Jeb’s family is in the oil business. Jeb’s brother fabricated a war over oil. Jeb’s dad started a war over oil. Does anyone connect the dots? [Via teabonics-fb]
BY IAN MILLHISER POSTED ON FEBRUARY 26, 2014
“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
The most remarkable thing about Arizona’s “License To Discriminate” bill is how quickly it became anathema, even among Republicans. Both 2008 GOP presidential candidate John McCain and 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney called upon Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to veto this effort to protect businesses that want to discriminate against gay people. So did Arizona’s other senator, Jeff Flake. And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Indeed, three state senators who voted for this very bill urged Brewer to veto it before she finally did so on Wednesday, confessing that they “made a mistake” when they voted for it to become law.
The premise of the bill is that discrimination becomes acceptable so long as it is packaged inside a religious wrapper. As Arizona state Rep. Eddie Farnsworth (R) explained, lawmakers introduced it in response to instances where anti-gay business owners in other states were “punished for their religious beliefs” after they denied service to gay customers in violation of a state anti-discrimination law.
Yet, while LGBT Americans are the current target of this effort to repackage prejudice as “religious liberty,” they are hardly the first. To the contrary, as Wake Forest law Professor Michael Kent Curtis explained in a 2012 law review article, many segregationists justified racial bigotry on the very same grounds that religious conservatives now hope to justify anti-gay animus. In the words of one professor at a prominent Mississippi Baptist institution, “our Southern segregation way is the Christian way . . . . [God] was the original segregationist.”
God Of The Segregationists
Theodore Bilbo was one of Mississippi’s great demagogues. After two non-consecutive terms as governor, Bilbo won a U.S. Senate seat campaigning against “farmer murderers, corrupters of Southern womanhood, [skunks] who steal Gideon Bibles from hotel rooms” and a host of other, equally colorful foes. In a year where just 47 Mississippi voters cast a ballot for a communist candidate, Bilbo railed against a looming communist takeover of the state — and offered himself up as the solution to this red onslaught.
Bilbo was also a virulent racist. “I call on every red-blooded white man to use any means to keep the n[*]ggers away from the polls,” Bilbo proclaimed during his successful reelection campaign in 1946. He was a proud member of the Ku Klux Klan, telling Meet the Press that same year that “[n]o man can leave the Klan. He takes an oath not to do that. Once a Ku Klux, always a Ku Klux.” During a filibuster of an anti-lynching bill, Bilbo claimed that the bill
will open the floodgates of hell in the South. Raping, mobbing, lynching, race riots, and crime will be increased a thousandfold; and upon your garments and the garments of those who are responsible for the passage of the measure will be the blood of the raped and outraged daughters of Dixie, as well as the blood of the perpetrators of these crimes that the red-blooded Anglo-Saxon White Southern men will not tolerate.
For Senator Bilbo, however, racism was more that just an ideology, it was a sincerely held religious belief. In a book entitled Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization, Bilbo wrote that “[p]urity of race is a gift of God . . . . And God, in his infinite wisdom, has so ordained it that when man destroys his racial purity, it can never be redeemed.” Allowing “the blood of the races [to] mix,” according to Bilbo, was a direct attack on the “Divine plan of God.” There “is every reason to believe that miscengenation and amalgamation are sins of man in direct defiance to the will of God.”
Bilbo was one of the South’s most colorful racists, but he was hardly alone in his beliefs. As early as 1867, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld segregated railway cars on the grounds that “[t]he natural law which forbids [racial intermarriage] and that social amalgamation which leads to a corruption of races, is as clearly divine as that which imparted to [the races] different natures.” This same rationale was later adopted by state supreme courts in Alabama, Indiana and Virginia to justify bans on interracial marriage, and by justices in Kentucky to support residential segregation and segregated colleges.
In 1901, Georgia Gov. Allen Candler defended unequal public schooling for African Americans on the grounds that “God made them negroes and we cannot by education make them white folks.” After the Supreme Court ordered public schools integrated in Brown v. Board of Education, many segregationists cited their own faith as justification for official racism. Ross Barnett won Mississippi’s governorship in a landslide in 1960 after claiming that “the good Lord was the original segregationist.” Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia relied on passages from Genesis, Leviticus and Matthew when he spoke out against the civil rights law banning employment discrimination and whites-only lunch counters on the Senate floor.
Although the Supreme Court never considered whether Bilbo, Candler, Barnett or Byrd’s religious beliefs gave them a license to engage in race discrimination, a very similar case did reach the justices in 1983.
Bob Jones University excluded African Americans completely until the early 1970s, when it began permitting black students to attend so long as they were married. In 1975, it amended this policy to permit unmarried African American students, but it continued to prohibit interracial dating, interracial marriage, or even being “affiliated with any group or organization which holds as one of its goals or advocates interracial marriage.” As a result, the Internal Revenue Service revoked Bob Jones’ tax-exempt status.
This decision, that the IRS would no longer give tax subsidies to racist schools even if they claimed that their racism was rooted in religious beliefs, quickly became a rallying point for the Christian Right. Indeed, according to Paul Weyrich, theseminal conservative activist who coined the term “moral majority,” the IRS’ move against schools like Bob Jones was the single most important issue driving the birth of modern day religious conservatism. According to Weyrich, “[i]t was not the school-prayer issue, and it was not the abortion issue,” that caused this “movement to surface.” Rather it was what Weyrich labeled the “federal government’s move against the Christian schools.”
When Bob Jones’ case reached the Supreme Court, the school argued that IRS’ regulations denying tax exemptions to racist institutions “cannot constitutionally be applied to schools that engage in racial discrimination on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs.” But the justices did not bite. In an 8-1 decision by conservative Chief Justice Warren Burger, the Court explained that “[o]n occasion this Court has found certain governmental interests so compelling as to allow even regulations prohibiting religiously based conduct.” Prohibiting race discrimination is one of these interests.
My Liberty Stops At Your Body
Ultimately, the question facing anti-gay business owners, even if the bill Brewer vetoed had become law, is why it is acceptable to exclude gay people simply because of who they are, when we do not permit this sort of behavior by racists such as Bilbo or Byrd? And there is another, equally difficult question facing advocates of the kind of sweeping “religious liberty” protected by the Arizona bill — why should we allow people to impose their religious beliefs upon others?
One year before Bob Jones, the Court decided a case called United States v. Lee, which involved an Amish employer’s objection to paying Social Security taxes on religious grounds. As the Court explained in Lee, allowing people with religious objections to opt out of Social Security could undermine the viability of the entire program. “The design of the system requires support by mandatory contributions from covered employers and employees,” Burger wrote for the Court. “This mandatory participation is indispensable to the fiscal vitality of the social security system. . . . Moreover, a comprehensive national social security system providing for voluntary participation would be almost a contradiction in terms and difficult, if not impossible, to administer.”
Just as importantly, allowing religious employers to exempt themselves from the law would be fundamentally unfair to the employees who are supposed to benefit from those laws. “When followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity. Granting an exemption from social security taxes to an employer operates to impose the employer’s religious faith on the employees.”
Lee, in other words, stands for the proposition that people of faith do not exist in a vacuum. Their businesses compete with other companies who are entitled to engage in this competition upon a level playing field. Their personnel decisions impact their employees, and their decision to refuse to do business with someone — especially for reasons such as race or sexual orientation — can fundamentally demean that individual and deny them their own right to participate equally in society.
This is why people like Theodore Bilbo should not be allowed to refuse to do business with African Americans, and it is why anti-gay business owners should not be given a special right to discriminate against LGBT consumers. And this is also something that the United States has understood for a very long time. Bob Jones and Lee are not new cases. A whole generation of Americans spent their entire professional careers enjoying the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Religious liberty is an important value and it rightfully belongs in our Constitution, but it we do not allow it to be used to destroy the rights of others.
The argument Gov. Brewer resolved Wednesday night with her veto stamp is no different than the argument Lyndon Johnson resolved when he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Invidious discrimination is wrong. And it doesn’t matter why someone wants to discriminate.
What This Cruel War Was Over
The meaning of the Confederate flag is best discerned in the words of those who bore it.
- TA-NEHISI COATES JUN 22, 2015
This afternoon, in announcing her support for removing the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley asserted that killer Dylann Roof had a “a sick and twisted view of the flag” which did not reflect “the people in our state who respect and in many ways revere it.” If the governor meant that very few of the flag’s supporters believe in mass murder, she is surely right. But on the question of whose view of the Confederate Flag is more twisted, she is almost certainly wrong.Roof’s belief that black life had no purpose beyond subjugation is “sick and twisted” in the exact same manner as the beliefs of those who created the Confederate flag were “sick and twisted.” The Confederate flag is directly tied to the Confederate cause, and the Confederate cause was white supremacy. This claim is not the result of revisionism. It does not require reading between the lines. It is the plain meaning of the words of those who bore the Confederate flag across history. These words must never be forgotten. Over the next few months the word “heritage” will be repeatedly invoked. It would be derelict to not examine the exact contents of that heritage.
This examination should begin in South Carolina, the site of our present and past catastrophe. South Carolina was the first state to secede, two months after the election of Abraham Lincoln. It was in South Carolina that the Civil War began, when the Confederacy fired on Fort Sumter. The state’s casus belli was neither vague nor hard to comprehend:
…A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction. This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.
In citing slavery, South Carolina was less an outlier than a leader, setting the tone for other states, including Mississippi:
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin…
As a separate republic, Louisiana remembers too well the whisperings of European diplomacy for the abolition of slavery in the times of annexation not to be apprehensive of bolder demonstrations from the same quarter and the North in this country. The people of the slave holding States are bound together by the same necessity and determination to preserve African slavery.
Upon the principles then announced by Mr. Lincoln and his leading friends, we are bound to expect his administration to be conducted. Hence it is, that in high places, among the Republican party, the election of Mr. Lincoln is hailed, not simply as it change of Administration, but as the inauguration of new principles, and a new theory of Government, and even as the downfall of slavery. Therefore it is that the election of Mr. Lincoln cannot be regarded otherwise than a solemn declaration, on the part of a great majority of the Northern people, of hostility to the South, her property and her institutions—nothing less than an open declaration of war—for the triumph of this new theory of Government destroys the property of the South, lays waste her fields, and inaugurates all the horrors of a San Domingo servile insurrection, consigning her citizens to assassinations, and. her wives and daughters to pollution and violation, to gratify the lust of half-civilized Africans.
…in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states….
None of this was new. In 1858, the eventual president of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis threatened secession should a Republican be elected to the presidency:
I say to you here as I have said to the Democracy of New York, if it should ever come to pass that the Constitution shall be perverted to the destruction of our rights so that we shall have the mere right as a feeble minority unprotected by the barrier of the Constitution to give an ineffectual negative vote in the Halls of Congress, we shall then bear to the federal government the relation our colonial fathers did to the British crown, and if we are worthy of our lineage we will in that event redeem our rights even if it be through the process of revolution.
It is difficult for modern Americans to understand such militant commitment to the bondage of others. But at $3.5 billion, the four million enslaved African Americans in the South represented the country’s greatest financial asset. And the dollar amount does not hint at the force of enslavement as a social institution. By the onset of the Civil War, Southern slaveholders believed that African slavery was one of the great organizing institutions in world history, superior to the “free society” of the North.
From an 1856 issue of Alabama’s Muscogee Herald:
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.
The last sentence refers to the conflict over slavery between free-soilers and slave-holders. The conflict was not merely about the right to hold another human in bondage, but how that right created the foundation for white equality.
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.
Black slavery as the basis of white equality was a frequent theme for slaveholders. In his famous “Cotton Is King” speech, James Henry Hammond compared the alleged wage slavery of the North with black slavery—and white equality—in the South:
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.
We do not think that whites should be slaves either by law or necessity. Our slaves are black, of another and inferior race. The status in which we have placed them is an elevation. They are elevated from the condition in which God first created them, by being made our slaves. None of that race on the whole face of the globe can be compared with the slaves of the South. They are happy, content, unaspiring, and utterly incapable, from intellectual weakness, ever to give us any trouble by their aspirations. Yours 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.
On the eve of secession, Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown concurred:
Among us the poor white laborer is respected as an equal. His family is treated with kindness, consideration and respect. He does not belong to the menial class. The negro is in no sense of the term his equal. He feels and knows this. He belongs to the only true aristocracy, the race of white men. He black no masters boots, and bows the knee to no one save God alone. He receives higher wages for his labor than does the laborer of any other portion of the world, and he raises up his children with the knowledge, that they belong to no inferior cast, but that the highest members of the society in which he lives, will, if their conduct is good, respect and treat them as equals.
Thus in the minds of these Southern nationalists, the destruction of slavery would not merely mean the loss of property but the destruction of white equality, and thus of the peculiar Southern way of life:
If the policy of the Republicans is carried out, according to the programme indicated by the leaders of the party, and the South submits, degradation and ruin must overwhelm alike all classes of citizens in the Southern States. The slave-holder and non-slave-holder must ultimately share the same fate—all be degraded to a position of equality with free negroes, stand side by side with them at the polls, and fraternize in all the social relations of life; or else there will be an eternal war of races, desolating the land with blood, and utterly wasting and destroying all the resources of the country.
Slaveholders were not modest about the perceived virtues of their way of life. In the years leading up to the Civil War, calls for expansion into the tropics reached a fever pitch, and slaveholders marveled at the possibility of spreading a new empire into central America:
Looking into the possibilities of the future, regarding the magnificent country of tropical America, which lies in the path of our destiny on this continent, we may see an empire as powerful and gorgeous as ever was pictured in our dreams of history. What is that empire? It is an empire founded on military ideas; representing the noble peculiarities of Southern civilization; including within its limits the isthmuses of America and the regenerated West Indies; having control of the two dominant staples of the world’s commerce—cotton and sugar; possessing the highways of the world’s commerce; surpassing all empires of the age in the strength of its geographical position; and, in short, combining elements of strength, prosperity, and glory, such as never before in the modern ages have been placed within the reach of a single government. What a splendid vision of empire!
How sublime in its associations! How noble and inspiriting the idea, that upon the strange theatre of tropical America, once, if we may believe the dimmer facts of history, crowned with magnificent empires and flashing cities and great temples, now covered with mute ruins, and trampled over by half-savages, the destiny of Southern civilization is to be consummated in a glory brighter even than that of old, the glory of an empire, controlling the commerce of the world, impregnable in its position, and representing in its internal structure the most harmonious of all the systems of modern civilization.
Edward Pollard, the journalist who wrote that book, titled it Black Diamonds Gathered In The Darkey Homes Of The South. Perhaps even this is too subtle. In 1858, Mississippi Senator Albert Gallatin Brown was clearer:
I want Cuba, and I know that sooner or later we must have it. If the worm-eaten throne of Spain is willing to give it for a fair equivalent, well—if not, we must take it. I want Tamaulipas, Potosi, and one or two other Mexican Stats; and I want them all for the same reason—for the planting and spreading of slavery.
And a footing in Central America will powerfully aid us in acquiring those other states. It will render them less valuable to the other powers of the earth, and thereby diminish competition with us. Yes, I want these countries for the spread of slavery. I would spread the blessings of slavery, like the religion of our Divine Master, to the uttermost ends of the earth, and rebellious and wicked as the Yankees have been, I would even extend it to them.
I would not force it upon them, as I would not force religion upon them, but I would preach it to them, as I would preach the gospel. They are a stiff-necked and rebellious race, and I have little hope that they will receive the blessing, and I would therefore prepare for its spread to other more favored lands.
Thus in 1861, when the Civil War began, the Union did not face a peaceful Southern society wanting to be left alone. It faced an an aggressive power, a Genosha, an entire society based on the bondage of a third of its residents, with dreams of expanding its fields of the bondage further South. It faced the dream of a vast American empire of slavery. In January of 1861, three months before the Civil War commenced, Florida secessionists articulated the position directly:
At the South, and with our People of course, slavery is the element of all value, and a destruction of that destroys all that is property. This party, now soon to take possession of the powers of the Government, is sectional, irresponsible to us, and driven on by an infuriated fanatical madness that defies all opposition, must inevitably destroy every vestige or right growing out of property in slaves.
Gentlemen, the State of Florida is now a member of the Union under the power of the Government, so to go into the hands of this party.
As we stand our doom is decreed.
Not yet. As the Late Unpleasantness stretched from the predicted months into years, the very reason for the Confederacy’s existence came to threaten its diplomatic efforts. Fighting for slavery presented problems abroad, and so Confederate diplomats came up with the notion of emphasizing “states rights” over “slavery”—the first manifestation of what would later become a plank in the foundation of Lost Cause mythology.
The first people to question that mythology were themselves Confederates, distraught to find their motives downplayed or treated as embarassments. A Richmond-based newspaper offered the following:
‘The people of the South,’ says a contemporary, ‘are not fighting for slavery but for independence.’ Let us look into this matter. It is an easy task, we think, to show up this new-fangled heresy — a heresy calculated to do us no good, for it cannot deceive foreign statesmen nor peoples, nor mislead any one here nor in Yankeeland. . . Our doctrine is this: WE ARE FIGHTING FOR INDEPENDENCE THAT OUR GREAT AND NECESSARY DOMESTIC INSTITUTION OF SLAVERY SHALL BE PRESERVED, and for the preservation of other institutions of which slavery is the groundwork.
Even after the war, as the Lost Cause rose, many veterans remained clear about why they had rallied to the Confederate flag. “I’ve never heard of any other cause than slavery,” wrote Confederate commander John S. Mosby. The progeny of the Confederacy repeatedly invoked slavery as the war’s cause.
Here, for example, is Mississippi Senator John Sharp Williams in 1904:
Local self-government temporarily destroyed may be recovered and ultimately retained. The other thing for which we fought is so complex in its composition, so delicate in its breath, so incomparable in its symmetry, that, being once destroyed, it is forever destroyed. This other thing for which we fought was the supremacy of the white man’s civilization in the country which he proudly claimed his own; “in the land which the Lord his God had given him;” founded upon the white man’s code of ethics, in sympathy with the white man’s traditions and ideals.
The Confederate Veteran—the official publication of the United Confederate Veterans—in 1906:
The kindliest relation that ever existed between the two races in this country, or that ever will, was the ante-bellum relation of master and slave—a relation of confidence and responsibility on the part of the master and of dependence and fidelity on the part of the slave.The Confederate Veteran again in 1911:The African, coming from a barbarous state and from a tropical climate, could not meet the demands for skilled labor in the factories of the Northern States; neither could he endure the severe cold of the Northern winter. For these reasons it was both merciful and “business” to sell him to the Southern planter, where the climate was more favorable and skilled labor not so important. In the South the climate, civilization, and other influences ameliorated the African’s condition, and that of almost the entire race of slaves, which numbered into the millions before their emancipation. It should be noted that their evangelization was the most fruitful missionary work of any modern Christian endeavor. The thoughtful and considerate negro of to-day realizes his indebtedness to the institution of African slavery for advantages which he would not have received had he remained in his semi-barbarism waiting in his native jungles for the delayed missionary.
And in 1917, the Confederate Veteran singled out one man for particular praise:
Great and trying times always produce great leaders, and one was at hand—Nathan Bedford Forrest. His plan, the only course left open. The organization of a secret government. A terrible government; a government that would govern in spite of black majorities and Federal bayonets. This secret government was organized in every community in the South, and this government is known in history as the Klu Klux Clan…
Here in all ages to come the Southern romancer and poet can find the inspiration for fiction and song. No nobler or grander spirits ever assembled on this earth than gathered in these clans. No human hearts were ever moved with nobler impulses or higher aims and purposes….Order was restored, property safe; because the negro feared the Klu Klux Clan more than he feared the devil. Even the Federal bayonets could not give him confidence in the black government which had been established for him, and the negro voluntarily surrendered to the Klu Klux Clan, and the very moment he did, the “Invisible Army” vanished in a night. Its purpose had been fulfilled.
Bedford Forrest should always be held in reverence by every son and daughter of the South as long as memory holds dear the noble deeds and service of men for the good of others on, this earth. What mind is base enough to think of what might have happened but for Bedford Forrest and his “Invisible” but victorious army.
In praising the Klan’s terrorism, Confederate veterans and their descendants displayed a remarkable consistency. White domination was the point. Slavery failed. Domination prevailed nonetheless. This was the basic argument of Florida Democratic Senator Duncan Fletcher. “The Cause Was Not Entirely Lost,” he argued in a 1931 speech before the United Daughters of the Confederacy:
The South fought to preserve race integrity. Did we lose that? We fought to maintain free white dominion. Did we lose that? The States are in control of the people. Local self-government, democratic government, obtains. That was not lost. The rights of the sovereign States, under the Constitution, are recognized. We did not lose that. I submit that what is called “The Lost Cause” was not so much “lost” as is sometimes supposed.
Indeed it was not. For a century after the Civil War, White Supremacy ruled the South. Toward the end of that century, as activists began to effectively challenge white supremacy, its upholders reached for a familiar symbol.
Invocations of the flag were supported by invocations of the Confederacy itself. But by then, neo-Confederates had begun walking back their overt defenses of slavery. United Daughters of the Confederacy Magazine claimed that…
Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jonathan Stonewall Jackson, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Raphael Semmes and the 600,000 soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy did not fight for a “Lost Cause.” They fought to repel invasion, and in defense of their Constitutional liberties bequeathed them by their forefathers…
The glorious blood-red Confederate Battle Flag that streamed ahead of the Confederate soldiers in more than 2000 battles is not a conquered banner. It is an emblem of Freedom.
It was no longer politic to spell out the exact nature of that freedom. But one gets a sense of it, given that article quickly pivots into an attack on desegregation:
Since the Supreme Court decision of May 17, 1954, reversed what had been the Supreme Law of the land for 75 years and declared unconstitutional the laws of 17 states under which segregated school systems were established, the thinking people have been aroused from their lethargy in respect to State’s Rights.
In this we see the progression of what became known as the “Heritage Not Hate” argument. Bold defenses of slavery became passé. It just happened that those who praised the flag, also tended to praise the instruments of white supremacy popular in that day.
And then there were times when the mask slipped. “Quit looking at the symbols,” South Carolina State Representative John Graham Altman said during a debate over the flag’s fate in 1997. “Get out and get a job. Quit shooting each other. Quit having illegitimate babies.”
Nikki Haley deserves credit for calling for the removal of the Confederate flag. She deserves criticism for couching that removal as matter of manners. At the present moment the effort to remove the flag is being cast as matter of politesse, a matter over which reasonable people may disagree. The flag is a “painful symbol” concedes David French. Its removal might “offer relief to those genuinely hurt,” writes Ian Tuttle. “To many, it is a symbol of racial hatred,”tweeted Mitt Romney. The flag has been “misappropriated by hate groups,”claims South Carolina senator Tom Davis.
This mythology of manners is adopted in lieu of the mythology of the Lost Cause. But it still has the great drawback of being rooted in a lie. The Confederate flag should not come down because it is offensive to African Americans. The Confederate flag should come down because it is embarrassing to all Americans. The embarrassment is not limited to the flag, itself. The fact that it still flies, that one must debate its meaning in 2015, reflects an incredible ignorance. A century and a half after Lincoln was killed, after 750,000 of our ancestors died, Americans still aren’t quite sure why.
January 17, 2015
by Eugene Wolters
On March 5, 1770, the senseless killing of a black man and his compatriots spurred one of the most significant revolutions in modern history. But like most American history, the Boston Massacre has been whitewashed to erase its revolutionary value.
In the streets of colonial Boston, a petty verbal dispute between a wigmaker and a British soldier escalated when the soldier struck the wigmaker with his musket. A mob broke out. The mixed-race crowd would be described by not-yet President John Adams, in antiquated racial taxonomies, as a “motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and molattoes, Irish teagues and out landish jack tarrs.” They were led by Crispus Attucks, an Afro-Indigenous man believed to be a runaway slave.
The crowd taunted the soldiers by throwing snowballs and other objects. The soldiers eventually fired, against orders, into the crowd. After the dust had settled, five had been killed, including Attucks. To this day, the Boston Massacre is celebrated as the foundational riot of American history.
Last month, a grand jury failed to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the murder of the unarmed Michael Brown. It didn’t take long before Daniel Pantaleo, the officer responsible for the death of Eric Garner, was cleared by a grand jury of any wrongdoing. It also didn’t take long for a string of other police shooting victims to get media attention, including Akai Gurley, after walking down the stairs of his apartment.
The left was galvanized: protests against the excesses of the police spread across the country. In Ferguson, protesters vandalized police cars and destroyed private property. The mainstream media and politicians from the left and right decried the violence. They claimed it was counter-productive to change.
“We will not allow a small contingent of agitators to bring disorder and violence to these protests,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said of the Eric Garner protests. “Those who reject peaceful protest and provoke violence can expect immediate arrest and prosecution.”
The racist backlash was nearly immediate. Conservative commenters asked why the black community had a specific right to riot at injustice, arguing that whites responded to injustice in a more “civilized” manner. Counter-protestors wore shirts claiming “I can breath, because I follow the law.” Leaving aside the obvious irony that white communities regularly riot for no reason, it’s a particularly obscene claim from a group of people that actively celebrates the riots in Boston, the physical assault of British tax collectors, and destruction of private property by a mob of drunken hooligans that cost the British East India Company $1.7 million in today’s money.
To distinguish between “good riots” like in Boston and the “bad riots” in Ferguson is itself an exercise in historical amnesia practiced by the left and right. But even those “good riots” can only exist in our collective consciousness at the expense of the black bodies, like Attucks, that made them. America can feel safe in the condemnation of violence in Ferguson because America has learned to detest the popular power of the unwashed masses.
Before the Boston Massacre, the people of Boston were already wary of the British military presence who were there to keep the peace and protect Royal assets. They were more or less a colonial police force.The fervor that culminated in the killing of Attucks began with the killing of another unarmed man: Christopher Sneider. Sneider was certainly not innocent in the eyes of the law. He and a large mob of Bostonians were throwing stones at the house of a British customs employee. The senseless killing of Sneider created a growing resentment both among the working and land-owning classes.
Yet in a cruel historical irony, even the police brutality that helped foment the American revolution seems mild in light of the failure to indict Darren Wilson or Daniel Pantaleo; the British soldiers, at least, were put on trial. But if modern conservatives seem to have forgotten their revolutionary roots, they can find comfort in the familiar arguments of the British defense.
John Adams, the future president of United States, defended the British soldiers in the ensuing trial. He argued that the image of Attucks “would be enough to terrify any person.” 200 years later, the politics of white fear haven’t changed much. “He looked like a demon,” Wilson said in testimony of Michael Brown.
In his testimony, the British Captain Thomas Preston recounted the crowd of rabble-rousers, armed with bludgeons and clubs, who shouted “fire if you dare, God damn you, fire and be damned, we know you dare not.” Despite threats of overt violence, against themselves and others, the British troops were ordered not to fire. In a cruel historical irony, members of a military force in a time of unparalleled brutality were required to show more restraint in the face of danger than modern American grand juries expect from their police. One soldier was hit by a thrown object and dropped his musket. Shortly after, another soldier, against orders, fired his weapon into the crowd. In the ensuing panic, the other soldiers began haphazardly firing into the crowd, leaving 5 dead and six injured.
Adams noted that some of the rioters were intoxicated, and his description of “negroes and molattoes, Irish teagues and out landish jack tarrs [a term for sailors],” were certainly intended to strike fear in the hearts of white settlers who had every reason to fear the power of those “motley crews” who were not afraid to exercise popular justice.
Meanwhile, a propaganda battle ensued over the telling of the massacre. Paul Revere, who assisted the anti-British propaganda efforts by disseminating the famous depiction of the Boston Massacre that you’ve probably seen in grade school text books, purged the bodies of color from the crowd and tried to include more “gentlemanly” figures, historian Marcus Rediker notes in his book “Outlaws of the Atlantic.” In some depiction, Attucks himself is portrayed as white. Rebellion is only fitting of the well-born, after all.
If the Boston Massacre was America’s foundational riot, the aftermath was its foundational whitewashing. Rediker argues in the motley crews that allied African, mixed-race, and white sailors that agitated against poor working conditions and impressment. For many, the slave riots in the Caribbean served as inspiration for one’s natural right to rebel. But that revolution quickly gave way to the American Revolution we’ve all heard: white land-owners quickly grew tired of the motley crews that sparked the Boston Massacres and other anti-British fervor.
Samuel Adams witnessed these motley crews of sailors violently battle against British “press gangs,” that sought to enlist sailors in the British Navy by force. It was here, argues Rediker, that Samuel Adams was able to formulate a new “ideology of resistance” to justify mob activity. By 1786, notes Rediker, Adams had renounced his ideas of democratic resistance in the aftermath of Shay’s Rebellion. If Americans stopped celebrating the justice of the mob, it was because they couldn’t. In the south, slaves outnumbered their masters in terrifying ratios. Instead, our foundational riots slowly became mythic, a relic from a time a time long-gone, never to be re-created. Even the left demands that the protests in Ferguson and across the country remain peaceful in the face of centuries of violence.
That mythic narrative only maintains cohesion with the systemic exclusion of black bodies. What is taxation without representation in the face of the legacy of Jim Crow? If the legacy of Crispus Attucks has been whitewashed and stripped of its revolutionary potential, it’s because it had to be.
What followed is the story we know: the “universal rights of men” became a euphemism for the rights of white propertied men. John Adams and others made sure to craft a government that curbed popular passions and put the well-to-do in charge. The right to rebel was in fundamental conflict with the gendered, racial and class antagonisms that built America.
Some would take the foundational white washing of the American Revolution as an excuse to abandon it all together. But is it better to abandon a tragic history, or struggle for its re-interpretation. The cooptation of the American Revolution by the landed gentry provides a warning, and lesson, for future revolutionary. The perpetuation of slavery that resulted from the American Revolution continues to haunt America’s black communities.
But if the narrative of the American Revolution can only maintain cohesion with the whitewashing of Attucks and its motley crews, what would it mean to reclaim the narrative? The re-telling of history is productive in another way: it destabilizes the narratives on which the status quo justifies itself. What would it mean for politics if the left reclaimed the American Revolution?
About the Author:
Eugene Wolters is the founder and editor of Critical-Theory.com. He is also a freelance writer and corporate sellout living in Brooklyn, New York. A New School University graduate, he spends most of his days lamenting his worthless degree and soul-crushing job(s). His favorite activities include: trolling, reading and carting his fat-ass around Brooklyn on a bicycle.
KEVIN KRUSE, ALTERNET
10 JUN 2015
uring the Great Depression, big business needed rebranding. Blamed for the crash, belittled in the press, and beset by the New Deal’s regulatory state, corporate leaders decided they had to improve their image, and soon. “The public does not understand industry,” an executive complained, “because industry itself has made no effort to tell its story; to show the people of this country that our high living standards have risen almost altogether from the civilization which industrial activity has set up.”
Accordingly, corporate leaders launched a public relations campaign for capitalism itself. In 1934, the National Association of Manufacturers hired its first public relations director in its four decades of existence, expanding its annual budget in that field from just $36,000 to nearly $800,000 three years later, a sum that represented half of its total budget. NAM marketed the miracles of “free enterprise” with a wide array of advertisements, direct mail, films, radio programs, a speakers’ bureau, and a press service that provided prefabricated editorials and news stories for 7500 newspapers. Ultimately, though, the organization’s efforts at self-promotion were generally dismissed as precisely that.While old business lobbies like NAM couldn’t sell capitalism effectively, neither could new ones created especially for the cause. The American Liberty League, founded in 1934, originally seemed business’s best bet. It received lavish financial support from corporate leaders, notably at Du Pont and General Motors, but ultimately their prominence in the group crippled its effectiveness. Jim Farley, then head of the Democratic Party, famously joked that it ought to be called the “American Cellophane League” because “first, it’s a Du Pont product and second, you can see right through it.”
As the 1930s came to a close, corporate leaders looked over the returns on their investment and realized the millions spent had not swayed public opinion in the slightest. The image of big business still needed repackaging. In a 1939 address to the US Chamber of Commerce, H.W. Prentis of the Armstrong Cork Company proposed the way forward. “Economic facts are important, but they will never check the virus of collectivism,” he warned; “the only antidote is a revival of American patriotism and religious faith.” Prentis’ speech thrilled the Chamber and boardrooms across America. Soon propelled to NAM’s presidency, he continued to tell corporate leaders to get religion. His 1940 presidential address, promoted heavily in the Wall Street Journal and broadcast live on both ABC and CBS radio, promised that business’s salvation lay in “a strengthening of the spiritual concept that underlies our American way of life.”
Accordingly, corporate America began marketing a new fusion of faith, freedom and free enterprise. These values had been conflated before, of course, but in the early 1940s they manifested in a decidedly new form. Previously, when Americans thought about the relationship between religion, politics and business, they gave little thought to the role of the national state, largely because it was so small it gave little thought to any of them. But now that the federal government had grown so significantly, corporate leaders sought to convince Americans that the New Deal threatened not only the economic freedoms of business leaders, but the religious and political freedoms of ordinary citizens as well. They worked tirelessly throughout the 1940s and 1950s to advance a new ideology that one observer aptly anointed “Christian libertarianism.”
Initially, businessmen outsourced this campaign to an unlikely set of champions: ministers. Though this decision seemed unorthodox, the logic was laid out clearly in private. “Recent polls indicate that America’s clergymen are a powerful influence in determining the thinking and acting of the people in the economic realm,” noted one organizer, and so business leaders should “enlist large numbers of clergymen” to “act as minutemen, carrying the message upon all proper occasions throughout their several communities.”
Over the second half of the 1940s, corporate leaders lavishly funded new organizations of ministers who would make their case for them. Some of these groups secured donations from a broad array of businessmen. Reverend James W. Fifield’s Spiritual Mobilization, for instance, amassed millions in corporate and personal checks from leaders at companies such as General Motors, Chrysler, US Steel, Republic Steel, International Harvester, Firestone Tire and Rubber, Sun Oil, Gulf Oil, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Colgate-Palmolive-Peet and countless more. Others leaned heavily on the generosity of a single patron. The Christian Freedom Foundation, created by Reverend Norman Vincent Peale and then led by layman Howard Kershner, was sustained almost single-handedly by Sun Oil President J. Howard Pew. The Pew family’s contributions to the organization averaged more than $300,000 a year for twenty-five years.
With this generous funding, ministers in these organizations spread the arguments of Christian libertarianism. “I hold,” Reverend Fifield asserted, “that the blessings of capitalism come from God. A system that provides so much for the common good and happiness must flourish under the favor of the Almighty.” But concern for the “common good” was uncommon in their arguments, which tended instead to emphasize the values of individualism. In their telling, Christianity and capitalism were indistinguishable on this issue: both systems rested on the fundamental belief that an individual would rise or fall on his or her own merit alone. Just as the saintly ascended to Heaven and sinners fell to Hell, the worthy rose to riches while the wretched were resigned to the poorhouse.
Any political system that meddled with this divinely prescribed order of things was nothing less than a “pagan” abomination. Indeed, they argued, the welfare state stood in direct opposition to the Ten Commandments. “We emphasize the interdependence of freedom and Christianity,” the Christian Freedom Foundation announced in its founding statement. “When the First Commandment ‘Thou shalt have no other Gods before me’ is violated and the state is exalted to take the place of God as the highest authority over the actions of man, freedom is suppressed. Conversely, Christianity can thrive only where human beings live under a system of free institutions and government by the people.” The welfare state, a CFF member argued elsewhere, violated the eighth and tenth commandments by encouraging the poor to covet what the wealthy had and “forcibly taking the wealth of the more enterprising citizens for distribution to others.” And because it spread scurrilous rumors about the rich and made extravagant promises to the poor that it could never deliver, the New Deal violated the ninth commandment’s injunction against bearing false witness, too.
Armed with this framework, and the ample funding of their financial backers, these organizations spread the gospel of Christian libertarianism. In publications like Faith and Freedom and Christian Economics, they introduced tens of thousands of clergymen to the work of prominent libertarian thinkers including Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Percy Greaves, George Koether, Garet Garrett, Henry Hazlitt, Frank Chodorov and Clarence Manion, presenting their originally secular arguments in a new sanctified light. Spiritual Mobilization went further, proselytizing the general public over the radio. Corporate sponsors, such as Republic Steel, secured airtime for its weekly program “The Freedom Story” and spread its warnings about “creeping socialism” over more than 800 radio stations nationwide.
Spiritual Mobilization’s greatest success came in 1951, with a coordinated series of celebrations for the Fourth of July arranged by its Committee to Proclaim Liberty. Businessmen dominated the committee’s ranks, from household names like Harvey Firestone, Conrad Hilton, E.F. Hutton, James L. Kraft, Henry Luce, Fred Maytag, J.C. Penney, and J. Howard Pew, to lesser-known heads of major corporations like General Motors, Chrysler, US Steel, Republic Steel, Hughes Aircraft, Eastern Airlines, United Airlines, Gulf Oil, Marshall Field, and more. Leaders of the National Association of Manufacturers and the US Chamber of Commerce served, as did heads of free enterprise advocacy groups like the Foundation for Economic Education. Together, they advanced a series of coast-to-coast celebrations on the new Christian libertarian slogan of “freedom under God.” The 17,000 ministers who belonged to the group were encouraged to compete for prizes by making sermons on the theme, while governors and mayors issued proclamations calling on ordinary citizens to do so as well. On the Sunday before the Fourth, the group broadcast an all-star “Freedom Under God” spectacular on CBS’s national radio network. Organized by Cecil B. DeMille, it featured Hollywood stars like Jimmy Stewart, Bing Crosby and Gloria Swanson.
Although corporate leaders continued to outsource the Christian libertarian campaign to organizations such as Spiritual Mobilization, they encouraged its growth directly, too. In 1949, for instance, businessmen banded together to form the Freedoms Foundation. (Despite some similarities in its name and agenda, this new organization stood apart from the Christian Freedom Foundation.) The Freedoms Foundation believed that those who promoted “a better understanding of the American way of life” and the central role played by “the American free enterprise system” in making the nation great should be singled out for prizes and praise. Fittingly for an organization devoted to promoting big business, its president was Don Belding, head of a national advertising agency whose clients included Walt Disney and Howard Hughes. The advertising legend was supported by an impressive board of directors drawn from the highest ranks of corporate America, including leaders of General Foods, General Motors, Maytag, Republic Steel, Sherwin Williams, Union Carbon & Carbide, US Rubber, as well as individuals such as Sid Richardson, an oilman who was one of the richest men in America.
While these corporate leaders and like-minded conservatives sat on the board, Dwight D. Eisenhower set the agenda. Eisenhower had enthusiastically supported Belding’s initial plans for the foundation and even helped articulate its central arguments. “The Credo of the American Way of Life” that he crafted appeared in Reader’s Digest in March 1949, and soon elsewhere. The Credo was usually depicted in graphic form, a soaring monument topped with two tablets etched with references to the Bill of Rights and other rights designed for business, including the “right to own private property,” the “right to engage in business, compete, make a profit,” the “right to bargain for goods and services in a free market,” the “right to contract about our affairs,” and, last but not least, the “right to freedom from arbitrary government regulation and control.” Together, these political and economic rights rested on a pedestal of “Constitutional Government designed to Serve the People.” That, in turn, stood on a more substantial foundation: “Fundamental Belief in God.”
For the Freedoms Foundation, the Credo of the American Way of Life was more than a list of political and economic rights. It was rather, as its name indicated, a creed—a statement of religious belief and commitment to a sanctified cause. As the organization repeatedly noted, faithfulness to the Credo would be “the sole basis” in determining the winners in its annual awards program. A major gathering for corporate and conservative leaders, the ceremonies took place at the foundation’s offices in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, a 54-acre property purchased by board member E.F. Hutton and leased to the foundation for a dollar a year. In the first ceremonies, in November 1949, Eisenhower granted honors and gold medals to a number of distinguished conservatives, including former president Herbert Hoover, conservative Republican Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, and his own future Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. In all, he doled out prizes totaling $84,000, which organizers emphasized was more money than either the Pulitzer or Nobel Prizes bestowed. Moreover, the general gave his blessing to the work done by the honorees. “Here in this spiritual temple of the greatest of all Americans,” he said, “you winners of these awards become marked as among America’s disciples. You have issued your defiance to all who would destroy the American dream.”
With the prize pool steadily increasing, the competition was swamped with tens of thousands of nominations each year. Categories for awards steadily expanded, with prizes offered for the best expression of the Credo in everything from ad campaigns, radio programs, cartoons, editorials, television programs and films to sermons, speeches, employee publications, community programs, and commencement addresses, both college and high school. In only its second year, the foundation awarded nearly two dozen cash awards in each of 17 categories, with another 300 medals and 200 certificates distributed as well. Organizers believed their work had transformed the nation. “Now,” one noted in 1951, “teachers, preachers, business men, citizens at work everywhere have the task of building an understanding of our free-market capitalistic system based on a fundamental belief in God, on Constitutional government designed to serve and not to rule the people, and on our indivisible bundle of political and economic rights, or surrender to statism.”
Beyond the Freedoms Foundation, the Credo of the American Way of Life played a prominent role in the presidential campaign of 1952. Notably, Eisenhower led a drive that year to have a monument in its likeness erected in Washington, DC. Doing so, the Republican nominee noted, would honor the American ideal of “permitting the creative spirit of man made in the image of his Maker to reach its highest aspirations.” While the monument never manifested, its message still spread widely in a massive get-out-the-vote campaign coordinated by the Freedoms Foundation and the Boy Scouts of America. Together, the two organizations put up a million posters in store windows and plastered another 90,000 cards on trains and buses. On the Saturday before the election, they placed over thirty million more pieces of literature on doorknobs across the country. Shaped like the Liberty Bell, these door hangers featured the Credo on one side and earnest-looking scouts asking recipients to “Think when you Vote” on the other.
Soon after his landslide victory, President-Elect Eisenhower made a triumphant return to the annual board meeting of the Freedoms Foundation at the Waldorf-Astoria. “These days I seem to have no trouble filling my calendar,” he told them. “But this is one engagement that I requested. I wanted to come and do my best to tell those people who are my friends, who are supporters of the idea that is represented in the foundation, how deeply I believe that they are serving America.” As reporters hastily took notes, the incoming president urged the crowd and the country to embrace spiritual renewal. In the key passage, he called their attention to the invocation of “the Creator” in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence. He then insisted, in what quickly became a famous line, that “our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”
It was no accident that Eisenhower introduced this idea to the Freedoms Foundation. As he knew from his long association, the audience arrayed before him appreciated the power of appeals to piety and patriotism. Founder Don Belding was a close ally of Reverend Fifield, whom he personally praised as “Freedom’s Crusader” in a 1950 ceremony honoring the minister; the ad man had been active in Spiritual Mobilization and served as a founding member of the Committee to Proclaim Liberty. Not surprisingly, early recipients of his foundation’s awards included not just Reverend Fifield, but also Howard Kershner of the Christian Freedom Foundation, several regular contributors to Faith and Freedom and Christian Economics, producers of “The Freedom Story” radio program, and, lastly, all of Belding’s fellow members on the Committee to Proclaim Liberty, who were honored as a group and, in several instances, honored once again as individuals. As the Freedoms Foundation crowd heard Eisenhower talk about the foundational role of religion in American life, they believed Christian libertarianism had finally come into its own. The new Eisenhower administration, they assumed, would use that religious rhetoric to roll back the regulatory state. They were wrong.
When he took office, Eisenhower parted ways with his earlier allies. Although the president was personally sympathetic to their complaints, he concluded that “the mass of the people” disagreed. And so, to the consternation of Christian libertarians, Eisenhower gave a bipartisan stamp of approval to the New Deal and, indeed, even expanded its reach over his two terms in office. He significantly enlarged Social Security, increased federal education funding, and launched the greatest public works program of the postwar era: the interstate highway system. By the end of his administration, many libertarians would agree with Senator Barry Goldwater’s assessment that his presidency had been little more than a cheap imitation of the Democratic agenda. It was, he famously charged, “a dime-store New Deal.”
That said, Eisenhower had incredible success with one of the goals he had shared with these supporters: promoting the politics of piety and patriotism. Uncoupling their religious rhetoric from its origins in the fight against the New Deal, he broadened its appeal considerably and helped usher in a national religious revival that was embraced across the political spectrum. He introduced new religious rituals to American politics, ranging from the ritual of prayers at Cabinet meetings, the State Department and Pentagon to annual rites like the National Prayer Breakfast. He inspired others throughout government to inaugurate new religious symbols and ceremonies of their own. Most significantly, Congress added the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 and made “In God We Trust” the country’s first official motto in 1956.
Unlike the Christian libertarians, who presented God and government as rivals, Eisenhower managed to fuse the two together into what the first National Prayer Breakfast hailed as a wholesome “government under God.” The American nation was now officially suffused with religion, and so it would remain.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 20, 2015
A century and a half later, black America is still living in the shadow of the antebellum South
SARAH ANDERSON, ALTERNETThis article originally appeared on AlterNet.
Hundreds of African-American men marched to the White House this past Sunday. They were not wearing hoodies in honor of Trayvon Martin. They were not making the “hands up don’t shoot” gesture in honor of Michael Brown.
They were wearing blue wool trousers and greatcoats, forage caps and cavalry boots—in honor of African American soldiers who fought in the Civil War. Their aim: to correct a wrong made in 1865, when black soldiers were left out of the Grand Review, the Union Army’s victory parade.
1865? Seriously? With all the critically important racial justice causes of 2015?
“Everything about the Civil War is present tense,” author C.R. Gibbs told me. “This is not settled. Ferguson and Baltimore are just match flares on a long historical fuse.”
One need look no further than the U.S. Supreme Court docket for evidence of the Civil War in our contemporary lives. In March, the court heard a case regarding a request by the Sons of Confederate Veterans for a special Texas license plate featuring a Confederate battle flag.
In 2010, the Virginia public school system introduced a 4th grade textbook with bogus claims about thousands of loyal slaves fighting on the side of the Confederacy. The source? The Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Such disinformation is part of a broader neo-Confederate movement to deny that slavery was a major factor in the conflict—and to bury the history of African-Americans’ active role in their own emancipation.
Dr. Clarence Anthony Bush, whose great-grandfather fought in a light artillery regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT), told me it’s especially critical for young people to learn this little-known history. “Some African-Americans feel a little ashamed, thinking it was Abraham Lincoln who gave them their freedom. When you know your people fought for their freedom, it changes the way we look at ourselves and what our abilities are.”
Bush created a gospel jazz musical about black Civil War soldiers that was performed at the African American Civil War Museum in Washington, DC. Nearby is a monument engraved with names of the more than 200,000 USCT members. By war’s end, they made up 10 percent of federal troops.
For years, the museum has been tracking down descendants of black Civil War soldiers, recording their stories, and organizing them for the big Grand Review 150. On the eve of the parade, they hosted a vigil in which descendants from across the country paid tribute to their ancestors. Audrea Barnes, a second cousin of First Lady Michelle Obama, spoke about one of their mutual slave ancestors, Jerry Sutton (aka Suter), who ran away from a plantation in Alabama and joined the USCT’s 55th Regiment. Through archival research, she’s learned of his struggles for military pay equity and a failed attempt to obtain a veteran’s disability pension.
While the pension program was supposed to be color-blind, Brigham Young University research confirms that African-American veterans received less than their white counterparts. In part, this was a result of a lack of necessary documentation, but bureaucrats were also less likely to believe their claims. For example, they approved 44 percent of white soldiers’ claims regarding back pain, compared to only 16 percent of such claims by black soldiers.
A century and a half after the Civil War, racial inequalities in America are still staggering. Median income for nonwhites is only 65 percent that of whites. The wealth gap is even wider, with white families’ net worth six times that of non-whites.
Jeremiah Lowery, a 29-year-old labor activist with Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, told me he attended the Grand Review because “Just like the slogan ‘Black Lives Matter,’ black history matters too. They started to break down institutions of slavery 150 years ago. Today we have institutions that block people from earning a living wage and make people victims of brutality in the streets. It’s all connected.”
African-Americans led the Grand Review in 2015, but hundreds of white re-enactors also marched. “We even had people who’ve always re-enacted as Confederates put on Union uniforms today,” said African-American Civil War Museum Director (and former civil rights activist) Dr. Frank Smith.
Asked whether the event was more poignant in light of the explosion of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Smith said, “The Civil War led to the passage of the 14th Amendment, which was supposed to ensure that the federal government protected African-Americans when states didn’t. These young men don’t feel safe. And today it’s not just in the South, it’s in the North too. The fact that people are in the streets, though—that’s what gives me hope.”