Hidden American History Can Bring Americans Together, Fox’s Brian Kilmeade Says

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2022/05/21/hidden-american-history-can-bring-americans-together-foxs-brian-kilmeade-says/

Brian Kilmeade isn’t trying to be a formal historian or even a popularizer of well-known historical events. He’s trying to bring underappreciated moments in American history to the masses.

“My goal is to find something unmined that matters,” Kilmeade said during a recent talk.

Kilmeade, 58, author and longtime Fox News host, spoke at Old South Meeting House in Boston before about 75 people, many of them donors to the Ashbrook Center, which sponsored the event.

With the help of occasional Fox News videos, Kilmeade described the five American history books he has written or co-written, starting with George Washington’s Secret Six (2013), about Washington’s spies on Long Island during the Revolutionary War. He said he was attracted to the story partly because of the people involved. It’s easy to pay attention to heroes like George Washington, he said, and people should.

“But America is built on so-called average everyday people doing extraordinary things,” Kilmeade said.

His most recent book is about the working relationship between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, called The President and the Freedom Fighter.

The unlikely friendly interaction between the ex-slave and the president was a breakthrough, he said. While at least the outlines of Lincoln’s story are well known, Kilmeade said he is hoping to bring more attention to Douglass and to how the two men felt about each other.

“But my hope is, people hear about Douglass, they no longer think it’s white America, black America. They will know that white America and black America make America better. And that you can’t undo the past. You can understand it, and move forward from it. And also cite how much progress we’ve made,” Kilmeade said.

Kilmeade said such stories ought to inspire more appreciation for America.

“America is not perfect, but what makes us great is that we try to be,” Kilmeade said.

As for his side career in history, Kilmeade said he was inspired by former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s popular books aimed at people who are interested in history but don’t have the time to delve into it.

Kilmeade, who grew up on Long Island, described himself as “a tremendously average athlete playing Division 2 soccer at a nondescript school” when he realized his sports career wasn’t going anywhere.

“I wanted to be great, and something happened. I wasn’t,” Kilmeade said, to laughter.

Instead, he threw himself into television news.

“And I got lucky, got the job at Fox 25 years ago. But only because I spent 12 years trying to get to a place like Fox. Was able to recognize how great it was. And it being the most patriotic place … really was fortuitous for me, because I was born red, white, and blue. That’s the family I came from. We were America first. We always thought America was great, and willing to fight for that,” Kilmeade said. “But I want to fight with facts. I don’t want to fight with emotion. I don’t want to get angry, I want to hit you with the reality.”

Kilmeade talks New York-fast. The comment above took him 31 seconds to say, including two words too fast for a recorder to catch clearly – for a rate of about 207 words per minute. (Average conversational rate is about 150.)

That’s the way he wants his books to move, too.

He spoke about his interest in doing a book on Scottish-born John Paul Jones, a naval commander for the fledgling United States during the American Revolution.

“It would never be a biography. I don’t have that kind of time, and I don’t think I can do it better. But if I can come up with an active story, and do it like Fox does it — keep it moving, keep it accurate, and make you want to learn more — then I would do it,” Kilmeade said.

Kilmeade’s other history books are Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates (2015), Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans (2017), and Sam Houston and the Alamo Avengers (2019). 

They have sold well. But they have also generated conflict.

“And it really is a war on history. I have to fight within our country to sell our story to Americans,” Kilmeade said.

His next book, he said, will be about Theodore Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington.

Kilmeade’s appearance Saturday, May 14 at Old South Meeting House, the 1729 former Congregational church where the Boston Tea Party began, was the crescendo of a three-day visit to the Boston area by donors of the Ashbrook Center. The trip included a visit to Quincy to see the birthplaces of John Adams and John Quincy Adams, as well as a 45-minute seminar at First Parish in Quincy Center on the friendship and rivalry of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, followed by a visit to the basement of the church to see the granite tombs of John and Abigail Adams and John Quincy Adams and his wife Louisa.

Some attendees also walked across Boston Common and into Central Burying Ground, the resting place of Gilbert Stuart, the artist who painted the portrait of Washington that is on the one-dollar bill.

The Ashbrook Center, founded in 1983, is named for John Ashbrook, a conservative Republican congressman from Ohio who challenged President Richard Nixon in the 1972 GOP presidential primary from the right. He was running for U.S. Senate in April 1982 when he died unexpectedly, of a gastric hemorrhage.

The next year, the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University in north central Ohio was dedicated at an event attended by President Ronald Reagan.

The Ashbrook Center describes itself as “an independent academic center” that tries “to strengthen constitutional self-government by educating our fellow Americans … in the history and Founding principles of our country and the habits of reflection and choice necessary to perpetuate our republic.”

It focuses on teachers. Pre-virus, the Ashbrook Center each year was putting on more than 200 in-person seminars for teachers – each lasting one, two, or three days, said the center’s executive director, Jeff Sikkenga, in a follow-up interview Friday.

A seminar typically focuses on one aspect of American history – such as the founding of the country, the American Revolution, Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, or the civil rights movement.

“It’s all content, too. We don’t do pedagogy,” Sikkenga said. “Experienced teachers, they know how to teach. What they really want is what to teach.”

American history is a battleground, pitting those who see America as a paragon of freedom, virtue, high achievements, and high ideals against those who see America as racist, exploitative, imperialist, and unfair.

Sikkenga, who is also a professor of history at Ashland University, a Christian school that hosts the Ashbrook Center, was asked in a telephone interview whether the center seeks to detoxify American history, given the sharp conflicts over its meaning and value.

“I would say that we’re trying to restore an honest presentation and evaluation. Our view is it’s not just the situation is too often toxic – although I think that’s true – it’s that the situation is incompletely informed,” Sikkenga said.

He hit on that theme during the Old South event last weekend, shortly after Kilmeade spoke.

“We know at the Ashbrook Center that we face a real crisis today. We face a real crisis in the understanding that young people have about this country, or don’t have about this country. Ignorance of basic historical facts. And the fact that they don’t understand or have devotion to the principles of this country like they should,” Sikkenga said. “… We need to educate young people in exactly the kind of history that Brian is talking about.”

Sikkenga invited people in the audience to come up and sign a new “declaration of independence.”

“It is a declaration of independence from false history and biased education in the classroom. True history, a real understanding of American principles and history, will be taught,” Sikkenga said.

He told the audience the Ashbrook Center has raised about 70 percent of a $13 million capital campaign designed “to take our program fully to scale across the country.”

While most of the attendees were from out of town, the Kilmeade event also drew several Republican candidates for office in Massachusetts, including Jesse Brown, a businessman and veteran who lives in Plymouth and is running for the Ninth Congressional District seat currently held by U.S. Representative Bill Keating (D-Bourne).

Also attending were Geoff Diehl, a former Whitman state representative who is running for governor; Jay McMahon, a Bourne lawyer who is running for state attorney general; and Rayla Campbell, who is running for secretary of state.


Ashbrook Center donors and supporters wait to go into Old South Meeting House in Boston to hear Brian Kilmeade. Photo by M.J. McDonald.


The 75 or so attendees were spread out and seated at small tables at Old South Meeting House, offering what organizers described as an intimate atmosphere. Brian Kilmeade is in the distance. Photo by M.J. McDonald.

Author and Fox News host Brian Kilmeade stands in the main aisle of Old South Meeting House in Boston after a talk Saturday, May 14, 2022. Photo by M.J. McDonald.

New to NewBostonPost?  Conservative media is hard to find in Massachusetts.  But you’ve found it.  Now dip your toe in the water for two bucks — $2 for two months.  And join the real revolution.