This Day in History

November 20th

1866–1st convention of the Grand Army of the Republic. (GAR) It took place in Indianapolis and was also called an encampment. The GAR became a fraternal organization for veterans of the Civil War. Many Black ex-soldiers joined it and the GAR became one of the first integrated organizations in America. It advocated for veterans benefits, helped create Memorial Day as a national holiday, and fought for the voting rights of black veterans. The GAR’s power reached its zenith during the late 19th century and their endorsement helped elect five presidents. Unfortunately the organization did not pursue equal benefits for Black veterans so they never did receive the same recompense their white compatriots did.

Later the VFW and the American Legion followed the pattern of the GAR by establishing local posts throughout the nation. The GAR remained in existence until 1956 when it was dissolved after its last member died. Albert Woolson was somewhere between 106 and 109 years old, exact age uncertain, when he died in Duluth, Minnesota on August 2nd, 1956. His father had died of wounds suffered at Shiloh and Woolson was around fourteen when he joined C Company, 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment as a drummer boy. He was the last documented living person to have served in the Civil War. There were two Rebel soldiers who maybe lived longer but their claims were never substantiated.

I was a twelve-year-old boy when Woolson died. I remember being so amazed that someone who had been in the Civil War and myself could both be alive at the same time. It still kind of amazes me.

1938 — First anti-Semitic remarks on US radio. Father Coughlin, on his radio broadcast, attacked Jewish bankers, blaming them for the world’s economic woes. After Kristallnacht, when German Nazis went on a rampage targeting the Jewish population, he defended the violence, rationalizing it was justified.


He explained to his listeners on November 20, 1938 that the “communistic government of Russia,” “the Lenins and Trotskys…atheistic Jews and Gentiles” had murdered more than 20 million Christians and had stolen “40 billion [dollars]…of Christian property.”

In 1926, Father Coughlin, a Catholic priest, began teaching catechism classes to children on the radio, expanded to religious services, and eventually added political commentary to his radio broadcasts. He gained a large audience and a reputation for being the spokesperson for the common man. He initially supported Roosevelt and the New Deal, and FDR, while distrusting Coughlin, used him to get elected. When Coughlin didn’t receive a post in FDR’s administration, he turned against the New Deal, labeling it communistic.

Coughlin’s influence was huge, at one point he was receiving 80,000 pieces of a mail a week and a special post office had to be built just for him. At first he was neither “Left” nor “Right” supporting issues from both parties. As the 30s wore on he became anti-Semitic and supportive of fascist leaders. He was an isolationist, blamed Jews for the war in Europe, and helped organize the Christian Front, a militia dedicated to protect the U.S from Jews and communists. His downfall came on December 7th, 1941. After Pearl Harbor and America’s declaration of war, Americans rallied to the cause. Coughlin vehemently protested U.S entry into the war, saying Jews were behind it. Public sentiment turned against him, the government no longer allowed the postal service to deliver his magazine, and the Catholic Church banned him from making radio broadcasts. Coughlin influence waned although he continued administering to his parish in Detroit until his retirement in 1966.

Throughout history there has always been plenty of rabble willing to follow the rouser.

1945 — Nuremberg Trials. Held from 11/20/45 to 10/1/46, twenty-four prominent leaders of the Third Reich were put on trial. One of the charges against them, creating new precedent, was crimes against humanity, for the genocide the Nazis practiced. Twenty-one of the twenty-four were found guilty and ten were sentenced to death by hanging, the rest receiving prison sentences ranging from ten years to life.

If Father Coughlin would still have had his radio show, I wonder what he would have said about the Nuremberg Trials.


1327 — Bassui Tokusho. Japanese Zen master. His mission in life was to revitalize the practice of Zen, which he believed had become too dogmatic. Once he became a monk he did not follow the usual practices and would not wear a robe. He said he had no need for such trappings. His desire in life was to attain enlightenment for the benefit of others. One of his quotes,“The essence of your mind is not born, so it will never die. It is not an existence, which is perishable. It is not an emptiness, which is a mere void. It has neither color nor form. It enjoys no pleasures and suffers no pains.”

For whatever reasonI find that reassuring.

1884 — Norman Thomas. Presbyterian minister, pacifist, and leader of the Socialist Party in America. Thomas was an early supporter of birth control, racial integration, environmental protection, unions, and was one of the few who spoke out against FDR’s internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. He even criticized the ACLU, accusing them of “dereliction of duty” for not challenging FDR’s order. Thomas ran for president six times but never had much of an impact.

Some of his statements: “We are socialists because we believe we need to have a concept that the great purpose of life is to manage our extraordinary scientific and technological achievements and our resources for the common good. It’s not easy and it cannot be the byproduct of a game where everybody seeks the maximum profit for himself, either men or nations in that role.”

He said that in 1961 in a debate with Barry Goldwater. I doubt that Goldwater’s response was near so lofty.

Thomas also said,“There’s a great deal of reward not according to deed, not according to need, but according to breed — the choice of your grandfather is very important. And according to the successful greed, which operates not in terms of great contributions to men, but in terms of manipulations of one sort of another.”

Based on those statements alone I would probably have voted for him, except he last ran when I was five years old.

1908 — Alistair Cooke. Journalist and film critic. Cooke was best known for being the host of Masterpiece Theater on PBS for twenty-two years. He also did a radio broadcast series entitled “Letters From America.” As a former Brit and naturalized American, he “wrote” to England what life in America was like. The series lasted fifty-eight years, ending in 2004, shortly before his death.

A two-minute presentation once a week, that’s a schedule I could handle. But I’m sure more went into it than that.




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Gary Jenneke

Writer, traveler, veteran, miscast accountant except for one interesting stint at a Communist cafe, retiree and blogger.