We base our pasts on what we’ve been told — not on what was excluded.
A little boy went to our local library to sign out his first book. The rule was you needed to be able to print your own name to sign out the book yourself. He proudly printed J.P. and his last name. The librarian patiently explained he had to print his whole — real — first name. He patiently tried to explain that J.P. was his name. That day his personal history changed when he found out that for many, many years although EVERYONE called him J.P. his name was something like John Paul.
My grandmother passed. My uncle inherited everything but graciously allowed my brother and I to choose things out of the house that meant something to us. I removed two sets of books from a barrister book cabinet that I had claimed. And I handed my uncle a romance novel and said, “I know you like to keep things that mark our family history, so you’ll want this.” He was dumbstruck as to why I would think this. I said, “Look in the front. Your dad has an inscription there to his first wife. I don’t imagine there is anything else left to mark that part of his life.” Utter silence fell upon everyone in the room. My uncle managed the words, “My father’s FIRST WHAT?” His family history changed in that moment.
I watched two shows recently. Investigation of the Sultana on The History Detectives and a TED talk called America’s Native Prisoners of War. In the first talk, I learned that a steam-powered paddle boat, the Sultana, sank killing 1800 people including Union POW’s released at the end of the Civil War. The documentation shows that President Abraham Lincoln interceded on behalf of a man who was evading court martial for previous wrong doings. Upon the request of President Lincoln, this fugitive from the law was reinstated in the army and placed as a Quarter Master at this port. This Quarter Master was responsible for the deaths that could have been avoided. Why did Lincoln apparently ignore the high-ranking military officials who said — “no way” and put a fugitive in a position that resulted in all these deaths –apparently the same reason most political decisions are made — $$$$. The man’s brother had contributed to Lincoln’s first campaign and was a high-ranking person in the government. And in the second talk, I learned that Abraham Lincoln violated the treaty with the Lakota and later ordered their massacre. I do not remember these facts being taught to me in my American History Class. These facts changed my view of “Honest Abe” and myself as an American. How can I live in a country that calls itself a democracy — “Land of the Free”….?
I want to be proud of being an American. I want to love the country I live in. I want to live in a good country. I don’t think that I can say that I do, until all Americans, including those that hold political office put the love of people before the love of money and power and possessions. After watching Aaron Huey’s TED talk — as an American I do not know what to do. As a person, all I can do for now is let facts no longer be excluded from my history and give you the choice if you want them to be excluded from your history.