Vic Henningsen


Vic Henningsen is a teacher and historian.

For commentaries from Vic from before April 2013, visit the VPR Archive.

The other day I felt a familiar tension at a trail junction on the way down Mount Moosilauke. I’d walked 1.9 miles – just over half of the return trip. That’s an objective fact but, psychologically, it always feels, at least to me, that at that point the trailhead should be only half a mile away, not another 1.7.

Few remember African-American labor leader Asa Philip Randolph, but he set the stage for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington.

On this day more than two centuries ago, on a Pacific inlet not far from today’s Bella Coola, British Columbia, members of the Heiltsuk tribe manned their war canoes to prevent a young Scotsman paddling to the open sea from proceeding any further.

“What do we mean by the American Revolution?” asked John Adams, “Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced.” Adams’s words indicate our fundamental problem with the American Revolution: because it began with Americans defining what they weren’t.

If you want to read the correspondence of Abigail and John Adams, all you have to do is go to the Massachusetts Historical Society’s website and a few clicks will get you there. For every television ad in every presidential campaign since 1952, accessing “The Living Room Candidate” site at the Museum of the Moving Image is child’s play.

In early 1943, polls showed that fewer than 25% of the American people remembered the Four Freedoms Franklin Roosevelt had proclaimed two years earlier: freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Today virtually all of us do, though we usually can't recall FDR's words. What we remember are the images of Arlington, Vermont artist Norman Rockwell: a speaker at Town Meeting; a diverse group of people at prayer; a family at the Thanksgiving table; a couple tucking their children into bed.

(Host) We've been celebrating the holidays by sampling some of the essays recorded earlier this year at the VPR Commentator Brunch. The theme was When Worlds Collide... and that reminded commentator Vic Henningsen that some encounters have consequences that reach far into the future.

(Henningsen) I'm Vic Henningsen and this is Close Encounters of a Classroom Kind.