Don't Know Much

Banned Books Week (2013): “Don’t Join the Book Burners”

Share:

(This video was made in 2010 but I re-post it for Banned Books Week)

To close out the 2013 edition of Banned Books Week, I offer the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in a commencement address delivered at Dartmouth in 1953:

Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you are going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as that document does not offend our own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship.

–President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Remarks at Dartmouth College Commencement (June 14, 1953)

President Eisenhower (Courtesy: Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum)

President Eisenhower (Courtesy: Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum)

 

(Source: Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Remarks at the Dartmouth College Commencement Exercises, Hanover, New Hampshire.,” June 14, 1953. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=9606.)

While books are rarely actually “banned” in America, the concept of restricting access to some books is much more commonplace, usually in classrooms and school libraries. Typically , books are pulled from shelves and reading lists after the objection of a an individual or group. The American Library Association, which sponsors “Banned Books Week,” explains the difference between “banned” and “challenged.”

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the removal of those materials.  Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.  Due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.

As the nation debates “Common Core,” an educational approach that demands reading and responding to ideas, the importance of this reminder of the right to free expression and the value of THINKING in a free society is more urgent than ever.

You can find many more resources on the issue of “banned” and “challenged” books at the American Library Association.

The New York Times Learning Network also offers some good teaching resources on classroom discussion of “controversial” books.

“Don’t Join the Book Burners”-Banned Books Week (2013)

Share:

(This video was made in 2010 but I re-post it for Banned Books Week)

Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you are going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as that document does not offend our own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship.

–President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Remarks at Dartmouth College Commencement (June 14, 1953)

(Source: Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Remarks at the Dartmouth College Commencement Exercises, Hanover, New Hampshire.,” June 14, 1953. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=9606.)

This week from September 22-28, ,2013, the nation’s libraries mark Banned Books Week.

Rarely are books actually “banned” in America. More typically , they are pulled from libraries and classrooms after the objection of a an individual or group. The ALA explains the difference between “banned” and “challenged.”

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the removal of those materials.  Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.  Due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.

So  it is time to think about the “Book Wars” again. That often means rounding up the “usual suspects” like The Catcher in the Rye, Beloved, or To Kill a Mockingbird.
But it also means that new books come along all the time that many parents, school board members or other individuals find “offensive” or “inappropriate.”

As the nation debates “Common Core,” an educational approach that demands reading and responding to ideas, the importance of this reminder of the right to free expression and the value of THINKING in a free society is more urgent than ever.

You can find many more resources on the issue of “banned” and “challenged” books at the American Library Association.

Don’t Know Much About Minute: More Pilgrims 101

Share:

When Abraham Lincoln signed a Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1863 calling for a day of gratitude on the last Thursday in November, it began an unbroken string of presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations. In 1941, the FOURTH Thursday in November was set as a national holiday by Congress and signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In my previous video and quiz about Thanksgiving, I told you that there were no black hats with buckles, half of the “pilgrims” weren’t Pilgrims and that the first Thanksgiving was really  in October. Here are a few more pieces of the picture.

And here is a link to a story I wrote for the New York Times about America’s real first Pilgrims, a group of French settlers in Florida who arrived 50 years before the Mayflower sailed.

A day of “Thanksgiving” was officially proclaimed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. It was the beginning of an unbroken string of Thanksgiving proclamation by American presidents. The last Thursday in November became an official national holiday in 1941, signed into law by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

THE PLIMOTH PLANTATION historical site also offers a good overview of the Pilgrim story:

Ugly Campaigns Go Way Back

Share:

Think it’s bad now? How about being called a “whoremongering jacobin?”

Posted on September 17, 2012 Comment Share:

“A Mormon and a Catholic Walk Into a Bar…”

Share:

Sounds like the opening line of a stand-up joke, doesn’t it?

The fact that a Mormon candidate for President and his Roman Catholic running mate seem to be attracting very little attention over their respective religions is almost news in itself. And good news. After all, the Constitution says,

 but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. (Article VI)

But in 1844, a Mormon and a Catholic certainly wouldn’t be running together for the top two offices in America. And if they walked into a bar in Philadelphia, they might get their teeth knocked out. Or worse.

That is the story I tell in this video about the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant “Bible Riots” of 1844 in the City of Brotherly Love.

We’d like to believe in that old “melting pot” myth of American religious freedom. But in fact, the nation’s history is riddled with religious intolerance –and it often reared its head in presidential politics. The “Christian Nation” fallacy is a subject I addressed in the article “Why US Is Not a Christian Nation,” published on July 4, 2011 –but as timely as ever.

 

A Nation Rising (Harper)

The story of the “Bible Riots” is told in greater detail in A NATION RISING.

The subject of religion and the presidency is also explored in my forthcoming book Don ‘t Know Much About® the American Presidents, available on September 18.

Don’t Know Much About the American Presidents
(September 18, 2012-Hyperion Books)

A Nation Rising: A Video Q&A with Author Kenneth C. Davis

Share:

(Originally recorded in May 2010)

 

“With his special gift for revealing the significance of neglected historical characters, Kenneth Davis creates a multilayered, haunting narrative. Peeling back the veneer of self-serving nineteenth-century patriotism, Davis evokes the raw and violent spirit not just of an ‘expanding nation,’ but of an emerging and aggressive empire.”

-Ray Raphael, author of Founders

When Religions Collide

Share:

The Bible Riots

In a column written for CNN.com entitled “Why U.S. is Not a Christian Nation” that appeared on July 4th, I wrote about the history of early America as a secular republic.

Today, a few days after marking Independence Day and celebrating the events of 1776 in Philadelphia, I want to highlight a piece of “America’s Hidden History” that underscores the dangers of an “official” religion and the irony of calling America a “Christian Nation.”  The story is of a time when Christian sectarian violence led to bloodshed in the streets of Philadelphia.

Starting in n May 1844 and then again for several days following the 1844 Independence Day Parade, Philadelphia –the City of Brotherly Love– was torn apart by a series of deadly riots. Known as the “Bible Riots,” the bloody street fighting and violence grew out of the vicious anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic sentiment that was so widespread in 19th century America. Families were burned out of their homes. Churches were destroyed. And more than two dozen people died in one of the worst urban riots in early American History. This video offer an overview of the “Bible Riots.”

The story of the “Bible Riots” is another untold tale that I explore in greater in A NATION RISING, now available in paperback.

Paperback edition of A Nation Rising

A NATION RISING -National Bestseller now in paperback

Posted on July 6, 2011 Comment Share:

The Flag and the Fourth

Share:

You will see plenty of red, white and blue bunting around as the Fourth of July approaches. The American flag inspires patriotism and pride. But a lot of legends too.

With its thirteen red and white stripes in honor of the original states, the U.S. flag has has changed a lot since 1777, when the “Stars and Stripes” became the official American flag. Now there are 50 stars representing the states. But the familiar symbol of America has a surprisingly obscure history. How much do you know about “Old Glory?”

True or False? (Answers below)
1. The original design, with 13 stars in a circle, was the handiwork of seamstress Betsy Ross.
2. The American flag is never lowered to honor visiting heads of state.
3. The Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, composed in 1776, always included the words “one nation under God.”
4. It is legal to burn the flag as a form of protest.

FLAG DAY is celebrated on June 14 in honor of the adoption of the American flag by the Second Continental Congress in 1777. In 1877, Congress ordered the flag to be flown from every government building on June 14 to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the official birth of the American flag.

You can find a good source of flag history and tradition at this website, US Flag.org:
http://www.usflag.org/history/flagevolution.html

Answers
1. False, probably. The Betsy Ross legend has largely been discredited. The likely father of the flag design was Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration from Pennsylvania and a member of the Continental Navy Board.
2. True. In a long-standing tradition, the flag is never dipped to any other nation’s, including during the Olympics.
3. Double False. The Pledge was composed in 1892 and the words “under God” were added in 1953.
4. True. The Supreme Court has ruled that burning the flag in protest is speech protected under the Fifth Amendment.

Posted on June 23, 2011 Comment Share:

Why we “Hide” our History: A videoblog

Share:

People ask me two questions all the time: Why don’t we know much about History?
And why is so much of America’s History Hidden?
To the first the answer is simple. It was boring.
And to the second, we lie.
Sometimes these lies are little white lies –like Washington and the Cherry Tree. But sometimes they are Big Lies.
Let me give you an example of a BIG LIE. I was in a wonderful historical village in Florida, doing some research. A Spanish mission, with a neighboring Indian village, it featured an enthusiastic, well-versed staff in period costume. It was exactly the kind of place I like to suggest to parents and teachers to take their kids to get them excited about history.
Then I went into their “educational center.” On the wall was a time chart of Florida’s history and under the date 1565, I saw this legend: “The French are banished from Florida.”

Not so fast… The French Protestants, or Huguenots who were America’s real first pilgrims, were not “banished.” They were massacred by the Spanish. And not because they were French but because they were Protestants–“heretics.” It happened in September and October 1565.

October is also the month in which those folks who brought you the Salem Witch Trials executed a couple of Quakers –who had been banned from Boston and the Bay Colony in October 1656. A year later, another Quaker named Mary Dyer was executed and a fourth was hung in 1661 –simply for the crime of being a Quaker.
They left that part out of the Thanksgiving Story, didn’t they? These are some of the “hidden history” moments that we don’t talk about when we discuss America as a so-called “Christian nation” and the Puritans coming for freedom of religion. That meant their religion not anyone else’s.
We hide our history when the truth is ugly. We like to paint a picture of that that makes history tidy and acceptable. But our history isn’t tidy or bloodless. And it certainly isn’t boring as these stories prove.

You can read more about the French Pilgrims and the Quakers in America’s Hidden History

Here is a link the national monument at Fort Matanzas, site of the Massacre:
http://www.nps.gov/foma/index.htm
This is a brief biography of Mary Dyer from the Massachusetts state website:
http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=mg2terminal&L=6&L0=Home&L1=State+Government&L2=About+Massachusetts&L3=Interactive+State+House&L4=Inside+the+State+House&L5=Statues+in+Bronze&sid=massgov2&b=terminalcontent&f=interactive_statehouse_statue_dyer&csid=massgov2

americas_hidden_history1

Juneteenth

Share:

On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger informed slaves in the area from the Gulf of Mexico to Galveston, Texas, that they were free. Lincoln had officially issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, but it had taken two more years of Union victories to end the war and for this news to reach slaves in remote sections of the country. According to folk traditions, many of the newly freed slaves celebrated the news with ecstasy. Many of them began to travel to other states in search of family members who had been separated from them by slave sales.

That spontaneous celebration—commonly called Juneteenth— became prominent in many African-American communities, but never gained any official recognition. Recently it has been recognized by several states as a day celebrating emancipation. There is a movement to gain national recognition of “Juneteenth” as a way of marking the end of slavery in America.

Here is a link to the National Archives site about the Emancipation Proclamation, formally announced by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863.

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/emancipation_proclamation/index.html

The Latest From My Blog

151 Years of the Divisive & Partisan History of “Memorial Day”

Memorial Day was born out of the ashes of the Civil War.

Read More

Don’t Know Much About® the Tonkin Resolution

On August 7, 1964, Congress approved a resolution that soon became the legal basis for the Vietnam War

Read More