One hundred eighty years ago today, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. This law set in motion the long, agonizing chain of events that ultimately led to the Trail of Tears. At least 4,000 Cherokee died of hunger, disease or exposure during the brutal winter march of 1838-9 when the U.S. Army drove them from the southeast to lands west of the Mississippi River. In the eight years between the signing of the law and the forcible eviction of the Cherokees, more than 46,000 American Indians lost their lands.
Normally, Teaching Tolerance would encourage teachers to use this anniversary to help students understand such important events. But the calendar argues against that. Memorial Day weekend is upon us. Those kids still in school probably have their minds on Field Day or graduation or end-of-year parties. Few teachers would choose the close of the school year to discuss one of the saddest chapters in American history.
But the Removal Act triggered a series of events that took years to unfold and changed the shape of our country in countless ways. When fall rolls around again, please keep in mind Teaching Tolerance’s lesson on this subject. Use it to help students understand that history tells tales of greatness—and of tragedy.