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Forgotten American Histories: a classroom discussion starter

Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee
1 1 692

Have you ever come across something on the Internet that really shakes you-- not simply because it is incendiary or troubling (that is a daily occurrence in today's world), but because you couldn't believe you've never seen it before?

Recently, a friend shared an uncovered 1939 documentary-style video of American Nazis gathered at Madison Square Garden in New York City. My first thought was that it couldn't be authentic, especially since the first place I saw the 'share' was on Facebook. However, after finding the original article in The Atlantic and finding out that the footage was edited by award-winning documentarian Marshall Curry, it seems that the questions posed in the article were some of the same that I had myself. How come I was never shown this in high school? How have I never seen this and how could this have happened in the heart of New York?  Further still, when I was in NYC for work last week, I emerged from beneath Penn Station to face Madison Square Garden in awe of its seemingly forgotten dark past.

I thought about sharing this post, but then I thought "is this too dark, too deeply disturbing to dissect with college students?" I thought about it for a few days before realizing all that this information and analysis unlocked for me. It asked me to research the source, to critically analyze the footage-- its veracity, its intended audience, and its implications. Most shocking of all was how spookily relevant it felt to the current political climate. Themes included: discussions on the first amendment, when and how rallies of free speech can happen especially when it veers into hate speech; who really writes our histories; nationalism, and how national atrocities don't happen overnight -- all of these notions buzzed in my own head for days.

After a few days where it kept resurging, I realized I felt compelled to share. I had to hear what others thought about this unearthed piece of our own dirty history. Most importantly, I did not want to be complicit in burying history and then being surprised when frighteningly similar patterns emerge today. 

If you think you could bring this into the classroom, please share your stories on assignments created or discussions you had! Link below.

Footage of German American Bund Nazi Rally in Madison Square Garden in 1939 - The Atlantic - The Atl... 

1 Comment

Episode six of the documentary series "The Great Depression" (PBS) takes a hard look at both lynching and antisemitism in the United States. The film includes footage from pro-Nazi rallies held in the United States as well as discussion of the American refusal to increase immigration for Eastern European refugees. I show the film in US History II and it is always well-received by students.

About the Author
I am the Marketing Manager for the Bedford/St. Martin's (Macmillan) History list. I've worked at Macmillan since 2008 and have held positions in Sales and Market Development.