Whose History?


Last updated 7/9/2020 at 10:32am

In his recent letter, Bob Twomey expresses concern that there is “something sinister happening…to revise, rewrite and abolish our nation’s history.”

Twomey is referring to the legacy of slavery and the Civil War. He concedes that slavery was “wrong,” but that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights. He contends that we can’t change that, so we must accept it.

I ask Mr. Twomey, “Whose history is (re)presented in those sites? Whose point of view is accepted as the “official” history that those objects represent?”

White individuals and organizations with power, authority, and money who were committed to the concretization and dissemination of the Lost Cause ideology.

When one expresses concern about the removal of monuments as equivalent to rewriting history, what one is really concerned about is that another version may challenge the accepted narrative.

The Civil War was fought over slavery. Those committed to it created and perpetuated the stereotype of blacks as inferior, subhuman beings. The wealthy and powerful had a vested interest in preserving it. The Confederate states seceded because they believed whites were superior to blacks, and slavery was more important than the Union (see the Cornerstone Speech and the declarations of secession).

The “states’ rights” argument become the favored interpretation of the war’s cause among white Southerners because those in power (ministers, politicians, veterans’ organizations) re-wrote history within the ideology of the Lost Cause, which cast the Confederacy as the defender of American ideals and white Southerners as the chosen people. Accompanied by Jim Crow – the strict, often deadly de facto law that enforced racial segregation and behavior – these two ideologies permeated every institution in the South, from the pulpit to textbooks to monuments.

My concern is not for the statue of Zebulon Vance in Asheville. My concern is that the historical marker in memory of Emmett Till, a 15-year old boy brutally murdered in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly whistling at white woman (who, just before her death, admitted it had been a lie), repeatedly gets sprayed with bullets. The truth of his death is still a threat to those in power.

Aimée Schmidt



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