Saturday, August 20, 2016

Deciding Which Lives Matter

My young relative Abby visited the other day.  She was with her parents returning to Indiana University for her sophomore year studying American History.  I thought of her today as I read two extraordinary articles in The New Yorker.  Each in their own way contemplates history's essential point:  whoever gets to tell the story determines the characters and the plot.

Jeffrey Toobin writes about Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer devoted to death penalty defense, who is attempting to chronicle and commemorate the thousands of the people who were the victims of lynchings.  Kathryn Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize winning staff writer, contributes a thoughtful exploration of the many books and TV projects devoted to the Underground Railroad.  

These are old stories that never quite made it, did they?  Are they catching a wave?   Both writers warn us not to fall for the myths in the textbooks, or the myths that try to move the needle in another direction.  Can we finally go for more than comfort here?

I hope that Abby's professors will stress history's ambiguity.  That's a good perspective to have on history and on life.


  1. Well put. Those sounds like great articles. It's hard to teach ambiguity but necessary.

  2. I just read Bryan Steenson's book. It's so good.

  3. I think there is an old adage that reads something like "The winners determine what gets written in the history books". A move away from the "black and white" views of history would be most welcome. Maybe we could even move on to getting rid of "the other" mentality.