Category Archives: history

Once Upon a Time

I was starting my sophomore year at The College of William and Mary in the fall of 1981 and would have, in my earnest, innocent way, identified as a feminist. That year, the annual speakers’ forum opened with a debate about the Equal Rights Amendment, featuring Phyllis Schlafly, founder of STOP ERA, and Karen DeCrow, former President of the National Organization for Women, a group which advocated for passage of the ERA, among other things.*

I have a clear memory of sitting on the bleachers in William and Mary Hall listening to these two women debate each other, something that, in and of itself was a bit unusual in my experience thus far. I suppose it was seen as “women’s issue” so women were permitted to talk about it. I don’t remember much, except being surprised to find that Schlafly was thoughtful, even compelling, in her beliefs, (despite disagreeing vehemently with everything she said) and that both women remained civil to each other throughout the evening. No name calling, no shouting over each other.

The report (see page 2) from The Flat Hat, the college paper, indicates the audience mostly sided with DeCrow, wearing ERA Now and .59¢ buttons, the latter referencing the fact that, at the time, women made 59 cents to every dollar a man made. That gap has closed, and is now, according to the US Department of Labor, 83.7 cents. I discovered that there is a “holiday” in March each year to commemorate the fact that it takes women 15 months to earn what men do in 12 months. This gap, of course, widens when it comes to women of color.

Political issues aside, I titled this post “once upon a time” because there *was* a time, in the past, when people who disagreed could be on the same stage together to describe and defend their ideas in a civil way, to give listeners a chance to hear and evaluate those ideas and use them to form their own opinions, perhaps becoming more nuanced by being exposed to the other side. Civil discourse seems to be a thing of the past, and I am not sure it is something we can get back.

*I am grateful to The College of William and Mary’s digital archive for access to The William and Mary News and The Flat Hat. I was able to confirm the date of the debate and read the follow up review to refresh my sometimes faulty memory.

Ron DeSantis Doesn’t Want You to Watch This

Invisible History: Middle Florida’s Hidden History, produced by the Florida State University film school, focuses on middle Florida, the cotton growing counties in the panhandle where slavery was an essential part of the economy. It is everything people like Governor DeSantis want to eradicate: stories of black people enslaved, often tortured, for the sake of profit, with all sorts of apologists ready to say why it was acceptable.

Watch this now before the Florida legislature labels it pornography and forces its removal. You may need to make a donation to your PBS station in order to access Passport where it is streaming.* Here is the preview. Many of the commentators are black professors at Florida universities, and I wondered if they had come under attack for participating in this documentary, which was made in 2021.

*You may find it via your public library via the Hoopla app.

Erasing Equity

The first thing Virginia’s governor did (day one literally) was to order the Department of Education to rescind all the policies and programs related to diversity, equity and inclusion. Somehow helping people see how past and present inequities and discrimination have created huge cultural, political and economic gaps in our state and country might make those who benefitted from those policies and practices and live on the “right” side of the gap feel badly about themselves.

This concern for the tender white people is playing out in the history standards revisions, the third draft of which came out earlier this year. That draft is only marginally better than the second one, hurriedly put together late last year to replace the comprehensive draft developed by state educators and historians. The National Council for History Education recommends that the Board of Education adopt the alternative, collaborative standards developed by VASCD, VSSLC, and AHA as they offer a more complex approach to teaching history and social studies, one that encourages critical thinking rather than rote memorization.

Do not forget that Virginia’s response to Brown vs. Board of Education was to essentially close the schools. Once they were forced to desegregate, localities closed Black schools, fired Black teachers and forced Black students into hostile, white-centered environments. Friends who lived through the process tell the story of finding their school memorabilia–from football trophies to administrator photographs–in a dumpster. Their lives, their stories, were being erased.

Youngkin and his minions are simply continuing that tradition. Fortunately, the Virginia Education Association stepped in to post the EdEquity VA website. You can also find the original site by using the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive.

Black History from Mr. Crim

I haven’t much felt like writing lately: everything I think about writing seems frivolous in light of the horrific murder of Tyre Nichols and multiple mass shootings in January. Meanwhile, governors like Glenn Youngkin here in Virginia and Ron DeSantis in Florida are using their power to literally whitewash history.

So, I’m going to highlight a black historian I wrote about earlier, Mr. Ernest Crim III. He focuses on what matters, digs out that history that Youngkin and his ilk want to bury, and also finds bright spots in the world like the new poet laureate of New York, nine-year-old Kayden Hern.


You KNOW your timeline needs this to balance your exposure to trauma, so enjoy this story. 🙏🏾 There are three things I love most about this story. Firstly, the way Kayden’s grandma handled his curiosity. Secondly, how Kayden responded by actively engaging in poetry. Thirdly, I love how Governor Hochul reached out to him and kept her word. 💯 Who knows Kayden’s family? I wanna send him some books! 🤔 🚨Check my bio to order my NEW children’s book and for educational resources (like my autobiography, K-5 course, speaking engagement info, petitions, reading recommendations, etc.) and consider becoming a Patron or IG Subscriber to support my advocacy and content. 🙏🏾 #blackhistory #racism #ushistory #history #worldhistory #americanhistory #whiteally #africanamerican #childrensbooks #author #blackauthors #publicspeaker #blackhistorymonth #poet #newyork #georgefloyd #educationalequity #blacktiktok #whiteallies #fyp

♬ original sound – Ernest Crim III

Local History: Hyde Park

In The Virginia Plan: William B. Thalhimer & a Rescue from Nazi Germany, Richard Gillette tells the story of Hyde Park, a farm in Nottoway County that became a home for about three dozen Jewish young people in the late 1930s. The students came from a communal training farm in Gross Breesen, Germany, at the invitation of William B. Thalhimer, one of the brothers in the retail business Thalhimer Brothers whose family owned the land near Burkeville. The Thalhimer family itself came to Richmond from Germany in 1840, choosing the Virginia capital city as it had a large population of German Jews.

Thalhimer was involved in Jewish resettlement during the 1930s as Hitler rose to power and Jewish immigration was becoming increasingly difficult. Gillette’s book details the challenges of getting the students to the United States. During Kristallnacht, some of the students from Gross Breesen were taken to Buchenwald although Gillette indicates they were eventually released and able to get to the United States. All Gross Breesen graduates were able to immigrate to a variety of different countries.

The Richmond Times Dispatch has a good story about the farm as part of its reporting on a visit by a group of contemporary German students. The Washington Post featured the story of a reunion of the students at the farm in 1990.

The Virginia Museum of History and Culture features a lecture by Gillette:

William B. Thalhimer had to step back from active work after a heart attack in 1927. His son, William Blum Thalhimer, Jr., took over and led the company for almost 60 years. The son’s entry at VMHC’s website includes some information about Hyde Park. The farm is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources has a good summary of the farm’s history.

I am not able to tell if the farm is currently open for touring but I’m not too far from Nottoway County so may take a drive one of these days. At the least, there is an historical marker near Burkeville.