About the Author
Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His writings on punk rock, the 2011 Wisconsin labor crisis, and the history of US social movements have appeared in a various popular and scholarly pubs.
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1777: THE MIDNIGHT RIDE OF ... SYBIL LUDINGTON
Kent, New York
Teenagers have been integral to the political struggles of the United States since even before the country's founding. Many teens participated in the American Revolutionary War, and they did so for a variety of reasons. Some were interested in the independence of the colonies. Most, however, fought for their own freedom. They enlisted to escape poverty, or in hopes of escaping slavery or indentured servitude.
One famous teenage revolutionary was Sybil Ludington.
After British troops attacked Danbury, Connecticut in April 1777, a messenger was sent to request assistance from Colonel Henry Ludington. The members of Colonel Ludington's militia, however, were scattered, as they had been sent home to their farms for the spring planting season.
As the colonel made preparations, his sixteen-year-old daughter Sybil rode her horse through the night, spreading word of the attack and gathering the soldiers under her father's command.
The ride was dangerous. In addition to the darkness and the rain, she also risked encounters with British troops, their Loyalist supporters, and everyday thieves along her path.
From that evening into the next morning, Sybil Ludington covered about forty miles — roughly double that of Paul Revere's much more famous ride.
In 1975, she was featured on a U.S. postage stamp, and a statue in her honor stands in Carmel, New York.CHAPTER 2
1836: THE FACTORY GIRLS ASSOCIATION
In the 1820s, factory owners in Lowell, Massachusetts began recruiting the daughters of New England farmers to work in their textile mills. The "Lowell Mill girls," some as young as ten years old, slept six to a room in the company's dormitories and began their thirteen-hour work days at 5 a.m.
In 1834, mill owners announced that they would be cutting already meager wages by 15 percent. In response, workers held a series of meetings to discuss how they should respond. When owners fired one of their leaders, 800 young women walked out of the factory in one of the first industrial strikes in U.S. history.
Two years later, management announced yet another major wage cut, and more than 1,000 young women shut down the factory by marching out together. They formed a group called the "Factory Girls Association" and refused to interact with owners except through their chosen representatives.
The members of the Factory Girls Association viewed themselves as an extension of the country's revolutionary spirit, announcing, "As our fathers resisted unto blood the lordly avarice of the British ministry, so we, their daughters, never will wear the yoke that has been prepared for us." Though the strike failed after a month, the Lowell Mill girls' defiance was an inspiration to others.CHAPTER 3
1879: BOARDING SCHOOL RUNAWAYS
Carlisle Indian Industrial School // Carlisle, Pennsylvania
By the mid-1800s, U.S. westward expansion included an extremely violent program to undermine American Indian nations' treaty rights and to force them off of their land. Many white Americans viewed indigenous people as racially inferior and a barrier to human progress (and a barrier to building gold mines on their land). With this task largely accomplished by the late 1870s, a U.S. Army Captain named Richard Henry Pratt proposed a new approach for the government's Indian policy.
In 1879, Pratt opened the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, an off- reservation boarding school for American Indian children. Pratt believed that American Indians were culturally inferior to European Americans, but that they could be "saved" through education. Adopting a slogan that he had to "kill the Indian" in order to "save the man," Pratt insisted that he could transform American Indian children into "real" Americans if he removed them from their communities.
At Carlisle, Pratt and the teachers forced students to cut their hair and to abandon traditional clothing in favor of military uniforms. The school forbade students from using their native languages and required them to speak exclusively in English. They also made students adopt new "American" names and required them to practice Christianity. Carlisle was located at the site of former military barracks, and officials enforced their rules using strict military-style discipline, with punishments ranging from hard labor to solitary confinement. The school quickly became a model for the federal government's American Indian policies, and the U.S. established 25 similar schools by the turn of the century. However, while Carlisle taught its students to be obedient workers (including through summer programs that "allowed" them to be domestic workers in white homes), the school produced very few graduates. According to one estimate, of the many thousands of students who attended Carlisle in its first twenty-four years, only 158 graduated.
Student rebellion at such boarding schools was common. Some students refused to answer to their newly assigned names. Others secretly practiced their religion or spoke in their native languages when not being watched by teachers. In at least one case, students sent a petition to the U.S. government requesting the closing of their school.
The most common form of resistance, however, was running away. In fact, "desertion" at the schools, by boys and girls alike, was so widespread that schools had to request that train employees refuse American Indian youth as passengers and offer cash rewards in neighboring towns for help with their return. According to historian Brenda Child, one frequent runaway from the Flandreau School in South Dakota was caught (in a single year during the early 1930s) in "Elkton, South Dakota, in Wilmar, Pipestone, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, and in Chicago, Illinois." The fifteen-year-old was otherwise considered a well-behaved student.
Deserters often received help from American Indian communities in reservations near schools, who protested government policy by providing sanctuary to runaways.CHAPTER 4
1913: THE SILENT ASSEMBLY
Stuyvesant High School // New York, New York
"VOCAL CORDS SILENT IN HIGH SCHOOL 'STRIKE' — BREAK DOWN DOOR ALSO"
In May 1913, a "large majority" of Stuyvesant High's 2,500 students refused to sing "America" at the school's morning assembly. Their silence was a protest against the school's lunchtime policy, which required students to stay in the building during their short noon break and to purchase lunch from the cafeteria, if they had not brought food from home.
At lunchtime that day, thirty-two students also "forced the doors" and enjoyed a half-hour of freedom before returning to school for the rest of their classes.CHAPTER 5
1924: THE MARCH FOR PRINCIPAL BAKER
University City High School // University City, Missouri
"JAMES E. BAKER FOR PRINCIPAL"
"WE WANT A SQUARE DEAL FOR BAKER"
In May 1924, after hearing that their principal's contract would not be renewed for the following school year, more than 200 students at University City High School paraded through the streets of St. Louis, Missouri carrying supportive signs and demanding his rehiring.
Around noon, the march reached the school, where students gathered in the auditorium. Principal Baker thanked the protestors for their support and asked them to return to class for the remainder of the day. After several cheers of support, the students agreed to his request.CHAPTER 6
1925: THE BUTLER ACT & THE "TRIAL OF THE CENTURY"
Rhea County High School // Dayton, Tennessee
"It shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the ... public schools ... to teach any theory that denies the story of the divine creation of man as taught in the Bible."
On March 21, 1925, Tennessee Governor Austin Peay signed into law the Butler Act, which outlawed the teaching of evolution in Tennessee's public schools. To challenge the new law, civil liberties activists began looking for a test case — someone who had broken it. John Scopes, a popular 24-year-old football coach and substitute science teacher at Rhea County High School, volunteered. Though he confessed that he could not actually remember whether or not he had covered evolution in his classes, he had used a (state-approved) textbook that included it. Scopes recruited students to testify against him, and he was formally indicted in May, facing a fine of several hundreds of dollars. Superintendent Walter White testified against Scopes, confirming that he had used the textbook and describing him as "a good teacher."
When the trial began, the teaching of evolution had been outlawed in the public schools of Oklahoma, Florida, and Texas, and similar laws were being considered in eleven other states. The story of Adam and Eve from the
Book of Genesis was promoted in its place, and the teaching of the Biblical story was actually required by law in Alabama, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Georgia, and Mississippi.
The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes quickly became a major spectacle, making Dayton, Tennessee "famous overnight." Journalists from all over the country flooded the town. Christian conservatives rallied to support the prosecution, while scientists and civil liberties advocates backed the defense. Famously, three-time Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan volunteered to argue for Tennessee, and prominent civil liberties attorney Clarence Darrow defended Scopes.
Though the Scopes "Monkey Trial" is very well known, less well known is that John Scopes lost. The jury was not allowed to assess the law itself, and they easily found him guilty of violating it (which he had not denied). On appeal, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the Butler law had nothing at all to do with endorsing religion. However, they also dismissedthe case on a technicality, in order to quash further public attention.
The Butler Law remained in effect in Tennessee until 1967, when it was challenged by Gary Scott, a science teacher at Jacksboro High School, after he was fired for teaching evolution. The next year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that similar laws in states all over the U.S. were unconstitutional because they violated the First Amendment rights of teachers.CHAPTER 7
1930: "10,000 STUDENTS STRIKE; OPPOSE U.S. TEACHER"
Manila North High School // Manila, Philippines
After the Spanish-American War in 1898, the United States abandoned its mission to liberate the former Spanish colonies of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam, and the Philippines and instead took them over. Maintaining control of the Philippines involved a very bloody war in which thousands of U.S. soldiers and many times as many Filipino soldiers and civilians were killed — and in which the United States used both torture and concentration camps. The Philippines then became an American colony, and remained so until after World War II.
As part of its imperial project in the Philippines, the U.S. government established several American primary and secondary schools. By 1921, Manila High School had grown so large that it split into Manila North and Manila South. In 1923, Manila East opened, followed by Legarda High (which later became Manila West).
In February 1930, after holding a mass meeting, roughly 2,700 students at Manila North High School walked out of school to demand the removal of their American teacher, Mabel Brummitt of Valparaiso, Indiana. According to the students, Brummitt had made racist comments about Filipinos, calling them "imbeciles." Said one student, Brummitt "time and again has branded Filipinos as savages, imbeciles, idiots, and contemptible cads." Brummitt, however, claimed she had been misunderstood, and that by misbehaving, one of the students was acting like "an imbecile."
As the protest became a proxy battle between the U.S. and local governments, the mayor of Manila told the students that he would be the first to lead them in a strike if Brummitt was allowed to return. The students won their demand, and Brummitt was removed, pending an investigation into her statements. However, school officials also expelled four of the strike's student leaders.
North High students again walked out to demand the reinstatement of their four classmates. This time, their ranks swelled to 10,000 strong, as students from Manila West, Manila South, and Manila East joined them.
The growing strike's demands also expanded to include the removal of the secretary of public education, the director of education, and the North High principal.
Seven students were arrested during the protests.
Alejandro Albert, the secretary of public education, threatened to expel all 10,000 of the striking students, but city officials intervened and demanded that the four suspended students be reinstated.CHAPTER 8
1936: "STUDENT STRIKE UPSETS TOWN; MAYOR GUARDED"
Alameda High School // Alameda, California
"WE WANT PADEN, HE IS FOR US AND ALWAYS WAS" "STRIKE STUDENTS STRIKE, LET'S STAND BY HIM"
The Great Depression years of the 1930s were a period of desperation for many Americans. Images of hungry men, women, and children in bread and soup lines dominate popular historical memory. However, the era was also characterized by fierce political clashes, including heated elections and thousands of strikes and labor stoppages all over the country.
In 1935, Alameda, California's new mayor, Hans Roebke, and city manager, Ray Fritz, began instituting sweeping changes to the city's government, replacing several officials, including the entire Social Services Board and the head of the Library Board. On March 3, 1936, the city council also fired popular Superintendent of Schools William Paden.
The next day, several Alameda High School students met with Fritz in an attempt to reverse the decision, but to no avail. The Alameda High student council then voted for a strike, and on March 5, as many as 1,400 students walked out of school and began picketing City Hall. Popular outrage that had been building against Roebke and Fritz over the previous year quickly became support for the students' strike. The local newspaper printed favorable editorials, and the students inspired a "mass meeting ... at which citizens went on record for a recall movement against Roebke and two city councilmen." A local hotel even sponsored a dance for the students in order to raise funds for their gas and other "strike supplies."
Worried that the "citizenry was planning to seize" the city government, Mayor Roebke ordered police with shotguns and tear gas bombs to guard his office and threatened to declare an official state of emergency. Alameda County District Attorney Earl Warren warned Roebke, however, that doing so could lead to bloodshed — and that the "parties responsible" for such an escalation would be held accountable. On March 7, Superintendent Paden's firing was ruled void, as he had not violated the terms of his four-year contract. He was reinstated. The students won, and they ended their three-day strike.
Later that year, Mayor Roebke, City Manager Fritz, and other members of the city council were forced to resign after being indicted on a variety of corruption charges, including bribery, petty theft, and perjury. Earl Warren later became Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, most famously issuing the unanimous majority opinion in the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which outlawed the racial segregation of schools.CHAPTER 9
1936: THE 1936 STUDENT STRIKE WAVE
St. Helens High School // St. Helens, Oregon Edison Technical High School // Fresno, California
"DOWN WITH COMPROMISE!" "POTTS MUST GO!"
The Alameda strike was national news, and within days, the students' victory inspired others to take action, as well.
On March 10, some 379 of the 400 high school students in St. Helens, Oregon left school to protest the firing of their own school superintendent, J.R. Austin. As they took to the streets of St. Helens, students yelled, "Alameda students won, why can't we?"
Some students attempted to enter the office of St. Helens Mayor J.W. Allen, but he refused to open the door. An unsympathetic board member scoffed that the students could "stay out of school 'til next summer for all he cared." But just like in Alameda, the students' protest sparked public interest in recalling local politicians from office. The mounting pressure compelled officials to promise that Superintendent Austin would be retained, and St. Helens students returned to school. When the promise was not kept, they walked out again.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Teenage Rebels"
Copyright © 2015 Dawson Barrett.
Excerpted by permission of Microcosm Publishing.
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