Critical look at nation’s past is essential

By Deb Hogshead

What do you know about your family’s history?

I grew up thinking I knew a lot about mine, having heard the stories and seen the old photos. On reaching middle adulthood, however, I was shocked to hear my mother suggest that my dad’s father, a doctor who died before my parents married in 1946, was a member of an Appalachian chapter of the Klan. Mom said the evidence was in an attic. Turns out it wasn’t in our attic, at least not when my siblings and I emptied it after our parents’ deaths.

As a physician, my grandfather healed people, which makes it all the more difficult to wrap my head around the possibility that he failed his Hippocratic oath by associating with a white supremacist hate group.

So, why bring this up?

Because a family’s history can be like a nation’s history. It includes accomplishments to be proud of and failures to be ashamed of. We are no less loving or patriotic to admit both.

I don’t know whether my mother’s story is true. But it is without question that our country was built on slave labor and the removal of other human beings from their homelands. Although you and I are not guilty of having done this, we are responsible for acknowledging the wrongs and working to form “a more perfect union.” This requires the uncomfortable task of looking critically at our past and the systemic racism of the present. The past helps explain the present, and lessons learned from the past can help guide us in the direction of an authentic democratic future.

We could look to other countries, such as Germany, for examples of how a nation can transform itself by confronting past evils and the complicity of ordinary people.

We can also support efforts already happening right here in Miami County. For example, Larry Hamilton, a retired Piqua High School teacher, is developing the Randolph & McCulloch Freedom’s Struggle Complex. Its purpose is to promote an inclusive perspective on American history. Its name honors the Randolph Freedmen, who settled Rossville in 1846, and Rep. William Moore McCulloch, a Piqua Republican who championed civil rights in the 1960s.

Local governments and nonprofit organizations could play a significant role as well. There’s promise in Piqua’s Resolution No. R-110-07: A Resolution Recognizing Diversity in the City of Piqua and in Troy’s Human Relations Commission. Municipalities might work with area historical societies and museums to move history lessons into the commons, promoting reflection on a daily basis, not just once a year with one-and-done exhibits and programs. And the Piqua YWCA could become one of the area’s leaders by following the example of the national YWCA’s stand against racism.

It’s hard to look back on history we’d prefer to forget, just as it’s difficult to write about a white hood and robe hidden in an attic. It isn’t comfortable, but it is necessary.