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My unsanctioned history education

Poor folks tred water and avoid motor boat
Fulton L. Peay

Today, history is being relegated to the education basement, but any citizen can fight back. My parents went and took their own history education and taught me to do the same. You see, they lived through the Depression and knew future generations needed to remember it. I have often felt it was no accident that Glass-Steagel was repealed when this generation was elderly and dying. Now I am passing on my sub-rosa, guerilla education to my son.

Though he did not describe the horrors to me in detail, my father frequently insisted, “Remember the Battle of Anacostia Flats”. Why he remembered this 1932 incident so clearly (he was 12) is explained by Glen Craney’s The Yanks Are Starving, a beautifully researched recent novel. WWI veterans, promised a bonus in 1945, marched to Washington to get it in the horrible days of 1932. Most believed they would starve before 1945. Many equally desperate, ordinary Americans helped their march to get justice. Eventually, General Douglas MacArthur drove these veterans out of their encampment with tanks, cavalry, and fixed bayonets.

One of the services provided by the Works Progress Administration was in-school jobs during students’ free periods. Both my parents got the experience of earning this way, and Daddy used his money to buy a big, tubed radio. With this, he began following the European news in the late 1930s and so learned about the Spanish Civil War, where a constitutionally elected government had been taken over by facists. He recognized the peril immediately and later bought me a copy of Alvah Bessie’s Men in Battle so I could learn the truth of that conflict, which turned into a warm-up for World War II.

Mama’s eternal ferreting in the library brought us the works of Harry Golden, whose paper, The Carolina Israelite, we used to take. From Harry Golden, I learned the plight of immigrants and the early history of labor unions. His short, almost bite-sized, reminiscences led me to learn about such figures as Eugene Victor Debs, Ida Tarbell, and Mother Jones. It pleases me to see quotes and pictures of so many of these people on Facebook. Now I know many people are involved in getting our younger citizens to understand history and why it is so important.

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