Happy birthday, Charles Boycott

by James on March 12, 2017

Happy birthday, Charles!


Charles Cunningham Boycott was born on March 12, 1832. It’s a long story from there, but I will give you the short version with my twist.

Charles Boycott was a British Protestant, and at about 40 years of age he landed a job in largely Catholic Ireland as a rent collector — from tenant farmers — who rented land annually — from an absentee landowner — who lived in a castle. (Well, that sounds like there could be trouble ahead.)

That arrangement seemed OK until just a few years later when harvests were poor. Enter the process server with papers to evict the farmers who could not pay their annual rent. Evictions followed, and tempers rose. In 1880 after three eviction papers had been served, the wife in the family of the 4th tenant about to be served, gathered a few of her friends and pelted the process server (and constables) with stones, mud, and manure. The process server took his welts, gathered his papers, called it a day, and headed back to join Charles Boycott for a spot of tea.

Now all of this was not taking place in a political vacuum. Political bodies supporting tenant farmers had formed 30 years earlier during the Irish potato famine (1845-1852). By 1880 the political units had some influence, including one called the Land League. Now keep in mind that once a tenant farmer was evicted, other tenant farmers could bid for the right to farm that vacated land. On September 19, 1880 speaking to a group of tenant farmers Charles Stewart Parnell (Land League leader) asked what should be done with someone who bid on and then took over the land vacated by the evicted tenant. Rejecting the ideas put forth by the gathered farmers (shooting ‘em, killing ‘em), Parnell suggested what he thought of as a more Christian approach to the person taking over the land of the evicted farmer. Parnell suggested a social isolation including shunning him on the roadside, in the shop, in church, on the green, in the marketplace. He suggested not speaking to him, treating him as a “leper of old.” Of course the term “boycott” had not yet been coined, but I’ll bet you can guess who was the victim of the first boycott!

Poor Charley. Charles Boycott was a farmer too, renting land from the guy in the castle, but part of Boycott’s rent collector pay was leased land, a large home and enough commission to staff it. Well, staffing it with servants, day laborers, field hands, grooms, blacksmith, cooks, and maids became a problem for Boycott within days of the first eviction notices. Under pressure from the tenant farmers, all of Boycott’s employees left, he couldn’t get food from the local shops, and communication (mail) was cut off. Boycott’s crops were going to rot in the fields, but that is another long part of the story, and you can read it elsewhere.

There was still no word for this action of shunning/ostracism/isolation, and by now Charles Boycott’s plight was national and international news. Being a good Catholic, local priest Father John O’Malley supported his people – the working tenant farmers. He joined them in their right for survival through political action. He was in the thick of it, and it was Father O’Malley who first suggested the term Boycott. The world press picked it up. Within two months the Boycott family left their home.

After that Charles Cunningham Boycott often traveled under an assumed name. The rest is history.

I didn’t know any of this earlier today, so I had to read. Below are the two sources from which I took all of this information. If you want to read many more details, here they are the two best I found:


Captain Boycott: man and myth

image from


attributed to

Leslie Ward [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Post image for A little Iowa civil rights history

A little Iowa civil rights history

by James on January 16, 2017

The time is always right to do what is right. – MLK Jr.

How tall will we stand today? Iowa has a noteworthy civil rights history with regard to racial equality. If you would like to read much more than this essay, there is a toolkit available on the State of Iowa website, as well as links below.

For example, did you know that the State of Iowa enacted a Civil Rights Act in 1884, 60 years before the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964? The 1884 Iowa act prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or ethnicity in certain areas. Without saying what it was, it might be an interesting exercise to choose a section from the act and ask your current elected representative(s) if they would support such a legislative measure.

In spite of the 60 year old Iowa Civil Rights law, in downtown Des Moines in 1948 Edna Griffin, a black woman and wife of a medical student was refused service at the soda fountain at Katz Drug Store, the management saying they “weren’t equipped to serve coloreds.” Katz Drug Store is now best known for refusing to serve ice cream to Edna Griffin, and Edna Griffin is best known as the Rosa Parks of Iowa.

Did you know that seven years before Iowa became a state, the Supreme Court of the Territory of Iowa ruled that a slave owner had no ownership right to his slave residing in Iowa. Our case preceded Dred Scott and was in direct opposition to the the U. S. Supreme Court ruling of 1857. The U. S. Supreme Court’s Dred Scott ruling said that a slave owner could still own a slave even when moving to another state. The Dred Scott ruling was invalidated by ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865. Do you think that Iowa would ratify the 13th Amendment today? Would you support it? Even though slavery was prohibited in 1865, black males were not given the right to vote until 1868.

Did you know that in 1851 the State of Iowa struck down the law banning interracial marriage. Over 100 years later the ban on interracial marriage was still in effect in South Dakota (until 1957), in Nebraska (until 1963), in Missouri (until 1967). In 1967 I began teaching at Drake University. The year 1967 seems like recent history to me. Did you know that throughout most of the 20th century Iowa had far different values than Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota. In the past Iowa has had a reputation for being tolerant, broad-minded, and unprejudiced. Is that still our reputation?

Many of us will remember 1954. In 1954 the U. S. Supreme court ruled that separate schools for blacks and whites were not equal and therefore unconstitutional. In contrast Iowa’s Supreme Court made the same decision that separate is not equal, except Iowa did it in 1858, nearly 100 years earlier. If you had been a jurist in 1954 or in 1858, would you have seen it the same way? In my view Iowans were a good lot in 1858. The year 1858 is a year before my paternal grandfather was born in Southern Sweden while in 1954 I was in 9th grade. That’s quite a gap. It took a long time for the country to catch up to Iowa.

In 1879 the first black student graduated from the University of Iowa. That is 6 years before my maternal grandfather was born in South Bohemia. Contrast the 1879 Iowa grad with Baylor University where the first black student graduated 88 years later in 1967, or The University of Alabama in 1965, or The University of Mississippi in 1963.

I would hate to ignore football in a discussion of education. In 1895 Frank Holbrook was the first black football player at the University of Iowa. Preparatory to reading the next sentence recall that Missouri fought for the South and conducted raids into Southern Iowa just 31 years earlier. At the Iowa-Missouri football game in 1896, an away game for Iowa, Missouri fans appealed to their team to “kill the n*****.” Fourteen years later there had been little change in attitude. In 1910 officials at the University of Missouri warned Iowa’s football coach not to bring a particular black player along. With the best of Iowa values at the fore, Iowa’s coach kept his team home and postponed the game. How did he feel? Well, it took 100 years before Iowa played Missouri again. It was a bowl game in 2010. What’s the relevant expression here? Consider this as well. Seventy years after Iowa had its first black football player, I was a third year Baylor graduate student. Baylor had an all-white football team. So did every other team in the Southwest Conference – Arkansas, Baylor, Rice, Southern Methodist (SMU), Texas A&M, Texas Christian, Texas Tech, and The University of Texas. Oh wait a minute. I spoke too soon. Those 8 teams were all white except SMU. That year, 1965 was the year SMU’s then-coach Hayden Fry violated the conference’s gentleman’s agreement to sign no black athlete. Fry signed Jerry LeVias, the first black scholarship football player in the Southwest Conference. Both Coach Fry and player LeVias received death threats. It’s an ugly story.

No discussion of race and education in Iowa would be complete without George Washington Carver. The great scientist George Washington Carver has connections to many states – Missouri, Kansas, Kentucky, and Alabama – but it is his several Iowa connections that led to his formal career combining art, botany, horticulture, chemistry and agriculture. In his mid-20s after being admitted on paper to Highland College (KS), his enrollment was refused when he showed up in person. After farming and studying on his own for four subsequent years, he borrowed money for his education and moved to Iowa. Initially refused admission to Iowa State, he enrolled at Simpson College where he studied art and piano and based on his complementary abilities in botany and art, Carver was encouraged to transfer to Iowa State. Today Simpson College science students study in Carver Hall, George Washington Carver Hall. On his second try Carver was admitted to Iowa State, transferred, and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agricultural science. He is also considered to be Iowa State’s first black faculty member. After leaving Iowa State he spent the rest of his life and career at Tuskegee Institute (now University) in Alabama where he developed countless agricultural methods and developed products, nearly all from peanuts, sweet potatoes, and soybeans. Simpson, Iowa State, and the State of Iowa are proud to claim our role in educating a world changing pioneer.

Has Iowa changed? For the most part I think our values are steady, but in 2015 a statue of George Washington Carver on the ISU campus was vandalized.

As a reader I invite you to try these contrasting experiences on for size. Reporting his experiences at Simpson College in 1890, Carver reported, “At Simpson the kind of people there made me believe that I was a human being.” In sharp contrast while reporting his first year experiences at Baylor University in 1965, Robert L. Gilbert (Baylor’s first black graduate) reported the following exchange: “I went (to the professor’s office) to talk about the course and how I could better prepare for it and all. He asked me if I was from around these parts.I said yes, I was a native Wacoan. He (the professor) said, ‘But you don’t talk like a n*****.’ That rubbed me the wrong way.”

Allow me to make an editorial observation about Gilbert’s professor.

The more polished white racists among us might have said something along the lines, “But you don’t fit the stereotypical view of black people that I have cultivated like a garden in my imagination.” That’s probably too snarky isn’t it? But if you are white and have ever begun a sentence with the phrase, “I am not racist but……”, spend a few minutes and try to let that exchange between a white person in authority and a black person trying to succeed in the classroom sink in. Try to imagine it from three viewpoints: the speaker; the receiver; the neutral observer.

To Baylor University’s credit they reported Gilbert’s good and bad experiences in the lead article of the most recent edition of BAYLOR MAGAZINE sent to all alumni.

During the Civil War Iowa fought for the Union, for the North and against the Confederates who wished to maintain slavery. Our Iowans fought against the South and their principles. Prior to the outbreak of the conflict, at personal and financial risk, many Iowans were part of what is known as the underground railroad, a network of individuals helping runaway slaves (also called freedom seekers) to escape to free states or to Canada and to avoid recapture by slave owners and their agents. At the outbreak of the Civil War Grenville Dodge for whom Camp Dodge is named secured weapons, organized troops, and then led Iowa’s 4th Volunteer Infantry in battles in Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee. Of the 76,000 Iowan volunteers who fought for the Union, 13,000 Iowa troops died. It’s an honor to be associated with a state like Iowa. We have history and many courageous leaders who stood up for Iowa’s long-standing principles of freedom and fairness.

So here we are again – at a crossroads in Iowa’s proud history. Will we stand for our principles? Will we honor those who came before us? In the past Iowa has had a reputation for being tolerant, broad-minded, and unprejudiced. Our actions have been based on principle, not bias, not expediency, not political alliances, not hatred. I am hoping that our Senators, and especially Senator Grassley will set aside partisan politics and will represent the best of Iowa’s long-standing principles.



Paula Abdul Provides A Powerful And Tenacious Example For The Final 2013 Smart Talk Connected Conversations Series

May 8, 2013

by David Borzo

Don’t let the beautiful smile and the provocative dance moves and videos throw you; don’t let some of the American Idol stories lead you to a wrong conclusion; don’t let her slight stature fool you for even one minute: Paula Abdul is a powerful performer who has used talent, intelligence and – she’s […]

Read the full article →

The Final 2013 Smart Talk Connected Conversations Heats up with Paula Abdul

May 1, 2013

by David Borzo

The temperature is being turned up for the final 2013 SmartTalk Connected Conversations™ next week with Paula Abdul, the pop idol, dancing star, top–40 diva and of course famous American Idol judge. But long before she became that always interesting and sometimes controversial idol judge, she was a performer at the highest levels […]

Read the full article →

Lara Logan Makes An Impact On The Smart Talk Connected Conversations

April 24, 2013

by David Borzo

CBS News reporter and CBS 60 minutes reporter Lara Logan gave a mesmerizing and unscripted talk to a captivated audience at the Des Moines Civic Center.  Her story is a powerful testament to human endurance and fortitude. I don’t like to throw such expansive terms around, but this celebrated journalist provided an extraordinary […]

Read the full article →

The 2013 Smart Talk Connected Conversations Continues Next Week with Newswoman Lara Logan

April 16, 2013

by David Borzo
The 2013 SmartTalk Connected Conversations™ takes quite a serious turn next week with the highly decorated CBS 60 minutes journalist Lara Logan. Lara has made a name for herself with bold reporting from war zones for more than two decades, holding a prominent spot among the world’s best foreign correspondents.  But it was on […]

Read the full article →

King Peggy Speaks of Personal Destiny, God and Standing Up For Human Rights

March 13, 2013

by David Borzo

Yes, King Peggy is a woman, and yes there are some other women kings in Africa, but it is a highly unusual situation. We learned at SmartTalk this week about Peggy Bartels of Washington D.C., who accepted her “true path” in life when fate called. By considering God, her ancestors and the great […]

Read the full article →

“King Peggy?” You Need to Check Out This fascinating Story at The Next SmartTalk Connected Conversations

March 8, 2013

by David Borzo

A certain Peggy Bartels was born in Ghana in 1953. In her early 20’s she moved to the USA and Washington D.C., getting a position in the Ghana embassy. So far so good. But then in 2008 she received a call in the middle of the night from across the world, telling her […]

Read the full article →

Joan Lunden Is Perseverant Every Morning With Her Strategies for Success

February 23, 2013

by David Borzo

She was our best friend every day on Good Morning America in the ‘80’s and 90’s, and over those nearly 20 years must have interviewed every major celebrity and public figure around. But for the last decade Joan Lunden has been busier than ever with family, writing and her many business interests.  As […]

Read the full article →

Good Morning Des Moines: Joan Lunden is Next From SmartTalk Connected Conversations!

February 17, 2013

by David Borzo

Most of us probably know Joan Lunden as one of the great hosts of Good Morning America (GMA) from 1980 through 1997. But this famous journalist has several other careers as well, is a working mother of seven, and is a caregiver to her 93 year old mother. With her schedule she undoubtedly […]

Read the full article →