• Revisionism

    by Kelvin Wade

    Last month Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN), head of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress, gave a speech before a group called Iowans for Tax Relief that turned history on its head. While condemning slavery she went on to say that the “…very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.”

    This is simply not true. By the time George Washington was 10, he owned nearly a dozen slaves. He eventually owned more than 300. Thomas Jefferson, main author of the Declaration of Independence, also owned hundreds of slaves. Neither was an abolitionist.

    The Founding Fathers at the 1787 Constitutional Convention agreed that slaves should count as three-fifths of a person for representation purposes. It takes Herculean hubris for Thomas Jefferson to write so eloquently about liberty and equality and hold slaves. “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal…and bring me some more tea, boy.”

    From their writings, our founding fathers lamented slavery but they certainly didn’t work tirelessly to end it. The horrific thing is that they knew it was evil. “Evil” is a word that turns up frequently in their own letters about slavery. Many of them wanted slavery to eventually end, but of course, not while they were benefiting from it. Not a lot of profiles in courage on the human trafficking thing.

    It was shameful enough that Bachmann tried to rewrite the history of African-Americans but Bachmann told the crowd that immigrants of all colors came to America and were embraced and treated as Americans. That’s fantasyland. Whenever an ethnic group, Irish, Italian, Polish etc. arrived in this country they were discriminated against and had to do the most menial jobs. “Welcome to America! Now scrub my toilet!” That’s our history. And sadly, all too often, it’s our present, too.

    Why does this matter? It matters that a U.S. Congressperson doesn’t know U.S. history and is misleading the public.

    Also, recently, the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Mississippi wanted to honor Civil War Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest with a commemorative license plate. Forrest will always be known as the racist Confederate General who perpetrated the Fort Pillow Massacre, in April 1864. Black Union soldiers had thrown down their weapons and Bedford slaughtered them anyway. After the war he helped start the Ku Klux Klan.

    For some reason Gov. Haley Barbour couldn’t bring himself to denounce the man or the idea of honoring him. He hemmed and hawed and finally on Monday said he wouldn’t sign the honor. This comes on the heels of Barbour’s praise for the White Citizen’s Council, a white supremacist organization, that Barbour claimed integrated schools and ran the KKK out of Yazoo City. Yeah, right.

    Why does this matter? Barbour is a governor and rumored to be a 2012 presidential candidate.

    It’s bad enough that most Americans don’t know their own history without having our leaders spreading misinformation.

    I’ve never liked writing about black history during Black History Month because I don’t want there to be one month out of the year where we focus on African-American history and relegate it to the back of the bus the rest of the year. Black history is American history.

    Rewriting history doesn’t help the Founding Fathers. It shortchanges them. They were courageous and brilliant at times. Their struggle with the original sin of slavery while seeking liberty as a new nation is at the heart of American history. At least there was an internal struggle for many of them. For people like General Nathan Bedford Forrest, there was no struggle.

    Our African-American President talks about ‘winning the future.’ This revisionist wave shows us that we haven’t yet won the past.

      • Theresa

      • February 27, 2011 at 9:01 am
      • Reply

      This is a brilliantly written column about such an important issue. You’re absolutely right! Black history IS American history! I also love how honest you were about the founding fathers and their internal conflicts. You didn’t paint a black and white (pun intended) picture here because the fact of the matter is – it’s almost never that cut and dry.
      I love this column! I read it through twice I enjoyed it so much!
      I look forward to reading more of your work, Kelvin!

        • Kelvin

        • February 28, 2011 at 8:47 pm
        • Reply

        Thank you. It really is fascinating to read about the conflict the founding fathers had. They were composing these documents and founding a nation on freedom and they had this pesky contradiction going on at the same time. I’m reading a delicious book called “The Black History of the White House” by Clarence Lusane. It chronicles the African-Americans who helped build the White House and various slaves of the presidents. One of the first facts I learned in the book was that over a quarter of our Presidents owned slaves. I guess that’s something I knew but never really gave much thought to. Thanks again.

    • Kelvin, I too thought your article was so well written. I, for one, don’t even listen to the tea baggers but as you pointed out it is still so wrong to point out history that you don’t know or just makeup like Beck. Really sad where our country is going. I am glad you are on this site to enlighten all of us if the information is not readily available or I just don’t read crazy stuff from tea baggers or the really right.

      • Judy

      • February 27, 2011 at 10:39 am
      • Reply

      A strong, well written piece!

    • Kelvin,
      Yes the words, We the People” are deceiving because they give the inpression that the Constitution was written by the people. It was written by fifty-five men, all white, that represented the elite group of the new nation. One out of every five people were slaves to the other four. The Constitution itself accepted slavery as legitimate. We can find no greater hypocricy. Every attempt at equal rights was blocked or not enforced by the government at all turns. Any advancement in civil rights came not from the government but from those that suffered, taking to the streets, and struggled day after day after day. Nothing changes without struggle.
      Nicely written but you’re making me look bad when people compare my writing to yours. Maybe you could just mess up a sentence or two so I won’t look so bad. Hey, maybe you could nominate me for “Citizen of the Year” too.

        • Kelvin

        • February 28, 2011 at 10:16 pm
        • Reply

        Thank you. Don’t worry. I mess up. In fact, you may have jinxed me. LOL

      • Catherine

      • March 1, 2011 at 12:40 pm
      • Reply

      Concise, informative, and heartfelt article! When I read it, I was moved by your passion for what is RIGHT. So often, the public vision is skewed because of the speeches made by politicians and the media. Perpetrating the ignorance of these people is not only wrong, but is sending a message to the youth of our country that a person with the “ear” of the country can say anything and get away with it! Keep writing to set the record straight and let’s hope YOUR message gets the attention it needs to counter the ignorant dribble that we read/hear every day.

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