History quote of the day: Dreams of the future

I noticed this quote from Thomas Jefferson many years ago, but never posted it because I blog about history, not the future.

I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.

But I just looked up the letter where this quote appears in the Monticello database, and really like its source: a letter to John Adams in 1816.

“Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. Education and free discussion are the antidotes of both. We are destined to be a barrier against the returns of ignorance and barbarism. Old Europe will have to lean on our shoulders, and to hobble along by our side, under the monkish trammels of priests and kings, as she can. What a Colossus shall we be when the Southern continent comes up to our mark! What a stand will it secure as a ralliance for the reason & freedom of the globe! I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past. So good night. I will dream on, always fancying that Mrs Adams and yourself are by my side marking the progress and the obliquities of ages and countries.” – Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, Monticello, 1 August 1816[1]

Adams replied, “May we be ‘a barrier against the returns of ignorance and barbarism’! ‘What a colossus shall we be’! But will it not be of brass, iron and clay? Your taste is judicious in liking better the dreams of the future than the history of the past. Upon this principle I prophesy that you and I shall soon meet and be better friends than ever.”[2]

What an exciting time it must have been in the early years of our nation. The world was stretched out before us. Anything was possible.


Bus Tours on Hilton Head Island for History Day

This sounds like a lot of fun if you’re around the South Carolina coastal island of Hilton Head on March 28. According to an article about the event,

More than a dozen sites on Hilton Head Island will be accessible by guided tour bus on March 28 for History Day, presented by the Coastal Discovery Museum and Heritage Library. Sites on the tour include several historic forts, Greens Shell Park, Mitchelville, the Gullah Museum, historic churches and Simmons Fishing Camp. The event begins at 10 a.m., and guided buses will leave every half hour from the museum’s free parking area at Honey Horn.

For more information, including information on how to purchase tickets, check out the event’s official webpage. You may also like the event’s Facebook page for updates. Tickets are $10 and $5 for children between the ages of 4 and 12.

The Baynard Mausoleum, built in 1846, is the oldest intact structure on the Hilton Head Island. Photo from Wikipedia Commons.
The Baynard Mausoleum, built in 1846, is the oldest intact structure on the Hilton Head Island. Photo from Wikipedia Commons.

History quote of the day: Teddy Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt is one of the most interesting presidents and he left behind a huge treasure trove of quotes. This is one of my favorites because it’s so true. I wish today’s leaders would spend more time understanding the past in order to make better decisions that will impact our future.

“I believe that the more you know about the past, the better you are prepared for the future.”

~ Theodore Roosevelt


teddy roosevelt history quote of the day

Selma 50th Anniversary Events

I will admit that until a decade ago, I really didn’t know much about the Civil Rights movement. That probably sounds weird because I grew up in Alabama, the state that played center stage in many of the pivotal events in the movement. But I was from the North and my parents were from the North, and we didn’t feel very connected to Alabama history when we arrived in Huntsville, AL in the mid 1970s. When I was in school, it seems like every year in history class, we’d run out of time near the end of the year and only gloss over events that happened after World War II. Korea? I vaguely knew about it. Vietnam? Ditto. So events like the Civil Rights movement became no more than a footnote in history classes, meriting not even a full class period to discuss. I don’t recall ever studying any key figures in the Civil Rights movement, nor learning about the Freedom Riders, Freedom Summer, Martin Luther King Jr., the Civil Rights Act, or anything else. By the time I got to school, civil rights was a done deal so evidently it was no longer worth mentioning. Even as a history student in college I don’t remember studying this period in history, maybe because my main interest then was the 1800s and ancient history.

Fast forward to 2008. I was a volunteer for a certain presidential primary candidate and I roamed around north Alabama with other volunteers trying to talk people into registering to vote and to head to the polls on primary day. One day I rode around with a black gentleman not a whole lot older than me–he was probably in his mid 50s. We talked about his job (an engineer at a nearby military base) and his life growing up in Alabama. He told me that he grew up in Selma and that his parents were very active in the Civil Rights movement. He told me about many of his memories of that period. Even though he was young in the 1960s, he remembered his house getting fire bombed more than once. He remembered his parents rushing him out the back door to escape the flames. He remembered his parents attending meetings and marches, and he remembered seeing indescribable violence. As I looked at him, this average looking man who spent his days working for the government, I realized that I simply could not believe that a man not too much older than me dealt with fire bombs and beatings to simply be treated as an equal citizen. I was  shocked that I knew so little about the period in history that created some of our best leaders and changed the course of our country.

I started to watch some documentaries about the Civil Rights movement. I started out with Eyes on the Prize. I read a few books about Civil Rights leaders. I gained a better understanding of the struggles for equality and what the people involved in the movement really dealt with. More recently I watched the excellent PBS documentaries about the Freedom Riders and Freedom Summer and was moved almost to tears by the bravery and idealism of all of those people, many of them so very young.

[Read more…]

Today in history: 15th Amendment ratified

On February 3, 1870, the 15th amendment to the US Constitution was ratified, granting former slaves the right to vote. Section 1 of the amendment states “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” This was a landmark addition to the U.S. Constitution, but it unfortunately took almost another hundred years to truly grant voting equality to all citizens. Since February is Black History Month and this year marks the 50th anniversary of many landmark Civil Rights achievements, I thought this was a fitting Day in History post.

"The First Vote," cover of Harper's Weekly  v. 11, no. 568 (1867 November 16)
“The First Vote,” cover of Harper’s Weekly v. 11, no. 568 (1867 November 16). Stored in the Library of Congress collection.