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The Faces Behind the History

September 24, 2010 in 1940s-1950s, Social history

When reading about activism in the 1940s and 50s, or history in general, I tend to focus on comprehension of facts almost in a cold un-sensitive way. I find myself looking at the big picture of what was going on at this time; and not truly immersing myself in the background and asking questions about each individual it took to shape our history. If you were to look back and tell the story of your own life, you would tell of individuals who have helped you; pushed you to do great, and those who have stood in your way. I have recently had an epiphany that to dig deeper and truly understand what was going on, you must not only look at what your subject did to affect history now 60 years later, but think in terms of those immediate people affected at that time. While reading about Anne Braden, a civil rights activist, an issue is brought up about the impact her activism had on her children.
Going through a normal history book you wouldn’t necessarily hear about the impact that one’s life work has on their family or the people around them. You read what this person did and then ultimately move on to the next figure. But, how do you truly understand someone’s history while overlooking something as important to them as their own children.

Braden was an amazing figure that made it her goal to help end racism and segregation. She fought hard for what she believed was right, and it seemed that her children were also paying for this fight. In an excerpt from the KET Bookclub television show transcript of Braden discussing her book, The Wall Between, Wilma Jonathan says, “it has taken a toll on her family. But I suppose somebody has to do that to get movements … you know, to be part of a movement.” We can pull from this that when Braden began her fight to end racism she did not enter alone. Indeed her and her husbands work of activism is a lifetime struggle, a struggle that cannot be shut off when it is time to come home and be with family. It was an exhausting battle that I’m sure changed the lives of many children of civil rights activists. Catherine Fosl, the author of Subversive Southerner speaks of Braden’s relationship with her children, “Anne’s children quite literally grew up with the civil rights movement. When they became parents, Anne and Carl had no way of knowing just how intricately their children’s upbringing would be entwined with their own activism and with the social movements that erupted from the efforts of others like them. Anne embraced motherhood with the same exuberance she brought to all life’s challenges. Yet she developed a confidence and comfort level in her work as a writer and activist that she never entirely found as a mother.”
From these texts we are able to look a little bit deeper into the life of Anne Braden, not just for what she did on paper, but what it took to get there. A thought that maybe subconsciously to Anne the anti-racist movement was like a child to her, it was what she knew, it was her baby.

2 responses to The Faces Behind the History

  1. Great insight! That is one challenge historians must not forget to acknowledge. Reading words, watching video, or listening to oral histories seems to only develop the story in two dimensions. We must find our 3D glasses.

  2. Well done! we must ask our selves if these “giants” who made such a great impact thought of themselves as “world changers” or what effect their civil disobedience would have on the society. The challenge is for us to do the right thing now and confront any inequities wherever we encounter them.

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