Another Point of View: The Rest of the Story?
Late May is often a time of reflection - a change in seasons, the end of school, beginning of summer vacation, graduations and most of all, Memorial Day. This year there were additions: the anniversary of George Floyd’s tragic death and the 100th anniversary of the once-almost-unknown Tulsa Massacre. Because Tulsa officials whitewashed it as a riot caused by the very community that was tortured and demolished, there were no compensations from government, nor from insurance companies. The carefully accumulated wealth of a once-prosperous black community was gone overnight through no fault of their own. But like so much of our shameful past, this was purposefully hidden from Americans for almost a century.
This has again reminded me that history is usually written by the “winners” or those in power. Some decry the loss of history when statues are removed from public squares, but others have come to realize that these removals now allow us to tell a fuller American story. We should never forget that history we learn in school is never the whole truth.
In the twenty-first century we are acknowledging more of our story, especially the more painful bits. Americans have NEVER been mostly white males of European ancestry, although our history books and monuments often give that impression. Critics are right that we do not want to erase our history; we need to broaden it.
Author Clint Smith explores “How the Word is Passed,” his latest book. When visiting Monticello, he discovered its tours now more fully reflect the history of ALL the inhabitants of the plantation, not just Thomas Jefferson, finding some of the tourists are amazed that a founding father of our country enslaved people, even some who were mostly white.
Other sites Smith visited have not changed with the times. At a Memorial Day celebration organized by Sons of Confederate Veterans he found not only people grieving for lost ancestors, but also a fierce pride in those who had fought for the right to enslave others. A member even tried to convince him that Black men served as officers in the Confederacy, a 1970s propaganda campaign to safeguard the S.C.V.’s reputation.
Other books that bring new interpretations to our history include Sally E. Haden’s book “Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas,” and scholar Carol Anderson’s book “The Second - Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America” which explains how the Founding Fathers drafted the Second Amendment to appease southern slave-holders, keeping African-Americans powerless and guaranteeing state militias for suppressing slave insurrections. James Madison, architect of our Constitution, was afraid that the paranoia of southerners Patrick Henry, George Mason and James Monroe would scuttle the new Constitution without such an amendment.
“Their main concern was that Article 1, Section 8 of the newly-proposed US Constitution, which gave the federal government the power to raise and supervise a militia, could also allow that federal militia to subsume their state militias and change them from slavery-enforcing institutions into something that could even, one day, free the slaves” (truthout.org, Jan 15, 2013). Interestingly, our Constitution also states that no appropriation of moneys to raise and support armies shall be longer than two years, such was their fear of standing armies.
Like Paul Harvey, I would like to be able to say "And now you know the rest of the story.” Were history that simple!
"Another Point of View" is a column written by rotating authors dedicated to providing a variety of perspectives on life and politics.