Recently, I have had thoughts about how to remember historical figures, and the importance of telling their stories.
While it is important not idolize our founding fathers and other historical figures, it is also important to not forget them so much that we lose the history of this great country. Our country is built on a rich history of immigrants and hard working Americans.
As the song from Hamilton (the Musical) says, "Who lives, who dies, who tells your story..." This says to me that it is important to carry on peoples legacies and tell the stories of their lives, which I endeavor to do here on this blog.
I have long had much interest in telling historical stories. My own family heritage has unique stories. My mother's grandmother (in the picture to the left with starfish on her dress) was married when she was 15 to her husband who was 25. They had gone on three dates over two weeks, on the third date he proposed and on the fourth date they eloped and got married. They were married for 64 1/2 years.
Then on my father's side, there is the story of the Crown Prince of Denmark having an illegitimate child with one of the maids and the family being sent to the new world. There was child support paid for the child until he was 18.
However, those are not the only stories that I have been interested in or had the privilege to tell. Over the last five or six years I have had the privilege and opportunity to work to uncover the stories of the young women who attended an elite girls school in Ellicott City, Maryland. The school opened in 1837 and closed in 1891. It taught math and science to girls at a time that women were expected to gain an education such to gain a husband and run a household. Most of the girls who attended the school were white middle to upper class young women. However there are five Cherokee who attend the school, two of them are nieces of Chief John Ross.
For the past three summers, I have had the wonderful opportunity to be part of the living history corps at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. That has allowed me to grow both in my love for living history as well as in my passion for telling everyday stories. As part of the living history corps, I have had the ability to wear the clothes and in some ways "walk in the moccasins" of the women and men who worked and defended the fort. Carrying on their legacy as well as bringing history to life for the many visitors.
I had always heard the phrase that you will not understand someone else unless you have walked a mile in their moccasins. It turns out that that phrase comes from a much longer poem which I wanted to include because it has several things that we could all do better to know and take to heart.
“Pray, don’t find fault with the man that limps, Or stumbles along the road. Unless you have worn the moccasins he wears, Or stumbled beneath the same load.
There may be tears in his soles that hurt Though hidden away from view. The burden he bears placed on your back May cause you to stumble and fall, too.
Don’t sneer at the man who is down today Unless you have felt the same blow That caused his fall or felt the shame That only the fallen know.
You may be strong, but still the blows That were his, unknown to you in the same way, May cause you to stagger and fall, too.
Don’t be too harsh with the man that sins. Or pelt him with words, or stone, or disdain. Unless you are sure you have no sins of your own, And it’s only wisdom and love that your heart contains.
For you know if the tempter’s voice Should whisper as soft to you, As it did to him when he went astray, It might cause you to falter, too.
Just walk a mile in his moccasins Before you abuse, criticize and accuse. If just for one hour, you could find a way To see through his eyes, instead of your own muse.
I believe you’d be surprised to see That you’ve been blind and narrow-minded, even unkind. There are people on reservations and in the ghettos Who have so little hope, and too much worry on their minds.
Brother, there but for the grace of God go you and I. Just for a moment, slip into his mind and traditions And see the world through his spirit and eyes Before you cast a stone or falsely judge his conditions.
Remember to walk a mile in his moccasins And remember the lessons of humanity taught to you by your elders. We will be known forever by the tracks we leave In other people’s lives, our kindnesses and generosity.
Take the time to walk a mile in his moccasins.”
~ by Mary T. Lathrap, 1895
So often we are quick to judge what people were like and what life was like by our way of life today. However, we can learn much by taking time to listen and walk in each others shoes. This includes not just those of our time but of times before our own. By walking in the "shoes" of figures such as the founding fathers and other presidents, our own heritage, and even less well known students and soldiers, we are better able to understand them and to pass on their stories.