U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (center) walks with Kenyan Minister of Agriculture William Ruto (left) and Kenyan environmental and political activist Wangari Maathai (right) during a tour of the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) near Nairobi, Kenya August 5, 2009. (State Department Photo)
A few weeks ago I saw a random tweet about the progress of a tree-planting initiative in Kenya, similar to this:
To attain the 10% tree🌲🌳🌴 cover by 2022, one creative avenue for the Service is in forming partnerships with among others, Non-State actors through tree planting initiatives that aim to spur a tree growing culture among our youth today.https://t.co/D75sTp4ap1pic.twitter.com/Z6qesyDkr4
Then this weekend, I decided to treat myself and downloaded Chelsea and Hillary Clinton’s latest book, The Book of Gutsy Women: Favorite Stories of Courage and Resilience. One of the reasons I went ahead and bought the book is because the description of the book included a mention of Wangari Maathai, a woman “who sparked a movement to plant trees, understood the power of role modeling.” (The Book of Gutsy Women) It seemed like a perfect storm of things I didn’t know…what was Kenya’s tree-planting initiative and who was Wangari Maathai? And as anyone who knows me can attest, I don’t like not knowing things. So today you get my introduction, and maybe yours, to Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement.
President Barack Obama salutes while walking down the steps of Air Force One as he arrives in Youngstown, Ohio, to attend a roundtable event with auto workers at the GM Lordstown Assembly Plant, Sept. 15, 2009. The Lordstown plant was closed March 6, 2019 after 52 years of operation.
As a kid growing up in Cleveland, I was aware, even hyper-aware, of any UAW strikes against the automakers. Maybe it was because we got the newspaper delivered everyday, and it was hard to miss the updates. Maybe it was a Midwestern thing and the proximity to so many auto plants. Or perhaps it was because my mother’s cousin worked at the Lordstown plant and was loud and proud in his support of the UAW. Whatever the reason, a strike was a big deal, and the strikes were seen, heard, and discussed whenever they happened. I no longer feel like that’s the case. Even here in Michigan, it doesn’t seem like the current strike against GM is garnering much attention except in UAW families. That’s probably a statement about the decline of auto manufacturing in the state, as well as the decline of unions in general. But this is an important strike, with the very real possibility of being of historical importance. So today it’s going to be seen, heard, and maybe even discussed.
Logo from a Portuguese podcast, because pod people are everywhere.
I’m not technology-averse, but neither I am a first-adopter. I had a flip phone long after everyone else had moved on to smartphones, and I didn’t add texting to our phone package until 2009, when the Kiddo begged and pleaded with me, using the rationale that her work study boss expected to be able to contact her via text. (I still don’t know if that was true, but she got extra credit for creative persuasion, which tipped the balance to a yes on text capability.) Part of my reasoning for waiting until new tech isn’t new is that I want to wait until the cost of the technology comes down; part of it is a show-me-why-it’s-better attitude; and yes, some of it is resistance to change.
But sometimes that change is forced upon you. When I recently got my new-to-me car, it came without a CD player but did have bluetooth. I rarely listen to the radio, so my music choices had always been dependent on which CD I pulled from the stack in my center console. Without a CD player and with no intention of keeping Sirius radio once my complimentary trial ran out, I was faced with a dilemma. I immediately consulted my personal tech gurus (Kiddo and SIL), and they had two immediate solutions. They added me to their Google music subscription, so I could stream whatever music I wanted. In addition to that, they suggested I might want to add podcasts to my listening choices. Of course, I was aware of the existence and popularity of podcasts, but I had never listened to one. Directed to a podcast app (they suggested Podcast Addict), I was able to search by categories, by what was new or trending, and even for free audiobooks. It was a revelation. I know there are a number of you thinking, “Oh, Do, you really need to start living in the 21st century,” but I bet there are also a few of you who are thinking that maybe now is as good a time as any to explore podcasts. Below are some of my current favorites; please add any of yours in the comments.
Last week, we looked at two of the four key Lost Cause myths identified by James Loewen and Edward Sebesta in The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause”. This week, I’m looking at the last two:
Third, during the “War Between the States,” Confederates displayed bravery and stainless conduct. They only lost owing to the brute size of the North. Conversely, slaves displayed loyalty to their “masters” during the war. Finally, and most important, during Reconstruction, vindictive Northern congressmen, childlike African Americans, and corrupt carpetbaggers and scalawags ravaged the prostrate South. (“THE NADIR OF RACE RELATIONS, 1890–1940.” In The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause”, edited by Loewen James W. and Sebesta Edward H., p. 253. University Press of Mississippi, 2010.)
Monument to a Confederate soldier, dedicated in 1901 in the town of Union, West Virginia, to “men who served the lost cause” in the U.S. Civil War. Worth considering: this was the era when Confederate war memorials proliferated. Memorials are typically built by the victors; what did they assume they had won?
I became a history major, in part, because I had excellent, compelling history teachers throughout my childhood. It seemed to me (although I didn’t have these words until I was much older) that they approached their lessons as historians first and schoolteachers second. I distinctly remember two different occasions in two different school districts in two different states with two different teachers when the history textbook was read aloud…and then the teacher(s) closed the book, threw it across the room in frustration, and stated, “Now let’s talk about what really happened.” Nowhere was this more evident than when the Civil War was the topic of study, and as a result, I missed many of the Lost Cause shibboleths that were being taught at the time. My high school history teacher did change things up, and he taught “the war of Northern aggression” from the Southern “perspective” so we learned the Lost Cause historiography, but we learned it as myth rather than as historical fact. So while I knew that some people viewed “states’ rights” as a proximate cause of the Civil War, I had read the primary documents of secession written by Southern legislatures with their unequivocal statements about seceding over their determination to preserve and expand slavery.
Unfortunately, my teachers were the exception rather than the rule, and too many of the myths perpetuated by the Daughters of the Confederacy are still found in history textbooks today. It’s largely understood today that this twisting of historical memory was intentional and done to serve the agenda of white supremacy. Studying the myths of the Lost Cause isn’t just done to establish the difference between myth and reality; it’s done to understand how historical memory is created.
…the study of memory allows us to understand the extent to which previous interpretations of the past were subject to political, social, and economic pressures, and how difficult it was for individuals and communities outside of dominant power structures to preserve and commemorate their preferred understanding of the past. (Levin, Kevin. Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder, University Press of Kentucky, 2017, p. 10)
On September 5th, Janesaunt posted at The Orange about Jennifer Riley Collins, who is running for AG for Mississippi (this is the diary) and the intentional structural difficulties faced by African-American candidates in MS. In the course of preparing her diary, JA discovered and shared some of the grossly racist history of MS and especially the ways in which their constitution is written to ensure the continuance of white supremacy. My history antenna immediately started tingling, and I wanted to take a deeper look at Mississippi’s constitution and history. As so often happens, I meandered a bit in my reading, so what follows is more stream-of-consciousness than a primer on MS. But mostly, it’s a reminder that the Civil War has never ended; it’s just the battlefields and choice of weapons that have changed.
In what will come as shock to absolutely nobody, I’m a bit of a history buff. I was a history (and German) major in college, and I’ve always interspersed my mystery reading with history and history-related books. What I didn’t do on a regular basis is read history by historians; I would read Walter Isaacson or Ron Chernow, who are wonderful, accessible writers, but not historians. When I started using Twitter, it was a revelation. I somehow stumbled across the #Twitterstorians, and a whole new world of academic historians was opened up to me. It’s been a journey filled with interesting, informative tweets and an ever-expanding reading list. Today I want to feature some of the women historians I follow; some I only follow on Twitter, some have books that are on my TBR list, and some have books that I’ve already read. All are herstorians worth getting to know better.
I’ve been saying for a few months now that my focus is not on the presidential primary race but on the U.S. Senate race in my own state. Gary Peters is one of two incumbent Democratic senators who is running in a state won by tRump in 2016 (we’re really, really sorry); Doug Jones is the other. Peters, who was described as “about as exciting as a bowl of cold oatmeal” by the head of a Republican super PAC (The low-key, Harley-riding senator Democrats are leaning on to win the majority), is not an attention-grabbing senator and will rarely be seen on the cable new shows. Even in Michigan he’s not a household name or readily recognized; one estimate is that 30% of Michiganders don’t know who he is. What follows are five things you didn’t know about Sen. Gary Peters (but don’t feel badly, because you’re not the only one).
I wasn’t paying much attention to Twitter this past weekend, so I am grateful that Sis Dee’s Sunday post (1619. The 400th anniversary of the real founding of America.) brought the 1619 Project to my attention. I haven’t yet read all the articles, but what I have read reinforces the shameful truth in Dee’s comment, “Much of what is being presented in this series is information that is still not being taught in our schools.” It’s a simple, straightforward truth, and yet, as I peruse Twitter, I’m seeing reactions that range from outrage to even more outrage from too many White commenters. I was immediately reminded of Michael Eric Dyson’s statement in his powerful book, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America:
You certainly have an insatiable thirst for history, but only if that history justifies whiteness. Most black folks can’t help but notice what many white rarely wish, or are compelled to see: you embrace history as your faithful flame when she kisses you, and yet you spurn her as a cheating mate when she nods or winks at others. (p. 65)
In fact, before I finish reading the articles in the 1619 Project, I’m going to reread Dyson’s book first, especially the chapter that contains the section on the five stages of white grief. The outrage being expressed about a telling of history that is not white-centered is predictable, and Dyson says there is only one way to overcome white defensiveness: to repent of whiteness. This post explores Dyson’s diagnosis and prescriptions for healing. Please be mindful that I write this through the racial lens of a white woman, but a white woman who sincerely wants to repent of her whiteness.