Highways Through Hell
To the Editor:
The Green Book was a valuable resource for African-Americans driving cars on long road trips during the Jim Crow era, as two books under review (March 1), Candacy Taylor’s “Overground Railroad” and Gretchen Sorin’s “Driving While Black,” point out. An earlier variation of the Green Book was used by my mother’s uncle James Herman Banning and his co-pilot, Thomas C. Allen, in 1932, when they became the first African-American pilots to fly across America. Before they flew out of Dycer Airport in Los Angeles on Sept. 21, they plotted their route so they would land in towns with a black population with churches, hotels and restaurants. Known as “the Flying Hobos,” they would go to black churches to pass the plate and raise funds for gas, oil and airplane maintenance. Their major challenge was when forced landings would find them in a white farmer’s cornfield or near sundown towns. They persevered and landed at Valley Stream airfield on Long Island on Oct. 8, where they were feted by the press and local officials. They flew out of L.A. as hobos and landed in New York as heroes.
Philip S. Hart
The writer is the author of “Flying Free: America’s First Black Aviators.”
To the Editor:
Reading the review brought to mind my experience in the summer of 1970. As a young physician in the Army Medical Corps, I was assigned to Fort Bragg. Upon entering Fayetteville, N.C., home of Fort Bragg, with my wife and 1½-year-old son, we encountered a huge billboard: “Join & Support The United Klans of America, Inc. Help Fight Communism & Integration. Welcome to Fayetteville.” My wife pointed out that “Communism” likely referred to Jews.
Interestingly, of the dozens of physicians and dentists at the hospital, I remember only one black physician.
Far Rockaway, Queens
‘Why We’re Polarized’
To the Editor:
In his enthusiastic review of Ezra Klein’s “Why We’re Polarized” (Feb. 9), Norman J. Ornstein, like Klein, dances around the all-important issue of how we might attain badly needed constitutional reform. After laying out the egregious realities of the formal political system established by the Constitution, most obviously the Electoral College and the Senate, Ornstein writes that “at some point, the fundamental legitimacy of the system will be challenged.” Why hasn’t that point been reached already, given the practical reality that a minority of the voting population controls the Senate, the White House and, therefore, the federal judiciary?
More to the point, neither Ornstein nor Klein addresses the fact that the Constitution is inordinately hard to amend, so that the only practical way, say, to address the present role of the Senate is through a constitutional convention, most certainly not by expecting the existing senators to ask serious questions about their bloated powers. Ornstein concludes by expressing his “fear” that a “long and torturous” road lies ahead of us. Perhaps we should recognize, more accurately, that we’re already about to careen over a cliff and that the Constitution basically leaves us without brakes.
The writer is a professor of government at the University of Texas, Austin, and co-author of “Fault Lines in the Constitution.”