Like so many literature lovers, I’d been eagerly anticipating yesterday's release of Go Set a Watchman. For nearly two years, I’ve been thinking about the world of Maycomb as I worked with colleagues to create Facing History and Ourselves’ resource Teaching Mockingbird. I couldn’t wait to read Watchman, which has been described as a first draft or “parent” of To Kill a Mockingbird, to learn more about how Harper Lee first imagined beloved characters like Atticus, Scout, and Jem, and to see how she depicts Maycomb in the 1950s.
About two years ago, when I began reading draft chapters of Facing History’s new publication on the Reconstruction era in American history, I got to thinking back to how I learned about this period in high school in 1959 and in college, and also how I taught it to my students while teaching high school several years later in 1965.
In both my high school class as student, and later my high school classes as a teacher, I used the same textbook, David Saville Muzzey’s 1937 A History of Our Country, which for decades was the most widely used high school text on American history. Curious about what I learned and how I taught it, I dug out my well-worn copy and looked at how Muzzey wrote about Reconstruction.
A book recently came into my possession that has been tossed around in my family like a hot potato for several generations.
Entitled Religion and Slavery: A Vindication of Southern Churches, the book's author was James McNeilly, a Presbyterian minister and confederate veteran from Nashville, Tennessee. Inside the front cover is an inscription from the author to my great-great-great-grandmother.
"To Corinne Lawrence: A tried and true friend of many years—and a devoted lover of the Old South which I have tried to vindicate."
Sam Hose. Thomas Moss. Elias Clayton. Keith Bowen. Jesse Thornton. William Little. Jeff Brown.
They are just seven names of thousands of black Americans murdered by lynching, many of which were included last week in a report from Bryan Stevenson's Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) that identifies victims of lynching between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950. It's a list that could go on for pages and, yet, still to this day remains incomplete.
The history of lynching remains widely unknown today, especially among many white Americans.