History can be hurtful. Sometimes, what was – can change to what was not. Frequently, it reconstructs on abandoned ground.
Weeks ago, Better Half, a Richmond newspaper editorial, brought a re-evaluating jerk – a pop, putting my American history teaching credentials scurrying. As teacher, my name could’ve been: Mr. Might-Have-Been.
Histories tease; the discipline shakes, shifts, taking new forms – almost as predictably as the Earth’s crust – with nagging regularity. Embossed announcements, they are not. Deciphering, what should be learned, and in my case, what should’ve been taught in Henrico’s Mills Godwin U.S. History class rooms, becomes a paramount objective. Obduracy has no place.
While the RTD editorial analyzed a recently published history – Edward E. Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told – other books, unabashedly scream for classroom usage: Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion; and James E. Ryan’s Five Miles Away, A World Apart (a Richmond analysis between two high schools – Douglas Freeman and an urbanized Thomas Jefferson).
Adding to personal challenge is my celebrated membership in that first 1956 graduating class at Douglas Freeman H.S. – inducing an unwarranted, but inexact discomfort. Now, what to teach.
*Douthat’s Bad Religion measured significant chronology of cultural changes from the Eisenhower years to George W. Bush’s election. It offended almost everyone who is bone-deep with religion. The text criticized an amazing variety of American religious pathologies – fair, but blunt in analysis. Douthat’s work brings light to the A.P. block: Religion In America. It was a time when Americans began believing in anything by labeling it spiritual. And yes, such spiritual gymnastics affected history.
*Ryan’s Five Miles Away sparked local, social analysis. Using two local high schools as archetypes, examining the cultures of student bodies ( TJ – 82% minority; DSF – 73% white ), the text has a clear theme: central city vs. the suburbs. Ryan labels “Nixon compromise” as a new separateness – the issue of desegregating students was transformed into one of “desegregating dollars.” The new maxim: “urban schools should be helped in ways that do not threaten the physical, financial, or political independence of suburban schools.” Student discourse would jump for the “teaching moment” with that thesis? You bet.
*The Half Has Never Been Told finds the application of Nixonian terminology, “the big enchilada”, spot on. Its conclusion requires rethinking, reteaching on how wretched Americanized slavery emerged into nationalized status – with energized complicity of American business.
For instance: As early as the 1820’s, slave owners commanded the biggest pool of collateral in the United States – two million slaves worth more than $1 billion. It’s 20% of all the wealth owned by all U.S. citizens – irrespective of sectional background and culture. From 1824 to 1832, the Philadelphia-based Bank of the United States, the banker of the Federal Government, multiplied the amount of its loans to Mississippi Valley slave owners 16 times over – a massive investment.
Baptist assures by 1832, at least one-third of the entire bank’s capital had been allocated to planters, slave traders, merchants, and local banks in the “slave frontier” of southwestern states. The depth of the bank’s commitment, in turn, gave EUROPEAN INVESTORS confidence to lavishly inject their own currency in American slaves. Slavery in the American South emerged into a worldwide investment.
King Complicity now partnered with King Cotton and perfected Slavocracy. Soul stealing greed engineered rich profits…with malevolent ease.
During the ante-bellum period, lists of participating American corporations intrigued: Lehman Brothers; Aetna, Inc.; JPMorgan Chase; New York Life; Wachovia Corporation (now owned by Wells Fargo); N M Rothschild & Sons Bank in London; Norfolk Southern; USA Today even found that their own parent company, E.W. Scripps and Gannett, has had links to the slave trade.
History instructs The Civil War cost America about 640,000 lives; it would finally bring an end to the lucrative partnerships between the cruel machine of Southern slavery and the Northern roaring engines of slave capitalism.
In the movie, Wall Street (1987), Gordon Gekko fabricated that greed is good…greed is right…greed works…and greed clarifies. It conveyed a contemptuous conclusion, wrecking American humanity for over two centuries, in unfathomable ways. Mr. Might-Have-Been ponders.
Raymond B. Wallace, Jr. recently published his book, ESSEX MEMORIES & BEYOND. He can be contacted: firstname.lastname@example.org.