It’s dark stuff. It’s not pleasant. We wish it wasn’t true.
But that doesn’t mean we can hide it from our children. Because it did happen. And it can easily happen again if we’re not careful.
John G. Burnett knew this. That’s why on his birthday in 1890, he finally told his children what happened when he was in the army in 1838. He told them what he saw at what’s become known as the Trail of Tears.
“Murder is murder, and somebody must answer,” he said. “Somebody must explain the streams of blood that flowed in the Indian country in the summer of 1838. Somebody must explain the 4,000 silent graves that mark the trail of the Cherokees to their exile. I wish I could forget it all, but the picture of 645 wagons lumbering over the frozen ground with their cargo of suffering humanity still lingers in my memory. Let the historian of a future day tell the sad story with its sighs, its tears and dying groans. Let the great Judge of all the earth weigh our actions and reward us according to our work.”
Again, there would have been much more fun things to talk about. He could have blocked it all out of view–pretending it didn’t say anything about his country or about the world he was leaving to his children. It’s understandable, plenty of people are doing that right now in America, in Turkey, in Germany, in Japan. But that wouldn’t have been honest. It would have ensured the continuation of such atrocities, taken from his children the chance to do better in the future.
The parents protesting at schools, the politically-motivated governors and representatives who are fighting to keep real history from school kids could take a page from Burnett. They could see how protecting children from the crimes of our past doesn’t benefit them. It deprives them of a future where they can address what has happened, and a chance to create a better, more just and fair world.
“Children,” Burnett said. “Thus ends my promised birthday story. This December the 11th 1890.” Thus ended his story, but theirs began from that day forward. And so will our children–when we tell them the truth about the past.