Monday, January 21, 2013

Be your own historian now and then

"...I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states...Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds."

Letter from a Birmingham Jail, by Martin Luther King Jr., UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA

One of the best things that citizens in a democracy can do is to read the past. In other words, don't just read about times gone by in short, angry articles on the Internet, or only in history books. Take a moment now and then to look up some of the original primary source documents from important periods. Even just skimming through letters and diaries offers amazing, on-the-ground snapshots of the thoughts and experiences of individuals who lived through major events and shaped our present.

After all, you live in an age when the Internet and a system of public libraries gives everyone an unprecedented, democratized access to the raw stuff of history. So try being your own historian for a Sunday or two each year. It'll show you an amazing chain of moments from the lives of those who helped to make you who and what you are.

And in other news...

Today the United State's first black president was inaugurated for a second time, and it just so happens that the occasion (the timing of which is mandated in the US Constitution) falls on Martin Luther King day. That's cool. Very cool actually for someone who grew up at a time when a black president was the stuff of science fiction.

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