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Righting History
Is your school teaching you the whole truth about America?
YCteen staff
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When we talk to teens about American history, they say a lot is left out of their textbooks. We’re starting this column to give teens a place to explore aspects of our collective past that have either been glossed over or omitted completely. Is there an aspect of American history you discovered on your own or learned was sugarcoated in your history class? If so, email us a paragraph at ycteenmail@youthcomm.org and we may run it in an upcoming issue.


Albert Einstein Didn’t Work Solo

Atl Castro

Almost everyone knows who Albert Einstein is. He is famous for being one of the most intelligent human beings to ever live. His accomplishments as a physicist include his theory of relativity, development of the photoelectric effect, and his more controversial contributions to the creation of the nuclear bomb.

In school, we are taught about these achievements in depth. We learn how he narrowly escaped the wrath of Nazi Germany and became one of the most well-known scientists in history. But have you heard of Mileva Maric?

According to biography.com, Mileva Maric was born to a prestigious family in Serbia in 1875. As a young woman, she struggled to get noticed despite her extraordinary knowledge and intellect in science. During this time, women’s main role was to maintain the home and take care of the children.

In 1892 her father got permission from the Minister of Education in Zurich, Switzerland to let her take mathematics and physics classes at the Polytechnic Institute. Women were usually not allowed to take these classes.

There, she met Albert Einstein. They received similar grades and become romantically involved. But only Einstein got a degree in physics from the school. It’s unclear why, but Maric failed her finals exams twice and she quit school.

1905 was one of Einstein’s most successful years. He submitted four theses in a scientific journal called Annalen Der Physik, meaning Annals of Physics, about the photoelectric effect and his theory of relativity and gravity. Although all of his publications were written under his name, there is evidence that Maric had worked with him.

According to The Scientific American, Einstein wrote in a letter to Maric, “How happy and proud I will be when the two of us together will have brought our work on relative motion to a victorious conclusion.”

There are many reasons why Einstein was the only one credited for the work. I’d read he didn’t want to marry Maric until he had a steady job and he thought his name alone on these papers would give him more status. Others think that it was because having a female co-author on a scientific study would hinder the credibility of the work. Another logical reason could be that Maric didn’t have a degree.

It is still important to give Mileva Maric credit for some of the accomplishments only Einstein is known for. We should acknowledge that he didn’t make these discoveries by himself.


President Roosevelt’s Black Cabinet

Ria Parker

I wanted to know more about some of the presidents because I didn’t learn much about them in school. I read that Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed an unprecedented 45 African-Americans to high positions within his administration. They were unofficially called his “Black Cabinet,” but the formal name was the Federal Council on Negro Affairs. These appointees advised the president on issues such as black employment, education, and civil rights.

In one of Michael Jackson’s songs, “They Don’t Care About Us,” he sings, “But if Roosevelt was living he wouldn’t let this be.” Now I understand the reference. It made me think how we learn a lot about our American presidents but rarely what they did for black people.

According to the Roosevelt Institute, FDR was also “The first president to appoint an African-American as a federal judge and to promote a black man to the rank of Brigadier General in the Army.”


Weddings Near Former Slaver Quarters

Gloria Ghita

“As we continue to read Southern Gothic literature, you’ll notice how a few of the short stories we read take place on plantations. Have any of you ever seen one?” asked Ms. Manning, our English teacher. There was a chorus of no’s from the class, and she dimmed the lights before turning on the projector. She showed us photos of a gigantic white house surrounded by beautiful trees and acres of green land. I’d never seen a house that big.

And then she pressed a button to go to the next slide—a photo of the tiny one-room shacks that the plantation owner’s slaves were forced to sleep in. Despite learning about slavery and the horrors of it in history classes, I had never seen photos depicting these conditions.

“This specific plantation house was converted into a museum,” my teacher informed the class. “But people also rent it out for parties and weddings.”

“What?” A chorus of us asked, thinking we’d misheard.

“Today, quite a few people get married in front of the large house. Right next to where the slaves on the plantation slept.”

The class erupted into disgust:

“How could anyone think that’s romantic?”

“Are they just ignoring the fact that innocent people were enslaved and brutalized there?”

“How could someone not realize how wrong that is?”

“Why isn’t that illegal?”

My English teacher opened my eyes to how people still deny a dark part of American history.


12 Presidents Owned Slaves

Toyloy Brown III

In the 8th grade, my social studies teacher assigned each student a president to learn about. I was assigned the third president, Thomas Jefferson. I discovered a lot.

Thomas Jefferson was a former lawyer, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, and one of the founding fathers who drew up the U.S. Constitution in 1787. He also organized the Louisiana Purchase, a purchase of about 828,000 square miles of territory from France which doubled the size of the United States.

Through this research I developed admiration and respect for the man. Before becoming president he seemed committed to serving his country; he was George Washington’s secretary of state and John Adams’ vice president. He supported the Lewis and Clark expedition. In the early 1800s, exploring the American wilderness wasn’t a priority; I thought his support showed he was innovative and forward-thinking. He also founded the University of Virginia.

I shared some of this with my mom.

“Do you know that he also owned slaves?” she asked.

I didn’t. I hadn’t learned that in school or in my research. “He wasn’t the only president who did,” she said. “You should look into it.”

She was right. I found out Presidents George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses S. Grant all owned slaves.

Many of these men didn’t even put it in their wills to free their slaves after they died.

Thomas Jefferson also fathered multiple children with his slave Sally Hemings. He supposedly was against slavery and encouraged legislation to free slaves. Yet he possessed slaves throughout his life and in his will only freed a few of them, all while living with a slave as his common-law wife.

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(NYC-2017-09-06)

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