Ages of American Capitalism: A History of the United States

Ages of American Capitalism: A History of the United States

by Jonathan Levy

A leading economic historian traces the evolution of American capitalism from the colonial era to the present—and argues that we’ve reached a turning point that will define the era ahead. Levy reveals how capitalism in America has evolved through four distinct ages and how the country’s economic evolution is inseparable from the nature of American life itself. “Wealth is power, and power is wealth. The aphorism commonly attributed to the Englishman Thomas Hobbes, author of the great political philosophical treatise Leviathan (1651), was later invoked by Adam Smith in the greatest treatise ever written on commerce, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). Smith was a Scot, not an American, but up until 1776, Scots and Americans shared something in common: both were subjects of the British Empire. In the Age of Commerce, empire and capitalism grew up together.” The Age of Commerce spans the colonial era through the outbreak of the Civil War, and the Age of Capital traces the lasting impact of the industrial revolution.

The volatility of the Age of Capital ultimately led to the Great Depression, which sparked the Age of Control, during which the government took on a more active role in the economy, and finally, in the Age of Chaos, deregulation and the growth of the finance industry created a booming economy for some but also striking inequalities and a lack of oversight that led directly to the crash of 2008. Jonathan Levy is a professor in the Department of History at the University of Chicago. His book, Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America, won the Organization of American Historians’ Frederick Jackson Turner Award, Ellis W. Hawley Prize, and Avery O. Craven Award.

The Dawn of Everything

The Dawn of Everything

by David Graeber and David Wengrow

According to this new book, “for generations, our remote ancestors have been cast as primitive and childlike―either free and equal innocents, or thuggish and warlike. Civilization, we are told, could be achieved only by sacrificing those original freedoms or, alternatively, by taming our baser instincts.” David Graeber and David Wengrow argue that these “theories first emerged in the eighteenth century as a conservative reaction to powerful critiques of European society posed by Indigenous observers and intellectuals. Revisiting this encounter has startling implications for how we make sense of human history today, including the origins of farming, property, cities, democracy, slavery, and civilization itself . . . The Dawn of Everything fundamentally transforms our understanding of the human past and offers a path toward imagining new forms of freedom, new ways of organizing society. This is a monumental book of formidable intellectual range, animated by curiosity, moral vision, and a faith in the power of direct action.” David Graeber was a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics. David Wengrow is a professor of comparative archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story

by Nikole Hannah-Jones, Caitlin Roper, Ilena Silverman, and Jake Silverstein

Review by Alan Singer

            The 1619 Project was released as an issue of the Sunday New York Times Magazine on August 18, 2019, 400 years after the arrival of the first slave ship at the British Virginia colony. It is now published in book formats. According to the Times, the project’s goal is to “reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year. Doing so requires us to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country” (4-5). The introductory essay by project director Nikole Hannah-Jones opens with a full-page bold-faced headline, “Our founding ideals of liberty and equality were false when they were written. Black Americans fought to make them true. Without this struggle, America would have no democracy at all” (14). For the essay, Hannah-Jones received a 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.

Other essays in the issue covered the role capitalism played in the establishment of chattel slavery and the plantation system in British North America; persistent racism after the Civil War that continues to shape the current era including Jennen Interlandi on unequal health care; Jamelle Bouie on undemocratic democracy; Brian Stevenson on mass incarceration; Trymaine Lee on the racial wealth gap; and African America contributions to America, especially American culture.

The 1619 Project has been criticized from across the political spectrum since it was released. Former President Donald Trump denounced it as anti-American propaganda in his call for “patriotic history,” former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos described it as “insidious lies,” and the World Socialist website branded it as a “politically motivated falsification of history” The New York Times Magazine printed a letter from five prominent American historians along with a response by the magazine’s editor-in-chief. The historians, who demanded corrections be made in the 1619 Project, applauded “efforts to address the enduring centrality of slavery and racism to our history,” but were “dismayed at some of the factual errors in the project” that “suggest a displacement of historical understanding by ideology.” Their claims, however, were at least as ideological in nature. The historians charged the “project asserts that the United States was founded on racial slavery, an argument rejected by a majority of abolitionists and proclaimed by champions of slavery like John C. Calhoun.” Actually, that was the position taken by William Lloyd Garrison, who publicly burned a copy of the United States Constitution on July 4, 1854, a document he called “a covenant with death, and an agreement with Hell.” The group also ignored Frederick Douglass’ 1852 Independence Day speech where he calls the Fourth of July a day that reveals the “gross injustice and cruelty” of American society. For Douglass, “There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.”

I Called Her Mary

I Called Her Mary

By Margaret M. O’Hagan & Thomas Gorman

Reviewed by Hank Bitten, NJCSS Executive Director

“I love studying history because it’s nice reading about people who overcame a lifetime of difficulties against all odds.”

“Every Sunday, we walked together about five miles to church.  We didn’t have a car, so we walked over an hour to arrive at Mass on time.  We had the choice of going to 7:00 A.M. Mass at the monastery or walk in the opposite direction for 9:00 A.M. Mass at church in Shinrone.  On rainy days, we ran while the rain soaked through our clothes.  To this day, I never remember seeing an umbrella in Ireland.” (p. 29)

The Roman Catholic Church in Shinrone, built in 1860

The hidden stories of ordinary people are an essential part of the historical narrative. Unfortunately, these stories remain hidden. Everyone reading this book review has an important story – one related to triumph, tragedy, perseverance, culture, faith, and philosophy. The story of Peg Holland began on April 12, 1937. It was the age of the Zeppelins and there was a good chance that the giant German airship with 97 passengers passed over the farm house of the Hollands on its fateful voyage to Lakehurst, New Jersey in May of 1937. Peg will grow up during World War II and her life as a young adult at the age of 13 will begin in the middle of the 20th century. This is significant as immigrants from West Germany and Ireland came to America in the hope of a better life. The United States of America was a place of hope, liberty, and freedom from the traditions of Europe. 

The story of Peg Holland is anything but ordinary as it reveals insights into Irish and American culture.  Her story is powerful and very different from Life with Beaver or Father Knows Best. The story of history is the story of people. Through her experiences we learn about Elvis, Irish clubs, dating, conflicts, and hopes. The stories of ordinary people are valuable because they provide insights that are deeper than nostalgia. They reveal why liberty, equality, homeownership, education, and family are important and at times appear to be the ‘impossible’ dream.  In this context we see how an immigrant woman comes to understand the purpose of the American Revolution for her.  This is a story that prompts inquiry and discussion by students in a Sociology or history class, book club, or religious study group.

The design of this book is carefully planned for discussion and reflection as each chapter is less than ten pages taking less than 15 minutes to read.  Each chapter includes a unique episode similar to binge watching a streaming movie.  In fact, one might look at this book in terms of five seasons:

Season 1 (life in rural Ireland)

Season 2 (adoption of Mary and moving to New York)

Season 3 (married life)

Season 4 (unexpected situations)

Season 5 (reunion and optimism)

This memoir is an inspiring account of the discrimination of an unwed teenage mother experienced by the women in her community, a decision for adoption of her nine-month old daughter, working as a nanny, finding love in the Bronx, moving to the suburbs of New Jersey, the extended Irish family, and her reunion with her daughter 50 years later.

This historical narrative takes place over 70 years from 1950 through 2020 from the perspective of an immigrant woman from Ireland.  It includes her memories of dating in the Sixties, apartment living in the largest city in the world and making the move to the suburbs, the influence of music, television, and the church in her life, returning to Ireland, and community social events. For teachers interested in using this memoir to help students understand culture, family, and faith, this book provides a sociological framework of American culture during the last four decades of the 20th century and the transition into the 21stcentury by a senior citizen and grandparent.  The setting is Long Island, the Bronx and Bergen County, NJ.

The book will also prompt serious questions about how an immigrant teenage girl from Ireland entered the United States under the restrictions of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (McCarran-Walter Act), the role of Catholic Charities and other religious and private agencies with the relocation of people, commercial airline travel in the 1950s, the increased demand for parochial education, raising children, the baby boom generation, the influence of social clubs, the role of women in Irish and American culture, and how the American Dream of Peg Holland compares to the American Dream as defined by Betty Friedan:

“Each suburban wife struggled with it alone…they learned that truly feminine women do not want careers, higher education, political rights….” (Rudnick, 72). Friedan goes on to emphasize how societal views have caused women’s “greatest ambition” to be marriage and children. Her biggest point eludes that “it is easy to see the concrete details that trap the suburban housewife, the continual demands on her time.” American Dream Project

For members of a book club, the book provides opportunities for discussion about teenage pregnancy, resilience, perseverance, facing discrimination, gangs, the life of an unmarried woman, struggling with debt, coping with cancer, raising a family, the importance of faith and hope, and if our lives are predetermined by a higher force or subject to chance and luck. The characters are real and their stories are from their hearts. Even if the authors edited phrases or words, the primary source documentation and candid expressions will make your eyes water with sadness and happiness.

For members of a religious discussion group this memoir offers ten examples of situations that require us to hit the pause button and stop and think. For example, the circumstances of a virgin pregnancy, living away from home during her pregnancy, twists and turns of the decision to give a daughter up for adoption, working as a nanny, finding friends, falling in love, purchasing a home, facing devastating health issues, reunion in Ireland, and receiving an unexpected phone call. 

For those who may read this book as an individual, I can only provide my perspective as a man, husband, and grandfather.  I experienced emotions of sadness, helplessness, empathy, inspiration, encouragement, and thanks for my personal religious beliefs in reading Peg’s personal story. It made me think about the teenage mothers I knew, decisions about who to trust, personal hardships and triumphs, the power of forgiveness, and the challenges teenagers and parents face. The characters in this memoir are living examples of these experiences. 

I also enjoyed the Irish culture and local color of Long Island, Valentine Ave. in the Bronx, and Hawthorne, NJ. These were all places where I lived but my experience was one of a middle-class man with a college education. To some extent my stereotypes of Irish culture found agreement and yet they were also proven wrong and my perspective of life and culture was broadened.

2314 Valentine Ave. Bronx, NY

“My prayers were always the same.  I prayed to God to help me get over my guilt, and He answered my prayers. After each conversation with Mary, I could feel the healing continue.  I began to feel like a person who was more sure of herself. I was no longer stuck beating myself up over something I have no control over anymore.  I told myself Enough already, I cried so many nights after I gave Mary away and when I was by myself.  Finally hearing Mary’s voice and everything she had accomplished in her life shot through me to my core and started to heal me within. It was confirmed I did the right thing.” (words of Peg Holland O’Hagan in her mid-70s)

The book is available on Amazon. It is written by a husband and wife with professional careers in education. I am honored that Thomas is my former student and years later became my colleague.

You Are Where You Go by Caitlyn Lubas

You Are Where You Go

By Caitlyn Lubas

Reviewed by Hank Bitten

A Traveler’s Coming of Age Journey through 70 Countries and 7 Continents During College

My first visit, at age ten, to the Rivoli Theatre on Main Street in Paterson was to see the Jules Vernes movie Around the World in 80 Days.  My knowledge of the world at age ten was limited to a globe, map of the world, and pictures in Life magazine. In 1957, travel was still mostly by propeller powered airplanes.  The turbulence made travel by air bumpy, there were frequent fueling stops, and pressurized cabins were just being installed.

The movie opened my eyes to places in Africa, Asia, and South America that were new to me.  The scenes of the physical geography of place were amazing and my exposure to culture motivated me to study anthropology years later at N.Y.U.  The book, All I Really Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum is another reminder of the influence of teachers and their lessons.  When we engage students in thinking, we are nurturing more than historical content, disciplinary concepts, or skill sets. When students think about what they are learning, the brain redirects knowledge from their eyes to their hearts.  This is how visual memory deepens and changes lives.

Caitlyn Lubas was my student and took my class on the Global Economy at Indian Hills High School. The wisdom and insights in her book, is a reminder of the influence that teachers have in the lessons they teach – especially in social studies.

“Before travel, my worldview was like an old radio tuned into a channel that was only producing static-uninformed and lacking any key message.  Each unique experience abroad allowed me to tune into a clearer signal of what the world is really like-dynamic, vibrant, and enlightening.” (page 5)

Caitlyn’s experience at New York University was transformative. As a high school student Caitlyn communicated with other teenagers from a variety of countries developing an international network of social capital. Through social media, video channels, and books, she was able to talk with different people about culture, issues, family, and school. In high school, we traveled to Europe and provided opportunities for meeting students from Japan, Germany, and Denmark in our study of global business, the environment, and human rights. In the first chapter of her book, she provides tips on how to make a decision that prioritizes travel as a tutorial for the academic literacy needed for every 21st century student. The globalization of education has become an essential component of academic literacy in understanding the common values and experiences we share, the relationship between the individual and the state, and our responsibility to protect our planet. As I was reading Caitlyn’s book, I was reminded that I have students working on six continents (Denmark, Uganda, Ukraine, Switzerland, Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Israel, etc.) and others who talk with people in other countries every day. Caitlyn’s book has relevance because it provides a cultural and visible connection to places and people.

I was able to identify with her personal stories about her visits to many places in Europe, although I found some of her insights and information to be new and interesting.  Her chapter on Vietnam, Laos, Japan, and Singapore offered unique perspectives to me regarding her leg injury in Vietnam, cubicle hostel with pod beds in Japan, self-discovery of people and scenery in Laos, and uncomfortable encounters of a young Asian girl having dinner with an older man in Singapore, even though the man was her father.  I learned about new perspectives of culture, traveling in inclement weather, coping with Google translator, and navigating the Mekong River. Teachers should be reminded that their teaching of geography involves more than place or name recognition as holidays, street culture, food, beliefs, and gender roles are equally important. When traveling inside another culture, our behaviors and attitudes are observable.Caitlyn discovered that she was the outsider.

This was very evident in the chapter on the Middle East and her experiences in Jordan, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi.  I remember when New York University developed this global education program and what I learned from Professor of History David L. Lewis as the program was evolving and taking shape in 2008-10. The unique experience of NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Singapore is how students experienced the diversity of a global community. I had two students graduate from this academic opportunity.  When Caitlyn stepped off the plane and entered one of the most luxurious and spacious airport terminals on the planet, she sat alone in a taxi in shorts and quickly stood out in an environment of long garments and face coverings.

Abu Dhabi

In my high school Global Issues class, we partnered with Keio Academy in Purchase, NY for an overnight stay in a dormitory based Japanese high school.  We attended classes in Japanese, played Japanese style dodge ball, and discussed international issues. For my Bergen County students, this was their first experience immersed in a new culture and paired with a student they had only been introduced to through emails and letters. Caitlyn was my student and experienced this as a freshman.  Now, at NYU, her roommates were from three different countries and cultures. However, they shared a common interest in travel and adventure.

I learned more in this chapter on the Middle East about how our eyes communicate messages to our brains than in the other chapters. Reading about Caitlyn’s observations of her independence in New York City with her new understanding of how young girls in Abu Dhabi and the Middle East feel liberated as their long garments conceal their sexuality and feminism from public observation and comment.

I also learned that the familiar TV monitor on the back of the seat on the airplane includes an arrow pointing to the east for Islamic prayers during the day.  Her experiences with food, visiting a Bedouin community, the demographic diversity of Dubai and other cities, and the inaccuracy of the stereotypes portrayed in the American media and classrooms are valuable lessons for everyone who reads her book.  The familiar phrase of the book, All I Really Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten, might be rephrased by “All I Really Need to Know about People, I Learned in My Global Classroom in College.”

The chapter on Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, and Malawi) gives the reader a perspective of time and place by returning to the Bronze Age or perhaps the last century of the Neolithic Age. This is the birth of civilization and we are taken back in time to life on the safari before asphalt roads and power lines. This is the world of the Maasai, the open sky of the Serengeti plains, and swarms of insects.  It is a place without Wi-Fi connectivity, stocked shelves of supermarkets, and the traffic on urban highways and city streets. In our teaching of geography we neglect, or intentionally avoid, the experiences of millions of people who have no experience with flush toilets, access to hot water for washing hands or drinking from a faucet.  It is worth the read because it is from the perspective of a youthful college student!

If your time is limited to reading only one chapter, it would have to be Caitlyn’s experience of traveling across the Drake Passage to Antarctica for a camping trip, without the campfires. The journey begins shortly after the December solstice when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. Her experience of being immersed in total sunshine with brilliant images on the white snow and icebergs. However, it is the challenges of protecting the environment without leaving any human or carbon footprints, digging ditches to make a bed for protection against the fiercest winds and coldest temperatures on the planet, and learning how to excrete bodily fluids and solids during a blizzard.  Antarctica is a beautiful landscape of white and perhaps the only place on the planet where the sounds of silence are heard…or not heard.

The book is readable for middle and high school students and adults. It is her personal reflection about life, traveling alone, and experiencing culture and the harshness of geography. Teachers who value perspectives will want to include Caitlyn’s!

African American History: A Past Rooted in the Hudson Valley

African American History: A Past Rooted in the Hudson Valley

David Levine

Reprinted with permission from https://hvmag.com/life-style/history/african-american-past-hudsonvalley/  

The origin story of what was to become the United States of America typically features two main characters: the native peoples who had lived on these lands for centuries, and the Europeans who took those lands from them. But there was a third cast member in this drama, one whose role is at best downplayed and at worst ignored: Africans and their descendants. In 1613, just four years after Henry Hudson’s crew sailed up the river that would bear his name, and seven years before the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth, a mixed-race man named Juan Rodrigues (or some spelling variant near that) left Hispaniola for the New World, set up shop in and around Manhattan Island, traded with the natives for a time, squabbled with the Dutch—who called him a “black rascal”—and then disappeared from the public record as the first African to set foot in the Hudson Valley.

In 1626, just 10 years after the establishment of New Amsterdam, the Dutch West India Company shipped 11 African male slaves—whom they labeled “proud and treacherous”—into the colony, with women brought in two years later. Some slaves were moved to Fort Orange, the outpost that became Albany. As land patents divvied up the Valley, every patent holder whose name still graces the region stocked his farm with slaves. In 1664, when the Dutch handed the keys to the new kingdom to the British, about 800 Africans and their children inhabited the Valley, only about 75 of them considered free.

The British increased slave importation, and by the early 1700s New York State had more slaves than anywhere else in the colonies, more than the deep South, more than Boston, more than the Virginia plantations. “The two biggest slave markets in the country before the American Revolution were in New York City and Albany,” Dr. A.J. Williams-Myers, a retired professor of Black Studies at SUNY New Paltz, says. By 1790, the first federal census counted more than 19,000 enslaved New Yorkers; Georgia had 12,000. “New York was not a society with slaves, it was a slave society, dependent on enslaved Africans,” he says.

As New Yorkers, we like to think of ourselves as different from the south in regards to slavery. We were different only in that, numerically speaking at least, we were worse. Any history of African descendants in the Hudson Valley must first come to grips with this fact. From the earliest moments of European contact, African Americans have been part of the Valley’s dramatis personae. “Africans have been portrayed as in the shadow of history, when actually they were center stage,” Williams-Meyers says. “Where European people went, Africans went with them, shoulder to shoulder with their enslavers.” 

The oppressed as oppressors

As the Hudson Valley economy transitioned during the 17th century from the fur trade to farming, Africans helped make the region the most prosperous in the New World. Hudson Valley farms helped feed Great Britain, its newest colonies and its holdings in the Caribbean, and Africans did much of the work. A 1733 century painting called the “Van Bergen Overmantel,” by artist John Heaten, depicts the Marten Van Bergen farm near the Greene County town of Leeds. Historic Hudson Valley writes that “no other single artifact offers more information about life in colonial New York. Here African, Native American, and European people populate the landscape.” Dr. Myra Young Armstead, Lyford Paterson Edwards and Helen Gray Edwards Professor of Historical Studies at Bard College, calls this painting, “a good picture of what was going on and why the Hudson Valley was a big area of slavery.”

Even those who came here because of oppression became oppressors. The French Huguenot founders of New Paltz purchased their first of many slaves in Kingston in 1674, a hypocrisy not lost on a Huguenot descendant. “My ancestors fled France for religious and political freedom. Before leaving France they saw their own families tortured, enslaved, and killed. Yet these emigrants came to the New World and, for their own personal gain, forced other human beings to labor against their will,” Mary Etta Schneider, board chair of Historic Huguenot Street, said this summer. “For this I am ashamed.” 

Schneider was speaking in advance of a September 2016 event, in which HHS welcomed Joseph McGill, founder of the Slave Dwelling Project. McGill travels the country spending the night in historic slave dwellings to bring awareness to their existence, history, and need for preservation. More of these are in the north than most people know. “The history I learned in school was junk,” McGill says. “Slave dwellings are part of the history of this nation. They are hidden in plain sight.” Huguenot slaves were likely locked in at night so they couldn’t escape, Schneider said, and those who slept there along with McGill got “a sense of what it must have felt like to just reinforce that ownership, that lack of ability to have any control over your life.” Addressing another myth, that northern slave owners were “better” than southern ones, McGill says bluntly, “There were no great slave owners. When you assign a degree of severity, you start with bad.”

Long before Nat Turner, slaves in New York were rebelling against their owners. In 1712, 23 slaves killed nine whites in New York City, and rumors both real and unproved of slaves plotting revolts from the City to Albany kept tensions high throughout the 18th century. In 1794, three slaves—including two girls of 12 and 14—were hanged for setting a fire that burned much of downtown Albany; two were hanged from “the Hanging Elm Tree,” at the northwest corner of State and Pearl Streets (planted in front of the house of young Philip Livingston), the third on Pinkster Hill, site of the current Capitol. “Slaves and owners were on constant war footing,” William-Myers says. “The Hanging Tree in Albany shows you the use of fear to keep Africans in their place.”

Revolutionaries and warriors

And yet, slaves helped their masters win independence. “You cannot discount Africans’ input in the Revolutionary War,” Williams-Myers says. Though they often were sent to replace their owners in battle, under the assumption that whey would be freed after the war, they fought bravely and well. “They are never pictured as part of that, but they were there on the battlefield,” he says. Slaves held positions along the Hudson River as General Clinton made his way up from New York City, and fought at the battles of Saratoga, along the Mohawk River and throughout the region. “African warriors were one of the colonies’ secret weapons,” he says. “They were significant in winning the war.”

After the war, slaves weren’t freed right away, but Federalists like John Jay and Alexander Hamilton founded the New York Manumission Society in 1785 to promote abolition. It happened in fits and starts, and full emancipation was realized when the last New York slaves were freed by July 4, 1827. It was the largest emancipation in North America before the Civil War.

The Hudson Valley to a large extent welcomed freed African Americans. During this gradual emancipation, Quaker groups offered land—usually rocky, undesirable land, to be clear—to help freed slaves, and self-sustaining black communities sprung up in Rockland (Skunk Hollow, near the New Jersey border), Westchester (The Hills in Harrison and another community near Bedford), Dutchess (near Hyde Park, Beekman and Millbrook), Ulster (Eagles Nest, west of Hurley), and all the other river counties. Though legally emancipated, blacks weren’t entirely free yet, and the Valley, like the rest of the state, was in no way free from racism. Laws limited blacks’ rights to vote, to travel with whites on public transportation, to attend school and more. “You could argue that the earliest ‘Jim Crow’ laws actually appeared in the north, not the south,” says Dr. Oscar Williams, Chair of the Department of Africana Studies at the State University of New York at Albany.

The opening of the Erie Canal, in 1815, precipitated the slow and steady migration from upstate farms to river cities for employment. “Cities like Newburgh and Poughkeepsie offered jobs to blacks, while there was bigger movement to New York City or Albany, the nodes of the Valley,” Armstead says. Black institutional and social life took hold in these cities. Rhinebeck, for example, had a vibrant neighborhood of black artisans on Oak Street. African American Revolutionary War veteran Andrew Frazier and his family, who are buried in the “Potter’s Field” section of Rhinebeck Cemetery, owned land in the Town of Milan. In Kingston, the A.M.E. Zion Church on Franklin Street, the oldest African American church in Ulster County, owns the Mt. Zion African American Burial Ground on South Wall Street. The cemetery holds the remains of members of the U.S. Colored Infantry’s 20th Regiment, which fought in the Civil War. An extension of the Mt. Zion cemetery on South Pine Street is “one of the earliest, and potentially largest slave cemeteries known in the northeast,” according to an anthropologist who conducted an archeological survey for the city of Kingston in 1993. The Rye African American Cemetery, inside the Greenwood Union Cemetery, was established in 1860 as a burial place for blacks. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the final resting spot for African American Civil War veterans and the descendants of many slaves from Rye.

As the Civil War approached, the Hudson Valley was a hotbed of abolition. So-called Colored Conventions, movements held by free slaves to oppose slavery and push for rights for free blacks, were held all over country, including in Poughkeepsie, Armstead says. The Underground Railroad had important station stops along the river, such as the Beecher House in Peekskill and the Stephen and Harriet Myers House in Albany. Sojourner Truth started on her march to freedom as Isabella Baumfree, a slave born on an estate near what is now Ripton, sold to a family in New Paltz. In Troy, an African American named Henry Highland Garnett was Malcolm X before Malcolm X. Garnett led a radical movement from his position as the first pastor of the Liberty Street Negro Presbyterian Church. First working with abolition leaders like William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, he gave a famous speech in 1843 at the National Negro Convention, a “Call to Rebellion” encouraging slaves to rise up in open revolt. His position was opposed.

Past, prologue

After the Civil War, blacks continued to move from local farms to industrial centers, and in their “Great Migration” from the South. New York City was a major destination, and in time blacks also moved into the suburbs, exurbs and growing river cities of the Valley. Freedom did not mean integration, however. As just one example, in the 1920s, land in the Nepperhan neighborhood of Yonkers, now known as Runyon Heights, was sold to blacks because whites didn’t want it and it was naturally separated from white communities.

Work, as always, continued to be the magnet drawing African Americans north, and the Valley had one of the world’s most powerful magnets: IBM. After World War II, “IBM was really important, ahead of its time, a global force that recruited from black colleges and universities,” Armstead says. By the late 1950s and 1960s, black professionals populated the area. “That generation is dying or dead now, but they became the first black heads of organizations, the first black teachers,” she says.

The history of African Americans over the last half century is a story of progress and regression, of course, both nationally and here in the Valley. The current political climate is restive. The struggle has been ongoing for 403 years now, ever since Juan Rodriguez stepped ashore and began battling the Dutch. The story has evolved, but it hasn’t ended. As William Faulkner wrote, the past is never dead. It’s not even past.

“The Captain’s Story” by Harriet Beecher Stowe

“The Captain’s Story” by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Ellen Gruber Garvey

This article is reprinted with permission of the author. It was originally published in the Washington Post under the headline “A forgotten 19th-century story can help us navigate today’s political fractures.”  https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/03/23/forgotten-19th-century-story-can-help-us-navigate-todays-political-fractures/   

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Can Democrats truly reconcile with those Republicans who called President Biden’s election fraudulent and encouraged violent attack of the U.S. Capitol? Earlier moments in U.S. history should caution us about the lure and danger of reconciliation when one side refuses to acknowledge wrongdoing. After the Civil War, former Union partisans sought to get along with the Southerners who fought to keep Black people enslaved even after the war. But later, they doubted the wisdom of having done so.

One of those people was Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (1852), the most influential novel in the United States during the 19th century. Her famous book kindled readers’ sense that they could and must end slavery, even if that meant disrupting alliances, friendships and family ties with enslavers and their supporters. Thirty years later, Stowe wrote a story little known even it its own time, in which she considered what happened when these same White Northerners who fought against slavery reconciled too easily with former enslavers.

Can Democrats truly reconcile with those Republicans who called President Biden’s election fraudulent and encouraged violent attack of the U.S. Capitol? Earlier moments in U.S. history should caution us about the lure and danger of reconciliation when one side refuses to acknowledge wrongdoing. After the Civil War, former Union partisans sought to get along with the Southerners who fought to keep Black people enslaved even after the war. But later, they doubted the wisdom of having done so.

One of those people was Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (1852), the most influential novel in the United States during the 19th century. Her famous book kindled readers’ sense that they could and must end slavery, even if that meant disrupting alliances, friendships and family ties with enslavers and their supporters. Thirty years later, Stowe wrote a story little known even it its own time, in which she considered what happened when these same White Northerners who fought against slavery reconciled too easily with former enslavers.

Written in 1882, but set in 1866, “The Captain’s Story” tells of two former Union army captains who visit Florida, where they once fought on the battlefield. They hope to relax and recuperate from the toll the war had taken on their health. The two listen to their white Floridian guide’s ghost story, which includes his casual mention of having murdered enslaved African captives. The ghost of one captive continues to haunt a nearby plantation, he says. Despite moral qualms, the two captains decide to continue their trip with their murderous guide who can show them all the best fishing grounds. They will get along, and leave his punishment to God.

Stowe began spending winters in Florida just after the Civil War, about the time the story is set, initially hoping to help her son recover from his own Civil War trauma. She wrote popular travel articles in the 1870s touting the state’s pleasures for Protestant Northern Whites, hoping to attract them to politically overwhelm the Southern planters. Full of chummy advice on how to travel south and where to buy land, the accounts spurred the state’s first tourist boom while also raising money for a Black school. In “The Captain’s Story,” she swerves to remind her readers of the brutalities of her Florida neighbors who once enslaved people.

Although Stowe was a founder of the Atlantic Monthly, “The Captain’s Story” was not published there, perhaps because few 1880s editors wished to take the horrors of slavery seriously. Albion Tourgée, the editor of the short-lived but high-paying weekly Our Continent, did, however. He was a Union veteran who worked for Reconstruction then wrote about his experiences in two best-selling novels focusing on the difficulties and assaults the freed people faced. He went on to fight Jim Crow, as the lawyer representing a Black plaintiff attacking segregation in public facilities in Plessy v. Ferguson.

Although Our Continent was not a crusading publication and sought to attract White Southern readers, too, Tourgée published other works that acknowledged that the Civil War was fought over slavery. Yet Our Continent was obscure enough that “The Captain’s Story” received no notice in the press at the time. It was not anthologized or reprinted.

The story’s questioning of White complicity in postwar racism is subtle and conflicted. But it does stand in stark contrast to other popular magazine stories of the time. Northern magazines shoveled out stories romanticizing Southern plantations as places where sweet, quasi-familial ties between enslavers and enslaved people infused life with graciousness. Plantation fiction frequently featured a tired Northern businessman who, like the two captains, goes South to rest and comes to appreciate relaxed Southern hospitality.

Marriage to a Southern woman in these stories offered an allegory of reconciliation between Northern and Southern Whites. As the White abolitionist and orator Anna E. Dickinson noted, “The fashion of the day has been, and is, to talk of the love feast that is spread between old foes, till at last we of the North and of the South are doing what our forefathers did 30 years ago — grasping hands across the prostrate body of the negro.”

Of course, former Confederates did not seek reconciliation. Instead, they created the cult of the Lost Cause, celebrating the nobility and heroism of the Confederacy, leading to the erection of statues honoring Confederate leaders and school textbooks that continued to inculcate this version of history for over a century.

That is why Stowe’s story is significant. It called out the murderous past, presented plantation owners and their friends as lawless, brutal, disloyal, casual killers, scornful of the family ties of enslaved people.But the story disappeared, and that illuminated the shifting reality of race relations in 1882. Reconstruction had ended, a reign of racial terror lynchings had commenced, and states passed Black Codes that allowed Southern Whites to continue to coerce the labor of African Americans.White supremacy had regrouped with new legal structures and Northern collusion, and former Confederates were back in power in the South. Ex-Confederates suppressed the Black vote and reinstated slavery under different names.

The myth of benevolent plantation life took hold through sheer repetition in fictional work, most familiar now through “Gone With the Wind,” imagery and plantation tours. Burying Stowe’s story while celebrating that myth matters. It is another small part of concealing slavery’s past and obscuring the power of white supremacy, which still haunt the United States.

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster

By Bill Gates (2021)

Reviewed by Hank Bitten, NJCSS Executive Director

The New Jersey Department of Education has taken an important step in avoiding a climate disaster. Beginning in September 2022, every New Jersey student in Grades K-12 will be studying the causes and effects of climate change in their community, state, nation, and world. In Social Studies classes, students will be researching, debating, proposing, and implementing solutions to reduce their carbon foot print, propose strategies for a sustainable environment in their schools and community, propose solutions at the state and national level, and collaborate with students and professionals in other countries about global initiatives. The goal of changing behavior at this critical time is to educate students with an interdisciplinary model and approaches in all disciplines.

Bill Gates focuses on solutions to the impending climate crises regarding the harms of the 51,000,000,000 (billion) tons of greenhouse gases that 7,500,000,000 (billion) people contribute to every year!  Although on the average this is 70 tons a day, the per person contribution is significantly higher in the United States, New Jersey, and some other countries. Europe has a plan to become the first continent to become carbon neutral in 30 years. (What is the EU’s Green Deal? And could Europe become the first climate-neutral continent? | World Economic Forum (weforum.org))

The first application in How to Avoid a Climate Disaster is with the metaphors that will help students in the elementary grades to understand the effects of global warming.

For example: Imagine a bathtub of water with the drain closed that is slowly filling up with water. What will eventually happen? What will be the damage to the room or house? Why is it not enough to slow the amount of water filling up the bathtub? 

Imagine sitting in a car with the sun shining on the glass windows.  What happens to the temperature inside the car? Will opening the window half an inch make the car safe for passengers?  Why is the temperature of the earth increasing every year? What will be the result if it continues to increase?

These metaphors will help students understand that small changes in our behaviors are helpful but they are not likely to solve the problem for what is causing the earth’s temperature to continually increase. Teachers will find valuable resources for teaching young children how electricity and cars contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. (Page 55) For example, electricity contributes about 27% of greenhouse gases to our environment. For younger children, teachers need to help their students understand how much electricity (megawatts and kilowatts) one family contributes.  The average home uses 28 kilowatt hours of electricity per day. For example, my electric bill stated that our home consumed 630 kilowatt hours over 28 days or 23 kilowatt hours per day.

Ask your students to identify everything in their apartment of home that uses electricity. Then compare kilowatts to a cup or glass of water that would be emptied into a sink or tub with the drain closed. Have your students explain the effects of increasing and decreasing the amount of electricity consumed.  The more electricity used and the more people using electricity will generate additional greenhouse gases that will harm the environment.

Another important understanding for younger children is to understand that each item they identify as using electricity uses different amounts of energy. For example, a light bulb might use 40 watts but the hair dryer uses 1,500. The critical application for younger students is to understand that by reducing the amount of electricity consumed helps the environment. In this context, teachers should scaffold to a higher conceptual level by understanding the impacts of more people in the home, community, and world. Reducing greenhouse gases is very difficult which is why understanding that everything we do and everything we produce has a harmful effect on our planet.

The second application is the useful information to support middle school student debates on the solutions to reduce greenhouse gases at the local, state, and national levels.

Middle school students should understand how human activity is accelerating climate changes by warmer temperatures. The technology of renewable sources, (i.e., solar, wind, nuclear, geothermal) should also be familiar to most students. However, the cost, amount of space needed to produce energy for a city, and the durability of the equipment are important areas for student research, problem-solving, and debate.

In the United States we have replaced energy several times over the past century.  Many homes have fire places but wood burns quickly and heat is lost through the chimney. Coal and oil were more efficient resources to heat homes.  They were eventually replaced in many homes with natural or propane gas. In the 1950s and 1960s the government supported high-powered transmission lines for electricity and underground pipes for natural gas. In the 1970s we transitioned from leaded gasoline to a more expensive grade of unleaded fuel.  Understanding the processes of continuity and change over time for how people live is critical to understanding the societal costs of inexpensive fossil fuels.

In Zurich, Switzerland there is a DAC (direct air capture) facility operated by Climeworks which can remove (or absorb) carbon from the atmosphere as it is released.  The cost is $100 per ton.  Since the world is currently producing 51 billion tons of harmful carbon emissions EACH year, the cost is $5.1 trillion.  The United States has a per person carbon footprint of 15 tons per person. The cost would be $1,500 per person or $6,000 for a family of four. This would be the cost EACH YEAR and a very expensive solution.

There are interesting hypothetical scenarios in How to Avoid a Climate Disaster regarding a place near Seattle or a large city the size of Tokyo. In these scenarios, students will find enough information for them to ask probing questions or search for more research regarding the average number of days with sunlight or wind speeds, the impact of severe weather, the amount of space on land or in water to build an energy farm, the costs to transmit electricity over long distances, and how to store sufficient power for evenings and when energy supplies are less than what is demanded.

Another interesting topic for middle school students to debate or discuss is the impact of electric vehicles on home energy supplies. Students need to consider the impact of charging multiple vehicles per household and in a city with high-rise apartments.  The book also provides basic information that should motivate students to research the technologies of fusion, batteries, and nuclear power. The ITER project in southern France will likely be operational within this decade. Is fusion the magical answer for our goal of zero carbon emissions?  Teachers will find empirical evidence in this book regarding current technology and experiments which are essential when teaching students how to support their claims and arguments with evidence.

The third application is for high school students to determine proposals for reducing the one-third of greenhouse gas emissions that come from producing plastics, cement, and fertilizers.

The media focuses on emissions from the fossil fuels of vehicles and the generation of electric power. Two areas that may not be familiar to students are that 19 percent of global emissions come from the production and application of fertilizers and 31 percent from industrial production.  The combination of these two areas represents about one-half of the 51 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions currently contributing to the increase in temperature.  When studying continuity and change over time, students visually see how communities and cities change over 100 years, 50 years, or less. For example:

Shanghai, China in 1987 (on the left) and 2013 (on the right) Source

New York City (1876-2013)

When studying the impact of land use on climate, students should explore the environmental costs to society from the use of cement, steel, glass, generation of electricity, loss of forested land, waste, and traffic. How to Avoid a Climate Disaster provides an opportunity for classroom exploration, research, inquiry, collaboration, and solutions.  The contribution of the social sciences to understanding the causes of greenhouse gas emissions, strategies for changing the way we currently are doing things, and analyzing the externality of societal costs is found in what students do best – asking questions, researching, debating private and public solutions, analyzing the costs and long-term benefits, and presenting information clearly and concisely in graphs, tables, maps, and images.

Examples of questions for collaboration, researching, and interviewing by students are:

  • How are we producing automobiles?
  • Is natural gas the most efficient method for cooking food and heating buildings?
  • What are the societal costs for raising animals for food?
  • How should we recycle food waste?
  • How would a Green Premium be calculated in analyzing the costs and benefits over time?
  • How significant are the societal costs of air-conditioning on a global scale?

Standard 6.3 for climate for high school students in New Jersey requires them to collaborate with other students on proposed solutions.

6.3.12.GeoGI.1: Collaborate with students from other countries to develop possible solutions to an issue of environmental justice, including climate change and water scarcity, and present those solutions to relevant national and international governmental and/or nongovernmental organizations.

The competitive advantage of Social Studies in learning about the biggest issue to impact our planet in history is with our ability to engage in problem solving, understanding perspectives from different cultures, historical lessons of strategies to address problems over time, the ability to analyze the economics of the problem and solutions, and to debate the effectiveness of public and private solutions. The Social Studies classroom, especially in grades 6-12, is a laboratory for analyzing the marginal costs and losses of incremental changes, preventative solutions, investments in research and development, and the cost of inaction.

“Climate science tells us why we need to deal with this problem but not how to deal with it.  For that, we’ll need biology, chemistry, physics, political science, economics, and other sciences.” (Page 198)

One of the best chapters in How to Avoid a Climate Disaster is the one on government. The perspectives on the electrification or rural America, installing natural gas lines, building the interstate highway system, implementing the Clean Air Act or 1970, the Montreal Protocol of 1987, and the Human Genome Project provide empirical examples of what the government of the United States has accomplished in the 20th century.  The lessons of innovation and the call to debate solutions for reaching the goal of zero carbon emissions are opportunities that should be integrated into the existing curriculum. The Sunshot Initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy to reduce the costs of solar energy is one example worth studying in Economics or U.S. History. Here are some examples:

  1. Will the steps taken to reduce carbon emissions in your community or average size city in New Jersey work in Tokyo with a population of 38 million, or Mexico City, New York, or Mumbai?
  2. Is the best strategy for reducing carbon emissions one that is implemented at the local or state level of government, through national or global commitments, or by incentives to private firms?
  3. Are there dangers in making immediate but small reductions by 2030 or will it be more effective to wait for new technologies from current research?
  4. If society delays implementing carbon emission reductions now, will the costs be significantly more expensive if implementation is postponed five or ten years?
  5. What are the most effective incentives to lower costs and reduce risks? (tax credits, subsidies, loan guarantees, carbon tax, cap and trade system, etc.)
  6. How important are the actions taken by citizens, consumers, and producers in taking the initiative in reducing carbon emissions?
  7. What lessons have we learned from the Covid-19 pandemic that apply to our response to impending warmer temperatures and rising sea levels from carbon emissions?

As teachers in New Jersey begin to implement the K-12 mandated curriculum standards on climate and environmental sustainability, they should consider an interdisciplinary model that includes learning in every grade focusing on causes, effects, and solutions at the local, state, national, and global levels.  Students who are age five in Kindergarten in 2021 will be 34 in 2050.  Teachers who are age 25 or 30 now will be 55-60 in 2050.  The curriculum that is planned and implemented will have a measurable legacy in the foreseeable future. In 1921, a nuclear bomb, sending a man to the moon, CT images, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) were impossible to imagine but by the middle of the 20th century they were in development of considered possible. Social Studies teachers must look beyond what is predictable today and teach students for a world that may be in conflict and crisis or one that can be safer and better.

Keep Sharp by Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Keep Sharp

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Reviewed by Hank Bitten, NJCSS Executive Director

I selected this book with the intention of discovering a resource for Psychology teachers who need relevant information to support their teaching about the brain. As a history educator, I recognize my pedestrian level of understanding how my brain works. As I write this book review, I am using millions of brain cells or neurons but also rewiring my brain to adapt to a new subject area and audience.

The first new thing I learned from reading this book was a respect for my own brain.

My brain “weighs less than most laptop computers, yet it can perform in a way that no computer can or ever will.” (p. 30)  It is the power of my brain that enables me to think in ways beyond my basic survival instincts. My awareness of diet and nutrition is limited to my narrow perspective of fitness and weight control. In Keep Sharp, I became aware of the importance of nutritional foods in controlling the amount of inflammation in my arteries and blood vessels in my brain. The brain also thrives on oxygen and activity. There is a relationship between time spent on individual and team sports with memory and a positive learning impact. (p. 102) I also am more aware of getting outdoors for exercise and fresh air, even during cold and wet weather.

I have become more aware of how my brain regulates every part of my body regarding hormonal secretions, cognitive memory, and a daily cleansing ritual similar to how my anti-virus software deletes hidden files on my computer. The benefits of exercise and movement are critical in reducing the harmful effects of sugar remaining idle in our blood which causes dramatic fluctuations in glucose and insulin impacting brain structure and development.

“Without a healthy brain, you cannot even make healthy decisions. And with a healthy brain comes not only a healthy body, weight, heart, and so on, but also a stronger sense of confidence a more solid financial future thanks to smart decisions, better relationships, more love in life, and heightened overall happiness.” (p. 76)  

The second new thing I found of interest was the statistical or factual information presented in the book

For example, here are five observations:

  1. The brain uses 20 percent of my energy and oxygen intake. Since 75% of our brains are composed of water (similar for the heart) that dehydration affects our cognitive skills and attention immediately. (p.36)
  2. The brain is the last organ in our body to mature, which is why teenagers are vulnerable to risky behaviors and in need of emotional learning and support. For some of us, the brain does not reach maturity until about age 25.  There is also a difference between our chronological age and vascular age, which explains why people in their eighties are able to compete in marathons or swim across the English Channel as Otto Thaning, from South Africa, did in 2014 at age 73!
  3. “In 2018, researchers from Columbia University showed for the first time that healthy older folks can generate as many new brain cells as younger people.” (p. 67)
  4. By the age of eighty-five and older, about a third of the people have dementia. (p.95) “Two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are women, and we don’t have an understanding yet why this is the case or what causes women to be at a higher risk.” (p. 82)
  5. “Nearly 35 percent of all U.S. adults have what’s called metabolic syndrome, a combination of health conditions you don’t want to have, such as obesity, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, or a poor lipid profile.  Since 2005, researchers have been finding correlations between diabetes and a risk for Alzheimer’s disease, especially when the diabetes is not controlled and a person suffers from high blood sugar.” (p. 58)

The third insight I enjoyed were the metaphors presented to illustrate in practical ways how the brain functions.

For example, the metaphors of understanding the brain as a town or a puzzle are useful illustrations for students:

“I think the brain is like a town.  The important structures such as the houses and shops are in nearly constant use, and they probably represent 10 to 20 percent of our brains. The rest, however, are the roads than connect all these shops and homes.  Without the roads, information could not get to where it needs to go.  So, while the roads are not in constant use, they are necessary.” (p. 82)

“When you recall a memory, it is like assembling a giant jigsaw puzzle from a few small pieces to get it started.  As the pieces come together, link, and define an image, they begin to tell a story, convey a picture, or share knowledge.” (p. 41)

Perhaps the most significant information I learned in Keep Sharp was in Chapter 6, “The Need for Sleep and Relaxation.” 

Sleep controls our hormonal cycles and our circadian rhythm.

“Sleep is essential for consolidating our memories and filing them away for later recall.  Research is showing that brief bursts of brain activity during deep sleep, called sleep spindles, effectively move recent memories, including what we learned that day, from the short-term space of the hippocampus to the “hard drive” of our neocortex.” (p. 137)

Dr. Sanjay Gupta references numerous research studies throughout the book. The University of Rochester study on the glymphatic system provided me with insight into how my brain functions by decluttering information I process during the day and removing dangerous metabolic chemicals preventing inflammation and reducing feelings of depression.  However, regular sleep is the process for the optimal performance of our brains on start-up upon waking up.

Many psychology teachers emphasize the relationship of nutrition to behavior.  This book provides useful information regarding the evidence of research studies in this area. For example, in 2014, the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability reported that diet and exercise contributed to preserving cognition.  A similar conclusion was reached in the United States by the Alzheimer’s Association on reducing the amount of sugar in the blood. (p. 164). “Increasing fruit intake by just one serving a day has the estimated potential to reduce your risk of dying from a cardiovascular event by 8 percent, the equivalent of 60,000 fewer deaths annually in the United States and 1.6 million deaths globally. (p. 167) This is significant because hypertension and diabetes contribute to inflammation and plaque in the brain.  People with high levels of blood sugar, even if they are not diabetic and of normal weight, releases hormones and cytokines that cause cognitive deterioration.

Other areas in Keep Sharp that are related to the high school Psychology and Sociology curriculums are the role that loneliness from the divorce and the death of a spouse have on human behavior and the human body. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that married people are less likely to experience dementia as they age, and divorcees and those who are widowed or never-married are twice as likely to develop dementia! (p. 190) The demographics of this population is roughly 60 million Americans, or 20% of our population. (p. 192). It is the quality of relationships that appears to have an effect on our brains.

Conclusion

It is important to teach brain functions and brain health in high school because it supports behaviors for a longevity and cognition. According to the FDA, 99.6 percent of over 400 drug trials relating to Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia have resulted in failures.  The cost of care, supplements, and medications for dementia and Alzheimer’s are in the billions of dollars each year. By 2030, the millennials will begin turning 45, the Generation-Xers 45, and the baby boomers 85. This is a scenario for a major health crisis.