In 1943, Norman Rockwell depicted Freedom of Speech in this way: a man seemingly of common means speaks at a public meeting on a matter that is of importance to him while others seemingly more affluent listen. Facial expressions portray mutual respect and civility.
In our world today, respect and civility has given way to slander and hatred. No one can be forced to abide by a certain code; but we can certainly commit ourselves to freedom of speech that honors our fellow man. No one should ever yell “fire” in a public place. Posting or speaking mean comments has now taken on a life of its own called bullying. Perceived freedom of speech can bring great pain and even murder for those who offend. Has civility been lost and have we become a world gone mad?
I remember when our father James William Smith, a man of common means, served on a multi-county grand jury in the state of Oklahoma for 18-months. During the ordeal, he traveled to Oklahoma City sometimes spending the night to hear evidence presented in the courtroom about illegal drug activity. Most certainly what he was experiencing would have made for intriguing and sensational conversation. But I never heard our father speak of the hearings – he never spoke of what was said in court. Why? Because the judge told them not to and our father was obedient? Yes, but more importantly, our father was a man of great integrity.
Freedom of speech is a great privilege for individuals, the press, and governments. May God help us to preserve that privilege with civility and not brutality.
The following are wise words about our speech as individuals – which isn’t that where all speech originates – by individuals.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29
More about Rockwell’s Freedom of Speech painting
I love that the main subject of the painting was a neighbor of Rockwell’s who owned a gas station and whose father was a German immigrant.
Rockwell’s final work was the result of four restarts and consumed two months. Each version depicted the blue-collar man in casual attire standing up at a town meeting, but each was from a different angle. Earlier versions were troubled by the distraction of multiple subjects and the improper placement and perspective of the subject for the message to be clear. An Arlington, Vermont Rockwell neighbor, Carl Hess, stood as the model for the shy, brave young workman, and another neighbor, Jim Martin, who appeared in each painting in the series, is in the scene. Rockwell’s assistant, Gene Pelham, suggested Hess, who had a gas station in town and whose children went to school with the Rockwell children. According to Pelham, Hess “had a noble head”.
Others in the final work were Hess’ father Henry (left ear only), Jim Martin (lower right corner), Harry Brown (right — top of head and eye only), Robert Benedict, Sr. and Rose Hoyt to the left. Rockwell’s own eye is also visible along the left edge. Hess was married at the time and Henry Hess was a German immigrant. Pelham was the owner of the suede jacket. Hess posed for Rockwell eight different times for this work and all other models posed for Rockwell individually.
An early draft had Hess surrounded by others sitting squarely around him. Hess felt the depiction had a more natural look, Rockwell objected, “It was too diverse, it went every which way and didn’t settle anywhere or say anything.” He felt the upward view from the bench level was more dramatic. Rockwell explained to Yates at The Post that he had to start Freedom of Speech from scratch after an early attempt because he had overworked it. Twice he almost completed the work only to feel it was lacking. Eventually, he was able to produce the final version with the speaker as the subject rather than the assembly.
Share any thoughts you have about Freedom of Speech and we will be happy to listen. Be kind. Be gentle.