by Kurt Hurner
In these current times we are seeing too many people claim that by teaching the "bad things in history" we, the adults are making the children uncomfortable. That thought takes me back to my 9th Grade Drama and Speech teacher; Mrs. Feldman.
I went to school in a pretty homogeneous public school system in Stark County, Ohio. The students at the time were mostly white with a handful of minorities. If there was at least one minority in each graduating class; it was a miracle. Our demographic was mostly middle and upper-class families where our fathers and mothers were members of the local unions with great paying jobs in the rubber and steel factories. They were professionals like doctors, nurses, lawyers, and teachers. And even servants of the people like firefighters and police officers. Mrs. Feldman was the only person whom I knew of who was Jewish at this school district as most of us were Catholic and/or some denomination of Protestantism.
I remember at the time our only exposure to oppression was reading in the 8th Grade, THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK. Only to move onto ANIMAL FARM, FAHRENHEIT 451, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, OF MICE AND MEN, THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, and BRAVE NEW WORLD. Mrs. Feldman didn't think that was enough so she proposed a curriculum that was a more in-depth study of the Holocaust. I do remember the students having an assembly where a Holocaust survivor came to talk to the 8th Grade about his experience.
Back in those days, we students didn't have much knowledge about the Holocaust. Mrs. Feldman created a curriculum and presented it to the school board. Looking back, given the political climate of the area of the school then and now I am surprised that they did approve her proposal.
But that is not to say that at the time there weren't some people who disagreed with Mrs. Feldman. One parent in particular declared that this subject matter might upset the children. Mrs. Feldman came back with, "Ma'am, the children need to be upset."
It seems like all of the good stuff happened after I graduated from high school and went off to college. The result of Mrs. Feldman's efforts were a student designed museum where people were charged 50 cents to tour the museum. The money raised was donated to Doctors Without Borders. But Mrs. Feldman didn't stop there. The next year, in addition to Holocaust education she encouraged learning about different cultures by having a Day of Immersion. But teaching others about the Holocaust is a passion of Mrs. Feldman's.
History is not always something that you read in a book or learn about by visiting a museum. Before a go forward, I want to say maybe ten years ago my sister and her husband said to their children that they were going to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on a trip up to San Francisco. They had just moved to California. Anyway, my eldest niece was maybe ten at the time and pleaded that she did not want to go to a library while on vacation. She was told that it wasn't that kind of a library. As a result, the kids had a good time there.
But like I stated before, history is not just something one learns in a book or at a museum. If you're as lucky as I was growing up; you have older members of your family still lucid enough to tell you their first hand experiences. Then, if they have passed well before you were born, maybe they kept very detailed journal entries throughout their life.
Personally, I remember as a child hearing one of my maternal great-grandmothers tell stories about when she got married back on June 14, 1922. Grandma was a Methodist from Tuscarawas County, Ohio. She and Grandpa (whom I also remember) would play checkers and whoever won the game would decide where they would go on their date for the evening.
There was one thing; Grandpa was, a Catholic from Massillon, Ohio and Grandma's father and brothers were members of the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. If you know anything about the KKK 100 years ago you know that in addition to hating black people, the Klan hated Catholics and Jews.
Grandma converted to Catholicism and married Grandpa on June 14, 1922 and over the course of 19 years would have six children; my grandmother was the third one born in 1927. As a result of her religious conversion, Grandma's own father and brothers burned a cross on her front lawn.
I never felt pride for that, and I never felt shame because of it. My feeling was always that I cannot be ashamed over the actions in my own family that happened five decades before I was even born. My responsibility today is to pass that story down to the next generation and tell it to them with as much fact as I know, because let's be honest here, stories lose some of the facts in translation over the generations, so that they will know and can do what they can to keep that ugliness from ever happening again. But, always remind them that while that is part of their history, they are not to be ashamed of actions taken decades before they were born.
Another interesting story is about another great-grandmother; this is one of my paternal great-grandmothers.
In 1907, Grandma and her parents and her siblings were traveling by covered wagon from Texas to Iowa. Grandma would write in her journal, one theme in particular was what she wanted to do on her summer vacation. It is interesting that we did not know this until 2008 when Dad and Mom went back to Logan, Iowa to help my aunt clean out my grandmother's house as she had moved into the local nursing home. Grandma saved everything; including her mother's journal from 1907.
Grandma wrote, and my father has his grandmother's journal how she wanted to go to Canton, Ohio to visit the new monument that was built for the recently assassinated president; William McKinley. Grandma never got to Canton in this life. But little would she know that in 1972, six years after her death her grandson; my father moved from Logan, Iowa to Canton, Ohio after his service in the Marine Corps.
A few years ago, Monument Park was doing some restoration around the monument and to pay for it they were selling bricks to the public to place in the park. Dad bought one for his grandmother so that she could get to the McKinley Monument Posthumously.
And that same great-grandmother had a sister; whom I actually knew. In 1987 we were visiting my great-great-aunt in Logan and Dad caught it on the camcorder, a conversation she and I had about being related to Johnny Carson. I remember towards the end of that conversation Aunt Nettie telling me that Johnny Carson was a snotty little kid when he was a boy and he was a snotty little kid on television now.
When you think about your family history, it is interesting to think about the events of the outside world that changed world history and your family history. I have two of them with a personal one in between.
In 1945, my maternal grandfather was in Chicago getting ready to ship off to fight in the mainland battle of Saipan in the Pacific Theater. He had been discovered to be AWOL and when caught he was sent to Pearl Harbor to be reprimanded and would then meet up with his company at a later date. While Grandpa was on the ship heading for Saipan, with the song, Sentimental Journey playing to which Grandpa hated for the rest of his life because he felt that there was nothing sentimental about going off to war, word had come across that President Harry S Truman had dropped an Atomic Bomb on Japan. The war was over. Unfortunately for the company Grandpa was originally supposed to go with; they had been wiped out in that Saipan battle. So instead of fighting Japan for a year, Grandpa helped to rebuild Japan for a year.
For the next 58 years, before he died in 2003; Grandpa would always insist that President Truman personally saved his life and even gave him his very first vote in the Presidential Election of 1948 as a thank you.
Grandpa came back to Massillon, Ohio to his wife whom he had married in April 1945 and to their newborn son who was born in January 1946. Grandpa would found a heating and cooling business in 1952 and from 1946 to 1965 would have six children. My mother was the fourth child, born in 1953.
In 1965, that newborn son was in the Army. A boy had been killed in Vietnam and my uncle was going to replace him. Because my uncle was a medic he first had to go through paratrooper training in San Antonio, Texas. While training he broke his leg and to this day calls it his "lucky break." My uncle never got to Vietnam.
Then, in 1970, my father was a private in the Marines. On April 20th President Richard M. Nixon addressed the nation about an end to the war in Vietnam after five years.
After that speech, Dad was told that he was going to be part of a "secret mission." He had ten days of leave to get his affairs together before he shipped off. That leave started on April 26th.
On April 30th President Nixon addressed the nation again. This time, unlike the feel good speech from ten days earlier this one was about expanding the war into Cambodia. That by the way was the "secret mission" Dad was to be a part of.
After that April 30th speech, protests and violence erupted all over the United States, particularly on the college and university campuses. The most well known being that of Kent State University on May 4, 1970 when the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of unarmed students killing four and wounding nine more.
Because of the actions at Kent State, and keep in mind, my father was living in Logan, Iowa at the time, Dad's orders were changed five or six times before he ended up in Guam. He, like my uncle, his brother-in-law never got to Vietnam.
That is why I have a great love of history. It is filled with people, places, and events that weave a story that is still being written; regardless of the good, the bad, and the ugly. I know that my love of history, particularly American History from March 4, 1933 to August 9, 1974, as it was in my opinion one of the greatest progressive times in our history, and the fact that there were and are people still around old enough to share their experiences makes it all the more special a period that I love.
But since the 1980s, and that is two generations now, history and just basic civics has not been a very big priority to teach in school. Sure, you would learn the basics, but not really what it meant to be an American.
That got me thinking about the old Red Skelton monologue about the Pledge of Allegiance and the monotony of it every morning to school children. For continuity I will update certain things in his meaning of what the Pledge of Allegiance means; like 48 states will be 50 states.
I, me, an individual, a committee of one.
Pledge, dedicate all of my worldly goods to give without self pity.
Allegiance, my love and my devotion.
To the flag, our standard, OLD GLORY, a symbol of freedom. Wherever she waves, there's respect because your loyalty has given her a dignity that shouts freedom is everybody's job.
Of the United, that means that we have all come together.
States of America, individual communities that have united into 50 (48 originally) great states. 50 individual communities with pride and dignity and purpose, all divided with imaginary boundaries, yet united to a common purpose, and that's love for country.
And to the Republic for which it stands, Republic…a state in which sovereign power is invested in representatives chosen by the people to the leaders, not from the leaders to the people.
One Nation, one nation, meaning so blessed by God.
Indivisible, incapable of being divided.
With Liberty, which is freedom, the right of power to live one's own life, without threats, fear, or some sort of retaliation.
And Justice, the principle or qualities of dealing fairly with others.
For All, for all…which means it's as much your country as it is mine.
What I learned beyond books was from my parents.
As children, growing up in our house, political conventions, debates, Election Nights, Inaugurations, and State of the Unions were big family events. I remember the night of the 1992 Vice Presidential Debate between Vice President Dan Quayle, Senator Al Gore, and Admiral James Stockdale; my ten year old brother declaring that this is what a debate should be like. Dad and Mom would take my sister, brother, and me to various campaign rallies. Discussions at dinner time were encouraged as my parents wanted their children to develop their own opinions about the country and the world they lived in.
I began collecting political buttons and pins in 1984 at the age of seven when an aunt, who married the uncle mentioned earlier in 1965, of mine who was a Precinct Committeeperson in Massillon, Ohio gave me my first pin; a 1984 Walter Mondale/Geraldine Ferraro UAW pin. From that time until I sold my collection of nearly 3,000 individual and real buttons and pins in 2010 I had representation from every major presidential campaign from 1896 with William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan to 2008 with Barack Obama and John McCain. The collection was just getting too big to store.
But, in the beginning I was only collecting the Democrats. My father noticed this and explained to me that in order to have a fair and honest collection and a true understanding of history I should be collecting Republicans too. So I did what my dad suggested and I am glad that I did.
In later years not only did I study history on my own, but in a very small sense I got to be part of history too. In 2004, John Kerry was running for President and he had a shortlist of candidates for his running mate; Representative Richard Gephardt of Missouri, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, and Governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa. Kerry picked Edwards.
Writing was always a strong suit of mine. I remember during my sophomore year in high school the entire class had to take a writing competency test. There were two topics that we could write on; teenage problems of today or the three historic figures, alive or deceased whom you would like to meet and why. I chose the latter. This test had a perfect score of 4.0. I earned a 3.9; the highest of any peer in my class. I remember asking my English II teacher, Mrs. Hurley about how that happened because I used some swear words in my writing and cussing was not allowed. She told me that all of the other students chose to write about teenage problems and I didn't. She said I used original thought and really captured the three historic figures' personalities well. They were Harry S Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Bill Clinton; the latter I did meet in 2012. As for the cuss words she told me that I got a pass because I was using them in an historic use when writing about President Truman. The moral of the story is that it was the right time for such an essay as those grading and scoring the test were old enough to remember Truman and Kennedy, and Clinton was the president at the time.
Two years later I had won an essay contest through C-SPAN with the topic being WHAT EFFECT WILL C-SPAN PROGRAMING HAVE ON MY FIRST PRESIDENTIAL VOTE. The prize I won was a $500 scholarship and a visit to my high school by the C-SPAN school bus in the Delegates category. [Cspan External Link]
The day after the Presidential Election of 2004 I sat at my computer and wrote a letter to Governor Vilsack asking him to consider running for President in 2008. That letter sparked a friendship that is still going on to this day.
Our first meeting took place in August 2006 in Cleveland. The week before I had received a call from his office asking me to come and meet with the governor in Cleveland. He sent me a hand written thank you note for coming by for a visit.
After he became the secretary of agriculture in 2009 under Barack Obama and again under Joe Biden in 2021 we had our second meeting in October 2010 at his office at the USDA in Washington. My wife and I had taken my parents on this trip because my dad, being born and raised in Iowa, I wanted the two men to meet. The hour long visit was just that, a visit. Politics was not discussed and he made us feel comfortable in that office. Dad shared with the Secretary how he used to make my sister, my brother, and me pull weeds; barehanded when we did something bad. Dad thought that by doing that we would think twice about doing something bad that warranted that kind of punishment again. Secretary Vilsack said that was a pretty good punishment and that he would tell his sons about that one. When my father tells this story he always says that the punishment that he handed down to his children is USDA approved.
I had an interesting character as a Health teacher my sophomore year and later as my Anatomy teacher my senior year in high school. He was the varsity wrestling coach. In that first week of class; TD, that is what everyone called him and he is the teacher in the C-SPAN link talking about Harry Truman, had written down a list of famous people with disabilities and wanted the class to discuss how they overcame them. I had been raising my hand for every person on that list. We got to John F. Kennedy. My hand went up.
TD asked, "So you know about John Kennedy too?" I responded by saying; "TD, I know everything about John Kennedy." He decided to give me an impromptu oral quiz right in front of the class. I was answering the questions correctly, so he thought he could trip me up with him asking me the name of the book he wrote his college thesis about. He was hoping I would say PROFILES IN COURAGE, but I answered, WHY ENGLAND SLEPT.
"GODDAMNIT!", TD yelled, throwing his pen that he received as a gift when he graduated in 1959 from the Ohio State University on the ground. Somehow, that pen rolled into an opening between the floor and the wall. TD got on his knees and said that he salutes me. He then came to me and said that we were going to have fun that semester.
Before I left for Kent State University, Dad wanted to take me to the Harry S Truman Presidential Library and Museum; just the two of us. We were touring the Wallace Home at 219 N. Delaware when I started asking questions to the park ranger that most tourists didn't ask.
The ranger asked my father and me to step away from the tour group as it was ending. He was so impressed with my knowledge of President Truman that he wanted to take Dad and me on a private tour of places the President went that a regular tour didn't see.
Since 2019, when I discovered OTRCat.com and would recommend them for your historic needs, or if you're into Old Time Radio. I LOVE how OTRCat has representation of EVERY president of the United States from Calvin Coolidge to Joe Biden and contenders from Adlai Stevenson to Hillary Clinton, as well as collections of every Presidential Campaign from 1948 to 2020.
The compiled collections of the presidency like Before They Were Nominees, Presidential Candidate Announcements, Presidential Party Nominating Conventions, Presidential Debates, Presidential Victory and Concession, Presidential Inaugural Addresses, State of the Union Addresses, and Presidential Farewells are a great way to get an idea of modern presidents' time in office. If you're wanting more behind the scenes stuff, Presidential Eavesdropping is a great way to hear the human sides of Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.
In addition, there are compiled collections about the Vice Presidency, First Ladies, First Children, Political Family Business, and Joint Sessions of Congress. For those wanting to know more about women there is Women in Government, Eleanor Roosevelt, Kamala Harris, and Nancy Pelosi. In addition, they focus on some figures in history like Douglas MacArthur, Colin Powell, Joseph McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, and Newt Gingrich. There are compilations like History Through the Ears of Radio, the Kennedy Brothers, News in the Kennedy Era, Funerals, Eulogies, and Graduation Day.
If you're interested in issues that affect the United States, OTRCat has deep dive collections that focus on Education in America, the Environment in America, Health Care in America, Violence in America, and Voting in the US. These are great histories for someone looking to debate these important issues and want to have supportive, historic facts to back up your argument.
If you thought that time travel was not possible, think again. OTRCat is that time machine that will take you back to some major events of the past 80 years. Be there on December 7, 1941 listening to the broadcasts of the bombing at Pearl Harbor. Take a little trip forward to June 6, 1944 as you storm the beaches at Normandy. Celebrate VE Day and VJ Day as World War II comes to an end. You can travel to those tense two weeks in October 1962 and witness the Cuban Missile Crisis, and then off to Dallas, Texas or anywhere in the country listening to the radio when you hear the news of the assassination of President Kennedy. If you're looking for a long weekend of history, you can travel to Kent, Ohio and hang out on the campus in May 1970. But make sure that you get into your homes by curfew which is 8PM for the town and just pushed up from 1AM to 11PM on the campus, or you risk getting arrested by the Ohio National Guard. Be part of the coverup of Watergate in 1974, and witness John Hinkley trying to assassinate President Reagan and the events that follow. Then it is off to Oklahoma City in April 1995 as your heart is ripped from your chest with the murder of 168 Americans. Be part of the girl talk between Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp that led to the Impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998. But the world will change as you take a seat on each of the four flights on the morning of September 11, 2001. Then, it is off to Boston to be part of the Patriots' Day activities at the Boston Marathon only to go through a week of manhunt for two bombers at the Marathon. Be at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 as rioters stormed the Capitol halting the certification of the 2020 Election and then be at the second Impeachment of Donald Trump two weeks later.
And for the Old Time Radio enthusiast who remembers great radio from the past 65 years or so there are such collections as Airchecks of the 1960s, Airchecks of the 1970s, Airchecks of Great Radio Stations, and DJ Madness. These collections are great because they're a great representation of the local flavor in various media markets around the country. For those of you who served during the Vietnam Era there is AFVN. And there are those collections dedicated to Alan Freed, Wolfman Jack, and one of the true greats of local talk radio; Howie Chizek.
So to summarize, OTRCat is a great source for anyone who loves history. In these on the go times of the 21st Century this website offers a great source of learning about our past to make our present and our future better and if you don't have time to read a book these collections are at a great affordable price where you can buy just the MP3 format and listen on your smartphone, tablet, or computer. You can also buy actual MP3 CDs along with the MP3 format at no extra cost.
Not to mention; the young people might find history more interesting if they can experience it in real time to give them a feel of the moment when these events were being recorded.