Lessons of Slavery

MacKenzie Guynn Race has been at the forefront of conversation since the founding of our country due to our early reliance on slavery. Even if you want to contest that, it must seem like it has become a leading topic in recent years due to the intense political climate. This is why teaching slavery and the history of racism is an especially important topic for any US History course. Mr. June, the current Honors US History “sub,” emphasizes that the “political climate today makes it all the more imperative that we understand this history” especially considering “how slavery was deeply interwoven with our national politics, economy, and society, [and how] racial inequality continues to be rooted in a complex combination of laws and practices.” Since we are still laying witness to the evidence and aftermath of a society based on systematic racism, Mr. June finds that it is vital to teach about slavery and Reconstruction as a way to “better understand and influence our current political situation with both a clear understanding of how we got to our current situation and the skills that history teaches to think critically about arguments and evidence.” After all, we are basically still in Reconstruction: trying to reckon with the legacy of slavery in America. Outside of Latin and Mr. June’s classroom, however, there are still large groups of people who have different approaches. Some may “far more directly address how our history of racism continues to shape our current lives and” others may “do far less with this history, perhaps ignoring it completely.” There are multiple reasons for why this may be, but Mr. June again turns to history to explain it: “During the decades after the Civil War, people like Frederick Douglass were already fighting against the idea that the Civil War had not been about ending slavery. Many Americans, from the North and South, wanted to forget that legacy and focus on the idea of national reunion after a war that was only remembered as a misunderstanding of brother fighting brother.” This then turned into celebrating those who fought in the war, for or against slavery. Celebration has continued to dominate the conversation, as people want to focus on the good aspects of our history. This may include “textbook passages about slavery that only use passive voice and don’t directly talk about the actions of slave owners,” or focusing instead on the narrative that “presents US history as an exceptional story of unending progress and expanding freedoms for everyone.” In doing so, however, are we helping to amend the societal rifts that have been caused by our nation’s reliance on slavery? Many would argue that the confederate statues that are a constant reminder of slavery in America do the exact opposite. Instead, Mr. June believes that “students better appreciate the accomplishments our country has made in expanding rights if they also understand the, often great, obstacles that these successes overcame.” Slavery and Reconstruction encompass a major portion of American history. Because of that, we can’t fully understand what America is all about until we have fully investigated the topic and all of its branches. By doing so, we won’t only learn about our past, but we will be equipped with tools to better manage our future and to mend the damage that has been, and continues to be done. ]]>