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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Politicians who praise the Confederacy are all the same

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On May 18, a group of about 60 respected historians and scholars sent a letter to the current U.S. president, whose father was a Black African, pleading with him not to send a wreath of honor and recognition to the Arlington Confederate Monument on Memorial Day.

He should have listened, but he didn’t. And, on Memorial Day, your president crossed the line and sent the wreath anyway.

In taking that action, Barack Obama made it abundantly clear that he couldn’t care less what learned, culturally sensitive people, or Black Americans, think of his policies or his politics.

All of the big Barack Obama supporters that I know, including my son and his wife, who are now living in Atlanta, Ga., have been saying to me, on a regular basis, that it’s still far too soon to be dissatisfied with the first U.S. president who actually claims his Black heritage.

“It’s only been six months,” they say. “He wasn’t elected to be the president of just Black Americans, but rather, to be president of the entire United States of America,” they explain. “Just be patient. He’ll get to Black issues within the next two years,” they apologetically and shamefully offer.

My response?

Well, if he can’t find time to get around to us, how does he manage to make time to change U.S. positions and policy on Cuba, to rail against the torture of captured enemy terrorists, to speak out about relations with Muslim nations, to fly to the aid of financial institutions with multibillion dollar bailout packages, to travel to Europe, Trinidad, Iraq, and “God knows where else,” and to nominate the first, Hispanic, female Supreme Court candidate?

But these discussions, truthfully, have been wearing me out. Just as I was starting to lean more in the president’s direction, however … BAM! Along comes this Confederate War Memorial thing.

All of a sudden, here’s the president of the United States trying to “kiss up” to conservative voters by dignifying the mindless, racist violence, and institutionalized subjugation of the Confederacy, no matter what the 40 million descendants of slaves in America think about it.

In their letter to the president, the historians and scholars warned Obama that the Confederate War Memorial “Isn’t just a remembrance of the dead. It was also intended as a symbol of white nationalism … and a celebration of the re-establishment of white supremacy, in the slave states, by former Confederate soldiers.”

Fittingly, it features, among other things, a sculpted vignette of a Black slave following his young, white master.

According to the letter the academics sent to Obama, “There are records of Confederate soldiers having committed racial atrocities in which they massacred surrendered, African-American soldiers, on at least eight occasions.”

Yo, did the president read that part of the letter? Could he have done so and still sent that wreath?

Finally, in language they thought would be absolutely persuasive to a president who has, at least, a partial African heritage, and to any human being of good conscience, the academics said, “The Arlington Confederate monument is a denial of the wrongs committed against African Americans by slave owners, Confederates, and neo-Confederates, and it implies that the humanity of Africans and African Americans is of no significance.”

What part of this very explicit and historically accurate letter did Mr. Obama not understand?

Perhaps the president found comfort for his decision in two areas: One, his staff, cleverly they thought, advised him to simultaneously send a wreath to the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C., making him the “first U.S. president” to do so, according to most media accounts.

And, two, virtually every news story about the incident attempted to provide “cover” to your new president by indicating that the “Confederate wreath thing” was something that had always been done by previous U.S. presidents.

The fact is that the memorial to the 209,000 Blacks who died fighting on the side of the Union did not even exist until October 2004 and, other than the 43rd president, George W. Bush, no other commander-in-chief ever had the opportunity to recognize the Black Civil War Memorial, aside from Obama.

Secondly, “the tradition” of previous presidents also offering a wreath at the Confederate Memorial actually began with the nation’s 28th president, Woodrow Wilson.

He was born in Virginia, in 1856, which meant that his formative, childhood years were spent in the “Cradle of the Confederacy,” during the Civil War.

Wilson’s father not only was known as a public defender of the institution of slavery, he was also, himself, a slave owner, and served as a chaplain in the Confederate army.

In describing Wilson’s Inauguration Day, in 1912, historian Lawrence J. Friedman said, “… the atmosphere in the nation’s capital bore ominous signs for Negroes. Washington rang with happy Rebel yells, while bands all over town played ‘Dixie.’ Indeed, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who swore in the newly elected U.S. president, was, himself, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan.”

Coincidentally, Black voters had great expectations that Wilson would be very supportive of their issues, and those who were allowed to vote gave him the highest level of Black support for a Democratic candidate, up to that point in time.

Once in office, however, Wilson set out to demonstrate that he, also, had not been elected to be the “president of Black America.”

In fact, during his first term, he ensured that interracial marriage was ruled to be a felony and stood by approvingly as the offices of the Post Master General, Department of Treasury, and the U.S. Navy were formally segregated.

Summing up his dismissive attitude toward Black voters who had been duped into throwing their weight behind his election, Wilson told the New York Times, in 1914, “If the colored people made a mistake in voting for me, they ought to correct it.”


Here’s my point: Obama is certainly not the only political figure in U.S. history who ever promised Black voters one thing and wound up delivering something entirely different. He’s not even the only Black elected official who publicly condones and celebrates the Confederacy.

Black South Carolina State Sen. Robert Ford introduced a bill, earlier this year, that would require the state’s cities and counties to give workers a paid day off for something called “Confederate Memorial Day,” or risk losing millions of dollars in state budget allocations.

Maybe Ford is just consumed by self-hate, maybe he’s intimidated by the portraits of Confederate generals that hang in the corridors of the South Carolina capitol building, maybe he’s been unnerved by the huge, Confederate flag that’s flown on the lawn of the State Capitol each day, or maybe it’s just his recent announcement that he plans to run for governor of South Carolina in 2010.

In any event, it’s time that African Americans start seeing the Fords and Obamas of the world, unemotionally, for precisely what they are — political players in the mold of Woodrow Wilson, with no sense of obligation to those who vote them into office, and no shame in turning their backs, in broad daylight, on citizens who need their help the most.

One last question: Would mainstream and Black media have allowed Obama to get away with placing a wreath on a war memorial dedicated to Nazi war dead?

No? Then why is there no outrage about the president’s totally insensitive recognition of Confederate war veterans?

Have our media lost their souls?

Have we lost our own Black voices and our courage?

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