Do “White People” Suppress Black History?

Christy Coleman

by James A. Bacon

Christy Coleman, CEO of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond and an African-American, professes to know how white people think. Here’s what she said yesterday at a Richmond forum that, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, was organized “to dispel racism against African Americans.”

White people want to feel good about their history, and that means everyone else has to forget about theirs. Well, I’m not in that business.

Wow.

First point: I’m such a dinosaur I can remember what it was like growing up in the 1960s when I was taught that it was wrong to make sweeping generalities about the people of other races and cultures. That was called “stereotyping.” When applied to blacks and minorities, stereotyping was considered a form of racism. Now, apparently, it is deemed acceptable to make sweeping derogatory generalities about “white people.”

Second point: Is there anything wrong with white people “wanting to feel good about their history”? Most people want to feel good about their history. Has Coleman joined the camp of those who contend that white Americans have nothing to feel good about — that all white people, regardless of when they came to this country, or where they came from, or where they settled, or what they did, are so irredeemably stained by slavery, Jim Crow and racism, that the sins of some white people transfer to all white people?

Third point: How does Coleman leap from the idea of white people feeling good about their history to the assertion, “That means everyone else has to forget about theirs”? Judging by the RTD article, Coleman was likely referring to the “Lost Cause” narrative, which she said perpetrated three big lies: that the Civil War was about states’ rights, not slavery; that slavery was good for black people; and that black people of the era were actively involved in preserving the Confederacy and the institutions of slavery.

True, the Lost Cause narrative was a real thing, and once in a while you’ll still hear people defend the state’s rights argument. But, really, when was the last time anyone suggested that “slavery was good for black people”? More to the point, when was the last time that “white people” suppressed the efforts of African-Americans from discovering their history and heritage?

It seems to me that “white people” have done just the opposite. Take a look at the founding donors of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Among the top donors are lily-white Lilly Endowment, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, David M. Rubenstein, and a vast array of corporate and lesser-known philanthropists (including some dude name Louis Moore Bacon — no known relation).

And what about the American Civil War Museum board of directors that hired Coleman? The mostly white board hired her to advance the goal, as articulated by board chair Edward L. Ayers in an RTD op-ed a couple of years ago, of leading the Richmond museum in a new direction, telling the stories of “soldiers and civilians, … enslaved people and free people, … people loyal to the Union and to the Confederacy.”

Some 40+ years ago I earned an M.A. in History at the Johns Hopkins University where I studied African history, which encompassed the Atlantic slave trade and the African diaspora in the Western hemisphere. Within the past year I have visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, in Montgomery, Ala. I have spent considerable time rummaging through the Library of Virginia’s “Virginia Untold” digital archives of African American history.

Speaking as one “white person,” I believe it is possible to feel good about the history of the United States for advancing the principles of liberty, freedom and equality; for revolutionizing commerce, technology, and the arts; and for fighting wars to end U.S. slavery, end the Spanish colonial empire, end the European monarchies, destroy fascism, and defeat communism. I see no contradiction whatsoever between taking pride as an American in those accomplishments and fleshing out the previously neglected history and contributions of African-Americans to building this country. What Coleman says about “white people” does not apply to me at all. Perhaps I should take grievous offense. Perhaps I should mobilize a Twitter Outrage Mob and try to get her fired! Just kidding — I hate Twitter Outrage Mobs, and I don’t think she should be fired.

I do hope, though, that the RTD quote does not accurately reflect the way Coleman really feels. Perhaps the newspaper reporter was just looking for an eye-catching quote and took it out of context. Coleman is a prominent member of the community, and the comment, as it appears in the newspaper, was not a positive contribution to Virginia’s ongoing dialogue about race.

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50 responses to “Do “White People” Suppress Black History?

  1. Responding to your headline, do they (we)? Probably not now. Did they (we) until fairly recently? Oh yeah, big time. No question. Strike the word “white” from her comment and insert “all” and I wouldn’t disagree at all, nobody enjoys the full retelling of history, warts and all. Try telling some Texans what the Anglo revolutionaries didn’t like about Santa Anna’s new Mexican constitution. (Uh, abolition.) Her condemnation of the Lost Cause meme is dead on, and it still lives on with many, many people. It was nothing short of overwhelming in my childhood. As I’ve said before, the move from CA to VA in the sixties was an eye opener.

    Now, the more important question is, having been where we were and knowing where we need to be, what’s the path?

    • If Coleman had put the sentence in the past tense — “White people wanted to feel good about their history, and that meant everyone else had to forget about theirs” — I wouldn’t have said a thing. But she framed the sentence in the present tense, implying very strongly that the things she talks about are ongoing.

      I fully acknowledge the views of the older generation — people in their 80s and 90s — who are fast disappearing from the scene. When I told my parents that I was going to Hopkins to study African history, they were incredulous. History? Africans don’t have any history! When I tried to explain that they did and that historians just needed to unearth it, I’m not sure they believed me.

      While that attitude may persist on the margins of society, the people with money and power (just look at the donor list to National Museum of African American History and Culture) have a totally different view.

      • As printed in the R T-D, that’s a very intemperate statement. But, is that truly and exactly what she said? What if she said “wanted” but the T-D writer only got “want” or the editor only decided to say “want.”

        What if what preceded this statement was context establishing that she was speaking about the immediate antebellum period, when suppressing black pride in African history was truly a thing?

        I’ve not had my words quoted in the newspapers very often, but in not one single instance has the quote been exactly verbatim.

  2. “Lost Cause meme” holds much truth, and yet it was horribly used as a political weapon to obscure much truth about events. But today it is flipped onto its head yet again into another political weapon to stereotype whole groups of people by their color and casting unfair blame, but this always happens during and after all wars, if only because all wars kill, maim, destroy and heap horrors onto all caught up in the myriad horrors otherwise nearly impossible to bear, particularly if the killed, maimed, destroyed and humiliated are your father, son, daughter, mother, farm, home, culture, heritage, and reason for living. People who speak about such things in broad generality casting blanket fault onto the dead, while blaring their own virtue, without having experienced personally what others long ago endured, lack all creditably, their loose, reckless and ignorant talk reflecting poorly only on themselves.

  3. I am afraid that the concerns she has are valid. I wish you were right but from my experiences, sadly you are not. Too many people have the perspectives she describes. They make even those who seek to do better look bad because too often blankets are applied to all. Jim, during the time you talk about, we were also taught outright lies about Virginia history. It’s hard to excuse that when it still influences many – and many much younger than 80 or 90.

  4. As the father of four sons who are through school and a fifth about to enter eighth grade I have seen what history is taught in public, parochial and private schools. It is still overwhelmingly white history. In fairness, the power structure of the United States has been overwhelmingly white so to teach from the vantage point of how those in power wielded power is to teach white history. What’s missing is the history of those who were not in power. The kind of fabulous history written by Will & Ariel Durant (although not about US history).

    What was it like to be a slave in 1820 Virginia?
    How did western Virginians feel about being disenfranchised by the Richmond elite and the southeastern Virginia aristocracy.
    What really happened to Pocahontas, the ancestor of every member of the Richmond elite (sarcasm flag = “on”)? Did she retire and die happy in her dotage?
    What did the leaders of Virginia’s Indian tribes think regarding each other prior to colonization and about the colonists after?
    If you were a black freeman in 1840 New York City … what was life like?
    Why did the fictional Joad family move from Oklahoma to California to get better economic opportunity while rural Virginians today can’t move from Lee County to Henrico County for the same reason?
    Why do 60% of Korean immigrants in Virginia live in Fairfax County?

    There are lots of questions in history that go beyond Patrick Henry asking for Liberty or Death. How did a slave feel about the Revolutionary War?

    Lots of schools teach Modern European History, usually a requirement. Where is Modern Asian History, Modern South American History or Modern African History?

    As for the Lost Cause – you didn’t have to live in California to be shocked. When I matriculated from Alexandria to Charlottesville to attend UVA in 1977 I was stunned by what I heard coming out of the mouths of the children of the southeastern Virginia aristocracy. It seems like the fancier the private high school they attended the more deluded and patronizingly prejudiced they were. These were the children of our southeastern aristocratic state leader. I was not at all surprised to hear that Governor Coonman dressed in blackface and had a man in blackface (probably him) and a woman in klan robes on his yearbook page. Par for the course among the landed aristocrats from southeast Virginia.

    There are still Confederate flags flying on Rt 29 as you enter Charlottesville from the north. Here’s today’s bonus question in American history – can anybody tell me why that might cause an African-American to feel something between despondent and outraged? I’m not asking whether you feel despondent or outraged, I’m asking if you can understand why somebody else might feel that way.

  5. We could apply a similar thing to American women’s history — that in the past it was not told very broadly, deeply, or publically, which is not the same thing as it being conspiratorily repressed, or viciously distorted out of a desire to keep women down and out of the larger human story.

    Ditto Native Americans, immigrants, poor whites, etc.

    Presentism is really getting me down. It seems to have infected not only public dialog, but also academe, many — though not all — institutions, and everyday thought, which then infects cocktail parties and BBQs alike with a dumbing down of context, meaning, and understanding.

    The imperfections of the past in law, custom, and practice disturb me greatly, but they can’t be changed. History is a complex, multi-dimensional thing that is best understood with at least a measure of compassion even for many things we clearly see as repugnant through today’s eyes. I seek out and celebrate that we’re finally in a time when a larger story is being told, and brilliantly so at many museums, house museums, seminars, symposia, articles, books, and more. But two wrongs won’t make a right, and presentism will kill the real project which is to broaden the scope of voices, deepen the well of human experience, and flesh out the picture of what really happened for good or for ill, and even the many gray areas in between.

    We need a racial reckoning and a racial reconciliation, we need to hear the stories of American blacks, of women, of any formerly (and even currently ) marginalized group. Let us work toward it being the best telling of those stories, by which I mean with context, patience, forbearance, humility, compassion, and the reservation of all-encompassing judgment on lives that were 3-dimensional (and more) in their own lifetimes, and not the caricatures we wish to make them today in order to grind the axe of a lasting and perhaps justified grievance.

    We need history, not to be pushed away by it.

    • We can add Native Americans to this also. We just got back from our west trip where we “followed” Lewis & Clark and the Oregon Trail and inevitably intertwined the Nez Perce (and all the others).

      What spurred the westward migration of people along the Oregon Trail was the fact that the US govt “gave” them land … that Jefferson had “acquired”.

      Among the sites we visited – the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument – where they have marked with white headstones – every soldier who died but until very recently – not a single Native American who fell in that battle was marked and of course trying to determine that is not easy because back when that battle occurred, we need not “inventory” the dead native americans…on that field.

      Let’s face it – the REAL history of the US is less than wonderful and yes, we have spend decades teachings kids in schools about the “good” – We did this in College also – and have folks degrees in history – and some of them are prone to believe in myths and deny realities.

      And yes… people, right now today, say that the slaves were treated “well” and had a better life than they would have otherwise – AND that if they don’t appreciate it today, they should “go back” to where they came from as if they and their succeeding generations were never REAL Americans to begin with.

    • thepolichick is the hands down winner here by a country mile. But where do we start talking with all these slaves we got. Do we start with the Xia dynasty (c. 2070–1600 BC) versus the Shang, and go down all Chinese slavers over the last three thousand years, or dig into all those slaves since time began across the rest of Asia, Asia Minor, the Middle East, or do we start with the cradle of slavery found throughout all of Africa, or murderous slave cults of Central, South and North America long before the fifteen century AD., or do we focus on the present, the talk about the estimated absolute minimum of 40+ million enslaved today, perhaps among the very highest numbers in human history? And how did all this get resolved, to degree it did? And why is it impossible to eradicate, anywhere.

  6. I’m appreciating this dig into some of the U.S. and Virginia history of slavery here. History can be buried and continued research often uncovers more layers of evidence of historical happenings. New discoveries can challenge our previous understandings. In July of this year, Fox News reported that New Hampshire Republican state Rep. Werner Horn raised eyebrows in a now-deleted social media post, insisting those who owned slaves weren’t racist and were just making a “business decision.” Is it possible to wash out the racist view of slavery by seeing the practice as simply an economic decision? Horn continued to note, “The U.S. had abolitionists since the start, people who felt slavery wasn’t moral but they weren’t enslaving black people because they were black. They were bringing in these folks because they were available.”

    https://www.foxnews.com/politics/new-hampshire-lawmaker-slavery-racism-business-decision

    • Thomas Jefferson even calculated a return on equity on his slaves, four percent per annum as I recall. Source: “Master of the Mountain,” a crucial book. One had to start with assumption that the slaves were not fully human to be engaged in that business at all, let alone go to war to maintain it. The Lost Cause meme was a rationalization in the classic psychological sense of the word, a way to wrap your head around an unpleasant truth.

      • All true, and it ain’t “unpleasant”, its awful. And Jefferson actions, whose sins and faults were legend, likely had more to do with freeing slaves than any human being who ever lived on this earth. Go figure.

  7. The defensive tone used to call out this person for being (perceived to be anyway) defensive is ironic, don’t you think?

  8. Dear Jim,

    Well, it looks like you’ve done flung yourself back into that ole racial “briar patch” again for some more group “primal scream” therapy. Oh, well, there’s always tomorrow to swear off “demon racism”! ;-))<

    Sincerely,

    Andrew

  9. Jim,
    White people have been suppressing African-American history for centuries.This is not arguable. Maybe you should find other topics that can be argued.

    • Peter, If it is “inarguable” that “white people have been suppressing African-American history for centuries,” perhaps you could provide a recent example. If you can’t, your comment is irrelevant to my post.

      Meanwhile, here are some of the book titles (which I pulled off my library shelf) along with the dates in which they were published.

      “White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812,” by Winthrop D. Jordan (1968)

      “Slavery,” by Stanley Elkins (1968)

      “American Negro Slavery: A Modern View”, edited by Allen Weinstein and Frank Otto Gatell (1973)

      “The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South,” by Kenneth M. Stampp (1956)

      “The Political Economy of Slavery: Studies in the Economy and Society of the Slave South”, by Eugene D. Genovese (1965)

      “Time on the Cross: the Economics of American Negro Slavery” by Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman (1974)

      Scholars have been giving the lie to the Lost Cause narrative for more than 50 years. As with any great intellectual change, it took time for the revisionist perspectives explored in these books to migrate to the general public through museums, movies, print publications, and other popular media, etc., but migrate they have.

  10. Jim,
    In general, I usually agree with the points that you frequently bring up regarding the race narrative in our country and the damage that it is inflicting on those that it is intending to help. However, on this one, I believe you are lost.
    First, you assume that the portions of Ms. Coleman’s talk that the RTD decided to publish are indicative of her overall message. You know better. You know that a newspaper is going to publish the most interesting, salacious, pithy items and leave the nuance out- if nothing else, for space reasons. I have had the pleasure of hearing Ms. Coleman speak twice. She is incredibly forthright but highly aware of the intricacies of what she is saying. In the times I heard her speak, she did not oversimplify or misunderstand the variety of viewpoints present.
    Second, are you seriously trying to say that you think there are not people still around, of many ages, who are not white supremacists? Are you under the misapprehension that racism has been eradicated? There are absolutely plenty of white people who are actively seeking to suppress African-Americans. And white privilege, and the fact that you could be ignorant of that fact, is an absolute thing. Just as a man does not know the fear that a woman has walking in a dark parking deck, as a middle-class white person, I will never know the fear of law enforcement that many African-Americans struggle with. I had an avowed white supremacist in my office last week promulgating his views. They are here, and they are emboldened at this time. The Lost Cause narrative is still a thing. There are still people who promulgate it, and there are still whites, young and old, who do not believe in equality.
    Third, everyone, and I mean everyone, wants to feel better about their history. We all polish and refine our own narratives every day. This is human nature. Because white people have been the group in power, we have been able to push a narrative, intentionally or not, that required an airbrush approach to everyone else’s history. Is that not apparent everywhere? As a society, we have done an incredible job of adding to the narrative, but the default narrative takes a long time to change. And it requires some disruption and discomfort. Acknowledging the contributions of white people and the incredible gift of our country does not eliminate the wrongs or vice versa.
    Yes, many, many white people have been on the right side of these debates. Without them, things would be in such a terrible place. And things are moving in the correct direction, even with our current hiccups. But that does not eliminate the obligation as a member of a privileged group- whether privilege comes from education, class, money or race, to keep moving the dialog forward. You may not think that any of this applies to you, but you have a life that is based upon many blessings. You seek to share those, and that is right and proper. And you seek to increase dialog, which is also good. But please recognize that we as a group are not always so noble and that we all carry the weight of both our blessings and our sins- individual and generational.

    • Sara, thanks for your thoughtful, heart-felt comments. I’m not sure where we disagree. Can you point to a particular statement in my post that you take exception to?

      Just curious: Did the white supremacist you talked to occupy a position of power or cultural influence in society? Has he contributed to the mainstream narrative about race, or is he stuck in his own corner of society with other pathetic losers who advocate white supremacy?

      • Sara, a fine person, is still to caught up in the identity trope of this current year. We need to think far more broadly and boldly and openly, and not pander to platitudes and false palliatives, and understand that progress cannot avoid controversy, claims of upset, and allegations of privilege. Everyone rides in his or her own apple cart, no matter their color, age or culture. There is a better way. Earlier here I said:

        ‘Acbar says:

        “We’ve learned a lot this year. One thing learned is that thoughtful people are concerned about causation, whereas reactionaries at both ends of the spectrum care only about results. History has no significance, even relevance, for people who don’t care why we are the way we are, but simply wish (demand) that we be different. We see this in the occasional deliberate choice to erase history … Yes, those who ignore history may be doomed to repeat it … But another thing learned is that there is ugliness in our history … God grant us the wisdom to admit the difference, and to deal with the latter as they deserve.” End Quote.

        Acbar, I’ve come to believe that learning important aspects of history in a true and meaningful way, and applying that learning to our world today, is far more difficult, complex, and demanding than I had ever imagined. The task demands all of our powers and their immense efforts. For anyone doing such task well, and thus having an impact that might change reality, will encounter fierce resistance from the present.

        This is why so many great books of history (or art or science) are written in varying degrees of code on so many levels, if only to keep the writers neck, or his work, off the chopping block.

        This is also why so much great history (like art and science) has been intentionally destroyed. Or buried, even if its creator lives to die of natural causes. It is the reason so many are in exile.

        The truth is that the present hates to hear the truth about today, and it hates to hear the truths of history that brought us to where we are today. Truth is the perennial orphan, particularity truth having relevance to today’s world.

        Why?

        Much of the truth is very ugly. Most of the truth is novel, quite strange, mostly unknown. Most truth is very uncomfortable, even under the best of circumstances, and it is very significantly different, far different, often quite the opposite, from what the reader may have thought or believed to be the truth before uncovering the truth. Particularly so as the truth is only as good and deep as the searcher powers to uncover, judge, and appreciate it, a journey during which he or she must overcome many obstacles. Even then, the truth will die unless the searcher finds a way to keep that true alive.

        Take for example the work that Andrew mentions in Bye, Bye, Birdie – Plato’s Book VIII of the Republic. See: Book VIII of _The Republic_ http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.9.viii.html

        This book cost Socrates his life.

        How many died in Rome citing that book as the authority for what was in fact going on in Rome for 500 years after the fall of the Roman Republic? Ask Cicero how many before they chopped off his hands. No, the better question is who cited Book VIII and lived to see the sun rise again.

        The truth that Socrates (through Plato) taught mankind about itself brings to us just as much bitterness today. And it is just as misunderstood today as it was in ancient Rome. Thomas Jefferson despised the book. John Adams “built his Church up its rock.” Disputations over its meanings and conclusions fueled perhaps the most vicious and vitriolic presidential campaign in American history. That between Jefferson and Adams in 1800. During those bitter times, it unfairly damaged and destroyed reputations of fine men up until this very day, and indeed threatened our Federal form of government in its infancy.

        This morning, thanks to Andrew, I read Book VIII front to back for the first time in a decade. I saw it in a wholly different light, given what I have learned in the last decade.

        Why?

        Because like Andrew says, the Book helps to explain much of the ugliness of history and how it is borne along through time on the wings of the dark aspects of human nature, and the systems that men and women build and operate to promote and protect those dark instincts of their human nature.

        There is a great paradox here, one that is the great gift of history. The more the searcher for the truth of history uncovers the more he must confront the ugliness of history. But here to is where the great gift arises. For the more ugliness he or she can confront and work through and appreciate, the more he or she comes to appreciate the good and noble acts of men and women who endure that ugliness with their goodness intact and so often overcome it in ways large and small, and even reverse that dark side of history and human nature.

        And then also comes the second great gift, that is one that Martin Luther King shines his light on – how also the searcher for the truth so often comes to see that the real evil is often built into not only “the systems within human nature, but also the systems that human nature builds and operates to generate so much evil in the world we all must live in and deal with.

        Some people far more than others must deal directly with and confront this dark reality. This is why the good warrior, the good teacher, and the good scholar are so precious to us all. Our Civilization depends on these good people to an inordinate degree, and we, the rest of us, reap the great benefits the bestow on us.”

        AND OF COURSE:

        It’s is important here today, some 8 months later, not to pick on Larry alone, because we all, each and everyone of us, have the very same problem and it is very hard most always to overcome the UGLINESS OF HISTORY. Particularly for the young among us, hence the rioting in the streets that we have witnesses for over the two years in Charlottesville.”

        See: Fewer Young People, More Geezers Working These Days, Posted on December 21, 2017 by James A. Bacon | 35 Comments

      • Jim,
        Your tone of disbelief and indignation regarding Ms. Coleman’s comments runs throughout your piece- and although you acknowledge that the RTD may have simplified her views, you plow forward based upon that one sentiment, regardless. I think better of you- a person that I know sees things from many sides and works to pause instead of react. This piece is filled with reaction tinged with bitterness and the comments it has elicited bear that out.
        Your words about how you visited museums and have a degree in African history comes across to me in this writing as cover for your irritation that you are seen as a person of privilege or that by being such, you have some stigma to overcome. But we all have stigmas to overcome. Each one of us is seen everyday by the outside world in ways that are true. And not. And all people make prejudicial judgments based upon their own past and society continually. Good, bad, indifferent. You know this.

        As to the white supremacist… I have no idea whether he has power or influence. All I know is that for the African-American woman who was a customer in the office during his diatribe in a public place, it had to be a frightening and disconcerting moment. One of my employees, another African-American woman, who was a child through integration, talks openly of her fear today in a world where people like that are so comfortable with their hate and how scary it is to her that a man came in to the office to state those views. He doesn’t need cultural or political power to create fear and chaos, or to hurt people if he is violently inclined.

        • Sara, I am not a bitter person. I just see the current obsession with race and the progressive policy nostrums that accompany it as profoundly destructive to black people. You can see the results in our inner-city schools. You can see them in higher-ed. You can see them in our housing policies. And we may soon see them in the crime statistics. If the violent crime rate continues to rise, you can be assured that most of the bodies will be black.

          As for white supremacists like the one you describe, their objectionable behavior should be confronted and shamed.

    • Sara, a fine person, is still to caught up in the identity trope of this current year. We need to think far more broadly and boldly and openly, and not pander to platitudes and false palliatives, and understand that progress cannot avoid controversy, claims of upset, and allegations of privilege. Everyone rides in his or her own apple cart, no matter their color, age or culture. There is a better way. Here on Dec. I said”

      “Reed Fawell 3rd says:

      ‘Acbar says:

      “We’ve learned a lot this year. One thing learned is that thoughtful people are concerned about causation, whereas reactionaries at both ends of the spectrum care only about results. History has no significance, even relevance, for people who don’t care why we are the way we are, but simply wish (demand) that we be different. We see this in the occasional deliberate choice to erase history … Yes, those who ignore history may be doomed to repeat it … But another thing learned is that there is ugliness in our history … God grant us the wisdom to admit the difference, and to deal with the latter as they deserve.”

      I’ve come to believe that learning important aspects of history in a true and meaningful way, and applying that learning to our world today, is far more difficult, complex, and demanding than I had ever imagined. The task demands all of our powers and their immense efforts. For anyone doing such task well, and thus having an impact that might change reality, will encounter fierce resistance from the present.

      This is why so many great books of history (or art or science) are written in varying degrees of code on so many levels, if only to keep the writers neck, or his work, off the chopping block.

      This is also why so much great history (like art and science) has been intentionally destroyed. Or buried, even if its creator lives to die of natural causes. It is the reason so many are in exile.

      The truth is that the present hates to hear the truth about today, and it hates to hear the truths of history that brought us to where we are today. Truth is the perennial orphan, particularity truth having relevance to today’s world.

      Why?

      Much of the truth is very ugly. Most of the truth is novel, quite strange, mostly unknown. Most truth is very uncomfortable, even under the best of circumstances, and it is very significantly different, far different, often quite the opposite, from what the reader may have thought or believed to be the truth before uncovering the truth. Particularly so as the truth is only as good and deep as the searcher powers to uncover, judge, and appreciate it, a journey during which he or she must overcome many obstacles. Even then, the truth will die unless the searcher finds a way to keep that true alive.

      Take for example the work that Andrew mentions in Bye, Bye, Birdie – Plato’s Book VIII of the Republic. See: Book VIII of _The Republic_ http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.9.viii.html

      This book cost Socrates his life.

      How many died in Rome citing that book as the authority for what was in fact going on in Rome for 500 years after the fall of the Roman Republic? Ask Cicero how many before they chopped off his hands. No, the better question is who cited Book VIII and lived to see the sun rise again.

      The truth that Socrates (through Plato) taught mankind about itself brings to us just as much bitterness today. And it is just as misunderstood today as it was in ancient Rome. Thomas Jefferson despised the book. John Adams “built his Church up its rock.” Disputations over its meanings and conclusions fueled perhaps the most vicious and vitriolic presidential campaign in American history. That between Jefferson and Adams in 1800. During those bitter times, it unfairly damaged and destroyed reputations of fine men up until this very day, and indeed threatened our Federal form of government in its infancy.

      This morning, thanks to Andrew, I read Book VIII front to back for the first time in a decade. I saw it in a wholly different light, given what I have learned in the last decade.

      Why?

      Because like Andrew says, the Book helps to explain much of the ugliness of history and how it is borne along through time on the wings of the dark aspects of human nature, and the systems that men and women build and operate to promote and protect those dark instincts of their human nature.

      There is a great paradox here, one that is the great gift of history. The more the searcher for the truth of history uncovers the more he must confront the ugliness of history. But here to is where the great gift arises. For the more ugliness he or she can confront and work through and appreciate, the more he or she comes to appreciate the good and noble acts of men and women who endure that ugliness with their goodness intact and so often overcome it in ways large and small, and even reverse that dark side of history and human nature.

      And then also comes the second great gift, that is one that Martin Luther King shines his light on – how also the searcher for the truth so often comes to see that the real evil is often built into not only “the systems within human nature, but also the systems that human nature builds and operates to generate so much evil in the world we all must live in and deal with.

      Some people far more than others must deal directly with and confront this dark reality. This is why the good warrior, the good teacher, and the good scholar are so precious to us all. Our Civilization depends on these good people to an inordinate degree, and we, the rest of us, reap the great benefits the bestow on us.”

      AND OF COURSE:

      It’s is important here today, some 8 months later, not to pick on Larry alone, because we all, each and everyone of us, have the very same problem and it is very hard most always to overcome the UGLINESS OF HISTORY. Particularly for the young among us, hence the rioting in the streets that we have witnesses for over the two years in Charlottesville.”

      See: Fewer Young People, More Geezers Working These Days, Posted on December 21, 2017 by James A. Bacon | 35 Comments

  11. Jim, check out jeff thomas’s recent book and how the state education department was depicting slaves as late as the 1970s.

  12. This is the worst beating you’ve ever taken in a comment string, Jim. Time to put away the shovel, stop digging, and take another look. And you were equally wrong to open the next post with a complaint about an “orgy of introspection.” This anniversary is exactly the right time to be having these conversations, with aging white guys like you and me mainly listening.

  13. So what about those of marginalized faiths, such as Jews, Catholics, Mormons and to some degree even Methodists and Baptists? I was a bit flabbergasted a few years ago when I heard Methodists described as “Baptists who could read.”

  14. Jim, i may be wrong but you have never been to Africa. If you are such a student, why don’t you go?

  15. I am surprised by the amount of weasel words be unloaded on this thread to defend Ms. Coleman’s outrageously racists words.

    I keep wondering what would happen if in 2019 in Richmond a white non-profit head said, “”Black people want to __________, and that means everyone else has to _________. Well, I’m not in that business.”

  16. So, here’s what I’ve heard so far:

    (1) In the past white people (especially Southerners) suppressed black perspectives on history in favor of the “Lost Cause” narrative.

    (2) Some racists and white supremacists still hew to parts of the discredited Lost Cause narrative.

    (3) Ergo, “white people” in the collective sense today still suppress black perspectives on history.

    I’m sorry, but that makes NO SENSE WHATSOEVER.

    • Actually, what you heard from me was that history, as taught in Virginia high schools, is the history of powerful people. If you want to learn about the American Revolution, study the Founding Fathers. If you want to understand the Civil War, study Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Robert E Lee. Etc.

      Since powerful people in America were almost exclusively white men for 200+ years a study of history through the study of national leaders turns into a study of white men.

      I see this as almost algebraic.

      If our study of history were not just of the leaders and the great events but also of the lives of the “common” people who lived through various times then it would no longer be a study of white men.

      I don’t see any conscious racism. However, there is a subtle willingness to overlook what life in the United States was like outside of the power elite.

      A study of American history based on our leaders starting in 2000 would, of necessity, require the study of a black leader named Barack Obama. Over time, even a study of history based on studying those in power will tend to diversify. However, to really understand American history it is insufficient to simply study our leaders and what they did. Even if African-Americans were not represented among America’s leaders in the past, African-Americans certainly have a part in American history.

  17. “we all carry the weight of both our blessings and our sins- individual and generational.
    That is rather a rather Deuteronomical way of looking at things that I reject.

    • The Deuteronomical way would be to have stated it was a generational curse, possibly to not even be overcome. Accepting that we are all impacted by the blessings and sins that we have received from our own and our forefathers pasts is quite different.

  18. Jim,
    Thank you for linking Jeff Thomas’s PDF . Here is what else he sent from the textbook, “Virginia, History, Government, Geography (2nd) 1964. This stayed in classrooms for years.

    “Life among the Negroes of Virginia in slavery times was generally happy. The Negroes went about in a cheerful manner making a living for themselves and for those for whom they worked. They were not so unhappy as some Northerners thought they were, nor were they so happy as some Southerners claimed. The Negroes had their problems and their troubles. But they were not worried by the furious arguments going on between Northerners and Southerners over what should be done with them. In fact, they paid little attention to these arguments.”

    • Peter:

      I was totally unprepared for what I saw and heard upon arriving at the University of Virginia in the Fall of 1977. My Fairfax County High School was about 45% white, 35% black and 10% “other” (mostly Korean-American) when I attended. Today it is 38.65% White, 16.31% Black, 34.76% Hispanic or Latino, 6.75% Asian and 3.53% Other.

      Our teachers danced around issues like the Civil War and slavery. They taught the facts. However, there was never a time when there was a discussion of “The Lost Cause”, “The War Between the States”, “The War of Northern Aggression” or “cheerful slaves”. The US Civil War was primarily about slavery, the South lost and America was vastly better because the South lost. Those were the basics that were taught to me in the mid 1970s.

      Imagine my surprise to get to UVA and hear about the “War of Northern Aggression” and the battle over states’ rights from the children of privilege coming out of the private schools of southeast Virginia, especially the Richmond area. It was both shocking and eye opening.

      I assume and hope that even in Richmond’s elite private schools the reality of the Civil War, Jim Crow, Massive Resistance, etc is now being faithfully and accurately taught.

  19. Dear Lefties,

    Your egalitarianism is wrong, therefore the society you long for can never be; your Lost Cause is set in the future. All you do is promote envy and self-hate and nothing positive. Once your power is gone, and it is going amid the frantic screams of your lunatic cadres, people who were too afraid to say why, will leave your debased institutions which will collapse into dust because they are inherently coercive and never worked. And normal people will let out a great shout that “Nineveh the Mighty” has fallen. You tried to build upon sand, not rock. Your theory has generated strife and death wherever it has been tried. So March on, but one of these days you will be doing it alone, a sect whose “god” failed, and abandoned by your once captive audience, and then we will begin the arduous of rebuilding our civilization upon truth and justice and mercy.

    Sincerely,

    Andrew

    • “Your egalitarianism is wrong…” Well, it’s the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence, so it is not just our present-day egalitarianism.

      • Dear Steve,

        No, the Founders did not believe in equal abilities, much less demand equal outcomes, but in God’s love for all men; that is the equality of which they wrote.

        Sincerely,

        Andrew

  20. Dear Andrew
    Maybe you will have a happy and fulfilling future like the Negroes,
    Sincerely
    Peter Galuszka

  21. I thank Jim for putting this topic forward to allow this great discussion to happen. The evil we can perceive in historic VA slavery has existed since man has operated from fear and self-interest, qualities that appear to exist within all of us whether expressed outwardly or not. Sometimes a person wishing to do good is not provided the wisdom or knowledge to behave as a good person. Throughout time, there have been certain people who taught that other people were not human or equal or worthy of respect or humane treatment. Children thus taught may mistreat others until they can receive adequate training or experience a different reality. Great teachers have come upon this planet offering a way out of this dark human quality…Christ, Buddha, and even the democratic principles expressed by our wise, if not perfect founding fathers. But the impetus to follow our own interests and sometimes ignore the reality that may harm others in following that self interest is powerful.

    I was stunned to witness our own Governor Northam manipulate the Civilian VA Air Pollution Board to get a permit provided to Dominion by removing two civilian members that had expressed concern over the impact of the Atlantic Coast Buckingham Gas Compressor Station placed right in the middle of the 85% African American community of Union Hill. A formal requirement in the VA Dept of Environmental Quality’s regulations for a permit requires a comprehensive impact study of any such fossil fuel infrastructure placed in such a low-income, minority community. This was ignored in both the Dominion Federal Energy Regulatory Commision documentation and ignored by their application for the Air Permit. Representatives of the Union Hill community testified and requested a comprehensive review. The Governor, with the aid of some incorrect data by DEQ claiming that Union Hill was a majority white community based on selective averaging of Buckingham County census reports, meddled with the fair process of review of the Air Board to ensure a permit was issued for Dominion. Is this pure racism in siding with economic interests over the fair treatment of an 85% African American community (based on a scholarly door to door poll managed by a Cultural Anthropologist PhD), or just a political move that happens to ignore the impacts to this community that has already lost property value and land use due to the proposed compressor station and pipeline route running through their rural home. This is just one of numerous regulatory shortcomings that have resulted in court filings stopping this unnecessary corporate boondogle for profit over people’s property rights and rights to health and safety. Is this VA government as usual? Is this embedded racism or simple corporate overreach combined with a politician determined to deliver a promise to a big corporate supporter? To those of us who witnessed this unraveling of a just process in place to guarantee that the rights of minority communities in our fine state are not ignored, we see a system that is rigged to work against the rights of individuals, in this case African American citizens, to ensure the economic success for a powerful corporation. My wife and I were somewhat stunned to see this roll out at the hearings in Richmond right in front of our eyes. We expected more from our elected officials and did not realize the depth of this embedded injustice. We are wiser for the experience. But our heart aches for the realization of the principles upon which this nation was founded. That this situation may exist in our country wherever money and power come up against the defense of individual rights may inform all of us how any of us may ask, do whites suppress black history or the history of any community or Indian tribe that seeks to the negative impact of corporate expansion into their land and communities. We can do better and should expect better from our elected representatives, Democrat or Republican. Thanks for the discussion.

    • Thank you for your thoughts. No question, Virginia does have a long, troubled racial history to deal with. Here is my question to you: Do we get beyond racism by fixating on the past, dwelling on past injustices, and maximizing white guilt or by looking to the future to create a society that provides opportunity for everyone? Which approach will accomplish more good for black people?

      You and I have exchanged views before on the Union Hill controversy. A big reason that I don’t take the “environmental racism” argument seriously is that I don’t think that environmentalists are really truly interested in the best interests of the black residents of Union Hill. Rather, they are using the black residents of Union Hill to front for their own interests. If they were serious about the pipeline’s impact on blacks, they would consult the black elected officials along the route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline who support the pipeline on economic development grounds. But those black elected officials have been totally ignored by pipeline foes and allied media.

      If one were inclined to turn every controversy into one of race, one could argue that opposition to the pipeline constitutes “economic-development racism.”

      I understand your opposition to the ACP — you will be negatively impacted by the pipeline, as will many other landowners and inhabitants (of whatever race). Pipeline foes raise many legitimate issues. Environmental racism is not one of them.

      • The problem I have with your line of logic is the implicit assumption that everything is fixed. The same governance system that gave us Richmond as the capital of the Confederacy, massive resistance, state sanction eugenics, Virginia vs Loving, etc is still in place. The corruption is no longer overtly racist but the corruption is still there. The unlimited political donations and the endless thievery of Dominion, the unlimited political donations and the second lowest cigarette tax in America compliments of the Altria death star, the unlimited corporate donations and the destruction of the menhaden population in the Chesapeake Bay thanks to foreign-owned Omega Protein.

        I would suggest that Virginia’s independent city structure along with the annexation ban is inherently racist. City of Richmond – 57.2% African American, City of Petersburg – 79% African-American, Chesterfield County – 21.9% African American, Henrico County – 21.7% African American. Would the African-Americans in Petersburg be better off if, like everywhere else in America, that city was part of a county – like Chesterfield perhaps?

        The reason to study the past is to ask questions like – How the hell did massive resistance happen? What fatal flaws in our governance structure allowed that to happen? What fatal flaws still exist in our governance system and what pain and suffering are those flaws visiting on modern day Virginians? Finally, what manner of racist, segregationist society would erect a statue to Harry Byrd, the architect of massive resistance, in 1976 and put it on the Capitol Square?

        • I do not believe that “everything is fixed.” I’ll be doing future posts on what I believe needs to be fixed. But I don’t think that Virginia is systemically racist, and I think an Opportunity Narrative will accomplish far more good for everyone than a Victimhood-and-Grievance Narrative.

          Do we need to understand how our institutions got to be where they are today? Yes. But a far more important question is how we fix them. Progressives have lots of good intentions, but their fixes are notoriously loaded with unintended consequences. I think those unintended consequences are far more deleterious than residual racism. Faced with the disastrous consequences of their social engineering, however, progressives are doubling down on the racism narrative to divert attention from their own failures. From the rhetoric, you’d think we’d reverted to the Jim Crow era — or as Joe Biden famously said of Republicans a few years back, “They want to put ya’ll back in chains.”

          Sorry, but I don’t buy it.

  22. correction: “…that seeks to “stand against” the negative impact of corporate expansion…”

  23. Re: racism and the ACP pipeline project: I myself do not think that Dominion specifically targeted the Union Hill site in Buckingham because it was majority black. They just wanted a site to conjoin with the Transco pipeline and a rural site where they would have little conflict. When we joined with Union Hill folks to meet with Dominion at public meetings, many of the black families were reluctant to speak up at all, recognizing the power of Dominion throughout VA and realizing that they would have to go up against a local county board in favor of violating their own Comprehensive Plan restrictions against such heavy hazardous fuel installations in an AG 1 zoned area, some 20 min. from emergency response. Again potential ACP tax dollars naturally appealed to the county supervisors enough to disregard the minority population in the blast zone of two pipelines. We did invite all elected representatives along the pipeline route to meet with us in Buckingham and a few showed up. Even members of the VA legislative Black Caucus, most of whom received contributions from Dominion, were not eager to visit Union Hill or even receive a factual briefing on the health impact of methane and Volatile Organic Compounds which leak from gas infrastructure or the loss of land use and property value on the property owners and residents of Union Hill. These legislators were afraid of Dominion’s influence and money. 6 mos. ago, when we did get 3 members of the Black Caucus to visit Union Hill and meet with the residents, they still insisted on keeping the visit out of the media. After some months, many of the Black Caucus and several other legislators finally began to get the message, understand the facts of the pipeline, understand that many of the claims of necessity for the pipeline were exaggerated (the SCC also reached this conclusion re: other claims by Dominion), and saw some of the impact already experienced by Union Hill residents, and joined in a letter requesting a comprehensive impact study to meet the requirement as stated in the regulations re: pipeline placement in such communities. Many intelligent people still have faith in Dominion’s claims of domestic need and jobs that this project hangs its approval on, but even a cursory study of the energy demand data trends from the Dept. of Energy, U.S.E.I.A., Williams/Transco testimony under oath, and Dominion’s own filings belie that need. Without the need requirement fulfilled, this project can be seen more as a corporate grab for the large 15% net return guaranteed to Dominion for just building the monstrous installation and shoving it through property owner’s land, buildings, and farms. In the case or Union Hill descendants of slaves, these properties are often the only legacy wealth in their families. This is one reason that a study of the impact of these pipeline projects on these communities and tribal lands was included in the regulations. Is it racism to ignore those impacts and approve the project anyway? Or is it simply corporate profit-chasing unhinged and running over people of all colors and creeds in their way? Yes…after much research and interaction with the Union Hill community, many have stood up and pushed back. When Dominion realized that this Union Hill location was not going to be a push over, they hired a good Union Hill man to come and offer some potential compensation, neighborhood development, and even job development if the community would accept the pipeline and compressor station and live within the potential blast zone of this unneeded hazardous fuel installation. They found people in the community that were happy to take the money and ignore the other issues with the pipeline, ultimately dividing this African American community between families and friends and even fracturing the relationship of the Pastor Paul Wilson of the Union Hill Baptist Church with some of his church followers. The power of Dominion and corporate interests over the rural communities of VA remains strong and money talks, and in this case fractures a community. Is this racism, corporate overreach, or just a company doing its job serving the ratepayers of Virginia?

  24. I have a Time Magazine on my coffee table, with all the major stories of 1969. The moon landing, the Manson murders, Woodstock, the My Lai massacre trial (Lt William Calley murdered and slaughtered between 300-500 Vietnamese, served 4 years in jail, and still lives in GA at 78 years old), Nixon’s first year in office, and other stories. I recently saw the latest Quentin Tarantino movie “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, which takes place during three days during 1969. (A good or better than average movie, not a great movie, he has done at least 3 of his nine total that are better than this one).

    I was 15 years old in 1969. It was an important year for me as it was the first year I was entering High School, Hermitage High School, Henrico County, 10th grade. I had looked forward to playing football there since I was a kid and this was my first year.

    1969 was an important year in Henrico County Virginia for another reason. The Supreme Court ruled in 1954’s landmark Brown vs Board of Education (if you are ever in Topeka KS, go to the museum there, excellent) that the nation could no longer keep separate and equal schools – they had to be integrated.

    Now, in VA, Senator Byrd organized his infamous “Massive Resistance” and the state managed to ignore this ruling for the first 15 years of my life until the Dept of Justice got around to enforcing the order in VA from 1963-69. My school was among the last to comply. Henrico county had a well-known (not to me at the time) all-black high school called Virginia Randolph, referred to in the historic video at the link as the Crown Jewel. One of the best, most dedicated teachers I had at Hermitage came from the dissolution of Virginia Randolph, a math teacher, Mr. Ernest Parker. As this video attests, he went the extra mile, coming back to school in the evenings and tutoring all kids, all grades, any math question or problem. I went to these sessions often.

    This commemoration of that time in Henrico, produced by the County, gives a feel of what it was like by some of the participants.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJVMmBC4S-8.

    Massive Resistance and Brown vs Board of Ed was not something I remember being taught in US or VA history. Maybe I was absent those days.

    If you ever saw the movie “Remember the Titans”, which commemorate the 1978 TC Williams HS in Alexandria, and their football team’s integration experience, my experience at HHS was like that – without the happy ending. HHS got around 25% of the Randolph kids, the others being dispersed around the county to other High Schools, and we got their two starting halfbacks, and about 10 other players. Long story short, our coach at the time, Chester Fritz, who coached at HHS from 1954-71, and who the current stadium is named after, never cut anybody, players quit from the harsh conditions. None of the rising junior or senior black players from VA Randolph stayed with our team, they all quit.

    During the first few weeks of school (the football team had the first integration experience, practicing 50 years ago this month during the 3 weeks of summer practice before school began), there were fights in the hallways. It took a while for the school to adjust and the students to adjust to each other. Later, when I was a senior, there was a scandal of sorts when a popular African American girl was voted the queen of the Prom and (purportedly) the less popular king (also African American) was named King via back room by the teachers because the (purported) white king winner could not possibly dance with a black queen! What a scandal that would have been!

    Fast forward to HHS’ class of ’72 20th HS reunion. In a graduating class of over 500 students with about 75 African Americans, there were exactly zero blacks at the reunion. I asked a semi-circle of classmates why and one of them remarked “They are probably all down at Kay Eff See eatin chicken.”

    Same for the 30th, and one black classmate for the 40th. HHS was not a pleasant or memorable experience for many of my classmates, it would seem. My experience in high school was completely different than theirs.

    So I agree with the Polichik and Rippert’s sentiments. I suppose articles like the 1619 project and comments like those of Ms Coleman are happening because of hidden and suppressed history yes, but also perhaps because many feel justice has not been served for those that were oppressed for all those years up until the present. A Truth and Reconciliation effort has been done several places around the world and in the US – we really need this for coming to grips with the Good, the true, the beautiful and the ugly of our nation’s history.

  25. Pingback: Online Articles That May Be of Interest to JBHE Readers : The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education

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