Category Archives: History

FBI warns ‘black identity extremists’ pose growing threat to law enforcement

FBI Intelligence Assessment document: "Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement Officers," dated Aug. 3, 2017.FBI Intelligence Assessment document: “Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement Officers,” dated Aug. 3, 2017. (FBI)

While white supremacists were planning to rally in Charlottesville, Va., the FBI’s counterterrorism unit identified “black identity extremists” as a growing threat, it has been revealed.

The FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit, which dubbed the group BIE, said “perceptions of police brutality against African Americans spurred an increase in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement,” according to an Aug. 3 report obtained by Foreign Policy.

Citing Michael Brown’s 2014 death in Ferguson, Mo., as the catalyst, the FBI listed specific cases, saying it was “likely the BIE suspects acted in retaliation for perceived past police brutality incidents.”

Among them was Micah Johnson, a former Army reservist who shot dead five Dallas police officers during a peaceful protest against police violence last year.

There have been 98 law enforcement fatalities this year so far, compared to 102 during the same period last year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Among the fatalities in 2017, 36 were firearms-related– down from 44 this time last year– while the vast majority were attributed to traffic accidents, fires, illnesses and other causes.

In comparison, 748 people have been shot and killed by police in 2017, according to a database maintained by the Washington Post.

The term “black identity extremists” appears to be a new term, and some contested the phrase for suggesting a cohesive, overarching ideology.

One former homeland security official told Foreign Policy, “They are grouping together Black Panthers, black nationalists, and Washitaw Nation.”

“Imagine lumping together white nationals, white supremacists, militias, neo-Nazis, and calling it ‘white identity extremists,” the official said. “The race card is being played here deliberately.”

Malcolm Nance, a counterterrorism expert who served in the U.S. Navy, wrote on Twitter, “I train law enforcement intelligence in counterterrorism all over nation & “Black Identity Extremism” doesn’t exist. It’s a made up term.”

Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson pointed to the FBI’s long history of surveilling black activists, highlighting his own personal experience with the FBI visiting his home and told FP, “This is not surprising.”

The FBI, which issued a report in May warning white supremacist violence was growing, identified BIE as a threat just nine days before far-right groups descended on Charlottesville.

President Trump was heavily criticized for his response after three people died, saying there were “fine people” on both sides.


Posted by The NON-Conformist


The Abuses of History

Historians, like journalists, are in the business of manipulating facts. Some use facts to tell truths, however unpleasant. But many more omit, highlight and at times distort them in ways that sustain national myths and buttress dominant narratives. The failure by most of the United States’ popular historians and the press to tell stories of oppression and the struggles against it, especially by women, people of color, the working class and the poor, has contributed to the sickening triumphalism and chauvinism that are poisoning our society. The historian James W. Loewen, in his book “Lies Across America: What Our Historic Markers and Monuments Get Wrong,” calls the monuments that celebrate our highly selective and distorted history a “landscape of denial.”

The historian Carl Becker wrote, “History is what the present chooses to remember about the past.” And as a nation founded on the pillars of genocide, slavery, patriarchy, violent repression of popular movements, savage war crimes committed to expand the empire, and capitalist exploitation, we choose to remember very little. This historical amnesia, as James Baldwin never tired of pointing out, is very dangerous. It feeds self-delusion. It severs us from recognition of our propensity for violence. It sees us project on others—almost always the vulnerable—the unacknowledged evil that lies in our past and our hearts. It shuts down the voices of the oppressed, those who can tell us who we are and enable us through self-reflection and self-criticism to become a better people. “History does not merely refer to the past … history is literally present in all we do,” Baldwin wrote.

If we understood our real past we would see as lunacy Donald Trump’s bombastic assertions that the removal of Confederate statues is an attack on “our history.” Whose history is being attacked? And is it history that is being attacked or the myth disguised as history and perpetuated by white supremacy and capitalism? As the historian Eric Foner points out, “Public monuments are built by those with sufficient power to determine which parts of history are worth commemorating and what vision of history ought to be conveyed.”

The clash between historical myth and historical reality is being played out in the president’s disparaging of black athletes who protest indiscriminate police violence against people of color. “Maybe he should find a country that works better for him,” candidate Trump said of professional quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the national anthem at National Football League games to protest police violence. Other NFL players later emulated his protest.

Friday at a political rally in Alabama, Trump bellowed: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’ ” That comment and a Saturday morning tweet by Trump that criticized professional basketball star Stephen Curry, another athlete of African-American descent, prompted a number of prominent sports figures to respond angrily. One addressed the president as “U bum” on Twitter.

The war of words between the president and black athletes is about competing historical narratives.

Historians are rewarded for buttressing the ruling social structure, producing heavy tomes on the ruling elites—usually powerful white men such as John D. Rockefeller or Theodore Roosevelt—and ignoring the underlying social movements and radicals that have been the true engines of cultural and political change in the United States. Or they retreat into arcane and irrelevant subjects of minor significance, becoming self-appointed specialists of the banal or the trivial. They ignore or minimize inconvenient facts and actions that tarnish the myth, including lethal suppression of groups, classes and civilizations and the plethora of lies told by the ruling elites, the mass media and powerful institutions to justify their grip on power. They eschew transcendental and moral issues, including class conflict, in the name of neutrality and objectivity. The mantra of disinterested scholarship and the obsession with data collection add up, as the historian Howard Zinn wrote, “to the fear that using our intelligence to further our moral ends is somehow improper.”

“Objectivity is an interesting and often misunderstood word,” Foner said. “I tell my students what objectivity means is you have an open mind, not an empty mind. There is no person who doesn’t have preconceptions, values, assumptions. And you bring those to the study of history. What it means to be objective is if you begin encountering evidence, research, that questions some of your assumptions, you may have to change your mind. You have to have an open mind in your encounters with the evidence. But that doesn’t mean you don’t take a stance. You have an obligation. If you’ve done all this studying, done all this research, if you understand key issues in American history better than most people, just because you’ve done the research and they haven’t, you have an obligation as a citizen to speak up about it. …We should not be bystanders. We should be active citizens. Being a historian and an active citizen is not mutually contradictory.”

Historians who apologize for the power elites, who in essence shun complexity and minimize inconvenient truths, are rewarded and promoted. They receive tenure, large book contracts, generous research grants, lucrative speaking engagements and prizes. Truth tellers, such as Zinn, are marginalized. Friedrich Nietzsche calls this process “creative forgetfulness.”

“In high school,” Foner said, “I got a history textbook that said ‘Story of American History,’ which was very one-dimensional. It was all about the rise of freedom and liberty. Slavery was omitted almost entirely. The general plight of African-Americans and other non-whites was pretty much omitted from this story. It was very partial. It was very limited. That’s the same thing with all these statues and [the debate about them]. I’m not saying we should tear down every single statue of every Confederate all over the place. But if we step back and look at the public presentation of history, particularly in the South, through these monuments, where are the black people of the South? Where are the monuments to the victims of slavery? To the victims of lynching? The monuments of the black leaders of Reconstruction? The first black senators and members of Congress? My view is, as well as taking down some statues, we need to put up others. If we want to have a public commemoration of history, it ought to be diverse enough to include the whole history, not just the history that those in power want us to remember.”

“Civil War monuments glorify soldiers and generals who fought for Southern independence,” Foner writes in “Battles for Freedom: The Use and Abuse of American History,” “explaining their motivation by reference to the ideals of freedom, states’ rights and individual autonomy—everything, that is but slavery, the ‘cornerstone of the Confederacy,’ according to its vice president, Alexander Stephens. Fort Mill, South Carolina, has a marker honoring the ‘faithful slaves’ of the Confederate states, but one would be hard pressed to find monuments anywhere in the country to slave rebels like Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner, to the 200,000 black soldiers and sailors who fought for the Union (or, for that matter, the thousands of white Southerners who remained loyal to the nation).”

The United Daughters of the Confederacy, as Loewen points out, erected most of the South’s Confederate monuments between 1890 and 1920. This campaign of commemoration was part of what Foner calls “a conscious effort to glorify and sanitize the Confederate cause and legitimize the newly installed Jim Crow system.”

Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who Loewen writes was “one of the most vicious racists in American history,” was one of the South’s biggest slave traders, commander of the forces that massacred black Union troops after they surrendered at Fort Pillow and the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. Yet, as Foner notes, “there are more statues, markers and busts of Forrest in Tennessee than of any other figure in the state’s history, including President Andrew Jackson.”

“Only one transgression was sufficiently outrageous to disqualify Confederate leaders from the pantheon of heroes,” Foner writes. “No statue of James Longstreet, a far abler commander than Forrest, graces the Southern countryside, and Gen. James Fleming Fagan is omitted from the portrait gallery of famous figures of Arkansas history in Little Rock. Their crime? Both supported black rights during Reconstruction.”

The American myth also relies heavily on a distorted history of the westward expansion.

“The mythology of the West is deeply rooted in our culture,” Foner said, “whether it’s in Western movies or the idea of the lone pioneer, the individual roughing it out in the West, and of course, the main lie is that the West was kind of empty before white settlers and hunters and trappers and farmers came from the East to settle it. In fact, the West has been populated since forever. The real story of the West is the clash of all these different peoples, Native Americans, Asians in California, settlers coming in from the East, Mexicans. The West was a very multicultural place. There are a lot of histories there. Many of those histories are ignored or subordinated in this one story of the westward movement.”

“Racism is certainly a part of Western history,” Foner said. “But you’re not going to get that from a John Wayne movie [or] the paintings by [Frederic] Remington and others. It’s a history that doesn’t help you understand the present.”

Remington’s racism, displayed in paintings of noble white settlers and cowboys battling “savages,” was pronounced. “Jews—inguns—chinamen—Italians—Huns,” he wrote, were “the rubbish of the earth I hate.” In the same letter he added, “I’ve got some Winchesters and when the massacreing begins … I can get my share of ’em and whats more I will.”

Nietzsche identified three approaches to history: monumental, antiquarian and critical, the last being “the history that judges and condemns.”

“The monumental is the history that glorifies the nation-state that is represented in monuments that do not question anything about the society,” Foner said. “A lot of history is like that. The rise of history as a discipline coincided with the rise of the nation-state. Every nation needs a set of myths to justify its own existence. Another one of my favorite writers, Ernest Renan, the French historian, wrote, ‘The historian is the enemy of the nation.’ It’s an interesting thing to say. He doesn’t mean they’re spies or anything. The historian comes along and takes apart the mythologies that are helping to underpin the legitimacy of the nation. That’s why people don’t like them very often. They don’t want to hear these things. Antiquarian is what a lot of people are. That’s fine. They’re looking for their personal roots, their family history. They’re going on to find out where their DNA came from. That’s not really history exactly. They don’t have much of a historical context. But it stimulates people to think about the past. Then there’s what Nietzsche calls critical history—the history that judges and condemns. It takes a moral stance. It doesn’t just relate the facts. It tells you what is good and what is evil. A lot of historians don’t like to do that. But to me, it’s important. It’s important for the historian, having done the research, having presented the history, to say here’s where I stand in relation to all these important issues in our history.”

“Whether it’s Frederick Douglass, Eugene Debs, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martin Luther King Jr., those are the people who were trying to make America a better place,” Foner said. “King, in particular, was a very radical guy.”

Yet, as Foner points out, King is effectively “frozen in one speech, one sentence: I want my children to be judged by the content of their character, not just the color of their skin. [But] that’s not what the whole civil rights movement was about. People forget, he died leading a poor people’s march, leading a strike of sanitation workers. He wasn’t just out there talking about civil rights. He had moved to economic equality as a fundamental issue.”

Max Weber wrote, “What is possible would never have been achieved if, in this world, people had not repeatedly reached for the impossible.”

Foner, like Weber, argues that it is the visionaries and utopian reformers such as Debs and the abolitionists who brought about real social change, not the “practical” politicians. The abolitionists destroyed what Foner calls the “conspiracy of silence by which political parties, churches and other institutions sought to exclude slavery from public debate.” He writes:

For much of the 1850s and the first two years of the Civil War, Lincoln—widely considered the model of a pragmatic politician—advocated a plan to end slavery that involved gradual emancipation, monetary compensation for slaver owners, and setting up colonies of freed blacks outside the United States. The harebrained scheme had no possibility of enactment. It was the abolitionists, still viewed by some historians as irresponsible fanatics, who put forward the program—an immediate and uncompensated end to slavery, with black people becoming US citizens—that came to pass (with Lincoln’s eventual help, of course).

The political squabbles that dominate public discourse almost never question the sanctity of private property, individualism, capitalism or imperialism. They hold as sacrosanct American “virtues.” They insist that Americans are a “good” people steadily overcoming any prejudices and injustices that may have occurred in the past. The debates between the Democrats and the Whigs, or today’s Republicans and Democrats, have roots in the same allegiance to the dominant structures of power, myth of American exceptionalism and white supremacy.

“It’s all a family quarrel without any genuine, serious disagreements,” Foner said.

Those who challenge these structures, who reach for the impossible, who dare to speak the truth, have been, throughout American history, dismissed as “fanatics.” But, as Foner points out, it is often the “fanatics” who make history.

By Chris Hedges/Truthdig

Posted by The NON-Conformist

2-footed tackle: Man United fans accused of racism over Lukaku penis chant

2-footed tackle: Man United fans accused of racism over Lukaku penis chantManchester United’s Romelu Lukaku © Andrew Yates / Reuters

The story is so insane and “incredibly” racist. Their is a long history that corresponds to this and the type of behavior that goes along with it. The ancestor Dr. Francis Cress Welsing taught about this only to be scoffed at. she was always ahead of the curve, so to speak.

Manchester United have been confronted by equality campaign group Kick It Out, which has slammed the team’s fans chant about star striker Romelu Lukaku’s penis as “racist”. Opinion on social media has meanwhile split.

The song is sung to the tune of ‘Made of Stone’, a hit for Manchester band the Stone Roses, with the lyrics instead paying tribute to Lukaku and the supposed abnormal size of his penis. It’s believed to have first been first aired at Old Trafford during United’s 3-0 Champions League win over Basel.

The inclusion organization, which works to challenge discrimination in football and is funded by the English Football Association (FA), has contacted the club to ask their supporters to stop singing a chant referencing Belgian forward Lukaku’s member.

“Kick It Out is aware of footage of alleged racist chanting by supporters of Manchester United that emerged on Wednesday evening (13 September),” the organisation said in a statement, emailed to RT Sport.

“The lyrics used in the chant are offensive and discriminatory. Racist stereotypes are never acceptable in football or wider society, irrespective of any intention to show support for a player.

“We have contacted Manchester United regarding the issue and will be working closely with them and The FA to ensure that it is addressed swiftly. If we receive any reports relating to the discriminatory chant, those will be passed on to the governing body and the perpetrators can expect to face punishment.”

The issue has split opinion on Twitter, where some fans believe the chant is an unimaginative ditty that should not be given the attention it has received, while others agree it is offensive and should be stamped out.

Suggestion: maybe we could sing about Lukaku being a mint footballer instead of racial stereotypes about his dick 

“Most black people wouldn’t care about this.” Ok. Thanks for speaking on behalf of most black people, Mr White Male.

No place for racist chanting in football and in my view a fans’ song about Lukaku’s manhood is RACIST! Join me from 10 on @talkSPORT.

It’s great to see the fans unite and put a stop to the Romelu Lukaku chant. I’m sure we’ll come up with a much better and censored one 👏.

From Russia Today

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Today’s bad politics are built on yesterday’s fake history

White nationalist demonstrators walk into Lee park surrounded by counter demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month. President Donald Trump’s reaction to the events in Charlottesville was likely shaped by the history he was taught more than half a century ago. (Steve Helber/AP)White nationalist demonstrators walk into Lee park surrounded by counter demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month. President Donald Trump’s reaction to the events in Charlottesville was likely shaped by the history he was taught more than half a century ago. (Steve Helber/AP)


A better understanding of history would yield better politics today.

The history that people learn early in life shows up in how they understand both the past and the present. Most of us can agree on that.

Better history lessons might help us agree on more things, and an understanding of how history is told might allow us to have more intelligent discussions about those things we might never agree on.

I’ve mentioned before that I like to visit the History News Network website to see what historians and other people who deal with history are writing and talking about. The variety of topics is broad, but also affected by what’s in the news. And for a while it’s been heavily influenced by tweets and statements from the White House and by events like the violent clash in Charlottesville, which clearly drew out very different understandings of American history.

Historians weigh in with corrective facts, but sometimes they also discuss how people come to hold ahistoric ideas. A couple of recent articles about how history is learned caught my attention.

One posting was a piece from The Atlantic in which the author went back and looked at history textbooks used in New York when Donald Trump was in school, assuming he might have learned some inaccurate lessons in the classroom.

The article by journalist Matt Ford was prompted by Trump’s affinity for Andrew Jackson. Trump sees himself in Jackson, a plain-spoken populist whose popularity won him the White House.

Jackson was also a slave owner and famed Indian fighter who as president signed the 1830 Indian Removal Act, which uprooted and relocated Native Americans from the South.

 Trump, in talking about Jackson, has shown significant flaws in his understanding of the Civil War and its aftermath. That understanding no doubt fed his response to the Charlottesville far-right protest.

Trump graduated from high school in 1964, and the kind of education he got about that historic period would have been similar to what most white Americans learned.

Ford quoted the historian Jonathan Zimmerman of New York University: “The dominant story was that secession was a mistake, but so was Reconstruction,” Zimmerman said. “And Reconstruction was a mistake because [the North] put ‘childlike’ and ‘bestial’ blacks in charge of the South, and the only thing that saved white womanhood was the Ku Klux Klan.”

Ford noted that Hillary Clinton, who is in Trump’s age group, told a crowd in Iowa that federal government policies after the Civil War left white Southerners “feeling totally discouraged and defiant.”

It’s the kind of sentiment generated by the history lessons that cohort of Americans received. People of color demanded better, and lessons have improved since the late 1960s, but not nearly enough to give Americans the understanding they need to be well-informed citizens.

T.J. Stiles has won a Pulitzer Prize for biography and another for history. In another article on the history site, Stiles says we need a museum of the history of American history.

He argues that we need to ask, “How did we come to believe that this is what happened?” He said Trump’s comments after Charlottesville make us aware of the importance of memories the public holds.

Stiles uses another president as an example of how we get things wrong. John F. Kennedy, in his book “Profiles in Courage,” praised Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II, whom he credited with helping to heal the nation after the Civil War, and “condemned his foe (Adelbert) Ames as a corrupt carpetbagger.”

Ames fought for racial equality after the war, as governor and senator from Mississippi. Lamar was a leader in the movement to overturn Reconstruction and its integrated government and to deny black people the right to vote.

Kennedy was influenced by historians who portrayed Reconstruction as an evil. That view is at odds with the facts and how modern historians see them, but it allows many people to hold a romantic view of a white South done wrong, “The Birth of a Nation” revision of history.

Stiles said that we need not just the truth, but also “an understanding of how it is that we hid that truth from ourselves.”

That would be powerful for forging unity.

By Jerry Large/SeattleTimes

Posted by The NON-Conformist


Get used to Andrew Jackson’s $20 mug shot

Even by the standards of his era, Andrew Jackson, America’s seventh president, comported himself like a barbarian. Maybe there are presidents who had bloodier hands before they took office — George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight Eisenhower come to mind — but none of them radiated violence and enmity the way “Ol’ Hickory” did.

Many decades later, President Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s successor, would give Andrew Jackson a run for his buffalo nickel as the biggest disaster for non-whites who ever lived in the White House; still, the man who was nicknamed “Indian killer” and “slave catcher” long before he became president, occupies a special place on the Mount Rushmore of American Infamy.

Unlike Andrew Jackson, no images of Andrew Johnson adorn any paper currency or coinage that I’m aware of. This is ironic because Jackson hated paper currency almost as much as he hated American Indians. The hot-headed founder of the Democratic Party considered paper money too ephemeral to back up the full faith and credit of the United States.

That didn’t stop the government from putting Jackson’s image on the front of the $20 in 1928. No one understands why the most irascible of presidents was accorded the honor. It was not the result of a grass-roots campaign to honor him, initiated by fans in his home state. The Tennesseans who knew his legacy best knew how scandalized he would have been by such a gesture, had he lived into the 20th century.

It probably isn’t a coincidence that Jackson’s image went on the $20 during the same decade Confederate statues and monuments were being erected across the South to commemorate “The Lost Cause.”

Though he died 16 years before the first shots of the Civil War were fired, Jackson’s two-fisted presidency appealed to partisans on both sides, despite his preference for a strong federal government and how he dealt with a secessionist movement in his own era.

The “Trail of Tears” that resulted from the forced relocation of thousands of Native Americans to the West from their historic territories east of the Mississippi was initiated by Jackson. Today, we recognize it as the beginning of a genocidal program aimed at purging the country of American Indians — pure and simple.


Earlier this year, President Donald Trump suggested that Andrew Jackson could have stopped the Civil War from happening or at least negotiated a mutually acceptable end to the conflict.

“Why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?” he asked Pittsburgh journalist Salena Zito during an interview. “I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. … He had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said ‘There’s no reason for this.’ ‘’

Mr. Trump’s relationship to time, space and fact is famously fluid. It isn’t clear if he understood that Andrew Jackson died in 1845 at the age of 78  — or if he was engaging in counterfactual history, speculating on how a personage such as Jackson would have quelled the divisions that burst open in 1861.

In any case, Mr. Trump’s admiration for his angry populist precursor was on the record long before he laid a wreath on the dead president’s grave in Nashville earlier this year to commemorate the 250th anniversary of his birth.

During his presidential run, Mr. Trump stated how much he disagreed with the Obama administration’s plan to replace Jackson on the $20 with abolitionist Harriet Tubman. He said former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was motivated by “pure political correctness” to replace Jackson with Tubman. He said a better place for the abolitionist would be on the seldom used or seen $2 bill.

Last month, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the only reason to make any changes to our currency would be for security reasons like thwarting counterfeiting. He refused to commit to Mr. Lew’s plan to phase in the Tubman $20 by the end of this decade.

“People have been on the bills for a long period of time,” Mr. Mnuchin said. “This is something we’ll consider. Right now we have a lot more important issues to focus on.” Translation: Harriet Tubman ain’t going nowhere!

Any appeal to decency and the value of currency that is inclusive in a diverse nation is lost on this crowd. All Harriet Tubman ever did was personally lead hundreds of slaves to freedom and thousands more by example. What’s to valorize in a track record like that?

If only Harriet Tubman had been as “heroic” as Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee — America would have already built little monuments to her memory.

If only Tubman had fought to ensure the enslavement of black people instead of violating the property rights of Southern white men by leading so many to freedom on the Underground Railroad, she would be on the front of all sorts of currency today. To honor her now would be political correctness run amok.

By Tony Norman/PittsburghPost-Gazette

Posted by The NON-Confrormist

What Trump’s Generation Learned About the Civil War

A scene from the Gettysburg Cyclorama, an 1883 cyclorama painting depicting the climactic clash between Union and Confederate forces during the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

History textbooks used in New York City during the president’s childhood called the Klan “patriotic,” and downplayed the role of slavery in “the War Between the States.”

In March, President Trump visited the Hermitage, a former slave plantation in Tennessee once owned by Andrew Jackson, to pay homage to his 19th century predecessor. For Trump and his then-chief strategist Steve Bannon, the parallels were irresistible: An agrarian populist from the Tennessee frontier, Jackson was the first to cast himself as the common man’s warrior against corrupt Washington elites and moneyed political interests.

But even more revealing than their similarities was how Trump viewed his predecessor’s place in American history. In an interview a month after the trip, he alleged that Jackson, who died in 1845, could have prevented the Civil War:

I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, “There’s no reason for this.” People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there a Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?

Historians today broadly agree that a slaveholding aristocracy was irreconcilable with the nation’s founding pledges of liberty and equality, and that decades of compromises between top American statesmen only delayed an inevitable confrontation. But the president’s view that the conflict could’ve been “worked out” would’ve fit at home in another place: the history classes of his youth.

Until the late 1960s, history curricula in Trump’s home state of New York largely adhered to a narrow vision of American history, especially when discussing slavery, the Civil War, and its aftermath. This was true in the predominately white public schools throughout the country. The African American experience and its broader significance received little to no attention. When textbooks did cover black Americans, their portrayals were often based on racist tropes or otherwise negative stereotypes. Trump’s understanding of the Civil War may be out of step with current scholarship, but it’s one that was taught to millions of Americans for decades.

“The dominant story was that secession was a mistake, but so was Reconstruction,” Jonathan Zimmerman, a New York University professor who studies the history of American education, told me. “And Reconstruction was a mistake because [the North] put ‘childlike’ and ‘bestial’ blacks in charge of the South, and the only thing that saved white womanhood was the Ku Klux Klan. When African Americans read this in their textbooks, they obviously bristled.”

Thanks to his family’s wealth, Trump did not attend public school in Queens, where he grew up. In 1951, his father Fred enrolled him in the Kew-Forest School for kindergarten, and he stayed there until seventh grade. When he was 13 years old, his father sent him away to the New York Military Academy, a rigorous military-themed boarding school in the Hudson Valley—to “get him in line” because he was too “rambunctious,” Trump told The Washington Post last year. He completed his high-school education there and graduated in 1964.

Attending private institutions would not have inoculated the president from the retrograde learning of this era, because private schools often used the same history textbooks and curricula as their public counterparts.

Trump’s high-school education coincided with the resurgence of the civil-rights movement and its push to improve American history classes. The fight has its roots in World War II. Defeating Nazi Germany and its racist ideology inspired a new generation of black activists, Zimmerman said. Spurred by the wartime realignment of the American economy, thousands of black families left the South for new opportunities in the North and the West during the Second Great Migration in the 1940s. They quickly encountered stark differences in what their children learned about America’s past. Segregated black schools in the South had often used works by black scholars like Carter Woodson, who became known as the father of black history, and W.E.B. Du Bois to teach history. Northern and Western schools followed a different path. Their textbooks about slavery and the Civil War prompted protests from black families and community leaders.

African American parents and students emerged as the strongest voices in protesting history curricula. Major black newspapers like the Chicago Defenderand the New York Amsterdam News regularly covered new developments in the fight. Civil-rights organizations like the NAACP and the Urban League appointed committees to review textbooks and push back on flawed material. They pressured public officials and textbook publishers to present a more accurate and comprehensive view of black Americans in history.

“For more than 100 years, the American educational system has revolved around four basic R’s—reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic, and racism,” historian Lerone Bennett Jr. wrote in Ebony magazine in 1967. “By sins of commission and omission, by words said but also by words not said, facts conveniently overlooked and images suppressed, the American school system has made the fourth R—racism—the ground of the traditional three-R fare.”

New York’s schools were no different. A 1957 report found a textbook on the city’s recommended list which, while roundly condemning its violence, said of the postwar Ku Klux Klan, “Its purposes were patriotic, but its methods cannot be defended.”

In 1960, four years before Trump graduated high school, Albert Alexander, a textbook analyst for the New York City Board of Education, complained that publishers had warped their coverage of the Civil War so their products could be sold in both the North and the South. He noted that four of the textbooks used in city schools only referred to the conflict as the “War Between the States,” the segregationist South’s preferred term.

In 1966, Irving Sloan, a New York social-studies teacher, published a study for the American Federation of Teachers reviewing how contemporary American history textbooks covered black history. He opened by observing that many publishers had improved their coverage in recent years. But he also qualified his praise of their progress, noting that “none of the texts have completely succeeded, and several are so far from the target that they invite suspicion.”

Sloan noted, for example, that even some newer textbooks “still cling to the romanticized versions of the happy slave life.” Abolitionism was mostly depicted as a solely white movement. “No text gives enough attention to the participation of Negroes in this struggle for their freedom,” he observed. Things got worse when students moved past the Civil War. “In analysis after analysis of the texts, the reader will find the statement that after Reconstruction ‘200-300 pages pass before we get a reference to the Negro,’” Sloan wrote. “This is why whites do not always ‘see’ Negroes. As Ralph Ellison puts it, they are ‘invisible.’ And the reason they are unseen is that they are left out from such a large part of American history.”

The quality of the textbooks reviewed by Sloan varied. He praised the junior-high text Land of the Free for its quality, which he partly credits to eminent black historian John Hope Franklin’s co-authorship. Others received more scathing treatments. Sloan’s critiques of a senior-level high-school history textbook titled Our Nation From Its Creation typify the most common errors he encountered.

In a section dealing with different opinions about the causes of the “War Between the States,” the authors include the opinion of ‘more and more Northerners and some Southerners … that slavery was a moral evil and had to go.” The text’s presentation of the Southern response to the moral question is worth quoting in full: “Aren’t our slaves much better off than your so-called free workers in the filthy factories of the North? One Southern writer suggested that the so-called free laborers of the North would be better off if the North turned them into slaves.”


Coming to the period after the war, the Reconstruction era, the authors discuss the condition of the Freedmen. A statement such as, “Some thought that now that they were free, life was going to be one long spree, without work,” is at best gratuitous and at worst unsupportable. But it remains consistent with much of the tone of this text’s treatment of the Negro.

“Since the authors of the text are New York City teachers, it probably has wide use in the city,” Sloan concluded. “What is more, it probably has wide use in the South. Among high school texts, this gives one of the poorest treatments of the Negro encountered in our study.”

Racist material permeated other sections of the American curriculum, well beyond the field of history. Geography textbooks depicted Africa as “the dark continent” and either ignored it or portrayed it as a place of cannibalism and barbarity. “[Black] critics condemned biology textbooks, which often reflected eugenic theories of racial hierarchy,” Zimmerman wrote in a 2004 article on U.S. textbook changes after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. “Still other blacks attacked music textbooks for including songs by [prolific 19th-century songwriter] Stephen Foster, complete with Foster’s original lexicon—‘darkey,’ ‘nigger,’ and so on.”

These textbooks shouldn’t be interpreted as reflecting their readers’ views, Zimmerman cautioned me. Instead, they offer a window into what students would have learned in a previous era. “This tells us more about the culture of race as expressed in the curriculum than it does about what any given individual imbibed or not,” he explained.

With the horrors of slavery diminished and its presence occasionally justified, it’s easy to see how someone from Trump’s generation could view the Civil War as a conflict whose core tensions could be “worked out” without violence. Trump himself has recently embraced other extraordinary views of that era. After a deadly attack on demonstrators protesting a white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month, he became an avowed defender of Confederate statues.

“So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down,” he said at a Trump Tower press conference on August 15, referring to two Confederate generals’ statues. “I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?” His embrace of the statues and the white-nationalist movement defending them served clearly political purposes, but it also betrayed a flimsy understanding of the country’s history: Washington and Jefferson devoted their lives to setting the American experiment in motion; Lee and Jackson killed thousands of their countrymen in an attempt to end it.

Of course, Trump is far from the only American politician with an outdated understanding of the Civil War era. In a January 2016 town hall in Iowa, Hillary Clinton—who is one year younger than Trump—said that had he not been killed, Abraham Lincoln’s more tolerant policies may have hastened national reconciliation, and that what actually happened left white Southerners “feeling totally discouraged and defiant.” My colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates noted similarities between Clinton’s statement and the Lost Cause view “that Reconstruction was a mistake brought about by vengeful Northern radicals.”

For Trump and Clinton’s generation, the curriculum’s impact may be measurable. In August 2015, a McClatchy-Marist poll asked American adults whether schools should teach that slavery was the main cause of the Civil War. Sixty percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they should, as did 59 percent of 30- to 44-year-olds and 57 percent of 45- to 59-year-olds. Support then dropped off markedly among those who would’ve been offered more retrograde views of the Civil War in school: Only 49 percent of Americans over the age of 65 thought slavery should be taught as its main cause, the poll found.

By the 1970s, activist pressure brought about significant changes in how history classes would be taught. But how American children learn the history of non-white groups is still controversial, and led to a recent federal court battle in Arizona. During a wider clash over laws targeting undocumented immigrants in 2010, the state legislature banned classes that “promote resentment toward a race or class of people,” that are “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” or that “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” Judge A. Wallace Tashima ruled Wednesday that the law violated the First Amendment because “both [its] enactment and enforcement were motivated by racial animus,” citing disparaging blog posts about Mexican immigrants by the statute’s author.

The fight over fair treatment in textbooks and curricula also continues. In 2015, an African American student in Houston noticed his geography textbook described the slave trade as bringing “millions of workers” to plantations across the South, eliding the difference between mass immigration and indentured servitude from Europe and the enslavement of Africans. He sent a picture of it to his mother, whose criticism of the phrasing went viral on social media. McGraw-Hill Education, the book’s publisher, apologized and said it would revise future editions.

That incident, Zimmerman noted, evoked a previous generation of textbook battles that had before reshaped American history education. “And again the reason that it changed was that people of color objected, thank God,” he said.

By Matt Ford/TheAtlantic

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Miss. Historians: Confederate Emblem Is a ‘Symbol of Racial Terror’ and Should Come Off State Flag

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Historians in Mississippi say the Confederate battle emblem is a “symbol of racial terror” that needs to be stripped from the state flag.

Thirty-four professors released a statement this week saying they expect questions from students about the recent white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Va., where some participants carried the rebel flag.

Mississippi has the last state flag with the Confederate symbol, a red field topped by a blue tilted cross dotted by 13 white stars.

The professors from public and private universities wrote that Mississippi legislators adopted the flag in 1894 to assert white supremacy.

“The threat of racist mob violence has been present throughout American history, and, as seen by the flag-wielding neo-Nazis and racist sympathizers in Charlottesville, the use of Confederate emblems echoes the racist reasoning of whites in Mississippi at the end of the 19th century, who used terror to impose minority rule,” they wrote.

Voters decided to keep the flag in a 2001 referendum. Confederate symbols have come under increasing scrutiny since 2015, when an avowed white supremacist who had posed for photos holding the battle flag killed nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, S.C.

Some Mississippi elected officials, including the Republican speaker of the state House and both of the state’s Republican U.S. senators, have said the state should ditch the current flag and adopt a design that would unify the state, whose population is 38 percent Black.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said if the design is reconsidered, it should happen in another statewide election. Supporters of the flag say it represents the state’s history.

The professors wrote: “This flag does not reflect the entirety of the state’s history and people. It ignores the reality of the African-American experience, and it limits the scope of what Mississippi has been, is, and can be.”

By Associated Press

Posted by The NON-Conformist