Propaganda then and now

In 1861, let’s suppose you were a small plot farmer in South Carolina trying to grow enough to feed your family and maybe trade with a local merchant. The plantation and slave owner nearby seeks your help.

The owner asks you and your teen boys to fight for the right for him to own slaves. You would likely tell him that is not your fight. Instead, if he said we don’t want those northerners telling us how to run things. We want you to fight for our state’s right to govern itself, then you would be more inclined to risk your and your boys’ lives.

That is precisely what happened. It is called propaganda. Ironically, this propaganda version was taught in southern schools even when I attended. Some even called it “the war of Northern Aggression.” Yet, the states’ rights arguments continue even today, as people try to remember a more favorable history.

From the American Battlefields website (see link below), here is excerpted language from early on in the secession documents from Georgia, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia:

Georgia: “The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.”

Mississippi: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.”

Texas: “She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery– the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits– a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.”

Virginia: “…and the Federal Government, having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern Slaveholding States.”

Note the particular racist references in the Mississippi document, saying “none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun.”

I raise these issues as these states seceded from the United States of America, primarily because their assets were threatened – the slaves. The states’ rights touted as the issue was so that slave owners could keep owning slaves. Note the references to commerce in the Mississippi document, as well. The commerce was heightened by not having to pay for labor.

As a result, divided Americans died. How did they die? “Approximately 620,000 soldiers died from combat, accident, starvation, and disease during the Civil War. This number comes from an 1889 study of the war performed by William F. Fox and Thomas Leonard Livermore.” Yet, I have also seen numbers as high as 750,000.

So, Confederate monuments that honor Civil War commanders need to be questioned and likely removed, as they honor people who rebelled against America. Many were erected long after the Civil War. Some were raised during the heyday of the KKK and their heinous racist movie “A Birth of a Nation.” The same goes for the Confederate battle flag which was used by the KKK during the Jim Crow era. To African-Americans, that flag means hanging, beating, denigration, and disrespect.

When I see a Confederate flag flying, I hate to tell the owner, but I am biased toward thinking the owner is a racist. I am hard pressed to see it any other way. When I see a Confederate flag being flown or displayed next to an American flag, my reaction is “you know that flag represent folks who betrayed the folks flying the other flag.”

But, the monuments, flag and whitewashing of history, all are an affront to our great country and our African-American citizens. From his final book, “A Restless Wave,” Senator John McCain went back to South Carolina after his first failed presidential attempt in 2000 and apologized. Why? He said when he was asked during the campaign about whether the Confederate flag should be flown on state capitol grounds, he answered politically, not what was in his heart. He said with his apology, if a flag is so highly offensive to a portion of your citizens, then you should not fly it.

Senator McCain, who is a war hero, said it well. Finally, others are starting to feel the same.

https://www.battlefields.org/learn/primary-sources/declaration-causes-seceding-states

That confederate thing was about slavery

Being raised in the South, I was taught the Civil War was more about states’ rights and northern aggression rather than slavery. I saw a recent poll that showed 48% people believed that states’ rights was the principal reason for the war and only 38% said it was about slavery. This recasting of history by groups promoting white supremacy or merely teaching a white-washed message is influencing too many people. To be frank, of course, it was about slavery.

Why do I say that? One needs only to look at the formal declarations of the states who seceded from the United States of America (see the third paragraph from Texas’ declaration below*). In those documents, the words to preserve the right to own slaves (or something similar) can be consistently found. The states’ rights argument was used in support of the need to perpetuate slave ownership. If people think otherwise, let me speak purely in terms of economics, setting aside the important human argument.

In economic terms, the South quite simply treated slaves as assets to be used. Once the asset was purchased and maintained, the fruits of the labor went to the owner. Since slave owners were the wealthiest people in the South, as a result, they had the most to lose if slave ownership was done away with. Slave ownership was an economic boon for the South. It is that simple.

But, to get the white non-slave owners to fight, a good story had to be crafted. Politicians have done this for ages and still do. So, they told a good story that “we don’t want those folks in Washington telling us how to do things. We want to govern ourselves.” If they told these poorer whites what they were really fighting for, they may have been less enthusiastic participants. The pitch would have been, “come fight so I can still own slaves. And, maybe you can someday.”

I mention all of this as this fight over monuments is secondary to the renewed fight on civil rights. Many of these symbols were erected at the height of the Jim Crow era or the KKK’s fifty to ninety years after the Civil War ended. In fact, Stone Mountain, outside of Atlanta, was finished in 1972, just 45 years ago. Very few of these monuments were erected just after the Civil War. The same goes for the Confederate flag, which became more prominent after the Civil War when carried by white men wearing white sheets and hoods. These monuments are more about honoring Jim Crow than they are the Civil War. As a result, they are an insult to our African-American citizens.

Slavery is evil. God had Moses lead the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. Yet, too many ministers seemed to overlook that part to reinforce why it was OK to own slaves. Then, it was continued to why the races should be segregated during Jim Crow and the 1960s Civil Rights movement. One only needs to listen to the haunting words of Billie Holiday as she sings “Strange Fruit,” to get first hand what the Jim Crow era did. Humans should not own other humans – it is wrong and sinful. And, per our Constitution, which has been improved several times since it was first written, every American has equal rights, not more, not less.

Scrolling forward to today, we seem to have groups that want to refight the Civil War and Jim Crow disparaging non-whites and non-Christians. White supremacists, the KKK and neo-Nazis are hate groups stirring up racial tension. Do they have a right to speak in America? Yes, that is how it works. Do we have the right to say in rebuttal your words and actions are evil? You are damn right we do. Civil protest is the answer. Uncivil protest cannot be tolerated. If you bring a weapon to a protest, then you should be sent away or get a ticket voucher for the weapon as it is detained. But, it is more than OK to civilly protest evil words and actions.

America is about freedom and rights. There is a huge difference in those who say we are not being treated fairly from those who say to treat us better than they you treat others. Those missions are not the same. We all have equal rights, not more, not less.

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* Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated Union to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery – the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits – a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slaveholding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?

A few good news stories which can change minds

It is apparent that the move to pull down the Confederate flag was spawned by the reaction to the killing of nine Black church members in Charleston. For family members of the deceased to look at the killer and forgive him may be one of the greatest acts of faith I have ever witnessed. And, I was not alone, as they showed what faith looks like to many. Their reaction and that of the citizens of Charleston, where the Civil War started, may have helped bury the Civil War lingering fight 150 years later. My fervent hope is they have created a dialogue that will continue to improve race relations and racial injustice in America.

If we scroll forward one week after the Confederate flag came down from the South Carolina state capitol grounds, members of the KKK marched on the capitol grounds to protest the removal of the flag. If you have ever been to Columbia, it is one of the hottest cities I have ever been in. On yet another hot day, a member of the KKK became ill with heat exhaustion and needed help. The symbolic irony is a Black officer came to the aid of this member and helped him to care. He noted he was only doing his job, but his efforts created a justifiable YouTube sensation.

In a related issue, several Black and multi-racial churches have been burned and vandalized in the past few months. These have occurred primarily in the South, but some have occurred in the northern states and up through Canada, as well. What has gotten less notice is several Islamic mosques have donated money to some of these churches to rebuild or repair the vandalism. This outpouring of help is inspirational and should get more notoriety than it does. These vandals were not Muslims, but that mattered not. The Muslim worshippers wanted to help other churchgoers.

Finally, I have written about the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. This orchestra has pulled young musicians from across the Middle East and Spain. The greater story is the young adults are Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Hindu, Protestant and from other faiths. They cross the bridges which divide us to play together. We can affect young minds in a positive way and they can teach us in return, if we let them.

My hope is these actions can help change more minds around our country and in the world. Because, beneath the surface, we are all the same. Imperfect.

 

 

Strange Fruit – why that flag means what it does to many

I applaud the state of South Carolina for making a long overdue, but nonetheless courageous decision to take down the Confederate battle flag. What many fail to realize its heritage has two meanings, neither good. It was the initial symbol of rebellion that wanted to keep the right to slavery and not be dictated by people in Washington. Do not let people try to rewrite history using the terms we southerners liked to call it “the War of Northern Aggression.” That was propaganda then and remains propaganda today.

Yet, it also carries the meaning of Jim Crow, a period which allowed the reinforced condemnation and control of Blacks in the south, in spite of their rights on paper. This condemnation included the purposeful killing, often by hanging, of Blacks who were deemed guilty of contrived crimes or because they tried to exercise their paper rights in practice. I would ask you to watch “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Mississippi Burning” to get a sense of what Jim Crow was all about.

Or, we could heed the words of Billie Holiday, who sang the impactful song “Strange Fruit.”

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Songwriters
WIGGINS, DWAYNE P./PEARL, MAURICE/ALLAN, LEWIS

If you want to listen to the words, please go to the attached link. http://www.metrolyrics.com/strange-fruit-lyrics-billie-holiday.html

Taking down the battle flag is a great, symbolic step, but it has to be more than that. We need to treat everyone like we want to be treated. Jesus made no caveats with his words as to who should not be so treated. Neither should we, especially with our history that includes “a strange and bitter crop” of people who did not come close to such treatment. This is also why we should not whitewash history, as we should never allow such treatment again on our soil.