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Learn from the good and bad of history

There has been much debate about our nation’s history in recent weeks.

As a result of the widespread protests and riots across the United States, and even the world, along with Friday’s observance of Juneteenth and even Saturday’s celebration of West Virginia Day, for that matter, there is a realization of what we lack in our knowledge of history.

The last few weeks, I hope, have been an opportunity for many of us to learn. I will admit, as much as I enjoy learning about the past, I had only in recent years heard about Juneteenth. That was the result of some local festivities, not high school history class.

For those who don’t understand the significance, it was on June 19, 1865 that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with news of the end of the American Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation (more than two years after it had been signed).

Texas also became the first state, in 1980, to declare Juneteenth an official state holiday.

West Virginia, of course, has its own connections to that time period, having been granted statehood by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Soldiers from our state fought on both sides of the Civil War, with some minor skirmishes taking place within our boundaries. There are monuments to various figures and military units throughout our state, and, along with current events, there is debate about whether some of those monuments should remain. The most visible being those to Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, who was born in the Clarksburg area and became one of the most famous (or infamous) Confederate military leaders. A statue of Jackson is at the state Capitol, as well as in Clarksburg. There have been discussions of removing both.

I obviously don’t know how today’s history classes are taught, but when I was in school there was much we didn’t learn. There was a great deal of focus on the American Revolution and the War of 1812, then it would usually jump to the Civil War and then hop into the early 20th century with World War I, the Great Depression and World War II. We dipped our toes into some aspects of the 1960s and maybe 1970s, possibly learned tidbits about our presidents and a few other specific events. I had great teachers, but they were limited by the amount of time available in a class session, the number of days in a school year and various government mandates and textbook availability.

I understand the movement to take down certain monuments. The passage of time and new discoveries change our understanding of history, along with our feelings of what should or shouldn’t be celebrated.

Whichever decision is made, there is still a line which cannot be crossed. All of these events, good and bad, make up our nation’s history. They cannot be buried or forgotten just because we don’t agree with them or don’t like them. It is important we look at the full picture to truly understand who we are and where we have been as a people.

We need that understanding, and that constant effort to learn, in order to move forward. Otherwise, we put ourselves into an ongoing cycle of repetition, moving ahead and then going into reverse. That does us no good in our efforts to build a future.

Much as with anything else, history is something we must make an effort to continue learning. It is not something that stops once we receive our diploma or degree.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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