Who needs history?

Abolitionists

BY JENNIFER GAMBLE-THEARD, ASALH Historian

Why is history important? Some may feel that history does not serve any useful purposes. Perhaps an attitude about history as a course of study is that it will not help prepare one for a job in today’s technology field, develop skills for the construction industry, advance sales and services or foster capabilities in sports and entertainment.

There seems to be no need to delve into antiquated issues if it does not put food on the table. Economic growth and full employment are considered incompatible with past events that have slipped from view and pushed behind in our collective memories.

But wait! History as a discipline is absolutely necessary! History matters – it must be passed on inclusive of the truth with a variety of information that can help us as a nation to understand what, how and why we are at any point in time.

History plays a significant role in our personal and societal lives when connected together with past, present and the future factors. Although history can be perceived as a collection of memories, analyzed and reduced into meaningful conclusions, the collection should be examined with critical thinking skills.

Historical information can be viewed as to how leaders made good or bad decisions that worked or didn’t work for the good of a “whole” country. History is literally a concept map, whereby one can analytically connect similarities of past events from years gone by to current events of today.

With the use of data about historical events, patterns that suggest best practices can be used to determine future outcomes for people, societies and nations interacting together. When significant negative conditions of the past such as a pending bad economy, social conflicts, revolution, war, etc., are ignored, history repeats itself.

Having knowledge for the sake of knowledge and understanding of various facts and stories in connection with dates, time periods, movements of people, names of people and places, wars and rumors of wars will not produce immediate gratification of something tangible. However, history can provide a type of mental vision or discernment of how people and societies functioned together.

It shows us how people in the distant past constructed their lives. It gives us a glimpse of other perspectives of the human experience. Similarly, the bible gives us a glimpse of people from another time period and their experiences and interactions with the Lord.

American history has shown the real problems and complexities that individuals or groups of people have faced in adverse and socially hostile environments. In spite of certain hostile conditions, we can see some outstanding people through the lens of history.

We encounter American leaders who successfully worked through moral dilemmas — Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson — and how ordinary people endured with courage, diligence and constructive dialogue. In collective historical hindsight, we can look back and see a form of moral awakening.

For example, we see individuals such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass escaping slavery and then eventually providing moral leadership for the United States government. With the government’s realization that slavery was morally wrong, the country was able to move forward with an ethical stand against slavery.

Another historical issue of importance pertaining to American history was that of the Civil Rights Movement during. Throughout the world, there have been several moral evolutions in different time periods, but it was the moral evolution of mid-20th century America that resulted in the United States government addressing human rights abuses against black people that had been an American institution for decades.

Laws were passed to try and rectify decades of cruel injustices and calm the pent-up frustrations. Yes, positive changes did happen, yet other social conditions have developed during the past 50 years that need to be addressed.

Most serious at this point in time, why is black history important? Presently in 2018, the collective “we” must comprehend our dynamic past well enough so that we can have a more hands-on approach as to how we navigate in present time in order to ensure a more positive future outcome for the descendants of the diaspora.

We must instill in our youth an understanding of who they are, the great legacy from which they came and the responsibility of moving forward free of social, legal, mental, moral and material shackles.

Jennifer Gamble-Theard, M.Ed. is a retired Pinellas County educator in the study of history and language. She is also the historian for the St. Petersburg Branch of ASALH.

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