Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., July 23, 24 or 25
Following the Confederate flag furor, there’s news that Texas schools this fall will have history textbooks that stress state’s rights, not slavery, as the main cause of the Civil War.
Within days of a white racist murdering nine African Americans in a South Carolina church, a bipartisan demand to get rid of the divisive symbol bore fruit, and Confederate flags were removed from its capitol. Some still object, saying it’s part of the South’s heritage and should still fly.
Of course, the answer to hate speech isn’t censorship but more speech. So just as Nazis should have the right to march in predominantly Jewish communities or the Ku Klux Klan should have the right to leaflet neighborhoods, Americans have the right to fly the Confederate flag. People offended by that symbol of white supremacy – or a swastika or burning cross – can counter with facts, also protected by the First Amendment.
That said, the Klan, Hitler Youth and fans of the defeated Confederacy cannot expect displays to be underwritten by public funds. Using tax money to display them is an endorsement, advocating beliefs.
And it’s difficult for children to argue with “endorsed” schoolbooks altered by politicized officials, even if they’re dead wrong.
I was a child of about 10 at the Civil War centennial, when dime stores sold cap guns that shot cork mini-balls, and blue and gray felt caps to wear playing in backyards. I became fascinated by rebel officers Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart – until my dad pointed out that they owned slaves.
Southern leaders wanted to enslave people, according to their own documents, and became traitors.
Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens admitted that in his 1861 “Cornerstone Speech,” in which he claimed “the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man.”
Slavery, Stephens told a Savannah, Ga., audience, is “the immediate cause of the late rupture.”
But today’s 10-year-old Texans will be indoctrinated that slavery was a “side issue” to states rights, as Texas’ State Board of Education sanitized books for the country’s second-largest textbook market – even omitting mentions of the Klan and the unjust “Jim Crow” caste system.
American Historical Association director James Grossman told the Washington Post, “The war happened only because of the determination of the leadership of 11 states to defend the right of their residents to own other human beings.”
It’s not just academics. Jeremy Stern of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute said the Board was “molding the telling of the past to justify its current views.”
And Republican Rod Paige, a member of President George W. Bush’s Cabinet, said, “We may not like our history, but it’s history.”
Indeed, Southern states’ 19th century secession announcements didn’t pretend otherwise. South Carolina’s complained about the U.S. government’s hostility “to the institution of slavery.” Mississippi’s said it “identified with the institution of slavery” and blasted the North because it “advocates equality.”
(Ironically, Mississippi also accused the North of “prejudice” against it, of destroying “the last expectation of living together in friendship and brotherhood,” and cited “justice” in its action.)
Incidentally, Lincoln’s home state isn’t without its share of shame. The late, great Illinois author and politician Paul Simon in his book “Lincoln’s Preparation for Greatness: The Illinois Legislative Years” recalled an 1862 vote by Illinoisans to “not admit additional Negroes into the state” and “not to allow Negroes to vote or hold office.”
But the South started the war – over slavery. South Carolina, again, dismissed emancipation for African Americans as foolish since they’re “incapable of becoming citizens.”
Today, U.S. citizens of all colors and creeds have rights – to wave flags and also to vote and to learn facts from our past.
Rewriting the past hurts the present and our future, replacing lessons learned with fantasies.
[PICTURED: Illustration from jjusa.org.]