It’s been out for about a week now:
We, at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, are saddened by the tragic events in Charlottesville, Va. Our hearts are with the families of the victims—the three who lost their lives, the 35 injured and the millions across the country who are traumatized by this dark chapter in our nation’s history. The violent displays of racism and anti-Semitism are reprehensible. These heinous acts are an assault on our nation’s values and threaten to move our country backward to a time when many had little regard for the principles of fairness, liberty and equality.
Throughout America’s history, we have seen racism and anti-Semitism at work. The terror that shook Charlottesville over the past weekend is the most recent example in a long legacy of violence intended to intimidate and marginalize African Americans and Jews. It is crucial at this time to understand the history of white supremacy as a political ideology and the role of the Ku Klux Klan and other groups in using violence to promote that ideology.
In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan counted between 3 and 6 million members. It advocated “One Hundred Percent Americanism” by attacking Jews, Catholics, African Americans and recent immigrants. Acts of violence and intimidation have been their staple strategies. The Klan has been associated with some of the most infamous murders of the 1950s and ’60s, including those of Henrietta and Harry Moore, Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo and the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in which four black girls were killed. In the 21st century, Neo-Nazis and other anti-government groups have joined with the Klan in promoting white racial superiority and terrorizing blacks and other minority groups.
Recognizing the history of violence in support of white supremacy is only part of fully understanding the events of recent days. The white supremacists who gathered in Charlottesville announced that they were there to protect a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. We should consider the political context in which these Confederate statues and monuments have been erected.
According to a recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than 1,500 symbols of the Confederacy can be seen in public spaces in 31 states and the District of Columbia. These include more than 700 monuments and statues on public property (often courthouse lawns) and at least 109 public schools named for prominent Confederates.
Since 1894, there has been a concerted campaign to commemorate the Confederacy through memorialization and education. Organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy, founded in 1894 to “perpetuate the memory of our Confederate heroes and the glorious cause for which they fought,” promoted Confederate monuments, museums and educational activities that emphasized states’ rights rather than slavery as the cause of the Civil War.
It is not surprising then to find that the dedication of Confederate monuments spiked in two distinct time periods: the first two decades of the 20th century and the 1950s and ’60s. The first encompassed the years when states were passing Jim Crow laws disenfranchising African Americans and the second corresponds to the modern civil rights movement. These monuments are symbols that tell us less about the actual Civil War but more about the uncivil peace that followed.
It is often easier to take our attention away from the harsh realities of history. At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, we are committed to bringing history—with all of its pain and its promise—front and center. Only when we illuminate the dark corners and tell the unvarnished truth can we learn history’s lessons and bridge the gaps that divide us.
I have been trying to say something like this throughout the week, but I can’t say it as well or with the expertise and authority of Annette Gordon-Reed:
Today, a time of intense focus on the personal and of misplaced faith in the importance of sincerity, we question whether Jefferson really believed the words “all men are created equal,” as if ideas are only as important and powerful as the personal will of the individual who utters them. The Confederates knew better than that. Ideas can have a power and life of their own. They weren’t taking any chances. They saw Jefferson as a public man who had put ideas into popular discourse that could be used in opposition to the society they hoped to build. The Confederates took him at his word, thinking it important to mention him by name and repudiate what they took to be his views. Alexander Stephens’s famous “Cornerstone Speech” said that Jefferson was wrong, insisting that blacks were not the equals of whites and, therefore, slavery was A-OK.
I cannot help thinking that the menaced people standing around the statue, no doubt holding many different views about Jefferson the man, symbolize the fragility of the idea of progress and aspirations for the improvement of humankind: the ideals that animated Jefferson in the Declaration, his insistence on the separation of church and state, his belief in public education, religious tolerance, and science. It must be said, they also animated what Jefferson knew by the end of his life to be the pipe dream of solving the slavery question, and wiping away the transgression of slavery, by giving blacks their own country—whether they wanted one or not. When he wrote his will freeing five enslaved men, he requested that they be allowed to remain in Virginia “where their families and connexions” were (an 1806 law would otherwise have required them to leave the state within a year). That is, of course, why all blacks in America should have had the right to stay in the country. He did this while other slave owners were freeing enslaved people on the condition that they be sent to Liberia. The simple fact is that as brilliant as he may have been, Jefferson had no real answer to the slavery question. Although historians do not like the concept of inevitability, legalized slavery was destroyed in the most likely way it could have been destroyed.
American ideals have always clashed with harsh American realities. We saw that clash on the grounds of UVA. But how do we continue in the face of depressing realities to allow ourselves to hold fast to the importance of having aspirations, and recognize that the pursuit of high ideals—even if carried out imperfectly—offers the only real chance of bringing forth good in the world? In many ways, grappling with that question is what being a scholar of Jefferson is all about. Perhaps coming fully to grips with the paradoxes that Jefferson’s life presents is what being an American is about. Even if one rejects that formulation, there is no doubt that he remains one of the best ways we have of exploring and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the American experiment displayed so vividly last week in Charlottesville.
Read the entire piece at the New York Review of Books
Read Jennifer Kerns‘s recent piece on politics and Charlottesville at The Washington Examiner. Kerns is a GOP communications strategist who has worked for the California Republican Party and Fox News.
Here is a taste:
In the aftermath of Charlottesville, an awful lot of awful things have been said about Republicans and race relations.
However, the Left’s accusations of racism couldn’t be further from the truth that has played out in the halls of Congress over the last 150 years.
It is shocking that as talk of statues and historical racism is being bandied about, no one has mentioned the Democrats’ utterly shameful treatment of African Americans throughout history.
Over the last 100 years, Republicans have stood up for African Americans while Democrats not only stood on the sidelines, but in fact served as obstructionists to civil liberties.
Here are at least 12 examples in which Democrats voted against African Americans, and Republicans voted to free them:
Democrats voted against every piece of civil rights legislation in Congress from 1866 to 1966 – a whopping 100 years. That is a dismal record for today’s Democrats who would like you to believe that history has been on their side on this issue.
Democrats voted to keep Africans Americans in slavery, opposing the 13th Amendment which officially freed the slaves. Only four Democrats voted for it.
Republicans also passed the 14th Amendment which granted slaves U.S. citizenship; Democrats voted against it.
Republicans also passed the 15th Amendment which gave slaves the right to vote. Not a single one of the 56 Democrats in Congress voted for it.
Shame on them.
And it goes on…
I thought we were done with this kind of stuff after CNN fired Jeffrey Lord.
As any of my liberal or conservative students will tell you, one of the key components of historical thinking is change over time. In the case of Kern’s article, let’s remember that political parties change over time. They are not frozen in time, as she suggests. The Democratic Party of the 19th century is not the Democratic Party of the 21st century. The Republican Party of the 19th century is not the Republican Party of the 21st century. Things changed in the 20th century, particularly as each of these parties addressed the questions of race in America. A political realignment took place.
The facts of Kern’s piece seem generally fine, (although I have not checked them thoroughly). If they are accurate, they might make for a nice Wikipedia entry. But when you are trying to make the past speak to the present, as Kern does here, there are a set of historical thinking skills–such as change over time–that must be considered. Kern is not writing history here. She is using the past irresponsibly to make a political point.
I think I will use this piece in my Introduction to History course this semester at Messiah College.
Want to learn more about historical thinking? Try this. You can read it along with my students this semester.
Or watch this for starters:
Here is court evangelical Robert Jeffress on Fox Business News last night.
He rightly condemns racism, as he has been doing all along. This is good. But he also defends the POTUS, saying that Trump wants to condemn “all racism.” I’m not sure what he means here by “all racism.” Is he somehow referring to “racism against whites?” Is he suggesting that there was racism on both sides in Charlottesville?
Jeffress again takes on the “axis of evil” (Democrats, the media, Republicans, and the “religious establishment”) that wants to “take this president down for various reasons.”
Then he begins suggesting (with the help of the host) that the members of this “axis of evil” want to erase American history and the “Judeo-Christian foundations of this nation.” He repeats the historically dubious claim that “no president in history has done more to stand of for religious liberty than Donald Trump.” (See my comments on this claim here).
Finally, he advises Trump not to apologize for his handling of Charlottesville. According to Jeffress. “he did just fine.” It looks like we are finally getting a sense of what the court evangelicals are whispering to Trump in those secret meetings.
“He did just fine.”
Earlier we reported that A.R. Bernard, pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, has resigned as an evangelical adviser to Donald Trump.
Shortly after our post, Bernard went on Don Lemon’s show on CNN to talk about his resignation. No video yet. I will post it tomorrow.
In the meantime, here are my tweets.
— John Fea (@JohnFea1) August 19, 2017
— John Fea (@JohnFea1) August 19, 2017
— John Fea (@JohnFea1) August 19, 2017
— John Fea (@JohnFea1) August 19, 2017
— John Fea (@JohnFea1) August 19, 2017
— John Fea (@JohnFea1) August 19, 2017
— John Fea (@JohnFea1) August 19, 2017
— John Fea (@JohnFea1) August 19, 2017
David Bell, a historian of revolutionary France who teaches at Princeton, offers some solid perspective on the ongoing debate about Confederate monuments. He focuses particularly on Donald Trump’s remarks comparing Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Here is a taste:
In the end, if we are to have any confidence in our own moral standards, we must believe that these standards are universally applicable, across time and space. And so, we must be ready to criticize figures in the past for attitudes and practices we consider abhorrent. If our moral standards are to have any meaning, then they don’t simply apply because we believe in them. They apply because they are right.
Yes, we also need to acknowledge that an overly rigid application of this principle would soon leave us with very little history to honor and celebrate, because few, if any, prominent figures of the past lived up to the moral standards of 21st-century Americans. Taken to the extreme, it would, indeed, mean tearing down the Washington Monument, and perhaps even the Lincoln Memorial.
But countries need their history. They need heroes and leaders to venerate, to inspire new generations, and to act as a source of unity. National unity can be a very fragile thing, as Americans today know all too well. Revolutionary movements have sometimes tried to consign their national pasts to the dustbin of history and to start over. The French revolutionaries famously introduced a new calendar, numbering the years from the birth of the French republic in 1792 and condemning nearly all of what came before as darkness, feudalism and superstition, unworthy of veneration. It didn’t work. Such attempts at erasure go against the deeply human need to feel a connection with the past.
The conflict, then, is one between two principles. On one hand, we should not honor people who did things and held beliefs that were morally objectionable. On the other, we need a common history we can take pride in as a nation. It is a conflict that cannot be resolved with cheap sound bites of the sort uttered by the president and his backers this week. They can be resolved only with careful, reasoned judgments, backed up by logic and evidence.
When it comes to particular figures in the past, such judgments involve, above all, looking carefully at their entire historical record. In the case of Washington, it involves weighing his role as a slave owner against his role as a heroic commander in chief, as an immensely popular political leader who resisted the temptation to become anything more than a republican chief executive, and who brought the country together around the new Constitution. Calhoun, by contrast, devoted his political career above all to the defense of slavery. The distinction between the two is not difficult to make.
Lee’s case is clear-cut. Whatever admirable personal qualities he may have had, he was also a man who took up arms against his country in defense of an evil institution. In my view, he doesn’t deserve to be honored in any fashion.
Read the entire piece here. This is one the best short pieces I have read on this issue.
Yesterday the Charlotte Observer ran a piece proclaiming “Franklin Graham appears to distance himself from Trump remarks on Charlottesville.”
Here is a taste:
Just days after coming to President Donald Trump’s defense in the wake of Charlottesville, Franklin Graham sent out a new Facebook post Thursday in which he appeared to distance himself from the embattled president’s continued attempts to say blame for the violence in Charlottesville should be shared by white supremacists and by those who showed up to protest their presence in the university town.
In the new post, the North Carolina-based evangelist didn’t mention Trump and he also didn’t single out the KKK or neo-Nazis by name. But he quoted Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has emerged as a more forceful figure than the president in condemning the violence by white racists. Sessions early on called it domestic terrorism and quickly announced a federal civil rights investigation.
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions is exactly right – ‘in no way can we accept and apologize for racism, bigotry, hatred, violence and those kind of things that too often arise in our country.’ One race is not superior over another. … The venomous hatred we saw displayed in #Charlottesville should repulse all Americans….”
…But in his Thursday post, Graham sounded like his father Billy Graham, the Charlotte-born evangelist who got death threats in the 1950s for speaking out against racism and refusing to preach at segregated events.
“God created mankind in His image and He loves us. The Bible tells us that, ‘He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth,’ and ‘God does not show partiality.’ … (Charlottesville) should take us to our knees in prayer for hearts to be changed.”
I applaud Graham for all of this.
But Graham will truly “distance” himself from the President when he condemns the POTUS’s decision to draw a moral equivalency between white supremacists in Charlottesville and people protesting white supremacy in Charlottesville. Graham is good at naming the name of Jesus. Now he needs to name the name of Trump.
Over the last several days I have received messages from readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home who are trying to make sense of Donald Trump’s recent words about monuments. On Tuesday, he equated monuments commemorating Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson with monuments commemorating George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Yesterday POTUS offered these tweets:
Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017
…can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish! Also…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017
What should we make of all this? Here is one of the reader messages I received:
I wouldn’t ever dare post this publicly because honestly I don’t want to get lumped in with Trump and or be labeled a racist for simply asking a question. But I’m having a hard time understanding why Trump is so wrong on the Lee/Washington comparison. If Lee is guilty of perpetuating slavery, than why isn’t Washington just as guilty? Yes he freed his slaves after he died, but he didn’t end it when he had the chance to voice support for it at the convention, so why is he granted a pardon and still one of the good guys, but Lee is not off the hook? I get that he was a General for the Confederacy and I’m not arguing that he was good or right. I’m just wondering why Washington or Jefferson aren’t being attacked?
And I hate the fact that I can’t feel safe to ask this question in public without feeling like I’ll be labeled as a racist/terrorist or trump supporter. But I’m genuinely curious if you can shed some light or even point me to a good article that isn’t going to shame me into thinking the way the author wants me to already think.
First, I am saddened that this reader thinks she/he will be labeled a racist for trying to make historical and moral sense of what Trump said about monuments to Lee and Washington. I don’t know this person well, but I know she/he is not a racist. I should also add that I do not know where this person falls on the political perspective. Over the years I have known this person to have a curious mind and a passion for truth. If a person like this feels she/he cannot ask honest questions about this issue then something is wrong.
Second, at one level this person is correct (and so is Trump). There are similarities between Washington and Lee. I wrote about them yesterday. Let’s not forget the fact that both men owned slaves and were active participants in America’s slave culture. Maybe neither of them deserve a monument. But on the other hand, there were also a lot of differences between Washington and Lee. They are worth noting too.
In the end, I think there is a difference between moralizing about men and women in the past and erecting monuments to them. As I have now said multiple times at this blog, monuments tell us more about the time when they were erected than the moment in the past they are meant to commemorate. Lee monuments were erected by Lost Causers who wanted to celebrate a society built on slavery and white supremacy. Most of them were built during the Jim Crow era for this very purpose. Think about it. Would Lee merit a monument if not for his role as commander of the Army of Virginia? Maybe, but I doubt you would find one outside of Virginia. I don’t know off-hand the history of George Washington monuments, but I wonder how many of them were erected for the purpose of celebrating his slave ownership.
This post has some good links for further reading on this issue.
I have been asked this several times yesterday and today by history buffs, pastors, and general readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home. If you could assign one or two books to someone who does not know much about the “Lost Cause,” what would you recommend?
Let me get us started with:
Garry Gallagher, ed. The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History
Charles Wilson, Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920]
James Louwen and Edward Sebasta, The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The Great Truth About the “Lost Cause.” (This is mostly primary documents)
David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory
Over at the Federalist, a writer named Daniel Payne has a piece titled “Trump Spoke Truth About ‘Both Sides’ In Charlottesville, And The Media Lost Their Minds.” As the title suggests, this piece defends Trump’s remarks on Tuesday and seems to have no problem with his attempt to put the white supremacists in Charlottesville on equal moral footing with the counter-protesters.
Read it here.
I should also add, using Payne’s words, that American manufacturing leaders and an ever-growing number of GOP leaders have also “lost their minds.”
I understand the defense of Trump’s comments. Yes, there were problems on “both sides.” The counter-protesters engaged in violence. It takes two to tango. I condemn the violence on all sides.
But when the President of the United States takes to the bully pulpit in response to the arrival of white supremacists in an American city and says that “all sides were to blame” he misses the point. He fails to see what happened in Charlottesville–the arrival of a group of white supremacists denouncing African Americans and Jews– as part of the larger context of race in America. When one takes a longer view of what happened on Friday night and Saturday, it seems clear that the white supremacists represent something–racism–that has plagued this country from its birth. Yes, in the past those who have protested against American racists were violent at times. During the 1850s there was a big debate over how to effectively oppose slavery. Many condemned violent approaches. But the anti-slavery forces of that era all believed that the greatest moral issue was the ending of this immoral institution. Any wrong-headed or destructive violence in the cause of abolitionism was always understood in this larger moral context.
Trump, Payne, and other defenders seem incapable of moral nuance here. Perhaps this kind of black and white thinking and the failure to grasp any degree of moral context and complexity explains why so many court evangelicals and writers like Payne are still defending Trump’s comments. Or maybe its’ just politics.
Last night I was watching Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, talking on CNN about why he resigned from Trump’s manufacturing council. Trumpka was not angry. He just seemed sad. At one point in the interview he said “I feel sorry for Donald Trump.” He then talked about how we have a man in the oval office who did not understand common decency, presidential character, and especially American history. Though he didn’t say it outright, he implied that Trump’s failure to understand Charlottesville in the larger context of race in America, the Civil Rights Movement, slavery, the history of World War II and Nazis, and the Holocaust made him unqualified and unprepared to be POTUS.
As Trumka spoke, I thought about the men and women I have been writing about for the last year–the court evangelicals. What role does the evangelical failure to undertake a deep study of history, and the anti-intellectualism of American evangelicalism generally, have to do with the court evangelicals’ loyal support of the POTUS? I think it has a lot do with it. Many of these evangelicals cannot see themselves as part of a larger history–both a history of the United States and the history of the church. On race, they fail to see the long history of structural racism in this country.
Just a quick thought.
Trump’s failure to unequivocally denounce racism in Charlottesville and his decision to make this all about monuments has hopefully made Americans more appreciative of what historians do.
Think about it. Over the course of the last week Americans have been offered history lessons on race, African-American history, the Confederacy, the Civil War, the difference between history and heritage, the Jim Crow Era, the meaning of monuments and commemoration, the Civil Rights Movement, the American presidency, and the KKK.
Let’s keep teaching. I hope all the K-12 teachers who read this blog will enter the classroom this year with a renewed sense of purpose and vision. And that goes for my college professor colleagues as well! We have work to do!
From what I understand, Moore speaks for many of the court evangelicals, but it is not clear which ones. You may recall that recently Moore spoke for the court evangelicals in their attempt to get a meeting with Pope Francis. So while there may not be an official evangelical advisory council, there is certainly a group of evangelical advisers that seem to have some level of organization and pay Moore, who embraces the title “a modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” to speak for them.
Here is the statement:
Many of us have done too little for too long when it comes to racial unity in this country. So, in terrible and dark moments like the one this weekend, there are not bonds of trust to rest upon. Building those bonds of trust is increasingly the focus of many of us. This is especially important given American history on these issues. I can tell you that politics has been the last thing on the mind of most Christian leaders these days, including myself. We have been almost exclusively focused on the ‘ministry of reconciliation.’
But, make no mistake, Evangelicals unquestionably abhor racism, anti-semitism, white nationalism, and white supremacism. We believe racism is evil, and we oppose it in every form and every incidence. Theologically, it is a direct offense to God himself for it opposes the Imago Dei (“image of God”) in every human being. God hates racism, and we hate racism. Countless ones of us have made that clear once again in recent days and we stand by those statements. I do not know a single evangelical leader who is a racist. I do know evangelicals who struggle to build bridges of understanding for various reasons.
I also believe the way that some in the media and in the administration as well as other politicians and also activists–republican and democrat, liberals and conservatives–have handled the Charlottesville incident has at times been unhelpful, too emotional and insenstive. We all must condemn bigotry and hatred in pursuit of national healing and unity without exacerbating further conflict.
Because of this, we now face a moment of national reckoning where every American needs to look themselves in the mirror and ask themselves what they are going to do [to] help bring our nation together while addressing the persistent blight of racism.
It’s on all of us.
Evangelicals consider the Gospel responsibility we have been given by God to serve our fellow man to be our most sacred one. That remains our primary focus. As part of that we appreciated the deep relationship we have with the administration and the listening ear they have given to us and continue to give to us. We take this seriously, and we feel our responsibility to fulfill our spiritual and national duty.”
A few thoughts:
- As an evangelical Christian, I applaud Moore’s stand against racism. All of the court evangelicals, with the exception of Jerry Falwell Jr., have made similar statements. There is nothing new here.
- Who does Moore represent? Why does he feel a need to make this statement? Has he become some kind of spokesperson for evangelicalism? If so, nobody informed me about it. He used to work for Jerry Falwell Jr. Does he continue to speak for the Liberty University president? According to reporting from Time‘s Elizabeth Dias, Moore represents Paula White, Jack Graham, Samuel Rodriguez, Tim Clinton, and Ronnie Floyd, among others.
- I am not sure what Moore is trying to say in the third (and fourth) paragraph of this statement. Yes, technically it is “on all of us.” But such a statement has no moral teeth. Why not call out the POTUS directly? Name his name. GOP politicians are doing it. Manufacturing leaders are doing it. Why be so vague?
- In the last paragraph, Moore seems to imply that Trump has given an ear to him and the court evangelicals (or at least the mysterious group of court evangelicals that he represents). Should we assume from this veiled statement that Moore and the court evangelicals ARE telling Trump that his statements after Charlottesville were inappropriate and lacking in moral clarity? As Mark Silk wrote today: “no one is actually asking the evangelical advisers to reveal what they are pouring into the administration’s listening ear. They are asking the evangelical advisers to respond publicly to presidential behavior that has cause shock and dismay throughout the country and around the world.” Silk continues:
This suggests that what the evangelical advisers have actually been telling the administration and maybe even the president is, like, keep up the good work. Which makes you ask what Donald Trump would have to do to get the likes of Moore and Falwell to react the way the business advisers reacted. (Italics are mine).
The answer, I think, is that he would have to stop inviting them to the White House to discharge their spiritual and national duty by sharing their thoughts with, and laying their hands upon him. As long as that deep relationship persists, they’ll be standing by their dear leader.
If Moore thinks this statement somehow takes Trump’s evangelical advisers off the moral hook he is sorely mistaken. The bottom line remains: Corporate America has broken with Trump for moral reasons and Trump’s evangelical advisers–the court evangelicals–have not.
The quote in the title comes from a June 2017 statement on monuments released by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Here is the full statement:
In recent months, many communities have been vigorously debating anew the impact, meaning, and propriety of Confederate memorials and symbols in the public space. We have received questions from across the political spectrum about our stance on this.
At the National Trust, we believe that historic preservation requires taking our history seriously. We have an obligation to confront the complex and difficult chapters of our past, and to recognize the many ways that our understanding, and characterization, of our shared American story continues to shape our present and future.
That goes for the Civil War, our nation’s bloodiest and most divisive conflict, as well. There are currently hundreds of monuments to the Confederate cause in America. They exist in 31 states, including far-flung places such as Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Montana. Schools and streets all over America bear Confederate names.
While some of these monuments were erected shortly after the war by grieving Southern families to honor the valor of fallen leaders and loved ones, many more were put in place for a more troubling purpose. Decades after the war, advocates of the Lost Cause erected these monuments all over the country to vindicate the Confederacy at the bar of history, erase the central issues of slavery and emancipation from our understanding of the war, and reaffirm a system of state-sanctioned white supremacy.
Put simply, the erection of these Confederate memorials and enforcement of Jim Crow went hand-in-hand. They were intended as a celebration of white supremacy when they were constructed. As recent rallies in Charlottesville and elsewhere illustrate, they are still being used as symbols and rallying points for such hate today.
These Confederate monuments are historically significant and essential to understanding a critical period of our nation’s history. Just as many of them do not reflect, and are in fact abhorrent to, our values as a diverse and inclusive nation. We cannot and should not erase our history. But we also want our public monuments, on public land and supported by public funding, to uphold our public values.
Ultimately, decisions about what to do with offending memorials will be made on a case by case basis at the community level. Some memorials can be moved, others altered, and others retained as seen fit. Whatever is decided, we hope that memorials that remain are appropriately and thoughtfully “re-contextualized” to provide information about the war and its causes, and that changes are done in a way that engage with, rather than silence, the past–no matter how difficult it may be.
We should always remember the past, but we do not necessarily need to revere it. As communities work to determine the appropriate balance, we hope they move forward in a transparent, deliberative, and inclusive way that embraces the complexity here, examines many possible alternatives, and allows for a thoughtful community dialogue that gives all sides a chance to be heard.
Thanks to Brendan Payne for bringing this statement to my attention.
Yes, they both own slaves. Yes, they were both Virginians. One lived in the eighteenth-century, the other in the nineteenth. Lee was the president of a college that Washington helped to keep alive.
George Washington led an army to fight for liberty against what he perceived to be a tyrannical British government. Yes, he was the product of a southern culture in which liberty and freedom were only afforded to white people. And yes, the Revolution that he led was riddled with hypocrisy on this front. These are essential points and must be acknowledged when we teach the American Revolution. Washington freed his slaves when he died and the revolution he helped set in motion would, eventually, lead to the end of slavery in America despite the fact that Robert E. Lee did his best to stop such progress. By all accounts, Lee was a Christian and a noble man. But he also led an army built to preserve the institution of slavery and the white supremacy that came with it.
John Dowd, the lawyer for Donald Trump’s legal team, recently forwarded an e-mail to conservative journalists for the purpose of defending the comments POTUS made on Tuesday equating the white supremacists at Charlottesville with those who came to protest against them. In the e-mail he wrote “You cannot be against General Lee and be for General Washington–there is literally no difference between the two men.”
“Literally no difference.” This is why we need to invest more money into historical education and historical thinking. As I have said before, we need historians more than ever. It is NOT a useless major.
Dowd’s e-mail went on to explain that Lee is no different than Washington because:
- Both owned slaves
- Both rebelled against the ruling government
- Both men’s battle tactics are still taught at West Point
- Both saved America
- Both were great men, great Americans, and great commanders
- Neither man is any different than Napoleon, Shaku Zulu, Alexander the Great, Ramses II, etc
Just to clarify:
- Yes, as I mentioned above, both men owned slaves
- Yes, both men rebelled against the ruling government.
- I am not sure if both men’s battle tactics are taught at West Point. I need some help on that one.
- George Washington did not “save America” during the American Revolutionary War because it did not exist yet. If Dowd means that he saved America during his presidency I don’t know of any historians who frame his eight years in office this way. Lee did not save America. He rebelled against and, as noted above, his rebellion was rooted in the preservation of slavery and white supremacy.
- I will let readers decide if either man can be truly called “great.”
- Actually, both men are different than the generals Dowd references above. Yes, they were all military leaders, but they all lived in different eras making historical comparison very difficult.
This is just a quick answer. I hope some historian will respond more thoroughly.
The New York Times broke the story and has some solid commentary from Civil War historian Judith Giesberg. She reminds us that the Confederacy used Washington’s image, legacy, and role in the War for Independence to justify their own cause. The Lost Cause also invoked Washington. I don’t know much about the history of Washington and Lee University, but I imagine that it was important to the leaders of the college to attach Lee’s name to Washington’s after the Confederate general died in 1870.
Here is the piece.
As the CEOs of major corporations are leaving Trump today, I wonder about what is really motivating them. I want to take them at their word when they say they have serious ethical problems with Trump’s choice to morally equate white supremacists in Charlottesville with those who came to Charlottesville to oppose them. But as I listen to the news today, several commentators are pointing out that these CEOs are under pressure from their customers and stockholders to repudiate Trump. In other words, their decision to leave Trump’s manufacturing council was a business decision.
I am guessing that both conscience and profits played a role in their resignations.
1. The manufacturers resigned out of conscience because they did not want to work with a man who is incapable of condemning what happened in Charlottesville without talking about “both sides.” The court evangelicals have not been pricked by conscience to resign from Trump’s council in the way that the manufactures have done. They are happy to stay and work with Trump to advance his agenda.
2. The manufactures resigned because they were being pressured by their constituencies to abandon Trump. So far the court evangelicals seem to feel no pressure from their constituencies– the American evangelicals who attend their churches and follow their ministries.
Here is what the court evangelicals have and have not tweeted in the wake of Donald Trump’s statement on Tuesday . In this statement he once again drew a moral equivalency between white supremacists and those protesting against them.
NOTE: Many of these court evangelicals HAVE tweeted things about race and reconciliation since Trump’s remarks on Tuesday, but I am interested in their specific responses to Trump’s handling of this issue. I want to see if they are willing to say anything negative about the POTUS and, in the process, speak truth to power. I am curious about which one of them will make the hard choice of breaking with the POTUS in the way that the manufacturers did this week. If they have not said anything about Trump’s comments on Tuesday I have chosen the world “silent” to describe their response.
Finally, I am only looking at Twitter feeds or links that are shared on Twitter.
Michelle Bachmann: Silent. (Although to be fair she has not tweeted since February)
A.R. Bernard: Nothing (Retweeted a general statement on hatred from New York Commission on religious leaders, but nothing on Trump)
Mark Burns: Argues for moral equivalency using MLK, mentions,”both sides” several times, and says it’s all the police’s fault:
— Sky News Tonight (@SkyNewsTonight) August 16, 2017
Tim Clinton: Silent
Kenneth and Gloria Copeland: Silent
James Dobson: Silent
Jerry Falwell Jr: Silent (I am getting this from others since I am blocked)
Ronnie Floyd: Tweets a link to a blog post in which he says that “silence and passivity” is not the answer and the church should do something about racism. Says nothing about the POTUS and his remarks.
Jentezen Franklin: Silent
Jack Graham: Silent
Harry Jackson: Silent
Robert Jeffress: Links to this recent CBN video. (Begins at about 6:00 mark). He condemns racism and white supremacy and even acknowledges that Southern Baptists have been racist in the past. He also says that “racism” comes “in all colors” and praises POTUS for condemning all kinds of racism. He completely backs Trump’s statements on Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday, and blames any criticism of POTUS on liberals. “There is not a racist bone in his (POTUS) body. ”
David Jeremiah: Silent
Richard Land: Silent (To be fair, he has not tweeted since May)
James McDonald: Silent
Johnnie Moore: Will not resign from Advisory Council. He says that it is his job to “give advice” not “take advice.” I do find it interesting that the members of Trump’s Manufacturing Council (I don’t know how many of them of were Christians) saw this differently. They were also there to “give advice,” but when Trump made his remarks on Charlottesville at least eight of them resigned. Moore also calls for “reasoning together” quoting Isaiah 1:18. It is unclear who he wants to reason with.
NO, I am not pulling out as an Evangelical advisor to the White House. It’s not our job to take advice but to give it.I will keep giving it.
— Johnnie Moore ن (@JohnnieM) August 16, 2017
Dear America: “Come now & let us reason together.” (Isa. 1:18)
— Johnnie Moore ن (@JohnnieM) August 16, 2017
Robert Morris: Silent. Although he did tweet this:
— Robert Morris (@PsRobertMorris) August 16, 2017
Tom Mullins: Silent
Ralph Reed: Silent
Tony Suarez: Silent
Paula White-Cain: Silent. But this tweet is interesting.
Thoughts become Words…Actions…Habits…Character…Destiny. You are becoming who you imagine yourself to be.
— Paula White-Cain (@Paula_White) August 16, 2017
Sealy Yates: Can’t seem to findTwitter account
OTHER COURT EVANGELICALS:
Franklin Graham: Silent
Eric Metaxas: No idea. I’m blocked
Greg Lurie: Silent
Tony Perkins: Silent (Perkins is President of the Family Research Council. Are Trump’s remarks not a family issue? I know my kids are asking about it).
Cindy Jacobs: Silent