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South of Rome–West of Ellis Island

Sicily Travelers: L. Franchetti (Northern Italian Bourgeois) vs. Booker Taliaferro Washington (American born Slave)

Tom Verso (October 13, 2011)
Leopoldo Franchetti & Booker Taliaferro Washington

When Leopoldo Franchetti, the rich and politically influential northern Italian, went to Sicily in 1876, he was looking for members of his socio-economic class – the bourgeoisie. Not seeing ‘his kind of people’, and more importantly the ‘political-economy’ they thrive on, he left contemptuous and bent on the Piedmontization of the Island.... When Booker Taliaferro Washington – born plantation slave, ‘liberated’ to the salt furnaces and coal mines of the Jim Crow lynch’n South, and founder of the Tuskegee vocational trades school – went to Sicily in 1910, he saw ‘his kind of people’: incredibly hard workers, skilled craftsmen, virtuously perseverant and self-disciplined, and viciously exploited by Franchetti’s ‘kind of people’. After Franchetti’s visit to Sicily, the Piedmontista “had-their-way-with-her”, and blamed it on the Mafia (classic “blame the victim”). Sadly, present day Piedmontista historians like Dickie and Moe present the Franchetti mythology to uninformed Sicilian Americans as the reality of their Patria Isola.



Franchetti à la Moe and Dickie - translations not available
In 1876, northern Italians Sidney Sonnino and Leopoldo Franchetti traveled to Sicily.  They each wrote a respective work reporting:
- selective anecdotal unverifiable  observations
- purported validimplications’ of the observations
- self-serving bourgeois recommendations’
Franchetti's Condizioni politiche e amministrative della Sicilia and Sonnino's I contadini in Sicilia, were rushed into publication together as a single work La Sicilia nel 1876 and presented to the Piedmontese dominated so-called National Parliament in Rome in 1877.
These and other fountainhead and seminal “Southern Question” works of Villari, Sonnino and Franchetti have not been translated. (For a discussion of the outrageous state of translations of southern Italian writers and southern issues by northern writers please see “Ivory Tower...” article linked in the “Related Articles” box on this page).
Accordingly, the American student of Sicily’s history and culture, not fluent in the late nineteenth century Tuscan dialect, nor familiar with the nuances of Franchetti’s rhetorical political idiom meant to affect Parliamentary votes, must resort to Franchetti’s commentators. 
As such, the present discussion of Franchetti’s work on Sicily will be developed from Franchetti’s quotations and commentary provided in the works of Nelson Moe (The View from Vesuvius: Italian Culture and the Southern Question 2002) and John Dickie (Darkest Italy 1999; Cosa Nostra 2004).  Given their stature as historians, it is reasonable to assume that their selected representations of La Sicilia accurately capture the essence of Franchetti’s work as a whole.
With ink, anyone can write anything”
In a brilliant pedagogical work about the renowned “Critical Method” approach to writing objective reality based history, the great historian and teacher Marc Bloch relates the following:
“In the eleventh-century some monks brought a lawsuit against a country squire in Lorraine.  In reference to documentary evidence the monks presented as proof of their claim, the squire responded:
“With ink, anyone can write anything”. (The Historian’s Craft p. 79)
The squire’s response essentially constitutes the motto of the scientifically objective and logically rigorous ‘critical’ historians who, from the late eighteenth through the early twentieth century, wrote most of what we know about the history of the ancient, medieval and early modern history of Europe.
In short:
There’s more to being an historian than just reading historic documents and ‘uncritically’ regurgitating what was written for a university press.
Leopoldo Franchetti’s “Sicilian Ink”
First and foremost it has to be said that the Franchetti “Condizioni ...” part of  La Sicilia nel 1876 is NOT a “social scientific’ work, as many have said or implied.  For example,
“My focus on Franchetti's 1876 study is partly motivated by the fact that his investigation is of a more sociological nature...
Later in the text, the narrative device of the journey will be replaced by the more disembodied, scientific perspective of the social investigator. (Moe, View... p. 237, 241 emp.+)
...criticisms of Franchetti are not traceable to the logic of his sociological method. (Dickie, Darkest... p.66 emp.+)
On the contrary, based on the quotations and discussions Moe and Dickie themselves provide, to say or imply that Franchetti wrote anything remotely objective and social scientific about Sicily is categorically NOT true
Indeed, after stipulating to his social science method, everything Moe and Dickie write contradicts their own stipulations.  For example,
“It is also important to remember that Franchetti and Sonnino conceived of their study, at least in its final stages, as a critical response to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Social and Economic Conditions in Sicily that was being conducted at the same time as theirs...they dissent from the commission's final report’s ‘general judgments’... Franchetti recalls how the authors rushed to publish their studies in time for the parliamentary discussion of the commission's report. (Moe, View... p. 240 fn. 19 emp.+)
“If Italy is a body, Sicily is the life-threatening disease that it both harbors and struggles against. The power of Italy over Sicily is to be the total, unidirected power of doctor over patient. Sicily is in direct and deadly competition with the Italian nation.” (Dickie, Darkest...p75-76)
In short, in 1876 Franchetti and Sonnino went to Sicily to gather information to be submitted to the Piedmontista National Parliament.  Franchetti was clearly a Piedmont political operative sent to Sicily, after the Piedmont military defeated the Sicilian revolt in the 1860s, for the purposes of establishing a Piedmont dominated ‘political-economy’
Condizioni is part of a parliamentary polemic meant to affect government policy in a direction that Francetti, Sonnino and their northern bourgeoisie constituency desired. 
“Ink’ and ‘Reality’
The student of Sicily’s history must be on guard against political operatives such as Franchetti who present statements as factual; when in-fact they are representations meant to affect their self-serving political objectives, rather than objectively describe and analyze reality.  For example,
"In 1876 Sidney Sonnino and Leopoldo Franchetti set out to assess the state of Sicilian society...with repeater rifles & large caliber pistols...Choosing routes and guides at the latest possible moment to avoid brigand attacks...among a population the vast majority of whom spoke a dialect incomprehensible to them." (Darkest...”p. 64)
[I would also note that Sonnino and Franchetti were not Catholics traveling “among a population the vast majority of whom” were Catholic.]
Now in that context consider the following “story”(Dickie’s word):
“On 24 March 1876 Franchetti entered Caltanissetta.  Two days earlier a priest had been shot dead in the nearby village of Barrafrance, a mafia stronghold, according to the authorities that informed him of what happened.
 “Near where the priest lay dying stood a witness, a new arrival in Sicily, a government inspector from the northern city of Turin whose job was to supervise the collection of taxes on milled flour.  This honest functionary ran to the priest’s side...
...the priest was a wealthy man with a fearsome reputation for violence and corruption....” (“Cosa...” p.55 emp.+)
Questions that should immediately come to the mind of a Sicilian-American student bent on attaining the highest probability of truth about the reality of his ancestral home are:
How objective (unbiased) was Franchetti?
Is it possible that a Northern non-Catholic is negatively biased against the Sicilian priest and pro-biased toward the Turin tax collector?  He obviously is terrified of Sicilians as evidenced by his guns and secretive itinerary.  Can one with such fear of a people objectively report about the people he so fears?
Who were the “authorities” he quotes?
How did they know what they claimed to know? 
What was the factual (if any) basis for the allegations, or are the so-called “authorities” reporting ‘hear-say’ rumors, or self-serving lies?
What language did the “authorities” speak? If not ‘Tuscan’, who did the translation and how accurate was the translation of Sicilian into Tuscan?
These are the types of questions that “critically minded” historians à la Bloch raise when attempting to objectively and accurately (truthfully) recreate past realities based on documentary evidence.  Bloch writes:
“For even those texts or archaeological documents which seem the clearest and the most accommodating will speak only when they are properly questioned.” (Historian’s... p.64 emp.+)
Dickie does not raise questions or provide any information that would substantiate the veracity of Francetti’s “story”.  Both Dickie and Moe present Franchetti’s ‘Caltanissetta Stories’, ‘Agrigento Stories’, ‘Palermo Stories’ and many other Stories without ‘criticism’; as though the stories were verified self-evident facts (indeed, a priori truths) not subject to even a modicum of doubt.
Any student, especially Sicilian-Americans attempting to learn the reality of their history as objectively and truthfully as possible and following the methods of the great critical historians, is obliged ask those types of critical questions.
In-fact, the sum total of Franchetti’s “Ink” stories are denigrations to the point of dehumanizing representations of the Sicilian people by a Northern enemy. 
Dickie nicely sums up Franchetti’s attitude and intentions:
“What Condizionni advocates is the surgical removal of an entire class of criminals to allow a true middle class to grow in its place.
Franchetti envisions a newly organized police force, judiciary, and administration, staffed entirely from outside the island...due to the untrustworthiness of the local population...advocates the use of an exceptional regime...being inexorable, cruel, is a virtue and a duty.” (“Darkest...” p.67 emp+)
Thus, after near ten years of Piedmont military occupation in the 1860s, and the beginning in the 1870s of what for the next fifty years would be Sicily’s largest export item – its people; still not satisfied, the Piedmontista wanted a complete “inexorable cruel” reorganization of  Sicilian society so that their “middle class” brethren could exploit what was left of the population. - THIS IS SOCIAL SCIENCE!?!
“Industry of Violence” - “Mafia
Franchetti coined the phrase “industry of violence” to characterize the “Mafia”, which has been parroted ever since in English language publicationsAs if those pathetic gangsters could possible compete with the magnitude of the “inexorable cruelstate sponsored "industries of violence"; as if the state did not plough, prep and plant the vineyards of crime.
For example, consider the sulfur “industry of violence” made possible by the Piedmont Government of Rome in 1906 while Franchetti’s “side-kick” Sidney Sonnino was Prime Minister:

“In 1906, when the concession to the Anglo-Sicilian Sulphur Company was about to expire, the government decreed that it should be formed into an obligatory syndicate for a term of twelve years for the control of all sulphur produced in Sicily, and exempted from taxation and legal dues, foreign companies established in Italy to exploit industries in which sulphur is a principal element. The Bank of Sicily was further obliged to make advances to the sulphur industry [i.e. the  Anglo Co.] up to four-fifths of the value of the sulphur deposited in the warehouses." (Britannica 1911 edition vol. 25 p 22 emp.+)
While Sonnino, Franchetti, and their Piedmontista gang were insuring the profitability of “foreign companies”, the mothers of Sicily were selling the children into de facto slavery to work in the incomprehensible horrific sulfur mines. (For Washington’s detail description of the unbelievable horrors those children experienced in the sulfur mines see the article “Child Slavery in Sicily 1910” in the “Related Articles” box.)
 Slave Children of  Sicily 
Savor the Irony:
In a quintessential act of bourgeois hypocrisy, while the slave children of Sicily were ‘muleing’ sulfur for the Anglos, Mrs. Leopoldo (Alice Hallgarten) Franchetti was winning accolades for setting up a school in Montesca where Maria Montessori perfected her well-known curriculum.
Surprise! In the volumes written about the it, no mention is made of the Sicilian children who paid for the Montessori Method with their lives.
More generally, as Washington’s Sicilain travelogue clearly demonstrates, Franchetti’s “middle class” dream based on the “virtue of inexorable cruelness”, especially towards the children of Sicily, was “wildly successful”.  And, the ultimate “industry of violence” was not the petty crooks in the Mafia.  It was the Franchetti et al Piedmont Government of Rome.
Booker Taliaferro Washington – “Ink” by a deeply callused hand
In 1910 Booker Taliaferro Washington traveled through Europe including Sicily.  His descriptions are recorded in his book  “The Man Farthest Down: A Record of Observation and Study in Europe.”  Immediately, the difference between Washington’s Sicilian report and Franchetti’s becomes obvious. 
Unlike Francetti whose report was meant to affect Italian policy, Washington did not, and could not possibly, have any intention of influencing U.S. government policy.  By the very meaning of  “Jim Crow”, it would not have been possible for a southern “Negro(contemporary parlance) circa 1900 to have any impact on government policy.
Rather, the intention of his travels were, in his words:
“ acquaint myself with the condition of the poorer and working classes in Europe, particularly in those regions from which an ever-increasing number of immigrants are coming to our country each year.” (p.3 emp.+)
In Sicily, Washington summed up his acquaintance” as follows:
“In Sicily a few capitalists and descendants of the old feudal lords own practically all the soil... (p. 145 emp.+) ...the condition of the agricultural population in Sicily has been growing steadily worse for half a century [i.e. post Piedmont-Risorgimento] (p.149 emp.+)
 “The Negro is not the man farthest down. The condition of the coloured farmer in the most backward parts of the Southern States in America, even where he has the least education and the least encouragement, is incomparably better than the condition and opportunities of the agricultural population in Sicily.” (p.144 emp.+)
“While the condition of Negro education in the Southern States is by no means perfect, the Negro, and particularly the Negro woman, has some advantages which are so far beyond the reach of the peasant girl in Sicily that she has never dreamed of possessing them [i.e. no Montessori for Sicily]. (p.161 emp.+)
The class character of narrative point-of-view
In short, Franchetti, the quintessential bourgeois, went to Italy looking for the bourgeoisie and the conditions positively and negatively affecting bourgeois economy. Washington, a former slave and coal miner, the prototypical worker, went to Sicily looking for the working class and conditions that gave rise to the ‘great migration’ of Sicilians out of their Patria Isola.  Thus, the narrative point of view differs between the two authors respectively according to their socio-economic class.
The tone of Washington’s narrative, as much as his observations of the Sicilian workers, is what differentiates him from Franchetti
Washington knows the pain of work and exploitation, and he understands and respects the virtues of work: the manifestations of strength, skill, quality, self-discipline and perseverance. Accordingly, his descriptions of Sicilian workers, no matter how brutal their lives, always conveys a sense of respect; at time almost a loving tone – especially towards the Sicilian children workers. 
Whereas, Dickie characterized Franchetti’s writing as “The perceptions of the traveler in strange territory...”, there is no such sense of  “strangeness” of a “foreigner’s perception”  in Washington’s writing.  On the contrary, his narrative reads like a man describing “his own people”; for in fact, the Sicilian workers were his people, he was one of them; they shared a common bond of a life of relentless labor and exploitation suffered with Hemingway-esque dignity and courage.
Hemingway - Sicilian Women and Children
For Hemingway dignity and courage were manifested as ‘grace under pressure’.  By that standard, Washington renders the shabbiest most downtrodden, brutally exploited Sicilian worker heroic.
Under the most horrendous conditions, the Sicilian workers showed pride in their craft and perform their work, no matter how menial, with excellence and dignity.   Indeed, by that standard, the most heroic Sicilians to Washington were the women and most especially the Sicilian children workers.

Consider just a few of Washington’s many examples of heroic Sicilian workers in Piedmont dominated Sicily, 35 years after Franchetti made his ‘recommendations’ to the Piedmontista Roman government:
“A woman who...supported herself from the milk she obtained from a herd of goats. Her earnings amounted to not more than 12 to 14 cents a day, and, as this was not sufficient for bread for herself and her four children, she picked up during the day all sorts of green stuff that she found growing upon the rocks, and carried it home in her apron at night to fill the hungry mouths that were awaiting her return. (p. 137 emp.+)
“A peasant woman haggling with the customs officer over the tax she was to pay for the privilege of bringing her produce to town. She was barefoot and travel-stained and had evidently come some distance, carrying her little stock of fruit and vegetables in a sack slung across her back. It seemed, however, that she had hidden, in the bottom of the sack, a few pounds of nuts, covering them over with fruit and vegetables. Something in her manner, I suppose, betrayed her, for the customs officer insisted on thrusting his hand down to the very bottom of the little sack and brought up triumphantly, at last, a little handful of the smuggled nuts.  I could not mistake the pleading expression with which she begged the officer to let her and her little produce through because, as she indicated, showing him her empty palms, she did not have money enough to pay all that he demanded. (p. 150 emp.+)
“One thing that impressed me in all that I saw was the secondary and almost menial part the women took in the work. They worked directly under an overseer who directed all their movements - directed them, apparently, with a sharp switch, which he carried in his hand. There was no laughter or singing and apparently little freedom among the women, who moved slowly, silently, with the weary and monotonous precision in their work I have frequently noted in gang labour. (p.155 emp.+)
“...crowds of these women trooping, arm in arm, through the streets of the city. A party of them had, in fact, encamped on the pavement in the little open square at the southern gate of the city. They were there nearly all day and, I suppose, all night, also. I was interested to observe the patience with which they sat for hours on the curb or steps, with their heads on their bundles, waiting until the negotiations for hiring them were finished. (p.156 emp.+)
I discovered, one day, a macaroni factory. Within a space perhaps three feet wide and ten or twelve feet in length one man and a boy conducted the whole business of the sale as well as the manufacture of macaroni, from the raw grain to the completed article of trade. (p. 192 emp.+)
“In fact, it seems as if work never stopped on the street, for it is full of little shops where men sit in their doorways or at the open windows until late at night, working steadily at their various trades, making the things they sell, and stopping only now and then to sell the things they make. (p. 194 emp.+)
“... a little girl, certainly not more than seven years of age, who was busily engaged in polishing and sharpening the stamps. I stopped for a moment and watched this man and child, working steadily, silently, at this late hour of the night. I could but marvel at the patience and the skill the child showed at her work. It was the first time in my life that I had seen such a very little child at work, although I saw many others in the days that followed. (p. 195 emp.+)
“...Sicily, for, so far as my experience goes, there is no other country in Europe where incessant labour is so largely the lot of the masses of the people. Certainly there is no other country where so much of the labour of all kinds, the skilled labour of the artisan as well as the rough labour of digging and carrying on the streets and in the mines, is performed by children, especially boys. (p. 195 emp.+)
 “...a plant where three little boys were at work mixing the clay, forming it into octagonal shapes, and piling it out in the sun to dry...almost all of the actual work was performed by the children, who ranged, I should say, from eight to twelve years of age. The work of carrying the heavy clay, and piling it up in the sun after it had been formed into tiles, was done by the younger children. I am certain that if I had not seen them with my own eyes I would never have believed that such very little children could carry such heavy loads, or that they could work so systematically and steadily as they were compelled to do in order to keep pace with the rapid movements of the older boy, who was molding the tiles from the soft clay. (p. 196 emp.+)
I could go on and on with these types of observations of Sicilian workers suffering a brutal destiny, created for them by the likes of the insatiable greedy Franchetti, Sonnino and the other Piedmontistas. For more details and discussion about the work and living conditions in post-Franchetti Sicily, see: “Sicily’s Class Character...” in theRelated Articles” box at the top of this page.
Also: Washington’s book has been digitized and available at:
Would that the Italian American literati could get their heads out of the Arno River and see to it that this book is on the reading list of all European History courses.  And certainly give Sicilian Americans an alternative to Franchetti’s “Trash Talk” and his Ivy League mythologizers.