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.