Saturday, June 21, 2014

What so Proudly We Hailed: A Biography

By Nina Kendall

     Summer in the United States is a time of patriotic splendor.  Fireworks, flag displays, and celebrations of important Americans entice people to bask in communal festivities. I treasure memories of the National Fiddle Contest, Flag Day parades, and concerts ending with fireworks.  Summer fun can be extended with a great history book.  This year you can combine your summer celebration with a new book about early America.

     America in the early 19th century was a country of contradictions.  Francis Scott Key led a life that epitomizes those contradictions. Marc Leepson has written a new biography about Key.  In What So Proudly We Hailed, Leepson shares the life of Francis Scott Key who is best known for writing the “The Star Spangled Banner.”  Mr. Key is an American icon whose life is largely unknown. An active citizen, Key was involved in local, regional, and national issues. A lawyer by trade, Key also pursued his interest in religion, public education, and colonization.  

     Leepson makes his research clear in his revelation of the life of Francis Scott Key.  While recounting the events surrounding the writing of the account of the events surrounding the writing of “The Star Spangled Banner”, we learn that Key did not write of the events directly. Leepson’s writing is based on a letter written by Roger B. Taney and the John Skinner’s memories. Both works were written decades after the War of 1812. Key himself only made one public reference to the poem despite delivering numerous public speeches on a variety of topics.

     Key struggles with the issues of the time. He has concerns about how the future of the country will be affected by the resolution of questions surrounding slavery. At times Key defends slaves who sue for their freedom.  Yet, he also works for people who seek the return of slaves. He is troubled by the struggle to create the Missouri Compromise and a huge supporter of the American Colonization Society. Marc Leepson presents these actions to the reader without judgment so that they can draw their own conclusions.

     What So Proudly We Hailed, Francis Scott Key, A Life paints a clear picture of the life of a man who represents the challenges of early America. This is a good book for tying all the pieces of early 19th century America together. Key was a public figure in a period of growth and debate in American history.   Key, the son of a wealthy planter, has well connected relatives and influential friends.  Yet he still strives to be faithful to his religion, improve his community, and influence the future of his country. 

     Connect your summer fun with the enjoyment of early American history. Pick up a book and make a connection with the past.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Reading about the Wrenching Pain of History

By Jeff Burns

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again. ---Maya Angelou

            Throughout the year in my US History classes, I tell lots of stories and include lots of unpleasantness as it arises.  My students often tell me that I ruin their day or dispel their childhood truths.  However, in January or early February, I usually get to the day in class that is the most depressing and silent day of the year, because I normally set aside a day to talk about lynchings and racial violence of the Jim Crow era.

            Why?  I was never exposed to any of this information in school, but I think it is a necessary part of the study of history to study the bad and the good, the depressing and the uplifting, and good history and good citizenship both demand the full story, warts and all.

            (Caveat:  I do teach mostly Advanced Placement and Honors students, juniors.  A teacher has to be aware of the maturity level and responsibility of their students.  My students are mature enough to take college level courses, hold jobs, and operate vehicles capable of mayhem and death.  They should be able to handle a major, if disturbing,  fact of  our country’s history.)

            However, I have to stress again that it can be a very painful experience, and it has to be managed well.  It’s not for every student or every teacher. My lesson suggests are on this Histocrats in the Classroom post.

  Whether you build a lesson around the topic or not, here are some books you may consider reading for background, but this list just barely scratches the surface:

Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America by James Allen, is a collection of hundreds of lynching photographs taken across the country, mostly as postcards and souvenirs.  Many of the images and the descriptions I use come from this book.  The images are now part of a collection managed by Emory University.

At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America by Phillip Dray

The Way It Was in the South: The Black Experience in Georgia by Donald and Jonathan Grant is the only book length treatment of the scope of black history in a single state, encyclopedic in breadth.

The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Tim Madigan is one of a number of books about specific race riots.

Like Judgment Day: The Ruin and Redemption of a Town Called Rosewood by Michael D’Orso.  The Rosewood Florida massacre was the subject of the movie Rosewood.

Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow by Leon  Litwick

There’s also a lot of fiction about the subject, as well as poetry and works of art.  Georgia-born author Erskine Caldwell, who had already outraged most white Georgians for his portrayal of the Lester family in Tobacco Road, wrote Trouble in July.