‘Most Hated Woman In America’ Condensed Version Of Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s Life

Growing up in an evangelical church I was very familiar with the story of Madalyn Murray O’Hair and her signature Supreme Court case that led to the dismissal of prayer in school. And I vaguely remembered her murder in 1995, but did not remember who committed the crime.

So I watched a short film about her life.

Despite a handful of well-known actors, I would give this Netflix original film a B-/C+ because it has a tabloid feel to it and it focuses mostly on her dark side. The storyline is about her kidnapping and murder so it moves forward in an ‘against the clock’ method by counting down the days until her death. Scenes from the motel are used to pull in the backstory of her life — which in many ways, and on many angles, was deeply troubled.

One of the more interesting aspects of the movie was the Rev. Bob Harrington and Madalyn O’Hair debate which was featured on the Phil Donahue show. The pair realized they had a ‘million-dollar idea’ and took the debate on the road — a profitable move for them.

And, as you will learn in the movie, it’s not her atheism that lead to her death. It’s much more American than that — it’s greed.

Bottom Line: Since the film does not delve very deeply into O’Hair’s life, it is perfect for anyone wanting to know the gist of why Life Magazine called her the ‘Most Hated Woman in America’ in 1964.

Categories: American History, movies

1970 Sean Connery Film Romanticizes Militant U.S. Labor Organization

molly-mcguiresThe history of coal mines in America is filled with a lot of violence — unrest that many Americans know little about. The industry spawned war-like actions by workers and owners — from the Blair Mountain incident to a tent city in Colorado where machine guns were turned on American men, women and children.

In the 1970 film, The Molly Mcguires, Sean Connery plays the leader of a group of men in Pennsylvania fighting back against oppressive coal mine owners. However, they are not fighting back in the typical manner of the day (1876) by going on strike. They engage in acts of war, bombing trains, blowing up mines and assaulting company officers.

As Wikipedia explains, the Molly Maguires were

an Irish 19th-century secret society active in Ireland, Liverpool and parts of the eastern United States, best known for their activism among Irish-American and Irish immigrant coal miners in Pennsylvania. After a series of often violent conflicts, twenty suspected members of the Molly Maguires were convicted of murder and other crimes…

The film is about two hours long and is typical of its era. Of course, there has to be at least one bar room fight — which has an old ‘western’ feel to it. Despite being a period piece, it is a decent overview of the organization, and it shows, fairly accurately, what led to their demise.

The movie is available online and at Amazon.

For those interested in a more in-depth work, consider the Oxford University Press publication Making Sense of the Molly Maguires by Kevin Kenny.

Categories: movies

13th Documents America’s Deplorable Race History

13thWhen I saw an advertisement for 13th, I knew I would watch it, but it was regulated to the backburner because I wrongly presumed that it was a ‘history channel’ type story about the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

Boy, was I wrong.

Dehumanizing a Race

Instead director Ava DuVernay (Selma) explores the history of racial inequality inside the United States by demonstrating how other systems simply replaced slavery. These systems, from Jim Crow laws to lynchings, were new ways of dehumanizing African Americans, but the film does not focus on those historical systems — it is about the modern system used to enslave many Blacks — incarceration.

Calling on a divergent cast of characters she delves into the laws, policies and processes that turned America, which represents five percent of the world’s population, into a country where 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated live inside our jails and prison. That is a hard stat for me to fathom: One out of every four prisoners in the world are housed in our systems.

But They’re Criminals

People concerned about how we ‘got here,’ will walk away with a different view of the system because DuVernay effectively projects a much deeper understanding of the laws, policies and players that created this debacle. For example, one of the reason for the growing prison population is a disparity in laws. In the film, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich admits that the punishment for crack cocaine and cocaine should have been identical. But they weren’t, they skewed along racial lines.

The disparity is laws, the fact that 97 percent of all cases in the U.S. are now plea bargains, and the reality that a robust industry was built around criminalizing more and more behavior, is food for thought for Americans of all political flavors.

Although, the movie primarily deals with racial inequality, it does offer insight into one of the key reasons for public policy shift — an organization that writes many of our laws, It’s an organization most Americans have never heard of (ALEC). The film is worth watching for that segment alone since the people hired by voters to legislate have, in many ways, regulated that job duty to the private sector — introducing significant conflicts of interest to the process.

My Hometown

After watching the film I researched some information about the jail in Preble County where I live. In the mid-to-late 1980s, before the current jail was built, the local newspaper reported 15 inmates being housed locally. As I write this 74 people are housed locally.

Myriad reasons are given for the population increase, but there has most certainly been a shift in local court volume. In a 1986 article listing the month’s indictments, there were three indictments (one was murder). Last month, there was 21.

Another random sample of data shows that the Eaton Municipal Court (Eaton is Preble County’s only city) processed 32 traffic cases in January, 1985. In October, 2012, the EMC processed 382.

The local stats are interesting to me because we have experienced a sharp increase in court cases during the 30-year period despite our declining and aging population.

Categories: movies