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April 24, 2006

Rewriting American History

I was away over the weekend. My husband and I went to Long Island (or, as we from Connecticut like to call it, Connecticut's Hurricane Barrier ;-)) for a bar mitzvah. We ate so much food I felt ill when we got home last night. But my gluttony is not the subject of this post.

At our hotel, hubby was flipping through the TV channels, looking for something suitable to watch while we killed time (we settled on Shrek 2...great flick). While he was flipping, we caught a portion of an "educational cartoon" which depicted the swearing-in of George Washington as our first president.

Normally I would think such an effort worthy (despite the cheesy animation). Kids today aren't learning enough about our country's history. This time, I was appalled.

I don't know what the channel was. I don't know what the cartoon was called. But what I do know is that the creators of the cartoon are trying to rewrite history. How do I know this, despite only watching about one minute of it?

In the crowd of folks watching Washington be sworn into office were various black people. Not slaves, mind you, but well-dressed "free folk" black people. In fact, there was a well-dressed black man on the balcony with Washington, among those who I am guessing were part of Washington's inner circle.

(One wonders why other ethnicities were not included in the crowd. No Asians? No Hispanics? What gives here?)

By sanitizing our history, the cartoon makers are doing everyone involved a terrible disservice. Yes, there were black people in America at the time of Washington's inauguration...but very few of them were freemen. The majority were slaves. Washington himself owned them, and they weren't freed until his death. That is the ugly truth of it, and it's one our nation eventually faced and did something about. It is very unlikely that, at Washington's inauguration, well-dressed blacks would be standing about unmolested, watching the event with smiles just like everyone else.

Making historical events look multicultural when they were not is not a road we should go down. Sugarcoating history, either to whitewash the ugly parts or to give it a fake balance, gives impressionable students the wrong information. Good intentions mean nothing when the facts are misrepresented.

(If any of my readers know anything about this cartoon, please leave a comment with some more information. In hindsight, I wish I had continued to watch so I could get more information about the creators, but as I was away from home for an enjoyable event, I wasn't in the mood for anything but mindless entertainment.)

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Posted by Pam Meister at 12:49 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0) | Education

We used to call Pitney Bowes "New" Headquarters Building the Stamford Hurricane Barrier.

I used to work in the old Headquarters on Wheeler Dr. back in the 80s, and I rode out Hurricane Gloria in Hamden.

Posted by: PCD at April 25, 2006 07:13 AM

I dunno, Pam. It's always been my understanding that there were plenty of free blacks in the north back then. One of the men who died in the Boston Massacre was black.

Slavery was brought to this continent by the British, and many free black men served in the Continental Army during the Revolution, and they weren't in segregated units as they were later. There were many black soldiers fighting in the Battle of New Orleans, for instance.

That there would be blacks witnessing the inauguration, in New York City, of the revered General Washington as our first President seems perfectly reasonable to me.

Even though the new Constitution didn't abolish slavery in the south, it was hoped that the spirit of liberty that flowed from independence would accomplish that soon enough.

Of course, it took another 80 years and a much bloodier war to do it.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at April 25, 2006 03:41 PM

Tuning Spork,

As I was the one who noted this in the morning cartoon I feel obligated to reply.

You are right on that - it is believed that 15% of the population of New York was of African origin. And it is equally true that it wasn't as absolutely segregated as it would later become upon the hardening of Southern sensibilities.

"New York once had a slave population second only to that of Charleston, South Carolina, and that Africans, free and enslaved, have played a significant part in New York's history since Manhattan was first settled in the seventeenth century" http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/cityhall/

I guess my concern was the context. Somehow I found it hard to believe that 30% of the audience, including someone up on the podium would be black and obviously on absolutely equal stature at that time. That just isn't correct.

But you are correct that the crowd at Washington's inauguration wouldn't have been a bunch of dead white men.

Posted by: husband-dude at April 25, 2006 05:24 PM

I agree. Yes there were free blacks (as noted in my post), but as husband-dude pointed out, it is unlikely that they would have been on equal stature with whites at the time...especially the one on the podium in similar attire to Washington.

Posted by: Pam at April 25, 2006 06:59 PM
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