topic of which I never tire.

One of my student's projects from 2000 about the Mayfield Township Church about 1 mile from his house

One of my student's projects from 2010 on The Mayfield Township Church. The project was on display at the 150th anniversary of the church!