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PAUL HARVEY'S AmericaTHE LIFE, ART, AND FAITH OF A MAN WHO TRANSFORMED RADIO AND INSPIRED A NATION
By STEPHEN MANSFIELD DAVID A. HOLLAND
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.Copyright © 2009 Stephen Mansfield and David A. Holland
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA STUBBORN REVERENCE
"A policeman? ... Of all men, he is at once the most needed and most unwanted." PAUL HARVEY
A LITTLE BOY PLAYS IN HIS PAJAMAS on the floor by the freshly trimmed Christmas tree. His big sister, twelve, reads a book by the fire. Their mother, Anna Aurandt, is in the kitchen baking the first of what will be several waves of holiday pastries and pies that reflect her Danish heritage.
The Christmas of 1921 is only a week away, and life is pretty good. The "war to end all wars" is a fading memory. President Warren G. Harding, who had campaigned on the slogan "A Return to Normalcy," has seemingly delivered on that promise. Mr. Marconi's amazing invention is finally finding widespread application as the first commercial radio stations (and affordable radios) are popping up all over the countryside. Indeed, the twenties have already begun to roar.
Little Paul Harvey Aurandt would ordinarily be inbed well before this nine o'clock hour, but he has received a special dispensation to wait up for his father, who is expected at any moment.
Harry Aurandt is a police officer in the thriving oil boomtown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. At the age of forty-eight, he has risen through the ranks to become the assistant to Tulsa's police commissioner. On this night, Harry and a fellow off-duty officer have slipped out to do a little rabbit hunting in the woods just beyond the east edge of town. When little Paul saw his father put on his heavy coat and swing the small-bore shotgun over his shoulder after dinner, he begged to come along but was given a firm "No, Son."
"But I won't be out too late," his father said. "You can wait up, and I'll show you what we got if we do any good."
Half past nine comes and goes, and a disappointed but sleepy little man is sent off to bed. When her husband doesn't return by 10:30, the boy's mother starts to worry in earnest. Then comes the urgent knock at the door and a winded uniformed officer on her porch.
"It's Harry, ma'am. He's been shot. Some robbers ... he's at the hospital ... it's pretty bad."
A neighbor is roused to stay with the children as Anna accompanies the officer to the hospital with a siren slicing through the still winter night. Her husband is alive and conscious when she arrives, but he is suffering badly from gunshot wounds to the chest, abdomen, and leg.
According to the ensuing investigation, Harry Aurandt and police detective Ike Wilkinson had been leaving the hunting area in their vehicle when they came across a stalled car on the rural road. Stopping to render assistance to a motorist they assumed was lost or having car trouble, they rolled down the windows and called out. In response, they encountered four handguns pointed at them through the curtained windows of a Buick touring sedan, along with a profanity- laced demand for their wallets. The moment the bandits spotted the officer's shotguns, however, they opened fire. In the hail of .38 caliber lead, Detective Wilkinson was hit in both legs. He would survive, but he had walked his last field in search of game.
Two of the bullets that hit Officer Aurandt were later found to have punctured his lung and liver. Nevertheless, Harry was able to drive both of them about a mile to the nearest farmhouse for help.
Two days later Harry Harrison Aurandt succumbed to his injuries with Anna at his side.
The little boy who would grow up to give America a fatherly voice had lost his father. He did so without ever having the opportunity to get to know him, much less tag along with him on a rabbit hunt. In fact, Paul Harvey was left without a solitary clear, treasured memory of his dad.
What he got as consolation was a hero.
Fast-forward more than seventy years from that Christmas of heartache, and we find Paul Harvey standing before a large banquet hall filled with police officers and their families. He is addressing a meeting of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a group dedicated to encouraging support for police personnel as well as maintaining a museum and memorial to fallen officers in our nation's capital.
It is this group's annual candlelight vigil, the somber culmination of Police Week 1992. Among Harvey's words to the solemn assembly this night are these:
[It was] noted that my father was a lawman in the early dirt street days of Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was shot to death when I was three. So surely at least some of my stubborn reverence for a policeman's uniform dates back to that night before Christmas, many lonely years ago. In five decades on the news beat I have seen men defile that uniform and disgrace it; I have seen more than one fat hand on the end of the long arm of the law; but I have seen thousands wear that uniform with dignity and decency and pride. A policeman is a composite of what all of us are: A mingling of saint, sinner ... dust and deity. A multiplicity of competing media x-rays any instance of dishonesty or brutality because that is what news is: Something incongruous, exceptional, unusual. If you forget everything else Paul Harvey had to say tonight, please remember this: Less than one-half of one percent of policemen and/or policewomen misfit that uniform. I said less than one-half of one percent of law officers misfit that uniform, and that is a better average than you will find among clergymen.
His presence at that event was no random booking of a generic celebrity speaker. By 1992 Paul Harvey had long established himself as one of the most powerful media friends that police officers had. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of Paul Harvey's life and work was the use of his platform to encourage support for law enforcement, especially the street cop. As a result, countless police organizations across the land considered him a friend.
He earned much of that reputation for what he termed a "stubborn reverence for the policeman's uniform" in those convulsive years in the 1960s and 1970s when a culture of protest, covered by an increasingly sympathetic news establishment, put police departments on the defensive across the country.
By the midsixties, America's decaying inner cities and college campuses were simmering pressure cookers of anger, frustration, and revolutionary zeal. In the cities, the civil rights movement had split into two adversarial camps over methods and values. One camp, headed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was committed to pursuing a strategy of nonviolent resistance and high-profile awareness raising. The other, poisoned by a toxic infusion of Marxist ideology and radical Islamic theology, manifested itself in organizations like the Black Panthers.
Police efforts to keep order and enforce local laws often made them flash points of controversy in a volatile tinderbox. In 1965 it was a simple traffic stop for suspected drunken driving that somehow escalated into the Watts race riots in South-Central Los Angeles.
As the great unraveling of the 1960s progressed, a Left-leaning news media became increasingly prone to publicize claims of "police brutality" and cast law enforcement in a negative light. Paul Harvey, on the other hand, saw the vast majority of police officers in a no-win situation, valiantly doing their best under extremely difficult circumstances.
He spoke for tens of thousands of demoralized law enforcement officers and for much of Middle America when in 1970 he wrote a newspaper column that ended up tacked to the bulletin boards of police stations across the nation:
What is a policeman made of? He, of all men, is once the most needed and the most unwanted. He's a strangely nameless creature who is "sir" to his face and "fuzz" to his back. He must be such a diplomat that he can settle differences between individuals so that each will think he won. But ... if the policeman is neat, he's conceited; if he's careless, he's a bum. If he's pleasant, he's flirting; if not, he's a grouch. He must make an instant decision which would require months for a lawyer to make. But ... if he hurries, he's careless; if he's deliberate, he's lazy. He must be first to an accident and infallible with his diagnosis. He must be able to start breathing, stop bleeding, tie splints and, above all, be sure the victim goes home without a limp. Or expect to be sued. The police officer must know every gun, draw on the run, and hit where it doesn't hurt. He must be able to whip two men twice his size and half his age without damaging his uniform and without being "brutal." If you hit him, he's a coward. If he hits you, he's a bully. A policeman must know everything-and not tell. He must know where all the sin is and not partake. A policeman must, from a single strand of hair, be able to describe the crime, the weapon and the criminal-and tell you where the criminal is hiding. But ... if he catches the criminal, he's lucky; if he doesn't, he's a dunce. If he gets promoted, he has political pull; if he doesn't, he's a dullard. The policeman must chase a bum lead to a dead-end, stake out ten nights to tag one witness who saw it happen-but refused to remember. The policeman must be a minister, a social worker, a diplomat, a tough guy and a gentleman. And, of course, he'd have to be genius ... for he will have to feed a family on a policeman's salary.
It is no accident that when Paul Harvey passed away, some of the strongest and most heartfelt expressions of appreciation and loss came from the law enforcement community. Street cops knew they'd lost their most articulate and influential friend. He was not a knee-jerk apologist but a clear-eyed, understanding ally.
And those race riots that set large swaths of Los Angeles aflame in 1965?
Forty-four years earlier, policemen in a little Oklahoma boomtown were struggling to contain that incident's inverse corollary-rampaging whites burning down black-owned businesses and killing all those who got in their way.
Yes, seven months before he fell victim to an outlaw's bullet, Harry Aurandt was among those Tulsa police officers trying to rein in what became "the costliest incident of racial violence in America's history."
* * *
The Tulsa, Oklahoma, that welcomed the birth of Paul Harvey Aurandt on September 4, 1918, was a complicated and contradictory place.
The city sat at the intersection of America's Midwest, Southwest, and Deep South, and displayed characteristics of all three regions-an exotic hybrid blending of Kansas City, Dallas, and Montgomery on a raw, more concentrated scale.
In 1900, Tulsa had been little more than a smattering of wooden and brick buildings on the north bank of the Arkansas River. Oklahoma was seven years away from even becoming a state. Then in 1901, wildcatters discovered oil just across the river at Red Fork. Four years later, nearby Glenpool became the site of the largest oil strike the nation had yet seen, and the boom was on.
As oil overwhelmed cattle as the primary driver of the thriving economy, great fortunes were being amassed by local oilmen with names like William Skelly, Waite Phillips, Harry S. Sinclair, Erle P. Halliburton, and Jean Paul Getty, and those fortunes in turn financed a robust arts and culture scene in Tulsa.
By 1918, the city's population had swelled to nearly seventy thousand. But amid the shiny, new multistory buildings, Greek revival mansions, and breathtaking technological advances of the time walked the ghosts of the Civil War. Some of those ghosts were living, breathing men.
In most American cities in 1918, Fourth of July parades invariably featured elderly Civil War veterans in fraying old uniforms of either blue or gray, many with artificial legs or missing arms. This was the case in Tulsa as well except that one was likely to see both blue and gray colors in the parade. The bitter and bloody, slavery-centered rivalry between nearby Kansas and Missouri had spilled across the border as soon as the Tulsa area opened up for settlement.
Here, former Union loyalists from Kansas lived next door to ex-slaveholders from Arkansas. Meanwhile, elderly emancipated slaves and their sons and daughters lived a separated existence "across the tracks."
In fact, Tulsa had one of the most vibrant and successful black communities in the nation. Though segregated from most of white Tulsa by both force of law and cultural habit, the black Greenwood district of Tulsa thrived commercially, culturally, and spiritually. The area that had already achieved a national reputation as the "Negro Wall Street" seemed to be a living, working validation of the self-reliance philosophy of Booker T. Washington. Greenwood's autonomous success even tempted some to believe that the "separate but equal" approach to dealing with the issue of race and public education-the one the U.S. Supreme Court put forth in its controversial Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896-might actually work.
All of that progress and promise was obliterated on May 31, 1921, when escalating rumors that a white girl had been assaulted in a department store elevator by a black youth set segments of the city on edge. It ultimately led to a rampage that left thirty-five blocks of the Greenwood district in ashes and more than three hundred citizens- the vast majority of them black-dead.
Sadly, the Tulsa of Paul Harvey's childhood was home to men who perpetrated one of the most horrific crimes of racist mob violence in our nation's history. But it was also a city that contained a significant segment of white citizens who were truly horrified by the hatred and violence. They were profoundly shamed that their neighbors and coworkers could be capable of such cruelty, and they did what they could to protect, assist, and restore the victims.
Prominent among the latter were the leaders and members of the Aurandts' family church, First Presbyterian. In fact, on the night of the riots, as an angry lynch mob of thugs gathered at the courthouse demanding that the accused young black man, Dick Rowland, be handed over to them, the Aurandts' minister ran to the scene and bravely confronted the armed crowd, pleading with them to go home and let the legal system do its job.
That pastor, Dr. Charles W. Kerr, had come to the Indian Territory in 1898 as a Scots Presbyterian missionary to the tribes. He had taken the helm of First Presbyterian in 1900. Seven years later he cofounded the University of Tulsa. But on that night in 1918, he assumed the mantle of fiery Reformer John Knox and tried to face down a seething, hate-filled mob. He did not prevail, but the courage and conscience Kerr displayed on that awful night are remembered in Scotland to this day.
* * *
It is impossible to know for sure, but Harry and Anna Aurandt must surely have found Tulsa's racially charged undercurrents and persistent antebellum baggage bewildering.
Anna Dagmar Christensen was born in Denmark in 1883 and immigrated with her parents to the United States when she was very young. Her family eventually settled in the St. Louis, Missouri, area.
Harry Harrison Aurandt hailed from an area of central Pennsylvania that had received many waves of German immigrants over the first hundred years of European settlement. Harry was born in Martinsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1873 and was most likely the descendant of Germans who came to the American colonies fleeing religious persecution in the early eighteenth century. To this day, far more people with the German surname Aurandt (or the alternate spelling, Aurand) live in Pennsylvania than in any other state.
Most biographical sketches of Paul Harvey note that he claimed to be the product of "five generations of Baptist preachers." This may be accurate, but it's also a little misleading. When most modern Americans hear the descriptor "Baptist," they think of Billy Graham or Jerry Falwell.
In fact, most of those Germans making the hazardous crossing to the New World between 1719 and 1729 were German Baptists or "Dunkards," an Anabaptist offshoot of the German Reformed movement. It is out of this tradition that Harry Aurandt surely sprang. Other nearby branches on this complex family tree of sects include the Brethren, the Amish, and the Mennonites, groups as well-known for their pacifism as their piety.
Excerpted from PAUL HARVEY'S America by STEPHEN MANSFIELD DAVID A. HOLLAND Copyright © 2009 by Stephen Mansfield and David A. Holland. Excerpted by permission.
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