Monday, January 30, 2012

Was L.H. Bailey a Racist?

    In a recent January post on Thornapple CSA's blog, Paul B. Thompson, the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University, made the striking claim that Liberty Hyde Bailey was a racist: "But although Bailey is clearly a food ethics icon, he’s also problematic. He was a racist, for one thing, and his writings include occasional sentences and paragraphs that are shocking to modern readers." Despite not giving any specific support to his charge, let us take Professor Thompson's charge seriously. Unfortunately, comments to Professor Thompson's blog post are currently closed so I'll respond here.

To clear the playing field, let's list two important ideas that everyone should know about race:
  • Race has no genetic basis.
  • Race isn't biological, but racism is still real.
    With this in mind, here is what Bailey had to say in his background book, What is Democracy? published in 1918 after the wake of the Great War; "Racial independence and separateness is a doubtful apprenticeship to democracy. It tends to solidify the racial clan, making it a class enterprise in the world. Racial jealousies and hatreds have always stood in the way of democracy, and the modern process has been to break down these barriers...One reason why democracy has thriven in North America is because the population is not a race but a brotherhood."
    It is evident, that Bailey could not discard the idea and workings of racism. This doesn't make him a racist, however. In great contrast to a racist ideology, Bailey found the ideas of race antithetical to democracy. If he can be accused of anything is perhaps overt optimism that North America consisted as a brotherhood, while we still struggle with the inequalities of racism today.
    In his follow-up writing, Universal Service, the Hope for Humanity, Bailey viewed World War I as a "great collapse" in society where people of every race found it necessary to be prepared, "to destroy the citizen of any other race or people in order to protect itself." He further asserted, "If we make no fundamental change of direction in these moving forces at the conclusion of the present Lapse, then we must conclude that society does not have within its body the power of self-correction." Again, Bailey articulates the destructive properties in our belief in race.
    In all fairness, perhaps Professor Thompson quick accusation was directed at other aspects of Bailey, namely his science. But as for the man himself and his personal beliefs, we find a very articulate person, hoping for a better future, with a larger belief in humanity. That alone should give one enough restraint in connecting Liberty Hyde Bailey with the ugly stain of racism.

Friday, January 20, 2012

L.H. Bailey-A Look Backward On The Grape

    On a shelf in my library are some fifty books printed in North America which are devoted to the grape, but there is no other fruit that has anywhere near this number of volumes. When, many years ago, I began to collect horticultural books from antiquarian shops in all parts of the country, with no lists to guide me, I was struck by the profusion of writings on "the vine" and began to make inquiry as to the reasons for it. I found that therein lay a most interesting and devious history, and one that has much significance to the development of agricultural practice. We think of history as belonging to politics and governments, to kings and thrones and wars, but hardly to such common practices as the plowing of land and the growing of grapes; yet, one does not plow, neither does he plant, until he makes up his mind to do so, and he makes up his mind because there are antecedent reasons.
    These grape books are generally old — of the middle of last century and earlier — and they impress one greatly with the description of European practice. Many of them are books recording the attempt to transfer Old World methods into this new continent, and to grow the vine for the purpose of making wine; for wine has been the destiny of the grape from the time of Noah until the present epoch.-L.H. Bailey

Friday, January 06, 2012

Through the Lens of L.H. Bailey: Plants, Places, & People

In the archives of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum over one-hundred glass plate negatives taken by America's Father of Modern Horticulture, Liberty Hyde Bailey were uncovered. This summer, for the first time in over a century, these images will be able to be viewed by the public. At the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum's premier exhibit, "Through the Lens of L.H. Bailey: Plants, Places & People,"  connect to America's eminent horticulturalist-philosopher through these rare images taken at the turn of the 20th century. 
General Admission: $5; Student/Senior Admission: $3; Kids 5 and under: Free; Members: Free
 - Group Tours Available -
For more information email or call (269) 637-3251