I nonetheless keep in mind the way it hit me like a slap within the face. The phrases got here from a minister in a Methodist church pulpit: “We dwell in a rustic based on the genocide of 1 individuals and the enslavement of one other.” It was brutal to listen to, but in addition undeniably true.
One of many many social battles we’re having in america immediately is about what model of U.S. historical past we needs to be educating in our colleges.
As a boy, I realized the candy model that the majority of us did: A bunch of individuals searching for freedom fled England to make a brand new life within the New World. In 1776, when the British king sought to trample on these freedoms, they rebelled and declared their independence. The American Revolution was led by a bunch of extraordinary males who received victory on the battlefield, crafted a structure that has endured for hundreds of years, and gave us our most profound nationwide promise, “That each one males are created equal.”
It’s a stunning story, one which I discovered inspiring. Thomas Jefferson, that younger, red-haired poet of our nationwide independence, was my hero.
Sadly there have been some key elements of the story that my academics solely skimmed over or neglected completely. That included the decimation of the Native American civilizations that had been already right here and the brutal realities of American slavery.
4 years in the past, to mark the four-hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the primary African slaves in America, a workforce of journalists at The New York Occasions got down to publish a extra full historical past of what slavery appeared like in america. It’s known as The 1619 Undertaking. I’ve been studying it lately, absorbing what my academics didn’t share and what many politicians immediately wish to proceed to go away out.
Slavery in America (earlier than the revolution and after) endured for two 1/2 centuries. Tens of tens of millions of males, ladies and youngsters lived their lives not as individuals however as property. They might be legally crushed, raped or killed by their house owners with out consequence, and tens of millions had been. The infants born to Black slave moms weren’t their kids however commodities to be bought away at any age, and had been, decade after decade.
The 1619 Undertaking additionally casts a special gentle on the boys who led our “all males created equal” revolution. Practically all of them made their fortunes on the backs of enslaved women and men. This contains 10 of our nation’s first 12 presidents, amongst them Thomas Jefferson.
After its publication, The 1619 Undertaking was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and colleges throughout the nation started utilizing its well-researched materials to assist educate kids a extra correct image of our nation’s founding. In response, a wave of politicians lined as much as attempt to ban it.
There are a lot of causes that we have to educate historical past precisely in our colleges. One is that our nation’s laborious racial report nonetheless echoes in our occasions immediately. Eight of 10 Black individuals in America are the descendants of slaves, and the legacy of legalized racism right here didn’t finish in 1865.
Till I used to be within the fifth grade, it was nonetheless unlawful in lots of states for Blacks and whites to marry each other. Till I used to be within the sixth grade it was authorized to refuse to promote or hire a house to a Black household. At this time Blacks in America are nonetheless 5 occasions extra prone to be imprisoned, far much less prone to earn a livable wage or personal a house, and Black Individuals die on common three years earlier.
Black historical past is American historical past. We shouldn’t be shy to show it or study it. The 1619 Undertaking highlights how typically it has been Black Individuals who’ve led the work of holding our nation to its lofty guarantees of equality and freedom — from Frederick Douglass to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to the present struggles over race immediately.
The true historical past of our nation is a sophisticated mixture of issues, some noble and heroic, others brutal and horrific. America is a set of contradictions.
My schoolboy hero, Thomas Jefferson, did write the hovering poetry of equality upon which our nation was based. He additionally owned human beings as slaves, together with his personal mistress and the kids she bore from him. I see each side of who he was and of what our nation has been. The historical past we educate our kids must do the identical.
(Jim Shultz is the founder and government director of the Democracy Heart and a father and grandfather in Lockport. He will be reached by e mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)