Dickinson College, Fall 2023

Author: Matthew Pinsker Page 1 of 3

Discussion –Combatants


STUDENT COMMENT:  This week’s reading in American YAWP covered racial, social, and political tensions, the strain of the Vietnam War abroad and at domestically, the crisis of 1968, and the rise of Richard Nixon. The 1960’s, particularly 1968, is noted as one of the most tragic years in American history and it is not hard to see why. The Tet offensive occurred, which was a series of surprise attacks in Vietnam on the U.S. and South Korean forces, which led to the highest casualty toll of Americans in the Vietnam war. Not only that, but Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, and through all of this, the support for the Vietnam war continued to dwindle with protests sparking up all across the country leading to the fear that “civil society was unraveling.” (YAWP, 28) Richard Nixon “played on these fears” when he ran for president, also promising that he would end the war, but not win it. (YAWP, 28) Needless, to say, 1968 was a tumultuous year.

STUDENT COMMENT:  The oral history projects of Braxton, Huber, and Nolan tell the story of U.S. troops deployed in Vietnam. These three stories help illustrate the danger of the Vietnam war for combat troops as well as some of their reluctance to be stationed there.

Black Panthers

Black Panthers

New York Times, May 14th 1971.

STUDENT COMMENT: In 2015 Christina Braxton wrote about Dennis Braxton, a black veteran who did not receive appreciation after his return from Vietnam, “When he returned to California in 1971, he describes the area as “hippie-land.” Peaceful protests were now extremely common but movements like the Black Panther Party also rose in popularity. One of the first things Braxton did when released from the Navy was to join the Black Panthers”(Braxton, 2015). This goes to show that while Braxton was fighting for the nation there was a public reform, the amount of change that occurred must have been bizarre to him. Braxton did not hesitate to join the Black Panthers, a political group for African Americans, as the civil rights movement was one of key movements going on at the time.


Dane Huber, Lawrence Galiano in Vietnam, November 1, 2017, http://blogs.dickinson.edu/hist-118pinsker/2017/11/01/vietnam-war-3/.

Lawrence Galiano

STUDENT COMMENT:  Huber’s interview with Lawrence Galiano reveals the ways in which the U.S. was unprepared for the war and how the effect of it led to the loss of lives of soldiers and even the vilification that the soldiers received after coming home. The YAWP chapter explains in depth the response of the war on the Johnson presidency and the country’s response to the war, it notably leaves how the soldiers fared under these conditions and their experiences when they came back home. After the war, he was criticized and even asked to take off his uniform on a plane to protect himself. Before the war, Sergeant Galiano was drafted into the war leaving behind his girlfriend and his dream of going to architectural school to fight for his country. This was a decision that was made for him. The whole experience from being drafted to his arrival in Vietnam was littered with inadequate leadership and lack of preparation. Firstly, he was taken to Fort Dix, where he had to sleep in the parking lot because there were no beds. Upon arriving in Vietnam, the soldiers were given little training and their practice with m14 was rendered useless when they were asked to use the m16s. This change seemed more futile when he realized that the communist forces used AK47s, a far more superior weapon that he claims, “didn’t jam [and] you could hold it under water and it would fire.” Additionally, they were wholly unprepared for the war because as thy never had the numbers and military officials did not have insight to provide resources. The YAWP narrates how networks like CBS displayed the violence enacted on the Vietnamese at the hands of the U.S. and this fueled the protest across the country. While the protest against the war is justified, and the violence against the Vietnamese by soldiers like Lt. Calley were truly horrifying, some of the soldiers were just victims of circumstance. The individual stories of Dennis Braxton, who as a black man was belittled and conflicted about the war or Galiano who was blamed for something he could not control, show there is no single narrative in a war. It holds different stakes for all involved.

STUDENT COMMENT:  The story that really struck me was the life of Sargent Lawrence Galiano in the Vietnam War. Galiano was drafted in 1966, and was first dropped off in Pleiku, Vietnam with little training or mental preparation. He states, when he was dropped out of the helicopter, “everything was under fire”. I can’t sit here and begin to imagine how horrifying that is, not knowing if you are going to make it out, especially when you are fighting in a war you did not voluntarily sign up for. I also want to point out the aftermath of the war, because I think the mental effects of soldiers are overlooked. Galiano talks about how he struggled mentally after coming home, probably a form of ptsd/depression. My grandfather was also in Vietnam, and he experiences this to this day. In addition to this, the treatment of Vietnam soldiers is something I had really never heard about. Today, our troops are highly respected, whereas back then the veterans were treated horribly because of instances like the “US troops [raping] and/or [massacring] hundreds of civilians in the village of My Lai” (YAWP Chapter 28). I find it really heartbreaking that the American people shamed the Vietnam veterans because their service was not by choice, and not all soldiers participated in these horrifying activities like the instance of My Lai.

Intelligence Operative

STUDENT COMMENT:  There are many interesting yet forgotten stories about the soldiers in the Vietnam War. Aside from Dennis Braxton, Jimmy Bracken had the role of gathering social intelligence in Southern Vietnam. He took on ASA missions which he was not even permitted to speak about till long after the end of the war. When reflecting on the war Bracken stated he “didn’t really have that much of an impact”(Nolan, 2018). In the outcome his role may not have been very influential but “As the war deteriorated, the Johnson administration escalated American involvement by deploying hundreds of thousands of troops to prevent the communist takeover of the south. Stalemates, body counts, hazy war aims, and the draft catalyzed an antiwar movement and triggered protests throughout the United States and Europe” (YAWP 28, II). South Vietnam, where Bracken operated the most, was the center of global attention at the time. His role in the war had an effect on foreign policy throughout the world, even if he did not feel it did. The action of the US to have troops in Southern Vietnam outraged the US public. Regardless of the outcome of the war it is tragic that these two veterans did not get to experience the appreciation other veterans received in other wars.

Sample Outline

There are many effective ways to organize an oral history-based essay.  Here is one sample outline:

I.  Introduction

  • Narrative vignette (with quotation from interview)
  • Thesis statement and interpretive overview

II.  Background

  • Personal history (subject’s story)
  • General context (focused on secondary sources)

III.  Narrative

  • Heart of the story (mix of quotations and sources)

IV.  Analysis

  • Explain or interpret significance (address Brands book)

V.  Conclusion

  • Return to narrative vignette and deepen insights

Esther Popel

PopelEsther Popel (1896-1958 was a teacher, poet, editor, activist and the first female African American graduate of Dickinson College (Class of 1919).  She married a chemist named William Shaw in 1925.  The couple had one daughter.  Popel used her married name, but typically wrote and published under her maiden name.  She identified with the Harlem Renaissance literary movement and is probably best known for her searing poem, “The Flag Salute” (1934), about a lynching that had occurred the previous year in Maryland.  However, Popel also wrote a short, fascinating memoir entitled, “Personal Adventures in Race Relations” (1948) that is available online through the Dickinson College Archives and which probably conveys her smart, witty but subtly combative personality as well as any source.  For a full biographical entry on Esther Popel Shaw with a useful bibliography of her works, see Malinda Triller Doran’s post at the Dickinson Archives.

To learn more about how students at Dickinson are engaging with the legacy of Esther Popel in their own lives, visit the Popel Shaw Center for Race & Ethnicity.

Popel and Daughter

Esther Popel and daughter Patricia, c. 1930


Wizard of Oz as Populist Satire

Wizard of Oz as Populist Satire

What do we owe this man?

Taney statue


This was how the statue of Roger Brooke Taney looked on the grounds of the Maryland State House in Annapolis until about midnight, August 17, 2017.  Then it looked this:


Taney statue removal

It was a metaphorical hanging for a man whose legacy has come to be defined by the worst Supreme Court decision in American history –the Dred Scott case (1857), which denied blacks any rights as citizens, attempted to preserve the institution of slavery, and arguably contributed as much as any other single event to the coming of the Civil War.

Yet Taney was also a complicated figure.  His statue was removed in the wake of the 2017 tragedy at Charlottesville, but in ways that raise important questions, especially for graduates of Dickinson College.  Taney (Class of 1795) was a slaveholder who voluntarily freed his own slaves, defended a noted abolitionist in court and once called slavery “a blot on our national character.”  He was the country’s second longest serving chief justice (1835-1864) and widely respected as a jurist in his own era.  He was also a Unionist, who never joined the Confederacy, and tried, in his own cantankerous and polarizing way, to rein in President Abraham Lincoln’s aggressive use of presidential war powers.

But there is little doubt that Taney was an incredibly controversial figure whose memorials, like the one in Annapolis authorized in 1867 and erected in 1872, were designed to make post-war political statements.  That is why figures like former University of Maryland college student Colin Byrd have been lobbying since 2015 to have the Taney statue either removed or supplemented with other memorials to African Americans (like Harriet Tubman, also from Maryland) or with contextual wayside markers that could explain his troubled legacy.  In 2015, Maryland governor Larry Hogan called such efforts “political correctness run amok,” but in 2017, he suddenly changed his mind, and voted along with a majority of the State House Trust Board to have Taney’s 13-foot bronze memorial carted away and stored out of sight.

Here are some additional resources for those who want to understand this surprisingly complex and fast-changing debate over history and memory:


Second Founding

Image Gateway


For more information, see Freedom’s Legacy at Dickinson & Slavery and watch this video with the descendants of Henry Spradley and Robert Young.

Discussion Question

  • Did the Second Founding of the Constitution (1865-70) succeed in transforming American society?

Thirteenth Amendment (JAN 1865 / DEC 1865) Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

ORIGINS:  Northwest Ordinance (1787) Art. 6:  There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted…

Lincoln movie

Fourteenth Amendment (1866 / 1868) Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

ORIGINS:  Civil Rights Act of 1866 SEC. 1:  That all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States;


Fifteenth Amendment (1869 / 1870) Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

ORIGINS:  Reconstruction Act (1867) SEC. 5: And be it further enacted, That when the people of any one of said rebel States shall have formed a constitution of government in conformity with the Constitution of the United States in all respects, framed by a convention of delegates elected by the male citizens of said State, twenty-one years old and upward, of whatever race, color, or previous condition


“First Vote” by Alfred Waud for Harpers Weekly, Nov. 17, 1867


Featured Supreme Court Decisions

  • Civil Rights Cases or US v. Stanley (1883): “When a man has emerged from slavery, and, by the aid of beneficent legislation, has shaken off the inseparable concomitants of that state, there must be some stage in the progress of his elevation when he takes the rank of a mere citizen and ceases to be the special favorite of the laws, and when his rights as a citizen or a man are to be protected in the ordinary modes by which other men’s rights are protected.” (Majority opinion by Justice Joseph Bradley)
  • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896): “The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country.  And so it is, in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth, and in power…. But in the view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens.  There is no caste here.  Our Constitution is color-blind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.  In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.” (Dissent by Justice John Marshall Harlan)

Understanding Redemption

Wade Hampton (1818-1902)

Wade Hampton (1818-1902)

Many white Southerners labeled the return of “home rule” following the Radical era of Reconstruction as a period of “Redemption.”  That word, however, contained a very bitter note for anybody who believed that the aftermath of the Civil War promised equality to all and a socioeconomic revolution for the region’s dispossessed.  For southern blacks, in particular, the Redeemers represented an ominous threat, not only to their rights as freemen, but to their lives.  How far Redemption might go in undoing the reforms of Reconstruction –and how violent its advocates might be in that process– remained to be seen by the end of the 1870s.  However, it was already clear during the Centennial Year of 1876 that violence against blacks was looming.  The Hamburg Massacre in South Carolina during July 1876 offered one of the most gruesome examples.  Foner describes the wanton violence against blacks in the small town, but he leaves out a discussion of the subsequent role of

Prince Rivers (1822-1887)

Prince Rivers (1822-1887)

Prince Rivers, the black militia leader and local trial judge charged with investigating the aftermath of the massacre.  A new website from historian Stephen Berry (CSI: Dixie) offers a vivid account of the massacre and the complicated role that Rivers tried to uphold during the proceedings afterward.  Students in History 118 should remember Prince Rivers, because he was the former contraband slave who been “discovered” by James Miller McKim (Class of 1828) and who subsequently emerged as a leader in the First South Carolina volunteers and a hero during the Civil War.  Rivers also turned out to be a symbol of the betrayal of Reconstruction’s promise.  Students should be able to explain why after reading Berry’s narrative of the Hamburg Massacre.

David Blight on Frederick Douglass, Race and Reunion

David Blight, a history professor at Yale University, is one of the nation’s leading experts on the Civil War and Reconstruction eras.  This week, students in History 118 will be reading an article of Blight’s that appeared in the Journal of American History in 1989 and served as a precursor to his prize-winning book, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2001).  The article, “‘For Something Beyond the Battlefield’: Frederick Douglass and the Struggle for the Memory of the Civil War,” offers a vivid portrait of an aging and angry Douglass fighting to preserve what he believed was the central legacy of the Civil War –the promise of emancipation.  Douglass, a former runaway slave who became a great abolitionist orator and writer and the most famous black American of the nineteenth century, was distraught but still defiant over what he considered the betrayals of the “new birth of freedom” that occurred after the Civil War.  Students who read the article carefully will learn a great deal about the nuances of the period and should be able to answer a series of key questions.  For example,  how did the great orator attempt to use the 1876 dedication of a Freedmen’s Memorial Monument to Abraham Lincoln to forge what Blight described as a place for blacks within the national identity?  Why did Douglass claim that “the future historian will turn to the year 1883 to find the most flagrant example of national deterioration”?   What exactly was Douglass fighting against during this period?  How important in the contest over defining the war’s legacy was the movement known as “The Lost Cause”?  Less than a year before he died, at the age of 76, Douglass sounded an especially poignant note in what became one of his famous Dedication Day speeches.  “I shall never forget the difference,” he said, “between those who fought for liberty and those who fought for slavery; between those who fought to save the Republic and those who fought to destroy it.”  His frustration was palpable and remains understandable but students should ask themselves how other Americans from that period, even those sympathetic to Douglass, might have reacted to such divisive commentary.

In March 2016, historian Eric Foner came to Dickinson to discuss these issues and their legacy for modern America at a special conference on Reconstruction hosted by the House Divided Project.  Here are his short comments and here is a link to the video from the entire three-day gathering.

Northern Reconstruction

Southerners were not the only Americans whose lives were transformed during the decades immediately following the Civil War.  Northerners did not face the same challenges of political reconstruction or economic transition in the aftermath of slavery, but they did face a series of revolutionary experiences.  Students in History 118 should be able to identify the main social, political and economic forces that ripped apart the North during the 1870s and 1880s, but they should also be able to explain the story of westward expansion in great depth.  That was a story of unexpected complexity, one that can be at least partially summarized through a close reading of this famous painting by John Gast, entitled, “American Progress,” (1872).


Southern Reconstruction

Political life in the South during Reconstruction kept changing at a rapid pace.  In his book, A Short History of Reconstruction, Eric Foner charts a remarkably complicated set of factors that elevated some groups over others at different times across various states during the period between 1865 and 1877.   Once Congress wrested control of the political restoration process away from President Johnson in 1866 and 1867, the result was a brief revolutionary heyday for black political leadership.  Yet there was always violent resistance lurking in southern communities determined to stop participation in government by the ex-slaves. The fight culminated with the battle to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment and suppress the rise of the Ku Klux Klan across the South.  This was a challenge that even a more conservative figures in the Republican Party seemed to embrace –at least at first.  President Grant led the fight to crush Klan-inspired political violence –a determination that surprised some contemporaries who had voted for Grant under the slogan, “Let Us Have Peace.”   Yet, even though the post-war Klan was crushed by federal action in the early 1870s, the extent of white support for black politics seemed to collapse as the 1870s drew to a close.  Consider some of the following images and see if you can explain any or all of them t can be used to help illustrate important points about American political and economic life in the South during the 1870s.

Word Cloud inspired by Foner’s Short History

Reconstruction Word Cloud

Black Senators and Congressmen, circa 1872

Black Political Leaders

Anti-Freedmen’s Bureau political cartoon (1866):

Freedmen's Bureau Cartoon

Map of the Barrow Plantation, during and after slavery:

Barrow Plantation

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