The name Eddie Ryshavy might sound familiar, especially as you read the Opinion Exchange section. My late grandfather contributed commentaries and letters to the editor to Star Tribune Opinion for as long as I can remember. His final contribution, “Thoughts for the living from one of the dying” (Dec. 8), chronicles his short, yet poignant experience with pancreatic cancer.
Recently, I have reflected upon the experience of seeing my grandpa’s pieces in the Sunday paper. As a child, I thought of him as a grade-A celebrity. Of course, I eventually realized my grandpa wasn’t exactly a “household name.” Even so, I grew to regard him as a paragon of civil engagement and storytelling. My grandpa shared stories of his childhood, progressive ideas on education (many of which are now regarded as standard practice), and, last, his honest experience in the final days of his life.
My grandpa never shied away from engaging in dialogue or sharing true stories. He knew that these were the vehicles in which he could find identity with others. I fear that people have forgotten this skill that my grandpa spent years crafting. Growing up in the current political and cultural climate, I feel lucky to have witnessed such a model. My grandpa was an avid reader and contributor to the Star Tribune because of its honest news-sharing, platform for informed debate and willingness to correct its mistakes. I see my grandpa’s death as a call to carry on his fearlessness in sharing. I urge other young adults to seek out these honest and civil platforms to engage in dialogue which could shape our futures, and maybe someday, our grandchildren’s lives as well.
Brityn Ryshavy, Chanhassen
The writer is a school psychology graduate student.
SLAVERY IN AMERICA
What happened during and after the Revolution matters most
I want to defend Katherine Kersten’s critique of the “1619 Project” (Opinion Exchange, Dec. 8) and rebut some points made by the two professors who wrote counterpoints (“The point Katherine Kersten, New York Times’ ‘1619 Project’ both miss” and “Only in America did slavery play out as it did,” Dec. 15) against her.
First, the United States inherited the deeply entrenched system of slavery from the British and should be judged not by what occurred before its founding but only after its creation during an extraordinary, world-changing revolution that produced a radically new nation based on the principles of natural rights and representative government. What happened during and after the American Revolution is what is most significant and relevant to American slavery. And what happened, as Kersten outlined, was the Declaration of Independence, the abolition of slavery in six states and the Northwest Territory by 1787, the freeing of 59,466 blacks in the North and South by 1790, the abolition of the slave trade in 1808, and the rise of the abolition movement in 1830.
Second, as Frederick Douglass argued, the Constitution and its three-fifths compromise is an anti-slavery document. Nowhere in the Constitution is the word “slave” or “slavery” used, because many of the framers were so embarrassed by the glaring contradiction of the continued existence of slavery in a nation where one of its founding principles was “all men are created equal” that they used awkward euphemisms when referencing it. As any scholar of the Constitution knows, the three-fifths compromise was the result of the framers who opposed slavery objecting to the slave states wanting to include their slaves in their state’s population, which would give them more representation in Congress. The compromise actually weakened the political power of the slave states. But we should remember that the Constitutional Convention was not convened to debate slavery but to respond to the nation’s need to build a better frame of government. That enduring Constitution held within it the potential to end slavery, which the 13th Amendment finally did.
Last, by downplaying the positive role of the U.S. in presenting and popularizing the moral arguments against slavery, the promoters of the “1619 Project” mislead modern Americans, especially young people, into the wrong conclusion about their country’s inspiring and exceptional founding.
Gary Brueggemann, St. Paul
The writer is a retired history instructor at Inver Hills and Century Community Colleges.
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“Race in America: The conversation is not over” (Dec. 15) is the best opinion piece Lori Sturdevant has ever written. Two passages from her article — “how the optimism and hard work of [civil-rights activist Josie Johnson’s] grandparents led to a college education for her parents, and how education served her and her children” and “it’s more about discipline and determination than sentiment” — describe exactly how people of every race get ahead in this country.
It helps if it’s a couple, and they probably worked much more than 40 hours a week. Certainly, illness and accident can alter plans, but for most people, their life turns out according to the amount of planning and effort they put into it.
Darcy Kroells, Green Isle, Minn.
Something’s missing from the equation, perhaps, in this country
Lee Schafer’s Dec. 15 column regarding our declining life expectancy (“U.S. can’t truly thrive while more die young”) was both illuminating and depressing. There are no simple answers or, more accurately, many difficult ones. America is unique in a number of ways, and the data reflects that. I just wonder if somewhere in all the facts — and guesses — there might just be one aspect of “American exceptionalism” that underlies some of these difficulties. That is our national obsession with trying to make modern life as difficult possible for people.
Need decent health care? Buy your own! Want a good education? Buy your own! Need family leave and support — buy your own! Need a good paying job with, say, health, retirement and family support benefits? Oh, well, never mind. I think of it as the “Marlboro Man Syndrome” — he don’t need no stinking help from the government, and neither do I!
There is much to love in our country, but our stubborn unwillingness to look for modern answers to modern life is not one of them. I’m not saying that answers to these issues are easy, but I am saying that other countries have figured out some of them, so we should be able to as well.
Even the Marlboro Man needed help when he developed cancer.
D. Roger Pederson, Minneapolis
Opinion editor’s note: For the record, several people have portrayed the “Marlboro Man” in cigarette ad campaigns over the years, and some died of smoking-related diseases, including lung cancer. The most recent death of a Marlboro Man, however, was that in November of Bob Morris, a Colorado rancher who served in the role for 14 years beginning in the 1950s and lived to age 90. He never smoked, and gave up the role after concluding that he was setting a bad example.
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