Several years ago, our team posted a blog answering the question, “Who would you invite to Thanksgiving dinner, dead or alive?” It turned out to be one of our most popular posts ever, continuing to resonate today. I was struck by how serious everyone took it and the interesting tables of guests they created. Without consulting with each other, three members of our team invited Jane Addams, the west side angel of the city’s immigrants and the founder of Chicago’s Hull House and one colleague invited her grandfather whom she missed. John F. Kennedy and Walt Disney also got a few invites.
So, with another Thanksgiving upon us, we’re doing it again. So far, our colleague James Mendez has earned an extra helping of mashed potatoes with his poignant description of the influence Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, President Barack Obama and his late grandfather had on him.
I could fill a banquet hall of people from history and my personal life with whom I would love to break bread with this Thanksgiving. But I’ve been reading a lot of history lately so historical figures are front-of-mind.
At my table, I have to save the first chair for someone who doesn’t get a lot of invites – Civil War hero and American President Ulysses S. Grant. My parents were history buffs and one of my first history projects in school was a second-grade audiotape report (taped on a cutting-edge-for-the-early-70s tape recorder my dad brought home) on the life of General Grant. He spent a brief time living in Galena, Illinois, and the community claims him as its favorite son and tourist attraction. My parents took my four brothers and me on our first family trip to visit Grant’s Galena stomping grounds. I recently read “Alexander Hamilton” author Ron Chernow’s in-depth book on the General. As his second term as president came to an end, the Jim Crow South reared its ugly head and southern revisionists denigrated Grant’s reputation. While statues of Confederate Generals were erected in southern town squares, the southern “lost cause” narrative was born, and Grant was minimized as a drinker and a butcher who led union troops into bloody battles. Chernow documents Grant’s gift of strategy and ability to be cool under fire and his even more heroic efforts to protect the rights of Black Americans in the postwar South before the Klan and craven southern politicians undid his reconstruction efforts.
As I think about my next guest, anyone that knows me knows I’m a news geek. I would be enthralled if the late Washington Post publisher Katherine “Kay” Graham could come and share stories of navigating the corridors of power and the social circles of Washington D.C. while protecting her reporters who were investigating the Nixon administration. Many journalists of my generation got into journalism because of the Washington Post Watergate investigation and the notion of shedding light on the dark corners of government, politics and society.
Speaking of journalists, if legendary hard-boiled Chicago columnist and “Boss” author Mike Royko joined the dinner, perhaps he would share some behind-the-scenes political stories of a bygone Chicago political era as he passed the mashed potatoes, if he wasn’t too irascible.
Just in case President Grant and Royko start to throw those mashed potatoes, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall could bang his gavel and call the dinner to order so that he could share how he founded the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and led the effort to end racial segregation. The first Black American to serve on the high court would sit at the head of the table.
I’d also love to have another meal with my late parents, John and Lucille. They were pretty good at bringing people down to earth and the famous history-maker and journalist guests would hopefully appreciate that. My dad’s sainted aunt, Sister Juliana Kelly, would be a great addition too. I’d love to have a chance to show that her investment in me as a young law student wasn’t a total waste of time and, after leading us in grace, she could share the wisdom she garnered growing up on Orleans Street in Chicago in the 1930s and serving her religious ministry as a psychiatric nurse in New Orleans.
My Dad was kind of a clown who thought he was funny and the only people that could shut him down were funny women (like my cousins Maureen and Loretta and the South Side Culloton girls). So to add some levity, I’d love to have Tiffany Hadish and Kate McKinnon dish some turkey and a whole lot more.
Seems like I better make a run to Binny’s Beverage Depot before this dinner occurs.
This article was written by Dennis Culloton. Dennis is the president and CEO of Culloton + Bauer Luce and one of the most experienced crisis communications and media advisers in the marketplace today.