Why does history matter? Phil Bryant, the former Governor of Mississippi, explains in this thoughtful essay.
As a former Professor of American Government, I was always delighted to see the subtle passion of a student who realized the true meaning of American History in their lives. It took some professorial effort to reach a twenty-something-year-old student with the magnitude of the American Revolution. To have them reach that moment of enlightenment realizing their freedom to speak, associate, travel, trade, protect themselves, experience a free press and worship as they are led all exist because of 1776 and the struggles that followed. African American students would be encouraged by the determination of Abraham Lincoln and the thousands who fought and died that they may be made free. History also details the bravery and courageous spirit of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall, Barack Obama, and many others who fought for racial justice. They saw how the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution opened the door to African American voting as did the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Brown v. Board of Education. History became the great equalizer telling the good and the dark side of events that formed this great nation. It has been that way through all of history and the very formation of human creation.
From Adam and Eve’s original sin to world wars, from Hitler to Mother Teresa, good and evil are recorded in history alike. And so it shall always be until the end of time. We cannot demonize or erase history because of mankind’s sins. The most popular history book of all-timerecords a plea to “forgive our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us” and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
History matters because it remains our pathway to the future. It begins as a trail through the forest, a trace to follow to a better place. Over time, it became gravel roads with twists and turns, bridges that span the waters and send us to the other side. A two-lane highway passing destructive battle fields and victory celebrations. History has become an interstate where we travel at great speeds hardly noticing the beauty of the landscape on either side. But on we travel. Yesterday was but a mile marker and tomorrow the next exit. Unfortunately, there is no GPS to the future only lessons on the road left behind. We learn from the tragedies and carnage along the way and do our best not to repeat them.
Governor of Mississippi, 2012-2020
Member, President’s Advisory 1776 Commission