Sunday, October 17, 2010

Radicals in Their Own Time - Albert Einstein Epigraph; Introduction

In teaching history, there should be extensive discussions of personalities who benefited mankind through independence of character and judgment. 
 -Albert Einstein, 1953

This quotation from Albert Einstein is a fitting epigraph to my book, Radicals in Their Own Time: Four Hundred Years of Struggle for Liberty and Equal Justice in America, to be published by Cambridge University Press in late December (available HERE on Amazon).

In the spirit of Einstein's words, Radicals in Their Own Time discusses the personalities of five important Americans who have led the way in bursting some of America’s most inglorious chains of injustice and oppression. Progress toward greater freedom in America has never been direct or easy – democracy is messy, and the nation has had its share of despotic leaders and oppressive majorities, but one constant throughout American history has been the recurring theme of individuals of superior character and judgment who have courageously stood up to lead the fights for freedom and justice, despite considerable hardships to themselves. Every generation has them - men and women who speak truth to power in the face of sometimes overwhelming official and unofficial resistance; people who rebel against stifling orthodoxy and demand governmental tolerance and equal treatment even when it seems they alone are waging the fight; individuals who crave freedom from arbitrary authority like the very air they breathe.

This book explores the lives of five such individuals whose lifetimes, laid beginning to end, together form a nearly-continuous sweep of four hundred years of American history: Roger Williams (1603-1683), Thomas Paine (1737-1809), Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902); W.E.B Du Bois (1868-1963); and Vine Deloria, Jr. (1933-2005). Radicals all, each did more than anyone during their respective eras to challenge and ultimately force government to honor Americans’ natural birthright of individual liberty and equal justice. Each, as we shall see, has had a profound impact on American history.

These five are especially appropriate for our purposes since all are relatively lesser-celebrated figures in the American historical tableau. None are household names in the manner of a Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, or King. None, moreover, were aristocratic legacies to family political dynasties. Rather, they were self-made, in true American fashion, and so represent well the millions of Americans over the past four centuries who have waged, and wage still, their own battles largely in obscurity.

NEXT TIME:  2010 as Best of Times and Worst of Times for Liberty and Equal Justice in America