By Ray Knapp
We’ve all heard the old saying, “He’s like a goose … he wakes up in a new world every day!” Without any knowledge of the past, we would be like the proverbial goose, wandering about and looking for some food to sustain us. Fortunately we have a pretty good grasp of the past which comes from written records and not all of this is fed into Alexa, that little round gadget which can answer a number of questions and do a myriad of things, like turning on the lights, the TV – and change channels, lock the doors, play music, etc. However, it can’t dance or tell you anything that isn’t programmed into it.
My neighbor, Nathan Hashe, loaned me some old books, two bibles, one printed in 1892 and the other one so old it didn’t contain a date, and it is quite elaborate – about a foot thick with an ornate backing. Two hasps (one missing) hold the front together. It “may” be one of the first bibles of its kind printed in America. I reference Alexander Cruden’s Concordance first printed in America in Philadelphia, 4th Mo, 1806; this bible contains many references to his Concordance published in 1737, this and the very old appearance of the bible both point to its age.
The third book was not a bible; its cover was missing so there was not a title listed. This book was for teachers from Kindergarten through high school. If there was a title it may have been: “The Volume Library,” – a concise graded repository of practical & cultural knowledge designed for both instruction and reference. Its first copywrite was in 1911 by the W.E. Richardson Company; revised yearly, this edition’s copywrite was in 1927 by Educators’ Association.
Other than reading, writing and arithmetic it listed songs and music for kindergarten children, such as “Humpty Dumpty” and stories, Peter Rabbit, among other still remembered children’s songs and stories. Moving up in grades, the curriculum got tougher with foreign languages being introduced; French, German and Latin were the main ones. There were also various tables like weights and measures, but the one that caught my eye was Population and Statistical facts concerning the states.
For instance, in 1920, the population of Tennessee was 2,500,859 this was further broken down into native (white, I suppose) 2,002,870, colored 480,243, foreign 17,746. In order to vote you had to be a citizen of the United States for 1 year and 6 months, paid poll tax of preceding year, also not allowed to vote were those convicted of bribery or other infamous offense. Idiots, lunatics, paupers, convicted of felony, United States soldiers, marines and seamen. At least Indians and Chinese were allowed to vote in Tennessee. A few states wouldn’t allow them to vote, especially Indians as many in the western states remembered Custer’s Last Stand in Montana in 1876 and a clash between Cavalry troops and Yaqui Indians in Arizona in 1918.
Wyoming required you to be able to read state constitution in the English language.
Of course what kind of galls me is that members of the armed forces were put in the same basket with felons and lunatics. But what really galled the poor back then, especially Blacks and women, was the Poll Tax. It was a way of disenfranchising those who couldn’t afford to pay it. Tennessee didn’t abolish the Poll Tax until 1951, and some politicians of southern states fought for it another13 years. The 29th Amendment to the Constitution abolished Poll Tax in 1964.
By knowing about the past shows us the building blocks of how civilizations came to be. They tell us the wrongs and rights of the past and point a way to the future. The old bibles not only contain the Old and New Testaments, they also tell who, when and where the translation from the original Greek and Aramaic to the other languages of the world occurred; sketches of religions other than Christianity are also within their pages. “The Volume Library” shows us that education was a serious undertaking; I doubt that many schools teach Latin today. Yes, I love old books; they are the written continuation of our heritage.