WASHINGTON: Political correctness seems to know no bounds. Its latest victim is Kate Smith. The singer is best known for introducing Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” to the nation in the 1930s.
This week, a statue of Kate Smith has been wrapped and removed from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. The New York Yankees will no longer play her rendition of “God Bless America” at Yankee Stadium. Neither will the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers.
Why the assault on the once popular singer? Smith was a patriot, who entertained troops during World War II. She was also a voice for the sale of war bonds.
Have we discovered some terrible secret about her life which makes her unfit for positive mention?
Among the hundreds of songs she recorded in the 1930s, tow, “Pickaninny,” and “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” are objectionable.
These songs were clearly racist, but no one suggested that Kate Smith wrote the lyrics, or shared their views.
Columnist Richard Cohen of The Washington Post, a liberal, writes:
“If Smith can be condemned on the basis of two songs, what are we to make of Paul Robeson, truly a black superhero before his time? He was a star college football player, gifted student, powerful singer, commanding actor (‘Show Boat,’ ‘Othello’), and to the end of his days a radical, and fiery civil rights activist. He, too, recorded ‘That’s Why Darkies Were Born.’”
Moreover, what asks Cohen, of Frank Sinatra:
“He was no racist He supported liberal causes and befriended Sammy Davis, Jr. when it wasn’t easy to do so. Sinatra recorded the evocative standard ‘Without a Song’ in 1941 using the original racist lyric—-‘a darkie’s born, but he’s no good no how, without a song’. Should Sinatra be banned?”
Kate Smith, caring American
Those who are removing Kate Smith from our public life because she recorded two songs we know are objectionable, would have done well to look a bit more carefully at her life.
In January 1945, when she was one of the most popular entertainers in the country, Kate Smith delivered an address on the “We The People” radio program.
In her speech, she told the story of a Christian family who had saved Jews from the Nazis in Belgium before commenting.
“Race hatreds, social prejudices, religious bigotry, they are the diseases that eat away the fibers of peace. Unless they are exterminated it’s inevitable that we will have another war. And where are they going to be exterminated? At a conference table in Geneva? Not by a long shot. In your own city — your church — your children’s school — perhaps in your own home.
You and I must do it – every father and mother in the world, every teacher, everyone who can rightfully call himself a human being. Yes, it seems to me that the one thing the peoples of the world have got to learn if we are ever to have a lasting peace, is — tolerance. Of what use will it be if the lights go on again all over the world — if they don’t go on … in our hearts. Kate Smith, “The Value of Tolerance,” (Tune In, May 1945).
With millions of Americans listening Smith calls for “every church and family to commit to tolerance and understanding.”
Her comments were in newspapers across the country.
Advocates of political correctness lack historical perspective.
Susan J. Douglas, a professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan, notes that,
“In matters like this, when a moment from the past ignites a current debate, context matters. People don’t think about the historical context, and they don’t think about nuance at all. There’s a huge difference between the 1930s and 1945.”
The victims of political correctness are many.
Recently, the English Department at the University of Pennsylvania removed a portrait of William Shakespeare. Critics of the portrait had no particular claim against Shakespeare. They simply feel there are too many old white men in literature.
We are engaged in what Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood called the “sin of contemporaneity.” Meaning that we find our ancestors wanting. Why? Because 100 years ago they did not share the views we have in 2019.
Must we abandon Plato and Aristotle, Dante and Michelangelo and Cervantes? Are they no longer valid because they did believe the world was flat? That slavery was the natural order of things?
Must we abandon the art, music, literature, and philosophy of the past because it represents the thinking of a different era?
Kate Smith was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan. Her honor was for her artistic and patriotic contributions.
During the summer, at 11 a.m., the city of Wildwood, New Jersey plays a recording of the Star Spangled Banner along with Kate Smith singing God Bless America.
Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano says he plans to continue playing these recordings each day, regardless of pressure from the proponents of political correctness. Good for him.
Lede Image Composite by CommDigiNews:
1925 Image of Kate Smith (Library of Congress) – No known restrictions on publication.
Kate Smith – By Peetlesnumber1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66350638
Kate Smith (c1940s) https://katesmith.org/ (used for promotional issue)