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Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes

A high school student recently confronted me: "I read in yourbook, A People's History of the United States, about the massacres of Indians, the long history of racism,the persistence of poverty in the richest country in the world,the senseless wars. How can I keep from being thoroughly alienatedand depressed?"

It's a question I've heard many times before. Another questionoften put to me by students is: Don't we need our national idols?You are taking down all our national heroes - the Founding Fathers,Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson,John F. Kennedy.

Granted, it is good to have historical figures we can admire andemulate. But why hold up as models the 55 rich white men who draftedthe Constitution as a way of establishing a government that wouldprotect the interests of their class - slaveholders, merchants,bondholders, land speculators?

Why not recall the humanitarianism of William Penn, an early colonistwho made peace with the Delaware Indians instead of warring onthem, as other colonial leaders were doing?

Why not John Woolman, who, in the years before the Revolution,refused to pay taxes to support the British wars, and who spokeout against slavery?

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