Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Time to correct the historic record; time to end the lies

Popular histories like Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States” & James Loewen’s “Lies My Teacher Told Me” are often faulted for scholarship--& it is certainly true they are not of the scholarly stature of works like “Black Reconstruction” by W.E.B. DuBois. But anyone who has studied US history, especially that of Blacks & Native Americans, knows that field of study has legions of hucksters for the status quo peddling rubbish & lies in place of historical analysis. Whatever the weaknesses of Zinn & Loewen’s books--some of which are inherent to the genre of popular history--there is no denying the power of their books in challenging the historic fables & racist lies US children are fed throughout their educations. Labor & feminist historians have done the same for women & working people.

This correction of the historic record, describing what really happened in our past, is one of the monumental achievements derived from the social movements of the 1960s-1970s, especially the Civil Rights & women’s movements. The struggles of that generation opened up universities previously denied to Black, Latino, Native American, & female students, initiated Black & women’s studies departments, inspired Black & female scholarship, inspired white scholars like Zinn & Loewen. Now at last we have the real story of US history which exposes the fairy-tale version for the caricature it is.

Loewen wrote a second book entitled, “Lies Across America: What Our Historic Markers & Monuments Get Wrong” about 100 historic sites & shrines in all fifty US states. The deceits & misrepresentations of public education continue in these public monuments commemorating past events & historic figures. Many were built to glorify & whitewash slavery, others to discredit Reconstruction, many to make Native Americans appear vanquished. Most were built between 1890 & 1920 & are still maintained by organizations of Confederate sympathizers unreconciled to defeat in the Civil War which they promote as a noble lost cause.

In 1866, a confederate woman helped initiate Confederate Memorial Day, an official holiday impervious to the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement & still celebrated in nine southern states on April 26th to honor those who died fighting to maintain slavery. The confederate flag is already hung at sporting events & concerts, on public buildings, & at Ku Klux Klan rallies in the south & on Confederate Memorial Day is planted all over cemeteries. This photo is of Oakland cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia, a burial site for Confederate soldiers. No one objects to honoring the dead but tribute to white supremacy is another matter altogether.

Those who like to toy with reality claim the flag is not a symbol of white supremacy but of “southern heritage”, whatever the hell that is! Mint julep drinks & magnolia blossoms? Or cotton plantations? Speaking of whitewashes, the original caption to this photo said Confederate Memorial Day marks “the anniversary of the end of the Civil War.”

It cannot be stressed enough that those who write the history control the future. So hats off to Howard Zinn, James Loewen, & to all the historians inspired by freedom movements (not to mention W.E.B. DuBois) for exposing the lies & revealing the ignominy but also the true majesty of human history.

(Photo by David Goldman/AP)

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