American Exceptionalism, The Betrayal, Newby Marker, The Last Hurrah, Hidden Maryland

Like many of you, I’m still reeling from the latest gun carnage that took the lives of 19 young children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. An 18-year old with an assault rifle and more than 100 rounds of ammunition mowed down a fourth grade class of children, while police, standing in the hallway, ignored desperate 911 calls for help. So much for more “school resource officers.” And within days: a mass shooting in Tulsa, Oklahoma City–and four more dead.

There’s always a lot of bravado about American exceptionalism.  But that is nothing to brag about when what is exceptional is the culture that devalues life after birth at the expense of so-called “gun rights.”  Only in America used to be a good thing.  But not when the comparison is with other democracies that have reined in their guns and seen their death rates from firearms drop dramatically. And still we resist.

But it’s not really “we.” It’s the party of McConnell, Trump, McCarthy, Stefanik, Greene and company. The armed  insurrectionists aided, abetted and encouraged by the cynical or simply deranged politicians of the GOP.  Their vice grip on American government was on the program at the Gaithersburg Book Festival, on May 21. There I had the honor of interviewing Ira Shapiro, author of a new book The Betrayal: How Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans Abandoned America.

(GBF Photo (c) Bruce Guthrie)

Ira is nostalgic for the decades when as a Senate staffer he observed a degree of comity nd bipartisanship that no longer exists in the  U.S. Congress. But under McConnell’s leadership, whether as Senate minority or majority leader, the views of the majority of voters on a range of pressing issues have failed to prevail. Since our conversation, the Washington Post has devoted much space to McConnell’s decades-long role in quashing efforts to pass sensible gun control measures supported by a majority of Americans. The fundamental issue beyond McConnell is the flaw in the founders vision for the upper body: So long as Wyoming, population 580,00, and California, with 39 million people, have equal representation with  two senators each, and the filibuster further frustrates the majority, a tyrannical minority wins and democracy loses.


Hidden Figures No More

Late-breaking news:  I am pleased to report that on Tuesday, May 23, the Virginia State Highway Administration erected a historical roadside marker in northwestern Culpeper County to Dangerfield and Harriet Newby.  The plaque is one of several the state has erected to largely forgotten African Americans who made major contributions to improve life in the Commonwealth.  Under former Gov. Northam, fourth grade students submitted nominations. A fourth grade class in Fairfax County nominated the Newbys, after their teacher, Maura Keaney, used my book Five for Freedom: The African American Soldiers in John Brown’s Army as an educational resource.  Dangerfield Newby, born enslaved but then a free man of color, had joined with John Brown in hopes of freeing his wife Harriet and their children enslaved in Prince William County. But Dangerfield died on Oct.  17, 1859 at Harpers Ferry and Harriet and the children were sold south to Louisiana. In three poignant letters, Harriet wrote to Dangerfield that he was her “one bright hope.”  That was also the chapter title devoted to their story in my book.

In my many book talks, I have highlighted the Newby story.  In 2019, I wrote more about them in an essay for the Zocalo Public Square website with the headline: “The heartbreaking love letters that spurred an Ohio blacksmith to join John Brown’s Band.” To read what I wrote, please click here. While it is gratifying to report that the historical marker has now been placed, there has been as of this writing no dedication ceremony to mark it. So it stands, unheralded but nonetheless there, on an embankment near the intersection of Routes 211 and 279, perhaps 50 yards from another marker commemorating “Campaign of Second Manassas,” when in 1862 Confederates under Robert E. Lee defeated Union forces under Maj. Gen. John Pope.



No Last Hurrah for DC’s Central High School

It’s been three years since the alumni of DC’s old Central High School, once the elite institution for white Washingtonians under segregation, held their annual reunion.  The school closed in June 1950; that September, the imposing building on a hill overlooking the city became Cardozo High, for Black students.  Covid, of course, canceled Central reunions in 2020 and 2021. But this year, there were plans, or hopes, to bring together the dwindling number of graduates or, in some cases, their offspring raised in the fading shadow of Central. But that was not to be. “May annual meeting will not be held” was the headline in the Central High Alumni Record that arrived in the mail.  I’ve been getting these newsletters since I wrote a premature obituary for the association in the 1997 Washington Post Magazine. More recently, in 2018, I wrote on the Post’s Local Opinions page “Central High School gave up its building but not its spirit.” which you can read by clicking here. Association Treasurer Howard Hooper had asked earlier this year how many might attend in person. He heard from 5 with no firm commitments. The  spring newsletter contains 16 obituaries plus a “Fond Farewell” list of 33 Centralites “reported since last record and returned mail.”

“If we decided that meetings are no longer possible we still plan on continuing to send the Record as long s possible,” wrote President Joan Thuma Chaconas, Class of ’49. She went on to hope “everyone is enjoying the Spring season and have an enjoyable summer.”  The Central High Alumni Record is not available online.


Coming Soon:  Hidden Maryland: In Search of America in Miniature

From 2006 to 2013, when the magazine folded, I was a regular contributor to Maryland Life, a bi-monthly publication.  My contributions included a “Hidden Maryland” column and several features. I have now collected around 50 of these timeless gems in a soon-to-be-published book: Hidden Maryland: In Search of American in Miniature.   Hidden Maryland will be available from Amazon in both e-book and print form. Watch this space for more details!


  1. Daphne on June 3, 2022 at 9:08 am

    An informative and enjoyable read, as always. I’m looking forward to Hidden Maryland- keep us posted!

  2. Carrie Cowherd on June 3, 2022 at 2:02 pm

    I read about the decision to grant the marker for the Newbys when it was announced, but did not know there had not been a dedication ceremony. I also did not know that it was “down (or up) the road a piece” from a marker for a Confederate victory. There are two ways of looking at that. But the proximity does cynically provide context. I must say I am reminded of the wonderful title of a work by another Mr. Newby, “Nude to the Meaning of Tomorrow.” And I am. Thank you, as usual.

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