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AMERICA REDUX

Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 5 months, 1 week ago

1 January 2024 AMERICA REDUX: VISUAL STORIES FROM OUR DYNAMIC HISTORY by Ariel Aberg-Riger, HarperCollins/Balzer and Bray, May 2023, 304p., ISBN: 978-0-06-305753-1

 

“Sing a song of America

Once she was a young girl with her heart on fire

Born in the dust of the magic of history

It all goes on yeah the dream goes on”

– Paul Kantner and Marty Balin, “America” (1986)

 

“By the late 1800s, these smaller women’s associations began banding together, and in 1894, the United Daughters of the Confederacy was formed. 

It had been three decades since the end of the Civil War, three decades since the practice of white people enslaving Black people had been outlawed. 

In that time, during a period known as Reconstruction, Black people had fought for and won significant gains–U.S. citizenship, due process, and equal protection under federal law, the right for Black men to vote, seats in local and national legislatures.

White Southerners did not respond well to these gains.

They used sustained campaigns of racial terror–Black codes, the Ku Klux Klan, public spectacle lynchings–to ensure that the rights Black people had secured were in name only, and could not be exercised fully.

It was into this era of renewed emboldened White Power that the United Daughters of the Confederacy was born.

A new white Southern generation was coming of age, and it wanted vindication.

The war had been lost, but its legacy could still be won.

The Daughters weaponized their status as wealthy white women into an army of influence.”

 

Which brings me to last week’s words of wisdom from a daughter of the South, presidential candidate Nikki Haley. When asked what she believed were the causes of the Civil War, Haley inexplicably failed to include slavery in her response. Instead she said,

 

“I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run, the freedoms and what people could and couldn’t do...“I think it always comes down to the role of government and what the rights of the people are. And I will always stand by the fact that I think government was intended to secure the rights and freedoms of the people. It was never meant to be all things to all people. Government doesn’t need to tell you how to live your life. They don’t need to tell you what you can and can’t do. They don’t need to be a part of your life.”

 

How could anyone with a halfway decent elementary school education, no less the former governor of South Carolina and presidential hopeful, not respond that the Civil War was, first and foremost, about slavery? It turns out this picture book is a perfect resource for understanding Haley’s seemingly bizarre response. In the first dozen pages of AMERICA REDUX, author/artist Ariel Aberg-Riger explains why, for generations, a major chunk of America’s children have been taught absolute horse poop (and worse) about American history: 

 

“The [United Daughters of the Confederacy] didn’t stop at [promoting the construction of] physical monuments [to Jefferson Davis, “Stonewall” Jackson, Robert E. Lee, John C. Calhoun, etc.]. They wanted something that would endure generation to generation, so they began crafting a ‘living monument’ in their children.

They raised their children in the culture of the ‘Lost Cause,’ where plantation owners were kind caretakers of slaves unequipped to handle freedom.

The Lost Cause depicted slavery as a benevolent institution integral to Southern culture, and to its adherents, the ‘War Between the States’ wasn’t about slavery, but cultural differences between the North and the South.

The conditioning was joyful.

It gave white children pride in their families, and in their Southern heritage. 

Once their own children had been indoctrinated, the Daughters moved to indoctrinate other people’s children as well, through textbooks…

The effort was incredibly successful. The UDC got textbooks banned and teachers fired. Its influence shaped the way generations of children learned about American history well into the 1970s.” 

 

Thus, Ms. Haley’s appallingly ignorant stance.

 

AMERICA REDUX is a powerful, impeccably researched, info-packed picture book for tweens and teens crafted by a visual storyteller. The art and photography interweave with the text. As Ms. Aberg-Riger explains in the preface, 

 

“This book is nothing like the history textbooks I grew up with. It’s visual, it’s handwritten, it jumps around in time. It’s an attempt at a new way of seeing history–placing movements and events and people from across time in conversations with one another in a way that, I hope, offers some insight into who we are as a country, and who we have the power to become.”

 

AMERICA REDUX could well have been titled AMERICA HISTORY’S  DIRTY AND INCONVENIENT LITTLE SECRETS. The history of forced sterilizations; racist immigration policies; mass promotion of guns and automobiles; murder of native populations; poisoning of umpteen environments; and centuries of foot dragging in order to prevent anyone but propertied white males from voting, are among the intertwined topics explored. It’s a book that provides readers a wealth of inspiration for seeking change in order to have the nation do better in living up to its ideals. It’s also a book with extensive backmatter, providing teen readers roadmaps to learn even more about the many dirty deeds in which our government has engaged. 

 

No doubt, AMERICA REDUX is a book certain people who prefer “alternative facts” won’t want to see shelved in their local middle school and high school library collections. But, for the reasons that this book has been named a finalist for the next YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction award, you should make sure that it is readily available.

 

Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com

https://www.facebook.com/richiespicks/    

richiepartington@gmail.com  

 

 

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