08 March 2014

Revisionism, Manipulation and Distortion: The Conservative Re-Casting of The Civil Rights Movement and American Social History

For about the twentieth time in the past few months I heard yet again a reference to the fact that it was the Republicans who were the vanguard of the Abolitionist movement and that it was Democrats who compromised the primary membership of the KKK.

The implication is that Blacks should know who their real friends are. It is in fact the Democrats and their social programmes (including alleged eugenics and genocide) that are out to get them.

I've heard this explanation from both Conservative and Christian news sources.

This is part of the ongoing attempt to re-frame the historical narrative. A few years ago figures from Chuck Colson to Glenn Beck did a massive U-turn and started identifying themselves with the Civil Rights movements...basically suggesting that it is today's Republican Christian Right that has been behind all of these movements that sought to end the oppression of minorities etc...

The fact that they are able to pull this off is particularly shocking when you consider that much of their audience is old enough to remember when these events took place! Even younger generations who grew up after the 1960's are still old enough to remember that not so many years ago the story was quite different.

These Conservatives have chosen to ignore the Falwell sermons thundering against Integration and forced busing. They've chosen to ignore the fact that one of the bulwarks against Integration was the Southern Baptist Convention. They have also conveniently forgotten that it was the Christian Right spurred on by forced busing and integration that began to push for Christian Schools in the 1970's. I remember it, because I went to one and I also remember the whole notion was something new.

My wife and I who both grew up in conservative Baptist/Evangelical circles remember very well that even in the 1980's Martin Luther King Jr. was despised and the Civil Rights Movement was frowned on. They were Marxist agitators and King was an adulterer and an apostate. And this was mainstream. Neither of us grew up in what would normally be considered a 'racist' context.

But in the 1990's the shift began to occur and history was re-written.

Yes, technically many of the Abolitionists were involved in what became the Republican Party. The Republicans were about the rule of law and the interests of business. The Democrats were Populists and in the South, Populism meant Agrarianism and Agrarianism meant defending State's Rights and Slavery. The issues were both moral and economic.

In the 20th century there parties began to re-align. The immigrants arrived and the 2nd Wave of the KKK appeared in North as well and in that context was more about Jews and Catholics than going after Blacks. It was many of these same people that pushed for public schooling as a way of integrating Southern and Eastern European Catholics and Orthodox. Some even got involved in Eugenics.

The motivation was the defense of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) establishment. Many of these folks were good Republicans and Church goers. While that may come as a shock to some the motivations in the Civil War were rarely about racial equality and Mr. Lincoln's own views on the matter are rather morally dubious.

Racism in the north arose for different reasons. There were culture warriors and moral crusaders. There were religious teetotalers who didn't like Eastern European, German and Catholic drinking culture. In the North the poorly treated immigrants were essential in the formation of the Labour movement. The Northern Democrats were Populist in this sense and quite different from the embittered White Agrarian Populism of the South.

The Republicans of the North were the people committed to Capitalism and the White Anglo-Saxon Establishment...a far cry from their Black Republican allies in the South. The Blacks knew this and were in the process of abandoning the Republican Party long before the Civil Rights movement began.

Conservatives have also completely missed the role of World War II in the public psyche. They have failed to understand why these events spurred both the Civil Rights Movement and a consciousness in the Boomer generation that questioned the old systems... the ones that had brought about the calamity of the war and the resulting paradigm of the Cold War.

We've grown used to Nuclear Weapons and the tension of the Cold War. For that younger generation all of these issues, Civil Rights, the Nuclear Age and then Vietnam all mixed together and created a toxic soup. And then when young men started getting their legs blown off, friends were dying and GI's came home wondering why they had napalmed villages and massacred peasants... yes, it affected them. Only a hardened blood-loving reprobate like John McCain could fail to be moved.

The tensions grew and it was the Civil Rights movement itself that finally broke the old political bonds and led to a re-alignment. White Southerners were furious with fellow Southerner and Democrat Lyndon Johnson. He had betrayed them by enacting Civil Rights legislation.

Nixon exploited this in 1968 with The Southern Strategy and thus began the final stages of party re-alignment that continued up into the 1980's.

The White Southerners joined with the White Northerners and the modern Republican Party was formed. In the 1950's it was an alliance between anti-Communists, Capitalists, and those concerned for Traditional values.

Now it had coalesced with those who wished to completely negate the idea that the Federal Government was empowered by the 14th Amendment. The 14th Amendment changed the role of the Federal Government and tasked it to craft laws to shape social behaviour and if necessary removed freedoms of some individuals in order to ensure a more equal society for all.

With the assassination of Lincoln, the impeachment of Johnson, the botching of Reconstruction and the corruption and mismanagement of subsequent regimes these ideas were not really put to the test. The Second World War proved both the catalyst and for American Blacks the final straw. To fight racist regimes overseas and then come home to encounter the same was asking a little too much.

Some Conservatives remained within the Democratic Party throughout the Reagan years because of their commitments to Labour. Industry and Mining have kept some in the Democratic column who otherwise would have joined the Republicans long ago. In the case of West Virginia it was a Democratic candidate named Barack Obama that proved too much and the historically labour minded Democratic state turned Republican... at least for now. The Democrats still largely control the state.

So to suggest that it's real simple... the Republicans were anti-Slavery and it was the Democrats who were the KKK and therefore that somehow holds true today is simply a gross misinterpretation of reality.

In some cases it's almost like they're suggesting that all the Blacks in America are that stupid that they didn't realize that the same people who were lynching them fifty years ago are now represented by Obama, Pelosi, the Clintons and Howard Dean.

Why don't you ask an African-American just who was against them during the 1960's? Which voices and policies from the past are echoed today?

And if you have any doubt look into Lee Atwater the architect of George HW Bush's victory in 1988 and certainly the Karl Rove of his day. He spoke of dog whistles....coded language. He admitted candidly that you couldn't speak about these things openly. Here's Lee Atwater in 1981:

LEE ATWATER: Here’s how I would approach that issue as a statistician or a political scientist—or, no, as a psychologist, which I’m not, is how abstract you handle the race thing. In other words, you start out—now, ya’ll aren’t quoting me on this. You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968, you can’t say "nigger." That hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff liked "forced busing," "states’ rights" and all that stuff. And you’re getting so abstract now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all of these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and the byproduct of them is: Blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously, maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract and that coded, that we’re doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. Do you follow me? Because, obviously, sitting around saying we want to cut taxes, we want to cut this, and we want—is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "nigger, nigger," you know. So, any way you look at it, race is coming on the back burner.

Yes, in 1988 it was Michael Dukakis the Democrat who was in fact against Blacks in America. He was probably a clandestine member of the KKK. That's why Atwater chose to destroy him with the infamous Willie Horton ad, right?

The people who are using these spurious arguments concerning the Republican and Democratic parties are guilty of one or perhaps both of the following charges.

1.    They are so stunningly ignorant of American social history that they have no idea what they're even talking about and should immediately desist from any further commentary. They obviously have no clue about what they're saying. Or,


2.    They know they are being misleading and don't really care. In the end they don't care anything about the Truth, they simply wish to score political points.


They're counting on the fact that their audience is stunningly ignorant, uneducated and stupid and won't be able to detect the patent absurdity of their assertions and arguments. If this is true then these teachers, commentators and pastors must be identified for what they are...scoundrels.

This sort of thing causes me to just throw up my hands in despair. Have we reached a point that Christian leaders are willing to just tell bald-faced lies in order to win?

Have we reached a point in which educated men with doctorates are so deluded and blinded by political agenda that they no longer can understand basic history? This is your Christian Worldview?

What is the state of society and the Church when these types of arguments can be broadcast on the airwaves and in pulpits and no one challenges them on it?

What if I were to say today that the Norwegians are bloodthirsty killers? Why? Well, they were the Vikings right? It's that simple right? Killers then, they must be killers today.

I may despise the Roman Catholic Church and its record of murder, anti-Scriptural blasphemy and oppression, but wouldn't it be a little irresponsible of me to accuse them of murder today? Wouldn't it?

Certainly I recognize there was a huge ideological shift and consequently some reflection as they lost their political power in the 19th century. Today while I still reject Rome as evil and anti-Biblical I don't believe that the Papacy or even a minority of Catholics want to burn me at the stake. Catholic Social Teaching and Vatican II have greatly changed what Rome stands for. It's still Rome, but it's not the Catholicism of Torquemada or Innocent III.

History, Context, and Circumstances lead people to change. Ideas evolve, transform, jump across camps and sometimes live on under different names.

Those who think you can make the kind of connections like 'the KKK was mostly Democrats' or 'The Republicans were the anti-slavery party and therefore have always been and still are against racism' demonstrate only that they are but children when it comes to their understanding of the world. They are not leaders and have no wisdom to offer. Their grasp of the world, society and history is woefully inadequate, juvenile and frankly embarrassing.

If the Truth is our goal we must eschew the lies and those who tell them. If these people think they can build Christ's Kingdom through such manipulation and prevarication then they must be called out for what they are.
I am hardly a fan of the Democratic Party and it is not above criticism, but I hate when these lies are propagated by Christians. It's a disgrace.

Here's a link to a companion piece from a couple of years ago:



Cal said...

Ahhh, this was a good piece. I use to spout similar non-sense when I was good ol boy, white, conservative patriot. I was a little more thoughtful, due to growing up in a solidly 'blue' progressive county. Also Michael Savage, for all of his wrongheadedness, was at least honest and thoughtful. More so than the clowns Beck and Limbaugh!

The Civil War is fascinating. When I worshiped Americana, I scoffed at histories that told of the some what racist, calculating, and patri-idolator Lincoln. I took the movie Glory as the heart of the Union, not the red-headed stepchild exception. Boy was I wrong.

Neither Lincoln or Davis were by any means righteous or loving men. One a product of transcendentalist, unitarian Northern ecumenism, and the other of Southern-christendom. Both are children of Constantine!

Of course, the root cause for the twisting of truth is deeper still. Of course, some are merely pragmatists, and anything to spin for their favor will be employed. But then there are those who are true believers. At that point, it's a different religion.

Forget Christianity and Liberalism, it goes deeper. Whether Social Gospel, KKK, or what we see today, it's a worship of Americana. Whether it comes through liberal Protestantism, baptists, conservative presbyterianism, or a mishmash evangelical-soup combo, it has patriotism at center.

Just as Manichaeism is considered to be both a Christian heresy, and also a different faith, so is this worship of language, culture, borders that goes on.

May the Son of God set them free from their cult of saints and gods.


Teresa said...

This is an interesting read on the subject.http://www.amazon.com/The-Awful-Grace-God-Religious/dp/B0096ESKYE/ref=sr_1_11?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1394374861&sr=1-11&keywords=martin+luther+king+murder

Protoprotestant said...

It certainly looks like a good read.

Eliyahu BenYsrael said...

Excellent article, again brother. I surely wish more believers were aware of andopen to such information. It would be transformational.