There was some disappointment the discussion wasn’t exclusively about Chester history, but the topic of history was well discussed. The well attended event at the Delaware County Historical Society in Chester went from an anticipation of ‘Whose History Is It’ to and actual lesson on ‘What is History?’

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Pulitzer Prize-winning author Steven Hahn gave a lecture on Camilla, Georgia, the site of a racially-motivated political riot in 1868, as an example of how history is told, sold, and made to disappear. 

Most of us are formally introduced to history in our early school years. I never recall any kid telling a grown up that history is their favorite subject and it’s only until you have that great high school teacher making history interesting that anyone considers studying it beyond 12th grade. We usually identify history with having to memorize a lot of people, places, and dates, most of which we can’t identify with and have no desire to explore deeper when the school year has ended.

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It’s okay to ask questions of the experts

Schools don’t seem too serious about teaching history either. Much of the emphasis is on reading, math, science, and passing those standardized tests. Never is history a category of the standardized tests, so why bother?

When I think about my history with learning history in school, I’d conclude they wanted me to know Columbus discovered America; George Washington was our first and best President because he alone won the Revolutionary War after he crossed the Delaware; William Penn founded Pennsylvania; Black history started in slavery; and Abe Lincoln freed the slaves.

The other panelist: Jordan B. Smith – Widener University historian; Eric ‘Brother Shomari’ Grimes – WURD 900AM show host; Julie Rainbow – social research activist

Adults become interested in history and seek out documentaries, libraries, museums, websites, podcasts, and lectures to satisfy their urge to learn. Last night at the Delaware County Historical Society, there was a panel of history geeks who free-styled a discussion of the study of history.

Here’s a few of my take-a-ways…

  • History is a way of connecting the past and the present.
  • Our sense of the relationship between past and present is shaped by politics.
  • Those who own the past controls the present.
  • The stories of history may not be the truth, but they are the truth of the person telling the story.
  • People learning history may experience discomfort with the truth.
  • People must learn to interpret history and not embrace history as all truth. People need the skills to think for themselves. They need to learn to distinguish between what’s true and untrue.
Delaware County Historical Society Executive Director Laurie Grant and Chester Made Project Manager and event facilitator Ulysses Slaughter

As the discussion came back to the history of Chester, much was said of how difficult it is to find authentic stories told by the people who shaped Chester history. As a community journalist, I can attest to how difficult it is to get people to talk around here. Even as I captured the history of one of Chester’s most successful businessmen with the most nefarious back story, you’d think the book ‘Toxicman – The Melvin Wade Story’ was worse than any of the hundreds of books written on Hitler, Stalin, Trump, Idi Amin, or the Son of Sam.

We not only have to capture our own history, we have to contribute our personal archives to places like the Delaware County Historical Society, the Yes Center, Widener University’s library of archives, or someplace like the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.

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One of those markers that makes Chester one of the most historic places in the world sits right outside last night’s meeting place. 

I’m beginning to believe history should be added to politics and religion as those topics not to discuss at the Thanksgiving table. Yet, as we’ve always heard, if we don’t learn our history, we are bound to repeat it.

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No one ever photographs the photographer or video guy. They capture the history of the moment and deserve some love too.