AHEAD OF HER TIME: Dorothy Sterling
, who died December 1 at 95, never taught at a college or university. But she had a greater impact on how we think about the American past than most academic historians. Obituaries described Sterling as a writer of children’s literature, which is fair enough, since most of her thirty-odd books were historical works for young readers. Many were about then virtually unknown figures in the struggle for racial justice, including Underground Railroad heroine
; Quaker abolitionist
, a black Congressman from South Carolina after the Civil War.
But this description fails to do justice to the scholarly contribution of this remarkable woman, especially her pioneering work in gathering and publishing documents about the black past. The Trouble They Seen: Black People Tell the Story of Reconstruction (1976) and We Are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century (1984) helped to transform our understanding of African-American and women’s history. Sterling’s biography of
, Ahead of Her Time (1991), rescued from obscurity a pivotal figure in the struggle against slavery and for women’s rights. The title is an apt description not only of the book’s subject but also its author. ERIC FONER
Representative democracy was issued a “timeout” in Canada on December 4, when Governor General Michaëlle Jean agreed to suspend Parliament for eight weeks, rescuing Prime Minister
‘s minority government from imminent defeat.
The crisis began November 27, when in lieu of a stimulus package–Canada is the only OECD country not to offer a stimulus package in response to its deepening economic crisis–the Conservative government offered a hard-right attack on gender and labor rights and a brazen attempt to bankrupt its parliamentary opponents. Included in the government’s “fiscal update” was the suspension of federal public-sector workers’ right to strike, the cutting of pay equity, the selling of public assets and the slashing of public funding for political parties–sounding the death knell for opposition parties lacking hefty corporate sponsorship.
The opposition parties were duly enraged, not least by a government with the gall to deny the country’s slumping economy any public investment, despite carving a $100 million budget surplus out of its public assets and labor. Their response? Unprecedented cooperation and an attempt at representative democracy. On December 1, the leaders of two major opposition parties, the
and the left-leaning
New Democratic Party
, announced they had formed a coalition and planned, with the support of the
, to bring down Prime Minister Harper and his Conservatives in a no-confidence vote–and then form a ruling coalition government.
So Harper went running to the governor general for two extra months to control the agenda and advance Conservative hegmony. It’s as if the prime minister forgot that being elected by only 38 percent of voters means that 62 percent–the majority–support his opposition. And when Parliament reconvenes on January 26, this opposition will get another chance to prove that the national interest can sometimes trump cutthroat politics. BRETT STORY