Benjamin Lay, an original American protester

“White people view real history like they do their browser history; it’s reset with a click of a button”. The Dollop Podcast

 

If one were unfamiliar with American history, it would be easy to think that no one ever dared protest anything prior to 2017; that we have always respected our government and all that it stands for. However, those of us educated by the American school system should know better. Even if a student strongly disliked learning, the constant lessons on our Country’s foundation could not be ignored; it takes up most of our early curriculum.

Yet, here we are. We have a president who rages whenever he sees a football player taking a knee, and American citizens ironically, protesting the protesters. Silent protests are often met with vicious opposition from people who seemed to have forgotten that American was founded by those that those willing to violently protest their government.

A brief refresher on America’s early history:

The colonists protested against the British government between 1763-1775 in many ways. Some protesters violated law. The Proclamation of 1763 prevented colonists from moving west of the Appalachian Mountains. People moved anyway. After the violent “Boston Tea Party,” (not a party at all, but a destruction of property in response to a tax act) the British government enacted a set of Coercive Acts as punishment for what they saw as a wanton display of protest. Boston Harbor was to be closed to trade until the owners of the tea chests were compensated. The 12 other colonies banded together and shipped much-needed goods and supplies to Massachusetts.

Other protests included boycotting of British goods. Many colonists believed the British were violating their rights. They believed certain tax laws were illegal because they did not have representatives in Parliament who could vote for the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts. The cry, “No taxation without representation!” could be heard across the land. Colonists began making their own clothes and refused to by British goods (it is unclear if they burned English clothing or removed branding as some are doing now). By 1774 the colonists believing enough was enough, decided to take their protests further by forming the first Continental Congress, which as many of you know, was the beginning of the break from English rule. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but lately, not so much….

There is no denying that protesting is an American value; though for some it all depends on what is being protested and who is doing the protesting. Yet, if it wasn’t for protesters we would still be waving the Union Jack at our sporting events; segregation and Jim Crow laws might still be in place; women and minorities may not yet have the right vote, and the draft may still be a nightmare for our young men. Positive changes come when people are willing to protest the status quo.

American students are taught the names of effective protesters; Patrick Henry, Paul Revere, Rosa Parks, and John Lewis are four that come easily to mind as people I studied in school. They all, who in one way or another, protested what they saw as an unjust system and acted against it.

American history is steeped in famous protesters; some are even venerated for their contribution to society’s improvement. Think Martin Luther King Jr. There is one name however that was almost lost to time. A name that I will bet, many have never heard. We are the poorer for it. Benjamin Lay saw slavery for what it was, an abomination to humanity, and did what he could to end it even as his ideas and methods made him an outcast.

I stumbled upon Lay’s name earlier this summer while looking for something new to read. We all know I have not posted much, but I have been reading. In fact, the next few posts will be reviews of books that either captured my attention or drew my ire.

Benjamin Lay painted by William Williams in 1750 Commissioned by Benjamin Franklin’s wife as a present to her husband

The Fearless Benjamin Lay the Quaker Dwarf who became the first revolutionary Abolitionist, by Marcus Rediker is a must read for those who understand we still have a lot to learn from history. From the book:

“On September 19, 1738, a man named Benjamin Lay strode into a Quaker meetinghouse in Burlington, New Jersey, for the biggest event of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. He wore a great coat, which hid a military uniform and a sword. Beneath his coat Lay carried a hollowed-out book with a secret compartment, into which he had tucked a tied-off animal bladder filled with bright red pokeberry juice. Because Quakers had no formal minister or church ceremony, people spoke as the spirit moved them. Lay, a Quaker himself, waited his turn.

He finally rose to address this gathering of “weighty Quakers.” Many Friends in Pennsylvania and New Jersey had grown rich on Atlantic commerce, and many bought human property. To them Lay announced in a booming voice that God Almighty respects all peoples equally, rich and poor, men and women, white and black alike. He said that slave keeping was the greatest sin in the world and asked, How can a people who profess the golden rule keep slaves? He then threw off his great coat, revealing the military garb, the book and the blade.

A murmur filled the hall as the prophet thundered his judgment: “Thus shall God shed the blood of those persons who enslave their fellow creatures.” He pulled out the sword, raised the book above his head, and plunged the sword through it. People gasped as the red liquid gushed down his arm; women swooned. To the shock of all, he spattered “blood” on the slave keepers. He prophesied a dark, violent future: Quakers who failed to heed the prophet’s call must expect physical, moral and spiritual death.

The room exploded into chaos, but Lay stood quiet and still, “like a statue,” a witness remarked. Several Quakers quickly surrounded the armed soldier of God and carried him from the building. He did not resist. He had made his point”.

Lay was born on January 26, 1682 in Copford, England to a family of Quakers. His grandparents joined the movement in 1655. Little is known about Lay’s early life but it has been suggested that he received little formal education though later in life, friends like Benjamin Franklin remarked on his intellect. Lay’s radicalism seems to have stemmed from early childhood influences. Copford had its share of radical Quakers and Lay certainly would have heard and seen protest in action. His absolute hatred of slavery came from his time living in Barbados, one of the worst places for slaves as starvation and torture was routinely used as motivation.

After moving to America Lay made it his life’s mission to end slavery. This is where the book really takes shape. We watch as Lay spends almost 30 years protesting slavery. His tactics were radical and cost him dearly but he never wavered in his conviction. He saw finally saw change in his later years thanks in part to his decision to appeal to young Quakers who were also questioning slavery.

Rediker has done his homework, and is a skilled writer. Readers are given a front row seat into the life and times of Benjamin Lay. Rediker paints Lay as a complicated man, who at once seems brilliant and ahead of his time, while also being at times beyond eccentric and self-righteous. There is a lot to admire about Lay, and by the end of the book, I was sad that this man lived so long ago. I would have jumped at the chance to meet the man who against all odds questioned many of society’s norms.

Reading about Lay is a reminder that protesting the status quo takes courage and conviction.

Separating Parents from Children History is repeating itself

The Stewart Indian School. one of the original buildings that housed and educated Native American students

We are almost halfway through summer and yes, I am aware that I have not posted in quite awhile. Where does the time go?

While I have no problem posting my views on a variety of topics, it is rare that I talk openly about my day job. But, given that the Federal Government’s solution to immigration is to separate children from parents, I am going to talk about my job. I am developing expertise on the subject, not due to any involvement in the current situation but because history is repeating itself, and part of my job involves dealing with the history of separating children from parents. This will also explain in some measure why my posts are far and few.

In order to understand my job we have to travel back in time. Back to the early 1900’s when the Federal Government and white settlers were fighting with Native Americans as more and more Americans moved westward and outward determined to fulfill the doctrine of Manifest Destiny.

In order to gain control of large parts of what was quickly becoming a vast United States, treaties were signed between the Federal Government and Indian Tribes. Along with treaties came reservations; areas designed to round up and “house” Indians in order to keep them in one place; often far from their native lands and way of life.

The government felt they had an “Indian problem” so a narrow part of these treaties was the promise to “educate” Indian children in order that they could navigate (or hopefully assimilate) the American culture. As the issue of how best to educate these children arose, a group of “progressive” thinkers offered a solution; it would be best to remove the children from the reservations and place them in boarding schools. Schools specifically designed to force assimilation. To quote the founder of the first boarding school, the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “Kill the Indian and save the man”. In order to accomplish this goal, the schools forced students to speak only English, wear proper American clothing, deny them access to their culture, religion, and to replace their Indian names with more “American” ones. In short, the children were stripped of all notion of self and forced to become other than who they were.

Children as young as four were forcibly removed from their homes. Parents had little say in the matter as armed men came into the reservations using the promise of food and medicine as their primary weapon. If the parents willingly gave up their children they would be given government commodities and medical attention to their elders. If this approach did not work, children were kidnapped and taken in secret to boarding schools, sometimes across the country. Parents were not allowed to visit their children even if they were in a nearby school. I kindly ask that you think about this last paragraph and if you can, imagine yourself in these families’ place. Imagine the government coming into your homes and taking your children and or grandchildren never knowing if you will see them again. If you need to take a moment to scream, I completely understand. There are days when I go home crying.

As you can well imagine, this had a devastating effect on the families and most importantly on the children. Thousands of young children grew up never knowing what it was like to be hugged or told that they were loved. On top of this psychological damage came more damage, as their identities were stripped away to be replaced by alien ones. Not only were they unloved, they were taught that by being Indian they had no value. As you can guess, these boarding schools did not result in the making of well-adjusted young people.

It was hoped that after graduating the students would return to the reservations and teach their elders how to succeed in the new American culture; though how they were supposed to do this not knowing their own native language or culture defies explanation. Most did not return and are lost to history. In the later half of the 1900’s many students were not returned to their families, but were sent out across the country to work on ranches or factories.

By the late 1920’s it was obvious that denying the children their culture was not working. Some of the boarding schools, including the Stewart Indian School, began to slowly integrate American and Indian culture. This had a positive impact on the students though many still resented being educated away from home. By the time Stewart Indian School closed in 1980, it was thought to be a shelter from systemic racism found in public schools. During the last 30 years of the school’s operation the students excelled in sports and music; the last of the students have fond memories of the school in large part because attendance was voluntary and they had the option of going home (daily if they lived nearby, or in the summer months if they lived outside the area).

Though it may appear that this story has a happy ending, we need to keep in mind that the devastating effects of the first 70 years of this history is still felt in families and communities. The children who were raised without loving parental role in turn were not always the best of parents. Low self-esteem and loss of cultural identity are only now are beginning to be recognized and dealt with. Many families still remember the loss of loved ones; for a culture that places high value on unity this is a shattering loss of personal unison. How as a society we work to honor those who suffered so much is part of the ongoing history of the “Indian problem”. Here is where I come in.

The Stewart Administrative Office built in the 1920

The Stewart Indian School is one of the few intact historic boarding schools. It was one of the first 25 such schools. It opened in 1880, and closed in 1980. Though the original wooden structures are gone, the beautiful stone buildings from the 1920’s remain. I work in Superintendent Frederick Snyder’s home. Snyder oversaw the building of the stone structures by Hopi stonemasons. Today, the Stewart Indian School is home to government offices and training facilities. In the spring of 2019 it will also be the home to the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum; the beginning of a new era for the school. It will be a place to learn the history of Indian boarding schools and a place for local Native Americans to share their art and culture. The new master plans calls for the revitalization of the school; the campus will be a mix of maker-spaces for native artists, small convention facility, guest housing and auditorium. Visitors will learn about the school’s history while contributing to its future.

The Administrative office will now be the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum

I work for the Nevada Indian Commission. Our mission is to work government to government with Tribes and to promote economic growth and stability within tribal communities. We are also in charge of the changes to Stewart as it becomes an economically viable campus. This means that on any given day you may find us meeting with tribal councils, state and local government bodies or working directly with the Stewart Alumni and the master plan design team; but most importantly to this post, with the legacy of the Stewart school, and the consequences of its history. I’ve met wonderful people with not so wonderful stories. I see first hand the devastating aftermath of the Federal Government’s solution to its “Indian Problem”. There are days I come home exhausted. Oh do not get me wrong. I love my job and what we are doing, but it does take an emotional toll.

And now history is repeating itself. The Trump Administration’s policy of separating families at border is not only horrific now; it will have lasting detrimental effects on the future. The children caught in this real life horror will also have life-long issues. The policy will result in suspicion on authority, trust, and loss of self-worth. I cannot even imagine how hard this is on parents. Can you imagine fleeing a war torn country or extreme poverty only to have your children ripped from your arms by those who you have asked for help?

History will not be kind to this policy or the society that sat back and silently allowed it to be normalized. We may have an “Immigration Problem” but as history as shown us, this is not the way to solve it.

 

If you would like to learn more about the Stewart Indian School, please visit our website at http://stewartindianschool.com/ or come by and take a self guided tour of the campus.