Sunday, August 30, 2020

Reflecting on Learning from "Bunker Hill"

What does a revolution look like? What happens when something revolves? 

I’ve been reading about the American Revolution (AR) at the same time as I’m witnessing Black Lives Matter (BLM), which seems to me to be another revolution, one to secure systematic equality. In Bunker Hill by Nathaniel Philbrick, a writer who delights in extensive research and has an uncanny ability to find what I call “the telling detail,” I’ve been repeatedly surprised by a number of similarities between the AR and BLM.

BLM: For the past three months, people of all ages and from all walks of life and background have peacefully protested police brutality, especially toward Black men. They have drawn attention to systematic racism in our country.

AR: Between 1767-75, colonists wrote King George III and members of Parliament to air their grievances about the Townshend Acts. The cry was, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” 

BLM: For many Americans, the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, was the final straw in the long history of racial inequality in the United States. 

AR: The final straw for the colonial rebels was the march to Concord, Massachusetts, by British soldiers and the deadly skirmish at Lexington in April 1775.

BLM: A large majority of Americans support the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Many supporters do not have a shared reality with the Black protesters, but they do have a shared desire for justice. For equality. For human dignity. 

AR: At first, only Massachusetts supported independence. The other thirteen colonies, particularly the southern three and New York, did not immediately see how what was happening in Boston touched their lives.

BLM: In several cities, looting and rioting followed the peaceful protest. (Personally, I think today that the wordrioting is code for “Black rioting.” Somehow “Whites” don’t riot.) Because of that, some supporters have turned against the protest and are themselves protesting the loss of property. They now view the protesters as criminal rather than peaceful, convoluting protesting with looting/rioting. That is, they see everyone in the protest—except perhaps for the White participants—as potential looters and rioters. Moreover, they fear that these protesters will destroy their property and livelihood just as lotters in Minneapolis destroyed the small businesses along Lake Street.

AR: Those colonists who favored independence came to be called Patriots; they disagreed with the Tories who had little trouble with the status quo. The Tories deplored many of the Patriots’ actions and began to fear them because several Patriot gatherings evolved into mobs that assaulted and tarred-and-feathered dissenters. 

In 1765, a mob of Boston colonists, protesting what they considered an unjust law, ransacked the home of Thomas Hutchinson, the Massachusetts governor. They shattered windows, broke dishes, demolished furniture.  In the early 1770s, colonial sailors, resenting corrupt tax collectors and abusive law enforcement, attacked British ships. In 1772, they burned the Gaspee. In December 1773, a number of colonists, dressed as Native Americans, dumped a shipload of tea into Boston harbor to protest the tea tax. 

Looters? Yes. Property destroyers? Yes. In the dark of night, in costumes that masked who they were, these “Sons of Liberty,” feeling unjustly done by, rebelled. Their actions caused loss not only to the British tea company but also to those in the colonies who stored tea in warehouses, carted it to stores, and owned the stores that sold it.

Protesters, looters, rioters seem part of both revolutions. However, I’m not defending destroying property. I am loudly decrying the taking of human life in the name of justice. Or of “law and order.” And I’m trying to help create a country in which all of us will acknowledge the truth of the reality that has been part of Black lives for centuries.

Drawing from Wikipedia.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

An Intro to a Series

The political and pandemic period in which we now live prompts this posting, which introduces a series of postings I plan to do on audio books by well-known historians.

First, some personal background: my parents encouraged me—from about the age of 10—to read two newspapers a day. Around the supper table, we discussed what I’d read. They wanted me to understand “history being made.”  In college, I mostly studied ancient and European history.

However, in August 1969, after leaving the convent, I began my studies for a Master’s Degree in American Studies at the University of Minnesota. Two years later—after taking as many classes as I could over the course of twenty-four months—I obtained the degree with an emphasis on Black and Southern history.

For American studies, I took classes in several departments that offered courses about the United States. Among these were sociology, art/architectural, linguistics, literature, political science, and history.

After completing my master’s in 1971, I read two weekly news magazines (Newsweek and Time) and the daily Minneapolis and St. Paul newspapers. From 1976 on, I nightly watched The MacNeil/Lehrer Report, which later became known as the PBS Newshour.  

What I didn’t do after leaving the U of M was to continue reading books on American history written by distinguished historians. That was a mistake I’m correcting now.

For the past four years, whenever I hear the president speak, I think of the behavior of Joseph McCarthy, the Republican senator from Wisconsin who conducted televised hearings during my last two years in high school. I watched those hearings whenever I could and listened to my grandmother Ready rhapsodize about McCarthy. 

In the spring of my senior year (1954), while watching the Army-McCarthy hearings, I heard the legal representative for the army say to McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency?” He asked this after repeatedly witnessing McCarthy browbeat and belittle others with derogatory names and blatant innuendo.

As McCarthy did in the 1950s, many Americans—those of the “Contract with America” in the 1990s, the Tea Party Movement that began in 2009, and those who espouse the QAnon far-right conspiracy theory of the past two years—keep referring today to their “rights” and to the Constitution to explain their words and actions. Given that and the partisanship so evident in our country, I decided on my 84th birthday in April to study American history. I’m going for another master’s degree!

No, I’m not going back to school. I’ll take no tests. Write no papers. But I will, for as many years as I have left to live this life, read the books of reputable historians who can explain the threads that tie together one century/one event to another in the United States. Ultimately, I’ll award myself a home-made diploma from the University of Historians! 

I’ve started my degree work (sounds impressive doesn’t it!?!?!) with the late 18th century. Already I’m astounded at how woefully ignorant I’ve been of this period of American history.

In future postings, I’ll share with you books I’m reading about the following:

·      The 1st American Revolution (the war for independence—1775-1783)—books by Nathanial Philbrick, Rick Atkinson, and David McCullough.

·      The 2nd American Revolution (securing the peace, establishing government, writing the Constitution—1783-1789)—three books by Joseph J. Ellis.

·      Biographies of those who led the struggle in both revolutions—books by McCullough, Ron Chernow, Jon Meacham, and Ellis. 

I hope to live long enough to study the entire history of our young country. And then . . .  if my health permits, I want to study the history of the Middle East, Australia, and New Zealand as well as several Asian, African, and South American countries. I want to learn and appreciate.

So much to listen to and absorb. So many reasons to be grateful. Peace. 

You will note that the historians I’ve mentioned are all men. White men. As I learn enough to be appreciative, I will read histories written by and about women, histories written by and about Native Americans, and histories written by and about people of color.

I want to, I must read about colonial women and their work for the cause; about African Americans and the significant role they played in the Continental Army that George Washington commanded; and about how the founders of the United States systematically put in place plans that would push Native Americans westward and ultimately eradicate them. 

If any of you have books to suggest to help with my education, please do so. The only caveat is that the book must be available in audio because I’m no longer able to easily read paper or e-books. Once I move beyond the United States, I’ll need suggestions for other countries and their histories. So please help me out with this. Help me be inclusive. Expand my mind and my heart. Show me how to embrace Oneness.

That is . . . Help me learn the lessons of history and the struggles of all human beings as they try to find Oneness.