The Author’s Corner with Hannah-Rose Murray

Hannah-Rose Murray is Early Career Leverhulme Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. She is also the creator of a virtual Black Abolitionist tour of London, highlighting six important sites where African American activists made an impact on the UK landscape. This interview is based on her new book, Advocates of Freedom: African American Transatlantic Abolitionism in the British Isles (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Advocates for Freedom?

HM: The book developed from my PhD project, which focused on Black abolitionism in the British Isles during the nineteenth century. When I first started my research, I collated thousands of newspaper articles about Frederick Douglass’ visit to Britain and Ireland between 1845-1847, and after reading the pioneering works of Richard Blackett and Audrey Fisch realized that there was a wealth of material and sources to search through and uncover the larger story behind this transatlantic movement. I was fascinated to learn why Douglass was so famous and I developed a framework, adaptive resistance, which explores the reason why some activists were more successful than others: broadly, it’s a triad that rests on performance, antislavery networks and exploitation of print culture. For example, one of the reasons why Douglass was so successful in 1845 was due to his oratorical skill, his connections to William Lloyd Garrison’s antislavery movement and friends across Britain and Ireland, who in turn befriended newspaper editors and published pamphlets and materials to maximise support for Douglass and the abolitionist cause. Others, like Moses Roper, were maligned in the press by newspaper correspondents and by some abolitionists; he often had to make his own way around Britain without such concrete networks of support. Through excavating British newspaper articles, I could analyze their performances, their testimony and how they were received by the press and public across the nineteenth century, and how certain events–like the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the American Civil War impacted their missions. Additionally, I created a mapping project that attempts to record as many African American speaking locations as possible. So far, I’ve mapped 4,700 sites in 1,550 locations across Britain and Ireland. As well as being a handy visualization tool for my research, it also presents numerous analytical patterns: why certain activists spoke in some locations rather than others and even how some followed early railway routes for ease of transportation. This filtered into the book too.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Advocates for Freedom?

HM: I argue that by sharing their oratorical, visual, and literary testimony to transatlantic audiences, African American activists galvanised the antislavery movement and highlighted not only their death-defying escapes from bondage but also their desire to speak out against slavery and white supremacy on foreign soil. Using a framework I term adaptive resistance, I uncover the reasons why some activists were more successful than others, why they visited certain locations, how they adapted to the political and social climate, and what impact their activism had on British society.

JF: Why do we need to read Advocates for Freedom?

HM: The politicized and radical journeys undertaken by African Americans to the British Isles are crucial to understanding their testimony and future careers, but also the antislavery movement and the Black Atlantic as a whole. For the first time, my book reveals new testimony and archival discoveries surrounding the stories of Moses Roper, Frederick Douglass and Josiah Henson (to name a few) and uses digital mapping to analyze their antislavery missions as well as a theoretical framework to determine why some activists were more successful than others. In this detailed study, I examine how in Britain and Ireland, thousands of slave narratives and abolitionist pamphlets were sold, petitions were signed, hundreds of pounds were raised for societies or given directly to help purchase individuals or their family members from slavery. Thousands more attended meetings at chapels, town halls, school rooms and lecturing halls, who often queued for hours beforehand and millions of words were written in response to Black activists and their stories of slavery. These activists challenged misconceptions of slavery, advanced the cause of abolition and mobilized public opinion. Through their interventions with the press, correspondents published Black abolitionist letters, speeches and commentaries, and their message was spread often beyond their immediate reach or where they had lectured. Their tireless activism often created and sustained antislavery momentum across the transatlantic, and their international missions inspired further action as well as apoplectic rage in the United States.

My work is also timely: as the Black Lives Matter protests continue to take place around the world, it’s important to recognize that the activists I discuss were declaring that their Black lives mattered nearly two centuries ago. It’s well documented that the movement has strong historical roots, but my chapter on Ida B. Wells’ lynching campaign in Britain in 1893 and 1894 is particularly prescient when we consider the modern lynchings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The book highlights not only the trajectory between activists in the c19th and today, but also how far we still have to go to accomplish their anti-racist missions.

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

HM: I have always loved learning about U.S. history since I was a teenager and was very lucky to visit America a few times when I was studying in secondary school. I started working on Frederick Douglass’ experiences in Britain ten years ago, achieved my PhD in 2018 and haven’t looked back since! My work centres around the rediscovery and amplification of African American testimony–including from Frederick Douglass–to ensure that their lives, histories and memories are no longer invisibilized. Their testimony can also shine a new light on their courageous and inspiring activism on both sides of the Atlantic and remind us that antislavery agitation had a fundamental transatlantic element. Activists like Douglass believed that their missions abroad would have very real consequences for enslavers, proslavery defenders, and racists back home.

JF: What is your next project?

HM: I envision Advocates of Freedom as part of a trilogy: this current work is quite broad and extends from the late 1830s to the early 1890s, so the project I’m working on now is a focused study between 1840-1870. I’m studying the ways in which African Americans used visual and performative testimony in the British Isles to convince the transatlantic public about slavery. For example, Moses Roper exhibited whips, chains and manacles on the Victorian stage and even demonstrated how they worked to his audiences. Henry ‘Box’ Brown, the infamous activist, lecturer and entertainer who escaped slavery by posting himself in a box from Richmond to Philadelphia, starred in a play based on his own life in Kent, England. Other activists like James C. Thompson wrote his own poetry and performed it to his audiences and exhibited paintings of his life in slavery. It’s fascinating to consider how activists used growing technological and visual mediums to inform audiences and entice them to their lectures.

The third book in this ‘trilogy’ (if it does get that far!) will focus on African American postbellum activism in the British Isles. Activists continued to travel to Britain and Ireland and followed in the footsteps of their forebears to raise awareness and educate transatlantic audiences on global racism. Additionally, they campaigned around the fact that, contrary to popular belief, U.S. chattel slavery had never actually died. Instead, its foul spirit had mutated and evolved into practices such as lynching and the convict lease system, which preserved the legacies of centuries of oppression. While antebellum slave narratives and speeches distinctly served the purpose of abolition, post-war testimony–particularly in oratorical form–was specifically shaped around abolition’s broken promises. They continued to denounce white supremacy, challenge Lost Cause narratives and white domestic terrorism up to the early twentieth century.

JF: Thanks, Hannah-Rose!

The Kamala Harris pick in historical context

Chisolm

Over at The Conversation, University of Florida political scientist Sharon Austin puts Joe Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris as his running mate in the context of other Black women who aimed for the White House.

Here is a taste of her piece:

Kamala Harris is a registered Democrat who served as California’s attorney general and later one of the state’s U.S. senators. But, historically, most Black female presidential candidates have run as independents.

In 1968, 38-year-old Charlene Mitchell of Ohio became the first Black woman to run for president, as a communist. Like many other African Americans born in the 1930s, Mitchell joined the Communist Party because of its emphasis on racial and gender equality. Black female communists fought Jim Crow, lynchings and unfair labor practices for men and women of all races.

Mitchell’s presidential campaign, which focused on civil rights and poverty, was probably doomed from the start. In 1968, many states didn’t allow communists on the ballot. Media outlets from the Boston Globe to the Chicago Tribune also discussed Mitchell’s “unsuitability” as a candidate because she was both Black and female. Mitchell received just 1,075 votes.

Other independent Black female presidential candidates have been community organizer Margaret Wright, who ran on the People’s Party ticket in 1976; Isabell Masters, a teacher who created her own third party, called Looking Back and ran in 1984, 1992 and 2004; and teacher Monica Moorehead of the Workers World Party ticket, who ran in 1996, 2000 and 2016.

In 2008, the year Barack Obama was elected president, Cynthia McKinney, a former U.S. representative from Georgia, was a nominee of the Green Party. And in 2012, Peta Lindsay ran to unseat President Obama from the left, on the Party for Socialism and Liberation ticket.

Only one Black woman has ever pursued the Republican nomination: Angel Joy Charvis, a religious conservative from Florida, who wanted to use her 1999 candidacy to “to recruit a new breed of Republican.”

These Black female presidential candidates were little known. But as the first Black female member of Congress, Shirley Chisholm had years of experience in public office and a national reputation when she became the first Black American and the first woman to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. Chisholm’s campaign slogan: “Unbought and Unbossed.”

Read the entire piece here.

What Donald Trump said about John Lewis

Watch Trump’s interview with journalist Jonathan Swan on Axios on HBO:

The section on the late civil rights activist John Lewis begins at the 35:23 mark, right after Trump says he has done more for the African American community than Lyndon Johnson, the president who signed into law both the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965). This interview apparently took place on the day Lewis was lying in state at the U.S. Capitol.

Trump says he does not know how history will remember John Lewis. Of course Trump could have said that Lewis will be remembered as a member of the Nashville Student Movement, a freedom rider, an activist who was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, a chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or a member of the House of Representatives who fought for civil rights. But he said none of these things. Why? Because Trump cannot conceive of Lewis’s contribution to American history outside of how it intersects with his own presidency. He is incapable of seeing himself as part of a larger story of the American past because he knows that his presidency, like all presidencies, is just a small part of a long narrative. If Trump thinks historically it will make him feel small. As I have written before, his failure on this front is the essence of narcissism.

Within seconds of Swan’s question about Lewis, Trump notes that the Georgia congressman chose not to attend his inauguration. As we will see, Trump simply cannot get past this talking point.

Swan asks Trump if he finds Lewis to be an “impressive” man. Trump responds: “I can’t say one way or the other; I find a lot of people impressive, I find a lot of people not impressive.” Trump then repeats the fact that Lewis did not come to his inauguration and adds that Lewis did not come to any of his State of the Union speeches either. For the record, Lewis refused to come to these events because he did not believe Trump was a legitimate president:

Trump says that “no one has done more for Black Americans than I have.” He again notes that Lewis did not come to his inauguration. This time adds: “he should have come, I think he made a big mistake.”

Trump finally admits that Lewis devoted “a lot of energy and a lot of heart to civil rights,” and then adds, “but there were many others also.” When asked if he would “support” renaming the Edmund Pettus Bridge after John Lewis, Trump responds: “I would have no objection to it if they’d like to do it.”

Many have called Trump a racist who does not care about African-Americans. Trump disagrees with this. He believes that the economy raises all boats, including those of Black Americans. Of course now that that the economy is in the tank, and COVID-19 is here, Black Americans are suffering at a much higher rate than White Americans. Why? As evidenced from Swan’s interview, Trump is not interested in this question. In the end, he has allowed revenge and payback to get in the way of celebrating one of our greatest heroes. It shameful. But it is also what we have come to expect in the Trump presidency.

David Barton’s appears with an African-American conservative who once “thanked God” for slavery

JesseLeePeterson

Jesse Lee Peterson is an African-American evangelical who hosts a radio program.

Peterson:

As part of his self-proclaimed “White History Month,” Peterson recently had David Barton on his radio show. Barton is the pro-Trump GOP activist who uses the past to make political points in the present.

Barton thinks “white history month” is “fun.” At the same time, he seems very uncomfortable with the whole thing.

Watch:

It’s the usual stuff:

  • Columbus was a Christian hero.
  • Juneteenth is bad and it should not be a federal holiday.
  • Public schools should not open in the Fall because they indoctrinate students to hate history. This is a great moment to strengthen the home-school lobby.
  • Barton says public schools don’t teach students how to “think.” I am sure there are thousands and thousands of teachers who might disagree with him here. And many of these public school teachers are Christians. For Peterson and Barton, any students who learn to “think” they become members of the Christian Right.
  • Barton defends Confederate monuments, including a monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest. He confuses statues with history education. For Barton, history is just a big morality play.
  • Barton wants to talk about free blacks who owned slaves and Native Americans who owned black slaves. He says that Native Americans were the “highest black-owning group in America.” Read this please.
  • Barton has obviously never set foot in a public school history classroom. He seems to think that history teachers are just cherry-picking facts to serve a political agenda. There are probably some Howard Zinn disciples who do this, but most teachers know that effective history teachers are in the business of teaching their kids how to detect bias through close readings of primary sources. This whole discussion is ironic coming from a guy who has been debunked by virtually every professional American historian for his manipulation of the past to serve his own present-day political agenda. There is a reason why Barton edged out Zinn for the “least credible history book in print.”
  • I know I’ve pointed this out a  few times, but I wonder what Barton would think about the tearing-down of this statue?
  • Barton condemns white evangelical pastors for supporting racial reconciliation.
  • In a convoluted argument, Barton seems to suggest that white people are “licking the boots” (Peterson’s phrase) of Black people because white people don’t know how to rise-up and defend their race like African Americans and Hispanics. It sounds like Barton is saying that white people are “taking a knee” to Black people because they never learned how to defend their whiteness. I wonder if Barton knows that he just made an argument in favor of white identity politics. This is Trump, Steven Miller, Breitbart News, and alt-Right stuff.

I’ll end with this:

Folks need to stop tearing down monuments. It just gives fodder to people like Barton and Peterson. It allows them to spread fear to their evangelical followers and claim that America is under spiritual attack. This is one of the two or three things left that still might get Trump re-elected in 2020. Let’s have a conversation about monuments and race in America, but tearing-down U.S. Grant or George Washington doesn’t help.

What did Frederick Douglass say at the 1876 unveiling of the Freedman’s Memorial?

Freedmen's Memorial

Learn more about this Washington D.C. monument here.

I would also encourage you to read David Blight’s Washington Post piece on why it should stay. If you want to dig even deeper, read the opening chapter of Blight’s book Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom.

Douglass delivered this speech on April 14, 1876. President U.S. Grant was in attendance. A large parade of African Americans proceeded the speech.

Here is a taste:

For the first time in the history of our people, and in the history of the whole American people, we join in this high worship, and march conspicuously in the line of this time–honored custom. First things are always interesting, and this is one of our first things. It is the first time that, in this form and manner, we have sought to do honor to an American great man, however deserving and illustrious. I commend the fact to notice; let it be told in every part of the Republic; let men of all parties and opinions hear it; let those who despise us, not less than those who respect us, know that now and here, in the spirit of liberty, loyalty, and gratitude, let it be known everywhere, and by everybody who takes an interest in human progress and in the amelioration of the condition of mankind, that, in the presence and with the approval of the members of the American House of Representatives, reflecting the general sentiment of the country; that in the presence of that august body, the American Senate, representing the highest intelligence and the calmest judgment of the country; in the presence of the Supreme Court and Chief–Justice of the United States, to whose decisions we all patriotically bow; in the presence and under the steady eye of the honored and trusted Cabinet, we, the colored people, newly emancipated and rejoicing in our blood–bought freedom, near the close of the first century in the life of this Republic, have now and here unveiled, set apart, and dedicated a figure of which the men of this generation may read, and those of after–coming generations may read, something of the exalted character and great works of Abraham Lincoln, the first martyr President of the United States.

Fellow–citizens, in what we have said and done today, and in what we may say and do hereafter, we disclaim everything like arrogance and assumption. We claim for ourselves no superior devotion to the character, history, and memory of the illustrious name whose monument we have here dedicated today. We fully comprehend the relation of Abraham Lincoln both to ourselves and to the white people of the United States. Truth is proper and beautiful at all times and in all places, and it is never more proper and beautiful in any case than when speaking of a great public man whose example is likely to be commended for honor and imitation long after his departure to the solemn shades, the silent continents of eternity. It must be admitted, truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory, Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man.

He was preeminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country. In all his education and feeling he was an American of the Americans. He came into the Presidential chair upon one principle alone, namely, opposition to the extension of slavery. His arguments in furtherance of this policy had their motive and mainspring in his patriotic devotion to the interests of his own race. To protect, defend, and perpetuate slavery in the states where it existed Abraham Lincoln was not less ready than any other President to draw the sword of the nation. He was ready to execute all the supposed guarantees of the United States Constitution in favor of the slave system anywhere inside the slave states. He was willing to pursue, recapture, and send back the fugitive slave to his master, and to suppress a slave rising for liberty, though his guilty master were already in arms against the Government. The race to which we belong were not the special objects of his consideration. Knowing this, I concede to you, my white fellow–citizens, a pre–eminence in this worship at once full and supreme.

First, midst, and last, you and yours were the objects of his deepest affection and his most earnest solicitude. You are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his step–children; children by adoption, children by forces of circumstances and necessity. To you it especially belongs to sound his praises, to preserve and perpetuate his memory, to multiply his statues, to hang his pictures high upon your walls, and commend his example, for to you he was a great and glorious friend and benefactor. Instead of supplanting you at his altar, we would exhort you to build high his monuments; let them be of the most costly material, of the most cunning workmanship; let their forms be symmetrical, beautiful, and perfect, let their bases be upon solid rocks, and their summits lean against the unchanging blue, overhanging sky, and let them endure forever! But while in the abundance of your wealth, and in the fullness of your just and patriotic devotion, you do all this, we entreat you to despise not the humble offering we this day unveil to view; for while Abraham Lincoln saved for you a country, he delivered us from a bondage, according to Jefferson, one hour of which was worse than ages of the oppression your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose…

When, therefore, it shall be asked what we have to do with the memory of Abraham Lincoln, or what Abraham Lincoln had to do with us, the answer is ready, full, and complete. Though he loved Caesar less than Rome, though the Union was more to him than our freedom or our future, under his wise and beneficent rule we saw ourselves gradually lifted from the depths of slavery to the heights of liberty and manhood; under his wise and beneficent rule, and by measures approved and vigorously pressed by him, we saw that the handwriting of ages, in the form of prejudice and proscription, was rapidly fading away from the face of our whole country; under his rule, and in due time, about as soon after all as the country could tolerate the strange spectacle, we saw our brave sons and brothers laying off the rags of bondage, and being clothed all over in the blue uniforms of the soldiers of the United States; under his rule we saw two hundred thousand of our dark and dusky people responding to the call of Abraham Lincoln, and with muskets on their shoulders, and eagles on their buttons, timing their high footsteps to liberty and union under the national flag; under his rule we saw the independence of the black republic of Haiti, the special object of slave–holding aversion and horror, fully recognized, and her minister, a colored gentleman, duly received here in the city of Washington; under his rule we saw the internal slave–trade, which so long disgraced the nation, abolished, and slavery abolished in the District of Columbia; under his rule we saw for the first time the law enforced against the foreign slave trade, and the first slave–trader hanged like any other pirate or murderer; under his rule, assisted by the greatest captain of our age, and his inspiration, we saw the Confederate States, based upon the idea that our race must be slaves, and slaves forever, battered to pieces and scattered to the four winds; under his rule, and in the fullness of time, we saw Abraham Lincoln, after giving the slave–holders three months’ grace in which to save their hateful slave system, penning the immortal paper, which, though special in its language, was general in its principles and effect, making slavery forever impossible in the United States. Though we waited long, we saw all this and more.

Read the entire speech here.

Wednesday night court evangelical roundup

Court evangelicals prayer

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

John Hagee invited Fox News commentator, conspiracy theorist, disgraced Christian college president, and convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza to speak at the Sunday evening service at his Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. Watch:

D’Souza tells the audience that American exceptionalism is ordained by God and it is under attack. He then moves into his usual critique of socialism. This then devolves into a rejection of systemic racism. If the camera shots of the audience members nodding their heads and cheering is any indication, D’Souza seems to be getting through to them. This is what pro-Trump megachurches have become. It’s pure fearmongering.

The Supreme Court made an important religious liberty decision today, but some court evangelicals and other Trump evangelicals are still fighting. They continue to stoke fear about threats to religious liberty.

“Christian” politico Ralph Reed turns a SCOTUS victory into a chance to get revenge against his enemy.

Johnnie Moore, the self-professed “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” responds to the SCOTUS decision in a way Bonhoeffer would not have recognized as Christian. Perhaps Johnnie needs to read The Cost of Discipleship.

This is what blind court evangelicalism looks like:

And this (notice “ALL” in all caps):

When you think David French is an “irrational woke liberal” and mock someone’s military service it speaks volumes about you and the institution you work for. In Jenna Ellis’s case it is Liberty University. Remember, not all Christian colleges are the same.

Jenna Ellis was on the Eric Metaxas Show today talking about Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech. Metaxas, who is also a spokesperson at the Falkirk Center, says anyone who criticized the speech is “loony.” He mocks the Sioux leaders who pointed out that Mount Rushmore was on Lakota land: “They have benefited from this country.” Ellis thinks that Trump gave the nation an “honest history lesson” during the speech. Again, this should be offensive to any serious classroom teacher who is working to give American young people honest history lessons. In one of the more comical moments of the interview, Ellis praises Trump for his love of the nuclear family and commitment to the institution of marriage.

Wait a minute, I thought Biden was working with Black Lives Matter to undermine America?:

Richard Land is spewing Christian nationalism:

There is a lot that is wrong with this thread. I don’t have time to respond directly right now, but if you want to dig deeper:

  1. Read this blog. It has subject tags, category tags, and a search engine. I’ve been addressing this stuff for years.
  2. Read Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction
  3. Read my post on Os Guinness’s similar claims about the American and the French Revolution.
  4. Read two books on American exceptionalism: John Wilsey’s American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea and Abram Van Engen’s City on a Hill: A History of American Exceptionalism.

Jack Graham issues a warning:

Graham’s words remind me what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump about the Election of 1800 and the evangelical response to the threat of the Deep State Illuminati in the early republic.

Until next time.

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.

 

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.

Thursday night court evangelical roundup

Trump Court Evangelicals 2

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

Court evangelical Tony Perkins joins several other evangelical Trump supporters to talk about the 2020 election:

A few quick comments:

15:58ff: Perkins says that Christians “have a responsibility” to vote along “biblical guidelines” and “biblical truth.” He adds: “if you notice lately, truth is under attack.” As I said yesterday, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I hear Trump supporters try to defend truth. When will they speak truth to Trump? If Perkins wants to talk about biblical principles he should read about Jesus before Pilate in John 18 or Nathan’s words to King David in 1 Samuel 12. How dare Perkins sit there and say that “it is the truth that will make men free.”

Shortly after Perkins finishes speaking, the host shows a video comparing the GOP and Democratic platforms. The GOP platform, Perkins believes, is biblical. The Democratic platform, he believes, in unbiblical. “It’s like oil and water,” Perkins says. This is what we call the political captivity of the church.

And then comes the fear-mongering. Perkins implies that if evangelicals do not vote for Trump, the Democrats will come for their families, their religious liberty, and their “ability to worship God.” Listen carefully to this section. It begins around the 17:40 mark. I wonder what the earliest Christians would think if they heard Perkins say that unless America re-elects a corrupt emperor they would not be able to worship God. I wonder what the early Christian martyrs, those great heroes of the faith, would say if they heard Perkins tell the audience that “your ability to share the Gospel in word or in deed” rests on a Trump victory. As Bonhoeffer says in The Cost of the Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

20:00ff: The audience does not start applauding until conservative pastor-politician E.W. Jackson tells them that Black Lives Matter is a “Marxist ploy to get people to buy into some sort of socialist, communist world view….” See what’s going on here. An African-American evangelical politician gives an audience full of white people the freedom to cheer against an anti-racist organization.

27:00ff: William Federer, probably known best in certain white evangelical circles for publishing a book of quotations from the founding fathers, implies that the CIA, Department of Justice, and FBI are planning a “coup” against Trump.

36:00ff: Tony Perkins says that if one believes human beings are created in the image of God, it will “direct all of your other policy.” He adds that the violence in the streets after George Floyd’s death was fomented by people who did not believe that women and men are created in the image of God. Was their unnecessary violence in the streets? Of course. But most of what happened in the streets after Floyd was killed had everything to do with the kind of human dignity Perkins is talking about here. How could he miss this?

41:35ff: Perkins notes the high levels of abortions among African-American women and blames the problem on Planned Parenthood. He fails to see that there is a direct connection between systemic racism, poverty, and abortion in Black communities. Of course, if one does not believe in systemic racism, then it is easy to blame Planned Parenthood and continue to ignore the structural issues of inequality and racism in our society.

1:30:00ff: Federer starts talking about the Second Great Awakening and how it led to abolitionism. This is partly true, but Frederick Douglass offers another perspective on this. When his master got saved during the Second Great Awakening, Douglass said that he became more brutal in his beatings. Why? Because he was now following the teachings of the Bible as understood by the Southern preachers who led him to God. Don’t fall for Federer’s selective history. It is a selective understanding of the past used in service of Trumpism. The 17th, 18th, and 19th South was loaded with white evangelicals who owned slaves and embraced white supremacy.

1:32:00: Perkins makes a connection between the Democratic Party and the French Revolution. He sounds like Os Guinness here.

There is a lot of other things I could comment on, but I think I will stop there.

And in other court evangelical news:

The Falkirk Center at Liberty University is tweeting a quote from Jerry Falwell Sr.

In case you can’t read the quote:

The idea that religion and politics don’t mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country. If there is any place in the world we need Christianity, it’s in Washington. And that’s why preachers long since need to get over that intimidation forced upon us by liberals, that if we mention anything about politics, we are degrading our ministry. —Jerry Falwell Jr.

I will counter with a quote from C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape LettersScrewtape (Satan) is giving advice to his young minion Wormwood:

Let him begin by treating the Patriotism…as part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the state at which the religion becomes merely a part of the “cause,” in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce…Once [he’s] made the world an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.

Samuel Rodriguez is holding a 4th of July prayer meeting at his church. The meeting is built upon his “prophetic decree” that America is “one nation, under guide, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” I wonder if he would have received the same prophetic decree prior to 1954, the year the words “under God” were added to the pledge.

James Robison tweets about the founders as if slavery did not exist.

Ralph Reed seems to think that Donald Trump’s “sins” are only sins of the “past.”

Robert Jeffress is ready to prove it:

Until next time.

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.

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.

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.

“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.

Teaching Alice Walker’s “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens”

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On Monday we wrapped-up the “Creation” unit in Created and Called for Community.  I began the class with a review.  Over the last two weeks we read:

  • Genesis 1 and 2
  • Bruce Birch’s theological commentary on Genesis 1-3: “The Image of God.”
  • James Weldon Johnson’s poem on Genesis 1 and 2: “The Creation
  • J.R.R. Tolkien’s short story “Leaf by Niggle.”

We spent the last day of the Creation unit discussing Alice Walker‘s 1983 essay “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens.” As is our custom, we began by “sourcing” the text.  Here is a taste of my colleague Kerry Hasler Brooks‘s introduction to Walker:

Alice Walker is a celebrated American writer, intellectual, and activist who has becoming a guiding voice of black feminism.  Drawing on her childhood in a small Georgia town gripped by the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow oppression, [Walker is the] author of more than 40 works of poetry, fiction, scholarship, memoir, and children’s literature.  Walker is best known for her 1982 novel The Color Purple.  This Pulitzer Prize-winning story celebrates the brave survival of black women assaulted by sexual abuse, racism, and poverty in the American South in the early twentieth century….

Walker’s essay added yet another layer of complexity to our understanding of creation and its implications for how we live. As we have seen, the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches that all human beings are created in the image of God and thus have dignity and worth. I was pleased to see how many students made a strong connection between this Christian view of human identity and their critiques of racism, poverty, and patriarchy.

But I wanted my students to take a deeper dive into the text. I encouraged them to consider Walker’s story in the context of what we have learned about the Christian’s call to creativity.  I reminded them of Tolkien’s idea of “sub-creation.” God created the world. We are created in the image of God.  We should thus be engaging in the advancement of God’s creation through our earthly labors.  As Tolkien taught us in “Leaf by Niggle” (with the help of the eschatological reflections of N.T. Wright that I introduced), our creative work, even if incomplete or unfinished, will one day be part of what the New Testament describes as the “new heavens and new earth.”

Walker’s African-American women–including her own mother–showed creativity amid the worst kinds of systemic oppression.  I asked the students to provide examples from the essay of how the creative work of these women revealed their dignity as God’s image bearers.  Racism, poverty, and patriarchy has tried to strip these women of their dignity. But their creative impulses, born of the divine spark within them, could not be squelched so easily.  The creative impulse is resilient within us because it comes from God. I wondered aloud if this impulse might even be a way to prove the existence of God.

Several students wanted to talk more about Phillis Wheatley, the first African-American woman to publish a book of poetry.  Walker writes about the “contrary instincts” that Wheatley felt as both a writer  and “a slave, who owned not even herself”:

Yet because she did try to use her gift for poetry in a world that made her a slave, she was “so thwarted and hindered by….contrary instincts, that she…lost her health…”  In the last years of her brief life, burdened not only with the need to express her gift but also with a penniless, friendless “freedom” and several small children for whom she was forced to do strenuous work to feed, she lost her health, certainly. Suffering from malnutrition and neglect and who knows what mental agonies, Phillis Wheatley died.  

Wheatley wrote, she created, amidst her frailty and weakness. I asked students to bring Wheatley’s story into conversation with the final pages of Tolkien’s “Leaf by Niggle.” All of my students agreed that the obstacles to Niggle’s creative energies were trivial when compared to Wheatley’s, but there were also some similarities. If Tolkien and Wright are correct, one day her poetry, which brought some light to the darkness of eighteenth-century slavery in America, will contribute to the new heavens and the new earth that creation “groans” for in Romans 8.  And that light will be much, much, brighter.

Other students referenced Walker’s story about the “anonymous Black woman in Alabama, a hundred years ago” who stitched a quilt that now hangs (or at least it did in 1983) in the Smithsonian Institution. Walker writes, “Though it follows no known pattern of quilt-making, and though it is made of bits and pieces of worthless rags, it is obviously the work of a person of powerful imagination and deep spiritual feeling.” I have a few history majors in my courses so I asked them to tell us something about what life might have been like for Black woman in Alabama in 1883. They were gave their fellow students a quick lesson about segregation and Jim Crow America. This quilt teaches us, again, that race-based systems of oppression cannot kill the creative impulse. Why? Because such an impulse is part of our DNA as human beings created in the image of God. (Repetition is important in a class like this! 🙂 ).

Another student commented on Walker’s mother as a story-teller.  Here is Walker:

But the telling of these stories, which came from my mother’s lips as naturally as breathing, was not the only way my mother showed herself as an artist.  For these stories, too, were subject to being distracted, to dying without conclusion.  Dinners must be started, and cotton must be gathered before the big rains.  The artist that was and is my mother showed itself to me only after many years.

By this point in the class, several students were making connections between Walker’s essay and previous readings. The stories that Walker’s mother told have not only enriched Walker’s life, but will also enrich all of us in the coming Kingdom.

Walker ends the essay by describing how her mother brightened their “shabby house” with flowers and gardens:

I notice that it is only when my mother is working in her flowers that she is radiant, almost to the point of being invisible–except as Creator: hand and eye.  She is involved in her work  her soul must have.  Ordering the universe in the image of her personal conception of Beauty. Her face, as she prepares the Art that is her gift is a legacy of respect she leaves to me, for all that illuminates and cherishes life.  She has handed down respect for the possibilities–and the will to grasp them.  For her, so hindered and intruded upon in so many ways, being an artist has still been a daily part of her life.  This ability to hold on, even in very simple ways, is work black women have done for a very long time.

For Walker, her mother’s gardens left her with a “heritage of a love of beauty and a respect for strength.” In “search of my mother’s garden,” she writes, “I found my own.” This is a wonderful reflection on how we connect with our personal histories. It should also inspire the work of the historian as she mines the past in search of forgotten stories of human beings–African-American women in Walker’s case–who engaged in acts of creation amid suffering. (And by telling these stories in compelling ways the historian also participates in the work of sub-creation). Walker’s essay should also inspire Christian historians to seek out these untold stories and interpret them as small glimpses of a coming kingdom where shalom will replace the brokenness of the world in which we create.

One day, hopefully soon, we will all get to enjoy the beautiful gardens of Alice Walker’s mother.

Today we move to the “Community” unit. We will begin with Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  Follow along here.

Will Pete Buttigieg Get Any Traction in South Carolina?

Buttigieg 2

Mayor Pete won Iowa. He finished second in New Hampshire. He finished third in Nevada. But he is not doing very well in South Carolina largely because he does not appeal to African-American voters in the state.  Over at Religion & Politics, Myriam Renaud wonders why.  Here is a taste of her piece:

The majority of black Americans—almost eight in ten, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center report—identify as Christian and three out of four say religion is “very important in their lives.” In one sense, Buttigieg, an Episcopalian, should appeal to these voters. Of all the Democratic candidates, he is perhaps the most fluent in the language of faith. He calls climate change a sin, telling Stephen Colbert that, because it harms today’s and tomorrow’s generations, “I don’t imagine that God is going to let us off the hook.” He also told Colbert that Christianity says “that we are obliged to serve the poor and heal the sick and clothe the naked and welcome the stranger.” During a Democratic debate question on immigration and the border, he accused Republicans of hypocrisy because they associate their party with Christianity and yet “suggest that God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents.”

Multiple factors affect how Buttigieg is seen by black voters, including religious ones; these include his tense relationship with parts of South Bend’s black community, especially after a black man was killed by a white police officer last June. The now 38-year-old candidate has also stirred controversy with comments he made in 2011 about the lack of role models who value education for low-income minority students, and by comparing his struggles as a gay man with those of African Americans. Also, his campaign’s Douglass Plan for Black America received negative publicity when an accompanying image turned out to be a stock photo of a woman from Kenya and when several African Americans described as endorsing the plan said their views were misrepresented.

The conventional campaign wisdom is also that his identity as a gay, married man is at least partly responsible for his low levels of support among black South Carolinians—a belief that has some merit but that also reinforces racist stereotypes. Most black churches embrace progressive views on a range of issues but many hold conservative attitudes toward same-sex relationships. A 2019 Pew Research Center study shows that only 44 percent of black Protestants are in favor of same-sex marriage. Sociologist Samuel Perry’s research reports that, over the past decade, the majority of twelve sociological studies exploring a possible link between religion and attitudes toward same-sex marriage identified black Protestants, along with white evangelicals, as the least supportive religious group. And yet, Pew also found that the majority (65 percent) of black Protestants support laws “protecting LGBT people from discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and the workplace.”

Read the entire piece here.