Hard History

In middle and high school, I grew up outside Washington DC, so I went to Virginian public schools. I learned the Virginian version of American history, which exalted the role of Virginia in creating our ideals of liberty and justice of all in the US, particularly during the colonial and Revolutionary periods. When I moved to North Carolina, I was astounded to discover that some of the earliest acts of protest against British rule actually happened in North Carolina, NOT in Virginia.

So, obviously, I have a lot to learn about NC history.

Some of my ignorance was revealed yesterday when I attended an online session for teachers sponsored by the North Carolina Museum of History entitled “Wilmington 1898: The Hidden History of An American Coup D’État.” In this workshop, I learned that a prosperous, generally peaceful, racially-mixed community with a government that had both whites and African Americans elected officials was forced by violent white supremacy movements to remove the black leaders of Wilmington, not to mention allowing the murders of at least 60 innocent African Americans. According to the program, this is the only official Coup D’État that has happened in our country to date, not to mention a horrible open racial massacre.

Some of this program was giving us the history of this terrible time in history. Not being steeped in NC history, I was shocked to hear names that I didn’t really know who they were or what they did but recognized as the titles of the buildings of many of our state universities. However, much of the 3 hour program was discussing how teachers can teach about it. The underlying philosophy was that education needs to teach this “hard history,” no matter how much “political” pressure there can be that says discussing these things is “divisive” or “un-American.” Instead, they argue that only by acknowledging the truth of our past, bad and good, can we understand, heal, and move beyond the racial divisions we struggle with today. That is an approach that I personally agree with. Plus, the program also pressed the idea that Hard History doesn’t have to be Hopeless History. The program talked about ways to present this kind of history that empowers students instead of depressing them. Finally, it had a whole section, along with a lot of resources sent after the program, to actually give teachers tools to approach this teaching.

This doesn’t fit into what I’m teaching in my literature classes this year, since I’m doing World Mythology. However, I found it really enlightening and inspiring. I don’t know how or when I will use it with my students, but I know that it gives me both information and a lens that will come into play sooner or later.

Major kudos to the the North Carolina Museum of History and the program speakers for a challenging but valuable discussion about the role teachers have in sharing the truth of the mistakes of the past as inspiration for creating a more equal union.

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