Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Fighting for Democracy: Carl Gorman and The Navajo Code Talkers

Carl Gorman, featured in the exhibit Fighting For Democracy

During the early 20th century and even before, Native Americans had their cultures repressed through the practice of sending children to schools to assimilate them into American culture. To do this, they were essentially punished for being different and made to give up their cultural identities.

At these “Indian Training Schools,” far away from the reservations where their tribes were restricted, students oftentimes were beaten for speaking their own languages, had their hair cut and were banned from doing tribal traditions. They even had to stop going by their tribal names. 

How do you think this practice affected Native American children?
How might you feel if the government forced you to give up your family-based or ethnic traditions? 

Henry Bahe, Jr. and George Kirk, (left to right), operate a portable radio set
in a jungle clearing, Bougainville, Solomon Islands, December 1943.
National Archives

Born in 1907, Carl Gorman (pictured above) grew up on a Navajo reservation in Arizona. He was sent to various schools which sought to strip American Indian children of their native language. Yet during World War II, he was recruited to help develop and implement the Navajo Code for the military. He and 28 fellow Navajo Code Talkers, who formed the first all-Navajo platoon, were given the top-secret mission to use Navajo words to communicate messages for the U.S. Extremely accurate, even during the height of battle, the Code Talkers proved to be a valuable resource for the military and their code proved impossible for the enemy in the Pacific to break.

The record of success of the Navajo Code Talkers brings to the forefront a discussion about how sometimes the very things that make us different can also be our greatest strengths.

How do you think America’s diversity enriches its culture? 


To learn how Carl’s story ends and shows the fight for freedom at home and abroad come view the exhibit Fighting for Democracy at Levine Museum of the New South between January 19th and July 14th, 2013.
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