During my visit to Chicago Boyz, a couple of commenters brought up civil rights. We were discussing, among other things, Glenn Beck’s rally in Washington. That rally was on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Beck claimed that choosing that date was coincidence.
What the commenters had to say was new to me: The civil rights struggle is a victory for all of us, we all deserve credit, because if Southerners hadn’t gone along with it, it would never have been accepted. I agreed that it was a victory for all of us, but I think there are differential amounts of credit to be assigned. The Freedom Riders and many others risked their lives; people like me who stayed home and supported them in other ways don’t get the same credit. Even less so the girl with the ugly expression in this famous photo.
One of the commenters offered up a very softened version of the history: We in the south were not living up to our ideals. The civil rights workers pointed this out to us, and we changed our behavior. I’ve shortened that even further; his later post showed that he’s got more detail to the story, and I’m not going to parse it in detail.
Haley Barbour has his own narrative of the civil rights movement. Eugene Robinson finds it severely wanting, mendacious even.
There was a subtheme at Chicago Boyz that it was Democrats who were the Southern segregationists, and therefore the Democratic Party continues to bear that stigma. This ignores the recent history of that area’s party affiliations and the outcome of Democratic Southern President Lyndon Johnson’s signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which he recognized would damage the Democratic Party in the South. The sad thing is that, in its origins, the Republican Party was the only party willing to take an anti-slavery position.
There are a couple of things that could be happening here, neither excluding the other. It could be that Southerners want to come to terms with the civil rights era and are beginning to face up to that history. It could also be that there is an attempt afoot to appropriate the narrative so that the South can remain blameless and, perhaps, victims.
I’d be pleased if Southerners were coming to terms with their history. We need a reconciliation among the various factions, and developing a narrative that doesn’t depend on stock good guys and bad guys would help. But the cautions on that are that the narrative needs to stay with the facts of history, and all parties need to be involved. So far, the effort to develop a narrative seems to be within the Republican/Tea Party only. I conflate the two, because it seems to be coming from both.
We need to keep an eye on this, encourage reconciliation where it exists, and slap down the lies.