Posts Tagged ‘civil rights’

America’s Getting a History Lesson

Saturday, July 18th, 2020

By Bob Gaydos

A statue of Christopher Columbus is toppled in Baltimore.

A statue of Christopher Columbus is toppled in Baltimore.

      Christopher Columbus was sent to the bottom of the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. Stonewall Jackson has been removed from his pedestal in Richmond, Va. The Washington Redskins are considering changing their nickname. Can the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves be far behind? The State of Mississippi is removing the Confederate flag symbol from its state flag. Several members of Congress have asked the Army to rename any buildings and remove symbols at West Point that honor Robert E. Lee and any other Confederate officers.

       America is getting a history lesson, many generations too late, and we owe it all to … Donald Trump.

       Sometimes life is weird. There’s a school of thought which holds that humans learn the important lessons in life only by going through difficult, challenging, perhaps painful situations. Some call them “opportunities.” The universe — your own personal one, or the one we all share — is thought to like harmony. Everyone singing in tune, so to speak. But apparently it takes going through disharmony to get there. Otherwise, we don’t pay attention and just go on thinking everything’s fine. How much disharmony is necessary before we learn the lesson seems to depend on how well we pay attention in class. That is, do we notice the disharmony, understand what it really is, know what or who caused it and do we look for a solution — a real, lasting solution, not a paper-over job that makes us feel good for awhile?

        History suggests we favor temporary, feel-good “solutions.” What follows is an extremely condensed lesson:

        European settlers “claimed” (and named) America more than 500 years ago, killing and raping natives who already lived here. Disharmony. Over time, however, generations of European-Americans made amends for this grand theft, first by having a special dinner with native Americans and later calling it Thanksgiving, designating unwanted parcels of land for the tribes to call their own reservations, killing thousands more in Western movies that portrayed them as savage redskins (Oops! Sorry, Washington.), ignoring tribal laws and customs that were inconvenient, letting tribes open gambling casinos and giving Columbus, the guy who started it all and gave the natives the name “Indians,” his own holiday. We’re square now, right, Chief?

         While this lesson was slowly unfolding, dark-skinned natives of African nations were being kidnaped and brought to America to serve as slave labor for plantation owners in the South. These unwilling immigrants were bought and sold as property for generations, without rights and mostly without education. They were the backbone of the American economy. Still, many Americans, mostly in the North, were not OK with slavery. Eventually, after much disharmony, a Civil War broke out over it, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves, and the North won the most brutal war this nation has ever fought. A divided nation was rejoined and a semblance of harmony was restored. 

          Now free, Blacks nonetheless continued to live as second-class citizens throughout the segregated South for about 100 years. The 1960s brought another revolution. Marches, demonstrations, violence, death. But President Lyndon Johnson muscled the Civil Rights Act through a contentious Congress. Voila! No more segregation. Schools were integrated. Everyone was “equal.” Wow, it was about time, Americans agreed. We’re good now, right, Bro? Hey, you want to play football at our college? 

         At the same time, however, many Southerners also said let’s not forget those courageous generals who led the Confederacy’s fight to maintain slavery, even in a new nation if need be. Let’s erect statues praising them everywhere we can think of. And don’t you just love that Confederate flag? Live and die for Dixie. Uhh, also, we don’t really need to rush with this “all men are equal stuff,” do we? 

       So everything was cool, no more separate water fountains or schools. No more use of the “N” word, at least not publicly. No more profiling of people of color by police, well at least not officially. America was now, finally, a color-blind nation. It had to be. After all, it was the law. Harmony was mandated.

       Then along came Trump, a man who never read a history book, indeed could barely read at all. The Republican Party, which had become the favorite hiding place for all those white Americans who would still be slaveholders if it was allowed and who still had no problem with separate water fountains and who apparently never learned what the Civil War was about, made Trump its presidential candidate. Americans, in their wisdom, and with the considerable help of Russia and an antiquated electoral system, elected Trump.

        It turned out a lot of Americans didn’t like the Democratic candidate because she was a woman and she was smart and tough and knew more about the job of president than Trump and all the would-be Republican candidates put together. Vote for Trump, they said. He’ll shake things up in Washington.

      And they were right.

       A man who operates solely out of self-interest, Trump’s primary “governing” tools are chaos and vindictiveness, which he wields as weapons. In his effort to “Make America Great Again” (as in, before the Civil Rights Act), he has destroyed international alliances, stoked bigotry against all non-whites, encouraged violence — including by police — against peaceful protest and made it safe in the minds of his racist followers to come out of the woodwork to spew their hatred. There is a crisis of conscience in America every day. The evidence is in the news media, which he has labeled “the enemy of the people.”

         Evangelical Christians claim Trump was sent by some God to save them, but not necessarily the rest of us. The Rapture notwithstanding, I’m working on that need for harmony thesis. I’m thinking Trump may be the inevitable result of a universe frustrated with our inability to learn the lesson.

         Major change sometimes requires major pain. Having dozens of videos of police brutality against people of color splashed across social media helps. So does having an inept “leader” who flouts the law, promotes racism and violence, and lies on a daily basis. He is disharmony personified. We don’t need history books for this; we’re living it.

         So … wait a minute! Did you see what they did? Again? This doesn’t seem right! Down with Columbus! Down with Robert E. Lee! The Chicks are no longer from Dixie and FedEx insists that the football team that plays in the stadium which bears the company’s name must change its mascot. When big business gets a conscience, it may be a sign that America is finally learning the lesson. It’s simple: We are supposed to love and help one another. All one-anothers. Harmony.

         The universe may be speaking to us, in a sense, through Donald Trump. I pray we hear it this time.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer in residence at zestoforange.com.

 

A Monument to Hatred and Ignorance

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest

By Bob Gaydos

A good friend of mine recently had a WTF???!!! moment on Facebook and it had nothing to do with Mitt Romney. For a writer who is thoroughly disgusted with the American political system, this is the best gift of all.

The posting concerned an effort in Selma, Ala., to renovate, reconstruct, replace and in general spiffy up a monument to Civil War Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. Now, for starters, I have had it up to my red, white and blue boxers with Southerners who continue to fight the Civil War. It was over almost 150 years ago. It was a brutal war, killing hundreds of thousands of Americans. It was, if you will, a treasonous war for all the states who chose to leave the union and attack the government of the United States of America. It was a war fought to defend an indefensible principle — slavery. And the South lost.

What is there to celebrate with all the flags and monuments? A failure to destroy the country to which you now pay very public and presumably proud allegiance?

This is annoying and, just my opinion, stupid. But that is not the WTF???!!! element of this story. It turns out that Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest (last time I use all three names), who is revered in his home state of Tennessee, as well as Alabama, was also the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

I’ll wait while that sinks in.

It’s true. In Selma, no less, where Martin Luther King Jr. began his march to Montgomery for racial equality, there has been a statue honoring a founder of the Ku Klux Klan and a group known as Friends of Forrest wants to repair and replace what has been damaged or stolen (the head) from it over the years. The City Council is debating the issue.

A little history on Forrest. He was by most accounts, one of the South’s brightest generals. Also one of its most ruthless. With no military training, he quickly rose in the ranks to serve as, what is widely regarded, the best cavalry general in the war. A brilliant tactician, who emphasized having a fast, mobile force, his motto was, “Get there first with the most men.”

His unofficial motto might well have been take no prisoners, since he is blamed by most historian for several violent assaults, including the Massacre at Fort Pillow in 1864. A large force headed by Forrest attacked a small Union force that sought to surrender. Forrest’s troops killed more than 200 black Union soldiers and a like number of white troops who were fighting side by side with them.

That reputation for violence, especially against blacks, went with him after the war and the founding of the Klan in Tennessee. There, the violence continued. Ironically, Forrest is said to have given the order to disband the KKK after five years because it became even too violent for him. That order was probably so much 19th century spin, however, since he couldn’t really control the Klan groups outside of Tennessee and everyone knew, with increased attention from government forces, the group was taking its activity underground.

Now for the hopeful part of the story. Even in Selma, common sense and decency exist and technology has taken root. Malika Fortier, a citizen of Selma, heard about the plans to buff up Forrest’s image and began a campaign to stop it. A community leader proud of her city’s contribution to the civil rights movement, and aware of the KKK outrages committed against Selma’s citizens — many whose families still live there — she started a petition to the mayor and city council to stop the monument renovation.

Fortier posted the petition (which has about 300,000 signatures) on social media outlets on the internet, which could be viewed as a 21st century version of getting there first with the most troops. The petition is posted at ForceChange.com. Here is the link: Stop the Renovation of Ku Klux Klan Leader Monument – ForceChangeSign it if you agree.

To be thorough and legally accurate, this is an effort at moral persuasion. The city council probably has no legal grounds to prevent this renovation since the monument was moved off public land years ago to a private cemetery after public outcry. And people have a legal right to be racists in this country, so long as they obey the law. And, some argue that Forrest was a great general.

But really, Selma, is this what you want to teach your children? Is there to be no end to the war fought 150 years ago? Cannot healing and conciliation finally replace hate and fear? Do Selma’s residents need to be reminded of the atrocities committed there by one of the most hateful groups in this country?

Forrest (yes, Gump was named after him) was a brilliant general and a horrid human being. Surely, the people of Selma can find someone more deserving to honor with a monument.

 bob@zestoforange.com