We need historians more than ever. Yesterday Kay Ivey, the Republican governor of Alabama, released this campaign ad:
Ivey says “we can’t change or erase our history.” She is correct. But just because a particular community has a past doesn’t necessary mean that the celebration of that past is the best way forward. Sometimes our encounters with the past should shame us.
She adds: “To get where we are going, we need to understand where we’ve been.” Again, this is true. But I don’t think she means that we need to “understand where we’ve been” because “where we’ve been” was racist and because it was racist we must repudiate it. Let’s remember that we are talking about monuments to white racists here. Ivey is telling us that the best way for Alabama to move forward is to celebrate a history of slavery, racism, Jim Crow, and segregation. Ivey’s usable past is a past of white supremacy.
After the ad was criticized, Ivey defended it. According to The Hill, she called out “folks in Washington” and “out of state liberals” for trying to take away Alabama’s Confederate monuments.
Here we go again with the “outside agitators” coming into racist Alabama and trying to change their precious way life. This is what they said about the so-called “carpetbaggers in the 1860s and 1870s and Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the 1950s and 1960s.
Someone get Governor Ivey a copy of King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.