Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Howard Zinn's Unsung Heroes

Howard Zinn wrote A People's History of the United States, a book that exposes the hypocritical "heroes" we hold up on pedestals in American history, while also giving voice to the oppressed or ignored.  Within this book he offers up several alternative heroes and heroines who are often more deserving of our praise than those whose busts have been carved into Mount Rushmore.  For example, Zinn tells the story of John Woolman, who began refusing to pay British taxes LONG before other colonial leaders made it a popular movement.  

This post will focus on another of Zinn's Unsung Heroes...John Ross.  Do not let the name mislead you, though.  Mr. Ross was not an English colonial. Nor was he a war hero from WWII.  Contrary to his European name, John Ross was a Cherokee chief, who lived from October 3, 1790 - August 1, 1866.

Ross served as a Native American chief from 1828 until his death in 1866.  His name stemmed from his Scottish ancestry.  In fact, he was technically only 1/8 Cherokee Indian.  However, he grew up on the American frontier, and this coupled with his European ancestry made him a great candidate for working with the American government on behalf of his people.  Much of Ross' early life can be found online, but what I am going to focus on is his later work, including the Trail of Tears.

 The Cherokee people had to walk from Georgia to Oklahoma.

In 1830, Congress passed The Indian Removal Act, which would allow the American government to move the Cherokee Indians of Georgia to less-wanted lands.  After all, the land the tribe was currently on was wanted for its gold and farmland.  Ross fought this act for years, but in 1838 he realized his work was in vain, and so he volunteered to organize the tribal move, which would later become known as The Trail of Tears.

While in the trail, John's wife died after she gave up her blanket to a sick child.  He also watched as his people died around him.  In total, around 4,000 people died on the journey from Georgia to Oklahoma.  Yet, through this heartache Ross found the inspiration to help his people relocate.  Upon their arrival in Oklahoma, Ross helped his people by setting up farms, schools, and small businesses.

Though the work of Ross may seem less valiant than that of perhaps Patrick Henry whose sharp declaration of "Give me liberty or give me death," still stands today as a poignant moment in American history, I want to ask you why?  John Ross fought hard for years to avoid the removal of his people from their tribal lands.  Though nothing he said while fighting for his people's liberty is written in the history books, what he did on behalf of his people is worth remembering.  For, when faced with the forced removal of his tribe to Oklahoma, he led the way, helping them set up their new lives.

Can you think of any other unsung heroes, in history or in your own lives?

Earlier this year the Arab world came to light through several liberation movements.  People who were sick of the oppression they were suffering at the hands of dictators rose up against their government.  Several of these leaders were brought down.  The most recent one occurred in Libya, with the downfall and death of Muammar Gaddafi.  Before Libya though was Tunisia, and a revolution that was a lot less violent.  Yet, there was danger in the choice Libyans made to rise against their government.  One man who made that choice was a musician by the name of El General.  He is a rapper from Tunisia who posted a song to Facebook, which became the rebels' anthem.  You can read his story here:

...and here is his song.
This man wrote a song that spurred a revolution.  He is an unsung hero.

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