White House chief of staff John Kelly’s recent remark on Laura
Ingraham’s new Fox News show reopened a divide so deep in this
country about slavery that I am reminded of American novelist William
Faulkner’s quote “The past is never dead. It’s not
sounding like a die-hard Lost Cause apologist with a
reconciliationist spin, told the conservative media television host
that he viewed Confederate general Robert E. Lee as “an
honorable man” and that “the lack of an ability to
compromise led to the Civil War.”
the surprise of many, myself included, Kelly’s remark eerily
echoed Trump’s repugnant “blame on both sides”
comment about the Charlottesville mayhem that took place this summer.
The false equivalence of Trump’s remark blaming “many
sides” rendered the perpetrators as victims, too. And, by
condemning counter protesters similarly as white supremacists and
swastika-wielding neo-Nazis at the rally, Trump suggests both groups
are at fault, and one is equally in the wrong as the other.
remark, however, is a false equivalence, too. And, in the most
odious way because it minimizes the moral turpitude of the
Confederacy’s dogged and “by any means necessary”
way for the continuation of chattel slavery as a central pillar to
their Southern way of life.
moral relativism of Kelly’s statement suggests there’s no
absolute truth, only the truths that a particular individual or
culture upholds. But Kelly is wrong.
is America’s original sin that many of our venerated founding
fathers' were wealthy slaveholders in. Slavery was a brutal history
of deliberately debasing and dehumanizing Black people, and it was
ruthlessly done by means human trafficking, sexual exploration,
medical experimentation all at the expense of maintaining white
supremacy. And it’s a history this country at best has not
taken seriously and at worse isn’t accurately known.
example, in commemorating the start of Black History Month this year
President Trump hosted a “listening session” at the White
House that left listeners scratching their heads wondering if he knew
Frederick Douglass, a former slave, and abolitionist, died in 1895,
and 2018 will be the bicentennial of his birth.
then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer to clarify what Trump
meant regarding his comment on Douglass, Spicer, however, made it
clear he, too, didn't quite know if Douglass is dead.
think he [Trump] wants to highlight the contributions he has made.
And I think through a lot of the actions and statements he’s
going to make, I think that the contributions of Frederick Douglass
will become more and more.”
comment is straight-out of the Lost Cause Civil War propaganda
machine. The Lost Cause movement immediately following the end of
Civil War romanticize the South’s lost depicting its fallen
Confederate soldiers as exemplars of old-fashioned chivalry and
honor, slavery as a benevolent form of charity and government
handout, and the secession as a necessary evil in response to the
North’s economic aggression to demolish its primary means of
revenue-enslaved Africans. This image has been promulgated in
blockbuster hits like “Birth of a Nation” (1916), “Gone
With the Wind”(1939), and Cold Mountain (2003), to name a few.
Kelly is incorrect in stating that a lack of compromise resulted in
the Civil War. As a matter of fact, the many concessions made had to
do with enslaved Africans.
examples, the 1787 Three-Fifths Compromise declared my ancestors 3/5
of a person in Southern states in order to determine the total
population of residents in for legislative and tax purposes. The 1820
Missouri Compromise maintained the balance between slave and free
states whereby Maine was admitted as a free state and Missouri as a
slave state; and, slavery prohibited in the Louisiana Purchase north
of the 36-30 parallel. In 1863 Lincoln’s Emancipation
Proclamation was a compromise, too. Whereas the document ceased the
expansion of slavery but it didn’t free all slaves; rather, it
imposed limits to its expansion stating there was”no purpose,
directly or indirectly, to interfere with slavery in the States where
Kelly knew his Civil War history he would know that Robert E. Lee was
not a supporter of the Lost Cause mythology. When the war ended Lee
refused to be buried in his Confederate uniform and asked followers
to put their flags away because displaying them as a form of defiance
would be an act of treason. Similarly, Robert E. Lee, V, the
great-great-grandson, made a similar request about the statues. ”If
it can avoid any days like this past Saturday in Charlottesville,
then take them down today,” he told the Washington Post in
Americans must take ownership of this history to not only help along
my healing from the wounds of Civil War, but theirs, too.