“Calling America,” 1939

In light of President Obama’s searingly anguished remarks about race relations and the Trayvon Martin trial on Friday, it is useful to look back at a 1939 issue of Survey Graphic.

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Survey Graphic interpreted America’s social issues through writing and art. Throughout the 1930s, the magazine published a combination of illustrated articles and pictorial essays featuring photographs, cartoons, and paintings. It was critical of many pundits and politicians that spoke of democracy for some but not for all.

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The following is an all too brief synopsis: “Calling America: The Challenge to Democracy reaches Over Here” begins with an overview (survey) of dictatorial and totalitarian conquests throughout Europe and Asia and the impact on freedom everywhere.

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This leads to discussion by various intellectuals and social critics on the steady rise of fascism and the repressive actions that are emerging as the New Order becomes an axis of worldwide transformation. How does America respond? This leads logically to a look at our own house. First in terms of U.S. demographics and immigration (legal and otherwise).

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(Note the stereotypical ISOTYPES for Mexico, Ireland and Germany)

The narrative pinpoints the emerging nationalist, racist and fascist fifth column political and religious groups, including KKK, Nazi Bund and other “terror-based” groups, that spread exclusionary propaganda and exercised violence to drive their messages.

survey graphic 4survey graphic 9 survey graphic 10This prescient issue concludes with an argument that ours is an individualist tradition yet “The spirit of democracy must pervade human relations deeply and widely,” wrote Alpheus Thomas Mason, a political scientist, “or else the most essential instruments of popular government become ineffective.”

But the last word does not come before Archibald MacLeish, poet, author, editor, Librarian of Congress, and a director of the Office of War Information, wrote:

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. . . .Where he argued “Democratic belief in democracy, and the popular will to defend it, are achieved only by permitting democracy to face any attack, however slanderous, however murderous, answer the proposals of the attackers with such proposals as a democracy can make. Those who believe in democracy because they believe in the people will have no fear of the outcome. Those who believe in democracy for another reason may very well fear but their fears will be irrelevant.”

These truths we hold self evident. Even today.

For more Steven Heller, check out Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility‚ one of the many Heller titles available at MyDesignShop.com.

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  1. “Searingly anguished remarks about race relations and the Trayvon Martin trial?” I guess Barack Hussein Obama didn’t get the memo the trial had nothing to do with race relations. Even Trayvon’s mother said so. But does that stop him from fanning the fires of racial division in this country? Noooooooo . . .