Literature professor Justus Ballard edited Freedom & Responsibility, an anthology published through Chemeketa Press in 2018. Containing the works of Susan B. Anthony, W. E. B. DuBois, Patrick Henry, and more, the collection of essays is a small, yet poignant required reading for introductory writing courses. Other than brief introductions and miniature bios before every piece, Ballard allows these famous voices to speak for themselves, offering little to no explanation on why or how he chose them.
We need look no further than middle school history class or childhood stories to understand how the lives and messages of Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller, and John F. Kennedy relate to the title of this book. However, Ballard also slips in the works of lesser-known voices who have either been forgotten with time or who are so fresh-faced that history has yet to acknowledge them. Who they were, or in some cases are, and what they had to say has yet to be fully explored, which is why Ballard included them in his collection.
Here’s what you should know about the five hidden gems of Freedom & Responsibility.
“Outlaw” by Jose Antonio Vargas
He couldn’t shake the five words from his head: “What if they find out?”
Though Jose Antonio Vargas had become a decorated and well-respected journalist in his later years, he did not learn of his undocumented status until the age of sixteen.
It began one day when his mother handed an eleven-year-old Vargas his legal documents, pushed him toward his “uncle,” who turned out to be a smuggler, and sent him to America. There he lived with his grandparents, immigrants from his home country of the Philippines, until starting college. His mother intended to give him his freedom, a better life than the one he would have in the Philippines, but instead he endured the next twenty years in a state of constant fear.
No matter how successful Vargas became as a writer, his illegal status loomed over his head. In the freest country in the world, he was not a free man.
He talks about this predicament of being an “alien’”in his 2011 essay “Outlaw.” After years of secrecy, he couldn’t live anymore with lying—to his friends, his co-workers, and bosses. The ability to reside in the land of the free, he decided, was not worth it if it meant walking in chains.
Today his future remains uncertain. Vargas wonders if or when he’ll be deported by ICE back to the Philippines. In his time here, he has witnessed the rise and fall of DACA and the DREAM Act, and the overall changing of public opinion toward undocumented immigrants.
He even helped popularize the term “undocumented,” which he said was a more “humanizing” label than the previous name “illegal alien.”
During the modern age of uncertainty for DACA recipients, undocumented young immigrants in the U.S. today may find “Outlaw” inspiring and liberating.
“The Girls in My Town” by Angela Morales
Surrounded by strong and intelligent women, Angela Morales learned the importance of being self-sufficient early on.
She was born in Los Angeles, California, raised in a two-parent household with a father whose successful business secured the family a middle-class existence. She grew up relatively healthy, with high ambitions, and the means to achieve them.
Now an award-winning essayist and teacher, Morales attributes much of this success to her privileged upbringing. However, despite these privileges, being a Latina woman with Hispanic relatives has given her greater insight into the plight of disenfranchised minorities. Still, she acknowledges that even in her own community, she is an outsider.
This is the focal point of her essay, “The Girls in My Tow.” Even though she wants to educate the nation about her people and their struggles, Morales doesn’t have all the answers. Her perspective is limited.
She is trying to understand them herself.
She’s watched students, relatives, and strangers succumb to poverty and teenage pregnancy. Without first-hand experience, she can only speculate as to how they must be feeling and how to break the cycle.
Morales gives readers what she can—descriptions, urban legends, family anecdotes, comparisons—to help fill in the blanks that only a person in her position, with a foot in both worlds, can provide.
Why are all these women and young girls repeating the same mistakes as their mothers and grandmothers? Is the problem innate, or can something be done to change their predicaments? Who or what is to blame?
She confesses she can’t confidently answer any of these questions. But what she can do is offer hope that the future is unwritten. And there is potential for something so much brighter for these women.
In an age of dogmatic assertions—that you’re either right or wrong about an issue—Morales’ fight for objectivity and open-mindedness is a breath of fresh air. It’s a must-read.
“Crime and Criminals: An Address to the Prisoners in the Chicago County Jail” by Clarence Darrow
America’s criminal justice system is a controversial topic.
Some 712 of every 100,000 Americans is imprisoned (the highest amount in the world), and there are alarmingly more black and Hispanic inmates than there are white inmates. While the margin continues to shrink, “systematic racism” is a still widely-used term in American society.
If accusations of overcrowding and racism aren’t enough, many citizens also protest the federal ban on marijuana. Typical arguments in favor of legalization are that it’s a victimless crime and health complications are low, especially compared to the abuse of opioid prescriptions and alcohol. People are especially angry that sometimes repeat offenders can receive life imprisonment.
And then there is President Trump’s promise to create more private prisons. While arguably cheaper for the taxpayer, these for-profit institutions raise questions. Will people be locked away and then kept imprisoned for monetary gain?
The political turmoil surrounding crime and punishment in the U.S. makes Clarence Darrow’s address even more relevant.
In “Crime and Criminals,” Darrow makes the claim that morality is subjective.
“We all do the best we can under the circumstances,” he writes.
Is pick-pocketing not equivalent to an electric company charging its customers unfairly? Darrow argues that both of these are acts of theft, though only one is considered illegal. He also believes that our prison system should be abolished, which is particularly surprising considering that Darrow himself is a lawyer.
There are many people who should be in jail who aren’t, he writes, and people who are that might not be had they been able to afford a lawyer like Darrow. Poverty is the reason most become incarcerated, he writes. When the prices of basic necessaries go up, so does the prison population. Who then is at fault for the crime? The people, who could not help their circumstances, or the rich men who control the prices—and therefore their lives?
Darrow argues that if we lift individuals out of poverty, there will be little crime. Only the truly depraved will continue to commit crimes, writes Darrow, and if so, they should fill the insides of mental institutions, not jail cells.
American youth, who arguably compose one of the most liberal generations in U.S history, may find some inspiration in Darrow’s writing. Even now, his ideas are radical, and while they will ruffle feathers, they are certainly interesting to digest.
“Concerning Cruelty and Mercy, and Whether It is Better to Be Loved than Feared” by Niccolò Machiavelli
Few people recognize the name Niccolò Machiavelli on its own, let alone how to pronounce it.
Here’s a hint: he’s Italian. Those familiar with him tend to be politicians, philosophers, or people interested in social justice.
However, almost everyone has probably heard at one point in their lives the term “Machiavellian.” To call an action “Machiavellian” is to label it cruel or tyrannical. Brutal dictators are often associated with the word.
Machiavelli then must have been a pretty evil man to have earned such a legacy. Well, that’s actually debatable. Machiavelli, once a powerful official in Italy before his eventual arrest and exile from politics, wrote a number of famous political pieces, one of which is “Concerning Cruelty.” Although not his most famous or influential essay—that’s The Prince without a doubt—it still reflects his controversial ideals that put him in conflict with most of modern day Western society.
Most Westerners today would be appalled by Machiavelli’s writings. Mercy and individual rights are values we hold dear. We are quick to rebuke what we believe to be governmental abuses or actions that prevent justice from occurring. The only acceptable ruler is a morally “good” one, a kind or benevolent leader elected by the people and for the people.
In “Concerning Cruelty,” Machiavelli argues against all this. A ruler must do what needs to be done, regardless of the moral implications, he writes. That’s not to say a ruler should be merciless without cause. If it is beneficial or has no harmful effect on the overall community, then a ruler should be kind whenever possible. But if doing so upsets the intricate balance of a nation, mercy must be discarded for the greater good. An empathetic ruler may be popular with his subjects, but he is easily taken advantage of and overthrown by those not so tenderhearted. The threat of punishment keeps the masses in check and prevents they themselves from committing the same atrocities Machiavelli’s critics fear will occur under such a government. Without a strong leader, the country or other type of unit will dissolve into chaos and or a rebellion, because human beings are naturally hungry for power.
Cruelty, while unsavory, is necessary sometimes to maintain order and protect the people from each other. Don’t push the limits to where people hate you, he does admit, but don’t be so much of a push over that they lose respect for you.
If you must choose between being loved and being feared, Machiavelli recommends being feared.
Many people will still have a problem with his outlook, even after scrutinizing his works and understanding that “Machiavellian” is far too restrictive a term. But disagree with him or not, he does bring up some valid questions that are especially relevant for today’s world.
“Morality & Birth Control” by Margaret Sanger
Her words are a time capsule for the history of women’s reproductive rights.
Margaret Sanger’s “Morality and Birth Control”was instrumental in lifting the Cornstock Act of 1873, which first made the sale of contraceptives illegal. It took several decades, but finally, in 1967, Courts ruled that everyone, regardless of marital status, could buy birth control.
Though Sanger died before this significant court ruling, her writing and activism had a major impact on the movement. Not only did she popularize the term “birth control” with her book, but she also opened the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, New York, and later founded the American Birth Control League, which eventually became Planned Parenthood.
Though Sanger staunchly opposed abortion, many of the arguments in “Morality and Birth Control” are similar talking points used by pro-choice advocates today. Just as some pro-choice women of the twenty-first century have complained about male lawmakers trying to police their wombs, Sanger points out that men of the early 1900s dictate sexual morality. By controlling access to contraception, she writes, men control how many kids and what kind of sex—safe or risky—a woman can have.
Sanger cites the Comstock Act of 1873 as an instigator of the illegal abortions of her era. Middle-class women have the resources to prevent pregnancy, and many are married to the lawmakers. But if a working woman wants to succeed in life, Sanger writes, she must either remain celibate or terminate her pregnancy. What’s a working class woman to do?
Nowadays, Sanger’s work is shrouded in controversy, mostly due to her support for the eugenics movement—or support for the “cleansing” of society. Upon reading her essay, it’s hard not to hear the echoes of “Morality and Birth Control” in today’s Planned Parenthood advocates. Whether pro-choice or pro-life, it’s valuable to know where the fight for contraceptives began.
Megan Stewart is a journalist who during the 2017–18 school year was Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Chemeketa Courier. She hopes to one day write for National Geographic and own her own magazine. She enjoys reading the advice columns and comic sections of the newspaper, but prefers writing news articles.