Teaching Asian American History

Teaching Asian American History

Alan Singer

This article was originally published in History News Network https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183088

Corporal George Bushy holds the youngest child of Shigeho Kitamoto as she and her children are forced to leave Bainbridge Island, Washington. In 1942, the Kitamoto family was sent to an internment camp. (LOC)

The focus of Critical Race Theory has been on the treatment of people of African ancestry as the United States has been pressed to come to terms with its racist past and lingering racism today. It also should include the long history of anti-Asian violence and discrimination in this country. Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May is a time for teachers and students to highlight the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans on the history, culture, and achievements of the United States.

Ex-President Donald Trump exacerbated anti-Asian hostility in this country with specious statements blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic and the calling it the  “Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu” for the COVID-19 pandemic. The Republican Party has tried to divide potential Democratic Party voters by arguing that affirmative action programs and school reforms addressing past discrimination against African Americans and Latinos are anti-Asian.

Recent deadly attacks on Asian Americans, in San Francisco, New York City, and one in Atlanta where six women were murdered, have been committed by very disturbed people who were agitated by a climate that allows anti-Asian stereotypes to go largely unchallenged. An article in the journal Education Week calls on schools to play a larger role in combatting the stereotypes and anti-Asian racism by making Asian immigrants and their experience more prominent in the United States history curriculum. This would be an important corrective.

On the 2020 Federal Census, people who identified as Asian or of Asian ancestry made up approximately 6% of the U.S. population or almost 20 million people. The Asian American population grew by 35.5% between 2010 and 2020. Another 4 million Americans identified as mixed ancestry with a partial Asian heritage. The three largest groups were Chinese, about 5.4 million people, South Asians from India, 4.6 million, and Filipinos, 4.2 million. Chinese are the second largest immigrant group in the country. In 2019, California had the largest Asian American population, about of 6.7 million people followed by New York (1.9 million), Texas (1.6 million), and New Jersey (958,000)

The first large influx of people from Asia into territories that would become the United States occurred during the California gold rush starting in 1849. Chinese contract workers were brought to the United States to take low paying, dangerous jobs in mining and railroad construction. Most were male and planned to return home after earning enough money to buy land and start a family. In 1850, the Chinese population of the United States was only 3,227 people. It increased to 35,000 in 1860, a little over 60,000 in 1870, and just over 100,000 in 1880, when anti-Asian laws blocked new Chinese arrivals. In 1857, Harper’s Weekly reported, “The immigration of Chinese into California has attracted the attention of Congress. It appears that the Chinese immigrants, on settling there, persist in maintaining their allegiance to China; and under these circumstances the Senate voted on a resolution, December 19, making inquiry into the propriety of discouraging such emigration.”

From the 1850s through the 1870s, the California state government systematically discriminated against Chinese. Among other actions, it required special licenses for Chinese owned businesses and Chinese were not permitted to testify in court against a white person. In 1875, Congress passed and President Grant signed the Page Act, the first federal immigration law. It prohibited immigrants considered “undesirable” including any individual from Asia who was coming to the United States as a contract laborer, any Asian woman who would engage in prostitution, and all people considered to be convicts in their own country. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act suspending the immigration of Chinese laborers for a period of 10 years. It was the first law in American history to place broad restrictions on immigration and the first law to ban a specific ethnic group. The law remained in effect until 1943.

Japanese Americans are a small immigrant group that has had a major role in United States history. In 1870, there were only 55 Japanese in the United States, not counting Hawaii which was not yet an American colony. In 1900, there were still only 24,000 Japanese in the continental United States, but Japanese were the largest ethnic group in Hawaii. By 1960, when Hawaii was admitted as a state, there were 464,000 Japanese in the United States. In 2019, under 1.5 million Americans claimed partial or full Japanese ancestry, less than 1/2 of a percent of the US population. The largest Japanese American communities are in California and Hawaii.

In Hawaii, Japanese immigrants labored on sugar and pineapple plantations where they were subject to harsh rules and exploitation by armed European American overseers. On the plantation, Japanese workers had three to five year binding contracts and were jailed if they tried to leave. Those who eventually migrated to the mainland were subject to discriminatory laws and practices. California passed a law in 1913 banning Japanese from purchasing land.

Under the notorious Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 between the United States and Japan, Japanese officials stopped issuing passports for new laborers. Federal legislation in 1924 completely banned any immigration from Japan.

The situation worsened with Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and U.S. involvement in World War II. Dr. Seuss posted racist caricatures of Japanese and Japanese Americans as part of wartime propaganda and Executive Order 9066 which eliminated all civil rights for Japanese immigrants and their families living on the West Coast. An estimated 120,000 people were branded as risks and forced to abandon homes and businesses and relocate to concentration camps, mostly in inhospitable areas of the Rocky Mountains. This action was taken despite the fact that there was not a single case of espionage ever established against Japanese Americans or Japanese immigrants living in the United States. Over two-thirds of those forced into concentration camps were American born citizens. The fenced in camps were located in harsh terrain and patrolled by armed guards. Ironically, Japanese Americans in Hawaii were not imprisoned because they were needed to rebuild areas destroyed by the attacks. Young Japanese American men were permitted to leave the concentration camps if they enlisted in the U.S. military. Japanese American soldiers served in a segregated unit, the 442nd, stationed in Italy and France. It was the most decorated American combat unit during World War II.

In 1944, in Korematsu vs. United States, the Supreme Court ruled by 6-3 that the detention of Japanese Americans was a “military necessity” and not based on race. In a dissent, Justice Robert Jackson called the exclusion order “the legalization of racism” and a violation of the 14th amendment. Fred Korematsu, who challenged the evacuation order and forced internment, was “convicted of an act not commonly thought a crime. It consists merely of being present in the state whereof he is a citizen, near the place where he was born, and where all his life he has lived.” In 1983, a federal judge overturned Korematsu’s conviction and in 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act compensating more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent who were incarcerated in the World War II concentration camps.

Since 1965, the United States has large immigrant populations from Korea, the Philippines, Southeast Asia, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. Each group has its own history in the United States, however all have faced stereotypes and discrimination and been stereotyped. South Asian Americans, often identified as Moslems even when they are not, were targeted after the 9/11/2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York. A case involving an immigrant from India in the 1920s, United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, established that people from the Indian sub-continent could not become naturalized citizens of the United States because they were not a “white person” in the sense intended in the Naturalization Act of 1790.

One of the most important constitutional decisions about citizenship was a Supreme Court ruling in the case of the United States vs. Wong Kim Ark was a Chinese American born in San Francisco, California in 1873. His parents were Chinese immigrants who returned to China about 1890. In 1894, Wong Kim Ark traveled to China to visit them and was not allowed to reenter to the United States because officials at the arrival center claimed he was not a citizen. In 1898, the Supreme Court in a 6-2 decision ruled that he was a citizen of the United States because he was born in this country.

Despite decades of prejudice, Asian Americans have made major contributions to life in the United States. They include Vice-President Kamala Harris whose mother was an immigrant from India, Eric S. Yuan, the CEO of Zoom, Steven Chen, co-founder of YouTube, Nobel Prize winning scientists Chen Ning Yang and T. D. Lee, physicistChien-Shiung Wu who worked on the Manhattan Project developing the atomic bomb,U.S. Senators Daniel Inouye (Dem-HI) and Tammy Duckworth (Dem-Ill), film director Ang Lee, astronaut Kalpana Chawla, architect I. M. Pei, authors Maxine Hong Kingston, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Amy Tan, athletes Tiger Woods, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Michelle Kwan, musician Yo-Yo Ma, and actors Sandra Oh, Lucy Liu, Haing Somnang Ngor, George Takei (Mr. Sulu), and Bruce Lee.

Slavery in New Jersey: Teaching Hard History Through Primary Sources

Slavery in New Jersey: Teaching Hard History Through Primary Sources

by Dana Howell

Photo of the Marlpit Hall Family

For nearly a century, the Monmouth County Historical Association (MCHA) has told the story of the Taylor family at Marlpit Hall, the c. 1760 historic house museum in Middletown, NJ. It is a fascinating story indeed, and speaks to the strife between Patriots and Loyalists in Monmouth County, a hotbed of activity during the Revolutionary War. Until recently, however, a chapter of the house’s history had gone untold. In October of 2021, MCHA unveiled the exhibit 

Beneath the Floorboards: Whispers of the Enslaved at Marlpit Hall to include this forgotten chapter. This award-winning exhibit was the culmination of two years of extensive research done by curators Bernadette Rogoff and Joe Zemla to interpret the home to include the long-silenced voices of the enslaved who lived there.

Primary source documentation and discoveries of material culture were the foundations of the research done to uncover the lives of seven of the twelve known enslaved individuals at Marlpit. Birth, death and census records, wills, runaway ads, inventories, bills of sale, and manumissions (or freedom papers) shed light on the experiences of Tom, York, Ephraim, Clarisse, Hannah, Elizabeth, and William. In 2020, Joe Zemla discovered secret caches of artifacts hidden beneath the floorboards of the kitchen loft living quarters that spoke to their religion and protective rituals, while archaeological digs supervised by Dr. Rich Veit of Monmouth University provided further evidence to piece together what life may have looked like for the enslaved. Throughout the house, mannequins dressed in                        

historically accurate reproduction clothing bring each individual to life, supplemented by their carefully researched biographical panels. The artifacts they left behind are now on display; there is no longer a need for them to be hidden from view.

One of the most prevalent comments made by visitors is that they were unaware that slavery existed in New Jersey. For many years, our educational system had been complacent with the general notion that the northern states were free, while the South had enslaved labor. New Jersey has been referred to as the “most southern of the northern states,” second only to New York in the number of enslaved persons and the very last to legally abolish the institution on January 23rd, 1866.

Comparatively, little has been written about slavery in the North. We can read about
the facts of the matter, but the personal stories in the Floorboards exhibit make an impact that no textbook or blog can. The enslaved are presented without any form of politicization, but rather from an evidence-based and humanized lens. Students are able to connect with them, particularly with Elizabeth and William, who were born in the home and are represented as children – another sad fact of slavery that often goes overlooked. It is a unique opportunity to be able to mentally place these individuals in surroundings which are familiar to the student, albeit long ago. The students learn that we can make educated guesses about what life was like during the time in which the enslaved lived and explore the spaces they inhabited, but we can never truly understand their experiences as enslaved human beings. The only thing we can do is try to imagine it, using historical evidence from primary sources as our guide.

There is a sad deficit in age-appropiate classroom resources to teach slavery, and almost none that cover slavery in the North. This deficit creates roadblocks for public school teachers who are mandated to teach these topics as required by the NJ Department of Education’s 2020 Student Learning Standards, incorporating the 2002 Amistad Law.

 monmouthhistory.org/intermediate-btf

While nothing can compare to the experience of actually visiting Marlpit Hall, the opportunity to do so poses challenges for many school districts. In order to make the fascinating information in the exhibit as accessible as possible to students, MCHA has created two NJ standards-based digital education resources adapted for the elementary and middle/high school levels. Created under the advisorship of respected professionals in the fields of education and African American history, both age-appropriate resources provide background on the system of slavery in New Jersey with a focus on the enslaved at Marlpit Hall. In it, they will be introduced to each individual, along with the primary sources that helped to build their stories. Dr. Wendy Morales, Assistant Superintendent of the Monmouth Ocean Educational Services Commission, notes “The questions and activities included in this resource are standards-aligned and cross-curricular. This means students will not only learn historical facts, but will be challenged to think like historians, analyzing primary sources and making connections between historical eras.” Creative writing, art, music, and civics are all explored.

The section on the origins of slavery in New Jersey stress that the enslaved came here not as slaves, but as individuals who were taken from a homeland that had its own culture and civilization. Two videos, courtesy of slavevoyages.org, make a powerful impact. Students will get to view a timelapse of the paths of over 35,000 slave ship voyages, plotted in an animated graph. This visual representation helps students visually process the magnitude of the forced migration of the enslaved, while a 3-D modeling of an actual slave ship offers a uniquely realistic view of these vessels.

 Time lapse of plotted slave ships         Video featuring 3-D model of slave ship

Both grade level resources come with downloadable worksheets that can be customized to accommodate differentiated learning strategies, and submitted through Google Classroom. Teacher answer keys are provided for guidance as well. MCHA is proud to provide these resources free of charge to aid educators in their responsibility to teach slavery. The resources offer a guided approach to help educators navigate this sensitive and often difficult topic in the classroom. The new mandates are an excellent start to correcting the record on New Jersey’s history of enslavement, but it is truly New Jersey’s educators who will place their personal marks on bringing relevance and reverence to the topic in the classroom.

These resources can be found under the education tab at monmouthhistory.org/education-homepage. MCHA welcomes all questions and comments to dhowell@monmouthhistory.org.

New Jersey Local History: Stephen Smith House and Underground Railroad at Cape May

New Jersey Local History: Stephen Smith House and Underground Railroad at Cape May

Stephen Smith was the original owner and builder of a summerhouse in Cape May, New Jersey.

Although born in the late eighteenth century, Smith was a nineteenth century philanthropist. During his lifetime, he was said to be the wealthiest Black American in the nation. He established the first home in the United States for aged and indigent Colored people. This home is still in existence today.

An energetic businessman, Mr. Smith had a coal mine, stone quarry and lumber yards in Philadelphia and Columbia, Pennsylvania. His business activities led to many real estate holdings. He established Smith, Whipple & Co. with his cousin William Whipper. Stephen Smith was a devoted church and family man; married to Harriet Lee, they lived in a stone mansion on Lombard Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The vacation house was built by him in Cape May, New Jersey using material from his lumber yard. This house is still standing except for the carriage house, kitchen and fireplace room once visible in the rear of the building. Not having children of his own, he welcomed the offspring of his wife’s secretary and friends; namely the Bascoms and Harlans. His secretary Anna Vidal, wife of Ulysses B. Vidal, brought their three children, Etienne, Marie and Anna Clorise to Cape May. Etienne engraved his name in a small glass windowpane with his diamond ring at this house. In later years Marie would point out the pane and recall the prank, for Etienne had long since emigrated to France. Stephen Smith was called “Daddy” Smith by the children and he relished the time consuming carriage ride to Cape May with them. Portraits of Stephen and Harriet were painted by the noted Black artist Edward Stridom and are today the property of the Pennsylvania Historical Society. An avid abolitionist and agent in the Underground Railroad, Mr. Smith was active in politics and church affairs. Records of the AME church attest to his generosity.

Stephen Smith was born October 13, 1795 in Columbia, PA. At the age of nine he was purchased by an officer who was a Revolutionary War general named Thomas Boude. His mother escaped from her owner, found her son, and was taken in by Boudes. Weeks later her mistress (owner) followed and demanded her property. The Boudes’ refused and were supported by the townspeople who believed in aiding a fugitive. Raised by the General Thomas Boude, in time, Stephen purchased his freedom. Before the general died, he set Stephen up in the lumber business. Stephen earned the respect and confidence of the people of Columbia, PA and they supported his endeavors. At age 21, he was inspired by the eminent minister, Richard Allen, founder of the AME church, and at age 31 became licensed to preach. He was a Teller in the election of every Bishop since Richard Allen until his death in 1873. Smith built a public hall in Philadelphia for the use of the “People of Color”; but this was destroyed by fire in the riots of 1842. Stephen Smith was one of the Signers of Frederick Douglas’ Men of Color to Arms appeal during the early part of the Civil War calling on Black Americans to join the Union Army.

New York Survived the 1832 Cholera Epidemic

New York Survived the 1832 Cholera Epidemic

Daniel S. Levy

 (originally published in History News Network)

After sweeping through Asia and killing hundreds of thousands in Europe, cholera neared New York in the spring of 1832. The city had long been afflicted by diseases like yellow fever, smallpox, diphtheria, Scarlet Fever and measles, but this ungodly pandemic would be like none it had ever experienced. New Yorkers tried to prepare as this new sickness spread south from Canada and fanned across the United States, with Thomas Wharton noting in his diary on June 19 how citizens kept busy “cleaning the streets and alleys, strewing the gutters with Chlorine of Lime, and After sweeping through Asia and killing hundreds of thousands in Europe, cholera neared New York in the spring of 1832. The city had long been afflicted by diseases like yellow fever, smallpox, diphtheria, Scarlet Fever and measles, but this ungodly pandemic would be like none it had ever experienced. New Yorkers tried to prepare as this new sickness spread south from Canada and fanned across the United States, with Thomas Wharton noting in his diary on June 19 how citizens kept busy “cleaning the streets and alleys, strewing the gutters with Chlorine of Lime, and the druggists busily occupied in … specifies and prescriptions.” Little, though, could slow its advance, and six days later a Mr. Fitzgerald who lived on Cherry St. became ill. While he recovered, his wife, Mary, and children, Margaret and Jeremiah, soon died. The disease progressed quickly. When Dr. John Stearns jotted down his observations on his visit with John Coldwell on Maiden Lane, he noted how the patient reported that “The attack was sudden & violent—his impression was that ‘he fell as if knocked down with an ax.’”

Churches, offices, warehouse and shops shuttered as 100,000 residents, half the city’s population, fled. Departing carts, carriages and people jammed the streets. Passengers packed ferries, and the Evening Post wrote on July 3 how “Almost every steamboat which left New York yesterday was crowded with a dense mass of fugitives flying in alarm from the imaginary pestilence.” But what they ran away from proved to be far from chimerical. Those who remained cowered at home. James Riker Jr. wrote that his family “scarcely ventured farther than the apothecary’s opposite to obtain drugs, or examine the daily report of deaths by cholera.” Like others, the Rikers didn’t know what to do. Then his grandmother took sick on July 15. “As the day passed on she grew worse notwithstanding the efforts of a number of physicians to check the disease, and died in the night.” Riker’s uncle also perished “that gloomy night,” and the family “packed furniture enough to serve us… closed the house, and left the city in several wagons.”

Many believed cholera sprang from moral faults, drinking, depravity and filthy living. A report by hospital physicians noted how, “The disease fell in a very remarkable degree upon the dissolute and the intemperate.” The New York Mercury blamed places of “infamy,” commenting on a prostitute on Mott St. “who was decking herself before the glass at 1 o’clock yesterday, was carried away in a hearse at half past 3 o’clock.” And yet, pillars of society—doctors, alderman, clergymen and businessmen, along with Magdalen Astor Bristed, the eldest child of John Jacob Astor, the richest man in America—also died. Playwright William Dunlap wrote how “we begin to be reconciled to being killed.”

Ministers preached throughout that only the righteous would be saved, with Episcopal Bishop Benjamin Onderdonk imploring citizens to pray “in a truly devout and Christian frame of mind, with deep repentance for your sins.” While their congregations scattered, many religious figures stayed, with those like Father Félix Varela and the Sisters of Charity caring for the physical and spiritual needs of their flocks.

People had no concept of cholera’s origins or how to treat such a plague. Most did sense the existence of a link between filth and sickness. Yet unbeknownst to the most learned doctors and scientists of the time, a microscopic comma-shaped bacterium called Vibrio cholerae caused the malady. The devastating sickness spreads through water tainted by human waste and brings on nausea, vomiting, leg cramps and diarrhea. The victim’s blood pressure drops, their eyes assume a hollow, sunken look and their skin wrinkles. Subsequent dehydration bestows on the flesh a bluish hue, thus earning cholera the name the “Blue Death.”

Even though they lacked real knowledge of what to do, doctors did their best. The Board of Health set up hospitals, while physicians searched for treatments. Most proved brutal. The evangelist Rev. Charles Grandison Finney recalled how “the means used for my recovery, gave my system a terrible shock.” The most widely attempted remedy was calomel, a chalky mercury-chloride compound, and when doctors saw their patients developing pus on the gums—a sign of mercury poisoning—they believed that their treatment had worked. Physicians also did bloodletting, applied mustard poultices, immersed patients in icy water, administered powdered camphor and had patients inhale nitrous oxide and drink brandy.

Homemade cures circulated around town. The Evening Post recommended that their readers drink strained gruel, sago or tapioca. Some businesses offered disinfecting solutions, and the chemist Lewis Feuchtwanger sold cholera lamps to purify rooms by spreading “Perfumes, Scents, Essences, Aromatic Vinegar, Chloride of Soda and Lime.” And while physicians and pharmacists tried to save people, E.T. Coke commented on how quacks “flocked into the city from all quarters.”

Unfortunately, little that doctors, citizens or hucksters tried had positive effects. Death came painfully, often in just two days to a week. The minister Henry Dana Ward wrote of a friend named Maynard who “took the cholera bad.” Ward’s wife Abigail was “very attentive to him. And we were able to soothe the last moments of an invaluable life.” Yet “in the morning we buried him cold in the grave.” As painter John Casilear would note, “There is no business doing here if I except those done by Cholera, Doctors, Undertakers, Coffin makers.” Cemeteries became overwhelmed. So many bodies filled the areas that grave diggers found it easier to simply dig large trenches. In untended parts of the city, corpses lay in gutters. By the time the cholera had run its course in late August, the city of more than 200,000 residents saw the death of 3,513.

It would take years before doctors and researchers understood the cause of the disease. In 1854 Dr. John Snow studied the pattern of deaths during a cholera outbreak in London. By mapping out the location of the stricken, he showed that the disease originated from a specific polluted street water pump. When officials closed the source, cases dropped. At the same time, the Italian microbiologist Filippo Pacini first identified the cholera bacterium, and in 1885 the Spanish physician Jaime Ferrán created the first vaccine. Yet despite newer and more effective vaccines, the sickness still takes the lives of some 120,000 people around the world each year.

While cholera continued to visit New York into the late 19th century—in 1849 it killed 5,071 citizens—New York always recovered. On August 25, 1832 merchant John Pintard wrote of his relief that the disease had finally quit the city. “The stores are all open, foot walks lined with bales & Boxes & streets crowded with carts & porters cars… Now all life & bustle, smiling faces, clerks busy in making out Bills, porters in unpacking & repacking Boxes, joy & animation in every countenance.”

Soldiers of Peace in Wartime: A Lesson from World War I

Soldiers of Peace in Wartime: A Lesson from World War I

Charles F. Howlett

American Friends Service Committee Bulletin Detailing the First Year of War Relief Service, 1917-1918. Available online.

Humanitarian relief efforts in time of war have their own important message to tell. While so much attention is devoted to soldiers in combat, campaigns, and military victories, students of history are entitled to know more about the other side of the story: heroes who risked their own lives within earshot of cannons to save and assist innocent victims of the horrors of war. It is the other side of history most know little about, but should. Even in the throes of war’s damnation there are humans out there willing to demonstrate why peace should be valued above all else.

Human civilization’s first total war began in 1914 and ended in 1918, barely one hundred and four years ago. That war traversed the globe, ravaged the European landscape, tumbled dynastic empires, and brought death and destruction to millions of people. Some 8.5 million combatants were killed alone, and nearly twice as many casualties. The civilian death toll was even more staggering as disease and starvation, let alone the bombing of cities, sucked the lifeblood from those caught in the crossfire of opposing armies. At that time no one could even imagine such an outcome. But while the war was raging on in the fields and valleys of northern Europe, the Middle East, and on the high seas, the Religious Society of Friends in America (or Quakers as they are more popularly referred to) teamed up with the Red Cross to provide aid and comfort to those directly impacted by the war. American Friends decided to take a more active role by performing noncombatant service in the theater of war. They truly risked their lives in the name of peace.

The establishment of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) was inspired by a similar organization in Great Britain, the British Friends Service Committee. The British committee was already performing relief work since the war in Europe had been raging almost three years prior to U.S. military involvement. What is most impressive about the American Friends overseas adventure is how quickly they mobilized their efforts and logistically carried out in impressive fashion their own relief efforts. 

During the war the Committee sent many young men and women to feed and care for refugees, build maternity hospitals, and repair and even rebuild destroyed homes. Reconstruction and medical care highlighted a major part of the Committee’s relief efforts. As religious pacifists many draft-eligible Quaker men refused induction into the military, but were willing to perform alternative civilian service, including dangerous humanitarian work in war zones. Similarly, Quaker women volunteers, although not subject to conscription (draft), willingly enlisted in overseas relief and reconstruction work. In France, in particular, these noncombatant volunteers drove ambulances, rebuilt damaged homes, roadways, and villages; they also were instrumental in assisting refugees fleeing from war zones as well as providing funds to staff and supply maternity hospitals and relief stations.

AFSC Volunteers in France, 1917, AFSC Archives, Philadelphia

All told, close to six hundred, mostly male, volunteers worked endlessly in France where most of the fighting took place within the shadow of aerial bombing and roaring cannons. Even when the war ended the Committee extended its work in Russia where relief workers helped fight famine and disease; in Serbia and Poland where they assisted in agricultural development and constructed orphanages; and, finally, into Austria and Germany where they fed hungry children.

In the spirit of Florence Nightengale, the subject of many biographies for her courage and training of nurses during the Crimean War in the nineteenth century, these relief workers in World War I became notable crusaders for humanitarianism. They worked in combat zones with courage, conviction, and compassion. As soldiers of peace their equipment was first aid kits, shovels, buckets, hammers, and nails.

At the same time, the actions of AFSC highlight as very important distinction between an antiwar movement and a peace movement—a distinction students and scholars should understand. An antiwar movement is a short-lived crusade aimed specifically at ending military hostilities and lasts only as long as the conflict endures. A peace movement, however, is continuous and extends well beyond simply ending the conflict—it seeks social justice and reform as well as calling for war to be abolished. That is why it is ever present and has existed in the United States as an organized endeavor since the early nineteenth century—in fact the first established peace society in  world history was founded in New York City in 1815 by the merchant, David Low Dodge. Indeed, AFSC, is an excellent example of what a peace movement is because its work continued long after the “guns of August” were silenced at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month of 1918.   

The following excerpts from the letters and accounts written by Friends can be used by teachers for Document Based Questions explaining the other side of war. They help demonstrate how humanitarian relief work plays a vital role in restoring the lives and stability of those directly impacted by the horrors and costs of war.

Document 1: Letters from Katherine W. Elkington to Parents (August-September 1917)

[Katherine W. Elkington grew up in Germantown, Pennsylvania. She worked at the hospital at Chalons-sur-Marne, in the Champagne-Ardenne region and wrote these letters from the Mission de la Société des Amis in Chalons-sur-Marne]

August 10, 1917: American nerve should count for something, and as I am the only one in all the town as far as I can make out, and there are 40,000 people here—I will have some responsibility. There are about thirteen workers all together here, counting those in the Maternity Ward, those in the creche, and those with older children. Just at present my work lies with the babies whose mothers are here, or who are refugees or something of that stripe. The oldest is three and the youngest a few months, and so as there are about thirty in between, you can see we have some job to keep all fed and clean….Not far away is a factory that tourns out machine guns, and every hour you can hear the pop, pop, pop of the new ones being tested. Besides this there is the never ending trial of soldiers and camions [trucks] going to the front, so one feels quite in the atmosphere of la guerre.     

August 17, 1917: This morning…for just as we were feeding the kids their dinner we heard the anti-air guns in the field next to us go pop, pop, pop, and as this is the signal to rush the children under cover we were all on the run. As soon as they were safe we flew out…and there way up above the clouds was our “Boche” foiled of his prey, and turned homeward by the quick work of the gunners. The smoke from the bursting shells hung in the air like little white puff-balls, perfectly still, five in a row. This, I am assured, is only a teaser and nothing to what they have had.

August 27, 1917: You can’t imagine the ruin, which after three years is still almost untouched. The little church has been patched up and we struck the 1st Mass held there since the catastrophe in 1914. We took several pictures of the wreck, and one of an old woman standing in the door of a new little shanty that has been raised over the cellar of the old home….{W]e stopped to photo one of the numerous wayside crosses that mark the last resting place of some fleeing Germans, and found near it a hastily dug grave apparently abandoned before their man could be interred. It is a gruesome reminder of the shadow that lies over these bright and sunny fields, and one cannot help but feel suddenly shivery as one turns away.

September 20, 1917: For the past few nights there has been a never ending grumble of cannon just out of sight over the hills, and all night long from the windows. I could see the flashes of light that preceded the boom. Also the star bombs were much in evidence, shooting up to consort with their brothers in the sky….

Boom! There the guns are beginning again—big fellows this time whose reverberations shake these walls fifteen miles away….

Source: American Friends Service Committee Records, Box General Administration 1917: Foreign Country—France, American Friends Service Committee Archives, Philadelphia.

Questions:

  1. How does Elkington contrast her work in the maternity ward with a nearby factory making guns for the war?
  2. What does she mean by feeling “quite in the atmosphere of las guerre”?
  3.  What do you think her feelings were when coming upon a makeshift grave of German soldiers?
  4. How many miles away were the big guns, which rattled her windows?
  5. Do you think she was proud of the work she was doing and did she feel that her contributions would further the cause of peace?
  6. Who did she refer to as “Boche” and what new weapon of war was first introduced during this conflict?

Document 2: Joseph H. Haines, Letter to his Father (April 6, 1918)

[Joseph Haines, like Elkington was a member of the Germantown Monthly Meeting (Quaker Meeting House) and a graduate of Haverford College in 1898. He served in a Reconstruction Unit at Gruny (Somme), France, where he built and repaired houses and schools and assisted local citizens]

When night came we were naturally tired; so tired that I can hardly remember who was there or what we did. All this time others were securing the country side with automobiles to evacuate threatened villages, and they were often under shell fire. We had to load the trains with old people women and children, decrepit, sick or dying….

I could not think of the loss of our material work that has come but only of the tremendous gain we have made in friendship and goodwill among a people to whom we cannot even yet speak plainly. There is one thought ingrained in every one of us, and that is that we must go back to help them set their homes in order and begin life anew as soon as we can. If the people back of us in America give us half a chance, we can, when we do so, accomplish, I think twice the good that we have in the past….

We found the town we were to help clear up entirely deserted—I mean this literally. There were perhaps half a dozen civilians left and the Red Cross was in possession of the Hotel which they were running for themselves. I set to the next morning—after the town had been shelled and we had all taken refuge in the wine cellar down fifty steps and cut out of solid rock where most of the hotel (it was full of Red Cross workers) slept. But I went back to bed after having helped fit up a camion as ambulance to carry the dead and wounded from the shelling….

Source: American Friends Service Committee Records, Box General Administration 1918: Foreign Service Country—France Individuals: Joseph Haines to L. Ralston, American Friends Service Committee Archives, Philadelphia.

Questions:

  1. How did Haines demonstrate his courage under fire? As a noncombatant did he see himself as a brave soldier without arms?
  2. Did he believe that his example would inspire Americans critical of those who were conscientious objectors to reconsider their opinion?
  3. Why did he want the people back in America to give him half a chance when it came to accomplishing good over evil?
  4. What was the one thought ingrained in each and every one of these volunteers?

Document 3: Edward C.M. Richards, “Reminiscences of Wartime Relief Work in Persia [n.d.]

[During World War I Richards performed missionary and relief work in Persia (now Iran). In 1923, he published a longer account of his experiences; this excerpt is from his unpublished reflections]

At that time, April 1917, many sincere men believed that the most Christian thing to do was to give their lives in the front trenches, believing that in that way they were helping to do away with the evil of war. To hold my position honestly, and meet such men face to face, it was necessary for me to be willing to do something at least as disagreeable and dangerous, and to do it with the motive of keeping people alive, of bringing reconciliation and good will between hostile factions, and to do it using only methods which were uplifting and helpful and beneficial to everybody concerned. I had to be willing to get killed, but to do so living everybody and trying to help everybody, including the Germans and the Turks, and all other people….

At that time, 1917, there was in West Persia a combination of war, racial antipathies and religious fanaticism which had come down through hundreds of years. That area had been the fighting ground of the Turkish and Russian armies since the beginning of the war. Massacres and flights of people had taken place, and were liable to occur at any time….There were only a few hospitals run by American missionary doctors, and most of the worst diseases were continually present: smallpox, cholera, typhoid, typhus, malaria, etc…

In July I arrived in Urumia (now Rezaiah) West Persia, where I was made secretary of the Relief Committee. During the summer , autumn, and early winter, I was busy riding from village to village over the plains, visiting, classifying, and arranging for feeding, clothing, and general care of the 500 odd orphans scattered through this stricken area. I organized some of the refugee Assyrians into a cloth-industry, giving several hundred women work weaving the native cloth which for countless generations had been an important material for men’s clothing in the high mountains of Kurdistan….

Later on, I took charge of cleaning up the streets of the city of Urumia. This included one very unpleasant task; namely, the collecting and reburying of bodies dug up by the dogs in the graveyards, and partly eaten. The cleaning-up and keeping clean…of the yards filled with refugees also fell on my shoulders, as did the care of the relief-transportation equipment of autos, horses, carts, harness, and the rest….

Source: American Friends Service Committee, Collected Records, CDG-A, Box 1, Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Swarthmore, PA.

Questions:

  1. What position did Richards take that he believed was honest and “unpleasant”?
  2. Why were the Turks fighting the Russians when most of the battles took place in northern Europe?
  3. What do you think was Richards’ most difficult assignment?
  4. In terms of history, did Richards’ work also highlight the tragedy associated with the Armenian genocide that occurred as a result of World War I?

Document 4: Ruth Rose Hoffman, “Report to the Friends Committee of the Year’s Work Done in Siberia under the American Red Cross {July 1919]

[During the Russian Civil War Siberia was a battle zone between Bolshevik and anti-Red forces. The United States, Japan, and several European nations sent troops to support the anti-Bolshevik forces. Hoffman , a nurse working with the American Red Cross, apparently with Friends Committee support, reported on her work in public health and with refugees in the Siberian port city of Vladivostok]

As there were no available doctors in the unit at that time for giving medical assistance, I began to visit these barracks, August 15, 1918; I had done as much as I could in the way of making the lives of these refugees healthier, mostly first aid treatment and taking the very sick into the hospitals….

My work was very difficult but most interesting….All the temporary lodging houses and prisons had to be investigated periodically. We had the most sick cases in the poorest Russian, Chinese and Korean sections of the city….

From January 1st up to July 26 I had located and admitted to the hospital five hundred (500) patient of whom two hundred and seventy-six (276) were Typhus fever cases. Nine hundred and seventy-five visits were made, mostly with the ambulance; six hundred (600) were instructed in the prevention and isolation of disease; four hundred and sixty-seven (467) patients were sent to clinics; clothing given to one hundred and fifty-five (155) bedridden patients, the other being referred to the city office. Medications, eggs and milk were taken to the home of one hundred and seventy-six (176). I also visited many city institutions, which asked for help and made recommendations as to what they really needed.

AFSC Volunteers in France, 1917, AFSC Archives, Philadelphia

As I did not have a physician in my work I had to diagnose and treat some quite serious patients.

In the Spring epidemic of measles, I had a small isolation war of eight (8) beds with a Russian girl in charge of it, whom I trained for the work. We had about thirty (30) cases of measles. The Russian girl proved to be very good along this line and she obtained work after the clinic was closed in the American Red Cross Hospital. Right along in my work I tried to teach child Hygiene to the Russian mothers, who listened to me eagerly but in their everyday struggle for existence they could not remember it very long….

Source: American Friends Service Committee Records, Box General Administration 1919: Foreign Service Country—Germany to Russia, American Friends Service Committee Archives, Philadelphia]

Questions:

  1. How did Hoffman feel about her work in Russia?
  2. How difficult was it for her to communicate with so many patients speaking different languages?
  3. Did she mind assuming the role of physician under most difficult circumstance and why was she willing to do so?
  4. Why did she feel so compelled to try to teach Russian mothers the importance of child hygiene?
  5. What happened to cause Russia to leave the war and how did this impact the Allied war effort against the Central Powers.

Document 5: Carlton McDowell, Motives of Humanitarian Service (1918)

[McDowell, a Quaker zoologist and relief worker explains his reasons why he and his companions sought to promote understanding, reconciliation, and peace through humanitarian service]       

We went to mend houses; but the reason we wanted to mend houses was that it would give us a chance to try to mend hearts. Much of our work on houses has been lost; but I do not believe that any amount of cannonading will break down whatever influence we had on these people’s hearts. We cannot say how much cheerfulness, hope and love we brought them—surely some reached them. I believe it possible that even now, when their troubles are keener than ever, their experience with us boys may somehow be giving them a little mental comfort. However that may be, the whole perplexing question of our coming will remain in the back of their minds. From time to time it will claim attention until finally a light dawns, until they finally realize why we came—why we crossed the ocean voluntarily, why we worked without pay, why in order to do this we were willing to leave our homes and our professionals and take up jobs we never tried before. And when this answer comes to them it will never be forgotten; in the intimate traditions of these families will be handed down the account of the little group of men who worked for strangers because of their belief in the Great Brotherhood.

Source: Rufus Jones, A Service of Love in War Time: American Friends Relief Work in Europe, 1917-1919. New York: Macmillan Co., 1920, p. 226

Questions

  1. What did McDowell consider the greater good to civilization? 
  2.  What did he hope his service without pay would eventually accomplish?
  3. What did he mean by the Great Brotherhood?
  4. What legacy did McDowell wish to convey to those who question his true motivations?

Essay Question

Based on your knowledge of history and events surrounding World War I, what lessons can be learned from the role that noncombatant humanitarian relief workers played when assessing the consequences of war on innocent civilians? How important is humanitarian relief efforts in times of war? Cite specific examples from the documents above where heroes of peace risked their lives to help others.

Further Reading

Bennett, S.H. and Howlett, C.F.(2014). Antiwar dissent and peace activism in World War 1 America: A documentary reader. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014.

Chatfield, C. For peace and justice: Pacifism in America, 1914-1941. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1971.

Hirst, M. E. (1923). The Quakers in peace and war. London: The Swarthmore Press.

Jones, M. H. (1937). Swords into ploughshares: An account of the American Friends Service Committee, 1917-1937. New York: Macmillan & Co.

 Jones, R.(1920).  A service of love in war time: American Friends relief work in Europe, 1917-1919. New York: Macmillan Co.

New York State’s Birthday and First Constitution

New York State’s Birthday and First Constitution

Bruce W. Dearstyne

Social studies and history teachers routinely cover the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution in their courses. But every state also has a “birthday” (the day it got started as a state) and its own state constitution. The origins of states and their first constitutions can be very useful teaching tools, adding a new dimension to students’ historical insight and understanding.

New York State is an outstanding example. April 20 is New York’s Birthday! That was the date in 1777 when the Convention of Representatives of the State of New York, an ad hoc group elected the previous year to guide New York’s Revolutionary War efforts and develop its first constitution, finished work on that document.

The story of New York’s first state constitution is a dramatic one. New York had moved from steadfast loyalty to Britain to reluctant rebelling colony to a full-scale push for independence through the actions of three Provincial Congresses, the first elected in 1775, to guide New York in the growing alienation from Britain. The “Convention of Representatives” had been elected the year before as New York’s fourth Provincial Congress. Meeting initially in White Plains, they authorized New York’s representatives to the Continental Congress to approve the Declaration of Independence in early July, then, to keep out of reach of British forces, fled north to Fishkill and finally to Kingston where they completed their work. Along the way, they changed their name from Provincial Congress to Convention of Representatives of the State of New York. 

When they began their work it wasn’t entirely clear just what a “state” was. People knew about colonies/provinces (New York had been one), and nations or nation-states as they were sometimes called (such as Britain). There were few precedents of models to draw on. Other colonies-becoming-states were writing their own first constitutions. The Articles of Confederation, which would link the new states together, was not completed until November 1777. The U.S. Constitution was a decade in the future. The creative New York drafters drew on their own experience in colonial government, their knowledge of European writers on the concepts of natural rights and representative government, and  a few American leading-edge advocates such as Massachusetts’ John Adams. But mostly they drew on their own creativity and improvisation.

The delegates worked in haste and approved the final draft of their document, which still had strikeouts and marginal notes when they signed it. There was no time to make a clean copy before sending the document to the printer. They took a day off but the next day, April 22, the convention’s secretary mounted a flour barrel outside the court house where the group had worked and read it aloud to Kingston citizens.

New York State had in effect proclaimed itself into existence.

The document began by quoting the Declaration of Independence. This connected New York with the other colonies asserting their independence. It stated that the convention acting “in the name and by the authority of the good people of this State doth ordain, determine, and declare that no authority shall on any pretense whatever shall be exercised over the people or members of this State, but such as shall be derived from and granted by them.” In 1777, a document purporting to represent the consensus and will of the people, and their right to govern themselves,  was a startling, radical departure from the past.

The original copy of the first constitution is preserved in the State Archives.   The Archives has provided a scanned version at https://digitalcollections.archives.nysed.gov/index.php/Detail/objects/10485.You can read it online in typed form at the Yale Law School Avalon Project. William A. Polf’s 1777:  The Political Revolution and New York’s First Constitution, also available online, provides a good introduction. It is also described in Peter Galie, Ordered Liberty: A Constitutional History of New York and in my book, The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State’s History.

The 1777 constitution is just over 5000 words in length, It outlined the structure and purposes of state government but did not provide much detail.

It created a two-house legislature — one house, the Assembly, to be more numerous and more broadly representative of the people, and the other, the Senate, to be smaller and more attuned to the interests and property. That basic structure is still in place today.

It declared that “the supreme executive power and authority of this State shall be vested in a governor” who “shall take care that the laws are faithfully executed.” That wording is similar to what exists in the current State Constitution. But the 1777 writers had had enough experience with the King of England and some colonial governors who had over-asserted their power that they hedged the authority of New York State’s governor. Instead of giving the governor veto power over bills passed by the legislature, they created a “Council of Revision” consisting of the governor, chancellor, and judges of the supreme court with veto power. Rather than giving the governor sole appointment power, they vested that in a “Council of Appointment,” consisting of the governor and four senators chosen annually by the Assembly,  to approve all appointments.

The document made only a brief reference the courts; fleshing that out later would require legislative action. Voting rights were restricted to men who met certain property-holding or other requirements.

The Constitution was not very long but it was a sound beginning. Hastily-organized elections were held in the spring and summer. The first legislature assembled in Kingston in September and got to work. The newly-elected governor, General George Clinton, had to await a lull in the fighting to come to Kingston, take the oath office, make  the first gubernatorial address, and then hurry back to lead troops again.

The fledgling government did not have tranquility for long. It had to flee as British troops arrived and assaulted and burned Kingston on October 16. The legislature soon re-assembled in Poughkeepsie and resumed work. By then, patriot forces had defeated British incursions from the west (at Oriskany, August 6), the east (at Bennington, on August 16) and the north (at Saratoga, October 17, a major victory that became the turning point of the Revolution).

1777 turned out to be something of a “miracle year.” New York State was here to stay. The new constitution endured without major changes until 1821.

There are many ways of approaching the use of the first State Constitution in social studies and history courses. Some possibilities:

*It is an inspiring, against-the-odds story. It is a story of people determined to control their own collective affairs through representative government.  At the beginning of 1777, the odds of New York’s success did not seem great. By the end of the year, New had written a constitution, established a government, held elections, fended off invasions from three directions, and survived invasion and destruction of its capital.

*It represented compromise and consensus. The writers had a number of disagreements and varying viewpoints and perspectives going into the process. But along the way they put aside their differences, compromised, and came together to develop a consensus document. That process is worthy of study now, when too often it seems difficult to reach agreement on divisive political issues.

*It was successful, flexible, and enduring. The first constitution proved to be a viable framework for years when New York grew remarkably fast. Even when the first major revisions came in 1821, the structural changes were relatively modest. The revisions abolished the Council of Revision and the Council of Appointment and replaced them with procedures more similar to what we have today.

*It left important work undone. The convention discussed abolishing the horrible practice of slavery but in the end it did not. That had to await legislation in 1799 and slavery was not formally abolished until 1827. Restrictions on men’s voting rights were gradually abolished in ensuing decades. Women finally got the right to vote in 1917. The constitution had no bill of rights other than protection of freedom of religion. The legislature enacted a bill of rights in 1787 and they were embodied in the 1821 constitutional revision. Since then, the constitution has been revised, updated, changed, and amended many times. That is a reminder that constitutions are subject to update and change over time, with voters’ approval.

*It was influential. The New York constitution includes some of the principles that were embodied in the U.S. Constitution a decade later, 1787. New York led the way in a sense. That is not surprising because New York patriot Gouverneur Morris was one of the principal writers of the New York document and a decade later, then a delegate to the Constitutional Convention from Pennsylvania, he was also one of the writers of the U.S. Constitution.

*It is a source for teaching about self-government, constitutional law, and civic responsibilities. The constitution could be a source for deepening students’ understanding of self-government and their roles and  responsibilities as citizens. Educating for American Democracy , a recent report on civics education, notes that students need more study of “the social, political, and institutional history of the United States in its founding era, as well as the theoretical underpinnings of our constitutional design. The state constitutions and the federal 1787 Constitution, as amended, form diverse peoples and places into an American people: one overarching political community.”

Boosting Reading Skills Through Social Studies at the Elementary Level

Boosting Reading Skills through Social Studies at the Elementary Level

Karissa Neely

Want to improve students’ reading scores? Incorporate more social studies into their instruction.

“The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study shows that social studies is the only subject with a clear, positive, and statistically significant effect on reading improvement. In contrast, extra time spent on English Language Arts (ELA) instruction has no significant relationship with reading improvement,” Adam Tyner and Sarah Kabourek explain in their 2021 Social Education journal article, “How Social Studies Improves Elementary Literacy.”

According to the study, social studies has the power to boost literacy and student language acquisition. Because of its focus on people and the world around us, social studies gives students context for their ELA learning. As students use background knowledge to decipher informational text, they build real-world vocabulary and gain stronger reading comprehension skills.

In many elementary schools, where teachers have very limited social studies instruction time, they can use informational text from social studies during their language arts block.

“Integration of ELA strategies into social studies gives students an opportunity to use and refine ELA skills while using relevant content,” says Kelly Jeffery, ELA curriculum director at Studies Weekly.

Beyond reading, social studies instruction can also be more deeply blended with ELA, and support reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. Here are four tips for further integrating social studies and ELA:

1. Use Interactive Notebooks

“[I]nteractive notebooks are simple spiral-bound notebooks into which students glue or tape my handouts,” says Christina Gil in a 2016 article for Edutopia. “It’s just a simple, functional way for students to create, write, and explore ideas all in the same place.”

Jeffery adds that interactive notebooks are a way for both the teacher to see what students are learning and thinking. Students use them to take notes, explore ideas, ask questions, reflect and respond. They then become a sourcebook for students as they review for assessments.

“They pair very well with Studies Weekly because it is a perfect way to consume our publications,” Jeffery explains.

2. Create a Presentation

Students need different types of opportunities to share their understanding and presentations are perfect for this.

Brochures, posters, Google Slides, Nearpods, etc. are all interactive avenues for students to work individually or collaborate together to demonstrate knowledge. Similarly, students can create video journals to storyboard events and their responses. The goal is not a perfect analysis of the event or the historical figure they are studying, but a reflection on it.

Additionally, students can create readers’ theaters or short plays based on historic events, and perform them for the class. Others might opt to write a poem about a historic figure or create a children’s book explaining about an even


Three examples of easy ways students can show learning (from top left): file folders used to summarize information, popsicle puppets to share information from a historical figure’s point of view, and trioramas used for summarizing, fact/opinion, analyzing a primary source, or as a mini-report.

3. Create a Supported Response

Using informational texts, students can create a reasoned persuasive argument sharing their opinion on an event or person.

One form of supported response is a small paragraph following the TEES Template as explained by Jeannette Balantic and Erica Fregosi in their 2012 article, “Strengthening Student Thinking and Writing about World History,” for Social Studies and the Young Learner.

The TEES Template helps students strengthen their thinking, reasoning, and responses to open-ended assessments. With this exercise students go beyond learning historical facts — instead they use these facts to form arguments and support.

4. Hold Collaborative Groups

After reading an article, students may analyze the information and reflect on it within their interactive notebook.

With their notebooks and/or articles in front of them, teachers can guide students in opening up a dialogue about what they read with a small group or the entire class. Students should consider all voices and sides to an issue or event, and use additional sources, if needed, to deepen their understanding.

As they share their opinions and factual evidence, students should also be instructed to actively listen to the other side. The goal of this exercise is not to win but to try to find a compromise between both positions.

These four tips are only just few options to help teachers blend social studies and ELA in the elementary classroom. Even more, in addition to integrating with ELA, social studies is also the gateway to deeper learning in all subjects. For example, as students learn geography, they learn spatial math concepts. Or as they learn about historical developments in technology, they develop background knowledge for science. Even within the study of social studies, students learn how to make connections between a specific topic and its effect on people, events, and society. They begin to understand how geography affects a region’s economics, history affects governments, and governments affect society.

Teaching social studies with an integrated learning approach strengthens students’ ability to reason and think critically, gain a deeper understanding of the content, and transfer information to solve new problems. This knowledge can prepare them for the future as they become the world’s government, business, and family leaders.

References:

Balantic, J., & Fregosi, E. (2012, November). Strengthening student thinking and writing about world history. Social Studies and the Young Learner, National Council for the Social Studies. Retrieved May 27, 2022, from https://www.socialstudies.org/social-studies-and-young-learner/25/2/strengthening-student-thinking-and-writing-about-world

Gil, C. (2016, August 30). Interactive notebooks: No special hardware required. Edutopia. Retrieved May 27, 2022, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/interactive-notebooks-no-special-hardware-christina-lovdal-gil

Tyner, A., & Kabourek, S. (2021, January). How social studies improves elementary literacy. Social Education, National Council for the Social Studies. Retrieved May 27, 2022, from https://www.socialstudies.org/social-education/85/1/how-social-studies-improves-elementary-literacy

Teaching Controversial Issues: Teachers’ Freedom of Speech in the Classroom

Teaching Controversial Issues: Teachers’ Freedom of Speech in the Classroom

by Arlene Gardner

Executive Director, New Jersey Center for Civic Education

What is the purpose of education? The conventional answer is the acquisition of knowledge. Looking beyond this facile response, most people will agree that the true purpose of education is to produce citizens. One of the primary reasons our nation’s founders envisioned a vast public education system was to prepare youth to be active participants in our system of self-government.  John Dewey makes a strong case for the importance of education not only as a place to gain content knowledge, but also as a place to learn how to live. In his eyes, the purpose of education should not revolve around the acquisition of a pre-determined set of skills, but rather the realization of one’s full potential and the ability to use those skills for the greater good.

Democratic self-government requires constant discussions and decisions about controversial issues. There is an intrinsic and crucial connection between the discussion of controversial political issues and the health of democracy. If we want our students to become informed, engaged citizens, we need to teach them how to “do” democracy by practicing the skills of discussing controversial issues in the classroom and learning how to respectfully disagree.

Research has demonstrated that controversy during classroom discussion also promotes cognitive gains in complex reasoning, integrated thinking, and decision-making. Controversy can be a useful, powerful, and memorable tool to promote learning. In addition to its value in promoting skills for democracy, discussing current controversial public issues:

  • Is authentic and relevant
  • Enhances students’ sense of political efficacy
  • Improves critical thinking skills
  • Increases students’ comfort with conflict that exists in the world outside of the classroom
  • Develops political tolerance
  • Motivates students
  • Results in students gaining greater content knowledge.

(Diana Hess, Controversy in the Classroom: The Democratic Power of Discussion (2009); Nel Noddings and Laurie Brooks, Teaching Controversial Issues: The Case for Critical Thinking and Moral Commitment in the Classroom (2017); “Guardian of Democracy: The Civic Mission of Schools” (2011); Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan at https://crlt.umich.edu/tstrategies/tsd).

Yet, teachers may consciously (or unconsciously) avoid controversial issues in the classroom because of the difficulty involved in managing heated discussions and/or for fear that parents will complain or that the school administration will admonish or punish them for “being controversial.” These concerns are certainly not groundless. How well are teachers protected from negative repercussions if they address controversial issues in their classrooms? How extensive are teachers’ First Amendment rights to free speech? How can heated disagreements among students be contained in the classroom?

Two different legal issues exist regarding free speech rights of teachers: The First Amendment directly protects a teacher’s personal right to speak about public issues outside of the classroom and “Academic Freedom” protects a teacher’s right and responsibility to teach controversial issues in the classroom.  However, both have certain limitations.

First Amendment Protection of Public Speech by Teachers

Although the First Amendment free speech protection is written in absolute terms (“Congress shall make no law…”), the courts have carved out several exceptions (for national security, libel and slander, pornography, imminent threats, etc.).  The courts have also carved out a limited “government employee” exception based on the rationale that a government employee is paid a salary to work and contribute to an agency’s effective operation and, therefore, the government employer must have the power to prevent or restrain the employee from doing or saying things that detract from the agency’s effective operation.  Thus, the government has been given greater latitude to engage in actions that impose restrictions on a person’s right to speak when the person is a governmental employee, which includes teachers who work in public schools.

Some of the earliest threats to the free speech rights of public school teachers were the loyalty oaths that many states imposed on government employees during the ‘‘red scare’’ and early ‘‘cold war’’ years of American history. In Adler v. Board of Education (1952), the Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision rejected First Amendment claims and upheld a New York statute designed to enforce existing civil service regulations to prevent members of subversive groups, particularly of the Communist Party, from teaching in public schools. The Supreme Court effectively overturned this ruling in the 1960s and declared several loyalty oath schemes to be unconstitutional because they had chilling effects on individuals which violated their First Amendment rights (Baggett v. Bullitt (1964); Cramp v. Board of Public Instruction (1961); and Keyishian v. Board of Education (1967)).

Much of the reasoning regarding the “government employee” exception to the First Amendment outlined in Adler was abandoned altogether in the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Pickering v. Board of Education. Teacher Marvin Pickering had written a letter complaining about a recently defeated school budget proposal to increase school taxes. The school board felt that the letter was “detrimental to the efficient operation and administration of the schools” and decided to terminate Pickering, who sued claiming his letter was protected speech under the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court held that Pickering’s dismissal violated his First Amendment right to free speech because public employees are entitled to the same measure of constitutional protection as enjoyed by their civilian counterparts when speaking as “citizens” and not as “employees.”

In Mt. Healthy City School District v. Doyle (1977), non-tenured teacher Fred Doyle conveyed the substance of an internal memorandum regarding a proposed staff dress code to a local radio station, which released it. When the board of education refused to rehire him, Doyle claimed that his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights had been violated. The court developed a “balancing test” that required the teacher to demonstrate that the speech act was a ‘‘substantial’’ or ‘‘motivating factor’’ in the administration’s decision and gave the school board the opportunity to demonstrate, based on the preponderance of the evidence, that the teacher’s speech act was not the ‘‘but for’’ cause of the negative consequences imposed on the teacher by the school board. Finally, the court would “balance” the free speech interests of the teacher and the administrative interests of the school district to determine which carried more weight.  Based on this test, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the teacher’s call to the radio station was protected by the First Amendment, that the call played a substantial part in the board’s decision not to rehire Doyle, and that this action was a violation of Doyle’s rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

In a 5/4 decision in Connick v. Meyers (1983), the U.S. Supreme Court held that speech by public employees is generally only protected when they are addressing matters of public concern, not personal issues. Sheila Meyers was an Assistant District Attorney who had been transferred.  She strongly opposed her transfer and prepared a questionnaire asking for her co-workers views on the transfer policy, office morale and confidence in supervisors.  She was terminated for insubordination. Meyers alleged her termination violated her First Amendment right to free speech. The district court agreed and the Fifth Circuit affirmed. However, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed because Meyer’s speech only dealt with personal not public issues.  “When a public employee speaks not as a citizen upon matters of public concern, but instead as an employee upon matters only of personal interest, absent the most unusual circumstances, a federal court is not the appropriate forum in which to review the wisdom of a personnel decision taken by a public agency allegedly in reaction to the employee’s behavior.” Although the case involved an Assistant District Attorney, it is applicable to all public employees: teachers must demonstrate that their speech is of public concern.

This was confirmed in Kirkland v. Northside Independent School District (1989) where the school district did not rehire non-tenured teacher Timothy Kirkland because of poor performance and substandard teaching evaluations. Kirkland filed a lawsuit in federal district court against Northside, claiming that he was not rehired in violation of his First Amendment rights after he gave his students a reading list that was different from Northside’s list. Northside argued that Kirkland had no right to substitute his list without permission or consent and he had failed to obtain either. The district court ruled in favor of Kirkland and Northside appealed. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and dismissed Kirkland’s complaint, holding that Kirkland’s “speech” did not infringe on any matter of public concern and was in fact “private speech.” If the nature of the speech is purely private, such as a dispute over one employee’s job performance, judicial inquiry then comes to an end, and the question of whether the employee’s speech was a substantial or motivating factor in the decision not to rehire him need not even be reached. The U.S. Supreme Court denied cert, leaving this decision in place.

Academic Freedom

Although primarily used in the context of university faculty rights, “Academic Freedom” protects a teacher’s ability to determine the content and method of addressing controversial issues in the classroom.  This is more limited at the K-12 level because the courts have long held the view that the administration of K-12 public schools resides with state and local authorities. Primary and secondary education is, for the most part, funded by local sources of revenue, and it has traditionally been a government service that residents of the community have structured to fit their needs. Therefore, a teacher’s “Academic Freedom” is limited to his or her content and method of teaching within the policies and curriculum established by the state and local school board. By finding no First Amendment violation, the court in Kirkland implicitly held that he had no right to substitute his own book list for the one approved by the district without permission or consent, which he failed to obtain. 

In an early case, following the end of World War I, Nebraska had passed a law prohibiting teaching grade school children any language other than English and Robert Meyer was punished for teaching German at a private Lutheran school. The court held that the Nebraska law was an unnecessarily restrictive way to ensure English language learning and was an unconstitutional violation of the 14th Amendment due process clause (the 14th Amendment had not yet applied the First Amendment to the states until Gitlow v.  New York in 1925) that exceeded the power of the state (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923).

“The Fourteenth Amendment, as now applied to the States, protects the citizen against the State itself and all of its creatures-Boards of Education not excepted. These have, of course, important, delicate, and highly discretionary functions, but none that they may not perform within the limits of the Bill of Rights. That they are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes.” Justice Jackson in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnett (1943)(holding unconstitutional a requirement that all children in public schools salute the flag).

The Supreme Court has more than once instructed that “[t]he vigilant protection of constitutional freedoms is nowhere more vital than in the community of American schools” (Shelton v. Tucker (1960)). In Epperson v. Arkansas (1968)(a reprise of the famous 1927 “Scopes Trial”), the Arkansas legislature had passed a law prohibiting teachers in public or state-supported schools from teaching, or using textbooks that teach, human evolution. Sue Epperson, a public school teacher, sued, claiming that the law violated her First Amendment right to free speech as well as the Establishment Clause. A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court declared the state law unconstitutional. The Court found that “the State’s undoubted right to prescribe the curriculum for its public schools does not carry with it the right to prohibit, on pain of criminal penalty, the teaching of a scientific theory or doctrine where that prohibition is based upon reasons that violate the First Amendment.” Seven members of the court based their decision on the Establishment Clause, whereas two concurred in the result based on the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment (because it was unconstitutionally vague) or the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment.

The Supreme Court, however, has not clearly defined the scope of academic freedom protections under the First Amendment, and commentators disagree about the scope of those protections. (See, e.g., William W. Van Alstyne, “The Specific Theory of Academic Freedom and the General Issue of Civil Liberty,” in The Concept of Academic Freedom 59, 61-63 (Edmund L. Pincoffs ed., 1972); J. Peter Byrne, “Academic Freedom: A ‘Special Concern of the First Amendment’,” 99 Yale L.J. 251 (1989); and Neil Hamilton, Zealotry and Academic Freedom: A Legal and Historical Perspective (New Brunswick, 1998).  

Whatever the legal scope, it is clear that the First Amendment protection of individual academic freedom is not absolute. For example, in Boring v. Buncombe County Board of Education (1998), the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a teacher could be reprimanded (in this case transferred) because she sponsored the performance of a play that school authorities subsequently deemed inappropriate for her students and inconsistent with the curriculum developed by the local school authorities. This judicial deference toward K through 12 institutions often can be seen in cases involving teachers who assert that their First Amendment rights were violated when school administrators imposed punishments on them for engaging—while they taught their classes—in some form of expressive activity that the administrators disapproved.

The content

While cases about academic freedom, such as Epperson, involved state laws that limited or prohibited certain content being taught (in this case prohibiting teachers in public or state-supported schools from teaching, or using textbooks that teach, human evolution); New Jersey has taken a very broad approach to classroom content.  Since 1996, New Jersey has established state standards (currently called “Student Learning Standards”) that set a framework for each content area.  Unlike many other states, New Jersey does not establish a state curriculum but rather leaves this to local school boards. Subject to applicable provisions of state law and standards set by the State Department of Education, district school boards have control of public elementary and secondary schools.  How much protection do New Jersey teachers have when they address controversial topics?  Most First Amendment education cases in New Jersey involve students’ rights rather than teachers’ rights (e.g., school dress, vulgar language, threats, religious speech, equal access, See http://www.njpsa.org/documents/pdf/lawprimer_FirstAmendment.pdf). However, several recent cases from the Third Circuit (which includes New Jersey) provide some parameters.

In Edwards v. California University of Pennsylvania (3rd Cir. 1998), a tenured professor in media studies sued the administration for violating his right to free speech by restricting his choice of classroom materials in an educational media course. Instead of using the approval syllabus, Edwards emphasized the issues of “bias, censorship, religion and humanism.” Students complained that he was promoting religious ideas in the class. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the Third Circuit’s summary judgement against Edwards, holding that a university professor does not have a First Amendment right to choose classroom materials and subjects in contravention of the University’s dictates.

A very recent decision regarding a New Jersey teacher confirms the fact that the First Amendment does not provide absolute protection for teachers in public schools to decide the content of their lessons if it is not within the curriculum set by the school district.  In Ali v. Woodbridge Twp. School District (3rd Cir. April 22, 2020) a non-tenured public high school teacher at Woodbridge High School was teaching Holocaust denial to his students and was posting links to articles on the school’s website saying things such as, “The Jews are like a cancer” and expressing conspiracy theories accusing the United States of planning a 9/11-style attack. When the Board of Education fired Ali, he sued claiming that his employment was terminated on the basis of his race and religion, and that defendants had violated his rights to free speech and academic freedom, among other claims. The District Court rejected all of Ali’s claims, awarding summary judgment to the school board, and the Third Circuit affirmed.

These are extreme cases where a teacher is addressing issues that are NOT within the curriculum set by the university or within the state social studies standards and the local school district’s curriculum.  When teachers are teaching a controversial topic that is included in the New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Social Studies and their school district’s social studies curriculum, the existing case law seems to support the fact that they would be protected  by the Fourteenth Amendment, unless they are violating school policies that require teaching in a neutral, balanced manner that does not seek to indoctrinate students.

For example, what if a teacher wants to assign a research paper about the Stonewall Riots or the Lavender Project?   Since the history of LGBT rights is in the state standards and supposed to be included in local school district social studies curriculum, the Stonewell Riots and Lavender Project would be part of this history. This is not a situation like Ali where the materials were beyond the scope of the local curriculum (as well as being taught in an indoctrinating manner—see below). If the teacher fears that the topics will be controversial with the community, he or she should make the school administration aware of what he or she is planning to do.  Since here, what the teacher plans to teach is within the state standards and the local school district curriculum, the school administration should support the teacher.  If parents object, the real issue is one of policy (Should LGBT history be taught?), which is decided by the state and local boards of education, not the teacher. Therefore, the parents’ argument should be with the state and local boards of education.

What if a teacher wants to show scenes of an R-rated movie in the classroom (i.e. Revolutionary War scenes from The Patriot or D-Day from Saving Private Ryan?) Obviously, the American Revolution and Would War II are part of the state standards for U.S. History and in every local school district’s curriculum.  The movie scenes would need to relate to the district curriculum and the teacher should get prior administrative and parental approval if some movie scenes are going to be very graphic.

How should a teacher prepare lessons on Nazi Germany during the 1930s? Nazi Germany is also part of the state history standards and every school district’s curriculum. It should be taught in a way so that students can understand how the Nazis came to power and the prejudices they carried.  Some of the World War II footage and movies may be shocking but our students will not be able to become informed, engaged citizens if we hide the past from them.  

An ounce of prevention beforehand will help.  Before starting, teachers should be clear about the goal of their lesson: The classroom activities should encourage critical thinking. You are not trying to convince students of any particular point of view. Preview any materials, especially visual media which may be very powerful or provocative. Be aware of the biases of the sources of information that will be used by students.

Teaching Tolerance suggests in Civil Discourse in the Classroom that “Teachers can effectively use current and controversial events instruction to address a wide variety of standards and even mandated content. To do so, however, teachers must work carefully and incrementally to integrate this new approach in their classrooms.”  The University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching offers guidance for how instructors (offered for college instructors but applicable for K-12) can successfully manage discussions on controversial topics. See Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan at https://crlt.umich.edu/tstrategies/tsd). The 1940 “Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure” of the American Association of University Professors, suggests that teachers should be careful to avoid controversial matters that are unrelated to the subject discussed.

Before engaging students in an activity or discussion involving a controversial subject, tell your supervisor and/or principal what you are planning on teaching and, if necessary, reference the district policy on teaching controversial issues, explain the lesson’s connection with the district social studies curriculum and explain the goal and value of what you plan to do.  Then, consider the demographics of your community. If you anticipate that the topic of your lesson will be controversial with the community, send a note and/or talk with your students’ parents and/or the Parent Teacher Organization.

In an informative piece titled “Do You Have the Right to be an Advocate?,” published by EdWeek.org, Julie Underwood, a professor of law and educational leadership and policy analysis at the School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison, explains that the “district or the state can regulate employee speech during school hours or at school-sponsored activities to protect their own interests in instruction and political neutrality.” Despite the ambiguity in the laws protecting a teacher’s freedom of speech, Underwood concludes: “If it relates to the in class instruction and is age appropriate there is a good rationale for having a political discussion”.

Teaching in a Neutral or Balanced Manner

If the teacher has created a supportive, respectful classroom climate and built tolerance for opposing views, it will be easier to consider controversial topics. For example, considering historical controversies might be good background as practice for looking at current controversies. Establish a process and rules of adequate evidence or support so that the discussion is based on facts rather than simply opinions. To help maintain classroom order even when students are having heated disagreements, set clear rules for discussions or use activities that require students to use active listening skills when considering controversial issues, such as:

  • Continuum/Take a Stand
  • Civil Conversations
  • C3 Inquiries
  • Guided discussions
  • Socratic Smackdown
  • Moot courts—structured format for considering constitutional issues
  • Philosophical Chairs discussion
  • Legislative hearings—structured format for considering solutions to problems

Carefully consider how students are grouped if they are to work cooperatively.  Provide closure (which may be acknowledging the difficulty of the issue).

School boards work primarily through policies which set guidelines for principals, teachers, parents and students, as well as the district curriculum. To avoid a problem afterwards, the teacher should make sure that the controversial topic is within the state standards and the curriculum adopted by their local school board. Then the teacher should consult the school district’s policy regarding the teaching of controversial issues. Most school districts have a policy (usually #2240) that supports and encourages the teaching of controversial issues and sets guidelines for teaching controversial issues, including a process for dealing with challenges.  Although the language may differ, policies dealing with controversial issues generally focus on the need for the classroom lesson to be balanced, unprejudiced, fair, objective, and not aimed at indoctrinating students to a particular point of view.

Clearly, the type of indoctrination attempted by the teachers in the Edwards or Ali cases is beyond protected speech.  In addition to avoiding indoctrination, teachers should avoid telling a joke in the classroom that might imply a negative characterization of an ethnic group, religion or gender.  A “joke” that might be a put down of any ethnic group, religion or gender told in the classroom to students is never a good idea. It is not even a good idea for a teacher to post such a “joke” on Facebook because such speech might be considered as not addressing a matter of public concern and would not be protected by the First Amendment. However, using an historical photo, engraving or picture that included a negative image of an ethnic, racial or religious group might be okay in the context of examining what was seen as humor in the past and understanding the prejudice that existed during a particular time period. For example, when teaching about the Holocaust, a teacher might carefully use Nazi cartoons to demonstrate the high level of prejudice at the time. Another example might be using images of blackface or corporate ad campaigns to show racial attitudes when teaching about Jim Crow. The teacher does not need many examples to make the point. Know your audience. Choose carefully and be aware that certain advertising images from the Jim Crow era may offend some students in the class. The purpose of using controversial issues is important. At the core of deciding what a teacher should or should not say or do in the classroom is good judgment.

Should a teacher share his or her viewpoint on a controversial issue with the students?

Whether a teacher should share his or her opinion or viewpoint on a controversial issue will depend on the age of the students, if the opinion was requested by the students, and the comfort-level of the teacher.  A teacher’s opinion may have too much influence on younger students and should probably be avoided. What if a middle or high school student specifically asks for your opinion? Such “natural disclosures” in response to a direct question by a student should be accompanied by a disclaimer, such as “This is my view because…” or “Other people may have different views”.  If you prefer not to disclose your view, explicitly state that and explain why. Remember, the goal is to help students develop their own well-informed positions. Be mindful of your position as the “classroom expert” and the potential impact on the students. If you decide to disclose your own view, do it carefully and only after the students have expressed their views. Unrequested disclosures may be seen as preachy, or may stop the discussion. (See Hess, Controversy in the Classroom)

So, for example, should a teacher take a position on climate change?  In terms of content, climate change is in the state standards and should be in the local school curriculum. If parents disapprove of this topic, this disagreement is really with the curriculum set by the school board, not with the teacher.  However, the teaching strategy is important. Rather than taking a position, which may be seen as indoctrination or may simply stop the classroom inquiry, the better approach might be to have the students examine the issue and let the facts speak for themselves.  Let students use the facts that exist to construct their own arguments about whether or not climate change is the result of mankind’s use of fossil fuels in industry and transportation.  If the topic is presented in a balanced, neutral, non-indoctrinating manner, the teacher should not be subject to discipline. Objections by parents should be referred to the school administration because it is a matter of policy (Should climate change be taught?), which is decided by the state and local boards of education, not the teacher.

How should teachers address questions from students regarding Black Lives Matter and racial inequality? The ACLU in the state of Washington prepared a short online article, “Free Speech Rights of Teachers in Washington State” (NJ’s ACLU only has a publication about students’ rights) with a related hypothetical:  The teacher is instructed not to discuss personal opinions on political matters with students.  In a classroom discussion on racial issues in America, the teacher tells the class that he/she has recently participated in a Black Lives Matter demonstration.  Revealing this is the same as giving an opinion and may not be protected speech. Teachers can be disciplined for departing from the curriculum adopted by the school district and this would be a departure.

Can a teacher state that New Jersey is a segregated state when it comes to communities? Is the teacher stating this as a personal opinion or as a fact related to a topic of learning? There is no reason to simply state that NJ is segregated unless it is in the context of helping students understand and appreciate the history of segregation in NJ consistent with state standards and district curriculum. (For example, see “Land Use in NJ” and “School Desegregation and School Finance in NJ” for history, context and facts at http://civiced.rutgers.edu/njlessons.html).

Is a teacher permitted to take a stand on the issue of removing public monuments? Assuming that this is part of a current events lesson, it would be better if the teacher remained neutral and let the students’ voice differing views. If the students all have one position, perhaps the teacher can take a position as “devil’s advocate,” but it should be made clear that this is what the teacher is doing.

Can a teacher assign blame to protests to specific groups or left or right extremist groups? Assigning blame is the same as a teacher giving his or her personal opinion. The better approach would be to have students look at the actions of specific groups and determine their appropriateness.

Can a teacher assign blame to Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett regarding a Supreme Court decision that is 5-4 and against the teacher’s preference (i.e. Affordable Care Act, marriage, etc.).  Assuming that this is part of a classroom lesson about the Supreme Court, the teacher should refrain from “assigning blame” because this is expressing his or her opinion, but should instead let the students consider the reasoning and impact of the decisions.

Is a teacher permitted to criticize or defend the government’s policies or actions on immigration? Outside the classroom, a teacher has a first amendment right to express his or her views on public issues. As part of a classroom lesson about immigration, rather than criticizing or defending the government’s policies or actions on immigration, the better approach would be to present or let students research the history of immigration policy and its impact and let the students discuss and draw their own conclusions (For example, see “Immigration Policy and its impact on NJ” at http://civiced.rutgers.edu/njlessons.html).

Can a teacher show a video clip from a specific news station (Fox, CNN) or assign students to watch a specific news program as an assignment?  As long as the purpose is not indoctrination to any particular point of view and the assignments are balanced. If the teacher wants students to see and compare various media views on the same topic, that would be a valuable classroom activity. (For example, see “Educating for Informed, Engaged Citizens” virtual workshop, for background on helping students understand bias in news, at the New Jersey Council for the Social Studies website at http://www.njcss.org/;  also see Choices Program at Brown University: Teaching with the News at https://www.choices.edu/teaching-with-the-news/;   and Constitutional Rights Foundation Fake News at https://www.crf-usa.org/images/pdf/challenge/Understanding-Fake-News1.pdf and https://www.crf-usa.org/images/pdf/challenge/Tackling-Fake-News.pdf).

Conclusions

A teacher has a personal right under the First Amendment to share his view on public policy issues in public but NOT in the classroom.  A teacher sharing his opinion or viewpoint in the classroom may be seen as indoctrination. So, for example, teachers should avoid sharing personal views on one’s sexual preference, regarding a particular candidate, President Trump’s taxes, a decision by a Grand Jury, prosecutor, FBI on racial issues, etc. Your school district may even have an explicit policy that teachers should not discuss personal views on political matters in the classroom, in which case, this policy should be followed.  Everything a teacher says or does in the classroom should be considered based on the possible impact on the students.

This does not mean that teachers should avoid having students examine and discuss controversial topics. Encouraging the development of civic skills and attitudes among young people has been an important goal of education since the start of the country.  Schools are communities in which young people learn to interact, argue, and work together with others, an important foundation for future citizenship.  Since the purpose of social education is to prepare students for participation in a pluralist democracy, social studies classes NEED to address controversial issues.  Teachers have the right and the responsibility to help their students understand controversial topics and to develop critical thinking skills.  However, the controversial topics should relate to the broad scope of subjects included in the NJ Student Learning Standards and the local school district curriculum.  And controversial subjects should be addressed in a neutral or balanced manner, without any effort to indoctrinate students, but rather to help them develop the knowledge and skills they will need as workers, parents and citizens in a democratic society.

Background Materials

Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923)

West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnett, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)

Adler v. Board of Education, 342 U.S. 485 (1952)

Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479 (1960)

Cramp v. Board of Public Instruction, 368 U.S. 278 (1961)

Baggett v. Bullitt, 377 U.S. 360(1964)

Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 385 U.S. 589 (1967)

Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563 (1968)

Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97 (1968)

Mt. Healthy City School District Board of Education v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274 (1977)

Connick v. Meyers, 461 U.S. 138 (1983)

Kirkland v. Northside Independent School District, 890 F.2d 694 (5th Cir. 1989), cert. denied (1990)

Bradley v. Pittsburgh Bd. of Educ., 910 F.2d 1172 (3d Cir.1990)

Boring v. Buncombe County Board of Education, 136 F.3d 364 (4th Cir. 1998)

Edwards v. California University of Pennsylvania, 156 F.3d 488 (3rd Cir. 1998), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 1143 (1999)

Ali v. Woodbridge Twp. School District, 957 F.3d 174 (3rd Cir. April 22, 2020)

Keith Barton and Linda Levstik, Teaching History for the Common Good (Erlbaum, 2004)

Diana E. Hess, Controversy in the Classroom: The Democratic Power of Discussion (New York: Routledge, 2009)

Nel Noddings and Laurie Brooks, Teaching Controversial Issues: The Case for Critical Thinking and Moral Commitment in the Classroom (New York:  Teacher’s College Press, 2017).

William W. Van Alstyne, “Academic Freedom and the First Amendment in the Supreme Court of the United States: An Unhurried Historical Review,” 53 Law and Contemp. Probs. 79 (1990)

ACLU-Washington at https://www.aclu-wa.org/docs/free-speech-rights-public-school-teachers-washington-state

American Association of University Professors, “Academic Freedom of Professors and Institutions,” (2002) at https://www.aaup.org/issues/academic-freedom/professors-and-institutions

Center for Research on Instruction and Teaching, University of Michigan at https://crlt.umich.edu/tstrategies/tsd

Choices Program at Brown University: Teaching with the News at https://www.choices.edu/teaching-with-the-news/

Constitutional Rights Foundation at https://www.crf-usa.org/

EdSurge at https://www.edsurge.com/news/2018-01-17-why-we-need-controversy-in-our-classrooms

Facing History at https://www.facinghistory.org/educator-resources

Find Law at https://www.findlaw.com/education/teachers-rights/teachers-different-freedoms-and-rights-article.html

Forbes at https://www.forbes.com/sites/jessicabohrer/2020/09/14/teaching-children-about-freedom-of-speech/#25cb6ff07101

John Goodlad, “Fulfilling the Public Purpose of Schooling: Educating the Young in Support of Democracy May Be Leadership’s Highest Calling,” School Administrator, v61 n5 p14 May 2004.

Jonathan Gould, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Peter Levine, Ted McConnell, and David B. Smith, eds“Guardian of Democracy: The Civic Mission of Schools, Philadelphia: Annenberg Public Policy Center, 2011

Amanda Litvinov, “Forgotten Purpose: Civic Education in Public Schools, NEA Today, Mar 16, 2017 at https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/forgotten-purpose-civics-education-public-schools#:~:text=Research%20into%20this%20long%2Dneglected,it%20holds%20for%20student%20achievement.

New Jersey Center for Civic Education (New Jersey lessons) at http://civiced.rutgers.edu/njlessons.html

New Jersey Law Journal at https://www.law.com/njlawjournal/2020/06/28/as-woodbridge-teachers-case-shows-facts-do-matter/?slreturn=20200929134110

New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association at http://www.njpsa.org/documents/pdf/lawprimer_FirstAmendment.pdf

Phi Delta Kappa, “Do you have the right to be an Advocate?, at https://kappanonline.org/underwood-school-districts-control-teachers-classroom-speech/

Poorvu Center, Yale University at https://poorvucenter.yale.edu/teaching/ideas-teaching/teaching-controversial-topics

Teaching Tolerance at https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/publications/civil-discourse-in-the-classroom/chapter-4-teaching-controversy

Texas Association of School Boards at https://www.tasb.org/services/legal-services/tasb-school-law-esource/personnel/documents/employee_free_speech_rights.aspx

The First Amendment Encyclopedia at https://www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/973/rights-of-teachers

U.S. Civil Liberties at https://uscivilliberties.org/themes/4571-teacher-speech-in-public-schools.html

Prepared by Arlene Gardner, Executive Director, New Jersey Center for Civic Education, Rutgers-The State University, Piscataway, NJ (2020)

Buried in the Brooklyn: Using Cemeteries to Teach Local History

Buried in the Brooklyn: Using Cemeteries to Teach Local History

Alexa Corben, Alexis Farina, Karla Freire, Madison Hamada, Dennis Belen Morales, Anthony Richard, Elizabeth Tyree, and Debra Willett

Recommended Resources: “Tomb it may concern”: Visit your local cemetery for a multidisciplinary (and economical) field trip,” Eric Groce, Rachel Wilson, and Lisa Polling, Social Studies and the Young Learner, 25(3).Using the cemetery as a classroom,” Susan Bonthron, Medium. History Detectives, PBS.History of Greenwood CemeteryOnline Guided Tour

Greenwood Cemetery in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn overlooking New York Harbor was founded in 1838 and was one of the first rural cemeteries in the United States. By the 1860s, Greenwood had earned a reputation for its beauty and was a sought after place to be buried. The cemetery is a Revolutionary War historic site, part of the Battle of Long Island was fought here in August 1776, and a designated site on the Civil War Discovery Trail. In 2006, Greenwood was designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior. Greenwood attracts 500,000 visitors a year, second to Niagara Falls as the nation’s greatest tourist attraction. Greenwood is still an active cemetery, serving as the resting place for over 570,000 “permanent residents.” In addition to being a cemetery, Greenwood also serves as a cultural institution that tells the history and culture of the borough and city.

Entrance to Greenwood Cemetery

In 1862, Green-Wood Cemetery established a Soldier’s Lot for the free burial of veterans who died during the Civil War. By 1865, more than 200 soldiers and sailors were buried here. African Americans were originally buried, many in unmarked graves, along the southwestern edge of the vast burial grounds in unmarked graves in what was  known as “Colored Lots.” The section is now known as the “Freedom Lots.” Margaret Pine, who died in 1857, may have been the “last slave in the State of New York.” Prior to the end of slavery in New York State in 1827, she was enslaved by the family of Wynant van Zandt. Pine is buried in the main section of the cemetery.

Soldier’s Monument
Civil War Monument

Famous and infamous statues and monuments in Greenwood Cemetery include the Soldier’s Monument, Minerva, and Civic Virtue. The Soldier’s Monument was dedicated on Battle Hill by the City of New York to honor the 150,000 local men who served in the Union Army during the Civil War. The statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess of Arts and War, is also on Battle Hill. Minerva, stands on a platform labeled “Alter of Liberty” and faces the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. The statues appear to be waving to each other. The statue Civic Virtue was originally in City Hall Park and in the 1940s it was moved to the Queens Borough Hall. It was placed in Greenwood because of a public uproar that it portrayed women as treacherous creatures trying to seduce the virtuous figure that resembles Hercules. Greenwood may soon be the final resting place for a statue of James Marion Sims that was removed from New York City’s Central Park because Sims had conducted gynecological experiments on enslaved African women.

Statue of Minerva

Thematic Tours of Greenwood Cemetery

Activists

John Cook (1829-1859): John E. Cook was a law clerk and ally of militant abolitionist John Brown. Cook studied law in Connecticut, fought border ruffians in Kansas, served as an abolitionist mole in Virginia, took white hostages during the Harper’s Ferry raid, and almost escaped to freedom. After the raid, he was the most hunted man in America. When Cook was captured and brought to trial, he betrayed John Brown and named fellow abolitionists in a full confession. Source: https://www.amazon.com/John-Browns-Spy-Adventurous-Confession/dp/0300180497

Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887): Beecher was born in Litchfield Connecticut and attended Amherst College where he had his first taste of public speaking and joined the ministry. From 1839-1847, Beecher was a minister to a small Presbyterian congregation in Indiana. In 1847, he was appointed minister at Brooklyn’s Plymouth Congregational Church. Beecher was a staunch abolitionist. When the federal Fugitive Slave Law was passed, Beecher declared “it was a Christian’s duty to feed and shelter escaped slaves.” In 1856, Beecher sent rifles, known as “Beecher’s Bibles” to help abolitionists fighting to block slavery in the Kansas Territory. Plymouth Congregational Church, under his tutelage, purchased freedom for a number of enslaved young women. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln sent Beecher to Europe to help gain support for the Union. Beecher was also an advocate for temperance and the women’s suffrage movement. After the Civil War he was embroiled in a scandal when he was accused of an affair with the wife of a church deacon. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Ward_Beecher

Henry Ward Beecher with his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe

Samuel Cornish (1795-1858): Samuel Cornish was born in Delaware and with John B. Russworm, he edited Freedom’s Journal, the first black-owned and operated newspaper in the United States. Cornish became the senior editor and later took on a position as an agent for the New York Free African schools. He was involved with a number of abolitionist organizations including the American Anti-Slavery Society, the New York City Vigilance Committee, and the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. Source: https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/cornish-samuel-eli-1795-1858/

Elizabeth Cushier (1837–1931): Elizabeth Cushier, born in Jamaica, New York, was a professor of medicine and one of New York’s most prominent obstetricians and surgeons. In 1868, Cushier read a medical article that sparked her interest in the field and she enrolled in the homeopathic New York Medical College for Women. A year later, Cushier transferred to Elizabeth & Emily Blackwell’s Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary. Following her graduation, Cushier furthered her studies at the University of Zurich, researching pathological and normal histology, a field of research not yet open to women in the United States. Upon her return, she was employed at the New York Infirmary as a resident physician as well as at the Woman’s Medical College as an obstetrics professor and administrator. Cushier also opened a private practice in New York City that offered gynecological surgery. She published articles and case studies for medical journals, becoming known as an expert in her field of obstetrics and gynecology. During World War I, Cushier volunteered for the Red Cross to perform relief work for French and Belgium women, children, and servicemen. Source:

Louisine Havemeyer (1855-1929): Havemeyer was a women’s rights advocate, suffragette, and  pioneering art collector. With her husband, Harry Havemeyer, they created a massive art collection which included all kinds of world class artwork, particularly notable for its representation of modern French artists. Many pieces of her collection were given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Source:

Susan McKinney Steward (1847-1918): McKinney Steward was born in Crown Heights in Brooklyn and was the third African-American woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. Steward may have decided to become a physician after the death of two of her brothers during the Civil War. Additionally, in 1866, she witnessed a cholera epidemic in Brooklyn, in which over 1,200 people died. She attended the New York Medical College for Women and graduated from medical school as valedictorian. Her medical career focused on prenatal and pediatric care and childhood disease. She established a medical practice in Brooklyn and opened a second office in Manhattan where she worked with patients of all races. She was a founder of  the Brooklyn Women’s Homeopathic Hospital and Dispensary which served the African American community. Dr. Steward was an accomplished public speaker and in 1911 she addressed the first Universal Race of Congress in London, speaking about “Colored Women in America.” Source: https://www.nymc.edu/school-of-medicine-som/som-alumni-profiles/alumni-in-memorium/new-york-medical-college-for-women/susan-smith-mckinney-steward/

Actors/Movie Industry

Lola Montez (1821–1861): Montez, born Eliza Gilbert in Ireland, became famous as a Spanish dancer, prostitute, and mistress to King Ludwig of Bavaria. She debuted in London in 1843 as “Lola Montez, Spanish dancer.” In 1846, Lola arrived in Munich and she was discovered by King Ludwig and became his mistress. Ludwig made Lola the Countess of Landsfeld, granting her citizenship and a castle in 1847. Lola wielded great political power, which she used to favor liberalism and anti-Catholicism. In 1851, Lola came to the eastern United States for a fresh start and performed as a dancer and actress. In 1856, after a failed tour in Australia, Lola settled in New York City and gathered a following as a lecturer on fashion, beautiful women and courage. Source: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/726/lola-montez

Frank Morgan (1890-1949): Francis Wuppermann was born in New York City. Taking the stage name “Morgan” he followed his older brother Ralph into show business, first on Broadway and then in movies. His first film was the silent movie “The Suspect.” His career at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer took off when “talkies” began and his most stereotypical role was a confused but good-hearted middle aged man. Morgan is best remembered for his performance in the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz” in which he played five roles: the Wizard, Professor Marvel, the Emerald City doorman, the Emerald City hack driver and the Wizard’s guard. In over 100 film appearances, Morgan was nominated for two Academy Awards: for Best Actor in 1934s “The Affairs of Cellini” and for Best Supporting Actor in 1942s “Tortilla Flat.” 

Source: http://www.thewizardofozmovie.com/morgan.html

Artists/Musicians

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988): Basquiat was born in Brooklyn, New York and attended Edward R. Murrow High School and City-As-School. While at this school, Basquiat became friends with Al Diaz and the two of them began spray painting graffiti using the pseudonym SAMO (acronym for “Same Old S—t”). One of their most famous graffiti pieces is the three-pointed crown. At age 17, Basquiat dropped out of school, his father kicked him out of the house. Basquiat slept at friends’ apartments or on park benches. In order to support himself, he panhandled, dealt drugs, and peddled hand-painted postcards and T-shirts. He often went to downtown clubs where he met well-known artists and musicians. Through these connections, Basquiat made appearances on television shows and showcased his artwork in galleries. Basquiat struggled with drug abuse and died from a heroin overdose. Source:

https://www.theartstory.org/artist/basquiat-jean-michel/life-and-legacy/

Graffiti by Jean-Michel Basquiat

Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990): Bernstein was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts and was an American composer, conductor, pianist, and music educator. He is considered to be one of the most significant American personalities in orchestral conducting of the 20th century. In 1940, he studied at the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer institute called the Tanglewood Music Center. For nearly every summer for the rest of his life, Bernstein returned to Tanglewood to teach and conduct young music students. Bernstein wrote several books and helped to found two major international music festivals, the Pacific Music Festival and the Schleswig Holstein Music Festival, influencing and educating generations of young musicians. In 1958, he was the first conductor to share music on TV through his televised concert and lecture series, Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic. He became the Music Director of the New York Philharmonic and was given the lifetime title of Laureate Conductor. His best known work on Broadway is the musical West Side Story which was made into an Academy Award-winning film. He has been the recipient of many honors, including 11 Emmy Awards, one Tony Award, 17 Grammy awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Kennedy Center Honor. Bernstein was also a lifelong humanitarian, supporting civil rights and issues that ranged from HIV/AIDS awareness, advocating for nuclear disarmament, protesting the Vietnam War, and engaging in international initiatives for world peace. Source: https://www.leonardbernstein.com/about

George Catlin (1796–1872): Catlin was born in Wilkes- Barre, Pennsylvania and as a young boy, he was interested in Native American life. In 1828, after encountering a delegation of Plains Indians in Philadelphia on their way to Washington D.C., he became determined to study Native American heritage before it was destroyed. Based on what he observed from his travels, he made more than 500 paintings and sketches. He eventually exhibited his pieces in the United States and Europe and referred to them as the “Indian Gallery.” The Smithsonian Institution acquired the bulk of Catlin’s Collection for ethnographic and historical interest. Source: https://www.britannica.com/biography/George-Catlin

Nathaniel Currier (1813–1888): Currier was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts and was an American lithographer who headed the company Currier & Ives with James Ives. Currier attended public school until 15, when he was apprenticed to the Boston printing firm of William and John Pendleton, the first successful lithographers in the United States. In 1835, Currier started his own lithographic business in which he produced standard lithographic products such as printing music sheets, letterheads, handbills, etc. In 1835, he issued a print illustrating a recent fire in New York, calling it the “Ruins of the Merchant’s Exchange N.Y. after the Destructive Conflagration of Decbr 16 & 17, 1835.” His print was published in the New York Sun, and was an early example of illustrated news. Currier & Ives are best known for their creation of popular art prints that portrayed Christmas scenes and landscapes but also produced political cartoons, historical scenes, and current events. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathaniel_Currier

James Merritt Ives (1824–1895): Ives was born in New York City and was a self-made artist. Ives’ talent as an artist as well as his business skills gave him valuable insight into what the public wanted, helping to grow the company. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Merritt_Ives

A winter scene in Central Park by Currier and Ives

Bashar Barakah Jackson (Pop Smoke) (1999-2020): Jackson, was born in Canarsie, Brooklyn, and was an American rapper and songwriter. He recorded his first track, “Mpr (Panic Part 3),” in 2018. His rap name is a combination of Poppa, a name given to him by his grandmother, and Smocco Guwop, a nickname from childhood friends. In 2019,  he released his breakout single, “Welcome to the Party” and his debut mixtape “Meet the Woo.” In February 2020, Pop Smoke was shot during a home invasion in Los Angeles. Four men broke in around 4:30 A.M. and shot him twice in the chest and he was pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Originally, the LAPD thought Pop Smoke’s death was gang-related as he had ties to the Crips, but further evidence showed that his death was a consequence of a home robbery gone wrong. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pop_Smoke    

Eastman Johnson (1824-1906): Johnson was born in Lovell, Maine and was an American painter and co-founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. He was best known for his paintings of scenes from everyday life, called genre painting, and was considered the American Rembrandt of his time. His attention to detail made his work incredibly realistic. He established a studio in New York City with his ‘Negro Life in the South’, popularly called ‘Old Kentucky Home,’ an exhibit at the National Academy of Design. The painting alludes to plantation life and shows a range of domestic activities that took place in the slave quarters of a plantation. Another significant painting is ‘A Ride for Liberty – The Fugitive Slaves’, painted in 1862, based on his observations during the Civil War Battle of Manassas. It depicts a slave family riding to freedom and by placing the former slaves squarely in the center of the work, Johnson alludes to the idea that the people are acting as agents of their own destiny. Source:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastman_Johnson

Eastman Johnson, A Ride for Liberty — The Fugitive Slaves, c. 1862

Authors/Writers.

James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938): Johnson was born in Jacksonville, Florida and received a bachelor’s degree from the college at Atlanta University. After graduating, he became the principal of Stanton School and began studying law. He was admitted to the Florida Bar thereafter. In 1901, Johnson decided he also wanted to pursue a career in writing and moved to New York City with his brother where they wrote songs for musicals on Broadway. Johnson became involved in politics and eventually accepted the position of field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). As executive secretary, he brought attention to racism, lynching, and segregation. Johnson’s best known work is the lyric to “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is considered the unofficial Black national anthem.Source: https://www.naacp.org/naacp-history-james-weldon-johnson/

Business Leaders/ Newspaper Publishers.

James Gordon Bennett, Sr. (1795-1872): Bennett was born in Scotland, immigrated to Canada, and then moved to the United States. Starting in 1823, Bennett worked as a freelance writer and assistant editor of the New York Courier and Enquier. Bennett created the New York Herald and shocked readers with the front-page coverage of sensational crimes. Bennett pioneered a cash-in-advance policy for advertisers, using the latest technology, and using woodcuts to illustrate articles. During the Civil War, Bennett and the Herald used racist language in articles opposing the war and attacked President Abraham Lincoln for trying to keep the Union together. Source: https://www.britannica.com/biography/James-Gordon-Bennett-American-editor-1795-1872

Thomas C. Durant (1820-1885): Durant was a major force behind the first transcontinental railroad and a wealthy land speculator. (Section H/Lot 10399/Plot 3679) Source: https://visitgoreregion.com/2020/02/09/thomas-clark-durant/

Charles Feltman (1841-1910): Feltman was a German-American restaurateur who is credited with being the inventor of the hot dog. In 1867, Feltman began to sell food to beachgoers at Coney Island in Brooklyn and came up with the idea of putting a sausage on a roll so he could avoid having to provide silverware and plates to his customers. They were Coney Island Red Hots. In 1916, a Feltman employee named Nathan Handwerker left to start his own business a few blocks away from Feltman’s on Surf Avenue. Nathan’s Famous soon became a larger attraction than his former employer’s restaurant and became a Coney Island icon. Source: https://www.coneyislandhistory.org/hall-of-fame/charles-feltman

William Delbert Gann (1878–1955): William Delbert Gann was born in Lufkin, Texas where he dropped out of school to work on his family’s cotton farm. Gann used the Bible to learn to read, and in so doing, learned about commodities trading in cotton warehouses. Gann eventually moved to New York City where he worked on Wall Street and opened his own brokerage firm, known as W.D. Gann & Company, becoming one of the most successful stock and commodity traders in the world. Source: https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/091615/mysterious-life-trading-legend-wd-gann.asp

Horace Greeley (1811-1872): Greeley was born in Amherst, New Hampshire where he became a printer’s apprentice before moving to New York City. In 1834, Greeley founded his first newspaper, The New-Yorker, which was aligned with the Whig Party (he would print ads and help influence people to vote for candidates of this party). Greeley was an active Whig, working with New York Governor William H. Seward and President William Henry Harrison on their campaigns. He started The New-York Tribune in 1841, where he championed rights for workers and women and the abolition of slavery. Greeley criticized President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War for not actively opposing slavery. Greeley ran unsuccessfully for President in 1872 as a Liberal Republican. Interestingly, Greeley’s wife died in October 1872, a few weeks before the election and Greeley died a few weeks later on November 29. If he had won the election, this would be the first time a president-elect died before being elected by the Electoral College. Source: https://www.green-wood.com/horace-greeley/

Morris Ketchum Jesup (1830-1908): Jesup a banker and philanthropist. He moved to New York City in 1842 where he established MK Jesup & Company and eventually was President of the New York Chamber of Commerce and of the Museum of Natural History. He worked to improve social conditions in New York for poor immigrants from Europe and Russia as a founder of the Five Points House of Industry, a settlement house that taught immigrants skills needed to live in the United States. In 1905, Jesup was knighted by Tsar Nicholas II of Russia for his philanthropic work aiding immigrants from Russia. Source: https://www.lindahall.org/morris-ketchum-jesup/

Pierre Lorillard IV (1833-1901): Lorillard’s great-grandfather founded P. Lorillard and Company which processed tobacco, cigars, and snuff. Lorillard established Tuxedo Park, New York as an elite hunting and fishing destination, which attracted the world’s rich and famous. He helped pioneer the formal dresswear for men, the tuxedo. Source: https://www.alsformalwear.com/history-of-the-tuxedo/

Henry Jarvis Raymond (1820-1869): Raymond worked for numerous newspapers including the New York Tribune and Courier and Enquirer as a journalist and associate editor and then started The New York Times, in 1851. Raymond was a member of the New York Assembly as a member of the Whig Party (and was elected lieutenant governor (1855-1856). He was a strong supporter of President Lincoln and served one term in the House of Representatives from 1865 to 1867. After Raymond retired from Congress, he attacked the corrupt “Tweed Ring” and advocated for tariff reductions and civil service reform. Source:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Jarvis_Raymond#Biography

Sahadi Family: The Sahadi family imigrated from Lebanon to “Little Syria” in Manhattan where they launched Sahadi Importing to introduce Middle Eastern goods in the United States. On Ellis Island, an exhibition features a photograph of Abrahim Sahadi with A. Sahadi & Co. tins and an ordering book from the 1920s. In the 1940s the Sahadi’s store relocated to Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue where it remains.

Source: https://rapidcityjournal.com/little-syria/image_052ceb96-719b-5225-bc01-b721fbad917c.html

Frederick August Otto Schwarz (1836–1911): Schwarz was born in Westphalia, Germany where he served an apprenticeship for one of the city’s leading merchants. At the age of twenty, he immigrated to the United States and initially settled in Baltimore. , receiving business training that benefited him when he moved to the United States at 20 years old. In New York City he opened the Schwarz toy bazaar. The F.A.O. Schwarz catalog was published in 1876 and it became the store’s staple for merchandising. Schwarz was the first merchant to utilize a live dressed-up Santa Claus to promote seasonal sales. In the movie, Big, there is an iconic moment where two characters play “Chopsticks” with the floor keyboard in the flagship F.A.O. Schwarz toy store in Manhattan. Source: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/economics-magazines/schwarz-frederick-august-otto

Henry Steinway (1797–1871): Henry Steinway (Heinrich Steinweg) was born on February 15, 1871 in Braunschweig, Germany. In the first 30 years of his life, Steinweg spent them in Germany making pianos in his own home. In June of 1849, his son, Carl, became the first family member to emigrate to America. A few months later, Heinrich prepared him and his family to follow suit. The Steinweg family eventually settled into a home in New York City, luckily, in an area where there were many piano manufacturers. In 1856, the Steinway & Sons partnership agreement was signed and the name Steinway was used instead of Steinweg for business purposes. At the American Institute Fair in 1855, a Steinway piano was honored the best in the show and was awarded the first place gold medal. This accolade confirmed the quality of the instruments produced by their family. They used the name “Gold Medal Pianos” to advertise their work. The business story of the Steinway piano business is exceptional. Henry never learned how to speak English and did not become an American citizen until 1863. Source:

https://www.andrews.edu/~wkunze/german/german-american/notable/S/steinway/heinrich-e.html

Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933): Louis Comfort Tiffany is known as one of America’s acclaimed artists. He was a painter, craftsman, philanthropist, decorator, and designer. He was internationally recognized as one the greatest forces of the Art Nouveau style, which made significant contributions to the art of glassmaking. Starting his career as a painter, he worked under the influence of artists such as George Inness and Samuel Colman. In the late 1870’s, Tiffany began to acquire an interest for decorative arts and interiors as well. Later on, both Tiffany and Colman worked together to design furnishings and interiors for the New York mansion, which was completed in 1892. Under various clients, Tiffany designed both private interiors and public spaces. In the 1890’s, Tiffany built a glasshouse in Corona, Queens, New York. His work with leaded-glass brought him great recognition. Aside from his various artistic nature, Tiffany was knowledgeable about jewelry trends through art periodicals, international expositions, and his father’s firm, Tiffany & Co. Upon his father’s death in 1902, he was appointed art director. His earliest jewelry designs were exhibited at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. Enamels, Favrile glass vessels, and pottery gained attention and favorable press by various art critics during this time period. Between 1902 and 1905, Tiffany built his Long Island country home in Cold Spring Harbor in Oyster Bay, New York. Evidently, his work continues to influence Tiffany & Co. designs. Source: https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/tiff/hd_tiff.htm

Tiffany Lamps at the New York Historical Society

Inventors/Scientists

Barry Commoner (1917–2012): Barry Commoner, born on May 28, 1917 in Brooklyn, NY, was an American cellular biologist, activist. and environmentalist. He received his bachelor’s degree in zoology from Columbia University in 1937 and his master’s and doctoral degrees in cellular biology from Harvard University in 1938 and 1941. In 1947, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and joined the faculty of Washington University in St Louis where he worked as a professor of plant physiology for 34 years. In the 1950s, Commoner warned of the environmental threats posed by modern technology (i.e.: nuclear weapons, use of pesticides, and ineffective waste management). Commoner was known for his opposition to nuclear weapons testing and joined a team which conducted the Baby Tooth Survey, which found Strontium 90 in children’s teeth as a direct result of nuclear fallout. This study directly contributed to the adoption of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963. Commoner’s publications were influential in the Nixon administration’s decision to create the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Clean Air Act. In February 1970, TIME magazine named Commoner the “Paul Revere of ecology.” Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/02/us/barry-commoner-dies-at-95.html

Peter Cooper (1791-1883): Peter Cooper was born on February 12, 1791 in New York City. Cooper was an American inventor, manufacturer, and philanthropist. He built the “Tom Thumb” locomotive, a new system for towing canal boats, and founded The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Cooper#Business_career

Eunice Newton Foote (1819-1888): Foote was an American scientist and women’s rights activist. She pioneered climate science and in 1856, theorized that changes in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could affect the Earth’s temperature. Her groundbreaking discovery was overlooked and eventually forgotten by the scientific community. Foote made the discovery by conducting a series of experiments that demonstrated the interactions of the sun’s rays on different gases. She concluded that carbon dioxide trapped the most heat of all the gases she tested and connected the dots between carbon dioxide and global warming. Her paper was later published in the American Journal of Science and Arts. Foote was a prominent feminist and a signer of the Declaration of Sentiments at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. She was a neighbor and friend of suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton and was one of the five women who prepared the proceedings of the convention for publication. old. Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/21/obituaries/eunice-foote-overlooked.html

Elias Howe (1819-1867): Elias Howe was born on July 9, 1819 in Spencer Massachusetts. He worked in a textile factory in Lowell until it closed in 1837 and then for a master mechanic where he had the idea for the sewing machine. In September 1846, he was awarded a United States patent for his invention. In 1851, Howe received a patent for an “Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure,” now known as the zipper. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elias_Howe

Mary Jacobi (1842-1906): Mary Jacobi was born in 1843 in London, England to American parents. Jacobi studied at the New York College of Pharmacy and later received her M.D. from the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania. In 1866, Jacobi moved to Paris and supported co-education for men and women. She argued that women’s medical schools could not provide the same training and clinical practice as established universities that were affiliated with large hospitals. Jacobi published over 120 scientific articles and nine books. Source: https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_163.html

Samuel Morse (1791- 1872): Morse was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts and attended Yale College where he received instruction in religious philosophy, mathematics, the science of horses, and electricity. After graduating, he traveled to England to study art and gained a reputation as a portrait painter. When he returned to the United States, he helped found the National Academy of Design in New York City. While traveling by ship from Europe to the United States, Morse conceived the idea for an electric telegraph. Morse was an active opponent of immigration to the United States and a leading defender of slavery. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Morse

Political Figures

DeWitt Clinton (1769–1828): DeWitt Clinton was born on March 2, 1769 in Little Britain, New York. Clinton was the nephew of Governor George Clinton. He served as a United State Senator (1798-1802), Mayor of New York City (1803-15), Lieutenant Governor (1811-13), and Governor (1817-1823 and 1825-1828). In 1812, he ran for president against James Madison and lost. As mayor, Clinton advocated for free and widespread education. In 1811, Clinton proposed a canal to link the Hudson River with Lake Erie. In April 1816, the legislature agreed to finance the canal, which was completed in 1825. Source: https://www.britannica.com/biography/DeWitt-Clinton-American-politician

Henry George (1839–1897): Henry George, a land reformer, economist, and an advocate for a single-tax on land. Source: https://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/bios/George.html

William Livingston (1723-1790): William Livingston was born in Albany, New York, and studied law at Yale College before moving to New York City. He represented New Jersey in the First and Second Continental Congress, was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and was the first man elected Governor of New Jersey. Livingston, New Jersey, is named in his honor—he was reelected 14 times and was responsible for the gradual emancipation laws of New Jersey. Source: https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-Livingston

Alice Roosevelt (1861-1884): Alice (Lee) Roosevelt was an American socialite and the first wife of President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1883, Alice became pregnant and gave birth to the couple’s daughter. Less than two days later, she died from kidney failure caused by Bright’s disease. Source:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_Hathaway_Lee_Roosevelt

Henry Rutgers (1745-1830): Henry Rutgers was born in New York City. After graduating from King’s College (now Columbia University), he became a supporter of independence. During the Battle of White Plains, Rutgers served as captain of the American forces and then later on as a colonel for the New York militia. Rutgers committed his fortune to philanthropy, donating land for the use of schools, churches, and charities. He donated to Queen’s College in New Brunswick, New Jersey which was renamed Rutgers College. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Rutgers

Henry Chadwick (1824-1908): English-born Chadwick was a sportswriter, baseball statistician and historian. He edited the first baseball guide and is sometimes called the “Father of Baseball.” In 1859, while working with the Brooklyn Excelsior club, Chadwick created the first modern box score. He included runs, hits, put outs, assists and errors the letter ‘K’ for strikeouts. He is a member of the baseball Hall of Fame. Source: https://baseballhall.org/hall-of-famers/chadwick-henry

Charles Ebbets (1859–1925): Ebbets was born and raised in New York City. He sold team tickets, score cards, and peanuts at the Brooklyn Baseball Association stadium in Washington Park on 5th Avenue and 3rd Street. Ebbets bought lots in the Flatbush area and opened Ebbets Field at the intersection of Empire Boulevard and Bedford Avenue. Ebbets received credit for many baseball innovations including the rain check, uniform numbers, and the way that teams should draft in inverse order based on their final standings. Source: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/charlie-ebbets/

Scoundrels

Albert Anastasia (1903-1957): Anastasia arrived in New York City from Italy in 1919. In the 1920s, Anastasia was an executioner for Giuseppe Masseria’s Brooklyn gang. Anastasia was charged with a series of murders, but in each case witnesses either disappeared or refused to testify. In the late 1930s, he became the leader of Murder Inc., earning Anastasia the nicknames “Mad Hatter” and the “Lord High Executioner.” In 1942, Anastasia joined the U.S. Army and was granted United States citizenship. In the late 1940s, he became boss of the Gambino Family (one of the Five Families of organized crime in New York City). Anastasia was murdered in 1957 in a New York City barber shop by rival mobsters. Source: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Albert-Anastasia

Jane Augusta Funk Blankman (1823–1860): Better known as Fanny White, she was one of the most successful prostitutes and wealthiest women in pre-Civil War New York City. She managed a brothel where her clientele included some of the richest men in New York City. In 1859, she married Edmon Blankman, a well-known criminal attorney. An initial autopsy revealed that Jane died as a result of a stroke that caused bleeding on her brain, however, rumors circulated that her husband poisoned her to inherit her wealth. Source: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/did-anyone-cry—when-jane-blankman-died.156198/

Joey “Crazy Joe” Gallo (1929–1972): Gallo was born in Red Hook, Brooklyn. His father Umberto was a bootlegger during Prohibition Gallo became an enforcer and a hit-man for the Profaci family and in 1957, Gallo and his crew murdered Albert Anastasia (boss of the Gambino family). After a prison term Gallo set up his own gang. In a gangland war, he was murdered by a gunman murdered for the Profaci-Colombo family. Source: https://mafia.wikia.org/wiki/Joey_Gallo

Carmine Persico (1933–2019): Persico was born in Brooklyn, New York, where he was a leader of the Garfield Boys gangs. In the 1950s, Persico was recruited by the Profaci family and he participated in the murder of Albert Anastasia and was a rival of Joey Gallo. Gallo twice tried to murder Persico by bombing his car and shooting him, however Persico survived both attempts. In 1968, Persico was convicted on federal hijacking charges and was sent to prison for eight years. He was later sentenced to 139 years in prison. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmine_Persico

William “Bill the Butcher” Poole (1821-1855): Poole was born in New Jersey, but his family moved to New York City in 1832 where his father opened a butcher shop. Poole was a member of volunteer Fire Engine Company #34, where he started the Washington Street Gang, later known as the Bowery Boys. The Bowery Boys were nativists and their main rivals were the Dead Rabbits, an Irish gang. Poole was also active in the anti-immigrant Know Nothings political movement. He was immortalized in the movie Gangs of New York. Source: https://www.historicmysteries.com/bill-the-butcher/

James Marion Sims (1813-1883): Sims was born in South Carolina and started his medical career in Montgomery, Alabama before moving to New York City. He was known as the father of modern gynecology. His reputation has changed because he developed pioneering tools and surgical techniques by experimenting without antiseptics or anesthesia on enslaved black women. Because of this, a statue of Sims was removed from New York’s Central Park in 2018 and it is now in storage at Greenwood cemetery.  Source: https://www.history.com/news/the-father-of-modern-gynecology-performed-shocking-experiments-on-slaves

Lynne Stewart (1939–2017): Stewart was was a defense attorney known for representing economically disadvantaged clients and controversial defendants. Her most famous client was Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman who was found guilty of leading the 1993 plot to blow up New York City landmarks including the World Trade Center. Rahman was sentenced to a life term in solitary confinement and Stewart, as his lawyer, was one of the few people authorized to visit him. In 2005, Stewart was convicted of smuggling messages between Rahman and his followers. She was disbarred and sent to prison. Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/07/nyregion/lynne-stewart-dead-radical-leftist-lawyer.html

William Maegar “Boss” Tweed (1823-1878): Tweed was born in New York City. In 1851, on his second try, he won the race for city alderman and then served in the House of Representatives from 1853 to 1855. He was elected to New York City’s Board of Supervisors in 1858. Tweed used this position to build the “Tweed Ring,” a political network of corruption. In 1863, Tweed was chosen to be the head of Tammany Hall’s general committee and began placing friends into influential positions. One of the grandest schemes that the Tweed Ring was involved in was the construction and furnishing of New York City’s courthouse. At a time where the land for Central Park cost New York City $5 million and St. Patrick’s Cathedral cost $2 million to build, the Courthouse ended up costing taxpayers $12 million because of inflated bills that provided kickbacks to members of the Tweed Ring. As the result of an anti-corruption campaign by the New York Times and cartoonist Thomas Nast of Harper’s Weekly, Tweed was arrested in 1871 and the Tweed Ring was dismantled. Tweed was convicted on 204 counts but escaped from custody and fled to Spain where he was captured by Spanish officials that recognized him from Nast cartoons. Source: https://www.green-wood.com/william-magear-boss-tweed/

Cypress Hills Cemetery

History of Cypress Hills Cemetery

The Cypress Hills Cemetery on Jamaica Avenue in Brooklyn near the Queens border was founded in November 1848. It is known as the “first cemetery in Greater New York to be organized under a law that is internationally recognized as ‘America’s contribution to the civilized burial of the dead.’” During the 1800s, many cemeteries were located in churchyards. The founders of Cypress Hills strayed from the common cemetery landscape to “look up unto the hills,” instead of using lowlands. Due to the size and geographic makeup of Cypress Hills Cemetery, it took almost three years of work to cut, clean, and properly landscape the land. As the work was being done, cannonballs and other Revolutionary war artifacts from the August 1776 Battle of Brooklyn were discovered on the grounds. Currently, the cemetery extends over 225 acres. A detailed map of notables is available online at this link

A Google Maps tour is located at this link.

Activists

Elizabeth Jennings Graham (1830-1901): Graham was born to free African-American parents and became a church organist and a teacher at the African Free School in New York City. In 1854, Jennings boarded a streetcar reserved for whites only at the corner of Pearl Street and Chatham Street. The conductor ordered to get off, she refused, and was forcibly removed by the conductor and police officer. Following the incident, Jennings wrote a letter, which was published in the New York Tribune, describing the events. Her letter received national attention and motivated the African-American community to start a movement to end racial discrimination on streetcars in New York City. On her behalf, Jennings’ father filed a lawsuit against the conductor. They were represented by future U.S. President Chester A. Arthur. The court ruled in their favor, awarding damages of $225. Source:

https://wanderwomenproject.com/women/elizabeth-jennings-graham/

Charlotte E. Ray (1850-1911): Ray was born on January 13, 1850, in New York, New York. As a student at the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth in Washington, D.C., she received a law degree in 1872. She was the first woman admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and the first Black woman to become a certified lawyer in the United States. Ray attempted to open a law office in Washington D.C., however, racial prejudices proved too strong and she couldn’t obtain enough legal business to maintain a steady, active practice. She returned to New York City where she taught in public schools. Source: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Charlotte-E-Ray

Arturo Schomburg (1874-1938): Schomburg was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and at a very young age, he experienced racism when his grade school teacher told him that black culture lacked any prominent individuals or noteworthy history. This comment disturbed Schomburg and ultimately sparked his lifelong dedication to debunking this claim. At the age of 17, he migrated to New York where he was active in movements for Cuban and Puerto Rican independence and co-founded a political club known as Las Dos Antillas. For the rest of his life, he collected historical documents such as books, prints, pamphlets, and articles produced by Africans in the Americas and Europe. He was a founder of the Negro Society for Historical Research and served as the leader of the American Negro Academy. He also wrote articles on the history of black culture for “The Crisis,” “Opportunity,” “Negro World” and others. In 1926, Schomburg sold his collection to the New York Public Library. Source:

https://www.naacpdesmoines.org/post/arthur-alfonso-schomburg

James McCune Smith (1813-1865): Smith was born into slavery on April 18, 1813 in New York City and set free on July 4, 1827 by the Emancipation Act of New York. He was the first African American to hold a medical degree, graduating at the top in his class from the University of Glasgow, Scotland. He applied to Columbia University and Geneva Medical College but was denied due to racial discrimination. When Smith returned to New York in 1837, he opened a practice in Manhattan in general surgery, treating both Black and white patients and operated the first Black-owned pharmacy in the U.S. He was also the first Black to publish in American medical journals. Smith was a prominent abolitionist and wrote essays and gave lectures refuting racist misconceptions about race and intelligence. After the New York Draft Riots in 1863, in which white rioters attacked Blacks throughout the city, Smith moved to  Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Source: https://www.nyhistory.org/web/africanfreeschool/bios/james-mccune-smith.html

Actors/Artists/Musicians

James “Eubie” Blake (1883-1983): Blake, an American pianist, lyricist, and composer of jazz music, was born on February 7, 1887 in Baltimore, MD. He was one of the most important figures in early-20th century African American music, particularly ragtime and early jazz music and culture. Blake began playing piano professionally when he was 16 years old and wrote his first composition, the Charleston Rag, around the same time. His career took off in 1915 when he met his long-time collaborator Noble Sissle and together they wrote Shuffle Along, one of the first Broadway musicals to be written and directed by African Americans. The show was a hit, running for 504 performances with 3 years of national tours. By 1975, Blake had received honorary doctorates from Rutgers, the University of Maryland, the New England Conservatory, Morgan State University, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn College and Dartmouth and in 1981, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Ronald Reagan. Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eubie_Blake; https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200038834/

Junius B. Stearns (1810-1885): Stearns is most well-known for his five-part painting series of George Washington. Washington as a Statesman depicts Washington addressing the Constitutional Convention and was used on a U.S. Postage Stamp in 1937. Source: https://eazel.net/artists/68

Mary Jane “Mae” West (1893-1980): Her mother was an immigrant from Germany and her father was the Brooklyn prizefighter “Battlin’ Jack” West. At the age of five, Mae made her first stage appearance at a church gathering. Not long after, Mae was performing at amateur night at local burlesque theaters as “Baby May.” At the age of 14, West began performing professionally in vaudeville, impersonating adult vaudeville and burlesque performers. In 1926, West wrote, produced, directed, and starred the Broadway play “Sex,” which both got her arrested and made her known around the world.  Ten years later, Hollywood noticed West’s talent she stared in many films. Source: https://www.biography.com/actor/mae-west

Sports Figures.

James “Gentleman Jim” Corbett (1866-1933): Corbett was an American professional boxer and a World Heavyweight Champion. He is the only person who ever defeated John Sullivan in the World HeavyWeight Championship in 1892. “Gentleman Jim”  is considered the “Father of Modern Boxing.” Source: https://www.thefightcity.com/fight-city-legends-gentleman-jim-boxing/

Jackie Robinson (1919-1972): Robinson was born in Georgia and attended college in California where he played basketball, football, baseball, and ran track. During World War II, Robinson left college to enlist in the U.S. Army, where he moved up to second lieutenant in two years, but then was court-martialed when he challenged incidents of racial discrimination. Starting in 1945, Robinson played professional baseball in the Negro League. Robinson later signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers and broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. As a rookie, Robinson led the National League in stolen bases and was chosen Rookie of the Year. In 1949, he won the National League batting championship with a .342 average and was voted Most Valuable Player. His career batting average was .311 and he was the first African-American elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1997, Major League Baseball retired his number 42. Source: https://www.jackierobinson.com/

Scoundrels

Margaretta and Catherine Fox (1833–1893; 1837–1892): The Fox sisters were American spiritualists and performers who would pass messages to each other by cracking their toes during a seance and claimed they could talk to the dead. The Fox sisters were eventually exposed as fakes and were forced to admit their act was all fraud. Source: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2016/11/04/in-the-joints-of-their-toes/

Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day?

Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day?

On October 11, 2021, cities across the United States celebrated Indigenous People’s Day. The idea of a day celebrating the indigenous peoples of the Americas was first introduced at the United Nations in 1977. In 2007, a UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People declared that October 12 would be an International Day of Solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. On October 12, 2021, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a proclamation recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day. However, Hochul also marched in a Columbus Day parade. President Joe Biden issued a similar proclamation declaring that “On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, our Nation celebrates the invaluable contributions and resilience of Indigenous peoples, recognizes their inherent sovereignty, and commits to honoring the Federal Government’s trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations.”

In New Jersey, legislation was introduced in the State Assembly to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day as an official state holiday but it did not pass. Newark has recognized Indigenous People’s Day since 2017 and Princeton since 2019. New Jersey has three state-recognized tribes, the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation, the Powhatan Renape Nation, and the Ramapough Lunaape Nation. It also has the largest concentration of people of Italian ancestry in the United States. Columbus Day has been celebrated since 1937. Jameson Sweet, a Rutgers University professor, argues that switching from Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day is “about acknowledging this difficult past that is usually erased.” Joseph Pennacchio, a Republican state senator from Morris County, responds that Columbus’ voyages “The bottom line is that little flicker of flame started what we now know as America.”

Lisa DuBois, New York–based artist curator and photojournalist, Social Documentary Network: “We are at the start of a new age in American history, one in which the past will be examined more closely. Thirteen states do not observe Columbus Day as a public holiday. Indigenous Peoples’ Day or Native American Day is observed and celebrated in Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, D.C., and Wisconsin and South Dakota instead of Columbus Day. For centuries, we have been misled by skewed interpretations of historical events, and fiction has turned into perceived facts. We as a society recoil when confronted with unpleasant realities, and a minority must bear the responsibility of enlightening others with the truth, due to multigenerational impressions carried along with the fervor of religious and or political convictions on topics such as slavery and Native American genocide. Columbus Day will evolve into an Italian American appreciation day as the focus shifts to the magnificent contributions that Italian Americans have made to the diversity of a new multicultural America, and Columbus will claim his rightful place in history as a ruthless explorer.

Karla Freire, Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School, Queens, New York: “I firmly believe that Columbus Day should be permanently renamed “Indigenous Peoples Day” in order to commemorate the millions of lives that were lost in the Americas during European conquest in the 15th and 16th centuries. Additionally, it should be a day to openly acknowledge and reflect upon the traumatic effects of colonialism that are still felt by Indigenous peoples and people of indigenous descent, today. The name “Columbus Day” needs to become a remnant of the past. It should be referred to as “Indigenous Peoples Day” on a national level. To continue to honor Columbus, as a country, is deeply harmful and offensive to indigenous peoples of the United States, as well as some within the Latinx community, like Latinx people of indigenous descent. As a Latina of indigenous descent, it pains me to think about anyone honoring Columbus or when people are upset regarding its name change. Many people in “defense” of Columbus Day do not realize or fully process the horrific, dishonorable behavior Columbus and his men carried out in the Americas after 1492. According to historical accounts, written by Columbus himself, the peoples Europeans first encountered were peaceful, gentle, and even generous towards them. Yet, Columbus and his men, fueled by greed and cruelty, tortured and murdered them. They brutally raped women and young girls. Dogs, trained to kill, were brought from Spain to attack and murder any “disobedient” or “rebellious” indigenous peoples. To defend Columbus and regard him as a man that deserves statues and a holiday dedicated to him, demonstrates a fundamental lack of historical knowledge, depth, and empathy.

For those that state it is unfair to Italians, it denies them an opportunity to celebrate their heritage – I ask the following questions: Do you really want to celebrate your heritage using a despicable person, like Columbus, as your cultural representative? There are so many other Italian figures who can be honored and used to represent your culture, who are not problematic–why not pick someone, like Mother Cabrini, to honor instead? Finally, the most important question for Columbus Day defenders is: Why are you still so willing to celebrate your heritage through Columbus, even though he was a man who tried to erase my own heritage and culture?”