Episode 8: Living With History

“George Washington as Farmer at Mount Vernon,” an 1851 portrait by Julius Brutus Stearns,
depicting the Revolutionary War hero as patriarch and slave owner.


On Episode 8 of History Against the Grain, Chris and Josh explore what’s live and what’s lazy in today’s New York Times. The latter we consider in a lightning round segment of Beefin’ with Meacham™, and for the live and living history we discuss Nikole Hannah-Jones and her amazing 1619 Project. Chris interviews two public school educators, Elise Robison and Kyle Fitzpatrick, from Cupertino High School about how they use the 1619 Project in the classroom and why exploring the darker legacies and tougher stories of American History is so vital and necessary. Josh offers some global perspective on American race relations in the 1920s, through the lens of Japan’s Ōkuma Shigenobu, and his “Illusions of the White Race.”

We dedicate Episode 8 Living With History to the life and memory of Ahmaud Arbery.

To hear Episode 8 Living with History click on the following link:


Episode 8 Interview Excerpts

On teaching and integrating the tough stories of slavery into the traditional, progressive narrative of America’s national past, and the controversy that creates:

I wanted them to expand their understanding of the past….One of my goals is to actually see some true change….Make them understand that we’re living with history, but it doesn’t mean we’re stuck with it….A comment I get from students – which actually I really appreciate – is when they ask why we’re being so harsh on the United States. What I really want them to think about is, why is critical examination and context considered harsh, or hateful, or divisive? To be critical of anything does not have to have this negative connotation with it when we simply are trying to learn or gain a deeper understanding.”

Kyle Fitzpatrick, Government/Economics/History teacher, Cupertino High School, California.

When we present students with these true stories…then students can see there was more than one way that everything went down….We must address all the voices in the story….This history is a living history that has to be discussed….If you see something that’s not right, something you know is not right in your soul, then you got to do something about it….If we can get [students] to challenge….this type of [traditional] narrative and work toward changing it, then as they build their own lives, and their own agency in society….if we get them started in high school then when they get to college they’ll be able to have these tough conversations and when they are adults out in the world they won’t back down from them but they’ll want to engage in these things and see what’s up.

Elise Robison, Government/Economics/History teacher, Cupertino High School, California.

Sources Referenced

Equal Justice Initiative, “Ida B. Wells Honored with Posthumous Pulitzer” Equal Justice Initiative website (May 4, 2020)


Nikole Hannah Jones, et al., “The 1619 Project,” New York Times (August, 2019)


Ōkuma Shigenobu, “Illusions of the White Race,” (1921)


Sean Wilentz, review of Jon Meacham, The Soul of America, New York Times (May 21, 2018)

Last word:

“When you’re black in this country you don’t have the luxury of pretending that history didn’t exist.”

Nikole Hannah-Jones

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