When the *imago Dei* gets politicized

I Am a Man

Striking members of Memphis Local 1733 hold signs whose slogan symbolized the sanitation workers’ 1968 campaign.

I have noticed a lot of conversation of late about the Judeo-Christian idea that human beings are created in the “image of God” (imago Dei). In his speech at Mount Rushmore last weekend, Donald Trump said “Every child, of every color–born and unborn–is made in the holy image of God.”

What do Christians mean when they say that men and women are created in the image of God?

Genesis 1:26-27 teaches Jews and Christians that humanity is created in the image of God. The Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible, as New Testament scholar Scot McKnight shows us, translates the word behind “image” with the word eikon.  Icons are paintings, statues, or figures that aid us in our devotion to God. Genesis 1 teaches us that we are living eikons. Much in the same way that monuments try to help us understand more fully what happened in a particular historic place, the creation story teaches us that our lives are monuments–eikons that should point people toward a deeper understanding of God.  We are image bearers. Genesis 1 and 2 will always remind Christians of their true identity.

We are created in the image of God and called to pursue relationships with God and His “good” creation. But Genesis 3 teaches us that we are also sinners who have abused the human freedom God has given to us. “Sin,” theologian Birch writes, “is the word we use to describe how shalom, wholeness, gets broken.” Or to use McKnight’s phrase, we are “cracked eikons.”

Today I am hearing Christians on the political Right invoking “the image of God” to argue against Black Lives Matter and systemic racism generally. They say “all lives matter” because “all lives” are created in God’s image. This is theologically true, but it is impossible to understand American history without thinking about the imago Dei in the context how sin has disrupted God’s shalom. For over four-hundred years, white Christians have not treated African-Americans as fellow image-bearers. As a result, racism pervades many of our institutions.

I think the violence needs to stop. It was wrong during the time of the American Revolution when it was mostly white patriots involved, and it is wrong now. There has been too much collateral damage. And I am not talking here about monuments, I am talking about human lives. But the peaceful protests, the righteous anger, and the many demands for racial justice are all, at some level, defenses of human dignity.

Those Christians who reference the imago Dei to fortify their “all lives matter” mantra  need to read more American history, develop a deeper understanding of the pervasiveness of human sin, and pray for empathy. In the meantime, stop politicizing this foundational doctrine.

On complexity and revisionism in the doing of history

Why Study HistoryFrom Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past:

On complexity:

Historians realize that the past is complex. Human behavior does not easily conform to our present-day social, cultural, political, religious, or economic categories. Take Thomas Jefferson for example. Jefferson is the most complex personality of all of the so-called founding fathers. He was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence–the document that declared that we are “endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” He was the author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom–one of the greatest statements on religious freedom in the history of the world. He was a champion of education and founder of one of our greatest public universities–the University of Virginia. As a politician, he defended the rights of the common man, and he staunchly opposed big and centralized governments that threatened individual liberties. As president, he doubled the size of the United States and made every effort to keep us out of war with Great Britain.

At the same time, Jefferson was a slaveholder. Though he made several efforts to try to bring this institution to an end, he never succeeded. Jefferson needed his slaves to uphold the kind of Virginia planter lifestyle–complete with all it consumer goods and luxury items–that he could not live without. He was in constant debt. And he may have been the father of several children born to his slave Sally Hemings.

Another example of the complexity of the past is the ongoing debate over whether or not the United States was founded as a Christian nation. I recently published a book titled Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? In the course of my promotion for the book–at speaking engagements and on radio shows across the country–I was often asked how I answered this question. I found that most people came to my talks or tuned into my radio interviews with their minds already made up about the question, looking to me to provide them with historical evidence to strengthen their answers. When I told them that the role of religion in the founding of America was a complicated question that cannot be answered through sound bites, many people left the lecture hall or turned off the radio disappointed, because such an answer did not help them promote their political or religious cause.

Yet the founding fathers’ views on religion were complex, and they do not easily conform to our twenty-first-century agendas. The founding fathers made sure to keep God and Christianity out of the United States Constitution but did not hesitate to place distinctly Christian tests for office in most of the local state constitutions that they wrote in the wake of the American Revolution. Some founders upheld personal beliefs that conformed to historic orthodox Christian teaching, while others–especially major founders such as Adams, Jefferson, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin–did not. The founders opposed an established church and defended religious liberty while at the same time suggesting that Christianity was essential to the health of the republic.

The life of Jefferson and the debate over Christian America teach us that human experience is often too complex to categorize in easily identifiable boxes. The study of the past reminds us that when we put our confidence in people–whether they are in the past (such as the founding fathers) or the present–we are likely to be inspired by them, but we are just as likely to be disappointed by them. Sometimes great defenders of liberty held slaves, and political leaders who defended a moral republic rejected a belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ or the inspiration of the Bible. Historians do their work amid the messiness of the past. Though they make efforts to simplify the mess, they are often left with irony, paradox, and mystery.

On revisionism:

Historians must come to grips with the fact that they will never be able to provide a complete or thorough account of what happened in the past.

Even the best accounts of the past are open to change based on new evidence or the work of historians who approach a subject with a different lens of interpretation. In this sense, history is more about competing perceptions of the past than it is about nailing down a definitive account of a specific event or life. As [historian David] Lowenthal notes, “History usually depends on someone else’s eyes and voice: we see it through an interpreter who stands between past events and our apprehension of them.” While the past never changes, history changes all the time. Think, for example, about two eyewitness accounts of the same auto accident. Even if we can assume that drivers involved in the accident believe that they are telling the truth about what happened, it is still likely that the police will receive two very different accounts of how the accident occurred and two different accounts of who caused the accident. It is thus up to the police officer in charge, or perhaps a judge, to weight the evidence and come up with a plausible interpretation of this historical event. But let’s imagine two weeks after the paperwork is filed and the case is closed, a reliable witness to the accident emerges with new evidence to suggest that the person who the judge held responsible for the accident was actually not at fault. This new information leads to a new historical narrative of what happened. History has changed. This is called revisionism, and it is the lifeblood of the historical profession.

The word revisionism carries a negative connotation in American society because it is usually associated with changing true facts of the past in order to fit some kind of agenda in the present. But actually, the historian who is called a “revisionist” receives a high compliment. In his book Who Owns History?, Pulitzer Prize-winning history professor Eric Foner recalls a conversation with a Newsweek reporter who asked him, “When did historians stop relating facts and start all this revising of interpretations of the past?” Foner responded, “Around the time of Thucydides.” (Thucydides is the Greek writer who is often credited with being one of the first historians in the West). Those who believe “revisionism” is a negative term often misunderstand the way it is used by historians. Revisionists are not in the business of changing the facts of history. Any good revisionist interpretation will be based on evidence–documents or other artifacts that people in the past left behind. This type of reconstruction of the past always take place in community. We know whether a particular revision of the past is good because it is vetted by a community of historians. This is called peer review. When bad history does make it into print, we rely on the community of historians to call this to our attention through reviews.

A few examples might help illustrate what I mean when I say that revisionism is the lifeblood of history. Without revisionism, our understanding of racial relations in the American South after the Civil War would still be driven by the what historians called the “Dunning School.” William Dunning was an early twentieth-century historian who suggested that Reconstruction–the attempt to bring civil rights and voting rights to Southern Blacks in the wake of the Civil War–was a mistake. The Northern Republicans who promoted Reconstruction and the various “carpetbaggers” who came to the South to start schools for blacks and work for racial integration destroyed the Southern way of life.

In the end, however, the South did indeed rise again. In Dunning’s portrayal, Southerners eventually rallied to overthrow this Northern invasion. They removed blacks from positions of power and established a regime of segregation that would last for much of the twentieth century. These so-called redeemers of Southern culture are the heroes of the Dunning School, an interpretation of Reconstruction that would inform D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915), one of the most popular, and most racist, motion pictures of the early twentieth century.

In the 1930s the Dunning School was challenged by a group of historians who began to interpret the period of Reconstruction from the perspective of the former slaves. Rather than viewing the Blacks in the post-Civil War South as people without power, these revisionist authors provided a much richer understanding of the period that included a place for all historical actors, regardless of skin color or social standing, in the story of this important moment in American history….

In the end, all historians are revisionists. The Christian historians R.G. Collingwood wrote that “every new generation must rewrite history in its own way; every new historians, not content with giving new answers to old questions, must revise the questions themselves.” This may mean that a historian will challenge the cherished myths of a particular culture or uncover evidence that does not bode well for a patriotic view of one’s country. (At other times, of course, evidence could strengthen the public bonds of citizenship). As new evidence emerges and historians discover new ways of bringing the past to their audiences in the present, interpretations of specific events change. This makes history an exciting and intellectually engaging discipline.

 

Thoughts on Trump’s Proposed “National Garden of American Heroes”

 

Trump Rushmore

At his July 3, 2020 speech at Mount Rushmore, Donald Trump said:

More here.

And here is the text of the executive order:

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1.  Purpose.  America owes its present greatness to its past sacrifices.  Because the past is always at risk of being forgotten, monuments will always be needed to honor those who came before.  Since the time of our founding, Americans have raised monuments to our greatest citizens.  In 1784, the legislature of Virginia commissioned the earliest statue of George Washington, a “monument of affection and gratitude” to a man who “unit[ed] to the endowment[s] of the Hero the virtues of the Patriot” and gave to the world “an Immortal Example of true Glory.”  I Res. H. Del. (June 24, 1784).  In our public parks and plazas, we have erected statues of great Americans who, through acts of wisdom and daring, built and preserved for us a republic of ordered liberty.

These statues are silent teachers in solid form of stone and metal.  They preserve the memory of our American story and stir in us a spirit of responsibility for the chapters yet unwritten.  These works of art call forth gratitude for the accomplishments and sacrifices of our exceptional fellow citizens who, despite their flaws, placed their virtues, their talents, and their lives in the service of our Nation.  These monuments express our noblest ideals:  respect for our ancestors, love of freedom, and striving for a more perfect union.  They are works of beauty, created as enduring tributes.  In preserving them, we show reverence for our past, we dignify our present, and we inspire those who are to come.  To build a monument is to ratify our shared national project.

To destroy a monument is to desecrate our common inheritance.  In recent weeks, in the midst of protests across America, many monuments have been vandalized or destroyed.  Some local governments have responded by taking their monuments down.  Among others, monuments to Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Francis Scott Key, Ulysses S. Grant, leaders of the abolitionist movement, the first all-volunteer African-American regiment of the Union Army in the Civil War, and American soldiers killed in the First and Second World Wars have been vandalized, destroyed, or removed.

These statues are not ours alone, to be discarded at the whim of those inflamed by fashionable political passions; they belong to generations that have come before us and to generations yet unborn.  My Administration will not abide an assault on our collective national memory.  In the face of such acts of destruction, it is our responsibility as Americans to stand strong against this violence, and to peacefully transmit our great national story to future generations through newly commissioned monuments to American heroes.

Sec. 2.  Task Force for Building and Rebuilding Monuments to American Heroes.  (a)  There is hereby established the Interagency Task Force for Building and Rebuilding Monuments to American Heroes (Task Force).  The Task Force shall be chaired by the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary), and shall include the following additional members:

(i)    the Administrator of General Services (Administrator);

(ii)   the Chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA);

(iii)  the Chairperson of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH);

(iv)   the Chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP); and

(v)    any officers or employees of any executive department or agency (agency) designated by the President or the Secretary.

(b)  The Department of the Interior shall provide funding and administrative support as may be necessary for the performance and functions of the Task Force.  The Secretary shall designate an official of the Department of the Interior to serve as the Executive Director of the Task Force, responsible for coordinating its day-to-day activities.

(c)  The Chairpersons of the NEA and NEH and the Chairman of the ACHP shall establish cross-department initiatives within the NEA, NEH, and ACHP, respectively, to advance the purposes of the Task Force and this order and to coordinate relevant agency operations with the Task Force.

Sec. 3.  National Garden of American Heroes.  (a)  It shall be the policy of the United States to establish a statuary park named the National Garden of American Heroes (National Garden).

(b)  Within 60 days of the date of this order, the Task Force shall submit a report to the President through the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy that proposes options for the creation of the National Garden, including potential locations for the site.  In identifying options, the Task Force shall:

(i)    strive to open the National Garden expeditiously;

(ii)   evaluate the feasibility of creating the National Garden through a variety of potential avenues, including existing agency authorities and appropriations; and

(iii)  consider the availability of authority to encourage and accept the donation or loan of statues by States, localities, civic organizations, businesses, religious organizations, and individuals, for display at the National Garden.

(c)  In addition to the requirements of subsection 3(b) of this order, the proposed options for the National Garden should adhere to the criteria described in subsections (c)(i) through (c)(vi) of this section.

(i)    The National Garden should be composed of statues, including statues of John Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Daniel Boone, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Henry Clay, Davy Crockett, Frederick Douglass, Amelia Earhart, Benjamin Franklin, Billy Graham, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, Dolley Madison, James Madison, Christa McAuliffe, Audie Murphy, George S. Patton, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Jackie Robinson, Betsy Ross, Antonin Scalia, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, George Washington, and Orville and Wilbur Wright.

(ii)   The National Garden should be opened for public access prior to the 250th anniversary of the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 2026.

(iii)  Statues should depict historically significant Americans, as that term is defined in section 7 of this order, who have contributed positively to America throughout our history.  Examples include:  the Founding Fathers, those who fought for the abolition of slavery or participated in the underground railroad, heroes of the United States Armed Forces, recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor or Presidential Medal of Freedom, scientists and inventors, entrepreneurs, civil rights leaders, missionaries and religious leaders, pioneers and explorers, police officers and firefighters killed or injured in the line of duty, labor leaders, advocates for the poor and disadvantaged, opponents of national socialism or international socialism, former Presidents of the United States and other elected officials, judges and justices, astronauts, authors, intellectuals, artists, and teachers.  None will have lived perfect lives, but all will be worth honoring, remembering, and studying.

(iv)   All statues in the National Garden should be lifelike or realistic representations of the persons they depict, not abstract or modernist representations.

(v)    The National Garden should be located on a site of natural beauty that enables visitors to enjoy nature, walk among the statues, and be inspired to learn about great figures of America’s history.  The site should be proximate to at least one major population center, and the site should not cause significant disruption to the local community.

(vi)   As part of its civic education mission, the National Garden should also separately maintain a collection of statues for temporary display at appropriate sites around the United States that are accessible to the general public.

Sec. 4.  Commissioning of New Statues and Works of Art.  (a)  The Task Force shall examine the appropriations authority of the agencies represented on it in light of the purpose and policy of this order.  Based on its examination of relevant authorities, the Task Force shall make recommendations for the use of these agencies’ appropriations.

(b)  To the extent appropriate and consistent with applicable law and the other provisions of this order, Task Force agencies that are authorized to provide for the commissioning of statues or monuments shall, in expending funds, give priority to projects involving the commissioning of publicly accessible statues of persons meeting the criteria described in section 3(b)(iii) of this order, with particular preference for statues of the Founding Fathers, former Presidents of the United States, leading abolitionists, and individuals involved in the discovery of America.

(c)  To the extent appropriate and consistent with applicable law, these agencies shall prioritize projects that will result in the installation of a statue as described in subsection (b) of this section in a community where a statue depicting a historically significant American was removed or destroyed in conjunction with the events described in section 1 of this order.

(d)  After consulting with the Task Force, the Administrator of General Services shall promptly revise and thereafter operate the General Service Administration’s (GSA’s) Art in Architecture (AIA) Policies and Procedures, GSA Acquisition Letter V-10-01, and Part 102-77 of title 41, Code of Federal Regulations, to prioritize the commission of works of art that portray historically significant Americans or events of American historical significance or illustrate the ideals upon which our Nation was founded.  Priority should be given to public-facing monuments to former Presidents of the United States and to individuals and events relating to the discovery of America, the founding of the United States, and the abolition of slavery.  Such works of art should be designed to be appreciated by the general public and by those who use and interact with Federal buildings.  Priority should be given to this policy above other policies contained in part 102-77 of title 41, Code of Federal Regulations, and revisions made pursuant to this subsection shall be made to supersede any regulatory provisions of AIA that may conflict with or otherwise impede advancing the purposes of this subsection.

(e)  When a statue or work of art commissioned pursuant to this section is meant to depict a historically significant American, the statue or work of art shall be a lifelike or realistic representation of that person, not an abstract or modernist representation.

Sec. 5.  Educational Programming.  The Chairperson of the NEH shall prioritize the allocation of funding to programs and projects that educate Americans about the founding documents and founding ideals of the United States, as appropriate and to the extent consistent with applicable law, including section 956 of title 20, United States Code.  The founding documents include the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers.  The founding ideals include equality under the law, respect for inalienable individual rights, and representative self-government.  Within 90 days of the conclusion of each Fiscal Year from 2021 through 2026, the Chairperson shall submit a report to the President through the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy that identifies funding allocated to programs and projects pursuant to this section.

Sec. 6.  Protection of National Garden and Statues Commissioned Pursuant to this Order.  The Attorney General shall apply section 3 of Executive Order 13933 of June 26, 2020 (Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence), with respect to violations of Federal law regarding the National Garden and all statues commissioned pursuant to this order.

Sec. 7.  Definition.  The term “historically significant American” means an individual who was, or became, an American citizen and was a public figure who made substantive contributions to America’s public life or otherwise had a substantive effect on America’s history.  The phrase also includes public figures such as Christopher Columbus, Junipero Serra, and the Marquis de La Fayette, who lived prior to or during the American Revolution and were not American citizens, but who made substantive historical contributions to the discovery, development, or independence of the future United States.

Sec. 8.  General Provisions.  (a)  Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

(i)   the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or

(ii)  the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(b)  This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c)  This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

Does Trump think he is building another Trump Tower?

I digress.

Just to reiterate, there will be statues of: John Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Daniel Boone, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Henry Clay, Davy Crockett, Frederick Douglass, Amelia Earhart, Benjamin Franklin, Billy Graham, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, Dolley Madison, James Madison, Christa McAuliffe, Audie Murphy, George S. Patton, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Jackie Robinson, Betsy Ross, Antonin Scalia, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, George Washington, and Orville and Wilbur Wright.

Quick thoughts:

1. We should not get too worked-up about this order because there is a chance Trump will be voted out of office in November 2020. In other words, this national garden may never happen.

2. Let’s not get too caught-up in debating who should be “in” and who should be “out.” This is actually what Trump wants to happen. Historians should just ignore these plans. By giving too much attention to this we lend credibility to the proposal. (I know–I should be taking my own advice here!).  This is not a debate over state history and social studies standards.

3. How much will this national garden cost the American taxpayer? If Trump really cares about history he should fund its study in schools. His budgets should provide more money for already existing historic sites and teacher training.

4. Let’s say Trump wins in 2020 and this national garden becomes a reality. Would I visit it? Maybe. But I would not go there to teach my students about the lives of these so-called “heroes.” I rely on my classroom lectures and discussions, primary sources, legitimate public history sites, and good books and articles to do that. I would, however, consider taking students to this place to teach them about the Trump administration much in the same way that I take students to Confederate monuments at Gettysburg to teach them about the Lost Cause. This is what historians mean by contextualizing monuments. Like the Confederate monuments we are fighting over today, monuments often tell us more about the time when they were erected than the moment in history that they commemorate. Confederate monuments were erected in the early 20th century as symbols of white supremacy and Jim Crow. Some of the figures Trump wants to memorialize in his national garden seem like random choices, but others speak volumes about Trump’s America and his 2020 re-election bid.

For example, the founding fathers are revered by Trump’s white conservative base. Good history teachers visiting this garden might say something to their students about founders chic. They might note that on the very day of this executive order millions of Americans were watching a movie-version of a Broadway play about Alexander Hamilton. All of this explains why George Washington, John Adams,  Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison were chosen. (I don’t know why Dolley Madison was chosen over Martha Washington and Abigail Adams). I am sure Abraham Lincoln was chosen as an honorary founding father.

The African American selections (there are no native Americans) are Martin Luther King Jr.,  Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, and Jackie Robinson. These are all safe choices, although a good history teacher might show this video in preparation for the class trip. There are reasons why W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, or Barack Obama were not chosen. (Future students will certainly wonder why the first Black president in American history was not selected). When viewed in the larger context of the Trump presidency, a legitimate argument could be made that these men and women were picked in an attempt to show Trump is not a racist.

Trump and his people are obsessed with military strength. We thus get Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Audie Murphy, George Patton, Ronald Reagan, and Douglas MacArthur.

And Trump needs his white evangelical base in November. He hopes a statue of Billy Graham, or at least the announcement of such a statue, might help deliver these votes.

Trump has an obsession with space and aviation. (Trump mentioned going to Mars during his Mount Rushmore speech). I would have my students read or watch his recent Cape Canaveral speech before we visited the national garden. We thus get Christa McAuliffe, Amelia Earhart, and the Wright brothers. Frankly, I am surprised he did not pick Charles Lindbergh, an early proponent of “America First.”

Was Henry Clay, the architect of the American System, chosen because of Trump’s infrastructure plans? Future history teachers will tell students that these plans never got off the ground, despite multiple “infrastructure weeks,” because Trump undermined them with tweets and other self-initiated scandals.

And, of course, any historian would have a lot to say about why Antonin Scalia made the cut instead of John Marshall, Thurgood Marshall, Sandra Day O’Connor, Hugo Black, or Oliver Wendell Holmes.

But in the end, I would put money on this national garden of heroes going the way of Trump’s border wall and many of his other grandiose plans.  It won’t happen.

 

What happened in Gettysburg this weekend?

 

Gettysburg Race 1

Jimmy, a friend of friends who works in a local ministry to drug and alcohol abusers, was in Gettysburg this weekend. Here, in his own words, is what happened:

Over the last 2.5 years, I have been in a group called “Be the Bridge.” The goal of the group was to have meaningful conversations about race, racism, systemic racism, the Church’s response to race, and racial reconciliation. My Dad and I (along with 2 other white guys) met with 4 Black guys each month to talk through these issues.

It was eye opening. It was challenging. I learned a lot about my own biases. I learned about the part I play in propping up systems that benefit white people. I learned about the systemic racism that plagues the U.S (throughout history and present day). I learned about what it takes to make important personal changes and become aware of my own cultural preferences. And, I learned about the strong theological basis for justice and racial reconciliation.

It left me with a strong desire to find tangible, everyday ways to fight for racial equality.

Yesterday, my Dad and I went down to the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial to meet with the Black guys from our group. The goal was to talk about how important it is to tell the truth about many of the Confederate monuments and to keep a clear focus on the goals of the Confederacy (which was the preservation of slavery).

We held some signs at three different monuments: North Carolina, Robert E. Lee, and Mississippi. These are important statues.

The North Carolina statue was made by a staunch supporter of the KKK, Gutzon Borglum (he also did Mount Rushmore). He famously said of the KKK, “I would do anything to serve them…”

Robert E. Lee’s statue was chosen because of the “hero status” he embodies. But, Robert E. Lee was in charge of his wife’s 189 slaves, beat and whipped them, and said of slavery, “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.”

Mississippi was also chosen because of their article of succession. If you haven’t read it, please read it here. The opening several lines are most key.

Scott (one of the members of our group and a history professor at a local College) led most of these discussions. Scott believes that the Confederate Monuments should remain at Gettysburg, but should tell the full story of the monuments and those represented. This is the reason we were in Gettysburg yesterday. This is important and worth reiterating: We were there to tell this critical part of history, so it wouldn’t be forgotten or swept under the rug.

While we all remained civil, we were met with much hostility. At the Robert E. Lee statue, we arrived and were met by more than a dozen men in full tactical gear, holding AR-15s (none were park rangers or police). Several others were open carrying. As they surrounded us, many shouted racial slurs at Scott. These people said some of the following, “Go back to Africa!”, “Why don’t you just go back on welfare?”, “F@&k you guys,” “Have you ever picked cotton?”, “You need to forget about slavery,” “you’re one of the dumbest people,” and, to me and my Dad specifically, “You kind of white people make me sick.” There were many more things said, as well as the “N” word.

At the end of our time, about 15 bikers pulled up to our group at the Mississippi statue and began circling our group (you can see this picture below). We decided it was safest to leave. These bikers followed us out of the battlefield, through Gettysburg, all the way until we got to a police barricade. While we were sitting at a red light, the bikers motioned to some guys (who had a confederate flag in the truck) and they came over to my car and told us to “Get the f&%k out of here” and motioned with their finger.

I share this experience because I think it’s important to talk about these issues. That racism is still alive and well in our country. That the story of America has a lot of good parts and some really terrible ones, but we must tell it fully. That the church must be at the center of racial reconciliation. And we must stand up for and with those who have been marginalized and oppressed. It’s a critical part of the gospel and following Jesus.

Gettysburg Race 3

Gettysburg battlefield, July 4, 2020 (photo by Jimmy)

Please don’t tell me that there is not a connection between Donald Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore on Friday night (or at the very least his general defense of monuments since the George Floyd protests) and what happened to Jimmy and his friends at Gettysburg this weekend. In fact, Jimmy said in a private exchange that much of the hostility came from self-professed “Christians” with Trump 2020 swag.

Gettysburg Race 2

Gettysburg battlefield, July 4, 2020 (photo by Jimmy)

 

 

Peter Carmichael, the Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies and Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, also visited the Gettysburg battlefield this weekend. If I understand things correctly, a member of his group carried a sign that read:”10,000 Black Slaves In Lee’s Army #BlackLivesMatter.”

Carmichael Poster

Carmichael and his group were confronted by what appears to be a white militia organization. Watch:

 

For what it’s worth, I agree with everything Scott Hancock says in this interview with CNN’s Michael Smerconish. It is worth your time:

Hancock, a professor of History and Africana Studies at Gettysburg College, is becoming an important voice right now.  Listen to our interview with him in Episode 70 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

How African Americans in the early republic celebrated July 4th

frederickdouglass01

Many of us are familiar with Frederick Douglass’s speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July.” If you are serious about understanding the plight of African Americans in this country, Douglass’s speech is a good place to start. Take some time and read it over the holiday weekend.

Over at the blog of the Omohundro Institute for Early American History & Culture, Derrick Spires has a nice piece on how African-Americans in the early republic celebrated July 4.

Here is a taste:

When they did observe the Fourth, Black citizens confronted a national double-speak in which many white Americans celebrated their freedom from political oppression while continuing to support and participate in the enslavement of African-descended people. Frederick Douglass famously made this tension between citizenship and national belonging the backbone of his July 5, 1852, oration before the Rochester Ladies Antislavery Society, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”. He addressed his largely white audience as “fellow citizens,” even as he asked them, “What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence” when that “high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us?” Martin R. Delany similarly described Black citizens as a “nation within a nation” in his Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People in the United States (1852); yet, he dedicated the volume “to the American People, North and South. By Their Most Devout, and Patriotic Fellow Citizen, the Author.” For both Douglass and Delany, the “fellow citizen” invoked an imperative and an indictment: an imperative to the United States to recognize their share in the project of self-governance and an indictment of their white fellow citizens’ refusal to abide by their own professed creeds.

In addition to the Fourth of July, Black citizens celebrated other days and other revolutions, including the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade (January 1, 1808, observed on July 14 in Boston), New York Emancipation Day (July 5, 1827, often observed on July 5) and British emancipation (August 1, 1834). In the early nineteenth-century, Black collectives celebrated January 1, 1808, as one step towards universal emancipation and republican citizenship, a promise certified by God, but as yet unfulfilled. “Let the first of January,” Absalom Jones proclaimed before his congregation at St. Thomas’s African Episcopal Church in 1808, “be set apart in every year, as a day of publick thanksgiving for that mercy.” Jones, one of the founders of the Free African Society (1787), a precursor to the African Methodist Episcopal Church, knew well that the abolition of the transatlantic trade was but a start, yet he expressed thanks to white supporters and hope that the nation was turning towards abolition.

Even as the larger nation was still defining the parameters of citizenship, Black organizers seized on these celebrations to define for themselves what U.S. citizenship would become and to use public displays of black organizing and print as vectors for impressing that vision onto the public eye. Speaking in 1809 before the Wilberforce Philanthropic Association of New York City, Joseph Sidney would address himself to “Friends, Countrymen, and Fellow Citizens,” beg their “pardon for intruding on your joy” to speak about ongoing enslavement, and make an impassioned argument that “among the most valuable of our newly acquired rights, is that of suffrage.” Sidney’s appeal went past promoting voting as an abstract good. He called on Black citizens to reject Thomas Jefferson and his party in favor of the Federalists, who, he argued, set “the standard of liberty.” Black citizens were not begging for inclusion; and while they acknowledged the work of white abolitionists and the New York Manumission Society, they would not concede to assumptions that their rights were a matter of white sufferance. They were members of the body politic who, as Jones would argue in a 1799 petition to the “President, Senate, and House of Representatives,” were “guardians of our rights, and patriots of equal and national liberties.” Sidney’s speech, the description of the day’s parade and other festivities, and commentary on the crowds were printed and distributed as a pamphlet, both marking the moment in history and amplifying it as a public practice of Black citizenship.

Read the entire piece here.

Tuesday night court evangelical roundup

trump-with-evangelical-leaders

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since our last update?

Rudy Giuliani shares a tweet from a spokesperson for Liberty University’s Falkirk Center. Notice how Giuliani uses Jenna Ellis’s tweet of Psalm 27 to make a political statement. When he says “we all matter” I think we all know the message he is sending in the midst of our post-George Floyd moment. In a follow-up tweet, Ellis gives Giuliani an “Amen.”

As the coronavirus cases spike, Ellis retweets an anti-masker attacking California senator Kamala Harris:

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center does not understand history. It’s tweet today seems like a defense of Confederate monuments. I am guessing Russell Kirk is taken out of context here. As I argued in Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past, history is always created from a dialogue the between past and the present. Sometimes the past is useful in the present. Sometimes the past is a “foreign country.” Ironically, the Falkirk Center and the rest of the Christian Right activists who talk about the past, have mastered the kind of cherry-picking Kirk may be warning against here.

What is the relationship between the following tweet and Jenna Ellis’s anti-mask retweet above? It seems that “rights” are a form of self-fulfillment, while concern for others is a form of self-denial. John MacArthur’s lesson might be useful for evangelicals as they think about masks and the spread of COVID-19.

Florida is seeing record numbers of coronavirus cases. Paula White is opening her church:

Wow: This is an amazing tweet from Trump’s #1 court evangelical:

Tony Perkins is hosting a video conference called “Arise and Stand.” You can watch it here.

Here is Gary Bauer’s Facebook post:

Kudos to my good friend Vice President Mike Pence!

Vice President Pence stood firm in the face of the media mob this Sunday, as well as the mob in the streets, by refusing to repeat the divisive slogan, “Black Lives Matter.” He was pressed to do so during an appearance on CBS’s “Face The Nation.”

Of course Black Lives Matter, as do Asian lives, Hispanic lives and Caucasian lives. That’s the truth. And it’s also a central Christian principle that the color of our skin is the least unique thing about us. What makes us special is that we are made in the image of God, and the vice president strongly believes that. 

Read the rest here.

I’ve said this before, this pivot toward “all lives matter” is simply a way for those on the Christian Right to avoid tough conversations on race in America following the killing of George Floyd. When Pence refused to say “Black Lives Matter” on television he was sending a message to the Trump base.

all lives matter cartoon

It’s all about the Supreme Court justices for Ralph Reed.

Theologians Stanley Hauerwas and Jonathan Tran have a nice response to Reed’s way of political thinking:

When Christians think that the struggle against abortion can only be pursued through voting for candidates with certain judicial philosophies, then serving at domestic abuse shelters or teaching students at local high schools or sharing wealth with expectant but under-resources families or speaking of God’s grace in terms of “adoption” or politically organizing for improved education or rezoning municipalities for childcare or creating “Parent’s Night Out” programs at local churches or mentoring young mothers or teaching youth about chastity and dating or mobilizing religious pressure on medical service providers or apprenticing men into fatherhood or thinking of singleness as a vocation or feasting on something called “communion” or rendering to God what is God’s or participating with the saints through Marion icons or baptizing new members or tithing money, will not count as political.

Read the entire piece here.

Ralph Reed, perhaps more than any other member of the Christian Right, is responsible for what Hauerwas and Tran call a “failure of political imagination” among evangelicals.

According to Robert Jeffress, the “eventual collapse of our country” is now certain:

And last but not least, David Barton is on the Eric Metaxas Show today. When activists indiscriminately topple and deface monuments, it just provides ammunition and fodder for Barton’s Christian Right view of the past.

Barton defends a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a white supremacist who helped found the KKK. He seems to think that such a statue is essential to his ability to teach history. This comment even makes Metaxas squirm: “I think we all would agree that lines can be drawn, we don’t have a statue to Adolph Hitler.” In this sense, Metaxas’s obsession with Godwin’s Law serves a useful purpose.

When Metaxas says that debate over monuments is “complicated,” he reminds me of something I wrote at the end of my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?:

In 2010 the political commentator Glenn Beck devoted an entire television program to a discussion of George Whitefield, the eighteenth-century evangelical revivalist and the precipitator of the event known as the First Great Awakening. Near the end of the show, Beck’s conversation with his guests–two early American religious historians–turned to the topic of slavery. Beck wondered how Whitefield could inspire anti-slavery advocates in England such as John Newton, the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” while at the same time owning slaves. Befuddled by this paradox, and clearly at a loss for words, Beck turned to the camera and said, “Sometimes history is a little complex.”

Barton peddles an unbelievably dumb theory about the origins of slavery and race in America. He says “out of Jamestown” came “slavery and intolerance and classism and racism.” But out of Plymouth came “liberty and freedom and constitutional government, bills of rights, etc.” His source is an uncritical use of an 1888 wall map showing these “two strands of history, one bad and one good.”

Apparently, Barton has never studied New England’s Native American history or the intolerance the Puritans showed to the likes of Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams. But wait, it gets better. Barton says that “both of those groups were Christian, but Jamestown was not biblical. They [just] professed Christianity. That’s much of what we see in America today. 72% of the nation professes Christianity, only six percent have a biblical world view.” Slavery started in Jamestown, Barton argues, because the settlers didn’t “know the Bible.” This is interesting, since during the early 19th-century Virginians used the Bible to justify slavery. I guess they were more biblically literate by that time. 🙂

Barton seems to suggest that New England did not have slaves. Wrong again. Even Jonathan Edwards, one of Barton’s heroes, a man who Barton would probably say had a “Christian world view,” owned slaves. Granted, New England did not have a slave-based economy, but slavery was not illegal prior to the American Revolution. If you want to learn more, see Richard Bailey’s Race and Redemption in Puritan New England. and Joanne Pope Melishs’s Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780-1860

Barton goes on to say that today “we look at past generations through today’s filter and today’s lens and you really can’t do that.” This is rich coming from a guy who has built his entire career around cherry-picking from the founding fathers and then applying such cherry-picked passages to contemporary Christian Right politics. (See my comments about the Falkirk Center’s tweet about Russell Kirk).

He then uses this argument to reject systemic and institutional racism. Here is Barton:

So all the notion that America is institutionally racist–you gotta see what the atmosphere was like in that day–we were leading the world in the right direction that day. Now we can look back where we are today and say we weren’t perfect…but we’re not the racist nation everyone is trying to make us out to be. When you know history, you see that all clearly.

Barton speaks as if the Civil War–a war over slavery in which 700,000 people died–never happened. Is this “leading the world in the right direction?” Heck, he sounds as if slavery never existed in the United States. He dismisses four hundred years of slavery and racism by saying, “yeah, we weren’t perfect.” Barton is not a historian. He only cares about the parts of the past that advance his political agenda. Read this recent post to see the depths of racism in the evangelical church or grab a copy of Believe Me.

And finally, Metaxas praises Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address as a great moment of national unity. He says that Lincoln showed “graciousness” toward his enemy. He said that because of this graciousness, Lincoln and Grant allowed the Confederate monuments to stand. Barton says that Lincoln’s “zealous” Christian faith is why he tried to reconcile with the South after the war. He says that Lincoln took seriously Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5 about “reconciliation.”

There are so many problems with this part of the interview that it is hard to know where to start.

  1. Lincoln did want to the bring the Union back together and he tried to use his Second Inaugural Address to do it. But let’s remember that this address was delivered after victory in the war was all but secured. The Union won. Whatever reunion needed to take place, Lincoln believed, must happen on his terms. The idea that he would allow Confederates to continue to celebrate their slave-holding “heritage” with the erection of monuments does not make sense.
  2. Metaxas seems to think that these Confederate monuments were erected during the days of Lincoln. Most of them were built in the early 20th-century as a way of defending the Confederate’s “Lost Cause”–a commitment to white supremacy. Lincoln had nothing to do with them.
  3. Lincoln was not a Christian. Nearly all Lincoln scholarship is clear about this.
  4. 2 Corinthians 5 has nothing to do with the Civil War or nationalism.
  5. But most disturbing is the fact that Barton and Metaxas seem to be endorsing a white romanticized idea of reunion and reconciliation that left out African Americans. The best book on this subject continues to be David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.

Until next time.

The Author’s Corner with Jeffrey Einboden

Jefferson's Muslim Fugitives Cover PhotoJeffrey Einboden is Presidential Research, Scholarship and Artistry Professor at Northern Illinois University. This interview is based on his new book, Jefferson’s Muslim Fugitives: The Lost Story of Enslaved Africans, their Arabic Letters, and an American President (Oxford University Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Jefferson’s Muslim Fugitives?

JE: Jefferson’s Muslim Fugitives marks the culmination of an archival search spanning the past decade, during which I sought to recover Arabic writings by Muslims enslaved in early America. Crucial to my search’s first years was a 2011 NEH Fellowship, supporting my translation and teaching of such lost manuscripts by enslaved West Africans. To my surprise, I experienced best success in locating these rare and rich sources among the papers of some of the most prominent figures of the early Republic: professors, politicians, and ultimately a U.S. president. This ironic facet of my research process also shapes the book’s narrative, which not only reveals extraordinary acts of authorship by enslaved Muslims, but recounts the improbable dissemination of their Arabic writings, ascending to even the highest halls of U.S. power.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Jefferson’s Muslim Fugitives?

JE: Jefferson’s Muslim Fugitives uncovers the astonishing story that surrounds a date now wholly lost to U.S. history: October 4, 1807–the day that Thomas Jefferson was handed Arabic writings penned by two African Muslims resisting captivity in rural Kentucky. Straddling borders of race, religion and region, the book argues that these Arabic manuscripts formed a vital part of the President’s life-long engagement with Islam, while embodying a broader tradition of literary exchange between enslaved Muslims and the early American elite that has remained largely hidden for two centuries.

JF: Why do we need to read Jefferson’s Muslim Fugitives?

JE: Accessible in style and narrative in structure, Jefferson’s Muslim Fugitives reveals for the first time a range of historic sources that hold urgent contemporary relevance. Straddling polarities–America and Islam; captive West Africans and a U.S. President; the history of slavery and Arabic literacy–the book sheds new light on the fraught legacies of a Founding Father, while also uncovering lost witnesses to a profound heritage of African American authorship. Interweaving manuscript images into its readable account, the book offers direct access to its landmark findings, exhibiting the Arabic sources circulated by Jefferson and his contemporaries, including a previously unseen document from 1788 Georgia, which I identify as the earliest surviving instance of Muslim slave writings in the newly-formed United States.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JE: Looking back, my journey to the field of American History now seems somewhat unlikely. My fascination with the national past was fostered internationally, first sparked during my undergraduate years in Toronto, Canada, and deepened during my graduate work in Cambridge, England. I was most drawn to the field not by traditional topics, but by what seemed lacking in accounts of early America, especially the pivotal but overlooked role played by Middle Eastern languages and literatures in the life of the young Republic. Ironically, it was my early language learning–studying Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian during my degree programs–that proved most decisive for my later pursuit of American historiography, permitting recovery of crucial archival sources that have gone unnoticed precisely due to their Middle Eastern idioms.

JF: What is your next project?

JE: I’m currently working on two books, each of which form differing sequels to Jefferson’s Muslim Fugitives. The first is a study of Jefferson and Native American languages, revealing the critical role played by Orientalism in shaping Indigenous philology, as well as the Middle Eastern interests that infuse the first Cherokee and Dakota newspapers during the decades following Jefferson’s death. The second book is a history of Islam’s startling impact on Civil War-era rhetoric, with Muslim idioms and identities helping to define Lincoln’s own life and legacy specifically. Recovering neglected Arabic manuscripts and military records, the book interweaves Civil War memorials of Muslim slaves and soldiers together with the Orientalist portraits of President Lincoln which pervaded U.S. newsprint at the very height of the nation’s defining struggle.

JF: Thanks, Jeffrey!

The Boston Public Library needs your help transcribing anti-slavery documents

Citizens of Boston

The Boston Public Library has an impressive collection of anti-slavery documents and they are looking for volunteers to help them bring the collection online in a digital format.

Here is a taste of the project:

The Boston Public Library’s Anti-Slavery collection—one of the largest and most important collections of abolitionist material in the United States—contains roughly 40,000 pieces of correspondence, broadsides, newspapers, pamphlets, books, and memorabilia from the 1830s through the 1870s.

The primary production goal of this project is to gain a complete corpus of machine-readable text from these handwritten documents. There are no software programs that can accurately convert handwriting into characters that a computer can understand as an actual letter, number, or symbol. Once the documents have all been transcribed and converted into this machine-readable text, we will upload the text into our repository systemand index them along with their corresponding image files. Users will then be able to search the full text of the letters across the entire collection.

We also plan to make the transcriptions available as a complete, open access data set, with the intention that the corpus will be exposed to machine learning, topic modeling, and other natural language processing and computer.

Learn more here.

Episode 70: Systemic Racism

Podcast

If our mailbox in the wake of the death of George Floyd is any indication, many listeners of this podcast and readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog are making honest efforts to understand the meaning of phrases like “systemic racism” and “white privilege.” Can racism in America be solved by a simple change of individual character? Or does it require much deeper shifts in the ways we order our collective lives? In this episode, we will think through these issues with Dr. Scott Hancock, a professor of African-American history and Africana Studies at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

https://playlist.megaphone.fm?p=ADL7692401175

Trump launched his 2020 campaign tonight. Not much has changed since 2016.

Trump Tulsa

Earlier this evening, Donald Trump started his campaign with a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The number of coronavirus cases in Oklahoma is rising. Most of those who did attend the rally were not wearing masks. With the exception of U.S. Senator James Lankford, none of the politicians Trump asked to stand and be recognized–Senators James Inhofe and Tom Cotton, Representatives Jim Jordan, Debbie Lesko, and Elise Stefanik, and Governor Kevin Stitt–were wearing masks. Six of Trump’s rally staff tested positive for coronavirus this week.

The millions of attendees that Trump promised this week did not show up. It looked like he had a decent crowd in Tulsa’s Bank of Oklahoma Center (BOK), but it was much, much smaller than what the Trump team estimated. As I watched on television (C-SPAN), I saw a lot of empty seats. Trump and Mike Pence had to cancel an outdoor speaking event today because no one came.

Trump chose to say nothing about the country’s race problems. He did not bring-up George Floyd, Juneteenth, the country”s racial unrest, or the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. His silence spoke volumes.

I live-tweeted and retweeted the rally

This is what we mean by Christian nationalism. Pence uses this verse all the time and applies it to the United States. I wrote about the way the Christian Right uses 2 Chronicles 7:14 here and here. Russell Moore has a nice piece on this here.

Much of the material in the link above comes from my discussion of “law and order” and Nixon in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

For those who can’t access the link in the above tweet, you can find it here. During the speech, Trump continued to extol his two Supreme Court justices, although he did not mention either of them by name. Readers will recall that we also looked at the Bostock case this week from the perspective of religious liberty and historical thinking.

I would love to know what was going through the mind of James Lankford during this rally. He does not seem like the kind of guy who likes these kinds of events. As we noted earlier this week, Lankford was behind Trump’s decision to move the Tulsa rally from June 19, 2020 (Juneteenth) to June 20, 2020.

Here is what Americans think about how Trump handled, and is handling, the coronavirus. His lies, mistruths, and partially true statements (at least before April 9, 2020) about the pandemic have been compiled here. The Associated Press reported that Trump “wasted” months before preparing the country for the virus. One could make a good case that Trump’s “America First” policy was to blame.

It is hard to pick the most disgusting thing Trump said tonight, but the above statement would be near the top. It reveals the inner-workings of Trump’s mind. Only a narcissist, who interprets everything through the lens of how it benefits his ambitions, would say publicly that there is a political downside to coronavirus testing.

The last five tweets cover the darkest moments of Trump’s speech

As noted above, Trump said nothing about race in America or Tulsa. Yet he spent a considerable portion of the speech talking about this:

John Gehring nails it. Court evangelicals, cover your ears:

Great observation from Kedron Bardwell:

Let’s remember that in 2016, Trump announced a list of  Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society judges. Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh were on that list. Trump’s promise of a new list, of course, is a direct appeal to the white evangelical base. Trump knows that evangelicals vote for a president based predominantly on his or her promises of conservative Supreme Court appointments. Gorsuch’s majority opinion in the Bostock case will not change anything here. Trump is hoping this strategy will pay off again in November.

Matt Lewis may be correct, but I am pretty sure Trump will give it his best shot.

If you can’t read the link in the above tweet click here.

Here Trump seems to be making a statement about the self-interested nature of humanity and his constituency’s inability to rise above such selfishness. He is essentially saying something like: “I dare you to place your morality and what is right over a strong economy.  You don’t have the guts.” It all reminds me of his “I can stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters” line.

For more on John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, click here.

And the campaign has begun!

Get your facts straight on Juneteenth

Juneteenth_Memorial_Monument_-_George_Washington_Carver_Museum_-_Austin_Texas

The Juneteenth Memorial Sculpture Monument at the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural, and Genealogy Center, Austin, Texas

Check out Afi-Odelia Scrugg‘s helpful piece at The Washington Post. A taste:

National Geographic says, “As newly freed Texans began moving to neighboring states, Juneteenth celebrations spread across the South and beyond.”  CNBC says the holiday spread “as part of the Great Migration of former slaves” out of Texas.

In fact, emancipation celebrations were commonly observed all around the country during the late 19th and early 20th centuries (and, for the record, the Great Migration began around 50 years after the Civil War ended, and it didn’t involve only Texans). They marked the days each state was freed, not the Texas holiday. Washington, D.C., celebrates Emancipation Day on April 16, the date Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act. Some counties in Tennessee, for example, observe Emancipation Day on Aug. 8. The first celebration was held in 1871. The state wasn’t subject to the Emancipation Proclamation because Tennessee was under Union control by June 6, 1862 — four months before Lincoln wrote his preliminary draft. But historians think Aug. 8 marks the date that then-Tennessee military governor Andrew Johnson freed his personal slaves in Greenville, Tenn. Johnson eventually became Lincoln’s vice president and then successor after his assassination. Emancipation Day celebrations in  Ohio attracted thousands and were a stop for campaigning politicians. Ohio has recognized Sept. 22 as Emancipation Day since 2006. That effort was led by a high school history class in Washington Court House, near Columbus. Their testimony for the holiday mentions Juneteenth and urges Ohio to follow Texas’s lead in designating an official emancipation holiday.

Read the entire piece here.

The unsettling similarities between a 1964 George Wallace letter and the rhetoric of Donald Trump

Earlier this week, presidential historian Michael Beschloss tweeted a 1964 letter written by segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace to a woman in Cedar Spring, Michigan:

Wallace letter

Here is the text of the entire letter:

Dear Miss Martin:

This will acknowledge and thank you for your letter of April 8, 1964, in which you request literature on the subject of segregation in the South. We have no material on this subject in our office. As a matter of fact, we have never had a problem here in the South except in a very few isolated instances and these have been the result of outside agitators.

Contrary to reports of many of the national news media and the propaganda distributed by various organizations, our efforts here in the South are not against the Negro citizen. We fight for the betterment of all citizens in our State.

I personally have done more for the Negroes of the State of Alabama than any other individual. I sponsored the Bill which established and provided for the three largest Negro Trade Schools in the South when I was a member of the Legislature. I served on the Board of Trustees of Tuskegee Institute, one of the finest Negro Institutions in America, for a period of two years. Since I have become Governor, I sponsored the program which has provided for two new Negro Junior Colleges and Trade Schools in the State of Alabama, and for the improvement of three already in existence. Through my efforts, all Negro Educational Institutions in the State have the largest appropriations in their history.

In addition, the State of Alabama enjoyed its greatest year of industrial development in 1963. Over 20,000 new jobs were created for the cities of Alabama. Many of these jobs [2] will be filled by Negroes. This industrial expansion will bring about better economic conditions in our State and will offer equality of opportunity.

Negro school teachers in the State of Alabama receive average higher pay than white school teachers. A check of the per capita income of the Negro Citizen of the State of Alabama will disclose that they receive income which is much greater than nearly any other State in the United States.

Our efforts are keyed to a fight to preserve Constitutional Government and States’ Sovereignty –not to hurt our Negro citizens.

White and colored have lived together in the South for generations in peace and equanimity. They each prefer their own pattern of society, their own churches and their own schools – which history and experience have proven are best for both races. (As stated before, outside agitators have created any major friction occurring between the races.) This is true and applies to other areas as well. People who move to the south from sections where there is not a large negro population soon realize and are most outspoken in favor of our customs once they learn for themselves that our design for living is best for all concerned.

With best wishes, I am

Sincerely yours,
George C Wallace

P.S. I am forwarding to you under separate cover copies of two of my speeches. One is on the Civil Rights Bill, the other on Communism.

Wallace writes, “we have never had a problem here in the South except in a very few isolated instances and these have been the result of outside agitators.”

Here is Donald Trump:

Here is Attorney General Bill Barr on May 30, 2020: “Groups of outside radicals and agitators are exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate, violent and extremist agenda.”

The White House retweeted this on June 9:

Read this for a short history of the phrase “outside agitators.” Also, read Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

Here is Wallace again: “Contrary to reports of many of the national news media and the propaganda distributed by various organizations, our efforts here in the South are not against the Negro citizen.”

And Trump:

Wallace again: “We fight for the betterment of all citizens in our state” (Italics mine).

And Trump:

Or watch this:

Wallace wrote, “I personally have done more for the Negroes of the State of Alabama than any other individual.”

Trump:

And this:

Here is Wallace:

I sponsored the Bill which established and provided for the three largest Negro Trade Schools in the South when I was a member of the Legislature….Since I have become Governor, I sponsored the program which has provided for two new Negro Junior Colleges and Trade Schools in the State of Alabama, and for the improvement of three already in existence. Through my efforts, all Negro Educational Institutions in the State have the largest appropriations in their history.

Here is Trump:

Get the full story here.

Wallace again: “In addition, the State of Alabama enjoyed its greatest year of industrial development in 1963. Over 20,000 new jobs were created for the cities of Alabama. Many of these jobs will be filled by Negroes.”

Trump:

History rhymes.

Lonnie Bunch on race in America

Bunch

Lonnie Bunch is the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Over at The Atlantic, Adam Serwer talks with Bunch about our current moment.

Here is a taste:

Adam Serwer: Since George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minnesota on May 25, we’ve seen weeks of protests. Why do you think this is happening now?

Lonnie Bunch: I’ve always shown that protest is the highest form of patriotism. It’s where people demand a country live up to its stated ideals. And I think the pain that came with the murder of George Floyd—but with a long history of this pain—I think people said, I’m tired of mourning. Let me do something besides mourn. Let me challenge a country to live up to its stated ideals. And I think that’s what you’re seeing in the protests.

Serwer: Some activists and black leaders have said that this moment feels different from, you know, previous protests. Obviously there have been outcries against police brutality before—I’m thinking of Ferguson, Baltimore. Do you agree that this moment is different? And why or why not?

Bunch: I think there’s some parts of this that are different, but let’s be honest: This is part of the long arc. What’s clear is that this is part of an arc that says that, as long as America has viewed itself as a democracy, it’s also been a place of racism, of systematic racism, and discrimination. So for me, this is something that I’ve seen many times before, through the eyes of the past. What’s different this time is that, one, you’re seeing such a diversity of people around the world clamoring for America to do better, clamoring for the struggle against police violence to be taken seriously. But you’re also seeing, I think, people who I’ve never heard speak before. I see police officers, some members of police departments, and police chiefs raising questions about, we can do better, we can do differently. So I am hopeful, but I’m not sure I’m optimistic, because we’ve seen this happen, time and time again.

Read the entire interview here.

Controversy over “Gone with the Wind” has a long history

Gone with the Wind protests

After the killing of George Floyd and the social unrest that followed it, HBO Max decided to temporarily remove the movie “Gone With the Wind” from its streaming service.  As Jennifer Schuessler writes at The New York Times, this is not the first time controversy has raged about this popular film. Here is a taste of her piece “The Long Battle Over ‘Gone  With the Wind‘”:

But even as white Americans embraced the moonlight and magnolias, African-Americans were registering objections. Soon after the producer David O. Selznick bought the rights, there were complaints that a movie version would incite violence, spread bigotry and even derail a proposed federal anti-lynching bill.

Margaret Mitchell reacted dismissively to the criticism. “I do not intend to let any troublemaking Professional Negros change my feelings towards the race with whom my relations have always been those of affection and mutual respect,” she wrote to a friend.

Selznick did a more complicated dance. “I for one have no desire to produce any anti-Negro film,” he wrote in a memo to the screenwriter Sidney Howard. “In our picture I think we have to be awfully careful that the Negroes come out decidedly on the right side of the ledger.”

In 1936, Walter White, the secretary of the NAACP, wrote to him expressing concern, and suggesting he hire someone, preferably an African-American, to check “possible errors” of fact and interpretation. “The writing of history of the Reconstruction period has been so completely confederatized during the last two or three generations that we naturally are somewhat anxious,” he wrote.

Read the entire piece here.

In Fox News interview, Trump suggests it is possible he has done more for African Americans than Lincoln. TRANSCRIPT

Here is Trump’s interview with Fox News journalist Harris Faulkner:

This rough transcript is taken off the video above. My annotations are in purple.

Faulkner: Mr. President, with all that’s happened in the last couple of weeks I feel like we are at one of those historical moments where future generations will look back and they’ll decide who we were. Are you the president to unite all of us, given everything that’s happening right now.?

Trump: Well I certainly think so and I certainly hope so. The relationships we have are incredible. The spirit of this country and especially considering what happened. We had out of nowhere a plague come in from China–it just came in. And it came all over the world. It went all over the world. You look at 186 countries and they were devastated. And we were certainly hit very hard. Some were hit harder than us, relatively. But we were hit very very hard. And now we are making our comeback.  NOTE: Trump continually uses COVID-19 as an excuse for his failed presidency.  He believes everything was going well until we got hit by the “plague.” He sees the coronavirus as an unfortunate parenthesis in what was, and will continue to be, one of the greatest presidencies in American history. In reality, COVID-19 and his response to the social unrest in the wake of the killing of George Floyd will actually define his presidency. This is the time when people needed a president. Sadly, we did not have one.

And then on top of it we had the riots, which were unnecessary to the extent they were. If the governors and mayors would have taken a stronger action I think the riots would have been–you could call them protesters, you could call them riots, there were different nights, different things. In Minneapolis they went numerous nights and I said “you got to get the [National] Guard in there. We got the Guard in there and it all stopped. It could have done that earlier. NOTE: The protests continue to take place.

No you look at what’s going on–I mean you could look at couple of places that are in such great shape–but then you look at Seattle, what’s that all about? How did they allow that to happen? That’s just a bad philosophy.

So I think it’s incredible where we are and what we’ve done considering where we came from. We were riding high. We had the greatest economy in history. We had the greatest employment numbers in history, including black, African American. And if you look at the African American numbers they were incredible–best they’ve ever been. Spanish. If you’d look at Hispanic and Asian numbers, women numbers, everybody. And then we got hit with this plague. This horrible plague. And it was devastating for many ways, including the lives that were lost. That can’t be never be regained. Economics we’re gonna economically we gonna be great. Next year we’re gonna have a fantastic year. I think we’re gonna have a fantastic third quarter. But you can never replace the lives.

Faulkner: I want to talk with you about where we are just in terms of the black community, people of color. I hear you use the word “rioter” and I understand, we covered it on Fox News, I covered much of that at night as it was bursting a couple of Saturday nights ago. The looting. And it was heart-breaking to see businesses, small businesses, which we know employ more than 66% of people in America.

Trump: Devastating.

Faulkner: It was. At the same time you had peaceful protesters. And they were hurting. And I know from your team you watched that eight minutes and forty-six seconds of George Floyd.

Trump: I did.

Faulkner: And Mr. President, your response to that is different than a person of color. And I’m a Mom. When he called-out “Mom” on that tape, it’s a heart punch. So I’m curious from you what do you think the protesters–not the looters and the rioters, we’re intelligent enough to know the difference in our country right–what do you think they want? What do you think they need right now? From you? NOTE: As you will see in the next paragraph, Faulkner asked Trump a question that he is incapable of answering. 

Trump: So I think you had protesters for different reasons. And then you had protesting also because they just didn’t know. I’ve watched. I’ve watched them very closely. ‘Why are you here?’ And they really weren’t able to say. But they were there, for no reason perhaps. But a lot of them really were there because they’re following the crowd. A lot of them were there because what we witnessed was a terrible thing. What we saw was a terrible thing. And we’ve seen it over the years. This was one horrible example, but you’ve seen other terrible examples. You know that, better than anybody would know it. And I know it. I’ve seen it too. I’ve seen it before I was president and during the presidency. NOTE: Trump continues to blur the difference between rioters and peaceful protesters despite the fact that Faulkner made it clear in her question that “intelligent” people know the difference. He fails to answer her question about what the African-American community needs from him right now. 

Faulkner: What do you say to them? NOTE: Faulkner won’t let him off the hook on this one.

Trump: I think it’s a shame. I think it’s a disgrace. And it’s gotta stop. At the same time, you also know that we have incredible people in law enforcement and we have to cherish them and take care of them and we can’t let something like this where you have a bad apple go out and destroy the image of a whole, of millions of people who take really good care of us. And then you have a movement where they say, “let’s not have a police department.” And you say where are these people coming from. NOTE: Trump gives lip service to George Floyd’s death, but he never says his name. In fact, he never says his name during the entire interview. And then he pivots to law enforcement.  It is worth noting that virtually no one wants to do away with police departments. But Trump needs his base to believe this. It will be a major talking point for the November election. Trump also repeats his “bad apple” approach to racism. In other words, this is not about systemic racism. It is only about a few bad cops.

Faulkner: So do you think you’re perhaps closer to where the nation might have been right now with police reform? You’ve got both sides talking. You’ve got the third most powerful person in the House, James Clyburn, saying “no” to defunding police. We need reform. NOTE:  Here is Clyburn.

Trump: “That’s a big step when he says “no” because everyone understands that. And I don’t know, is that just a phrase to break things up? NOTE: Again, Trump tries to pivot back to his campaign strategy here by suggesting that Clyburn really wants to dump police departments. As you see in her follow-up question, Faulkner won’t let that happen.

Faulkner: No, because he was talking about some of the things that would be in a bipartisan bill. I mean I can’t put words in his mouth, I can only tell you what he said.

Trump: No, I’m not talking about him, I’m saying when they talk about police, when they actually talk about beyond defunding, they actually go all out. Because defunding to a lot of people means break-up the police forces and either that or don’t give them any money so essentially their breaking-up.

Faulkner: What do you want to see? What is police reform to you?

Trump: I want to see really compassionate, but strong law enforcement, police force, but law enforcement. NOTE: In other words, Trump does not have any real plan.

Faulkner: Say “no” to choke-holds?

Trump: I don’t like choke-holds. Now I will say this. As someone who, you know, you grow-up and you wrestle and you fight or you see what happens, sometimes if you’re alone and you’re fighting someone whose tough, and you get somebody in a choke-hold, what are you going to do say “Oh, I don’t” and its a real bad person and you know that and they do exist, I mean we have some real bad people. You saw that during the last couple of weeks. You saw some very good people protesting, but you saw some bad people also. And you get someone in a choke-hold and what are you going to do now, let go and say “let’s start all over again, I’m not allowed you to have you in a choke-hold?” It’s a tough situation. Now if you have two people in the case that we’re talking about, you had four people. And two of them I guess pretty much started. It’s a very, very tricky situation. So the choke-hold thing is good to talk about because off-the-cuff it would sound like “absolutely,” but if you’re thinking about it, then you realize maybe there is a bad fight and the officer gets somebody in a position that’s a very tough position.

Faulkner: So say it’s a sliding scale depending on what the circumstances are. Do you want to be in that conversation? Are you in that conversation?

Trump: I really am. And I think the concept of choke-holds sounds so innocent, so perfect, and then you realize if its a one-on-one, now if it’s two-on-one then it’s a little bit of a different story depending, depending on the toughness and strength. You know we’re talking about toughness and strength. We are talking, there’s a physical think here also. But if a police officer is in a bad scuffle and he’s got somebody in a choke-hold

Faulkner: Well, if it’s a one-on-one fight for the life.

Trump: Yeah. And that does happen. That does happen. So you have to be careful. With that being said, it would be I think a very good thing that generally speaking it should be ended. NOTE: Trump could care less about choke-holds. This is a political dance. Choke-holds are “perfect.” It’s about “toughness and strength.” “Generally speaking it should be ended.” Just another word salad.

Faulkner: That’s interesting. Do you want that to be a top-down federal, or should it be at the local level?

Trump: Well it could be at the local level.

Faulkner: Because that’s the question right now as Congress goes back and forth too.

Trump: It could be local level and in some cases it will be local level. But I think we can certainly make recommendations and they could be very strong recommendations.

Faulkner: When you look at me and I’m Harris on TV, but I’m a black woman. I’m a Mom. And you know, when, and you’ve talked about it but we haven’t seen you come out and be that consoler in this instance. And the tweets. ‘When the looting starts, the shooting starts.’ Why those words?

Trump: So, that’s an expression I’ve heard over the years.

Faulkner: Do you know where it comes from?

Trump: I think Philadelphia, the mayor of Philadelphia

Faulkner: It comes from 1967. I was about eighteen months old at the time. Everybody’s shooting wiki because they probably got it wrong. But it was from the chief of police in Miami. He was cracking-down. And he meant what he said. And he said “I don’t even care if it makes it look like brutality, I’m gonna crack down.” When the looting starts the shooting starts. NOTE: See our post on this history here.

Trump: Yeah.

Faulkner: That frightened a lot of people when you tweeted that.

Trump: It also comes from a very tough mayor, who might have been police commissioner at the time, but I think mayor of Philadelphia named Frank Rizzo. And he had an expression like that. But I’ve heard it many times, I think it’s been used many times. It means two things. Very different things. One is if there is looting there is probably gonna be shooting and that’s not a threat, that’s really just a fact because that’s what happens. And the other is, if there’s looting there’s going to be shooting. Their very different meanings.

Faulkner: How interesting?

Trump: No, there’s very different meanings.

Faulkner: Do you think most people see it that way?

Trump: I think they see it both ways. No, I’ve had it viewed both ways. I think it’s meant both ways. Not by the same person. But when the looting starts it often times means their is going to be shooting, there’s going to be death, there’s going to be killing and its a bad thing. And it’s also used as a threat. It’s used both ways. But if you think about it, look at what happened, how people were devastated with the looting. Look at what happened. NOTE: Read Trump’s last three paragraphs aloud. They make no sense. We all know what Trump meant by that tweet. So does he. 

Faulkner: Your rally in Oklahoma is set for June 19th. Was that on purpose?

Trump: No, but I know exactly what you’re going to say.

Faulkner: I’m just asking.

Trump: Think about it.

Faulkner: I’ve not got anything to say.

Trump: Think about is as a celebration. My rally is a celebration. We’re going to Oklahoma and if you think about it relative to your question think about it as a celebration. Don’t think about it as an inconvenience. Think about this as a celebration.

Faulkner: Oh, no, no, no. It’s on the day of African-American emancipation.

Trump: The fact that I’m having a rally on that day, you can really think about that very positively as a celebration. Cause a rally to me is a celebration. It’s gonna be a celebration and its an interesting date. It wasn’t done for that reason but its an interesting date. But it’s a celebration. NOTE: Someone must have told Trump to pitch his Tulsa rally as a “celebration.” He uses the word eight times in about a minute or two.  Notice that Trump never explains what will be celebrated at the rally. An “interesting date?” That’s all he has to say about Juneteenth? If scheduling the rally on Juneteenth was a mistake (a mistake which reveals the racial insensitivity of the Trump presidency), his answer to this question might provide a wonderful opportunity to apologize, admit it was a mistake, and perhaps say something about the meaning of this day for the African-American community. He does not of this. Since this interview aired, Trump has moved the rally to June 20.

Faulkner: Talk to me about police reform. You call yourself the “law and order president.” What does that mean?

Trump: We are going to do lots of, I think, good things. We also have to keep our police and our law enforcement strong. They have to do it right. They have to be trained in a proper manner. They to do it right. Again, the sad thing is that they are very professional. But when you see an event like that with the more than eight minutes of horror–that eight minutes of horror, it’s a disgrace–then people are saying “are all police like that?” They don’t know. Maybe they don’t think about it that much. It doesn’t make any difference. The fact is they start saying ‘well, police are like that.’ Police aren’t like that. NOTE: When he says he is a law and order president he means this.

Faulkner: Can the “law and order president” also be the “consoler-in-chief?”

Trump: Yes. I think so. I think the “law and order president” can keep a situation like Seattle from ever happening. It should never happen. What happened in Seattle, what happened in Minneapolis should never happen.

Faulkner: You had some harsh words to say about Seattle’s mayor. Why?

Trump: Because I saw her break down. I saw her leave. I saw her have absolutely no control. And I saw her make a lot of bad decisions including “don’t do anything that’s going to affect anybody.” Toughness sometimes is the most compassionate. Because people are getting badly hurt. Look at what happened in Minneapolis where they left the precinct. The city was a great place. I’ve been there many times. It’s a great place.

Faulkner: Can you talk about the black police officer who was killed?

Trump: By being compassionate, she thought she was being compassionate or in the case of Minneapolis the young gentleman, the mayor, thought he was being compassionate. I mean what was that all about? And look at the damage and the travesty and the small business and the death. Look at what happened. So by being soft and weak you end-up not being compassionate. It ends-up being a very dangerous situation. NOTE: Trump does not understand the meaning of “consolation” or “compassion.”

Faulkner: I want to talk with you about revitalization in black communities. The focus of the opportunity zones that you put into place, I think it was late 2017.

Trump: Right, Tim Scott.

Faulkner: Senator Tim Scott. How does all that fit into talking with the protesters and people right now wanting for the black community, and not just black, but communities of color, people who are disadvantaged in general. I mean the economy is a great unifier right?

Trump: I think I’ve done more for the black community than any other president. And let’s take a pass on Abraham Lincoln, because he did good, although it’s always questionable, you know in other words the end result. NOTE: Trump’s narcissism is on display here. He cannot admit that Lincoln was a better president. Faulkner calls him out on it:

Faulkner: Well, we are free Mr. President. He did pretty well.

Trump: But we are free. You understand what I meant. So I’m gonna take a pass on Abe, Honest Abe as we call him.

Faulkner: But you say you’ve done more than anybody.

Trump: Well, look. Criminal justice reform, nobody else could have done it. I did it. I didn’t get a lot of notoriety, in fact the people I did it for then go on television and thank everybody but me and they needed me to get it done and I got it done and I got five or six Republican senators who had no interest in getting it done and they were great and got it done. We did that. The historically black colleges and universities were not funded, the weren’t funded. I got them funded on a long-term basis and took care of, I became friendly, every year for three years, you know the story, they would the heads, the deans, the presidents of the universities and colleges would come up. I got to know them. Forty-four or so people would come up to the Oval Office. First year was normal. I said “alright, let’s do it.” Second year I said, “why you back again?” Third year I said, “why are you here?” They said because for many years we’ve had to come back here every single year. One of them, great people, said “we have to beg for money.” I said, “you shouldn’t be begging, you should be back at your colleges or universities and you should be teaching and doing the job.” I got them long-term money. More than they had. Much more than they had. And I got it permanent. They don’t have to come back into Washington D.C. I said “the only bad part is I won’t see you again, maybe.” It was true. There were like forty-four guys, they were great people. But I took care of that. Opportunity zones, I did that. Prison reform. I mean I’ve done more, I mean, Harris, honestly, I’ve done more. NOTE: Trump’s record with historically black colleges has been mixed.

Faulkner: Were those hit in some of the rioting? Those cities? Those opportunity zones?

Trump: The opportunity zones where vast amounts of money are going into areas that never got money. They’re investing. The people that put the money have tax advantages or they get certain advantages otherwise their not gonna put-up their money. And it affects tremendously the employment in areas that were absolutely dead or dying.

Faulkner: So they should bounce back faster, either from the pandemic or from this latest round of destruction.

Trump: They were bouncing back really well and then we got the plague. OK. But they’ll be. And will get this straightened out with what this is now. You can never lose, we can never gain back all of those lives that were lost. Outside of that, we’re going to be in very, very strong shape. We have tremendous stimulus. We have a lot of things happening.

Faulkner:  I was gonna toggle right then to former commander in Louisville I believe Dorn, David Dorn.

Trump: Yes, I called his wife last night.

Faulkner: You talked with Anne Marie?

Trump: Yes.

Faulkner: It didn’t get a lot of coverage. We talked about it on both my shows on Fox. But his murder was streamed live on Facebook. African-American cop. These have been a really tough couple of weeks. And you have lost people of color on both sides of what I guess would be termed as a fight, although I think we’re all in this together, and we’ve got to get to a better place.

Trump: With Chief Dorn, so I spoke to his wife. She was devastated. Sounds just like a great woman. But did you see all the people that went to that funeral. It was incredible. So the people get it. But whatever it is, you’ll have to explain this one to me, it wasn’t covered. This was an African American, top guy, many years on the force. NOTE: Dorn’s death was covered by CNN, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABCThe New York Times, the Associated Press, and The Washington Post.

Faulkner: Killed by looters, streamed live on Facebook.

Trump: Killed by looters. And he wasn’t being aggressive either. He was just

Faulkner: He was defending his friend’s pawn shop.

Trump: He was a very professional guy. And he was killed. And why didn’t that get any air time? And yet the people got it, because when you looked at what, I don’t know if you got to see that, the lines were around the block. It was a beautiful thing to say.

Faulkner: Oh yeah. The visitation on Monday and the funeral the next. Absolutely. 6100 people.

Trump: But no, he was a great gentleman. I just say this, if there were more toughness you wouldn’t have the kind of devastation that you had in Minneapolis and Seattle. I mean let’s see what’s going-on in Seattle, but I will tell you if they don’t straighten that situation out, we’re gonna straighten it out.

Faulkner: And what do you mean by that? I don’t know if you caught it, but governor Cuomo was so upset with Mayor DeBlasio of New York he said “I’m gonna displace him.” I don’t really know how that would work, but, I mean, is that what you mean in Seattle?

Trump: What I mean is very simple. We’re not gonna let Seattle be occupied by anarchists. And I’m not calling them protesters

Faulkner: Have you talked to the mayor?

Trump: No, but I got to see a performance that I’ve never seen before. You think he was  weak person in Minneapolis, the woman, I don’t know, have she ever done this before.

Faulkner: In Seattle?

Trump: Oh, it’s pathetic. No, no. We’re not going to let this happen in Seattle. If we have to go in, we’re going to go in. The governor’s either gonna do it, let the governor do it, he’s got great National Guard troops, he can do it. But one way or the other it’s gonna get done. These people are not gonna occupy a major portion of a great city. They’re not gonna do it. And they can solve that problem very easily.

Faulkner: General Milley, Joint Chiefs of Staff, I don’t know how much you knew what he was going to say today before he spoke. But he says he regrets having been there [at Trump’s photo-op on June 1]. He apologized having been there on the Lafayette Square with you for the picture. The infamous picture as you walked to the church and held the Bible.

Trump: I think it was a beautiful picture. And I tell you I think Christians think it was a beautiful picture.  NOTE: I commented on this here. I also spoke to The Guardian and Australian public radio about it. Not all Christians thought it was a beautiful picture.

Faulkner: But why do you think you’re hearing from General Miller, from Secretary of Defense Esper, and not why you think you are, but do you think it’s significant?

Trump: No. I don’t think so. No, if that’s the way they feel I think that’s fine. I have good relationships with the military. I’ve rebuilt our military. I spent two and a half trillion dollars, nobody else did. When we took it over from President Obama, and Biden, the military was a joke. The military was depleted. NOTE: Learn more about how the military brass responded to his photo-op here and here. Trump is obviously angry about this. He pivots to his general support for the military.

Faulkner: I have one last question. It has to do with Joe Biden. Did you hear what he said today?

Trump: No, I didn’t.

Faulkner: OK. He said (sarcastically laughing) that he believes you will steal the election and if you don’t win he thinks that military will escort you from the White House. NOTE: Faulkner threw Trump a lot of softballs in this interview. Her sarcastic chuckle as she asks this question explains why many believe that Fox News is state television.

Trump: Look. Joe’s not all there. Everybody knows it. And it’s sad when you look at it and you see it, you see it for yourself. He’s created his own sanctuary city in the basement of wherever he is and he doesn’t come out. And certainly if I don’t win, I don’t win. I mean you know, go on and do other things. I think it would be a very sad day for our country. NOTE: First, expect more of these attacks on Biden in the coming months. Second, I don’t believe Trump will go peacefully.

How the White House Responded to the Call to Change the Names of Military Bases

Fort Bragg

We covered this here. The U.S. Army is willing to discuss renaming Fort Bragg, one of ten bases named after Confederate military leaders.

Donald Trump, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, refuses to consider the change:

“Winning, Victory, and Freedom?” These bases are named after men who fought against their country and lost.

Trump’s use of the word “heritage” here is revealing. When people use the word “heritage” they are often talking more about the present than the past. The purpose of “heritage,” writes historian David Lowenthal, is to “domesticate the past” so that it can be enlisted “for present causes.” It is a way of approaching the past that is fundamentally different than the discipline of history. History explores and explains the past in all its fullness and complexity. Heritage calls attention to the past to make a political point. Since the purpose of heritage is to cultivate a sense of collective or national identity, it is rarely concerned with nuance, paradox, or complexity. As Lowenthal writes, devotion to heritage is a “spiritual calling”–it answers needs for ritual devotions.

This, of course, is why so many people in the South love to talk about their “heritage.” Confederate heritage operates through a series of rituals–the celebration of Confederate heroes, the waving of the Confederate flag, and glorification of white supremacy.

The renaming of these bases does not take anything away from the soldiers who fought our World Wars. Like the Bible photo-op at St. John’s Church, this is just another Trump appeal to his white base in an election year. And he has played this monument card before. Let’s remember when Trump tried to defend Confederate monuments in the wake of the Charlottesville race riots.

And then Trump’s press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tries to explain:

McEnany reads Trump’s tweet and says “we spent some time working on that.” So this was not an off-the-cuff tweet from Trump, it was a premeditated statement. Trump, McEnany, and the rest of the staff worked hard to compose it.

At the 10:30 mark, McEnany says:

He [Trump] does stand against the renaming of our forts, these great American fortresses where literally some of these men and women who lost their lives–the went out to Europe and Afghanistan and Iraq, and all across this world to win world wars on behalf of freedom. A lot of times, the very last place they saw was one of these forts. And to suggest that these forts were somehow inherently racist and their names need to be changed is a complete disrespect to the men and women who the last bit of American land they saw before they want over seas and lost their lives were these forts.

This is crazy. No one is saying to get rid of these forts. It is nonsensical to connect this kind of name change with “the very last place” a soldier saw before they went off to war. We can begin by mentioning that many of these soldiers sent to fight in the wars McEnany lists above were African Americans. I am sure many of their families are thrilled about the proposed name changes.

She picks it up again at the 23:30 mark and spins it into an attack on Joe Biden.

What would the late Ravi Zacharias think about this sophistry? What would the man most associated with the cross hanging from McEnany’s neck think about this?

I have noticed a new kind of public figure has emerged during the age of Trump, but I am sure some of my historian friends will tell me that this kind of person has been around for a long time. These are men and women who sound articulate, but are not really making any sense.

“Ahmaud Arbery was undeniably lynched”

Arbery

I don’t think I have anything additional to add to some of the commentary on the tragic and unjust shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. Joe Biden demands justice. David French condemned the sense of vigilante justice that led to Arbery’s death. Theologian Russell Moore brings some theological reflection here.

Malcolm Foley‘s piece at the blog Mere Orthodoxy is also worth a read.  Foley is a graduate student in religion at Baylor University who is writing a dissertation on lynching.

A taste:

The United States has a long history of racial terror lynchings. Particularly from the Civil War until this day, thousands of Black men, women and children have been indiscriminately killed for a myriad of reasons. When that killing took place at the hands of 3 or more, it was called a lynching. In attempts to address the phenomenon legally, the definition of the term has been restricted, particularly by the NAACP, to be a killing in which the killers acted under the pretext of justice, their race, or tradition.

If this is in fact the definition of lynching, Ahmaud Arbery was undeniably lynched.

But Black communities (and anyone familiar with this history) do not need that definition to see the resonance and to feel the terror that comes with reading such a story.

The same feeling wracked communities in Montgomery, Alabama on July 25, 1917 when Will and Jesse Powell were lynched to a tree for brushing against a farmer’s horse.

That same feeling wracked communities in Missouri and Arkansas in June, 1926, when Albert Blades, 22, was hanged and burned for attacking a small white girl. Evidence actually suggests, however, that he was merely present at a picnic grounds where this girl was playing with her friend and she was startled by his presence.

That same feeling wracked communities in Texas and around the country when Botham Jean was murdered in his own apartment.

The message was the same then as it is now: if you “fit the description”, you are not safe to walk. You are not safe to sit in your own apartment. You are not safe to run outside. Such is the purpose of racial terror lynchings, both now and historically.

So then the question remains: what ought we do about it? To answer that question, as both a historian and someone who is fundamentally devoted to the body of Christ in such work, I must answer that question by answering these questions: how has the body of Christ failed to do such work and how can we do better?

Read the rest here.

Historian: North Carolina Opened Too Soon in 1918

NC Flu

“Canteen workers, Charlotte, N.C. Taking food to the colored family all down with the ‘Flu.’ They found the mother had just died…” (Library of Congress)

Check out Ned Barnett’s Raleigh News Observer story on the 1918 pandemic in North Carolina based on his interview with Chapel Hill professor James Leloudis.

A taste:

The 1918 pandemic came through North Carolina in three waves: a small one in the summer of that year, a big one in the fall and winter and another smaller one in the winter of 1919.

“What gives me pause when I look back at 1918 is I think about the second wave,” Leloudis said. “People did social distancing and there was this sense of ‘that’s behind us and we can all move on’ and then the second wave hit and it was just devastating.”

By the end, 20 percent of the state – some 520,000 people – were infected and 13,644 died.

“One clear lesson of the 1918 pandemic is to be wary of that kind of thinking,” Leloudis said. “Letting down the guard in that case turned out to be disastrous. It’s the same situation we are in now.”

In North Carolina as of Friday, there were 10,923 confirmed cases of infection with the new coronavirus and 399 deaths. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, says the U.S. is almost certain to face a second surge this fall and winter.

Many say the COVID-19 crisis will change American society and politics, but Leloudis said that was not the case after the 1918 pandemic. Health care in North Carolina did not improve and the number of hospitals actually declined.

Leloudis said one troubling aspect of the COVID-19 crisis is that it also mirrors the racial inequities of a century ago.

Read the rest here.

Andrew Bacevich on the 1619 Project

1619

Here is a taste of Bacevich‘s take:

…That annoyance notwithstanding, there is actually more afoot here than journalists usurping prerogatives traditionally reserved for highly trained scholars. While the architects of the 1619 Project may be making claims that go beyond what the available evidence will support, let me suggest that they are on to something: as a touchstone of national identity, the familiar tale of 1776, itself encrusted with patriotic lore, no longer cuts it.

Yet the subversive implications of the 1619 Project extend well beyond questioning the hitherto sacrosanct American Revolution. Whether consciously or not, the editors of the Times are tampering with the overarching meta-history that shapes the way that most citizens—and especially members of the elite—are accustomed to situating America in the broader stream of human history. That meta-history centers on three events enshrined in American memory as acts of liberation: the Revolution, the Civil War, and World War II. Together the elements of this Sacred Trilogy have served to validate the claim that history itself has anointed the United States as its chosen agent of liberation, empowered both to define freedom and to ensure its ultimate triumph. If, as Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1787, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” it is from these three violent episodes that the United States has drawn sustenance. Or so the story goes. Yet admit the possibility that the impetus for proclaiming independence in 1776 might have differed from the ideals specified in Jefferson’s famous Declaration, and the other elements of the Sacred Trilogy likewise become fair game.

Read the entire piece here.