Some say that time heals all wounds. Some also seem to believe that the passage of time means that you can rewrite history as well. In fact, 150 years after slavery was eradicated from this country, people from South Carolina to Texas to Mississippi are attempting to reshape the collective memory of oppression in the United States and downplay the impact of its lessons.
On Monday night, the South Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans held a Secession Ball in Charleston – the most active North American slave port. This ball, the first in a series of national events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the start to the Civil War, featured dining, dancing and a theatrical re-enactment of the signing of the Ordinance of Secession.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with commemorating soldiers’ lives, this event implicitly celebrated the rationale behind secession. The event was held in honor of the day that American citizens declared war on its own country, a clear act of treason, in an effort to protect their slave holding way of life. Even Charleston’s Mayor Joe Riley recently admitted that the secessionist’s rationale was clearly “an expressed need to protect the inhumane and immoral institution of slavery.” On Monday, over 100 South Carolina NAACP members peacefully marched down John C. Calhoun Street to protest the Ball, which nevertheless sold 400 tickets at $100 a head.
Also on Monday, the Texas NAACP and LULAC filed a joint complaint with the U.S. Department of Education to block changes to Texas’ standardized textbooks. The proposed curriculum would downplay Ku Klux Klan violence and give equal credence to the secessionist speeches of Jefferson Davis and those by Abraham Lincoln. American students already grow up learning too little about the evils of slavery and the stories of triumph in various freedom movements. But these recent developments are dangerous steps towards a country where individual states scrub their guilty consciences clean by revising history.
Both of these actions come on the same day that a man who hopes to be president, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, is drawing heat for his comments on the civil rights struggle after saying, “I just don’t remember it being that bad.” Not that the man who has thus far refused to release the Scott Sisters from prison would have motivation to downplay this country’s history of racism.
Rhetoric is important. Lessons from history reveal man’s potential for evil but also teach us how great men and women have led us out of the abyss. In the words of the great scholar Dr. Ronald Walters, “We cannot change deliberate racist policies with colorblind solutions.” Nor can we allow people to distort our collective memory of American history to fit their own contrived morality. So in these times of great moral challenges, will you speak up to ensure that those who feel implicated by history don’t try to rewrite the story?
“Until the lion tells his story, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” – African Proverb
Stefanie Brown, a native of Bedford Heights, Ohio, is the National Field Director and Director of the Youth and College Division for the NAACP. In these positions, Stefanie is charged with developing and administering the national field organizing strategy for the NAACP’s 2,200 adult branches and youth units in 48 states and the District of Columbia. A leading figure in community activism and youth organizing, Stefanie is a graduate of Howard University and resides in the Washington, DC area.