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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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civil rights

So, last night, I went to see and hear Gloria Steinem speak……

……..and it was thrilling. An icon for equal rights and the feminist movement for more than forty years, she has lost none of her passion. Her wit and gracious humor and sharp insights into the last few months brought cheers, applause, tears and laughs.

It was an honor to meet her over the book signing shortly afterwards. Her warmth and down-to-earth presence averted any awkwardness I might have felt in engaging with her. I even got to make her laugh over a comment I made, referring to my Ancient Greek comedy.

It was an evening that took root a few weeks ago, when I saw the event listed and it sparked my interest. It was enlightening, encouraging and hopeful. I ran into people that I knew and met others, of whom I hope to get to know better.

In the last few months, I’ve felt like history had been doubling back on itself, repeating the same patterns and events with new names and different faces. From the Dakota Access Pipeline to the attempt to undo civil rights for women and people of color, it is clear to me that we, as Americans, do not remember our history. As an amateur historian, it’s frustrating and surreal and makes me more determined than ever to keep learning history.

We can’t change the past. Going backwards gets us nowhere. As frightening and uncertain as the future is, we have to keep moving forward. If we remember the lessons of the past, we can affect and alter the future.

The goal is for the benefit of everyone, not a select few.

The theater marquee where I attended the lecture.
The theater marquee where I attended the lecture.

So, last fall, I took a history class…….

……about how California came to be a part of the United States. I signed up for it in part to improve my general GPA in order to pursue a Master’s degree. I also love history and I want to incorporate what I learn to improve and to enrich the settings of my fiction writing.

Using The Elusive Eden by Bullough and Orsi, the course traced the ‘discovery’ of the region until the latter decade of the 20th century. We covered a lot of material, ranging from the encounters and conflicts between the First Americans and the Spanish and European explorers of the 16th/17th centuries to the creation of the Spanish missions. We read about the Gold Rush and the Civil War, about the Prohibition era to the civil rights movements of the 1960s and 70s. There was so much history (and at the same time, not enough), that I’m breaking this up into more than one post.

You know that saying, and I may be paraphrasing a little, “those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it”? Every week, I was reading my text book about events that happened three hundred, fifty, twenty years ago. On the news, it was playing out all over again. The players were the same, the conflict was the same, but the year was different.

What I learned about California as a republic prior to its acceptance into the United States reflects the growth and change of America as a whole. Like the state itself, the history is vast and sweeping, detailed and epic. Because of that, I will be writing about California’s history over multiple posts.

Through the prism of California, I saw how America evolved, set itself back and emerged anew, only to start the cycle all over again.

It was a surreal five months, to say the least. And it hasn’t ended.

My text book.
My text book.

Nichelle Nichols, in her own words…….

……remembering Dr. King.

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