Pardoning the Past, Looking Towards the Future

Charles Weems and Clarence Norris, two of the Scottsboro Boys, read a newspaper in their Alabama jail cell.

Charles Weems and Clarence Norris, two of the Scottsboro Boys, read a newspaper in their Alabama jail cell.

At the start of this year, I wrote about Alan Turing, and the effort to get the renowned scientist and mathematician an official pardon from the the British government. Now, as the year is coming to an end, that pardon has been given: on December 23, 2013, the Queen of England officially absolved Turing of his crimes, just under sixty years after his death.

Similarly, back in November, the last three of the Scottsboro Boys who had yet to be exonerated were granted a posthumous pardon. (The Scottsboro Boys were a group of black teenagers who were falsely accused and convicted of rape in 1931. The unfairness of their case and the trials that convicted them helped ignite the Civil Rights Movement.)

Though the stories obviously have many differences, they both show modern authorities attempting to rectify the injustices of the past with symbolic gestures. As well intentioned as they are though, this hardly seems like enough. Though there is some satisfaction to the fact that official records will no longer indicate these people as guilty of crimes they didn’t commit, their lives were still ruined by the charges unfairly brought against them.

So what value then is there in trying to correct the mistakes of the past? The past is past, and nothing can change it. But in granting these pardons, in admitting that mistakes were made, and offering some justice–if only symbolically–after the fact, we can hope that we are making a promise to the future. A promise that such injustices will not occur again, a promise that we can and will do better, or at least try.

At Morgan Reynolds Publishing, we spend a lot time thinking about history, about the past, about the thousands of events that have occurred throughout time that have led us to where we are today. Whether it’s the story of young men unfairly accused of a crime because of the color of their skin, or of a genius mathematician who pioneered computer science, or the way the spread of a disease affected civilization, or even the way a fashion designer overcame poverty to clothe a president, everything that has happened has the led the world to where it is today, for good and ill. By studying it, by trying to understand, we aim to understand the world around us, and hopefully–hopefully–have a greater grasp on where we are going and who we are. So that we can do better. Or at least try.

We don’t grant official pardons, but we do try to always present the truth, or as much of the truth as can be known. We believe that the facts should speak for themselves, that the truth offers its own condemnations, and its own pardons.

Thanks for reading along with us. We are looking forward to the new year, and hope you’ll keep reading.

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

Special Guest Blog: Fifty Years After the March on Washington, Where Are We Today?


(Editor’s Note: This August 28 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous March on Washington. To mark this momentous occasion in American history, we will be running several blogs over the rest of this month examining the state of civil rights in America. To start, we present a special guest blog by David Aretha, author of numerous books in Morgan Reynolds’ The Civil Rights Movement series, including its two most recent additions, Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1963 March on Washington and Brown v. Board of Education.)

During his immortal “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. bellowed “I have a dream” eight times, often following with metaphorical phrases. “I have a dream,” he said, “that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” He dreamed that the state of Mississippi, “a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression,” would be “transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”

Looking to the heavens and then shaking his head, King declared to a crowd of 250,000: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”

 King roused the crowd so much that shortly afterward he had a look of fear on his face. “You was smoking,” King’s friend Clarence Jones told him afterward. “The words was so hot they was just burning off the page!” Watching on television at the White House, President Kennedy said of King: “He’s damned good. Damned good.”

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington this August, educators and journalists are asking the question: “Have Martin Luther King’s dreams been fulfilled?” Are Americans today judged by the “content of their character?” Does American justice roll “down like waters?” Some respondents—politicians, historians, sociologists, and people on the street—will say yes, the dream has been fulfilled. But many others will say that we have a long, long way to go.

During the 40th anniversary of the March, in 2003, cultural geographer Derek Alderman noted that at least 730 cities and towns had honored the beloved icon with a street name, mostly in African American neighborhoods. Sadly, most of those streets had become boulevards of despair.

It is ironic that virtually every Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in America is a street of abandoned buildings, abandoned businesses, abandoned people, abandoned dreams,” stated James P. Danky of the Wisconsin Historical Society. “Those who honor King’s name need to think about fulfilling the promise of his dream to those who have been forsaken in our inner cities.”

In many ways, King’s dreams have come true. The Civil Rights Act spelled doom for government-sanctioned segregation; by the 1970s, the only “Coloreds Only” signs you’d find would be on abandoned buildings in the rural South. After the passage of the Voting Rights Act, virtually every African American could register to vote without hindrance. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 banned discrimination in the sale and rental of housing. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), formed in 1965, has been mostly successful in one of its major initiatives: preventing workers from being denied jobs based on their race.

Some conservatives claim that government has gone overboard in helping African Americans—to the point where whites are the ones discriminated against. They point to affirmative-action initiatives in higher education. To give minority students a break after generations of oppression, federal legislation allowed schools to accept a certain percentage of minority applicants even if some white applicants had better test scores. Also, in hundreds of American cities, judges’ “busing” decrees resulted in black students being transported to predominantly white schools—and vice versa—to achieve racial balance. Both of these practices were hotly debated from the late 1960s to the 21st century. In recent decades, courts have greatly rolled back affirmative-action and busing initiatives.

While African Americans have virtually achieved equal-rights status in terms of jobs, housing, voting, etc., they do not enjoy equal prosperity. Far from it. In 2010, the median-average household income for African Americans was $32,068, compared to $50,673 for whites. In 2011, approximately 28 percent of African Americans lived below the poverty line (an increase from 25 percent in 2005), compared to about 9 percent of whites.

During the recent recession, the black unemployment rate jumped from 8 to 16 percent while the white rate went from only 4 to 8 percent. Inner-city schools have become such “failure factories” that many students never graduate high school. According to a 2004 book by Thomas M. Shapiro, “The net worth of typical white families is $81,000 compared to $8,000 for black families.”

Conservatives claim that black Americans are responsible for their own hardship. They note the fact that more than 70 percent of African American children are born out of wedlock. Poor family values, they say, is the problem. They point to Newark, New Jersey, where a nation-high $22,000 a year was spent to educate each student, yet half of the school system’s students did not graduate. Many whites have long been fed up with having to spend their tax dollars on welfare programs and food stamps (even though such programs are just tiny percentages of state and federal budgets).

But here’s something to think about: Traditionally in America, families need about three generations before they move into the upper middle class. Generally speaking, the first generation—the one that immigrates to the United States—is working class, the second generation is middle class, and the third generation enters the professional ranks and moves into the upper middle class. While many African American families have been in the United States for more than a century, they have had full rights for only a short period of time.

Say a black man was born in 1963 and had a daughter at age thirty. The father was among the first generation of African Americans to enjoy equal rights in regards to education, housing, and employment. Thus, he can be compared to first-generation U.S. immigrants, the “bottom of the ladder” citizens who have historically had low-paying jobs. The black man’s daughter could be compared to second-generation immigrants—those who tend to rise to the middle class. But his daughter would be just twenty years old in 2013; she hasn’t even started her career yet.

Black Americans have been greatly hindered by a lack of financial assets. A well-off couple can afford to move to a suburb with a good school system; can pay for their child’s private schooling and college education; can give their child money to help with a down payment on a house; can help pay for their grandchildren’s education; and can leave a large inheritance to their survivors. In 1960, 50 percent of African Americans lived in poverty. Thus, the black Americans of the late 1900s had to make it on their own, without much financial support from Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa.

With more than 80 percent of African Americans living in urban settings—with many renting instead of owning—they have largely missed out on skyrocketing housing appreciation. From January 1970 to March 2007, the median-average price of a new home in the United States soared from $23,600 to $262,600, allowing homeowners to “cash in” big when they sold their homes. African Americans who were unwelcome in the burgeoning suburbs in the 1960s and ’70s (and in some areas, beyond that) missed out on that accumulated wealth—not to mention the benefits of good suburban schools.

In addition, some sociologists claim, many African Americans are still caught up in a “cycle of despair.” Over the centuries, most immigrants have come to the U.S. willing and eager to work hard and achieve the American Dream. But many African Americans never bought in to the American Dream—or at least didn’t think it would work for them. Their ancestors were brought to America against their will and were systematically oppressed up until the 1960s.

As Malcolm X said, “I don’t see any American Dream; I see an American nightmare.” Black Power leader Stokely Carmichael said that his father had naively bought into the American Dream. “My old man believed in this work-and-overcome stuff . . . ” he said. “He did carpentry all day and drove taxis all night. . . . The next thing that came to that poor black man was death—from working too hard.”

Those who grow up in poverty and bad school systems often find it difficult to believe that good study habits and hard work will lead to financial success. Some think that drug dealing is the only way to make good money and that being in gangs is their only chance to “be somebody.” According to a 2010 report by the Schott Foundation on Public Education, 53 percent of black male students drop out of high school without a diploma. Antipathy among black males has added to the burden of black women. From 1974 to 2004, the median income of African American men fell 12 percent while the income of black women rose 75 percent.

In most every facet of life, children have a strong tendency to imitate the behavior of their parents. Children of churchgoers, for example, are more likely to go to church as adults. And those whose parents didn’t pursue the American Dream are more likely to not pursue it themselves. It’s part of the “cycle of despair.” Moreover, parents who did not drive down the “highway of success” lack the experience to help their children drive down that proper road.

Most sociologists believe that racism—institutional (aka systematic) racism—still plays a major role in keeping African Americans in poverty. Author Herb Boyd explained in Civil Rights: Yesterday & Today:

. . . examples of institutional racism include laws created by the white majority that severely punish “black” crimes [such as possession of crack cocaine] but are lenient on “white” (such as corporate) crimes; “country club” prisons for executives; harsher sentencing for blacks compared to whites who commit the same crimes; better funding for white parts of a city than for black neighborhoods; a tax system that allows for greater funding for suburban schools than city schools; refusal of corporations to open grocery stores in inner cities, resulting in poor food options for blacks; and a disinterest by the white majority in resolving crises facing the poor, such as gang violence, homelessness, and inadequate health care.

African Americans achieved their legal rights decades ago, and whites and blacks have become a lot more comfortable interacting with each other. Most Americans embrace the idea of sitting down at a “table of brotherhood,” and most are now inclined to judge a person on the “content of their character” instead of the color of their skin.

 Unfortunately, the “cycles of despair” still spin, and institutional racism keeps millions of African Americans confined to poverty. Despite the promises of “hope and change” by the country’s first black president, conditions only worsened for African Americans during the recession. Unemployment in black communities skyrocketed. Home foreclosures reached unprecedented levels. The budgets for public schools and social programs were slashed. The black middle class shrunk, and the poverty rate rose.

Fifty years after the March on Washington, America still has a long way to go to truly fulfill the dreams of Martin Luther King.

-David Aretha, author

Published in: on August 12, 2013 at 2:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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What’s Going On in North Korea?

kim-jong-un-horseThough it’s prominence in the news has lessened some, North Korea–and the actions and intentions of its young leader Kim Jong-un–continues to be a hot topic. Just this week, North Korea was a key point of discussion between President Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye during the two’s first meeting in Washington. “Solidarity on North Korea is going to be the hallmark of this meeting,” Obama said, and both leaders agreed that they wanted to see an end to Kim Jong-un’s threats toward the US and South Korea.

This conference comes on the heels of last week’s (May 2nd) news that the North Korean government had sentenced American citizen Kenneth Bae to fifteen years of hard labor at a North Korean labor camp. Bae, from Washington state, ran a tour company out of China, and was arrested when he took a group of Chinese businessmen into the isolated country of North Korea. Bae was charged with “hostile acts” against the government. (Recent reports have suggested that Bae was a Christian missionary, and his efforts were viewed as a threat to the state’s reverence towards its leader, Kim Jong-un.) Bae’s arrest and sentencing on vague and dubious charges has inspired international criticism and anger towards North Korea.

Even basketball star and TV personality Dennis Rodman, who several months ago visited rodman-kim_2496070bNorth Korea without US state department approval and claims to have befriended Kim Jong-un, has gotten into the discussion. Rodman tweeted: “I’m calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea or as I call him ‘Kim’, to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose.” (Rodman claiming to call the North Korean leader “Kim” as an expression of closeness is a bit odd, since Kim is a surname.)

These stories and others, such as the UN creating a three person panel for its first ever human rights investigation in North Korea, make it clear that the country will continue to be in the news and the world’s attention for some time to come. But still, much about the country is unknown. How did this small, isolated communist country begin commanding the world’s attention? How did its young, eccentric leader Kim Jong-un come to power? To begin to understand where North Korea is going, it’s vital to find out where it came from.

A crucial part of Korean–and US–history is The Korean War. Though not as well known or studied as other 20th century conflicts like World War II or the Vietnam War, The Korean War was a major and influential part of history. Not only was it one of the first and largest armed conflicts of the Cold War, it featured the rise to power of Kim Il-sung, grandfather of Kim Jong-un, setting the stage for the North Korea of today.

To help the students of today understand this war and it’s profound impact on history and current events, Morgan Reynolds Publishing proudly presents our first Ebook exclusive, Modern American Conflicts: The Korean War (ISNB# 978-1-59935-403-3) by Jim Corrigan. To order a downloadable copy for your computer or e-reader, visit, Mackin Educational Resources, or Follett.

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

A propaganda poster of Kim Il-sung, leader of North Korea during the Korean War and grandfather of Kim Jong-un.

A propaganda poster of Kim Il-sung, leader of North Korea during the Korean War and grandfather of Kim Jong-un.

The Bangladesh Factory Collapse and The Legacy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire


Last week, a garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh, India. Initial reports claimed that at least 87 people died in the accident, but the total of number of deaths from the collapse is now believed to be about four hundred, with thousands of others wounded. Massive cracks were reported in the building the day before the collapse, but the owner Mohammed Sohel Rana ignored the warning signs and demanded his employees keep working. On Sunday, April 28, Rana was arrested trying to flee Bangladesh, and will face responsibility for the collapse.

This tragic story has understandably attracted much international attention. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time that an event like this has occurred. Last November, a fire at a different Bangladeshi garment factory killed 112 people (we wrote about it here). Another factory collapse eight years ago, killing 64. And these are just a few of the incidences of tragically unsafe working conditions in Bangladesh, where the garment industry brings in some $20 billion a year, but the workers typically make little more than $38 a month.

The wreckage of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

The wreckage of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

Hearing about these incidents, one is reminded of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911. In that famous tragedy, 146 workers at a New York garment factory were killed when a fire broke out during work hours. The fire spread quickly due to unsafe work conditions, and workers were unable to escape the blaze because the factory’s owners had locked the doors in an effort to prevent the workers from taking unauthorized breaks. The fire attracted national attention, and prompted new laws and regulations in America to protect workers.

Unfortunately, those laws are not in effect in other parts of the world, where sweat shops and unsafe conditions still are dominant. (That’s not to say that American companies don’t continue to flaunt rules and safety regulations: the Texas fertilizer plant that exploded on April 17, 2013, killing more than fifteen people and injuring many more, had 1,350 times the amount of explosive ammonium nitrate than what is allowed by the Department of Homeland Security on its premises.) But with the constant international scrutiny allowed by the internet, one hopes that things will change.The changes may even be made for economic reasons: in the wake of the Bangladesh collapse, many of the major corporations whose products are made there are working on plans to ensure worker safety. Meanwhile, the European Union is considering taking action against Bangladesh, threatening the preferential treatment the country receives from the Union that makes these factories so profitable.  Sadly, like with the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, it takes an unthinkable tragedy to spur any kind of action.

To learn more about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, please check out The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (ISBN# 978-1-59935-099-8) by Donna Getzinger from your local library, or purchase it as an Ebook from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor


Today in History

On May 1, 1486, Christopher Columbus persuaded the Spanish queen, Isabella I, to fund an expedition to what would become known as the West Indies. Columbus believed that venturing westward would prove to be a shortcut to Asia.

Wrote Don Nardo, author of The European Exploration of America ,”the Spanish queen and king were hesitant to believe that a westward route to Asia was shorter and to fund Columbus’s expedition. However, Columbus was drawing attention to himself, and Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand were fearful that another nation, specifically France, would eventually support Columbus. If this happened, Spain’s dominance over the seas would be at risk. With this in mind, the Spanish throne decided in 1486 to support Columbus by offering him a salary and residence in their kingdom.”

In 1492, after years of negotiating with the Spanish crown, Columbus sailed west with three small ships, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.  In October of that year, Columbus’s ships reached San Salvador, an island in the Bahamas.

Although Native Americans and Vikings had already come to America, Columbus’s exploratory voyage triggered the European immigration to the New World.

Nardo wrote, “… he opened up the largest and longest age of exploration, discovery, and colonization the world had ever known…. The settlement of the Americas marked a crucial development in history and gave rise to the culture that is still prevalent on those continents today.”

Adrianne Loggins
Associate Editor

For more information on the discovery of America, check out The European Exploration of America by Don Nardo (ISBN 9781599351414)

Published in: on May 1, 2012 at 12:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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MLK Memorial: Part 1

Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his "I Have a Dream" speech

Yesterday, the long-awaited Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was unveiled on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The official dedication ceremony will be on August 28, but the statue is currently open to the public.

According to NPR, the memorial was initially suggested by King’s fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, in 1984. Twenty-seven years later, the idea was made into a reality in the form of a thirty-foot-tall statue of King’s likeness. NPR reported, “The memorial is the first honoring an African American and the first honoring a person who did not serve as president.”

The Washington Post reported:

The sculpture, called “Stone of Hope” . . . refers to a line in King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. “With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope,” King said. His statue is designed to look as if he were once a part of the “Mountain of Despair” but is now the “Stone of Hope.”

An artist's rendering of the "Stone of Hope"

August 28 marks the forty-eighth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, when King made his “I Have a Dream” speech.

On the morning of August 28, 1963, the city of Washington seemed deserted, according to Calvin Craig Miller, author of No Easy Answers: Bayard Rustin and the Civil Rights Movement.

Miller wrote:

Numerous writers would describe the atmosphere as that of a besieged city, as though the country were at war. Yet the force that caused such anxiety was one that carried no weapons. Its leaders promised a peaceful march. . . Its speakers planned to ask for simple, basic rights for African Americans– a chance to cast their ballots in elections, to live and go to school in the same neighborhoods and schools as whites, to get job training, and to earn a minimum wage.

Within hours, however, Kerrily Sapet, author of Political Profiles: John Lewis, wrote, “An estimated 250,000 people, of all races, united in Washington to call for racial justice.”

“The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom would become the largest demonstration in American history.”

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

On that day in Washington, D.C., in front of hundreds of thousands of people, Martin Luther King told the crowd:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Sapet wrote, “[King’s] inspiring words captured the hope Americans wanted to feel. At the end of the day, they carried his message home with them, dreaming of a new nation where all people were treated fairly.”

It was his push toward change and his efforts in the Civil Rights Movement that inspired the memorial’s creation. Now, visitors to our nation’s capital can look at his statue and remember how far we have come and far we still have to go.

Adrianne Loggins
Associate Editor

For more information about Martin Luther King Jr., the March on Washington, and the Civil Rights Movement, check out the following Morgan Reynolds titles and series:

Political Profiles: John Lewis by Kerrily Sapet (ISBN 9781599351308)

No Easy Answers: Bayard Rustin and the Civil Rights Movement (ISBN 9781931798433)

The Civil Rights Movement Series (ISBN 9781599350738)

Published in: on August 23, 2011 at 3:14 pm  Comments (2)  
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“All men are created equal. No matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words.” -Harvey Milk

A new state law in California is requiring the roles of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals and groups in history to be added to the social studies curricula of the state’s public schools.

The law specifically states:

Instruction in social sciences shall include the early history of California and a study of the role and contributions of both men and women, Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, European Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and members of other ethnic and cultural groups, to the economic, political, and social development of California and the United States of America, with particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society.


Morgan Reynolds has three books that can contribute to the new material in California’s social studies classes.

Alan Turing by Jim Corrigan in the Profiles in Mathematics series (ISBN 9781599350646)

Alan Turing was responsible for breaking the code of the German Enigma cipher during WWII. His accomplishment helped make it possible for the Allies to eventually win the war.

Corrigan writes, “Mathematician, codebreaker, computer scientist, philosopher, and biologist–Alan Turing was all of these. . . .[He] is widely recognized today as the father of computer science.”

Turing was also gay, and he lived during a time when homosexuality was illegal.

No Compromise: The Story of Harvey Milk by David Aretha (ISBN 9781599351293)

Harvey Milk’s influence helped changed the way America interpreted the Declaration of Independence’s “all men are created equal.”

In 2009, Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama for inspiring a message of hope in a time of turmoil and change.

David Aretha writes, “In the 1970s, Harvey fought for the have-nots and left-outs, especially gays and lesbians. . . . Decades after his death he continues to enter the consciousness of new generations, as gay and lesbian Americans intensify their fight for equal rights.”

No Easy Answers: Bayard Rustin and the Civil Rights Movement by Calvin Craig Miller (ISBN 9781931798435)

Bayard Rustin was the grandson of a former slave and a staunch activist for the civil rights movement. He believed in using Mohandas Gandhi’s practice of nonviolent protesting. But after being prosecuted for being a homosexual, Rustin was abandoned by several members of the civil rights movement. Despite tremendous adversity, Rustin did not give up on the movement, and in fact organized the 1963 March on Washington.

Miller writes, “Today, Bayard Rustin is remembered as a tireless force, a man who gave his life and his work to the cause he so fervently believed in, and who struggled to bear two crosses–being black and being gay–at a time when one was more than enough.”


Now that California has voted to include “gay history” in social studies lessons statewide, it may be just a matter of time before other states fall in line to do the same. As has been said thousands of times, first goes California, then goes the nation.


Adrianne Loggins
Associate Editor

Published in: on July 26, 2011 at 3:42 pm  Comments (2)  
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