My Political Heritage and Pilgrimage

The school bus that carried Martin Lehman for eight years to the South Hamilton Township School.

The school bus that carried Martin Lehman for eight years to the South Hamilton Township School.

My political pilgrimage took me from an independent Republican heritage to being an independent Democrat in later years. I acknowledge that this has been a long journey

1932 was an important year in my life. I celebrated my sixth birthday and walked up the hill with my older brother to meet the bus that would take me for eight years to the South Hamilton Township School. The school had four rooms, eight grades, and four teachers. The teacher of grades seven and eight was the only male and also the Principal .

South Hamilton Township School

South Hamilton Township School

One day I came home with a question for my mother and Aunt Lizzie. (My father must have been away from home on a Bible teaching mission.) The question:  Am I a Democrat or a Republican?  Mother deferred to her sister, Lizzie, because she was the older of the two. They may have been uncertain how to answer my question because no one in the household had ever voted for a president.

My father was guided by what he believed to be God’s word to him in the Bible. He read in Daniel 4:17, 25, & 32 that God set over the nations whomsoever he will. He said jocularly that he didn’t know what God’s will was until after the election, so he wouldn’t vote.


J. Irvin Lehman, my father

More seriously, my father had another reason for not voting. He was a conscientious objector to war and he felt it would be unfair to refuse to fight on orders of a man he had helped elect to office. Even more my father felt his duty was found in I Timothy 2:1-4: I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 

My father was committed to live as much as possible like Jesus and to persuade others to live for him. That was his life. With such a father it is no wonder that I did not vote in the early years of my adult life.  After thinking a moment or two, Aunt Lizzie answered my question, “I believe you are a Republican.”  I learned later that one of Aunt Lizzie’s ancestors had run as a Republican for membership on a school board.

FDR2The question was planted in my mind because 1932 was the year that Franklin D. Roosevelt, Democrat, and Herbert Hoover, Republican, were competing for the presidency. Hoover was presiding over a severe economic depression and Roosevelt made the most of it.  Although Pennsylvania was one of the three states carried by Hoover, it was a bad time for a little boy to be a Republican. When a poll was taken at school the day after I asked for my identity, Democrats swept the school as they did the nation.

Franklin D Roosevelt has a part in my political pilgrimage. When FDR became president he asked his friend Harry Hopkins to head up relief programs for the nation. The president and Hopkins did not believe in simply giving money, though money was needed. Instead they saw jobs that needed to be done and paid the unemployed to do them.


FDR & Harry Hopkins

I’ve learned that from 1933 to 1935 the federal government gave money to localities to operate work projects to employ those on direct relief.  In less than four months,  four million people, were hired,  and during five months of operation, and built and repaired 200 swimming pools, 3,700 playgrounds, 40,000 schools, 250,000 miles of road, and 12 million feet of sewer pipe.


WPAThe WPA, a longer program sponsored by FDR, employed 8.5 million people in its seven-year history, working on 1.4 million projects, including the building or repair of 103 golf courses, 1,000 airports, 2,500 hospitals, 2,500 sports stadiums, 3,900 schools, 8,192 parks, 12,800 playgrounds, 124,031 bridges, 125,110 public buildings, and 651,087 miles of highways and roads. The WPA operated on its own, and on selected projects in cooperation with local and state governments, but always with its own staff and budget.

The most popular project of the Roosevelt’s New Deal was the Civilian Conservation Corp for sons of families that had difficulty finding jobs during the Great Depression. It implemented a general natural resource conservation program in every state and territory of the nation. In nine years 2.5 million young men participated in the CCC. It provided them with shelter, clothing, and food, together with a small wage of $30 a month ($25 of which had to be sent home to their families).


Civilian Conservation Corp

During the time of the CCC, volunteers planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America, constructed more than 800 parks nationwide and upgraded most state parks, updated forest fire fighting methods, and built a network of service buildings and public roadways in remote areas.

As a young man I learned that many of the barracks used by Conscientious Objectors in WWII had been built by the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corp. It is likely that the California fire towers I lived in during my time in Civilian Public Service as a Conscientious Objector were built by CCC men.

Dorm at Grottos CPS Camp

Barracks at CPS Camp Grottos in Virginia built by CCC and used by CPS men

When our family moved to Tampa, Florida, in 1950, we moved into a solid democratic south forged in the modern era by Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Republican party was almost nonexistent in the south. This  changed when the national Democratic Party first condoned and then led the civil rights movement. Passing the voting rights act was the last straw and the south became mostly Republican.


As I recall it,  on his first day in office Mayor Julian Lane walked through city hall and quietly removed all “white’ and “colored” signs at drinking fountains and rest rooms. He closed the Clara Freye Hospital for blacks and merged it with the Tampa General Hospital.  Mayor Lane formed a bi-racial committee to work with the school board and Tampa Tribune to quietly integrate the public school system. He also upgraded the city’s storm sewer system. He is my favorite mayor. Consistent with my Mennonite father’s beliefs and practices I remained aloof from politics for the first twenty of these years, but I followed it all with interest.

In 1970 Rueben Askew, young Democratic candidate for governor captured my attention and Lawton Chiles, a little known candidate for the US Senate, fascinated me. Chiles walked the length of the state during his campaign, the distance of 1003 miles. Chiles became known as walkin’ Lawton.


Walkin’ Lauton Chiles

When I registered to vote as a Democrat for Askew and Chiles, I was going against the tide in Florida and the south. But I identified with the Hispanic and African American minorities who combined to make a majority in the city of Tampa.

I have admired such democratic presidents as Roosevelt, Truman, Carter, Kennedy, Clinton and Obama. I also admired Dwight D. Eisenhourer who was a Republican president, but I did not support the wars of any president. I was disturbed by the way these men resisted evil with evil. It was their domestic policies that attracted me to the Democratic Party. I don’t understand how anyone can say that the government can’t provide jobs? FDR found jobs to do and trained men to do them.

Since I have revealed my support for President Obama, I have received personal emails from a dear friend. The messages seemed to be motivated by uncertainty and fear. I would like to remind everyone that Jesus in the most trying of times said, “fear not.”

I have found a video that purports to reveal the depth of Obama’s involvement in and knowledge of Islam. I’ve watched the video several times. So what did I see?  I saw that Obama strongly values his Islamic heritage, much the way an Anabaptist values his heritage even though he has given up parts of it for a different life, or as a Hebrew Christian speaks Yiddish at times, eats a passover meal, or goes on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

What the video does not show is another part of Obama’s pilgrimage. He arrived in Chicago as a young lawyer and began to work with Christian churches in neighborhood development. While doing that he converted to the Christian faith. Though he is a Christian, he can still speak to Muslims from the point of view of an insider.

There is another video out there that someone should resurrect. Before Obama was president he gave a speech to a group exploring the Christian faith. He said that if the US took the Sermon on the Mount seriously it would dismantle the defense department.

It seems to me that Barack Obama has had a glimpse of the best of two great religions. He is moving toward the best in both religions and is hated by the worst in both religions. Think of the good done by Carter and Clinton since they moved out of the limitations imposed on the presidency. Even ex-presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton could become friends and pursue a common goal. I hope that I will live long enough to see the potential of Obama’s usefulness in a post-presidential career.

ObamaNo one need be surprised that the minorities in the US endorse Barack Obama  president. They see him as one who is inclined to be fair. Though some have been disappointed in him in his first term, they recognize that even a president is limited by the selfishness and greed of others. I hope Obama has the opportunity to appoint  supreme court justices who are dedicated to fairness in society.

I am aware of the political climate of our time. I believe there should be respectful and substantive discussion of political issues, and I hope that such discussions might take place on this website.


1 Response to My Political Heritage and Pilgrimage

  1. Pingback: Politics | "The Old Fool" – Martin Lehman

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