Category Archives: US History

As we wait to see if history will repeat itself, do not forget this Executive Order, 75 Years Ago today



Executive Order No. 9066

The President

Executive Order

Authorizing the Secretary of War to Prescribe Military Areas

Whereas the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises, and national-defense utilities as defined in Section 4, Act of April 20, 1918, 40 Stat. 533, as amended by the Act of November 30, 1940, 54 Stat. 1220, and the Act of August 21, 1941, 55 Stat. 655 (U.S.C., Title 50, Sec. 104);

Now, therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion. The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary, in the judgment of the Secretary of War or the said Military Commander, and until other arrangements are made, to accomplish the purpose of this order. The designation of military areas in any region or locality shall supersede designations of prohibited and restricted areas by the Attorney General under the Proclamations of December 7 and 8, 1941, and shall supersede the responsibility and authority of the Attorney General under the said Proclamations in respect of such prohibited and restricted areas.

I hereby further authorize and direct the Secretary of War and the said Military Commanders to take such other steps as he or the appropriate Military Commander may deem advisable to enforce compliance with the restrictions applicable to each Military area herein above authorized to be designated, including the use of Federal troops and other Federal Agencies, with authority to accept assistance of state and local agencies.

I hereby further authorize and direct all Executive Departments, independent establishments and other Federal Agencies, to assist the Secretary of War or the said Military Commanders in carrying out this Executive Order, including the furnishing of medical aid, hospitalization, food, clothing, transportation, use of land, shelter, and other supplies, equipment, utilities, facilities, and services.

This order shall not be construed as modifying or limiting in any way the authority heretofore granted under Executive Order No. 8972, dated December 12, 1941, nor shall it be construed as limiting or modifying the duty and responsibility of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with respect to the investigation of alleged acts of sabotage or the duty and responsibility of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice under the Proclamations of December 7 and 8, 1941, prescribing regulations for the conduct and control of alien enemies, except as such duty and responsibility is superseded by the designation of military areas hereunder.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

The White House,

February 19, 1942.

[F.R. Doc. 42–1563; Filed, February 21, 1942; 12:51 p.m.]

Source: Executive Order No. 9066, February 19, 1942.

One Hundred and Fifty Years Later

ImageOne hundred and fifty years ago, a good deal of Manhattan was under siege.  The New York Draft Riots were in their second day.   New Yorkers would have locked themselves in their houses, worried that the events of yesterday would continue. 

Those events involved the burning of significant parts of Manhattan, the destruction of the Colored Orphans Asylum, the murder of about 100 innocent black people, and the attack on the homes of both wealthy and anti-slavery New Yorkers.  Mobs of mostly Irish men were protesting the draft, and standing against the threat that the newly freed slaves would bring to their jobs.   They did not want to die for a black man’s freedom, so they killed them in New York streets.

Last night, it rained in New York.  The rain also fell on the first night of the Draft Riots, but the rage continued.  Most of the North was celebrating the Union victory at Gettysburg.  In New York, the veterans of Gettysburg came to put down the riot.  It took weeks, perhaps even decades, to heal the city.

In Florida, families would have been mourning their dead from Gettysburg.  They may have questioned the North as well:  how self righteous of the North to say that the South mistreats its black people when they hunt them down and lynch them in New York!  To burn down an orphan’s asylum showed a deep lack of respect for life, and the slave — even as property — was much better respected…or so they may have thought. 

It is one hundred and fifty years later, and New Yorkers are gathering to mourn a young black man killed in Florida’s streets, as the man who took his life was found “not guilty”.   Just as those black New Yorkers were doing nothing but walking around one hundred and fifty years ago in the wrong place at the wrong time, Trayvon Martin was walking around and doing nothing, being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  

We will never know exactly what happened on the night Trayvon Martin was killed, but I would like to think that those black men murdered on New York’s streets one hundred and fifty years ago may have thought that, riding on the victory of Gettysburg, we would see a restored Union based on freedom and basic human rights.  And this Union would include Florida, and in Florida, or in any state for that matter, a black man could live without fear. 

They must have thought it would be better one hundred and fifty years later.


The Rebel Yell

The Rebel Yell


It was psychologically overwhelming to hear the Rebel Yell on the battlefield.  Here is a wonderful clip showing Civil War veterans remembering the call to battle! Click link

Why We’re Not Studying the Civil War


Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the battle which turned the tide of the Civil War…or the War Between the States.  Here, in New York City, there is no feeling that the war ever happened.  We sent our troops to fight for the Union, and many of them marched on New York a few weeks after Gettysburg to put down our Draft Riots.  Most of what stood during the Draft Riots of 1863 is no longer standing, including the entire neighborhood of Five Points.   Incidentally, I bet that most New Yorkers don’t even know about the Draft Riots unless they watched the movie Gangs of New York.

Most Americans don’t know the details of the Civil War.  They know it happened, that the South lost, that slavery is bad, and that Lincoln was President and was assassinated sometime around the Civil War..maybe during?  maybe after?  Southerners still like to wave Confederate flags, this we hear in the news.  The Civil War was the war which defined the United States of America.  This is the war which we are still, in many cases, fighting.  Why don’t we study it more intensely?  Here are some thoughts:

– We are still passionately concerned about the rights of the states versus a centralized government.  The Civil War, like no other event before, brought these concerns to the table.  That the concerns turned into secession is a frightening reality to face, and one best kept in remote history.  We like to think that history does not repeat itself, so it’s better not to teach it.

-The South seceded and the South was armed.  Soldiers brought their own guns and Bowie knives to the field.  We laugh about this up North.  We also make statements about gun control which anger Southerners, and we mock Southerners who are arming themselves for the next Civil War.

-Southerners do this because the war never ended for them.  One still feels the reverberations of Sherman’s march in the South, and Southerners still feel the sting of having been invaded.  To walk in the south is to walk through the Civil War, where every town has its remembered heroes and open fields were once battle grounds.  For many, history should be facts to be repeated, and not living realities.

-Paula Dean.  We have not learned the parameters of respect.  And considering that those genteel Yankees set a targeted fire to a Colored Orphanage during the Draft Riots, we also had our issues with respect up here.

– This is a complex war.  Robert E. Lee opposed slavery yet led the South.  Abraham Lincoln did not want to end slavery initially. We like very clear answers, not complexity which may, gods forbid, result in discussion and not ready test answers.  This type of thinking may pull down a  hero or two and expose them as complex human beings.

-We have class issues.  During the drafts, the poor were pulled in to fight, whereas the rich could buy their way out. Divisions of class were very evident to the soldiers, just as divisions of class are very evident today.

-Americans, both Yankee and Rebel, have an affinity for showing the atrocities of other nations but not the atrocities committed here.  American slavery was one of the most brutal systems of slavery the world has ever seen. Nat Turner massacred white men, women, and children because he felt that a bloody revolt was the necessary path.  John Brown also felt this way.  He and his followers pulled slavery-supporting men from their beds, leaving their wives and children to find their murdered bodies in the morning on the lawn.  Sherman’s march was total war:  a scorched earth terror campaign.  Terrorist acts were quite common on both sides.

So, think about Bloody July this year and all those who died 150 years ago.  I’m willing to assert that every soldier who served felt that no one would forget the Civil War, regardless of whether they lived or died.  It would be “one for the history books” ….books which no longer exist, at least in most New York City Public Schools.


billy kid

It is difficult to escape the news reports concerning Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, caught at age 19 after his involvement in the horrific Boston Marathon bombing alongside his brother Tamlan, age 26.  By all accounts, Dzhokhar was a nice guy, the last person anyone would suspect of terrorism.  The blame circulates:  it was Islam, it was American society, it was his brother’s dissatisfaction with his life, it was brainwashing.  We are reminded of other attacks:  the Columbine shooting carried out by teenage boys, or perhaps the Newtown shooting, where twenty six people died at the hands of a 20 year old.  We are also told that this is a product of our modern, violence-crazed society, but the one common factor keeps getting ignored:  these are very young men committing these atrocities.

Have we seen this before outside of warfare, where boys of this age would be praised for slicing and bombing their enemies, however defined, to bits?

Would we brand another young brother team a terrorist group if they robbed banks, trains and stagecoaches, and in the process of their robberies, killed anyone who stood in their way?  The James brothers, forged from their experience as teens during the Civil War, formed an outlaw group of about a dozen men, terrorizing Missouri, Minnesota, Kentucky, Iowa, Texas, West Virginia, Arkansas and Kansas.  While the motive of financial gain may be clear, we must remember that they also felt that the Republican government was robbing them, so many of their robberies and intimidation tactics were political retaliation against what they felt was an unjust state.

Was Billy the Kid a terrorist?  He started off as a “good boy” and who, in his teen years, would steal cheese and clothing out of necessity.  When he fell under the spell of a gangster named John R. Mackie, the game changed.  More nefarious father figures entered his life.  The stealing escalated and, presumably in self-defense, he killed his first man at age 18.   By the time of his death at age 22, he killed approximately 21 men.  Most of these men, his supporters felt, “got what they deserved.”   Billy the Kid did not target the innocent, but those who were outlaws and thieves, and he supported Native American and Mexicans who fought to reclaim their land from Western settlers.  Was he misunderstood?  The product of an unstable childhood?

Neither the James brothers nor Billy the Kid seem to have a clear motive or cause.  They killed rivals, they robbed for profit, and they defended their territory against other gangs.  Throughout the 19th century, unnamed boys living in cities such as Chicago and New York also preyed on the unaware, but most of the violence took place in their own communities, in neighborhoods such as Five Points.  Until the Draft Riots of 1963, most New Yorkers wouldn’t know about the Dead Rabbits or Bowery Boys, just as most New Yorkers today don’t know the details of gang activity in marginalized neighborhoods.   To those living in Five Points, were they terrorists, or lost boys?   They were also killing, robbing and defending, but without a central cause other than survival in their poverty stricken world.

These were kids who missed the Civil War, the defining conflict of their generation, or were scarred by their participation in the War.  Billy the Kid lived in its shadow, but Frank James participated in Quantrill’s Raid, where nearly 200 abolitionists were slaughtered.   Frank James will live well into old age, but Jesse James barely makes it past thirty.  Would a war have made a difference?  We don’t often hear about the atrocities of war outside of war:  the bomber who wipes out a village does not make our papers.  Outside of war, the outlaw or terrorist teen is remembered.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev rests in a hospital bed today, charged with crimes against the innocent in the name of a cause.  I’m not sure if this is something Billy the Kid or the James brothers would recognize, although innocent victims most certainly met their end because of Billy the Kid and the James brothers.  Would they understand Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and see themselves in him?  And if so, will other disaffected teens continue to pick up arms until the next conflict unites them, and excuses the killing?

Remembering Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman died one hundred years ago today.  If i ask my students who she was, they will know that she was a former slave and later abolitionist, and that she was instrumental in running the Underground Railroad.  She saved seventy slaves by bringing them to freedom herself, knowing that if she had been caught,  she would be returned to slavery.  This would serve as a satisfactory test answer, and clearly enough to honor her as a great American.  Her complexity and the complexity of her time should allow us to dig deeper into her story.

First, we should remember that she was born into slavery, yet never accepted the institution of slavery.  She faced President Abraham Lincoln in demanding that he consider the abolition of slavery.  People have written that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, started the war as a war against slavery, but others have offered Harriet Tubman, the living example of slavery’s horror and injustice, as the force which demanded the end to slavery.

She supported John Brown’s raid, and served as a nurse and spy during the war. Unlike other individuals who served during the War, Harriet Tubman did not receive compensation for her service until long after the War ended, and even then, it was only a fraction of what others received.  She spent most of her later years in poverty because the government denied her any remuneration, and because she gave most of her meager funds to others.  She owned land in Auburn, New York, and relied on contributions from friends and supporters to live.

She became a suffragist, and made numerous speeches about her experiences, but she had to sell cows to make the travel arrangements to speak.   She even took in borders to help pay expenses, but this worked to her advantage:  she fell in love with one of her borders, over twenty years her junior, and married him.

She escaped slavery to live in poverty.  And she lived in constant pain due to a head injury incurred during her youth as a slave.  When she was around 70,  she received brain surgery (and chose not to receive anesthesia during the operation) which alleviated her suffering.  Ten years later, she used her land to found a home for the aged, and lived there until her death.  She died at age 93.

Was this the America she envisioned?  Free,  yet cheated by her government.  Free, yet unable to vote because of her gender.  Pain, headaches, dizziness and sleep disorders, with relief coming only in her sunset years.  And yet, her words resonate:  “If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.”Harriet_Tubman_by_Squyer,_NPG,_c1885.jpg


Teaching, Collaboration, and the Wild Life of Frederick Townsend Ward

Frederick Towsend Ward

Last week, our Revolutions class discussed the Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864)  As an instructor, I chose to focus on the rebellion’s beginnings — Hong Xioquan’s vision of a utopian world, his dedication to the  equality of the sexes…not to forget  that he taught his followers that he was Jesus Christ’s long lost brother and that Buddhism, traditional Chinese religions, and dragons were demonic!  There are many angles to work with when discussing this massive rebellion (the body count hovers at around 50 million).  But one of my students pointed out something:  I didn’t discuss Frederick Townsend Ward.

This is true:  in focusing so much on Hong Xioquan, I went right to the end and brought in Charles “Chinese” Gordon, and the demise of the Taiping Rebellion.  But Frederick Townsend Ward, an American from Salem, Massachusetts,  trained the army which won the war.  His  “Ever Victorious Army” was made up of not just the newly trained Chinese local soldiers, but the forgotten of Shanghai: former pirates, mercenaries, drunks, sailors, lost men, and refugees.

Frederick Townsend Ward was their leader in many ways.  He dropped out of school at age 16 after many years of rebellion.  His father named him second mate on a friend’s ship, but he was thrown overboard for his attitude.  His life turned into many adventures, but never was he a follower of authority.  For a period, he worked with William Walker in Mexico helping to train mercenaries to overthrow governments and set up American colonies throughout Latin America (Walker went on to buy the office of President of Nicaragua, but was sentenced to death in Honduras).   Ward went to the Crimean War to serve with the French, but he was dismissed for insubordination.

His last stop was Shanghai, where he accepted a position in the Shanghai Pirate Suppression Bureau.  The Taiping rebels were coming toward Shanghai, and he, with his mercenary army of anyone who could stay sober enough to fire a weapon, fought back.  Ward was injured over a dozen times during the conflicts, and he finally died of a gunshot wound during the Battle of Cixi in 1862.

Frederick Townsend Ward does not deserve to be forgotten, and neither does his successor, “Chinese” Gordon, or the entire Taiping Rebellion.  Most Americans have no frame of reference for the Taiping Rebellion whatsoever, and I would guess that hardly anyone outside of England knows Gordon and what he went on to do in the Sudan.   Our history books, test designers, and curriculum planners choose what should be covered, and how it should be covered.  In a collaborative class, a student has the power to stand up and say, “But what about…” and it may change the course of the class for the better.   We need to listen to our students, respond to what they think shouldn’t be omitted, and create the curriculum as democratically as we can.

Here’s to Frederick Townsend Ward, who is far too interesting and important to be a footnote in history, and here’s to my student who read God’s Chinese Son by Jonathan D. Spence before joining our class, and felt empowered to demand his inclusion in the study on Taiping.

Emmett Till, Forgotten


Many of my students know the song “Karate Chop” in which Lil Wayne brings out the name of Emmett Till — and laughs — in a reference too vulgar to repeat here.   I’m wondering, however, how many know who Emmett Till was.  Some may identify him as “someone involved in civil rights”, which would be an acceptable test answer.  They may not realize that he was an unwilling civil rights symbol, as he died at age 14 after being attacked by a white group of adults in the summer of 1955.   What did he do?  He may have whistled at a white woman.  Maybe.  He was from Chicago and was visiting Mississippi, and his “northern attitude” may have provided motivation.   The men beat him, gouged out an eye, shot him in the head and threw his body the river.

J.W. Milam, one of those men who was acquitted in court but later confessed to the murder,   was quoted a year later in Look magazine:

“Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless. I’m no bully; I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers—in their place—I know how to work ’em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are gonna stay in their place. Niggers ain’t gonna vote where I live. If they did, they’d control the government. They ain’t gonna go to school with my kids. And when a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he’s tired o’ livin’. I’m likely to kill him. Me and my folks fought for this country, and we got some rights. I stood there in that shed and listened to that nigger throw that poison at me, and I just made up my mind. ‘Chicago boy,’ I said, ‘I’m tired of ’em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddam you, I’m going to make an example of you—just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.”

He killed Emmett Till, and ended up dying in the 1980s, perfectly content and with no regrets.

So, as we look at the future of education and focus more on job preparedness and test scores, we miss some of history’s most disturbing and resonating stories.  Emmett Till died decades ago, but there have been many Emmett Tills since his death.  We have learned nothing.  It was a case which shocked the North, but no one remembers today.  It is not a part of the new standardized, test driven curriculum championed by Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama.

No one remembers, and when no one remembers, nothing will change.

Note:   J.W. Milam had a ninth grade education, and left rural Mississippi only to fight in World War II.  His critical thinking skills were clearly lacking.  Lil Wayne dropped out of school when he was 14.   Emmett Till would have been a ninth grader at age 14.

Django Unchained as Education


Django Unchained has received a lot of commentary this year, and deservedly so.   Spike Lee condemned it, historians criticized some of its details, and film critics lauded it.  Can such a movie teach us about American history, and if so, in what ways?

-The obvious:  slavery was brutal.   The violence in the film may be too much for my younger students, but Americans can never dismiss the violence and dehumanization of slavery.   The image shown here of Gordon, a real former slave from the same Mississippi featured in the film, makes a statement in its own right, and it may have been what Quentin Tarantino was thinking about when he visualized the whippings and scars.   Also, female and male slaves experienced the dehumanization quite differently.  Tarantino is famous for all of the blood, but he restrains himself from depicting what most female slaves, especially those as beautiful as Brunhilda,  faced.  Surprisingly, our history books still don’t stress any of this brutality.

-Slavery was also PSYCHOLOGICALLY brutal.  Hence, the vicious character of Stephen, or the diabolical Calvin Candie.   Why, during one whipping scene, were slaves on swings, apparently relaxing on a hot summer’s day?

-The History of Racism is complicated.  Tarantino offers a disturbing soliloquy delivered by Candie on phrenology and servitude, which frames a great deal of the American arguments about race, found both in the South AND North.   The addition of King Schultz provides the German perspective on American slavery and racism.  What were non-Americans writing and discussing at the time when looking at America and slavery?  Why, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, did Eliza want to escape to Canada and NOT the North?

– The mistakes:  the Klu Klux Klan came later (but there were earlier groups similar to the Klan) and there is no strong evidence for Mandingo fighting.  Are these mistakes?  Can a filmmaker take liberties with history in the spirit of creativity?

– The History of Film.  Tarantino pulls from the “Spaghetti Western” and “Blaxploitation” genres.   We need not forget that one of the first great commercial successes in Hollywood was the 1915 Birth of a Nation, which, in many ways, is far more disturbing than even the most violent scenes of Django Unchained.

-History inspires creativity.  Django is not from history directly, but he is inspired by history.  What other films, novels, or artworks use history as a base for creative expression?

We can also think of Django many other educational ways, with the “Hero’s Journey” (from Joseph Campbell)  being one which I’d love to explore more, as a sort of Odysseus-Django comparison.  In religious studies and philosophy, the idea of “ultimate concern” (from Paul Tillich) would make an interesting paper, as would using Django’s ethics alongside Aristotle, Plato, and Arjuna’s in the Bhagavada Gita.    While I would not hesitate to show this film in a college classroom, I feel more comfortable leaving it up to homeschooling families to decide if it is appropriate for their children – or perhaps focusing on scenes, when it is released on DVD.

But one of the strongest questions relating to Django Unchained and education came for me at the end of the film, when my daughter asked me, “What would happen next?”.  What WOULD happen next for Django, riding off into the sunset…in Mississippi…just before the Civil War?   Think about it, and be grateful that Quentin Tarantino left it open for us to contemplate creatively.