I want to tell this story as it was seen and heard the first time in a classroom filled with black mothers, and their babies in a nursery across the hall….in the 1990s.
In 1996 I began teaching a Civics class to this roomful of young moms, all because Newt Gingrich and the Republican Party had become the majority in the House of Representatives, and they had pushed thru an end to AFDC (Aid for Families with Dependent Children) and publicly causing President Bill Clinton to be squeezed into signing it into law.
AFDC in one form or the other had been around since the FDR days, 1935, and under the skillful hands of the Democrats under LBJ (that’s President Lyndon Baines Johnson) had been narrowed down to unwed mothers; very, very few of those moms having ever married.
I had just turned 50, was practicing a little law across the Ohio River in Kentucky, and doing some contract work in the old Soviet Bloc in Eastern Europe.
When the AFDC law was passed several small companies in the Cincinnati area offered programs to young (black) mothers, and the downtown company I signed on with was offering these mothers Associate Degrees, mostly in computer science and office management. The truth is, I knew nothing about those core curricula computer subjects, and was hired to teach Civics (American Government) classes which were state-required minimum standards to receive an associate degree (A.D.)
The college gave me the teaching materials (textbook) and a stylus. I scanned it, then realized that I would be teaching a course most of these young moms had received in high school their junior or senior years, probably no more than 3-4 years earlier. So I could just imagine all the nodding heads and yawns I’d be receiving if I taught from the textbooks. (Try to imagine a Methodist preacher trying out his annual sermon on Stewardship to roomful of students.)
So, I decided to wing it, by connecting the common sense aspects of the Constitution and the Freedoms, and the life those ladies had waiting on them once they’d been hired to start their lives anew.
Then I considered the chips on their shoulders since I was forewarned by the school director that many of these mothers were none too happy about having to give up their daily routines by having to work 8 hours a day. So, I expected 80% indifference, if not out-and-out hostility.
I also knew I couldn’t skirt around the element of race, for this was an inner city school filled with inner city young mothers.
What I tried out on them turned out to be a winning throw of the dice and I used it to lead with every new class, thereafter. Six I think, over three years.
After introducing myself, and telling they would not need textbooks, I simply walked to the board and drew a straight line, left to right, noting the far left to be dated 3000 B.C. and at the far right, 1996 A.D.
I simply said that this timeline covered all of human history, beginning with ancient Egypt at the time of the Pharaohs (which black kids were enamored with at the time) and ending where we are now. Then I turned and asked the whole room, all of them,
“Now tell me, in the history of the whole world, when is the first time any group of people every volunteered to risk their lives to liberate another group of people they had never even seen, or even knew by name?
I don’t think they saw that coming, for no one raised their hand, or even had a comment. I was sure one of the smartie-pants would offer something. But no. So I turned and pulled out my marker, and way up to the right, I drew a hashmark and marked, “1860 American Civil War”. Then I turned and said, “Betcha didn’t know that”?
Then I walked them through the numbers. “Between the 1860 election, which gave Abraham Lincoln the presidency, and the early secession of 11 of the Confederate states, about when Lincoln was sworn in, Lincoln was left facing a Confederate Army mostly led by America’s better military officers. And Lincoln had virtually no troops.
Very quickly, before Lincoln could even round up an army, the South fired on Ft Sumpter in South Carolina, running the Yankees out. And the game was on.
You’ve all read about it. It was in all the high school American history texts since 1865. Called the Civil War, in which the slave-holders lost, and the free-holders won.
Because, between 1860 and 1865 over 5 million men enlisted…and approximately 600,000 of them died…so that Lincoln’s side could win that war, and all those slaves would be set free.
And it was them volunteering and dying that set those people free, and not the paper-hanging chest-beating that came later.
The classroom was silent as that fact settled in. But even I had not totally thought of the ramifications of what happened in 1865.
“Think about that”, I told them. (I didn’t have pictures to show them then but this is the image I wanted to convey.)
“Never, NEVER, in the history of the world had free people ever done that…just get up off their farm cots and go volunteer to free a bunch of people they had never seen in person, or even in a magazine. What inside them caused that?
With that, I had to lay the basis for America ending slavery using a single Bible verse; John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
At the time I had no idea of the significance of that Bible verse, but since, once looking over human history through a wider lens, going all the way back to Egypt, and forward through world history since the inception of the United States in 1782, this single fact stood alone…that no group of people had ever laid down their lives for people they did not know, until that war in 1860. No European nation had been created that way. In fact, every new nation created since the beginning of time had been created from the top down, usually by being conquered by an invading army, but of late, by bureaucrat councils.
Only the United States had been created from the bottom up.
I can’t know exactly why, but it was easier for me teaching the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, once this simple little fact had sunk in. Or that the young men who did that were almost all farm boys, from the Northern states, New England, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Illinois, their families having been there from one (1) to three (3) generations, 30 to 100 years, and almost all belonged to various Protestant churches, where their ministers had been haranguing about slavery almost from the first day their church had its foundation laid.
Of course, all those black kids in my class room had originated in the South, and their Cincinnati neighborhoods had been settled by families from the same counties in northern Alabama, and many of the black students (I didn’t do a poll, but several wanted to tell their own family’s story) had moved to Cincinnati from those counties in Alabama, having been free since 1865, but unemployed until the families came north around 1920-30.
But black people in America have still never been fully written into this simply truth, nor about the debt they owe for those volunteers who offered their lives for their ancestors’ freedom.
But that was over 150 years ago, and in those ensuing years, the same sort of volunteer offering had only been made in World War II and Korea and Vietnam, again led by the Americans, only including black soldiers who had been targets of the 1860 rescue. They saved Italians, North Africans, even French, proving the seeds first cast in American fields a century earlier were still transferable.
We’ve come almost 165 years, and America is still the only culture of in the world who still offer themselves, only today, that aspect of the American soul is beginning to die out…assassinated more like it….for fully a third of our children have become so smitten with their own wants, “Teat fits” I calls them…that maybe St John should step to the rear and allow Pick-a-name to say “No greater love has David Hogg or Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, than for that mug he/she sees in the mirror.”
There are signs that liberty-seeds exists elsewhere, that that they have grabbed hold of people’s hands and souls in Asia, Europe, but it is clear that the people who are pushing self-love, self-indulgence, teat-fittery and entitlement to their children, are well aware of what they are keeping outside humanity’s front door.
And in America, at least, it is we who are still armed. My condolences to the Australians