June 3

Blog #130 – When Was America Great?

Our current president campaigned on the slogan, Make America Great Again.  It made me wonder, as an historian and almost-30 year teacher of history, what time period do you think he meant that America should go back to?  So, I ask you, as competent, well-versed APUSH students who have studied almost all of American history, when was America great?

Image result for make america great again

The times when America was great, in my opinion, was when America has lived up to its highest ideals like equality, liberty, rule of law (where the law applies to all, rich or poor, weak or powerful), self-government, individualism, freedom of opportunity, diversity of opinions and cultures, and individual rights.  We have lived up to these highest ideals and qualities at different times in our history, but we have also failed at several times to come close to those values.  This has been when we have denied opportunities and freedoms to individuals based upon their ethnicity or race, when we have turned our back on the world, or placed the interests of the rich and powerful over the best interests of the common good.

If you’re like me, you may have a hard time narrowing it down to one specific time period.  I’m thinking of several, but I won’t reveal my answers until you guys are done w/ this blog.


Please answer the following questions: 

  1. Give me a time period when you think America was great.  It doesn’t have to be the latest or the best (but it could be), a time in which you think America lived up to its highest ideals and values.  Explain in detail why you think this event or time period makes America great.
  2. Provide an instance where in American history we have not lived up to our highest, most cherished ideals.  Explain in detail why you think we fell short, and if possible, how could we have done things differently?
  3. Since the president didn’t think we were great back in 2016 when he ran for president, why do you think he thought we were not great then (in essence, what made America not great)?  Or, if you disagree with the president, why was America great then?  Explain with specific examples.  (I realize that he has changed his slogan for the 2020 election to Keep America Great, so one thing to think about is what did he do since becoming elected to make America great again in his mind).

Due Monday, June 8 by midnight.  400 words minimum for your total answer.  

May 29

Blog #129 – Have we overcome racism yet?

As we talked in class this morning (please listen to the discussion if you missed class – it’s the first 10 minutes or so), most of you who talked said that we have not overcome racism yet.  So, let me modify the question to read – to what extent have we overcome racism?  This gives you some leeway in interpreting and answering the question and allows you to tackle it however you want.

Obama Is Sworn In as the 44th President - The New York Times

I think that if I asked the original question say in 1964 after the Civil Rights Act was passed or in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected, I might have gotten different answers.  From today’s vantage point, the Civil Rights Movement looks like an inevitable juggernaut where America finally wrestled with the demons of racism and vanquished their most odious forms as seen in Jim Crow laws, voting restrictions, and racial violence.  But from back then, it was anything but inevitable.  Black and white Americans were trying to defeat centuries of entrenched racism and traditions.  The fact that they did it in a mere short eleven years (1954 – 1965) belies the fact that Black Americans had been laying the ground work for the CRM for decades.  Yet, to look at racial relations today or at any point in the past thrity years or so, one doesn’t need to be Black to see that we still have so much work to do.

For instance, there is a MASSIVE wealth gap in total and median incomes between Blacks, whites, and Latinos.  See the charts below.  And this video / article from CNN explains how the coronavirus will just make this gap worse.

Besides the wealth gap, there is also structural racism in the country where the vast majority of the levers of political power and finance are controlled by white men.  Things have gotten better since 1965, but just take a look at Congress which remains about 80% white. And one Black president in forty five.

CNN published this article on Wednesday showcasing inequality in 6 different charts here.

Another thing that we have seen, specifically this week was a bad reminder of this, is that people of color are the direct victims of police brutality and violence.  With the proliferation or spread of camera phones, dash cams, and other video recording devices, murders or assaults by police that might have been hushed up are now receiving the attention they deserve.  But we have to keep in mind that this violence has always happened, primarily to Black men, but with the increased transparency we have today, bad cops are much less likely to get away with it.

Documents show US monitoring of Black Lives Matter | News | Al Jazeera

The continuing rise of respectability politics puts down one aspect of the Black community while highlighting another aspect.  This idea comes from an early 20th Century movement in the Black community itself to change “Black American culture – and Black Americans themselves – are broken and need to be fixed.  And “fixing” means improving the “Black underclass” that holds us back.”  Much of this comes from forcing Black Americans to attain the standards of white America as a way to improve upon Black culture.  (https://www.bupipedream.com/opinions/94369/the-problem-with-respectability-politics/).  The underlying thinking is that one group of Blacks is making it impossible for the “more respectable” Black Americans to rise up and defeat racism.  President Obama has been guilty of engaging in respectability politics when he talks about the role of the father in Black families.  Comedian Bill Cosby has also been a big proponent of this concept.

Next, the school-to-prison pipeline is emblematic of two things: underfunded schools and lack of real job opportunities for African Americans.  This pipeline “refers to the policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.  This pipeline reflects the prioritization of incarceration over education” (https://www.aclu.org/fact-sheet/what-school-prison-pipeline).  With insufficient funding in urban schools and zero-tolerance educational practices, students who violate school rules in major ways are shuffled out of school and into the criminal justice system.  This kind of educational discipline, made in response to the numerous school shootings that have happened since 1999, also affects students with special needs.  Some for-profit schools are being created to treat drop-outs or “troubled children” with a no-nonsense approach and have had dismal records of meeting the needs of these students.

The intersection of race, sports and culture: Kevin Merida and The ...

But, to further cloud the picture, we should look at Black Americans as champions of perserverance.  They defeated Jim Crow and overt forms of racism.  They have achieved wealth and status that 50 years ago was unheard of – Barack Obama was elected for 2 terms!  Black Americans shape American fashion, culture, music, and entertainment in ways unimaginable 50 years ago.  When I was a senior in college, Black students held a sit-in at MSU to push for more Black faculty and an African American studies program.  Today, we have an African American History class at Groves.  And a few Black women are being considered for the Vice Presidency in a Biden run for the White House this year.  And as we have seen in Minneapolis the last couple of days, most Black people have had enough and are rebelling.

So, your job is to think and write about the extent to which we have overcome racism today in 2020 America.  Feel free to use examples that I haven’t included here or build on ones that I have listed here.  There is no right answer.

400 words minimum answer.  Due Monday night, June 1, by 11:59 pm. 

May 19

Blog #128 – Your take on the coronavirus pandemic

So, all Michigan schools were shut down on the evening of March 12 (my birthday, BTW).  The state’s first two COVID-19 cases had been diagnosed two days before, but a large number of cases had first started in Washington state and also New York at the end of February. During that week beginning March 8, a flurry of major cultural events had been cancelled or postponed, including the Big Ten basketball tournament, the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournament, the NBA and NHL seasons, Broadway shows, NASCAR, and Major League Baseball.  Also, major colleges and universities were closing for the year or moving to online learning.  All gatherings of 250 or more had been banned as well as visits to nursing homes.  On March 16, the governor closed all restaurants and bars for dine-in service and gatherings of 50 or more were banned.  The next day, Michigan experienced its first COVID-related death.  The Big 3 auto makers shut down production, and COVID cases started to spike dramatically.  There were dramatic food and cleaning supply shortages in the first couple of weeks of the virus hitting Michigan which would continue for the foreseeable future.

April 9, Gov. Whitmer Press Conference | Video Gallery | record ...

ON March 23, Governor Whitmer issued a stay-at-home order that was to initially last for three weeks (2 months later, we’re still waiting for it to end).  By March 25, Michigan had the 5th most cases in the country.  After a record number of deaths and confirmed cases, Governor Whitmer cancelled school for the rest of the year on March 30 (officially on April 3).   On March 27, Congress passed the CARES Act which would provide $2.2 trillion – a package for small businesses, large businesses, increased unemployment benefits, and upwards of $1,200 per person.

On April 9, Whitmer extended the stay at home order until April 30.  In mid- late April, Michigan was 3rd in number of cases in the country.  Also, on April 15th, “Operation Gridlock” descended upon the capitol to protest the stay-at-home and mask requirement orders.  On April 24, Whitmer extended the stay-at-home order until May 15 but allowed for some partial reopening of businesses.  Yet the protests continued.

Operation Gridlock': Convoy in Michigan's capital protests stay-at ...

As of May 17, there had been 51,142 confirmed cases and 4,891 deaths from the virus.  Nationally, as of 5/18, there have been 1.53 million Americans infected w/ COVID and over 90K have died because of it.  And Michigan has fallen to 7th in the nation in number of cases.  And just yesterday (5/22), Governor Whitmer extended the stay-at-home order until June 12.

Nationally, the stock market took a massive hit in March but has rebounded in the past 4 -6 weeks.  The biggest story is the number of people unemployed.  Over 38 million people have filed for unemployment, numbers  we haven’t seen since the Great Depression (and easily higher than unemployment during the Great Recession of 2007-2010).  Part of the CARES Act provided $600 extra a week for unemployment insurance until the end of July.  Numerous small businesses have been closed and may never reopen, partially because the Paycheck Protection Program, $300 billion in loans, quickly dried up as so many small businesses applied for them.  The real fight will be in Congress in the next few weeks over how much help they will or won’t give to Americans while the possibility of slower reopenings in the states is highly probable.  Latest numbers with breakdown by industry from the Bureau of Labor here.

And the virus seems to be affecting African Americans at a higher rate than other Americans.  They are infected and dying at a greater rate than the rest of America. In Michigan, Blacks make up 14% of the population by 40% of the fatalities.  It’s also been noticed that a greater percentage of essential workers, especially those in minimum wage jobs like delivery people, grocery store clerks, nursing home employees were also Black.  African Americans are also 70% more likely to live in a health care desert where there is a severe shortage of primary care physicians.  The virus has exposed many flaws in American society – massive income inequality, lack of reliable health care,  health care connected to one’s job as opposed to being guaranteed by the government, need for child care, and a realization that many jobs deemed essential do NOT get paid as if they are essential.

A Closer Look at How COVID-19 is Smashing Americans' Finances

Give me your thoughts on the following questions:

  1. How had the pandemic affected your life, your family, your home?  Explain.  What do you think has been the strangest thing that has impacted you or your family?  Why?
  2. What are your thoughts on the protests demanding that the state open up?  Does this seem like a reasonable or an unreasonable demand?  Why?
  3. What are your thoughts on some of the things that other states and companies are doing as they reopen – restaurants and airlines and places of worship w/ limited seating capacity; required mask wearing in public spaces; possible temperature checks; shortages of essential items – and do you think these things will be enough to prevent a 2nd wave?
  4. How do you foresee school being different in the fall?  Why? (Take a look here at the CDC’s recommendations for reopening in the fall here).

400 words total for your answers to all 4 questions.  Due Monday night, May 25, by 11:59 p.m. 

January 28

Blog #127 – Debate Over Expansion

Before, during, and after the Spanish-American War in 1898, Americans were debating whether or not America should go beyond its borders and become an imperial empire, much like the European countries had done during the 19th Century w/ Asia and Africa.  Below are the arguments for and against imperialism and some of its proponents and opponents.

Image result for cartoons imperialism 1898

For Imperialism

People for it: Assistant Secretary of the Navy Teddy Roosevelt, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Alfred T. Mahan, President William McKinley, Judge William Howard Taft, Admiral George Dewey, Reverend Josiah Strong, former Secretary of State William Seward, and Senator Albert Beveridge.

Arguments for imperialism:

  1. To give back the Philippines to Spain would be cowardly and dishonorable.
  2. To let other imperial powers have the Philippines was bad business and discreditable.
  3. Granting the Filipinos their independence was irresponsible because they are unfit to rule themselves.  They need America to civilize, uplift, and Christianize them.
  4. Imperialism is good for America.  It invigorates a nation and keeps it healthy.  A slothful nation will victim to those countries that maintain soldierly virtues.
  5. Annexation of the Philippines would put America into a position to dominate trade with China and the rest of Asia.
  6. We need the markets and raw materials now.  It doesn’t matter that the Philippines are non-contiguous.  We didn’t need the purchases and additional areas in the continental U.S., but look at us now!  We produce more than we can consume.
  7. Annexation would be so easy because we already control the islands.
  8. Filipinos don’t  have to become citizens of the U.S., we will treat them as dependents (like we do with the Native Americans).  The 14th Amendment won’t apply to them.
  9. Republicans favored annexation because it made the party look good after winning the war.

Image result for cartoons imperialism 1898

Against Imperialism

People against it: Author Mark Twain, former president Grover Cleveland, Speaker of the House Thomas “Czar” Reed, journalist Lincoln Steffens, Jane Addams, former Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, AFL chief Samuel Gompers, industrialist Andrew Carnegie, Harvard professor William James.

Arguments against imperialism

  1. Imperialism is immoral.  It repudiates our commitment to human freedom and liberty.  We instead think we know what is best for the Filipinos, and that is wrong.
  2. Nativists fear the pollution of the white American population with inferior Asian races, especially when they are allowed to move to the U.S.  Acquisition of the Philippines may require that they become citizens.
  3. Industrial workers feared the flood of additional cheap labor which would further undercut job opportunities.
  4. Imperialism puts us in the international stage of world politics and is a constant menace for war.  War carries off the physically and mentally fit and leaves behind the lesser fit.  It threatens our security, internally and externally.
  5. The “civilizing” mission some claim is really a cover for a desire to loot the colonies and their natural resources.  This misson is self-righteous and pretentious.
  6. We will inherit Spain’s task of suppressing the native peoples when they rebel.  They will NOT want our cultural ways.  We will end up like Spain – a shriveling power.
  7. Can’t we just trade without having to annex other territories?
  8. Imperialism would involve the need for a large standing army which would become a heavy tax burden.

The country chose imperialism, and the Senate voted for the Treaty of Paris, 1898, 57 to 27, one more vote needed for the 2/3 approval.

Your job:

Pretend you are a senator back in 1898 (yes, you have to do this even if you’re female – we’re time traveling, so you can pretend to be a different gender).  Pick a region of the country and a party (both parties were for expansion, especially Southern Democrats).  Which arguments hold more sway with you and why?  Explain.

Here is some info on the 1898 U.S. Senate elections.  Maybe choose your senator from someone who ran and look up his views on the war.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1898_and_1899_United_States_Senate_elections

350 words total for your answer.  Due by Monday, February 3 by the beginning of class.  

January 26

Blog #126 – Just Mercy

I thought that there was a lot of stuff going on in the movie, Just Mercy.  We see that racism was still alive and well in 1980s Alabama, despite the amazing gains of the Civil Rights Movement (1954 – 1968).  The town’s sheriff had it out for Johnnie D McMillan and used Ralph Myers to frame McMillan for murder.  We also see the broken criminal justice system that takes the poor and chews them up and spits them out.  We see that in the prisoners on death row.  And we also see a major critique of capital punishment.  Men are being executed who have mentall illnesses.  We also saw two men, Johnnie D and Ray, that were innocent and would have been executed if not for the intense work of Bryan Stephenson.  The men were also underrepresented by their lawyers which didn’t allow them to mount a sufficient defense.

Read over the link here about the problems with the death penalty.  This comes from Bryan Stephenson’s organization, Equal Justice Initiative.  It lists five areas to consider when thinking about the death penalty – innocence and error, inadequate counsel, racial bias, arbitrariness, and public safety.

After reading over the information about the death penalty, please answer the following questions:

  1. Which of the five areas do you think is the biggest problem with the death penalty?  Why?
  2. What was your opinion about the death penalty BEFORE watching the movie and reading the info on the EJI website?
  3. Has your opinion on the death penalty changed AFTER seeing the movie and reading the info on the EJI website?  Why or why not?

Your total answer should be at least 350 words. 

Answers due by Friday, February 7 by the beginning of class.  

November 25

Harriet – Extra Credit

Out of the three movies I’ve seen this semester, I enjoyed this one the most.  It had a clear narrative, gave me new info that I didn’t know about Harriet Tubman, and was done well with beautiful cinematography and good acting (and did not have distracting CGI fighter planes and explosions).  This Harriet, the way she is portrayed in the film, is a feminist hero.  She doesn’t let men stop her from achieving her goals.  And she is brave, bordering on fearless, and incredibly strong, both mentally and physically.  Harriet Tubman Bounty

I had a few questions which I was able to find out the answers to:

  1. Did she actually have visions from God?  Yes, she believed they were visions sent to her from God, and she suffered all her life with seizures, migraines, and narcolepsy from the brain injury she sustained when she was younger.
  2. Was her mother and the rest of her family freed in a will?  Yes.
  3. Was there a real Gideon Brodess?  Apparently not.  This part was made up, but I loved how Harriet left him with his bleeding hand and told him that he was going to die on a battlefield in a couple of years.  So, since he didn’t exist we can’t check on the accuracy of that prediction.  But Edward and Eliza Brodess, Gideon’s parents, were both real people and Harriet and her family’s owners.  It was the death of Edward that spurred on Harriet to leave because she was about to be sold.
  4. Did she actually lead a company of Black soldiers in the Civil War?  Yep, and it looks like during that engagement, they may have freed up to 750 slaves.
  5. How many slaves did Harriet free?  The movie’s total is more likely accurate at 70 though in her biography published in 1869, she said she had freed 300.  Since she only made 13 trips on the URR before the Civil War, 70 is much more likely number.
  6. I knew that William Still was a real person, but what about Marie Buchanon?  No, Marie was not a real person, but there were many free blacks in Philadelphia who owned their own businesses like Marie.


Questions I’d like you to answer: 

  1. Talk about the power of family and their connections – Harriet and her family – and compare that to the portrayal of the Brodess family in the film.
  2. Do you agree that Harriet’s portrayal in the film is that of a feminist hero?  Why or why not?  Provide some specifics to back up your assertion.  Also, do you think that this portrayal has been influenced by the writer and director of the film, Kasi Lemmons, a black woman?  Why or why not?
  3. News surfaced a few weeks ago that Julia Roberts (a white woman) was initially considered for the role of Harriet Tubman when the idea of a film was pitched over 20 years ago.  Discuss how much Hollywood has changed in the portrayal of people of color and also how important it is for people of color and LGBTQ folks to see themselves accurately portrayed in the media.
  4. What did you think of the portrayal of Bigger Long and Walter, both free blacks who worked with Gideon to recover Harriet and her family?  This was a real practice to use both black and white slave hunters, and according to an article, $200 was really hard to pass up.  What does the existence of free black slave trackers say about money and the institution of slavery?  Why?

Pick three questions to answer and finish by December 1st.  350 words minimum for your total answer.  

November 21

Midway – Extra Credit

The recent movie, Midway, focuses on the most pivotal naval battle in the war in the Pacific in World War 2.  As you might know, there were two phases of World War 2 that America fought in – the war in Africa then Europe, and then the war in the Pacific Ocean.  Our primary enemy in the Pacific was the Japanese navy, and they had struck a huge blow to the American Pacific fleet by bombing Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.  That event got America finally into the war, and that’s where the movie starts off.  The attack on the fleet at Pearl Harbor represented the greatest intelligence failure in American history at that time (only to be exceeded by the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks), and so the movie spends some time following the exploits of intelligence chief, Edwin Layton (played by Patrick Wilson) and how he tries to figure out with his team where the Japanese navy is headed next.

The movie also spends time showing how real people – American Admirals Halsey, Nimitz, and Spruance and Japanese Admirals Yamamoto and Nagumo – along with the pilots – Dick Best, Wade McCluskey, and Jimmy Doolittle – fought and led in the battle.  I like that the film decided not to invent fictional characters to add extra drama or tragedy into the story, because the real people were colorful enough.

I also found the portrayal of the Japanese army and navy interesting and at times, inconsistent.  In the credits at the end, the movie was dedicated to both the American and Japanese soldiers who fought in the Battle of Midway.  The Japanese admirals are shown to be thoughtful (like Yamamoto’s warning to Layton in 1937 about America backing Japan into a corner) and strategic and honorable.  Even when one of the admirals decides to go down with his carrier, his sacrifice is treated with dignity.   But the Japanese army was shown to be arrogant and also amazingly cruel and sadistic with the way that they treated the Chinese civilians during their invasion of China beginning in 1931 (it’s estimated that the Japanese army killed 6 million Chinese during their occupation and war with China 1931-1945).  The Japanese have never taken responsibility for these deaths nor apologized officially to the Chinese, so this might be a sore spot.  We also see a captured American pilot killed mercilessly after he wouldn’t tell what aircraft carrier he took off from.

The movie doesn’t break any new ground, however, and doesn’t really develop its real-life heroes into fully developed characters.  They just seem to be cardboard cut-outs, two

Image result for anti japanese propaganda in world war 2

dimensional characters who are focused on honor and duty and destroying as many Japanese carriers but without the racism of the time period.  There is a lot of American war propaganda that dehumanized the Japanese (see example to the right) that reflected a lot of anti – Asian racism that had been endemic since the mid 1800s when the Chinese arrived on our shores because of the California gold rush.  Some historians argue that racism was a motivating factor in the use of the atomic bombs on Japan (though not the only reason).  But I think the movie doesn’t want to get bogged down in realism and instead tells an idealized story about the battle of Midway.

One of the really cool things that I enjoyed seeing was the inclusion of film director John Ford who was working for the U.S. Army and had luckily arrived in Midway unknowingly before the attack.  His job was to make a film that Americans would see at home to rally support for the war.  Ford luckily was there to actually capture the battle in real time and was able to make a documentary about the battle.  He also was filming soldiers at the D-Day invasion.  Recently on Netflix, there is a 3 part film called Five Came Back that examines five Hollywood directors who made films about World War 2 and how the war affected them.  I highly recommend it.

Questions to answer: 

  1. Why do you think there is inconsistent portrayal of the Japanese military?  Might it have something to do with the Chinese production company who helped produce the movie?  By honoring the Japanese military, do you think this signifies that American – Japanese relations are improving?  Why or why not?
  2. How is this movie realistic?  Also how is this movie a reflection of modern movie making (think CGI and other digital effects)?
  3. Do you think the movie should have just focused on the battle of Midway or do you think that the earlier scenes of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Doolittle’s raid over Japan, and the Solomon and Marshall Islands battles help set up the context for the battle of Midway?  Why?
  4. What are the strengths of the film?  Explain.  What are the weaknesses of the film?  Explain.

Pick three of the four questions to complete and finish by December 1.  350 words minimum for your total answer.  

November 8

The Current War – extra credit

Image result for reviews for the current warThe Current War brings us a movie about the clash between electrical power systems and who will wire America with the greatest invention at that time (and some might say of all time), the electric light bulb.  Thomas Edison wants to use direct current (DC) while George Westinghouse and Nicola Tesla want to use alternating current (AC).  Edison goes about ways trying to discredit AC, primarily by showing how deadly it is on large animals.

I have several questions for you (answer at least 3 in your response):

  1. Who do you think is supposed to be the hero of the film, the protagonist that we’re rooting for – Edison or Westinghouse?   What does the filmmaker do to make him seem likeable?
  2. Were you shocked at Edison’s portrayal in the film (think especially of his relationship with his wife)?  Is this a commentary by the filmmaker on the price of genius?  Why or why not?
  3. After the AC / DC controversy, other systems have competed against each other for supremacy of a market like with VCR types (Beta or VHS) and high resolution DVDs (HD or Blu-Ray) or even cell phones (iPhone or Samsung or Pixel).  Why is it important, in your opinion, to have competition in business?
  4. How does Edison use the media to manipulate public opinion concerning AC as a power source?
  5. What is the film’s greatest strength in educating its viewers about the history of this period?  Explain.  What is the film’s greatest weakness in that regards?  Explain.

Due November 30.  350 words minimum for all three of your answers.  

Image result for reviews for the current war

November 7

Blog #125 – Antebellum Reformer Speed Dating

Image result for roaring fireplaceSo you’ve had a chance to meet a bunch of antebellum reformers on Thursday’s speed dating simulation.  You may have found some like-minded reformers and some who might not fit the best with your approach to tackling the nation’s variety of problems.  One thing to keep in mind is that these reformers had been alarmed by the rapid changes taking place in America since the turn of the century, and fueled by the 2nd Great Awakening, they felt that they wanted to help fix poverty and crime, and / or eradicate what they saw as the national sin of slavery.  By persuing reform, these reformers sought to take charge of their own personal salvation which was the greatest message of the 2nd Great Awakening.


Your job: 

  1. What did you learn most about your reformer?  Explain w/ specific details.  Also, would this be a person you could support if he/she existed in 2019?  Why or why not?
  2. Which of the reformers that you met would support your reformer’s goals the most?  Why?
  3. Which of the reformers that you met would NOT support your reformer’s goals?  Explain why.

350 words minimum for all 3 of your answers.  Due Monday, November 11 by class.  

Image result for romantic candles

October 21

Blog #124 – Rethinking History or Should Andrew Jackson still be on the $20?

In the past few years, students and adults have pushed to change the names of schools and institutions based upon the namesake’s past history.  Back in 2015, for instance, the Confederate flag was pulled down from the South Carolina capitol in the wake of the Charleston shootings (the shooter was pictured w/ Confederate memorabilia), and then the South Carolina legislature voted overwhelmingly to take the flag down.  This Economist article examines other particular cases not mentioned in the “Rethinking History”.  From another point of view, this article defends leaving the Hoover FBI federal building as it is, though some have come to question Hoover’s tough-minded, illegal wiretappings of students and Dr. King (Cointelpro).  Since the Charleston church shooting, there has been a concerted effort to begin the controversial process of taking down statues to leaders of the Confederacy throughout the South.  In an August 2017 statement on the monuments controversy, the American Historical Association (AHA) said that to remove a monument “is not to erase history, but rather to alter or call attention to a previous interpretation of history.” The AHA stated that most monuments were erected “without anything resembling a democratic process,” and recommended that it was “time to reconsider these decisions.” According to the AHA, most Confederate monuments were erected during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, and this undertaking was “part and parcel of the initiation of legally mandated segregation and widespread disenfranchisement across the South.” According to the AHA, memorials to the Confederacy erected during this period “were intended, in part, to obscure the terrorism required to overthrow Reconstruction, and to intimidate African Americans politically and isolate them from the mainstream of public life.” A later wave of monument building coincided with the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, and according to the AHA “these symbols of white supremacy are still being invoked for similar purposes.”

In the article, “Rethinking History,” former Princeton president and 28th President of the United States Woodrow Wilson is derided because of his racist comments.  He told a black leader in 1914 that “segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you.”  A different example from the article is what the University of Virginia has done in the past decade in trying to honor its slave past.  At least 140 slaves helped build the university, and this fall, Virginia opened up a dorm named after two of the slaves who had worked on the campus before the Civil War.

One argument against changing the names of buildings or taking people off of our money is that our culture has become incredibly mired in political correctness.  We are too worried about offending people, the argument goes, so we make decisions like these to make sure no one gets triggered.  An argument for changing the names of buildings (like was recently done to Cobo Hall down town after people began to rethink the Detroit mayor’s stance against blacks integrating white neighborhoods in the 1950s) is that some things need to be fixed because having your name on a building is an honor.  Are we finally recognizing the faults of the past and trying to make amends for them, because our nation, though it’s been a melting pot since its inception, is really starting to change?  Or, can we learn something from the past instead of erasing it and blocking the things which we find disturbing?

This brings us to Andrew Jackson.  This NY Times article  from 2015 suggested putting a woman’s face on the 20$ bill.

“Jackson was a slave owner whose decisions annihilated American Indian tribes of the Southeast. He also hated paper currency and vetoed the reauthorization of the Second Bank of the United States, a predecessor of the Federal Reserve. Jackson is in the history books, but there’s no reason to keep him in our wallets.”

His record with the Indian Removal Act, his battles w/ Nicholas Biddle and the 2nd BUS, and the fact that he was a slave owner all count against him.  But what about his adoption of an Indian boy during one of the campaigns to eradicate the Indians?  Did America actually benefit from not having a central banking system for almost 80 years?  He was a symbol of the common man, those who could newly vote in the elections of 1828 and 1832 voted for him overwhelmingly, because he was a common man at one time.  But he was also an exceptional man, having fought in the War of 1812, amassed a fortune (though off the backs of slaves), and become the 7th president of the United States.  There are very very few people who can claim these achievements.

Andrew Jackson was first honored by being on the $20 beginning in 1928 (to coincide w/ the 100th anniversary of his electio).  Before that, Presidents Grover Cleveland and George Washington were on the bill as well as former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and also Lady Liberty.  Then the idea came about of putting a woman on the $20 beginning in the year 2020 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.  Several women were finalists, but in 2015, Harriet Tubman won a poll and was originally slated to replace Hamilton on the $10, but because of the immense popularity of the play, the decision was made to then replace Jackson on the $20 a year later.  Then candidate Trump in 2016 said that he thought Tubman was fantastic but opposed replacing Jackson becuase it would be “political correctness” that replaced him.  In mid 2017, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin stated that  “People have been on the bills for a long period of time. This is something we’ll consider; right now we have a lot more important issues to focus on.”  He also stated that any new bill wouldn’t be ready until 2026 despite engravers at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing stated that there was already a bill in the works by 2019.  So, the future of the $20 is up in the air.


But if we remove Jackson from the $20 and replace him with someone else, where do we stop?  Using the slippery slope argument (which is always a dangerous fallacy), do we rename Washington D.C. because Washington was a slave holder?  Do we take Lincoln off of the penny or the $5 because he had almost 30 Indians executed during the Civil War for sparking an uprising in Minnesota?  Jefferson… we won’t even get into him.

As someone in the “Rethinking History” article states, if we are going to name buildings after people, should we expect them to be perfect?  Maybe we should stop naming buildings after people.  Or can we learn something from these flawed individuals (especially b/c everyone is flawed in some way or another)?

What are your thoughts about rethinking historical monuments?  I see three possible alternatives to Jackson on the $20:

1. Keep him there and leave it as it is.

2. Swap him out with Harriet Tubman, and leave Andrew Jackson to be talked about in history classes.

3. Leave him on the bill but conduct better and more thorough education about Andrew Jackson’s legacy .

If you come up with another alternative, please include it in your post.

350 words minimum total for all three answers.  Due Tuesday, October 29 by class.