Sunday, July 5, 2009

Ray Raphael, Author of "Founders: The People Who Brought You a Nation"

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On this Fourth of July weekend, have you thought back fondly on the history you learned in school about the American Revolution? Well, suffice to say, that much of what you learned may be inaccurate, or woefully incomplete.

So says our guest, Ray Raphael, author of "Founders: The People Who Brought You a Nation," and "A People's History of the American Revolution," among many other books on this subject, found on his remarkable website, at , which includes a mind-blowing quiz that may cause you to believe that everything you ever learned in school was wrong.

Think the Revolution began in 1775 in Concord and Lexington? That was arguably a British counter-revolutionary act, in reaction to the fact that patriots had already taken over local governments from the British the year before in bloodless coups, and had begun people-run governments in virtually all of rural Massachusetts beyond Boston (where 95 percent of the people lived). In fact, if we search for the heroic founding fathers who really began the American Revolution, we discover a climate in which such heros were discouraged, and a people's movement reigned supreme.

Of course, some things are just common knowledge, like Paul Revere's historic ride, or Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty of give me death" speech. Wrong again. Revere lit those lights on the Old North Church, but never made his ride, as hundreds of others spread the word that night. And those famous words: not said until 18 years after Henry's death (in 1817), by a guy named William Wirt, who history seems to have mostly forgotten.

Myths and legends seem all too often behind our understanding of this important history. While the so-called Founding Fathers had a role, it was hundreds of patriots who made it all possible, a revolutionary evocation of the will of the people. Why has history been rewritten? Why might it not be in the best interests of the powers-that-be today to accurately represent a people who took to the streets in a way that overturned the oppression and corruption inherent to the status quo of the time? Who are some of the unsung heros and heroines whose stories are seldom told?

As the Boston Globe observes: "In 2001, Raphael’s People’s History of the American Revolution synthesized the 'bottom-up' history that grabbed the attention of scholars in the field since the 1960s. Howard Zinn, author of People’s History of the United States, endorsed the book and used it to initiate his 'People’s History' series, published by The New Press. While both Raphael and Zinn view common people as significant historical agents, Zinn’s focus is decidedly more political, focusing on dissent and protest, while Raphael deals with everyday experiences as well as social movements."

The following reviews reflect a book that reflects Raphael's lifetime body of work, which breaks through the myths, and captures the authentic grassroots nature of the Revolution, including the stories of women and youth, who are often at the forefront of a movement, but whose stories are seldom told.

"Dramatize, personalize, localize: this is the way Ray Raphael has brilliantly explored the American Revolution. Readers will devour this stirring account. The author teaches us more about the multiple dimensions of the American Revolution than one could ever have imagined.”
— Gary B. Nash, Professor of History, UCLA
Director, National Center for History in the Schools;
Author of The Unknown American Revolution

"Raphael deftly reconstructs the lives of women and men of the Revolutionary generation who are unfamiliar to many of us. A natural storyteller, he helps us feel the urgency of their choices, fears, and expectations."
— Carol Berkin, Presidential Professor of History,
Baruch College & The Graduate Center, CUNY,
and author of Revolutionary Mothers

Please join John Quinlan for a fascinating Independence Day weekend edition of Forward Forum, and please join in our conversation by calling 608-213-8409.

[Co-host Stephanie Woods is off this week; training for the Act7 AIDS Ride. See the rightmost column for links to information on how you can offer her your support. Steph will be returning in mid-August.]

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