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Underground Railroad
DIGGING BENEATH THE ORDERS: Dee Ann Miller's blog for
September 26, 2016
Explaining Racism to Identical Twins
Topic: Racism

Two days ago, I had a family of five stop by my book table at Mahaffie Farms in Olathe, Kansas.  Two of the three little, lily-white, blond-headed girls were third graders, identical twins. As I talked about the themes of this complex story I've written, I held up a copy of Mighty TALL Orders. 

Since third grade is a little young for this book's target age and these twins also had a younger sister about four, I was working hard to bring complicated issues down to their level.  Yet I love to teach kids new words that open doors in hopes of imparting some understanding of oppression.

"Do you girls know what racism is?" I asked.

Their little faces matched their admission, made clear by each shaking their heads. They didn't have a clue.  Being pretty good at reading body language, I very quickly perceived their parents were not the least uncomfortable with me broaching this topic. So I plunged in.

"What if I told you two girls, as twins, that I am certain you think exactly alike and act exactly the same because you look identical?" I asked. The whole family burst into laughter.  

Just from the way those two girls approached the table--one ready to converse with excitement, the other standing back and observing quietly, happy to have her twin do all the talking....I already had a hunch they were starkly different.  Indeed they were!  Conversation soon affirmed this, and we had a very good example that led to talking about skin culture and stereotyping and condescension--all in a relatively short conversation, which I trust may lead to a lot more in their household.

I sure hope so. 


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 9:06 PM CDT
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June 16, 2015
How Much Do We Really Want to Learn from the Past?
Topic: Choices

Tis the season for having lots of fun. For me, that includes going to area festivals and historical sites, hoping to connect with crowds in regard to my latest writing venture. When it's festivals, I have hundreds of brief conversations with 1-3 people at a time.  My favorites, of course, are the older kids--old enough to put some things into perspective. And they do, sometimes better than their parents.

This past Sunday I was at Jesse James Farm and Museum in Kearney, MO, for an hour-long program. It had taken me days to prepare. I was hoping for 25-50, at least.  Instead I got a handful of travelers who just happened to be at the museum and were kind enough to stay and listen.  They knew even less about the Border Wars along the Missouri-Kansas border than local residents. It was fun and fulfilling. They learned a lot and were very receptive.

Disappointing, too, since the program was rather well publicized by the event coordinator.  Really disappointing since it was supposed to be for children with much of it about adult bullies (like James) in the 19th century who created terror with guns, oiled with religious extremist views. Even more disturbing, the facility has hosted several authors the last few Sundays:  all with the same sort of turn-out.

Raises the concern that few Americans seem to share:  How are we going to learn from the past in order to shape a better future if we don't see the need to do so?

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 9:49 AM CDT
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February 14, 2015
Many Unsung Heroes
Topic: Underground Railroad

The more educated a person is, the more likely that person is to go down in history, unless he or she committed some big atrocity.  Like William Quantrill, for example. In that case, he was educated, but it didn't matter. 

Consider the many heroic individuals whose stories never got recorded because there was nobody around to record what they did, like  "conductors" of the underground railroad. Very few of them were literate.  They would also have trouble hiding documents, and they certainly wouldn't want witnesses taking notes!

We are far more likely to know of those whose homes were used for temporary housing.  Many of these were Quakers since abolishing slavery was one of the primary concerns of Quakers.  This group worked for justice in many things, including slavery and gender equity, centuries before most Americans gave consideration to such issues.

Yet Quakers, as a whole, do not like to be recognized for their heroic efforts. In fact, they do their best not to call attention to themselves at all.  Still, they kept diaries and wrote letters to encourage one another.  And they wrote well because they were generally quite well educated. That's why we know far more about their efforts than we do about other people who maintained safe houses, as well as the "conductors," who were often escaped slaves or freedmen daring to go back for others still enslaved.

What if a conductor got caught?  Would you still consider her/her a hero?  I would.  Consider the case of Edmund Prince whose heroic acts are known to us only because he made the local Kentucky newspaper after being arrested.

I wonder how many other unsung heroes could be found if a diligent search was done? Why not do your own search?

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 10:05 PM CST
Updated: February 15, 2015 7:14 PM CST
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January 11, 2015
Topic: Choices


If I’d known the story of Silas Soule when I was writing

“Just Following Orders,” I would have been sure to include

him among the remarkable true characters I included in

the historical fiction.  Since I didn’t until his story appeared

on the front page of the Lawrence Journal World (Lawrence, KS)

last month, all I can do now is tell you about the courage that

Silas showed, first as a teenager and later as a man in his


At 16, he came in 1854 with his family to Lawrence, Kansas,

where I now live.  As one of the courageous families who were

devoted to abolishing slavery, Silas soon found himself playing a

dangerous role, escorting runaway slaves and rescuing captured

abolitionists. Chances are when the massacre occurred here in

Lawrence, Silas was off fighting for the Union so that he escaped

being one of the victims.  Perhaps his heart was so touched by the

news of what happened at Lawrence, when 250 children were

left fatherless in the massacre, that he was extra sensitive to

another tragedy that occurred a year later, this time one that

he was “supposed” to be a part of.  I’m referring to the Sand

Creek Massacre, which you can read about in "Just Following

Orders."  This massacre, like Lawrence, was one of the bloodiest

in U. S. history.  The difference was that it wasn’t carried out by

Confederate sympathizers, but by Union soldiers, under the

command of a Methodist minister, no less!

At 26, Soule was a captain in the U. S. Cavalry when the order to

attack Sand Creek (in Colorado Territory, just across the Kansas

border) was issued.  Soule refused to  obey!  Yet his name isn’t

very well known in history, though it should be.  For what he did

was remarkable!  As a young man of courage and character, he

was willing to stand up against power greater than his own,

because he must have recognized full well that torturing and

killing people was something he could not be a part of, no

matter what the consequences.

On that awful day in late November of 1864, which we can only

pause to notice now and learn from, almost as many citizens of

Sand Creek were slaughtered as in Lawrence. The big difference: 

all of the Sand Creek victims were Native Americans and most

were women and children. 

Less than six months later, Soule was dead.  He was shot because

of his testimony during the hearings that followed when officials

in Washington, D. C. wisely opened an investigation. Despite the

military action being condemned, Chivington, that Methodist

minister,  was never prosecuted.  In fact, he was given a hero’s


Not sure what kind of burial Soule got.  Yet today his name and

honor have been preserved.  Thankfully, in December, 2014,

there was finally an apology issued to the victimized tribes along

with ceremonies to commemorate Soule’s act of courage.



Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 2:54 PM CST
Updated: January 11, 2015 3:22 PM CST
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December 12, 2014
How Hijacked Religion Leads to Violence
Topic: Violence
Malala Yousafzai, the youngest winner of the Novel Peace Prize, is turning the world upside down with her youthful courage and commitment to speaking the truth!  If you've not read her autobiography, written with the assistance of Christine Lamb, put it on your "must read' list.  The title is 

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.

The young author speaks often about how the Taliban has hijacked the faith that inspires her to keep going.  She insists that the Taliban is doing the opposite of what traditional Islam promotes.  Malala is very angry at what this hijacking has done to her culture. Yet she is determined that it will not destroy her, even if it takes her life.

I'm angry, too, anytime religion gets hijacked so that it is used to promote violence.  If I could sit down with Malala, I would tell her that it's not just Islam that gets hijacked.  In fact, Christianity has suffered the same fate throughout its history.  Jesus' message was about change that leads to peace.  It was about shining light into the darkness.  The Old Testament was filled with stories showing how people believed that God condoned violence, how God was on the side of certain people and not others.  

Today, far too many people who espouse Christianity do not understand that Jesus would not have agreed with those teachings at all.  People often end up suffering for what they believe, as Jesus did. After all, the world doesn't have much use for radicals who stand for peace.  However, suffering alone does not necessarily make us better people or more devout followers.  Suffering actually leads many people into hate and bitterness, just as it did with guerrilla warfare during the American Civil War.

When people use any religion based on love to promote hate, whether it is ethnic or class warfare, homophobia, or gender inequality, you can be sure that these are not the true followers of  that religion at all.  They are hijackers, trying to take the world in the opposite direction from where it needs to go.

Rather than throwing out Baby Jesus with the bathwater of corruption and distortion that injures and makes "Jesus" only a four-letter word to so many, it's time we clarified the true message: 

Peace on earth! Good will to humanity the world over!

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 7:34 PM CST
Updated: December 12, 2014 8:12 PM CST
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November 12, 2014
No Excuses
Topic: Choices

"It was PTSD."  That's what some folks in Missouri claim when anyone brings up guerrilla warfare during the Civil War.  As they see it, you can't blame people for their actions when they have experienced trauma. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Was that the problem that caused William Quantrill and his 400 followers to come through Lawrence, Kansas on August 21, 1863, leaving 250 children fatherless? Really? 

Even in 1863, when there were not therapeutic services as there are today, I believe that victims have choices.  PTSD definitely contributes to a much higher degree of stress than usual, and it can go on for many years, if not a lifetime.  I'm not minimizing the pain that some of the Confederate guerrillas on this raid may have had from violence and cruelty dished out by Jayhawkers and Union soldiers.

Yet the massacre in Lawrence, commonly referred to as Quantrill's Raid, was very carefully planned for weeks.  PTSD does not make pawns out of victims. Thinking that way insults the many sufferers of PTSD who manage to cope without harming others. There were lots of chances to make other choices in 1863, just as there are today.

Mature people, no matter what the age, are willing to do the difficult work of coping while resolving conflict while pursuing non-violent means. Violence, aggression, and fear of conflict are the factors that stop conversation. They are not means that lead to a lasting peace.

In 2014, those of us who are interested in the horrific tragedies of the Civil War, need to be talking about de-escalation as we process the past. Staying stuck in the eye-for-an-eye mentality so common in a gun culture runs as counter to "the American ideal" as slavery was.

If PTSD is justification for violence, then how can we possibly explain how the newly freed slaves were more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators?  What kept them from organizing, as slave masters feared they would, to perpetuate the hate?

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 3:51 PM CST
Updated: November 12, 2014 5:12 PM CST
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