No Excuses

Fannie Lou.jpg

Haley Barbour is backtracking. Just a little more on the precise nature of what Barbour is backtracking from:

An official of the pro-segregation Citizens Council says unnamed donors have agreed to underwrite the cost of a special train to move Negroes to the North. The claim from George Singlemann came after an official of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People asked Negroes to ignore the segregationist offer of free one-way tickets out of the South.

That's from a 1962 article out of New Orleans. Even at this late hour, the work of the Citizens Council is easily understood--standing athwart the most honorable strain of American History and yelling, "Do you want them marrying your daughters?"

One of the great advantages of the internet is that when people make ignorant claims about American history, they can, with relative ease, be corrected. Andy Hall mentioned recently that this had been an awful year for Neo-Confederates. In part, I think, that's because with a mere click of the mouse you can discover what actual Confederates were saying: 

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

That's the declaration of secession from Haley Barbour's home state. He still proudly displays the flag of that cause, the same flag that authored the death of more American soldiers than Vietnam, World War I and World War II combined, the death of Lincoln, and the deaths of countless freedmen and descendants of freedman. In short, Barbour embraces the flag of America's most prodigious white supremacists, and foremost home-grown terrorists. Of all the United States, Mississippi has the highest percentage of African-Americans. Haley Barbour, evidently, knows very little of their history. Indeed, there may not be a governor more ignorant of his constituents in all this great land.

Short of a desire to not know, there is no excuse to proceed into the 21st century in this blind matter. This morning I was listening to James McPherson on the radio. He very casually noted that at the outset of the Civil War, some 60 percent of South Carolina's population was enslaved. A century and a half later, there are still those who would raise a glass and dance to this. And there are others who would so very much just like to not know.

Picture is of Fannie Lou Hamer, sharecropper turned professional bad-ass, testifying in 1964 at the Democratic Convention. Hamer was protesting Mississippi's all-white, segregationist Democratic delegation.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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