In Memory of Milton Meltzer

Photo credit: Worcester Telegram & Gazette

I try to make readers understand that history isn’t only what happens to us. History is what we make happen. Each of us. All of us.

For 50 years, Milton Meltzer wrote over 100 history books for middle and high school school readers that did just that — they told the history of what everyday people make happen.

As Bill Bigelow describes,


Meltzer wrote historical fiction and non-fiction for young readers on people’s history.

I was a public high school teacher in Portland, Ore. for 30 years. Thankfully, I discovered the work of Milton Meltzer when I was in my teacher education program. I used chapters from Bread and Roses: The Struggle of American Labor, 1865-1915, Brother Can You Spare a Dime?, and his books on slavery, immigration, and the plight of Jews fleeing pogroms. Where most historians were busy writing for other historians, Milton Meltzer was writing for my students. His contribution to educators like me was (and continues to be) enormous.

Milton Meltzer died on September 19, 2009 at the age of 94. The history of this self-taught, people’s historian is described in his obituary in the New York Times. The column ends with a quote from Milton Meltzer which rings as true today as when he wrote it in 1969:

You may ask, what is the relevance of all this history to the young? Ours is not a past of sweetness and light, no matter what the textbook tells us.

Textbooks avoid conflicts and the disorders that have taken place in our past. No wonder they bore students.

Zinn Education Project Provides Out-of-Print Chapter Online


A chapter from this out of print book is now available online.

Only about a dozen of Meltzer’s over 100 books are still in print. Therefore we are pleased that his estate has allowed us to reprint a chapter from one of his books to share with teachers at the Zinn Education Project website.

“Traitors — Or Martyrs,” chapter 14 from Bound for the Rio Grande, introduces students to the little known story of the San Patricio Battalion during the U.S.-Mexico War. This reading is now available for teachers to download to use on its own, Traitors—Or Martyrs, or with with the U.S. Mexico War Tea Party lesson.

Some of Meltzer’s books are listed in the resources section of the Zinn Education Project website.

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