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

Strange Fruit is the Monument we need to guard against

The question on whether to remove monuments built to honor Confederate leaders is a distraction from the real issue that unfortunately lingers on. The real issue is those who feel that other citizens who look, act or worship differently do not have the same rights in our country. These white supremacists are perpetuating bigotry and hatred that ran amok during the Jim Crow era. Sadly, this Jim Crow-like   oppression has resurfaced in the eyes of too many.

The real monuments we need to remember and guard against are captured in the song “Strange Fruit*” powerfully and mournfully sung by Billie Holiday. The monuments that should scare us are young black bodies swaying in the wind hanging from trees. As Holiday sings, this “strange fruit” is a painful reminder of what bigotry and hatred can do.

“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.”

White supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK must be condemned for their bigotry and hatred. It is that simple. We should not have tolerated it then and we must not tolerate it now. And, since the President won’t condemn such behavior and his past and current words have emboldened these white supremacists, we Americans must take up that mantle and say this is not right.

* Written by Lewis Allan, Maurice Pearl, Dwayne P Wiggins