Apr 18, 2014

American Art Works Return to Nation's Capital


Welcome to American Mosaic from VOA Learning English.
I’m June Simms.  Today on the show we go to an art museum in Washington.
American Masters at the Phillips Collection 
More than 200 art works by some of America’s best artists have returned home to a museum in Washington, D.C.  The paintings had been traveling to shows around the world for the last four years.  Now they are on exhibit at the Phillips Collection again.  Mario Ritter reports.
The exhibit is called “Made in the USA: American Masters from The Phillips Collection.”  It includes the work of more than 100 American artists. All the paintings were created between 1850 and about 1970.
Museum founder Duncan Phillips collected the artwork from the end of World War l until his death in 1966.
"This show is really an opportunity to bring out artists who are under-recognized."

"Egg Beater No. 4, 1928" by Stuart Davis"Egg Beater No. 4, 1928" by Stuart Davis
That is exhibit organizer Susan Frank. She says Duncan Philips bought the works at a time when European artists were more in demand.  
“He was determined that he would dedicate this museum to living American artists and lift up American art out of obscurity and give it the same presence that European works were given by his contemporary collectors and other museums.”
She says 80 percent of the art in the Philips Collection is American.
The earliest works date from the beginning of the late 19th century and include paintings by such famous artists as Winslow Homer and Arthur B. Davies.  The exhibit ends with extraordinary examples of Post-War Abstract Expressionism.  The art of this final period uses color and forms not to represent objects but to show emotion and creativity.
Susan Frank says Duncan Phillips often developed a personal relationship with the artists whose works he collected. Sometimes that relationship included financial support.

“Most well-known of course is his engagement with the abstract American artist Arthur Dove whose work he discovered in the mid-1920s.”
Duncan Phillips lent his support to many immigrant artists as well. Susan Frank says he considered their cultural differences as something that expanded the American experience. 
“Phillips always believed and championed American art as including all of the world because so many artists were immigrants who came here from being foreign-born, who brought their cultural aesthetics with them and synthesized them with their American experience. He celebrated their approach to their American experience as being something that enriched us.”
The museum is hoping that the exhibit will excite people about the wide mix of American art in the first half of the 20th century.  It also seeks to educate people about how Duncan Phillips helped lift American modern art to the level of European masterworks of the same time.
I’m Mario Ritter.
Question image


Apr 17, 2014

Supreme Court Rules in Amistad Slave Ship Case


From VOA Learning Englishwelcome to The Making of a Nation — a weekly program of American history forpeople learning American English.  I’m Steve Ember inWashington.

Last time, we talked about the Amistad case.  TheAmistad was a slave ship from Cuba.  In 1839, itappeared off the eastern coast of the United States.  The Africans on the ship had killed white crewmembersincluding the captain.  They demanded to goback home, to Africa.  But the two remaining slavetraders on the ship secretly sailed the Amistad towardthe United States.

The US government put the Africans in a low-securityprison in New HavenConnecticut.  And it made plansto take the Africans to court.  A judge would decide whether the occupants of the ship were slaves who had rebelledmurderers, or captives who had beenkidnapped from their homes.
The Amistad case brought attention once again to the issue of slavery in theUnited States.  At the timeslavery was legal and an important part of the country’s economy.  But the U.S. — and several European countries — hadbanned the international slave trade.

small group of activists wanted to totally end slavery.  They believed slaverywas a sin.  But in the 1830s, most Americans did not support these anti-slavery activistsknown as abolitionists

Most Americans first of all were racists and, secondlysaw these people asutter fanatics who were intent on destroying the union.”
Julie Roy Jeffrey is a professor of history at Goucher College in Maryland.  She says newspapers reported on the Amistad case, and people begantalking about slavery and the slave trade.  Slowlysome Americans’ feelingstoward the abolitionist movement and enslaved Africans changed

“For examplethere was a play put on in New York City called the BlackSchooner that was based on the Amistad incident, and there were many,many people who went to see it.  It became a popular event.  And wax figuresof the captives were exhibited in various places in the United States, andartists drew pictures of them.”
The abolitionists wanted to make more Americans sympathetic to the AmistadAfricans.  They found lawyers to represent thempaid tutors to teach them, and organized outdoor exercises to keep them healthy and visible.

Howard Jones taught history at the University of Virginia.  He says one of themost popular members of the Amistad Africans was an eight-year-old boywho had learned English.  The boy told the public about his life in Africa andabout the conditions on the slave ship that brought him across the AtlanticOcean.

The Amistad case also was increasingly becoming a political issue.  Peoplewanted to know what President Martin Van Buren was going to do about thecase.

Historian Howard Jones says Van Buren found the position difficult.  He did notwant to anger southern voterswho supported slavery and wanted to makethe African slave trade legal again.  He also did not want to anger northernvoters who believed the Amistad Africans had been mistreated.

Van Buren did what any good politician would do.  And that was to try tododge the issue.  Stay away from it.  He couldn’t understand why 40 plus by this time black people should affect anything happening in high politicalsociety.”
But the Amistad issue would not go away.  The case began in a circuit courtAfter three days it went to a district court.  The district court judge ruled that the African slave trade was illegal under international treaties; for that reason, the Africans were wrongly taken.     
Amistad Issue Reaches Nation’s Highest Court        

President Van Buren was worried the decision would cause more politicalproblems for him.  So he ordered the nation’s highest court, the SupremeCourt, to hear the case.

An 1844 Daguerrotype of Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph Story.An 1844 Daguerrotype of Supreme Court Chief JusticeJoseph Story.
The chief justice of the Supreme Court at that time wasJoseph Story.  Story did not like slavery, but he did notsupport the abolitionist movement either.  He thought itsideas opposed the rule of law
The abolitionists had good lawyers, but they knew theyneeded more help arguing their case in the SupremeCourt.  So they turned to former president John QuincyAdams.                                                                                            
At the timeAdams was a congressman, not anabolitionist.  But he led a campaign against an 1836 rulerestricting anti-slavery petitions.  Adams said the rulewas a violation of the constitutional right to petitionCongress.  Historian Julie Jeffrey says the 1836 “gagrule,” as it was calledhelped the abolitionists’ cause.
“It became partly a freedom of speech issue, not justabout slavery, but about the rights of citizens to speak out and to be heard bytheir representatives in Congress.”
Yet John Quincy Adams was not excited about arguing the Amistad case.  He was 72-years-oldnearly blind, and very busy.  But the issue of the AmistadAfricans troubled him.  Howard Jones says Adams believed capturing peopleand enslaving them was immoral – especially in a country like the UnitedStates.  In the endAdams agreed to defend the Africans.
“And he makes the argument in the court case that we have the Declaration ofIndependence right there on that wall and that says that lifeliberty, the pursuitof happiness… It doesn’t say for white people only, or anything like that.  He was arguingtrying to argue, that it’s something that’s available for everyone, it’s part of the justice system.”
Chief Justice Joseph Story did not totally accept Adams’ argument, or suggestthat any kind of slavery was wrong.  But he did agree with the district courtthat these Africans had been taken illegally from their homes.  They were not and had never been slavesJustice Story said.  They were free people andshould be returned home
Amistad Captives Allowed to Return to Africa                  
So, in 1841, the remaining thirty or so members of the Amistad captives goton a ship called The Gentleman and returned to West Africa.  Howard Jonessays the incident was the only time he knows that black people who had beenbrought to the new world as slaves actually made it back home.

“And how they do it?  By winning in the American court system.  This was justunheard of.  But the decision was basically that it doesn’t matter whether youare blackwhitepurplegreen or whatever color you are, you have beenkidnapped.  And so therefore you have — and Joseph Story said this in hisdecisionwhich really opened the door for a lot of arguments — that under theeternal principles of justiceyou have the inherent right of self-defenseeven ifyou must kill your captors.”

Howard Jones says the Supreme Court decision also gave the abolitionists anew sense of power.
“And the abolitionists immediately printed pamphletsleaflets, had talks,everything they could to show that these people went free, and theirimplication was, this is what’s going to happen to slavery itself. That this is agreat victory for the black man.”
But the Amistad case did not really change the situation in the United Statesfor most black people.  Many were the children of slaves and could not arguethey had been kidnapped from Africa.  And, it was still legal to trade slavesacross US state borders.   

The Amistad case also did not solve all the problems in the abolitionistmovement.  Julie Roy Jeffrey says during the trialsmany abolitionists workedtogetherincluding blacks and whites.

“It sometimes worked very well, and it sometimes didn’t work so well, but it was certainly one of the first times that blacks and whites had worked sofruitfully together.”

After the Amistad victorythough, the abolitionist movement broke into differentgroups.  MsJeffrey says some black abolitionists wanted more respect fromwhite activists
Other abolitionists just had different ideas about how best to end slavery: bytrying to change the country’s laws, or by appealing to Americans’ moralsense of right and wrong.
Abolitionism did influence other movementshowever.  One was themissionary movement.  Julie Roy Jeffrey says Christian missionaries hadalready been going to Africahoping to persuade people to follow their religion.  But the Amistad case and abolitionism made more people want to share theirbeliefs with others.
Some missionaries even converted the Amistad captives to Christianity andreturned to West Africa with them.
Abolitionist Movement Helps Women’s Rights

MsJeffrey says the abolitionist movement also helped create the women’smovement in the middle of the 1800s.  She says most 19th century whitewomen mainly cared for their families in the home, but women abolitionistsplayed an important public role.
They weighed in on the most political question of the day.  They took onactivities like collecting petition signatures and raising money and givingspeeches.”

As a resultMsJeffrey sayssome women came to believe they had a right todevelop their own beliefs and have political power.
 “Sometimes they propped up their activism by appealing to things like theBibleOne woman I remember said something like, ‘I read my Bible, and Iknow what it tells me.’ And she was opposing the minister in her church and she was a very active abolitionist.”

Yet even if abolitionism still did not personally affect most Americans, it madean increasing number of people question whether they wanted slavery tocontinue
Next week on our program, we will tell about the short presidency of WilliamHenry Harrison.  And we will continue talking about how slavery influencedpresidents and politics over the coming years.  
I’m Steve Emberinviting you to join us next time for The Making of a Nation —American history from VOA Learning English.
Question image


  © FREE VOA Special English 2008

Back to TOP