October 8

Blog #140 – Time to get rid of the Electoral College?

The Electoral College is one of a kind.  No other country uses this system to elect their leaders – in fact, no other American politician or judge is elected using an electoral college – they all get elected via majority vote.  Only the President of the U.S. is chosen with this cumbersome system.  Throughout American history, the presidential candidate with the most votes has lost the electoral vote 4 times, twice lately (in 2000 and 2016).  So why do we have it?

Some textbooks and teachers (including this one!) have said that the Framers of the Constitution didn’t trust the American voter to pick the right candidate, so someone else should pick the president.  Hence, charges of elitism.  Others have claimed that the EC protects the small states from being overrun by the larger states in an election, where a candidate from a small state would never get elected.  While others claim that the EC has its roots in racism and the protection of the slave states who feared that the Northern states would dominate the South b/c there were more voters in the North than in the South (based upon landownership). But, before we get going any further, please watch this video for a better understanding of the Electoral College, what it is, and how it works.  It also includes some arguments for and against it.

To counter the argument that the Framers were elitist, one must remember that only landowners were the voters (except in Massachusetts where all males had the right to vote), supposedly the best people in the community and not the “rabble” that some have characterized American voters were in 1787.  The Framers most likely didn’t trust local politicians given the insanity that happened between 1781 – 1787 in states like Rhode Island (remember the paper money fiasco).  Furthermore, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, only Elbridge Gerry expressed any concern about “the evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy.”  No other Framer expressed a similar sentiment.

To counter the argument that the Framers created the EC to protect small states, all one has to do is to look at Madison’s Notes on the Convention and see that this idea never appears in the notes.  This doesn’t mean that delegates didn’t care about the difference between the large and small states, it just means that in the discussions for choosing the president, the issue of large and small states didn’t come up (though it definitely did when figuring out the configuration of Congress).

When discussing how to chose the president, one initial suggestion was by Edmund Randolph of Virginia who said that he/she should be chosen by the national legislature.  James Madison later suggested that the lower house of Congress should pick the president.  There was also significant debate as to how many people should be president – should it be one person, a pair, or several?   James Wilson made a proposal that the president be chosen by a popular vote, using the example of New York and Massachusetts popularly electing their governors.  Gouverneur Morris also made an argument for a popular vote: “he ought to be elected by the people at large, by the freeholders (landowners) of the Country… If the people should elect, they will never fail to prefer some man of distinguished character or services; some man, if he might so speak, of continental reputation.  If the legislature elect, it will be the work of intrigue, of cabal (conspiracy), and of faction…”  Southern delegates, for the most part, opposed popular vote because the Northern states had more voters than the Southern states despite having similar populations (because the enslaved didn’t vote).    The popular vote idea would eventually be voted down.

Eventually, in mid July, Oliver Ellsworth proposed that electors appointed by the state legislatures chose the president and that the number be determined by the state’s population.  Madison feared that the South would never be able to affect the outcome if it was based upon the free population because there were more free white and Black folks in the North than in the South.  Madison would then support the EC because of the 3/5 Compromise which would give the Southern states a bigger say in who became president.  This can be seen in the 1800 election.  Jefferson had more votes than Adams because of the 3/5 Compromise but without it, Adams would have won.  In fact, 10 of the first 12 presidents elected, from Washington to Taylor, would be slaveholders.  So it might seem that the EC was created to the benefit of slave states.

For some more modern arguments about the EC, here is Adam Ruins Everything on why we should ditch the EC:

They bring up an interesting point in this video, that if the winner – take – all system was gotten rid of, you wouldn’t have so many solidly blue (Democratic) or red (Republican) states.  In the article that I asked you to read for this blog, it states that 2/3 of the states don’t even matter in a presidential election because they’re not battleground states, and that in 2016, 94% of the candidates’ visits were limited to just 12 states (and 2/3 of the visits were in just SIX STATES!).  Somehow, a popular vote would fix this, get rid of battleground states, and make sure that the candidates get around the country to go see everybody in order to get their vote.

For the other side of the argument to keep the EC, here is a video by Prager U:

The video states that the EC promotes coalition building and protects against voter fraud.  The video also stated that the Framers didn’t intend to have a pure democracy (or popular vote) when it came to the president (or the Senate for that matter).  In the article for the blog, they stated that the Framers were worried about only a few large states picking the presidency while the rest would be ignored.

Just so you know, in order to eliminate the EC, it would require a Constitutional amendment.  That would require 2/3 of both houses of Congress and 3/4 of all of the state legislatures.

So, please answer the following:

  1. Which video – Adam Ruins Everything and Prager U – had the more persuasive arguments?   Why?
  2. Do you believe that the electoral college should be eliminated?  Why or why not?
  3. Should the winner – take – all system of how states assign their electors be changed to be proportional?  Why or why not?  For instance, Texas has 38 electoral votes which Trump won in 2020 by a margin of 52% – 47%.  If the electoral votes were assigned proportionally based upon the vote, Trump would have won 20 and Biden would have won 18.

Your total answer for all 3 questions should be a minimum of 350 words.  Due Monday, October 11 by class.  

September 16

Blog #139 – Goodbye, Columbus?

Please read the article, “Goodbye, Columbus?” before continuing.  

Christopher Columbus is credited with having discovered the New World in 1492, but not necessarily America (even though a lookout on his ship, Rodrigo, claimed that he saw land first).  How people interpret this fact is the subject of intense historical and cultural debate across the world.  The day honoring the discovery, October 12, is a national holiday, but for some historians and cultures, this day is marked as one when Spanish imperialism and genocide of the Native Americans began.  Celebrating Columbus is almost as old as America itself when we saw the first celebration on the 300th anniversary of Columbus in 1792.  In 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed it to be a national holiday, much to the approval of many Italian Americans.

Those who want to discredit Columbus Day usually start with the wave of violence, slavery and genocide of the Native Americans that began after his “discovery.”  On the island of Hispanola (Haiti / Dominican Republic), the sailors left there after his first voyage were tasked with finding gold and silver and soon tried to put to work the natives of the island.  In subsequent voyages, he searched Central and South America for gold, and the communicable diseases like smallpox and measles that the Europeans had would also wipe out – intentionally or not – the Native populations.  Conquistadors Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro exploited divisions among the ruling tribes, Aztecs and Incas respectively, to conquer vast empires.  It’s estimated that something like 80% of the 45-100 million Native Americans (historians disagree – some claimed that there were only 8.5 million Natives in all of the Americas when Columbus arrived) who lived in the New World were wiped out by disease, war, and famine brought on by discovery.  Critics have claimed that the holiday should be renamed “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” to honor all the Native Americans past and present.

Here’s John Oliver’s take on Columbus Day:

But was this all Columbus’ fault?  His defenders say, of course not.  Diseases act in random ways and are influenced by many things including stress, food (or lack thereof), poverty and other cultural or economic factors.   Discovery could have brought some of these conditions on, but they weren’t necessarily the primary cause.  One historian stated in his piece that there were already different diseases running rampant throughout the Native population before Columbus’ arrival.  Columbus is also given credit for having been a visionary, having convinced the Spanish monarchs to provide him with three ships to sail the Atlantic in search of a newer, quicker route to Asia around the earth.  In fact, Columbus failed in his attempt to find that quicker trade route to Asia.  It would be Magellan who would eventually  circumnavigate the globe.  And, Columbus is being blamed for what came in his wake – the Spanish conquistadors, the destruction and enslavement of Native peoples, and even the African slave trade since that was linked with the opening up of the New World.  Could this attack on Columbus also be a remnant of the Black Legend that grew to fantastical proportions as exaggerated by English Protestants as a way of discrediting the Spanish Catholics?  Too much, much too much indeed, to put on one man’s shoulders.  Also, according to your article, some towns have resisted or affirmed their dedication to Columbus Day.  Those towns tend to have large Italian populations.

People have been considering removing Columbus Day and replacing it w/ a day honoring Native Americans.  Over 50 cities like Los Angeles and San Jose have removed Columbus statues, and Los Angeles has gone as far as to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day starting in 2018.  The first city to do this was Berkeley, California in 1992.  As of 2019, several states (including Alaska, Minnesota, South Dakota, Michigan, and others) have replaced Columbus Day w/ something else, primarily a holiday honoring Native Americans.

Another way of looking at this is that when we celebrate Columbus Day, we celebrate America.  Should we acknowledge both the good and the bad that come with America / Columbus?  Or is it more patriotic to revel in America in a “Team America” way with unquestioning loyalty? Or, as the video below discusses, Columbus is a myth that we have embraced.  Is this something that we should jettison?

So, do we keep Columbus Day as is (meaning that it’s an official government / bank holiday)?  Or do we acknowledge Columbus Day with a solemn reminder of what happened to the Native Americans afterwards?  Or do we pitch Columbus Day in favor of celebrating “Indigenous People’s Day”?  Why?  Or is there another option?  If so, explain.  Please use specific examples from the “Goodbye, Columbus?” article.  

200 words minimum for your response.  

Columbus Day Observances by State

Some additional resources: 

History Channel – Why Columbus Day is Controversial

Smithsonian Magazine – Rethinking How We Celebrate American History


May 30

Blog #138 – Prediction about the Snapchat Cheerleader SCOTUS case

First thing, please listen to this podcast from the NYT The Daily podcast – https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/25/podcasts/the-daily/free-speech-first-amendment-supreme-court.html

It’s about 20+ minutes long and shares some more details that we haven’t looked at yet, including the oral arguments before the Court last month.   You’ll want to take some notes on this podcast b/c I’m asking that you use some evidence from the podcast in your answer.

The Supreme Court's clear message to President Donald Trump: Stop - CNNPolitics

Don’t forget that you have read the intros to both Mahanoy School District’s and Brandi Levy’s legal briefs.  We have summarized them in our Google slides file for each class.  Feel free to jump into their full briefs here (Mahanoy) and here (Levy).

Your job:  Predict how SCOTUS will rule when they release their ruling in late June / early July (see format of answer below) Things to consider:

  1. Will SCOTUS make a sweeping ruling about whether off-campus speech that is not political CAN be disciplined by the public schools?  Things to keep in mind – how will they define where off campus speech begins?  If the schools can do this, what does this say about parental rights to discipline their own children for vulgar or lewd speech?   How can this ruling, if it is done, be reconciled w/ the concept of in loco parentis?  Also, what will a broad, sweeping ruling do to all of the existing state and federal laws that require schools to discipline harassment or cyberbullying off-campus speech?

A cheerleader talks on the phone as a disembodied hand covers her mouth and other disembodied hand steals her phone.

2. Will SCOTUS make a narrow ruling that only deals with this case, especially since it doesn’t involve cyberbullying or harassment like the school district asserts?  Stopping harassment has been one of the big reasons why Mahanoy and other school districts have signed onto this case with all of the additional amicus briefs supporting Mahanoy’s right to discipline off-campus speech.   But does this case rise to that level of harassment?  By making a narrow ruling that only deals with this particular case, it would not affect any existing state and federal laws that require public schools to monitor / discipline off-campus speech.  But it doesn’t solve the problem for future cases.

3. Does this case rise to the level of causing a “substantial disruption” at Mahanoy High School like is required in Tinker?  How do Fraser, Morse, or Hazelwood apply to this case, if at all?


Your answer should look like a SCOTUS legal brief:

  1. Briefly summarize the situation including the procedural history.
  2. Briefly summarize Mahanoy and Levy’s arguments for their side.
  3. Connect any of the four previous SCOTUS rulings to this case.
  4. Prediction time: What do you think SCOTUS will do?  Provide specific reasons why.  Cite evidence here from any of the readings, videos, and the podcast we have listened to.  Feel free to use any of the additional resources listed below.

Your brief is due Wednesday, June 2 by midnight.  It should be a minimum of 400 total words. 

Additional resources:

A list of all of the briefs filed in this case: https://www.supremecourt.gov/docket/docketfiles/html/public/20-255.html

SCOTUSBlog article on how the Court might be considering a narrow ruling on the case – https://www.scotusblog.com/2021/04/justices-ponder-narrow-ruling-in-student-speech-case/

Oral arguments for the case argued April 28, 2021 on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ov9W1luRTjw

National Constitution Center’s We the People podcast (5th one down) – Snapchat and the Schoolhouse Gate – https://constitutioncenter.org/debate/podcasts

May 23

Blog #137 – Learning about American history from the 1619 Project and the 1776 Commission Report

So we spent some time reading both the 1619 Project and the 1776 Commission Report, and both had a lot to say about American history, much of which was contradictory.  One expressed a pessimistic view that anti-Black racism was in America’s DNA while the other one asserted that despite the awful things that have happened in the past, the great American ideal of equality has helped guide us through the tough spots.

What is 1619 Project mentioned by President Trump?

There has been a lot of criticism aimed at both projects as well.  Out of context quotes.  Lack of nuance.  Broad generalizations.  No historians working on an historical document.

And on Thursday, May 20, a few Republican members of the Michigan Senate introduced Senate Bill no. 460 that would ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) which we are tackling after the free speech case as well as specifically the 1619 Project or any other “anti-American and racist theories.”

Now that you’ve had time to digest both, please answer the following questions:

  1. What are the major strengths and weaknesses of both documents?  Give specific examples for each strength and weakness.
  2. Which criticism was the harshest for both projects?  (See this Google doc w/ excerpts).  Be specific.
  3. How do we balance these documents?  In essence, what is something positive that can be taken from each document to support an American history curriculum?  Be specific.  Or is finding a balance impossible – meaning there’s nothing redeemable about one or the other or both?  If so, explain why with specifics.

Due Wednesday by class.  Total words for all three answers should be at least 400 words.  

Chicago State University Prof Slams 1776 Report | WBEZ Chicago

April 15

Blog #136 – Who Started the Cold War?

Please read the John Lewis Gaddis article, “Who Started the Cold War?” (found in the calendar event as well as in your Cold War / 1950s folder) and answer 4 of the following questions (one of the four answers must include letter E):

A. Why do you think isolationism didn’t work anymore? Why did the U.S. think only they were capable of fixing the world?

B. What is collective security? Where do we see it in today’s world?

C. Why was communism seen as dangerous to the U.S.? Do you agree with the historians that this perception was all about a misunderstanding? Why or why not?

Cold War: Summary, Combatants & Timeline - HISTORY

D. Why were these “suggestions” unlikely to happen in the 1940s?

E. Was the Cold War inevitable? Explain. What was Gaddis’s (the author) answer? (required as one of your 4 answers)

F. What is Gaddis’s answer about American or Soviet flexibility to avoid the conflict?

Total word count for all four answers should be a minimum of 400.  Due Sunday night (4/18) by 11:59pm.  

From Ally to Enemy: The American Perception of the Soviet Union from 1920  to 1950 | National Geographic Society

March 12

Blog #135 – Reflections on the year 2020-2021

For the purposes of this blog, I’m just referring to the years 2020-2021 that began on March 12, 2020 for those of us in Michigan when Governor Whitmer announced that schools would be closed for 3 weeks and other pandemic protocols were put into place and bring it up to today, March 12, 2021.  This date holds obvious significance for me b/c it’s my birthday, but this year, it’s also the one year anniversary of when everything we took for granted started to go sideways.  Just thinking about the past 365 days makes my head hurt because SO MUCH STUFF happened in that time span.  Just as a sample:

  • The Covid pandemic officially hit the U.S., in-person schools were shut down for a while, and stay-at-home orders were issued several times
  • The economy was smashed by the rolling waves of the pandemic as businesses had to shut down and others had to reinvent their way of doing things over night – we still haven’t recovered from this yet.
  • A Black man, George Floyd, became the latest victim of police violence against unarmed POC and the sudden explosion of Black Lives Matter protests around the world
  • There was a genuine attempt at looking at the country to see where white privilege existed and change things to benefit all people
  • A strange presidential campaign which didn’t include the usual stuff of canvassing door to door and mass rallies (for the most part), including a sadly bizarre disappointing 1st presidential debate
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden wins this strange election along with the first woman (and woman of color) as his VP, Kamala Harris
  • Numerous unfounded claims and charges that there was widespread voter fraud which would result in over 60+ lawsuits that were all found not to have any merit or substance behind them
  • Liberal icon and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died a month or so before the election
  • Thousands of President Trump’s supporters, inspired by his words, storm the Capitol while Congress attempted to certify the election, in essence, trying to overthrow the normal functions of our Constitutional government
  • A second unsuccessful impeachment of Donald Trump
  • The successful development and limited distribution of a Covid vaccine by at least 3 different companies
  • For most of this time span, the inept federal (and sometimes state) leadership over dealing with the pandemic as it cycled through three different waves in different parts of the country (We were hit in March and April and then again around Thanksgiving through the New Year)
  • Congress passed three Covid aid packages, with this latest one could do an amazing amount of good for regular people in poverty and in need around the country
  • As of writing this blog this morning (3/12/21), over 530,000 Americans have died from the disease (total worldwide deaths at 2.63 million), and over 29 million positive cases (over 119 million positive cases worldwide).

Questions I would like you to answer (my answers are below):

  1. If you could go back to March 11, 2020 and give yourself some advice, what would it be and why?  This can be funny, serious, whatever.
  2. What were your thoughts as the BLM protests spread across the country (along with some amazing changes and actions by companies and institutions)?
  3.  What were your thoughts about Governor Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders in the spring and then again in late fall?
  4. What is your best and worst memories of this past year?  Why?

400 words minimum for all four answers.  Due by class on Thursday, March 18.

  1. Advice – I don’t even know where to start with this.  First thing would be to not worry about wiping down all the groceries or not opening delivered boxes for a day or two.  Being out in public during those months in the spring was terrifying but I had to go shopping.  Second, your job will become immensely difficult and the district will change what it wants / expects of you and the students numerous times (and is still doing so), so don’t waste any emotional energy worrying about it.  Just do the best by your kids and make sure that they learn and are doing ok.  Third, I would tell myself that a Democrat would win in November so don’t freak, just not the one you want.  Fourth, buy Game Stop stock in early January and then sell it at its peak on January 27.  Borrow money to do this if you have to.
  2. Sadly, I was not shocked at the death of another unarmed Black man.  What horrified me was the way he was killed and that the network news kept showing it OVER and OVER again.  When the protests started, I wasn’t surprised, but I was shocked at how widespread the protests were.  Then I was pleasantly surprised when the Confederate monuments started coming down.  Also shocked at how quickly terms like “white privilege” and “institutional (or structural) racism” were being used and discussed in candid ways.  There were some very surface level changes like getting rid of the Aunt Jemima syrup or changing the name of the NFL team in Washington.  But I was also pleased to see that the vast vast majority of the protests were peaceful and that most people were wearing masks.  I just hope that we can see some real systemic changes that advance equity initiatives across the country for all people.  Elevating marginalized groups doesn’t mean taking away from the dominant group.  It’s not a zero-sum thing.
  3. I understood the first few stay-at-home orders in March through April.  In the beginning, there was so much conflicting evidence as to what to do to keep yourself safe.  What kinda surprised me was the spread of orders to close schools down for the rest of the school year around the country.  I regularly consulted a website that kept track of this, and I knew that because we had been hit very hard by the first wave in March – May, I knew it would be a matter of time before we were shut down for good.  I was really disappointed (but not shocked) at the number of selfish people who wanted the state reopened quickly and rebelled against mask-wearing.  For many businesses that were forced to close for three months, I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for them to survive.  A number didn’t survive, despite the inadequately funded PPP loans for small businesses.  So I get why business owners wanted to reopen.  But other people who wanted to do their gardening in early April or get their nails done?  SMH.  By June, I was ready to go back to a restaurant and sit down for dinner.  I was tired of cooking all the time.  And when the next shut down order came right before Thanksgiving, I wasn’t surprised.  Cases in the state had been going back up to unsustainable numbers.    I’m not gonna argue over how much was too much or that, but I really was surprised that we did not have physical school for ten months (minus summer vacation).  And I was anxious going back, even w/ my first dose of the vaccine, and am still anxious about fully going back next week.
  4. One of my favorite memories was participating in the Senior Drive-By in June so that we could say goodbye to the Class of 2020.  It was a beautiful day and I loved seeing a bunch of the seniors in their caps and gowns drive by.  I had coached some of them for two years in powder puff and some of them were in my classes.  Another favorite memory was the day in late July when we picked up Scout.  We didn’t know which of the three little girls we would pick, but it seemed that she was the one who gave us the most affection.  So she kinda picked us.  I will preface this part about worst memories by saying that I have not lost a loved one to the virus or been thrown out of my job because of the economic collapse, so I’m coming from a privileged standpoint here.  One of my worst memories of this time was easily the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th.  To me, this was one of the greatest threats (if not the greatest) to democracy that I had seen in my life.  I didn’t live through World War II or the Civil War or the Great Depression, but I can now imagine this would have been something similar.   For my entire life, I realized how much of the functioning of our democracy I had taken for granted and was horrified at by how close we came to a catastrophe there.
February 19

The Post – Extra Credit

I really hoped that you enjoyed the movie, The Post, this weekend.  I think we got to see some pretty smart acting, decent writing, and a slice of 1971 politics and newspapers.  As we saw, the Washington Post was trying to become more than just a regular, “local paper” as they called it, when Katherine Graham, the publisher played by Meryl Streep, looked to sell stock in the company and raise $3 million to hire 25 new reporters.  At the same time that this stock offering is getting ready to go, the New York Times began publishing the opening series of the Pentagon Papers, a 7,000 page report detailing American involvement in Vietnam from 1945 – 1967.  Ben Bradlee, the editor in chief for the Post, played by Tom Hanks, wants those papers too, since he sees the Times as his paper’s biggest competitor.  Image result for the post movie reviews

Please answer the following questions:

  1. A lot of the movie tries to be faithful to the 1971 time frame – pay phones, newspapers, teletype, black and white TVs, the clothes, etc.  How has life changed since then, and is this movie glorifying an age (the age of crusading newspapers) that may never come back?  Why or why not?
  2. Examine how the film portrayed Katherine Graham as the lone woman in a sea of powerful male players – lawyers, bankers, etc.  Provide specifics from the film as it shows her growth from socialiImage result for the post movie reviewste publisher to powerful player.
  3. The film’s reviews – many have made the case that this film is timely and completely relevant to today.  Freedom of the press is something that must be fought for, again and again.  You could see that Nixon had tried to muzzle the press with the injunctions against the Times and the Post, but the Supreme Court had rescued the press w/ its 6-3 decision in U.S. v. New York Times.  With what’s going on w/ the media (“fake news”) and other issues, how do you see this film as relevant and timely?  And why is freedom of the press so important?
  4. The film shows both Graham and Bradlee conflicted over pushing former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (who had worked for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson) to divulge or hand over the Vietnam War study that the New York Times had broken first.  Bradlee had regular weekly dinners at the Kennedy White House and Graham was good friends w/ McNamara.  Do you think that these kinds of cozy ties between journalists, editors, and publishers with the actual politicians compromise the integrity of publishing damaging information about those politicians?  Why or why not?


400 words total for all four answers.  

Due Friday night, March 5, by midnight. 

January 22

Blog #134 – Reconstruction as relevant as ever

I don’t like to give you just a two-pronged choice, because logically, there are more than two choices to choose from.  So, what I’d like you to do is weigh the evidence that we looked at during our debate, in the Reconstruction stations activity, Dr. Foner’s article on why Reconstruction matters still, your chapter 15 reading, and make your own decisions about Reconstruction’s successes and failures.

In the old school or William Dunning interpretation (or Group A’s position in the debate), Reconstruction was a miserable failure that blundered in giving freedmen their rights (which they weren’t ready for for a variety of reasons, but usually racist theories about intelligence and human nature), but Andrew Johnson and the Klan were portrayed as the heroes of the era because they tried to ease the country back together painlessly (Johnson) and pushed for restoration of home rule (Klan).   Reconstruction governments were filled with scalawags and carpetbaggers who corrupted the states and raised taxes.  The true victims here during this period were Southern whites.  In this old school, we see a major critique of the federal government’s expansion and exercise of federal power over the states.  Behind much of this interpretation is the opinion that was popular at the turn of the 20th Century that white people of Anglo-Saxon (English) or Northern European descent were superior to the rest of the world.  We see a lot of this nonsense in the silent blockbuster from 1915, Birth of a Nation (link here if you wanna check it out), and the epic Gone With the Wind in 1939.  Part of the reason that this Dunning School of Reconstruction had such a lasting impact was that there was a huge push towards reconciliation in the late 19th Century, all the way into the 1950s when younger historians began reexamining the records of the times and came to different conclusions.

The Black Experience During the Reconstruction Era | by Vanessa Holloway | Arc Digital


Black historians like W.E.B. DuBois in the early 20th Century depicted Reconstruction as a tragedy (much like Group B in the debate) because of its failure to secure civil rights for African Americans throughout the country in his 1935 book, Black Reconstruction (link to the audio book on YouTube here).  While he stated that there were minor successes like education for Black Americans, he lamented the violence that racist whites inflicted upon Black Americans – lynching had reached peak numbers in the 1890s, and white society attributed this to inherent Black criminality (but we all know the real story). Reconstruction | Definition, Summary, Timeline & Facts | Britannica


Under some of the new interpretations, especially the Progressive and Neo-Progressive / New Left historians in the 20th Century, the Dunning interpretation is flipped on its head.  Andrew Johnson was a racist who stood in the way of the idealist Radical Republicans who wanted to give freedmen their full and equal rights.  The Klan was not the protector of the South but a haphazard terrorist organization that kept blacks from voting and intimated both whites and blacks in the South.  And the Southern state governments, Republican by nature, may or may not have helped out the freedmen.  One thing is certain: the governments, from the local (Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall) and state all the way up to the federal level (see the Grant administration) were corrupt.  Moral standards were low during this time period and many people (as we’ll see in one of our next units) are in it to make a quick million or two.  Here is an extended interview with historian Eric Foner on Reconstruction.

Klan newspaper cartoon

Your task: Discuss your interpretation of Reconstruction on its successes and failures.  Use specific evidence from the notes, articles, and readings that we have used to back up your ideas. 

Due Monday, January 25th by class.  Minimum of 300 words for your total answer.  

January 15

Race – Extra Credit film

Race is a multi-layered film about a famous African American athlete, Jesse Owens, coming into his own on the Ohio State University track team, running the 100 and 200 yard dashes and doing the long jump as well. He encounters much bigotry and racism as he struggles to establish himself as the #1 college athlete in the country, and then the #1 athlete in the world.  However, the Olympics in 1936 are held in Berlin, and Hitler hopes to make those games the showcase for German / Aryan superiority.  Owens shatters that myth by winning four gold medals.Race Movie vs True Story of Jesse Owens, Fact-Checking Race

Please answer three of the following questions:

  1. Describe Jesse’s relationship with his coach, Larry Snyder.  Is Larry racist?  What drives Larry to push Jesse to do great things?
  2. How does Jesse’s relationship with German long jumper Luz transcend the racial and political tensions of the Olympic Games in 1936?
  3. Describe examples of the racism that Jesse and other black athletes faced in both Ohio in the 1930s and in Berlin in 1936.
  4. Describe the conflict between the German filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl and German Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels.  Why is there tension between Riefenstahl and Goebbels?
  5. How does the film portray Jesse Owens as a complex character?  Use specific examples from the film.
  6. Examine the multiple meanings of the word, race, included in this film.  Use specific examples from the film.

Minimum 300 words for all three answers combined.  Due by Friday, January 29 by 11:59 p.m.

How the 1936 Olympics were recreated for Race

December 11

Marshall – Extra credit movie

Marshall: The True Story Behind the Thurgood Marshall Movie | Time

The film, Marshall, is about a trial in the early career of the first Black Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall.  He is also well known for having argued the Brown v. Board of Ed., Topeka, KS trial in front of the Supreme Court.  This particular case is like a famous novel by Richard Wright, Native Son, in which Bigger Thomas, a poor Black man working for a wealthy white family in Chicago, is accused of killing a young white lady.  In the film, it only focuses on one part of his long career as a lawyer for the NAACP, defending Joseph Spell from accusations by Eleanor Strubing of rape.

Marshall Movie on Twitter: "Thurgood Marshall's words resonate as deeply today as they did forty years ago. #StandUpForSomething #MarshallMovie… "

The power dynamic between Marshall (played by the recently deceased Chadwick Boseman – a.k.a. The Black Panther, also Jackie Robinson in 42) and Sam Friedman (played by Josh Gad) inverts the normal race relations of the time with white on top and black on the bottom.  Marshall is an self-possessed, extremely confident alpha male while Sam plays his sidekick (in some regards).  One of the things that the movie shows is that racism isn’t limited to or just a product of the South; it’s all over the country, and when a white woman’s integrity is threatened by the dangerous Black man stereotype, the ugly side of American racism comes out.

This is one of my favorite Thurgood Marshall quotes – “None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody — a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns — bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

Link to History Channel’s website on Thurgood Marshall – https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/thurgood-marshall


  1. How do the Marshall / Friedman dynamic resemble how minorities (Black Americans / Jewish Americans) were treated in 1941?  Provide specific examples.
  2. Why was (and what was) Joseph Spell (Sterling Brown of This is Us and The People vs. O.J.) so afraid that he would admit, under police questioning, to a rape that he didn’t commit?
  3. Do you believe that the judge in this case was racist?  Or extremely grumpy?  Something else?  Why did he limit Marshall’s scope in this case?  Explain w/ specific evidence from the film.
  4. Why doesn’t Sam Friedman want to join this case?   What does he stand to lose?  Explain w/ examples from the film.
  5. How is the systemic racism in the 1940s American justice system shown throughout this case?  Explain w/ specific examples from the film.

Pick three of the questions and answer them in a minimum of 350 words total.  

Due by midnight of Saturday night, 12/26/20.