Where does “history” come from? How do we know, for example, what words didn’t make it into the Declaration of Independence? Or what the delegates to the Constitutional Convention argued about before the final document was signed on September 17, 1787?
To a great degree, our history textbooks started with the diaries that the Founding Fathers kept, and the letters they wrote to one another.
But there is more to history than Founding Fathers and famous generals. There are millions of names that we’ll never know, of soldiers who fought in American wars, and families who waited for their return. People who hoped and waited for change, but may not have lived to enjoy the rights that the law would eventually grant them. People who weren’t trying to make history, but were just living their lives.
On American Epistles, we will hear from these “ordinary” people, through their journals, diaries, and personal letters. Each episode will focus on a different time period or event, and feature the words of some Americans who lived through it.
Please come back on Saturday, January 5, for the first episode, about the Great Migration. We will hear letters from a few of the millions of African Americans who left the Jim Crow South in search of a better life. Letters like this one:
East Chicago, Indiana
June 10, 1917
Dear Old Friend:
These moments I thought I would write you a few true facts of the present condition of the north. Certainly I am trying to take a close observation–now it is tru the (col) men are making good. Never pay less than $3.00 per day or (10) hours–this is not promise. I do not see how they pay such wages the way they work labors. They do not hurry or drive you. Remember this is the very lowest wages. Piece work men can make from $6 to $8 per day. They receive their pay every two weeks. This city I am living in, the population [is] 30,000 (20) miles from Big Chicago, Ill. Doctor I am some what impress. My family also. They are doing nicely. I have no right to complain what ever … People are coming here every day and are finding employment. Nothing here but money and it is not hard to get. Remember me to your dear Family. Oh, I have children in school every day with the white children. I will write you more next time. How is the lodge?
New episodes will post the first and third Saturday of every month … hopefully. 🙂 Thank you all for your support and see you next year!
The letter from Sgt. Ann Burchard is the property of the State Historical Society of Missouri. Browse their full collection of WWII correspondence.
The letter by the migrant to Indiana was originally printed in the Chicago Defender Newspaper, and reprinted in the Journal of Negro History, which is in the public domain and available at Gutenberg.org.
Chernow, Ron. Washington: a Life. Penguin Books, 2010