Forum, April 8: Don’t Blindly Buy History’s Myths

Saturday, April 07, 2018
Don’t Blindly Buy History’s Myths

Thank you for the article about the racist destruction of Noyes Academy in Canaan in 1835, and of Dan Billin’s ongoing work to shine light on this and other darker aspects of northern New England’s history (“Separate and Unequal: Racists Destroyed an Integrated School in Canaan in 1835,” April 3).

This is in stark contrast to the musical at the Briggs Opera House, 1776, which portrays a narrow and whitewashed (pun intended) version of the founding of our country (“History, Politics and Drama: ‘1776’ Spurs Reconsideration of America’s Founding Spirit,” March 29).

For those who choose to attend a performance of 1776, this is the question I hope you will ask yourself (and others, during the talk-back session): Who is left out of this story? Whose story is erased, or suppressed? I believe that it is important for us to examine history from many angles. Yes, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson said and wrote many admirable things. They (and all the founders and colonists) also did things that are deplorable. They bought and sold people, and used them as if they were cattle. They split up families. They tortured and killed those who were not docile and obedient enough.

Jefferson wrote about the evils of slavery, yet he continued to own slaves and extolled the virtues of owning black women, who would increase “capital” by bearing children. In Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson expressed the belief that blacks were inherently inferior to white people, “in critical thinking and beauty.” (He thought black people had superior musical ability, however!)

The words of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are inspiring, but they remain aspirational. It is dangerous to blindly buy into the myths of history, from the happy First Thanksgiving to Manifest Destiny to the myth that the American Civil War was about anything other than slavery. We should be honest about the mistakes and blunders of the past, so that we may learn from them and strive to live into the admirable words Jefferson and others wrote. We are not there yet.

Frances Brokaw


What’s Left Out of ‘1776’

Since Donald Trump’s election, many people have been dismayed over the state of our democracy and have longed for a time when the principles of this country’s founding — typically listed as debate, compromise and fairness, among others — were universally followed and respected. Though I can recognize that such efforts are well-intentioned, ultimately these misguided attempts fall short, and more often, are extremely damaging to the people who have been left out of this country’s violent history. Such rewriting of history perpetuates the erasure of peoples, cultures and civilizations that existed before the United States, and still struggle to be recognized to this day.

I believe history and how it’s told matter. When we choose to include or exclude some groups from the retelling of this nation’s history, that has an effect. In The 1776 Project (“History, Politics and Drama: ‘1776’ Spurs Reconsideration of America’s Founding Spirit,” March 29), what is left out of the “reconsideration of America’s founding spirit” is the theft of land and of people, genocide, systemic racism, disenfranchisement and imprisonment of people of color upon whose backs this country was built.

If we want to have a frank conversation about the founding principles of this country, then we cannot exclude the countless atrocities carried out in the name of American democracy. Consider what you’ve been taught, formally and informally, about how our country was founded. Think about who benefited from the systems established and who did not. The “founding” of the United States is not a happy story and we should not treat it as an ideal to work toward.

Instead of reacting to the xenophobia, homophobia and racism unleashed in Trump’s America with a whitewashed version of history, why not examine the roots of the systems of oppression in this country and better understand how many of us continue to uphold and benefit from those systems. It’s true that there is much work to be done, but the founding of the United States is certainly not the example to follow. We can do better.

Paige Heverlt


A Founding Based on Theft

Everything about this 1776 thing gives me dry heaves (“History, Politics and Drama: ‘1776’ Spurs Reconsideration of America’s Founding Spirit,” March 29).

White colonizers “created” the United States through the theft of life, land and labor. The struggles of the perpetrators in this land-grab are a tiny snippet of the real story. If the country is to have a future, Americans will need to learn the true history of the country — the whole history. To present only the white-colonizer version of the story is reprehensible beyond belief. You can dress women in men’s clothing and recast them as founders, but still you end up reproducing the creation of an economic and political system that to this day murders indigenous people and people of color to uphold a white power structure.

The disruption of communities of color through thoughtless gentrification, the ripping apart of families in deportations and slavery in the form of mass incarceration continue on a ramped-up schedule in Donald Trump’s United States. And a group of clueless whites want to “start a conversation” about compromise? Hell no! Better that they had developed a project to reflect how wrong and dangerous the failed experiment of the USA has been from the get-go.

Carolyn M. Bardos


‘1776’ a Fantastic Production

If anyone would like to be reminded that our country did not just happen, we urge you to go see 1776 at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction. Twenty-six actors became the living, breathing men of the Congress that struggled to set the Colonies free from British rule. What a tumultuous time. Fighting, swearing, hollering, chiding, but somehow they got the job done without killing each other.

This musical play brought to life — with beautiful costumes, great staging, fantastic voices and acting — how difficult it was (and still is) to talk about issues and gain consensus. And there was no air conditioning then or much in the way of comfort ... but they asked for, and received, mugs of rum during the proceedings. What a great production by Perry Allison and crew. Don’t miss this show.

Betsey Child and Jim Shibles