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By Rebecca Price Janney, Jun 5 2018 12:39PM

If there was ever a rotten year in American history, 1968 ranks right up there in the top ten. Maybe the top five. I wouldn’t object if the year was nominated for the worst one ever since 1607’s Jamestown Settlement.

That was the year all hell broke loose—the brutal Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War, cities writhing and burning with racial unrest, campus riots, a bloated, powerful government led by an ineffective President, the psychedelic drug culture, moorings coming undone on many levels of society. If those were not enough to invoke Edvard Munsch’s “The Scream,” two political assassinations brought the nation to its collective knees, within two months of each other.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4th. Many advised Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was running for president, not to make a scheduled appearance in a black ghetto of Indianapolis. They couldn’t guarantee his safety if the crowd rioted. He went anyway. In those days before 24/7 news and the internet, Kennedy walked into a situation in which most people had not yet heard that King had died.

When Kennedy arrived, he mounted a flatbed truck and began speaking from his heart, saying that MLK had been killed. People shrieked, and cried out. After a few moments, he spoke again. For the first time since 1963, he publicly mentioned the death of his brother, President Kennedy, identifying with their pain. He concluded:

"What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black. . .(Let us) dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of this world."

He asked the crowd to pray for the nation and its people, then he left. The people departed, quietly. Not so in more than 100 U.S. cities where the night passed in a maelstrom of rioting.

The following day, RFK told a group in Cleveland, “No one–no matter where he lives or what he does–can be certain whom next will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed.”

Were these words unknowingly prophetic? They certainly were uncanny.

Shortly before midnight on June 4th, “Bobby” Kennedy entered the Ambassador Hotel’s ballroom in Los Angeles to give a victory speech. He’d just won the critical California Primary, and his talk was punctuated with humor about his dog and some of his friends. Then he left, taking a short-cut through the hotel’s kitchen to get away from the teaming crowd to meet with the press and supporters. Sirhan Sirhan came out of the shadows and started firing his revolver. A little over 24 hours later, Robert F. Kennedy died at Good Samaritan Hospital.

During my teens and early 20s, RFK was my undisputed hero, although I hadn’t remembered him from my childhood. As I read about his life, I came to admire the way he overcame being “the runt” of the Kennedy clan, how he fiercely protected the rights of the oppressed and downtrodden, his recovery from his brother’s brutal death, his ardent faith in God.

Five decades later, as I remember him and his terrible death during that horrendous year, I’d like to quote my favorite of his sayings, one he borrowed from playwright George Bernard Shaw. Robert Kennedy’s brother Edward quoted it at the end of his eulogy at St. Patrick’s Cathedral:

“My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered as a good and decent man who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering, and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will someday come to pass for all the world. As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: ‘Some men see things as they are and say ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and say ‘Why not?’”

Robert F. Kennedy, 1925-1968
Robert F. Kennedy, 1925-1968

By Rebecca Price Janney, May 23 2018 01:24PM

Maybe each of us gets our “fifteen minutes of fame” at least once during our lifetimes, but one 19th century fellow’s claim to fame leans in the direction of twenty-four hours.

David Rice Atchison actually had a pretty illustrious (if not controversial) career—attorney, Democrat member of U.S. House of Representatives, Major General in the Missouri State Militia, Brigadier General (Confederate) during the Civil War.

In 1845 he became President Pro Tempore of the U.S. Senate, placing him third in the line of succession to the Presidency. Whenever the Vice President was absent, Atchison presided over the Senate for him. Back in 1849, the Kentucky native became caught up in a rather loopy chain of events just as his Senate term was ending. At noon on March 3rd, President James K. Polk’s tenure ended. However, the incoming Chief Executive, Zachary Taylor, refused to be inaugurated on a Sunday.

In a September 1872 newspaper article, Atchison discussed what happened, with a slight tongue in cheek:

It was in this way: Polk went out of office on 3 March 1849, on Saturday at 12 noon. The next day, the 4th, occurring on Sunday, Gen. Taylor was not inaugurated. He was not inaugurated till Monday, the 5th, at 12 noon. It was then canvassed among Senators whether there was an interregnum (a time during which a country lacks a government). It was plain that there was either an interregnum or I was the President of the United States being chairman of the Senate, having succeeded Judge Mangum of North Carolina. The judge waked me up at 3 o'clock in the morning and said jocularly that as I was President of the United States he wanted me to appoint him as secretary of state. I made no pretense to the office, but if I was entitled in it I had one boast to make, that not a woman or a child shed a tear on account of my removing any one from office during my incumbency

of the place.

Most historians say that technically Atchison never really served as President for one day, but I think this is one quirky, historical asterisk worth repeating.

By Rebecca Price Janney, May 14 2018 12:31PM

Last Friday’s trip to the French Consulate is something I am savoring slowly, turning over each detail of that magical day. I’d like to share some of the highlights with you.

For Scott, David, and I, the trip began around 10:30 AM when we left Media for Trenton Station, which took just under an hour. Inside the large building we newbies to train travel found kiosk-type screens to order tickets. At first we were confused by the two Penn Station designations, one for Newark Penn Station, the other for New York. That corrected, we ordered three adult tickets and found our way to the platform.

We arrived at teaming Penn Station around 1:15 and made our way up to street level and all the hoo ha that is Manhattan—cheek—to-jowl crowds, mind-numbing traffic, and noise, noise, noise, both audible and visual. I hardly knew where to focus. We stood in a brief line for a taxi, then headed uptown to 934 Fifth Avenue, near Central Park. The taxi ride was predictably hair-raising, and long. I kept watching the meter ticking away! As we approached Central Park, I felt like I could breathe a little easier for the green spaces, and the people walking at a more leisurely pace, at least for New York!

We arrived at the French Consulate about 20 minutes early, but people had already begun to arrive. Located across from Central Park, the building’s façade is typically French, a gray-white sort of stucco, elegant, understated. Inside, we went through security, then to registration.

We went upstairs in an old-fashioned elevator with a door on the outside, and on the second floor we were ushered into an ornate room about the size of a modest, hotel ballroom. There were rows of chairs with signs for each group—students, VIPS, family. The veterans were being seated at the front of the room under a huge medieval tapestry which seemed to be of the Holy Family in Egypt. The staff were hustling about, doing what needed to be done in preparation for the ceremony. Scott, David, and I sat on the front row of the left family section, and we spent the time before the ceremony talking to a woman whose father also was getting the medal.

The ceremony began a little behind schedule after an honor guard brought in the colors; as a DAR, I naturally put my hand over my heart at their procession and posting! Then the French Consul welcomed us, and the speeches began, brief tributes to the veterans and the long friendship between our countries, how grateful the French people still are, and always will be to the men who served, many who gave their very lives. My dad calls them “The true heroes.”

Children from a French school read short bios of each of the eight men and one woman receiving the medals, then the French Consul and a man who’s president of a French-American association took turns bestowing them, which I found very moving. There was the singing of the Marseilles, which the French sang with great pride, and the American National Anthem. Several of the French officials either saluted during the Star Spangled Banner, or had their hands over their hearts, which brought tears to my eyes.

At the end, Scott and I made our way to the reception area where we accepted flutes of champagne and were offered some truly French hors devours, including “fish and watermelon.” Then the woman who helped me apply for the medal on Dad’s behalf, Claire Voison, came over. “Are you Joseph Perio’s family?” I loved her floral accent! She told us to wait right there. She would get the Consul. Another French associate came over promising to use our phones to take pictures, along with the official photographer.

The Consul, Ann-Claire Legendre, came and introduced herself, then presented me with a beautiful certificate, signed by French President Emmanuel Macron. She spoke about how much my father’s services were appreciated and how they would never forget. Then she gave me his beautiful medallion. It was all so overwhelming, like I was watching a movie happening to someone else. After the official ceremony, I told her I’m a DAR and how grateful we are to the French for coming to our aide in the Revolution. It was a special moment between us. I told her, and Claire, about my dad’s stories of how kind the French were to him as he made his way through France, he and his troops bringing freedom in their wake. What struck me was how truly sincere they are about their gratitude to those Americans who liberated their nation from Nazi oppression.

Vive la France!

By Rebecca Price Janney, May 7 2018 02:16PM

I have the pleasure of making an especially happy announcement—I just signed a new book contract!

Several years ago I had the idea of writing novels about people who got caught up in revivals that have swept through America at various, unexpected, times. I’ve been interested in these unusual, exciting events since I attended my husband’s college reunion in 1995, the 25th anniversary of the Asbury College Revival of February 1970. Like other revivals, this one occurred during a time of change, unrest, and uncertainty.

The first book in what will be the Morning in America series is called Morning Glory, the story of a man and a woman during the First Great Awakening of the 1730s. Although the male and female characters are fictional, readers will recognize Benjamin Franklin, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards, among other historical characters who populate the pages.

My publisher is Elk Lake, which also does my Easton Series. Hip hip huzzah!

By Rebecca Price Janney, May 2 2018 12:36PM

At the Battle of Chancellorsville, April 30-May 6, 1863, some 97,000 Union and 57,000 Confederate troops clashed in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Although the South triumphed over General Joseph Hooker and his men, the loss of General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson came as a terrible blow to the South.

Five years ago, Scott and I took David for the 150th commemoration because Scott’s great great grandfather, James Alexander Black, fought in the Stonewall Brigade, and my relative, Israel Kocher, served with the PA 153rd Regiment. Unfortunately, Scott’s ancestor died in the battle. David asked us which color cap he should be wearing, blue or gray. We told him to honor both of his ancestors; when he’s south of the Mason-Dixon Line, wear gray, and when he’s north, wear blue.

When it comes to the Civil War, do you come from a “mixed marriage?”

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