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"The Good Governor" Who Welcomed Asian Refugees to Iowa and The Story of Charleston: The Way Life Used to Be, And Perhaps, Is Supposed to Be

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
June 15, 2022 3:05 am

"The Good Governor" Who Welcomed Asian Refugees to Iowa and The Story of Charleston: The Way Life Used to Be, And Perhaps, Is Supposed to Be

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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June 15, 2022 3:05 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Matthew R. Walsh, author of The Good Governor: Robert Ray and the Indochinese Refugees of Iowa, tells the story of this remarkable man who was driven by faith and a commitment to helping his fellow man. Tommy Dew shares the story of Charleston, NC—from the American Revolution to today. 

Support the show (https://www.ouramericanstories.com/donate)

 

Time Codes:

00:00 -  "The Good Governor" Who Welcomed Asian Refugees to Iowa

25:00 - The Story of Charleston: The Way Life Used to Be, And Perhaps, Is Supposed to Be

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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Let's ride. This is Lee Habib, and this is Our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. And we love to hear stories from our listeners.

That's you. Send them to OurAmericanStories.com. That's OurAmericanStories.com. They're some of our favorites. After the United States withdrew from Vietnam in the 1970s, their allies around the region who had fought against the communists faced torture, involuntary servitude, and death.

They were on their own. The man to lead the charge to save them? The governor of Iowa, Robert Ray. Here's our own Monty Montgomery with the story of the good governor.

Take it away, Monty. In the state of Iowa, there is a unique ethnic group. In fact, there are more in Iowa than anywhere outside of Asia. They're called the Taidon. But how did they end up there?

Here's Matthew R. Walsh with the rest of the story. Taidon means black tie, and they're called black tie because of the clothing worn by their women. Now, this ethnic minority was from Northwest Vietnam. That's their ancestral homeland around the place called Dien Bien Phu. But they ended up in Laos after North Vietnam fell to the communists. But what happens is South Vietnam falls to communism, and these Taidon are very scared because they know that the communists remember them and how they fought against them in North Vietnam. These Taidom are worried Laos is going to be next. And in May of 1975, they actually crossed the border into Thailand seeking asylum. And it is from Thailand that they write letters to 30 U.S. governors. They want to be resettled as a group. They want all these Taidon, they want their fellows to be able to go to the same place.

And nobody listened except for the governor of Iowa, Robert Ray. And he agrees to resettle these Taidon, but he couldn't do it immediately because the U.S. government was only accepting refugees from places that had fallen to communism. And the Taidom had fled in May of 75.

Laos did not officially fall to communism until December of 1975. So the governor had to kind of bend the rules and say, well, can you let me bring these people in? And Kissinger and Ford agreed, and they basically just said, well, these people are originally from Vietnam and that place has fallen to communism and we'll bring them in. And this Taidom group ultimately comes to Iowa in 1975. So Governor Ray brings in these Taidom. Vietnam falls to communism in 1975, but it takes a while for the communists to really gain a firm hold on the South. And thus began a second refugee crisis in Asia.

People were fearful that their sons were going to be drafted into this military and have to fight for the communists. So what do they do? They take to the seas. And it was incredibly dangerous for them. They got in these small boats.

Some of them are very rickety, unseaworthy. So pirate attacks, rape, murder, people dying of thirst, dying of disease. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the seas and it's estimated that one in three actually died.

And some people, right when they're about to get to landfall, there's this joy. But then a boat comes and they actually tow the refugees back at sea because these places like Singapore, they didn't want refugees. Malaysia doesn't want refugees. They're poor. They resent these people coming in, taking resources.

Some of them will actually be stoned to death when they arrive on shore. So Governor Wray watches a basketball game at Drake University and then he returns from this game and watches a 60 Minutes program. It's a special report on the boat people done by Ed Bradley.

And they're talking about all that these people have been through. Well, Wray was very moved and he's like, we have to do something. He had already created this refugee resettlement program to help the tide on in 1975.

It's still running. So what he says is, I will agree to accept fifteen hundred extra refugees. And he then wrote letters to every governor to do more to help the boat people. And he wrote to President Carter to do more to help the boat people. He's one of the first politicians to stand up and say, we need to help these folks. So that's the kind of the second thing that he did was helping the boat people. It's the second of basically three big things that Wray did as governor of Iowa. Bringing in the tide on was first helping these boat people, refugees come in was second.

And the third will be helping people from Cambodia. Well, Wray is he's born in 1928. He's from Des Moines. He's a Des Moines guy and he just misses out on World War Two, but he does join the service. And while he's in the service right after World War Two, he's in the east and he really gets to see the devastation. So I think that made an imprint on him as a young man.

It was something that it was impressionable to him. He then goes to Drake University. And even before that, I guess I should say at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, he was known for sticking up for the little guy. He wasn't interested in people bullying others. But he goes on to Drake and then he studies law and he becomes a lawyer and then basically a chairman of the Republican Party trying to get Republicans elected to office.

And then eventually he runs for governor and he wins the governorship in 1968 and served for 14 straight years. For Wray, it kind of worked. He's a Christian man. So those Christian ethics, I think, are going to be important for Wray, helping out others. People complaining about refugee resettlement. They were saying, why are you helping out these foreigners? Why aren't you helping Iowans who you were elected to serve? And Wray's response was, quote, if we don't have the heart or the spirit to save human lives, then how can we be expected to help those whose lives are already assured? And if we're going to turn our backs on people who are dying overseas, our allies who are dying, well, we're not going to be all that kind to those who are in Iowa.

So we can do both. And when we come back, more of this remarkable story, the story of Robert Wray and the refugees here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history, from war to innovation, culture, and faith, are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

Go to hillsdale.edu to learn more. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year, and UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit uhcmedicarehealthplans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare, helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot, and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

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Purchase All-Free Clear Mega Packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. And we return to our American stories and the story of Governor Robert Ray, the governor of Iowa for 14 years, and the refugees he brought into his state. When we last left off, Ray had decided, even in the face of criticism, to be the first governor to take in refugees from Vietnam, and he would soon take a flight overseas to take stock of the situation in the refugee camps.

Here again is Matthew R. Walsh to continue the story. Well, the catalyst for Ray's trip overseas is his work with the Thai Dom. He brings in the Thai Dom starting in 1975, but they still have family. They still have friends, still have loved ones who are coming in.

Well, he's visiting these camps where they're still Thai Dom and there's a moving story. They said, Ray, Governor, we want to show you our symbol of hope. So Ray and the small delegation from Iowa, they go look at the symbol of hope in this thatched little hut.

It's the State of Iowa Department of Transportation map. It's their symbol of hope. And on this map, there are pins where different Thai Dom families had resettled and where these folks hope one day they would be reuniting with these loved ones. He's visiting the Thai Dom in Thailand at the refugee camp Nong Khai, and then he makes an excursion to the Cambodian refugee camp.

And that's when, you know, he sees one person died. A young girl died and her head fell in the lap of one of Ray's aides. Governor Ray, very avid photographer, and he went around the refugee camp and was snapping photo after photo of these kids crying, people sick, losing hope. They didn't have running water.

They had hardly anything. And they were escaping a group of people called the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge.

This is basically meaning red people. They were nasty folks in Cambodia. They tore through that place. They were cutting open people and these Khmer Rouge communists forced people out of the cities and into the countryside to work as slaves.

They separated families. One man slit so many people's throats that he developed arthritis in his forearm and had to develop a different technique for plunging his knife into people's throats to kill them. And many people starve to death. And Ray visited the Cambodian refugee camps in Thailand in 1979, and he was just devastated by what he saw.

He wrote a great speech and delivered it to the assembly of his church. And this is him talking about visiting the Sakhayo refugee camp. Have you ever stood in a small muddy spot about two hours while five people died around you?

I did two days ago. Those deaths were only part of the more than 50 that died in that one camp on that one day. To see little kids with sunken eyes and protruding tummies trying to eke out a smile will bring a tear to the eyes of even the most callous. And when he returned, he came up with this idea of Iowa shares and he handed out that film that he had taken. Didn't even know what was on it. He gave it to the Des Moines Register, the major newspaper, and they published an article and it showed some of these photos and what Governor Ray had saw in the refugee camp. And the newspaper helped publicize and get donations for Iowa shares. And shares stands for Iowa sends help to aid refugees and end starvation. And what Iowans did is they purchased a share in humanity, which was the price of a bushel of corn. And they donated money to the governor's office. And the governor's office used this money to send medicine, Iowa doctors and nurses and food to these starving Cambodian refugees. And one woman sent in her engagement ring to the governor's office and they had to give it back.

They said, we can't accept this. A nine year old boy named Eric Sharp donated his Christmas money as Ray basically announced this, you know, Iowa shares program. He said in a world where there is hate, there's more reason to love and a world where there is hunger.

There is more reason to share. And in 1979, Iowans through this Iowa shares program raised over $540,000. Some people backed this movement because of Judeo Christian ethics, some in the Jewish community, you know, seeing those people starving to death in Cambodia sparked memories of the Holocaust, people being liberated from the camps and looking so terrible because of the mistreatment. So rabbis from synagogues, they helped out people in the Christian church. They served as sponsors trying to help people get resettled. And a lot of people felt guilty about Vietnam and destructive force America played there. Helping refugees was a way for them to heal from the wounds of the Vietnam War. And Ray's work with refugees also kind of gave people pride because to be a public official in the early 70s, people were frowning upon you. It wasn't much to be proud of after the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal. So Ray helped keep people's faith in public government. And what I find amazing is during this controversial era, Ray's approval rating was over 80%.

It's quite fascinating, but a lot of people liked him and that's why they were willing to help. The Thai Dom early on did fairly well. Within a handful of years, they were able to have a vast majority of people own their own automobiles and a majority of Thai Dom would become homeowners in just a short time period. What they did is they pulled their resources. They tried not to rent. They might be multiple families renting, but just for a little bit, everyone will pitch in and will get you your house.

And then after you have your house, you and others are going to pitch in and then you're going to get me my house. So they bought a lot of homes. They might be modest homes, but they became homeowners.

They became automobile owners. They helped each other out. So the community served as a safety net. Initially, the first group of people who came here, they were professionals.

That was very helpful. The first wave, that first 130,000 people that I spoke about, a lot of them were officers in the military, politicians, people with good careers. Early on, a lot of them fell into becoming blue collar workers.

So there's stories of bank owners becoming janitors at banks. So it's tough for that first generation. Now, the second generation did quite well. And, you know, they're flourishing. There are people who are in the medical community.

They're doing great work. But we do have a very diverse and rich state. And a lot of it stems from this refugee resettlement that began in 1975. There's more Thai Dom in Iowa than anywhere outside of Asia. They created their own community center on the north side of Des Moines, and they named their community center the Robert D. Ray Welcome Center. You can go there for a festival every year. They have a big festival that celebrates their coming to Iowa. They honored Ray at that festival. There's also something called the Asian Gardens that we have here in Des Moines that honors Ray's work with these refugees. One woman, this is a quote from her, her name's Samba Com.

She said about Ray, I love the man forever. He will be our savior. He is almost like our Abraham Lincoln. He freed us. They really do revere the man when he died. Governor Ray rested in state at the US Capitol building, and all these refugees came to say farewell, to lay their wreaths and ribbons and other things on to his burial site. He's a very beloved figure, especially amongst the Southeast Asian refugee community. And terrific work on the production by Monty Montgomery and a special thanks to Matthew R. Walsh, his book, The Good Governor.

Go to local bookstores or go wherever you buy your books online. Also, a special thanks to our own Jim Watkins for putting this story together. And what a story about what happened after the communists took over and it was America and Iowa in particular who came to the rescue. What a story about Iowa's heart, about the American heart and about love and compassion. What a story.

The story of a good governor and a good country here on Our American Stories. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year, and UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit uhcmedicarehealthplans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare, helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot, and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. Doing household chores can already be time consuming and tedious, and there's nothing more daunting than facing piles and piles of laundry that need to be done. I mean, that can be overwhelming for anyone. So, if you want to get those larger laundry loads done right and get back to your life, try all free clear mega packs. All free clear mega packs are bigger packs with two times the cleaning ingredients compared to a regular pack so that you can tackle any laundry load without the worry. All free clear mega packs are also 100% free of perfumes and dyes and they're gentle on skin, which is great for any family's sensitive skin needs, which my family, we definitely have sensitive skin. So, the next time the whole family gets home from long vacation or you get the kids back from summer camp or whatever the situation is that's caused this big pile of dirty clothes, just know that all free clear mega packs, they have your back.

Purchase all free clear mega packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. And we continue with our American stories. Tommy Doo's walking tour of Charleston, South Carolina has been praised and recommended by the likes of the Wall Street Journal to Trip Advisor. Tommy is here to share the story of Charleston from the American Revolution to today.

Here's Tommy Doo. The South collapsed in 1865 and was left for dead. Charleston paid a terrible price for her role in the war. Secession began in Charleston.

The first secession document was signed in downtown Charleston, December 20th, 1860. And then the first shots were fired here at Fort Sumter. So, the political start to the war was in Charleston, the military start, and we were a philosophical target. The federal government bombed Charleston for 587 consecutive days. It's the second longest artillery siege in modern warfare after Leningrad.

The Germans bombed the Russians for 900 days during the World War II and the Federals bombed us for 587. And by 1865, it is a ruin. And that's, for instance, why Sherman didn't come here. In large part, we were not viewed as a viable target.

He did not need to waste his time on us. As much as he wanted to raise Charleston, he did more harm to South Carolina and the Confederacy by burning the middle of the state. He cut a fire 60 miles wide to central South Carolina. And then we were occupied after the war for 14 years. It was a 6,000-man federal occupying force, martial law. And then when they pulled out, the place was essentially left for dead. And it took about 100 years to start to recover. Healthy cities in those 100 years embraced urban renewal. They were inclined to tear down their old stuff because it stood in the way of progress. And Charleston couldn't participate. So as a result, we've got about 100 buildings downtown from before 1776 and about 1,000 from before 1861.

But I think maybe more importantly than the architectural preservation is the cultural preservation. People understand that the South is different, but they don't always understand why. And I would say it's because it was uninfluenced, undisturbed by the outside world. There was hardly any immigration here until relatively recently. And even accents are impacted.

Southern accents tend to be much older because immigrants move the tongue. And there was just not a lot of immigration here. And so when all these fronts were frozen in time, architecture, culture, accents. If we had been healthy, this would be anywhere USA.

Everything would have been bulldozed. We talk about slavery a lot on my tour. You can't talk about Charleston without talking about slavery. We were the number one slave trading city for the United States. A third of slaves that entered the U.S. entered through the port of Charleston.

And that's a shocking statistic, but it makes sense. Charleston was the largest city in the South until 1820. That's when New Orleans overtook us. And the slave trade had already concluded as of 1808 as part of the U.S. Constitution. So this was the largest southern harbor through legal importation. The South, with the superior farming conditions, had an appetite for that labor. The wealth here, and that's important to understand, these are the wealthiest Americans. These are the most educated Americans. I liken it to what was happening really around the world, but the plantation culture that evolved here is, in my estimation, the repackaging of Old World feudal culture.

They're playing it being English, French, and German royals in a place where that's possible. We have a year-round growing season. We have 50 to 55 inches of annual rainfall. And we have no rocks for 100 miles. We're in an alluvial plain. We're nothing but topsoil and sand. And so it's some of the finest farming in the world, the southeast coastal plain.

And so they take that Old World lens. In England, you would have large estates. You've got royals in the big house. The peasants are in the field. The peasants don't get to vote. They don't own the land.

They can be bound to the estate. And then the royals would have a town in the middle of London or Paris or Vienna. So the royals of the world would gather in the capitals after fall harvest. In the capital, you make your political relationships, and then you make your business deals. And then the social fruits are in the capital as well.

So literary season, debutante season, theatrical season, all that's dead of winter stuff. So they come in with a mindset, and they apply it, and it works. They're able to live like royals in the New World, and it is seductive. And that's ultimately the issue.

They're not interested in new ideas. The North was an agent of change in the mid 1800s, and these families were prideful. And they were not great negotiators, and they would rather fight than yield. They saw the federal government as unconstitutional, 500 miles away, controlled by people that lived even further away. And they were not about to lie down before it. And so they ended up fighting to the death, and by 1865, it's over.

Total collapse. And so the wealth here, the prestige here, is absolutely built on forced labor. You can't separate the two. But I do think it's important to understand, everybody now understands that slavery is immoral.

It's not negotiable. But 200 years ago, it was kind of fuzzy. People didn't see it the way we see it. Just as an example, in 1840, only 2% of Northern people were abolitionists. Just 2% critically opposed to slavery in the North in 1840. And at the same time across the South, less than 10% of white families owned slaves.

See, that is probably the biggest misconception. People assume that the average white guy in the South was a slave owner, and it's not close. Over 90% did not own slaves. If you look at the mountains of the South, the Appalachian counties were slave-free. Literally, county after county had zero slaves, because you can't own slaves in the mountains and make money, just like you can't own slaves in New England and make money. And so the conditions here were ripe, high-volume, industrial-level farming, with sort of a feudal, patriarchal lens. And it's a pretty daggone good fit.

And so it is logical we're the number one slave trading city for America. And there's always going to be pushback on that. I notice it, and I probably notice it more now than before, because people are increasingly talking about these things. I think we swept it under the rug for a long time.

I think people just maybe even tried to pretend like it didn't happen. I've never had that approach. I love talking about slavery, and I find that my guests, particularly if I have black tourists, they want you talking about this stuff. They don't want you shying away from it. Those are my favorite compliments when I have black tourists and afterwards they say, thank you so much for being frank. Thank you so much for not mincing words. It's refreshing.

Because you don't learn if you don't discuss it. So I think one of the great joys for giving tours in Charleston is outside people do not understand the significance of Charleston, because it collapsed in 1865. This was the fourth largest city in the United States in 1790. Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Charleston. South Carolina educated more children in Europe than the other 12 colonies put together. Nine of the 10 wealthiest families in America were living in South Carolina for a period of time prior to 1776. All at once.

Nine out of 10. And so the role of Charleston is not well understood. The American Revolution, I think, offers insight. This is the bloodiest theater of the revolution. There were more battles in South Carolina and more people were killed in South Carolina than any of the other 12 colonies. And that's just a huge surprise for guests. We had four signers of the Declaration of Independence from Charleston, four signers of the Constitution from Charleston.

And that's not well understood. George Washington spent a week in Charleston in 1791. And he wrote that he had never been entertained more lavishly. He said the most elegant parties he had ever attended were in Charleston and that the prettiest ladies he'd ever seen were in Charleston. And you're listening to Tommy Doo, and it's not a walking tour, but you're getting a great chronological tour, a great economic tour and a great social tour of one of America's great cities.

When we come back, more with Tommy Doo's walking tour of Charleston, South Carolina. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year, and UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit uhcmedicarehealthplans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare, helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot, and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. Doing household chores can already be time consuming and tedious, and there's nothing more daunting than facing piles and piles of laundry that need to be done. I mean, that can be overwhelming for anyone. So if you want to get those larger laundry loads done right and get back to your life, try all free clear mega packs. All free clear mega packs are bigger packs with two times the cleaning ingredients compared to a regular pack so that you can tackle any laundry load without the worry. All free clear mega packs are also 100% free of perfumes and dyes and they're gentle on skin, which is great for any family's sensitive skin needs, which my family, we definitely have sensitive skin. So the next time the whole family gets home from long vacation or you get the kids back from summer camp or whatever the situation is that's caused this big pile of dirty clothes, just know that all free clear mega packs, they have your back.

Purchase all free clear mega packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. And we continue with our American stories and with Tommy Dues walking tour of Charleston, South Carolina, which has been praised and recommended by everyone from the Wall Street Journal to Trip Advisor. Let's return to Tommy with more of the story of his hometown. Another really big surprise for outsiders is the permissiveness of Charleston. We have so many social firsts, the first theater in America, first racetrack in America, first golf club in America, widespread gambling, city back lotteries. The oldest profession was legal from the beginning through World War II. Our Navy base matriculated hundreds of thousands of soldiers post World War II and they were riddled with STDs.

And so because of medical concerns, they had to write laws against it for the first time. Back in the 1940s, the French called us the Paris of the New World. The British called us the crown jewel of America. But at the same time, New Englanders called Charleston Sodom and Gomorrah. They saw Charleston as sinners on a biblical level, Sodom and Gomorrah. And what surprises people, the confusion comes from the fact that they're now inclined to call us the Bible Belt, but really the North was the Bible Belt for the first 150 years. So the real question is what happens, why did the North and the South swap personalities?

And it's about immigration once again. We stopped getting people in the early 1800s when they started industrializing and building factories. Immigrants go North.

They also invest in infrastructure, railroads, canals. And it's a magnet for immigration and the South is back watered. So basically, from the 1820s to the 1970s, there's 150 years where the Southeast is not receiving people at the same rates as everybody else. The Southern families grow deep roots and they tend to have a longer, more traditional view. And the North, which had been uptight, was overwhelmed by immigration 200 years ago and suddenly found herself to be multicultural, more liberal, more progressive. The South was increasingly homogeneous, conservative, and moralistic.

It impacts everything. Accents, we talked about that a little bit, but the Southeast coastal accent is Elizabethan English. So my accent, coming from Richmond, I've got a form of what is called the Tidewater accent. So around the Chesapeake Bay, that accent was established by people from southern England in the early 1600s. It's called a non-rhotic accent.

It's very soft. You draw, you hold your vowel, and you pull the R out of the word. I throw a ball.

I don't throw a ball. I go to the bathroom, not the bathroom. My grandfather loved to go down into the river, eat tomatoes and patatas. And that's Elizabethan English. It's linguistically closer to Elizabethan English than what is currently being spoken in England.

And I know that's difficult to believe, but it is a linguistic fact. And if you go up into the mountains of the South, it becomes Scottish. The Scots are the next great migration, and they go up the rivers looking for available land, and the mountains catch them.

And it suits them. There's an old saying in the South, the glen and glade of Appalachia settled by the Scot. And so instead of drawing and holding your vowel, you lilt.

You get it up into the back of your mouth more like diet. It's a brogue. And so you have a Scottish brogue in the mountains of the South and an English drawl on the coast.

And they're old because they were generally undisturbed. Another subtlety of the South and the lack of immigration is how we view ourselves. Southerners tend not to be ethnic people.

We don't care about where we came from overseas. We care about being Southern. So the joke is Southerners are Southern. Yanks are ethnic. Northern people are consistently more newly arrived people. And they tend to get excited, romanticize where their grandparents were born. So Northern people tend to have these little flavors attached to them.

Irish American, Italian American, Puerto Rican American, Chinese American. And Southerners tend not to see themselves that way. We've been here long enough to be from here. You definitely notice that if you ask a Northerner where they're from, it's usually where they woke up this morning. And if you ask a Southerner where they're from, it's where their people are. People always say, are you from Charleston? They'll say, no, I'm from Richmond. Well, you've lived here for 35 years. You're from Charleston.

And I will say, no, I am not. I am from Richmond. My people are from Virginia. I live here, but I'm from there.

And that's a subtlety. It's where your people are. That's where you're from.

It's not where you live right now. I get so many tourists who will say, this is my favorite city. I love it so much. You're so fortunate to live here. There is a secret sauce. There is a feeling I get when I come to Charleston, and I can't explain it.

What is that? And I would say ultimately it is the defense of the human scale. So in the late 1800s, engineering really improved. They invented the I-beam and the elevator. And the first skyscraper comes to fruition in Chicago, 1880. This place was so screwed up, it was boarded up and bankrupt. There was no money to justify a big building, and that would not come until after World War II. And by the time there was some desire to go big, it was too late, because preservation laws and zoning laws were well-crafted. Preservation says if a building is 75, you're not going to tear it down, and you can't corrupt the facade. You can't do anything to the exterior of an older building that's going to compromise its accuracy. And so to put a skyscraper in downtown Charleston, you'd have to tear down a block of old things, and that directly violates preservation. And there is a four-story threshold through much of the city. And that's called the human scale. Until the I-beam and the elevator were invented, cities around the world built to four stories and stopped, because the great materials of human history are wood, brick, and stone.

Wood, brick, and stone have the same load potentials. They get you to four stories efficiently, and then you've got to stop. You can actually add a fifth story, but it would double the cost of construction. You had to make the foundation so massive to carry that fifth layer.

It just did not make sense. And so there's always been an economic efficiency of four stories or less around the world for thousands of years. And so cities around the world had very similar, very predictable densities. If you maintain a four-story threshold, your population will live, worship, work, go to school, socialize, shop within a one, two, three-mile radius. The bulk of your existence will be in one place.

You're not spread too thin. And as a citizen, you can pour yourself into that piece of turf. Big cities embraced the new technology, ripped out the human scale, and started going vertical. They created jobs, but they also created commuters. That's how large cities suffer from millions of anonymous workers, people who often travel more than an hour to get to work.

The commute was awful. It was busy. They had to be aggressive to be competitive. And unfortunately, they're anonymous, and civility inherently breaks down in that situation. In a place like Charleston, you don't get to be anonymous. You see the same people day after day, and you know them in various ways. You cannot walk the streets of Charleston without seeing people that you know. And so you'll have frequent and often deep engagements block to block, and that enhances civility. The reason that this has been voted the most mannered city in America is because the human scale provides accountability.

You do not get to be anonymous. And so when you live in Charleston, you feel like you live in a village, yet we have the amenities and the cultural impact of a city that's millions and millions of people. I think one of the most interesting barometers of civility is how people use their car horn. People in Charleston refrain from using their horn.

They'll give you a little toot to say hi, or they may honk the horn if there's an emergency, but they don't use the horn to express themselves block to block. I had a tourist from Philadelphia on my tour a few years ago, and the night before the tour, she had pulled into town, and she was lost, and she was at a stoplight, five o'clock, rush hour traffic, couldn't find her hotel. She was buried in her map, and she spaced out. And when she looked up, the light was yellow and turned red. She sat at the front of the line through an entire green light, and she looked in the rear-view mirror, and there were a line of cars, and not one car blew its horn. Every car behind her gave her the benefit of the doubt, and it blew her mind.

She had an epiphany. She said, this is the way that life is supposed to be. And so I feel people come to Charleston from busy situations, from these large metros, long commutes, spread utterly too thin, and they come here, and it nurtures their soul.

This is the way that life used to be, and perhaps is supposed to be. And what a beautiful piece, a special thanks to Tommy Dew, his walking tour of Charleston, South Carolina, captured by our own Philip Graham, who moved from San Diego to Charleston. And a special thanks to Greg Hengler for the production on the piece as well. And by the way, we learned so much historically about this city and culturally about this city, if you've not been, by all means, a visit. But that idea of the defense of the human scale, and it's true, when you go there, you'll be struck most by the fact that there are just no tall buildings. And there's a lot of light because of that, and there's a lot of intimacy because of that. Tommy Dew's story here on Our American Story.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-16 13:40:41 / 2023-02-16 13:57:16 / 17

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