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, et.al. 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.

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