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Introduction to Illinois History Teacher

Volume 3:1

As I write this, Harry Wu, the Chinese-American civil rights activist, has returned to the United States from two months imprisonment in China for his protests against prison conditions there. At the same time thousands of women from all over the world are heading to China for a United Nations-sponsored conference on women's rights. Wu and these women are taking stands on issues of civil and human rights about which they have strong feelings.

History is filled with such people who "took a stand" on an issue and fought as long and hard as they could, sometimes to death, and often against overwhelming odds. In this century one quickly thinks of Mahatma Gandhi, who stood up against the British Empire and forced the British out of India. Or of Rosa Parks, the African-American woman whose refusal to move to the back of a racially segregated Montgomery, Alabama, bus sparked the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. More recently, Nelson Mandela, the African lawyer who spent twenty-seven years in a prison cell because of his opposition to apartheid was elected as the first black president of a multi-racial, democratic South Africa.

Wells, Livermore and Dirksen

But people who take a stand for their beliefs are often viewed more kindly by history than by their contemporaries. Today it seems obvious that Gandhi, Parks, and Mandela were clearly on the side of justice and right, but at the time they were hated and despised in their own countries and abroad by many who saw them as threats to society and the status quo.

The five articles in this issue of the Illinois History Teacher describe three Illinois citizens and two Illinois organizations who took unpopular stands. History clearly has sided with Everett Dirksen, Mary Livermore, and Ida Wells-Barnett; many of the civil and political rights that they sought for all people have been enacted into law. But full equality is still some way off. The Cornbelt Liberty League stood in opposition to many agricultural programs and proposals that continue to have resonance among farmers today, such as subsidies, foreclosure, overproduction, set-aside payments, price supports, and government regulation. The issues raised by the "Copperhead" essay—an unpopular war, treason versus patriotism, conscription, states' rights, press freedom, presidential powers—can be linked to nearly any war in U.S. history. These articles should offer many opportunities for debate and discussion, challenging students to take stands themselves in their classrooms as they justify their support of one side or the other.

It has been my pleasure to serve as guest editor for two issues of the Illinois History Teacher. I want to thank Keith Sculle for offering me this opportunity, and for the highly professional and efficient manner in which he and the staff at the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency have produced these two outstanding teaching resources. I also want to thank all the educators who have written these wonderful essays and teaching activities that will offer Illinois school children such stimulating and thought-provoking glimpses of the past.

Roger B. Beck
Guest Editor


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