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“Dear Texas: What Are You Afraid Of Now?”: We Must Live With Our Mistakes. How Else Are We Going To Learn From Them?

Well, there you go again, Texas, making me wish we still had your Molly Ivins around to make sense of you.

As the late, great columnist once so wisely explained, “Many a time freedom has been rolled back — and always for the same reason: fear.”

I took that to heart while reading a boatload of coverage about your elected state school board’s latest effort to indoctrinate its students with the kind of misinformation that’s going to make them the butt of an awful lot of jokes.

This time, you want your children to graduate from high school thinking slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War.

Dear Texas: What are you afraid of now?

We know you’re scared of your women, because you keep trying to eliminate their constitutional right to an abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court put a stop to that stunt, at least for now.

We know you’re scared of progress, too, because you execute more people than any other state in the country. By the way, I’m wearing my favorite T-shirt right now, the one that reads: “I’ll Believe Corporations Are People When Texas Executes One.” Members of my late father’s union, Local 271 of the Utility Workers of America, gave me that T-shirt.

Holy sweet tea, there’s another thing you’re afraid of: unions. Can’t have workers negotiating for wages and benefits in Texas. They might make a living wage.

And now, it looks like you’re afraid of your own history. As The Washington Post‘s Emma Brown reported, this fall Texas students will have brand-new textbooks that cast slavery as a “side issue” of the Civil War. The books don’t even mention Jim Crow laws or the Ku Klux Klan.

Students will read Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address as president of the Confederate States of America, in which he didn’t mention slavery. But students won’t be required to read that famous speech by Davis’ vice-president, Alexander Stephens, “in which he explained that the South’s desire to preserve slavery was the cornerstone of its new government and ‘the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.’”

You see what Stephens did there? Of course you do, which is why he is now Texas’ least popular politician of the Civil War. Next to Abraham Lincoln, I mean. He made the cut for the new book, right? Please say yes.

In 1949, historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. rebutted claims of an earlier generation of revisionists in an essay titled, “The Causes of the Civil War: A Note on Historical Sentimentalism.” He included the essay in his 1963 book, The Politics of Hope, which I pulled off our bookshelf and discovered to be packed with observations about America that are as relevant today — jarringly so — as they were more than five decades ago.

Schlesinger took on the revisionist argument that slavery had little, if anything, to do with the Civil War. The revisionists’ claim is best summarized as follows: “See now, there you go, misunderstanding what was happening in the South. Why, we were this close to freeing the slaves before Lincoln showed up with his uppity self.”

Schlesinger’s response, in part:

“To reject the moral actuality of the Civil War is to foreclose the possibility of an adequate account of its causes. More than that, it is to misconceive and grotesquely to sentimentalize the nature of history. … Nothing exists in history to assure us that the great moral dilemmas can be resolved without pain; we cannot therefore be relieved from the duty of moral judgment on issues so appalling and inescapable as those involved in human slavery; nor can we be consoled by sentimental theories about the needlessness of the Civil War into regarding our own struggles against evil as equally needless.”

We must live with our mistakes. How else are we going to learn from them?

Texas, you go ahead and try to poison the minds of your children, but this version of history won’t fool the independent thinkers among them. As anyone who has raised or taught teenagers knows, they are a challenging age. Not only do they see through our hypocrisy; they call us out on it, too. So annoying, those wicked-smart youngsters.

You can always lure a few suckers when you pander to those who cherish the myths of history more than the truths of its legacy. But we’re talking five million students, and I know from my many visits to your state that you’re not nearly as monolithic as your right-wingers want us Northerners to believe.

Molly Ivins knew that, too — and long before the Internet made it so easy for kids to be kids, with their questioning ways.

“I believe all Southern liberals come from the same starting point — race,” she wrote. “Once you figure out they are lying to you about race, you start to question everything.”

Rip open the chips and pass the chile con queso. I don’t want to miss a minute of this showdown.

 

By: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist and Essayist for Parade magazine; The National Memo, July 9, 2015

July 10, 2015 Posted by | American History, Confederacy, Texas | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Symptoms Of The Same Problem”: The Key Reason Why Racism Remains Alive And Well In America

In our faltering efforts to deal with race in this country, a great deal of time is devoted to responding to symptoms rather than root causes. That may help explain why racism keeps repeating itself.

Exhibit One is the recurring cases of racism at colleges.

In February 2013, Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity was suspended by Washington University in St. Louis after the fraternity’s pledges were accused of singing racial slurs to African American students.

Last November, the University of Connecticut suspended Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity after a confrontation with members of the historically black Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority in which AKAs were called racially and sexually charged epithets.

This year in March, a University of Maryland student resigned from Kappa Sigma fraternity after being suspended for sending an e-mail containing racially and sexually suggestive language about African American, Indian and Asian women.

Also this year, disciplinary action was taken against members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma who participated in a racist chant, caught on video, about lynching African Americans.

We have not seen the end of racist fraternity and sorority actions on college campuses.

That’s because the actions taken in response to these incidents by well-meaning universities were directed at symptoms. Epithets, chants and derogatory language about African Americans are indicators of an underlying problem within the offending white students, namely an antagonism against blacks based upon feelings of white superiority. With suspensions and expulsions, the college community rids itself of a particular manifestation but not the underlying problem, which is racial prejudice.

The United States has been treating evidence of racism, and not the causes, since the Civil War.

Slavery; “separate but equal”; segregated pools, buses, trains and water fountains; workplace and housing discrimination; and other forms of bias and animus have served as painful barometers of the nation’s racial health. They have been, however, treated like the pain that accompanies a broken leg. The effort was to treat or reduce the agonizing symptoms of the break rather than fix it.

The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution extended civil and legal protections to former slaves. They eased the pain, but the leg was still broken.

Anti-lynching laws scattered the lynch mobs. But the pain flared up again with beatings, bombings and assassinations.

Our nation responded to racial anguish with a variety of measures: the 1954 Brown school desegregation decision, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and numerous rules and regulations to address those things that caused generations of African Americans — when the shades were drawn — to groan, weep, grit their teeth and swear that their children would not experience the demeaning, disrespectful and immoral treatment that they had to endure.

However, these legal remedies, while addressing the excruciating racial pain, didn’t deal with the enduring problem: the racism itself that caused the South to secede from the Union; that led state legislatures and governors to birth Jim Crow laws; that sparked the KKK’s reign of terror; and that encouraged school districts and town zoning officials to institutionalize barriers against black citizens in housing, education and employment. And racism is still at it in the 21st century. All you have to do is look at those frat boys cited above to see that it’s going strong.

Witness, too, the enactment of laws passed since President Obama’s 2008 election to make it harder for African Americans to vote.

And then there is Dylann Roof, the alleged Charleston, S.C., assassin who takes his place among storied anti-black murderers such as James Earl Ray, who killed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; the Klansmen who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., killing four little black girls; and Samuel H. Bowers Jr., the imperial wizard of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, who with his KKK brethren murdered three civil rights workers.

Oh, yes, Roof has plenty of company; not necessarily in his homicidal rage but in his ideology. The manifesto that he purportedly wrote is replete with bigoted remarks common to right-wing talk radio and posted on Web sites.

Dylann Roof is this week’s manifestation of our racial sickness. But Roof and his ideological forbear President Jefferson Davis of the Confederate States of America and those Sigma Alpha Epsilon brothers are symptoms of the same problem. Until we get at the root cause, the problem lives on.

 

By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 26, 2015

July 4, 2015 Posted by | College Campuses, Fraternities and Sororities, Racism | , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“The Radical Racist Socialism Of The Deep South”: Denials That The Civil War Was About Slavery Are Revisionist And False

With the American South so radically conservative and politically divergent from most of the rest of the country, it’s easy to forget that it was not always so. The American South used to be much more politically nuanced and politically complicated.

Obviously, the legacy of racism and slavery dominates everything. Southern denials that the Civil War was about slavery are revisionist and false, as Ta-Nehisi Coates conclusively demonstrated at The Atlantic.

But if we compartmentalize and set aside the grotesque and horrific injustice of race-based slavery, we can see that the 19th century South was also a hotbed of anti-capitalist economic egalitarian sentiment–with the caveat that only whites were allowed to receive its benefits. Consider these snippets excerpted by Coates: first, the Muscogee Herald in 1856:

Free Society! we sicken at the name. What is it but a conglomeration of greasy mechanics, filthy operatives, small-fisted farmers, and moon-struck theorists? All the Northern men and especially the New England States are devoid of society fitted for well-bred gentlemen. The prevailing class one meet with is that of mechanics struggling to be genteel, and small farmers who do their own drudgery, and yet are hardly fit for association with a Southern gentleman’s body servant. This is your free society which Northern hordes are trying to extend into Kansas.

Talk about a hatred of freedom and small business. Or consider this bit of socialism-for-whites-only from traitor-in-chief Jefferson Davis himself:

You too know, that among us, white men have an equality resulting from a presence of a lower caste, which cannot exist where white men fill the position here occupied by the servile race. The mechanic who comes among us, employing the less intellectual labor of the African, takes the position which only a master-workman occupies where all the mechanics are white, and therefore it is that our mechanics hold their position of absolute equality among us.

And finally, this remarkable indictment of Yankee capitalism from Hammond’s legendary “Cotton Is King” speech:

The difference between us is, that our slaves are hired for life and well compensated; there is no starvation, no begging, no want of employment among our people, and not too much employment either. Yours are hired by the day, not cared for, and scantily compensated, which may be proved in the most painful manner, at any hour in any street of your large towns. Why, you meet more beggars in one day, in any single street of the city of New York, than you would meet in a lifetime in the whole South…Your [slaves] are white, of your own race; you are brothers of one blood. They are your equals in natural endowment of intellect, and they feel galled by their degradation.

There are many more examples of this sort of thing in Coates’ piece as well.

It’s easy to focus on the abhorrent racism here. But it’s also instructive to see the anti-capitalist critique of the North, whose laissez-faire robber baronism was admittedly Dickensian in its brutality–not remotely comparable to the evils of slavery, obviously, but it’s easy to see how a twisted racist mind that didn’t see black people as human would see itself as comparatively morally superior to the North by virtue of its white egalitarianism.

This is why the Confederate South was ultimately such a strong base of support for FDR. As long as FDR didn’t prevent lynching and the other modes of de facto enslavement of African-Americans in the post-Reconstruction South–and he shamefully and deliberately avoided doing so–most Southern whites were more than happy to take the benefits of Social Security, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the New Deal in general. The benefits of these programs were generally not shared with blacks, so Southern whites found an easy continuation of their economic ideology in sticking it to the Northern capitalists with economic redistribution.

The transformation that occurred in the 1960s was much greater than a simple political realignment in which the vast majority of Southern whites switched from Democrats to Republicans after LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act. They also experienced a far more profound shift in their economic politics.

Forced to choose between their virulent racism and their embrace of progressive economic politics, most former Confederate whites chose to keep their racism. Redistributed benefits were all well and good when that egalitarianism extended only to themselves–but extend those same benefits to the hated underclass, and taxation becomes theft and tyranny. FDR socialists became Ayn Rand libertarians essentially overnight.

It’s important to remember that fact when we talk about the legacy of institutional racism in the United States. We’re talking about a hatred so profound that an entire demographic didn’t just switch political parties on a dime: it switched generations of populist economic ideology as well.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 27, 2015

June 28, 2015 Posted by | Civil War, Conservatives, Deep South, Slavery | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Take Down The Confederate Flag—Now”: The Heritage Of White Supremacy Endorsing Violence

Last night, Dylann Roof walked into a Charleston church, sat for an hour, and then killed nine people. Roof’s crime cannot be divorced from the ideology of white supremacy which long animated his state nor from its potent symbol—the Confederate flag. Visitors to Charleston have long been treated to South Carolina’s attempt to clean its history and depict its secession as something other than a war to guarantee the enslavement of the majority of its residents. This notion is belied by any serious interrogation of the Civil War and the primary documents of its instigators. Yet the Confederate battle flag—the flag of Dylann Roof—still flies on the Capitol grounds in Columbia.

The Confederate flag’s defenders often claim it represents “heritage not hate.” I agree—the heritage of White Supremacy was not so much birthed by hate as by the impulse toward plunder. Dylann Roof plundered nine different bodies last night, plundered nine different families of an original member, plundered nine different communities of a singular member. An entire people are poorer for his action. The flag that Roof embraced, which many South Carolinians embrace, does not stand in opposition to this act—it endorses it. That the Confederate flag is the symbol of of white supremacists is evidenced by the very words of those who birthed it:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth…

This moral truth—“that the negro is not equal to the white man”—is exactly what animated Dylann Roof. More than any individual actor, in recent history, Roof honored his flag in exactly the manner it always demanded—with human sacrifice.

Surely the flag’s defenders will proffer other, muddier, interpretations which allow them the luxury of looking away. In this way they honor their ancestors. Cowardice, too, is heritage. When white supremacist John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago, Booth’s fellow travelers did all they could to disassociate themselves. “Our disgust for the dastardly wretch can scarcely be uttered,” fumed a former governor of South Carolina, the state where secession began. Robert E. Lee’s armies took special care to enslave free blacks during their Northern campaign. But Lee claimed the assassination of the Great Emancipator was “deplorable.” Jefferson Davis believed that “it could not be regarded otherwise than as a great misfortune to the South,” and angrily denied rumors that he had greeted the news with exultation.

Villain though he was, Booth was a man who understood the logical conclusion of Confederate rhetoric:

“TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN”:

Right or wrong. God judge me, not man. For be my motive good or bad, of one thing I am sure, the lasting condemnation of the North.

I love peace more than life. Have loved the Union beyond expression. For four years have I waited, hoped and prayed for the dark clouds to break, and for a restoration of our former sunshine. To wait longer would be a crime. All hope for peace is dead. My prayers have proved as idle as my hopes. God’s will be done. I go to see and share the bitter end….

I have ever held the South were right. The very nomination of ABRAHAM LINCOLN, four years ago, spoke plainly, war—war upon Southern rights and institutions….

This country was formed for the white, not for the black man. And looking upon African Slavery from the same stand-point held by the noble framers of our constitution. I for one, have ever considered if one of the greatest blessings (both for themselves and us,) that God has ever bestowed upon a favored nation. Witness heretofore our wealth and power; witness their elevation and enlightenment above their race elsewhere. I have lived among it most of my life, and have seen less harsh treatment from master to man than I have beheld in the North from father to son. Yet, Heaven knows, no one would be willing to do more for the negro race than I, could I but see a way to still better their condition.

By 1865, the Civil War had morphed into a war against slavery—the “cornerstone” of Confederate society. Booth absorbed his lesson too well. He did not violate some implicit rule of Confederate chivalry or politesse. He accurately interpreted the cause of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, men who were too weak to truthfully address that cause’s natural end.

Moral cowardice requires choice and action. It demands that its adherents repeatedly look away, that they favor the fanciful over the plain, myth over history, the dream over the real. Here is another choice.

Take down the flag. Take it down now.

Put it in a museum. Inscribe beneath it the years 1861-2015. Move forward. Abandon this charlatanism. Drive out this cult of death and chains. Save your lovely souls. Move forward. Do it now.

 

By: Ta-Nehist Coates, The Atlantic, June 18, 2015

June 19, 2015 Posted by | Civil War, Confederacy, White Supremacy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Lose That Cause”: Don’t Name Streets Or Army Bases For Confederate Leaders

Alexandria, Va., is finally getting around to deinstitutionalizing the celebration of Confederate military leaders – maybe the U.S. Army can get around to following suit?

I probably shouldn’t be surprised, but I have to admit to being taken aback when I learned – thanks to the Old Town Alexandria Patch – that the city where I reside still has a law on its books requiring that when streets are named, those “running in a generally north-south direction shall, insofar as possible, bear the names of confederate military leaders.”

I understand that the Confederacy generates a certain amount of romanticism down here below the Mason-Dixon line, but let’s keep some perspective: This was a cause dedicated (a) to preserving the right to own other human beings as chattel and (b) to violently overthrowing the United States government and sundering this country. The idea that we should honor the leaders of this attempt to destroy the United States is offensive and absurd. It boggles my mind that I live a stone’s throw from Jefferson Davis Highway and just a few minutes’ drive from (Robert E.) Lee Highway.

As the Patch’s Drew Hansen notes, the bit of municipal code in question was enacted during the 1950s when legal segregation was entering its final, dismal throes. And good for Alexandria Councilman Justin Wilson for introducing an ordinance which would repeal the Confederate naming mandate. (His bill would also take off the books Alexandria’s law against unwed couples living together.)

Hopefully when the council considers this bill later this week, the South won’t rise again. And maybe the U.S. Army will take note.

As an anonymous active-duty U.S. Army officer argued in a guest post at Tom Ricks’ ForeignPolicy.com blog, it’s “ridiculous” and “absurd” that U.S. Army bases bear the names of Confederate generals. These men, after all, led troops in battle against U.S. forces. Ricks’ anonymous correspondent in turn refers back to a New York Times op-ed by Jamie Malanowski from last spring detailing the list of Confederate-named bases. Malanowski wrote:

Yes – the United States Army maintains bases named after generals who led soldiers who fought and killed United States Army soldiers; indeed, who may have killed such soldiers themselves. Only a couple of the officers are famous. Fort Lee, in Virginia, is of course named for Robert E. Lee, a man widely respected for his integrity and his military skills. Yet, as the documentarian Ken Burns has noted, he was responsible for the deaths of more Army soldiers than Hitler and Tojo. … Now African-Americans make up about a fifth of the military. The idea that today we ask any of these soldiers to serve at a place named for a defender of a racist slavocracy is deplorable; the thought that today we ask any American soldier to serve at a base named for someone who killed United States Army troops is beyond absurd. Would we have a Fort Rommel? A Camp Cornwallis?

Seriously. Let’s honor American heroes with our streets and military installations, not people who tried to destroy this country.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, January 21, 2014

January 22, 2014 Posted by | Confederacy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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