As Director of the National Museum of American History and then the National Park Service, Roger became increasingly convinced that academicians in the England and then the United States had created an Anglophilic mythology and called it Early History of the Americas. During the critical years of 2010 and 2011, Roger not only kept me fed, when I was homeless, but also mentored a transition from being a conventional Architect to being “something else.”
Part 22 of the Americas Connected series
by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
Roger George Kennedy (August 3, 1926 – September 30, 2011) grew up in Minnesota and held a law degree from the University of Minnesota. He was the ultimate renaissance man. During his life, he was a Republican candidate for Congress, a civil rights lawyer, Washington correspondent for NBC in the 1950s, banker, vice president of the University of Minnesota, executive with the Ford Foundation in New York, Director of the National Museum of American History, Director of the National Park Service, a prolific author of books on American history and architecture . . . and ultimately my most important mentor.
Roger was appointed in 1979 to be the Director of the Museum of History and Technology without any experience in museum administration, but with a visceral passion for the past. “I’ll teach history to anybody I can get my mitts on,’’ he once told Newsweek.
Roger soon renamed the fossilized facility, the National Museum of American History and set about to making it an exciting place for all Americans, regardless of their ethnic or regional background, an exciting place to visit. He began including many aspects of popular culture, such as sections of the Starship Enterprise, in exhibits.
After being appointed Director of the National Park Service by President Bill Clinton in January 1993, Roger wanted to decentralize the NPS’s bureaucracy and steer its programs in to active protection of all aspects of American history, not just protectors of natural beauty.
Roger quickly kicked off the American Battlefields Protection Program. Jay Monahan, Katie Couric’s first husband, and I were appointed to its Advisory Council, representing Northern Virginia. At the end of Clinton’s first term, Roger resigned from the NPS and devoted the remainder of his life to research and writing books.
Roger is not around to fact check me, so I could make the readers think that Roger and I were longtime buddies. That is just not the case. To do this day, I cannot understand why he even remembered my name in December of 2009. Not only that . . . why did he personally subsidize my camping journey across the Southern Appalachians in 2010 and 2011. You will see shortly, how Roger changed my concept of architectural and historical research. Roger wrote several books on architectural history.
I know that he never forgot meeting Vivi at the Smithsonian Christmas Party on December 15, 1990 (See The Shenandoah Chronicles) . . . but then again, a man in his position would have met many beautiful young, well-educated women from around the world in social or professional situations. I really just don’t understand it all, but here is the time line of my contacts with Roger and how he encouraged me to research the Track Rock Terrace Complex in Georgia.
December 15, 1990 – Vivi realized that her tight red dress was inappropriate for Washington Intelligentsia Christmas parties. While she was in the toilette adjoining the entry hall, Smithsonian archaeologist Dennis Stafford took her place and began to consuming vast quantities of my goat cheese and Vivi’s wine bottles. Roger Kennedy and his wife, Frances, briefly stopped by to introduce themselves.
As soon as Vivi came out of the toilette, our hostess cornered Vivi and tactfully suggested that our PDA might be appropriate in France, but not in Alexandria, VA. She suggested that we get to know each other better in the guest quarters.
Roger and Frances then cornered Vivi and chatted with her for several minutes before she broke off the conversation. Somewhat tipsy from wine, she shouted in her sexy French voice across the party room and living room . . . “Ree-shard, I need you to take off my dress! “ A house full of Washington’s intelligentsia, plus several ambassadors, including Jacques Andreani of France, simultaneously starred at me. (That was embarrassing.)
Summer 1992 – Roger and Frances Kennedy stopped by the Shenandoah Chevre goat cheese booth at two or three Virginia wine festivals. Vivi and her daughter were in the booth with me.
February and March 1993 – I took exams for several high level, appointed positions in the Department of the Interior. On the exam for Architect of the National Capitol, I ranked No. 1, but later received a letter ranking me third overall, because two other candidates got extra points for such things as being existing federal employees, being a woman, being in an African-American or being a combat veteran.
April 1993 – Jay Monahan and I were invited to the kick off ceremony at Arlington Cemetery for the American Battlefield Protection Program. Jay suggested that we sit next to Roger and Frances Kennedy. He said that it would be good for my career.
Jay was shocked that Roger remembered me bringing goat cheese to a party, but not my name . . . then asked about the beautiful, intelligent French actress, who was crazy about me. Jay assumed me to be a conservative farm guy and in a lower social echelon than him.
Roger called me the following week and said that he was reviewing the candidates for Architect of the National Capitol and saw my name. He said that the reviewers had not given me points for decades of experience in historic preservation, nor for being Native American. The other two candidates had no practical experience in historic preservation. He would get back to me.
The following weekend, I was Shanghaied and left penniless in South Metro Atlanta, via a conspiracy between my crazy parents and a treacherous estranged wife, who thought she was going to get paid $50,000 for cleaning out our accounts and encouraging me to drive down there. I never attended another ABPP meeting or communicated with Roger. I was offered the position of Architect of the National Capitol, but my estranged wife claimed not to know where I was.
July 19, 1996 – I was in Roger’s office at the National Park Service a few minutes to work out details of that year’s largest battlefield historic preservation grant. Cobb County, GA received money to restore the 11 mile long Brushy Mountain Fortification Line. Roger mentioned that Vivi, her daughter and two year old son had been in his office in June 1995, just before heading back to France. Vivi hoped that Roger knew what had happened to me. At that time, Roger didn’t know anything. Roger added that her handsome son looked just like a Creek Indian then winked.
2006 – Immediately after gaining control of the Georgia General Assembly, Republicans pushed through a law that allowed mortgage holders to foreclose if mortgage payments were a month and one day in arrears. Also, home owners were forbidden to challenge the foreclosure in state courts.
November 3, 2009 – A Dixie Mafia company in Mississippi, which did not own my mortgage and was not licensed to do business in Georgia, auctioned off my mortgage on the courthouse steps to FannieMae then afterward bought the mortgage from the actual owner in Houston, TX.
When made aware of the deception, FannieMae officials offered to issue me a low interest mitigation loan, if I could prove future income in 2010. By December 12, I had two large architecture contracts, so was told to be prepared for closing on the loan in mid-January.
December 15, 2009 – A Jasper, GA area realtor was paid $500 to deliver and explain the mitigation loan papers to me in my home then return the signed documents to FannieaMae. Instead, she lied and told FannieMae that I had abandoned the property and all the furniture was gone. My two front doors were all glass and about 35 feet from the street.
December 18, 2009 – A female attorney with McCalla and Raymer, LLC filed papers in the Pickens County Courthouse to have me evicted on Christmas Eve 2009. They were co-signed by a female attorney, employed by FannieMae . . . even though it was thoroughly publicized that FannieMae would have no foreclosures or evictions during the Christmas holidays.
December 18, 2009 – That evening, I received an email from Roger Kennedy, asking if I was the same Richard Thornton, who had been an architect and goat cheese maker in Virginia. He used an email address that I only used in communications with my sister, Susan Karlson and a Lakota medicine woman out west! How did he get that email address? Is Susan still alive, but incognito?
In the subsequent, very long, telephone conversation, Roger still would not tell me how he found out that I was in northern Georgia or my email address. Instead, he asked if I would be interested in doing field research and graphics for his upcoming book on Greek Revival Architecture. He was convinced that the Vann House was the beginning of Greek Revival architectural style, becoming popular throughout the Southeast, but not in the way that academicians described it.
Affluent middle-class Creeks in western Georgia adopted the style of the Vann House. Thousands of middle-class Creek families moved from Georgia to east Texas in the late 1820s and 1830s. They carried Greek Revival with them. Thus, the historic districts of LaGrange, GA and Marshall, Texas are almost identical. Roger wanted me to travel through the towns of western Georgia and east central Alabama to photograph and document historic houses, similar to the Vann House.
I said yes. I then asked him, if I could use him as a reference in my application to become a local news reporter for the Examiner. Roger said yes.
I then asked Roger if he was related to my friend, Brent Kennedy, who wrote several books on the Melugeons of southern Appalachia. Roger said no, but that Brent had dug up some very interesting research on early Jewish colonists in the Southeast that most academicians had ignored.
This information from Roger astounded me, but has turned out to be the truth. Most of the traders, who dealt with the Creeks, Chickasaws and Cherokees were Scottish Jews. Their ancestors had been invited to Scotland by the Presbyterians in order to stimulate Scotland’s commerce.
The Ross’s, Hick’s, Vann’s and Adair’s were all Scottish Jews. There is substantial evidence that they married Indian women, who were half Jewish. That is definitely the case for Charles Hicks, whose principal wife was mixed Jewish and Itsate Creek . . . and James Adair, whose wife was half Chickasaw from NW Georgia and Jewish. These mixed Native American-Jewish families became the elite of the Cherokees. They intermarried among themselves and dominated Cherokee politics well into the 20th century.
Both Brent Kennedy and Roger Kennedy had dug up substantial evidence, however, that Sephardic Jewish families began colonizing the interior of the Southeast in the late 1500s and were even more immigrations in the 1600s. They had been erased by British and Anglo-American scholars and archaelogists.
Roger added that once he published the Greek Revival book, he would love for us to co-write a book on the Early Colonial Period in the Southeast, which contained solid proof of these Jewish colonists.
The following Monday morning, I received the shock of my life and quickly forgot the call from George and the application to the Examiner. The next three days and nights were spent in a frantic effort to get as much of my belongings as possible into a rental bin.
Once officially homeless and living in a tent, I was still able to communicate via computers in various county libraries. I told absolutely no one, including my two new architecture clients that I was homeless. There was no way that I could prepared the construction drawings in a county library, however.
Eventually, a family living in North Carolina, asked if they could drop by my house in Jasper, GA to buy pottery. I had to tell them the truth. They invited me to move into their vacation cabin on Fontana Lake on February 23, 2010. Soon thereafter, I rented a booth at the Valhala Cybercafe in Robinsville, NC where I set up my architecture computer and completed the projects for clients in Georgia and the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma.
April 2010 – By early April, the money had run out from the 2010 jobs and the owners of the Fontana Lake cabin sent me in a tent, so they stay at the cabin on weekends. I was desperate. Then two miracles occurred. The Examiner informed me that I had been selected as national architecture columnist and Roger Kennedy emailed me that he was ready to start work on the book. Roger had tried calling me and emailing all winter and early spring, but I never got the emails until late April.
When Roger learned that I had been homeless all that time, he immediately sent me $1200 as a gift and put me to work on the graphics for his book. I learned from him that he had found proof that as early as 1813, Andrew Jackson had intended to deport the Cherokees, Chickasaws and Creeks from much of their lands, while promising in writing to the Cherokees and Friendly Creeks that they could live on their lands forever, if they helped fight the British in the War of 1812.
Upon being appointed general of the army fighting the Redstick Creeks, Jackson hired four agronomy professors to map out all the Indian lands in the Southeast that were suitable for growing cotton. All land in Northwest Georgia and Northeast Alabama under 1000 feet in elevation was suitable for cotton. The Cherokees were being conned from the day they were given that land in return for their lands in North Carolina and Tennessee.
June 21, 2011 – My work for Roger had been completed several months later, but Roger was still tutoring me about American history via emails and sending occasional $25 checks to cover gasoline in the search for sites of early Jewish colonists. I called up Roger to tell him about my discovery of old stone walls and apparent mining earthworks in the base of Track Rock Gap. I did not know at the time that the stone walls climbed up the mountainside at least 600 feet.
Roger sounded weak and immediately told me that his cancer had come back “in a fury.” He said major medical bills to pay so he couldn’t subsidize me in the near future. I told him that I had not called him to beg for money, but considered him a very special friend and teacher. Besides, I told him, I now getting more and more income from the Examiner articles, plus people around the country are paying me to do computer drawings of archaeological sites.
Roger responded that he deeply believed that God had allowed me to be cast out of Jasper, GA, so I would have the extraordinary experiences of the two past years. His gut feeling was that my discovery of the ruins at Track Rock Gap was one of the most important events my life. Since I was now living in a chicken house near the site, I should keep on studying it, until I understood it.
I told Roger, “I will be beating my drums for you.”
He responded, “You know, the only thing that I am sorry for you about it is that you and the French girl were torn apart by your step-father. She was a very special lady and loved you dearly.”
July 19, 2011 – Via email, I sent Roger a sketch of the massive, half-square mile terrace complex, plus photos of identical terrace complexes in the mountains of Chiapas and Guatemala. I told Roger that it sure looked like I had found an Itza Maya terrace town. There was no response.
August 4, 2011 – Roger called me early in the evening to wish me happy birthday, then mentioned rather flippantly that the day before might be his last birthday. I didn’t take him seriously, but he did sound terrible . . . like he had a bad cold and sore throat. I told him that I did not realize that we were both Leos, but how did he know my birthday? He didn’t answer.
Roger’s voice was weakening steadily, but he said that he thought I was right and to stay on it like bulldog. Practically gasping, Roger then said, “You always say that you’ll be beating your drums for me, but I never heard you play your drums.”
I played my conga drums a little bit, but he was obviously needing to get off the phone.
He gasped, “Well, Richard, I now can say I have experienced everything in life . . . a goatherd architect playing two conga drums from his home in a chicken house. You be like that billy goat and keep butting against that dam, Richard.”
We both said goodbye. It turned out to be the last goodbyes.
Roger Kennedy went to the Master of Life on September 30, 2011.