Note: The ideas and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the authors' and should not be ascribed to the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes or its members. On August 5, 2021, we archived old blog posts. You can find the archive by clicking here.
A Look at the Other Side of American History, the Untold Stories
"We never learned this in school" is often heard while discussing Howard Zinn's book, A People's History of the United States.
Although we're familiar with stories of successful Americans (many of us have lived through most of the twentieth century), Zinn's book invites us to look at history from the side of women, factory workers, Native Americans, African Americans, the working poor, and immigrant laborers from Columbus' arrival through President Clinton's first term. Our country's battles for fair wages, eight-hour workdays, child-labor laws, health and safety standards, universal suffrage, women's rights, and racial equality have been fought at a grassroots level against violent resistance.
Reading about rampant racism, robber barons, unionizing workers, attacks on Native Americans and foreigners, inflation, soaring market prices, and the inequality of women elicits a sense of deja vu--there's nothing new under the sun.
Our Declaration of Independence says all of us have an equal right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Yet our American system of government supports the interests of the wealthy. Racism and other inequalities are still alive and well in the land of the free. Contrary to familiar narratives we grew up with, the United States has not always welcomed the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to be free. Systemic inequality and economic oppression have not resulted in a smooth melting pot of diversity. America is not always the hero on a white horse fighting for the underdog, but rather a shrewd corporate machine that selectively becomes involved in war for economic and political gain. It's easy to hold the belief that our system is broken; what's not easy is examining history in detail and concluding the system is operating exactly as it was designed.
This book invites us to hear the evening news differently. When troops are assembled for war, what must their families and jobs relinquish? When whole neighborhoods are destroyed, how are they made livable again? Who cares for the wounded and buries the dead? Our hope is that A People's History of the United States will broaden our understanding of the social and political pressures of our day. We must look for those who are disenfranchised and abandoned and find ways to support them fully living the values expressed in our country's founding declarations.
(There is a copy of Howard Zinn’s book, “A People’s History of the United States” in the CSA JPIC Resource Library.)