History changes perceptions

People in the United States — well most of us, regardless of race or socio-economic status — have no idea who our presidents were. Most know George Washington, then skip to pick up Abraham Lincoln, and some have a little knowledge about others, like Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Hoover. 

But for many like me, Franklin Delano Roosevelt the 32nd president, was the man. If you don’t know much about FDR, look him up; his programs put food on the table for many, especially during the Depression.

The next big memory is the name of John F. Kennedy. It seems his family caught our attention when he was in office and for years to come.

The recent signing of an agreement with Iran to drastically limit that nation’s nuclear capabilities for more than a decade brings to mind another president – Jimmy Carter and another crisis with Iran. 

I am talking about the Iranian Hostage Crisis which began November 4, 1979, when an irate gang of young Islamic revolutionaries attacked and took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held some 60 Americans hostage. 

The hostages were held for 444 days. They were released shortly after Ronald Reagan became president, January 20, 1981.  

President Carter did not get the credit that he deserved for their release and he undeservedly got a lot of blame for the incident even occurring.  The fault, no doubt, could be spread over years of presidents and U.S. policies in the Middle East.

President Carter, though, is the one who should get credit for opening up that door and knocking down countless other barriers. I’m still upset about how many of his detractors distorted his good record. 

Personally, I admire this Christian man from Georgia who taught Sunday school and continued doing so after he became president. He never said bad things about those in the political arena and media who misrepresented his policies and achievements. He was not discouraged about not receiving the glory and honor for this and many other achievements. To this day he maintains a humble attitude about life. Yes, he is still teaching Sunday school and conducting special programs to help young people get ahead.

So many events have taken place. I have always wondered why does it take a war to introduce others around the world to the USA? There are a lot of great things that happen here that people around the world don’t know about. We don’t play that up. As nations, we kill each other off, and then become friends. 

Look at all the events and relationships in the history of this nation – one day we are enemies with one nation or group, the next day we are friends. We fought two World Wars with Germany. Now, we are allies with that nation. More than 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s.  In 1995, the U.S. announced formal normalization of diplomatic relations between with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. 

China and Japan are other examples.

Today, we do billions of dollars of trade with both China and Japan, when in the past, we shunned both as political and economic pariahs.  Through the years, our positions with different nations have changed – enemies yesterday and friends today. It is a rotation of relationships with which we must be patient. 

As you can see, history — just like the Earth — rotates, and this brings about change.  Let us not let greed create hate for any country or people. What worked yesterday may not work today or tomorrow.


Thelma Smith Williams is a retired Grambling State University Laboratory High School teacher. Before that she was a professor of physical education at what was then Grambling College. Having done extensive research on both, she is recognized as an authority on Grambling community and university history. In 1980, she published a book titled Grambling: A Pictorial History.

Thelma A. Smith Williams

Thelma A. Smith Williams