“American Ahistorical Insights”

As mystifying as racial realities are for an American, I imagine they are even more so for many of my readers. But this recent book How the Word is Passed, A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith will shed some necessary light on just how differently United States history is perceived across this nation. Smith visits several tourist locations which have a connection with slavery and talks with visitors about the issues each place brings up.

Most fascinating, to me, given the current acrimony about what is taught in schools, is the story at Monticello, ancestral plantation of Thomas Jefferson, third U.S. President. Smith talks with park guides about their experiences as he tours both the mansion and takes an add-on walk about slave history there. He learns of some visitors’ anger about hearing “political” things when they just wanted to look at a beautiful house. By “political,” they mean that the guides tell the truth that the house was built by slaves, that slaves tilled the grounds, and that slaves were bought and sold by Jefferson. Jefferson also fathered children by one of his enslaved women, proven by DNA testing of descendants.

I recommend the book highly for anyone wanting to understand just how ahistorical much of American history taught in schools has been. Many unpleasant truths have been omitted or watered down. Sadly, some still want to tell only a slavery free history of this country. No such history is accurate. I think of the old adage “the truth will set you free, but first it may make you miserable.” Forward is the only way possible for this country. There is no going back, and all of our citizens deserve to know the true history of how this country became great, including the contributions of free, indentured and slave alike. Only then can we move forward as one American people. As an optimist, I think it is possible.

18 thoughts on ““American Ahistorical Insights”

  1. Although an optimist, I am not as optimistic as you Elizabeth. I certainly agree that a watered down, or filtered, history is no way to go forward. We need all future generations to learn of how we, and our ancestors, have managed, and mismanaged, our planet and the people on it. There seems to be a widely held view now that we should get rid of statues, not teach particular historical facts, and emphasise only the “good” parts of the past. That always takes me back to 1984, and smacks of communist regimes. I do hope that your optimism is nearer the mark than mine is!

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    1. I understand that the past is just as complex as the present. There is no “good” past, just a tangle of human beings. Perhaps you need to have a somewhat matured mind to understand that it isn’t possible to “cancel” everyone who ever does one “wrong”(according to you) thing.

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  2. I remember learning “watered down” history or even incorrect history when I was in school. Some of the incorrect factual information was because of myths, but other times, it involved rewriting history.

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  3. After a lifelong interest in history, I am often left feeling cheated by discovering things I accepted as facts were actually falsehoods ‘written by the victors’. I hope your optimism proves to be correct, Elizabeth. Though sadly, I doubt either of us will live long enough to see whether or not it does.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  4. Hi Elizabeth, I think that these wounds have to be cleaned, for want of a better expression, before they can heal. The only way that can be done is by facing our historical truths and learning from them. We don’t have to judge as what has passed is already done with, but we can learn and make the future better.

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  5. Imagine being a teacher who has been told to only teach from the “textbook” that you know is inaccurate. You can add certain truths before getting in trouble. As a teaching family, it is not something we deal with well. I have home though.

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