Richardt Stormsgaard: Confederate myths endure |

Richardt Stormsgaard: Confederate myths endure

In “Is this the America we want?” Manny Montes claims that America helped eliminate global slavery. Not true.

During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Southern states insisted on having “property in men” included in the Constitution, but were rebuffed by the majority Northerners. In return for their final signatures of acceptance, they secured the three/fifths compromise to significantly increase their constitutional legislative power.

During the late 1800s, the expectation was even among most Southerners that slavery was coming to an end, as it was among the European colonial powers.

But the invention of the short-staple cotton gin unexpectedly made the production of cotton immensely profitable. So while the Europeans outlawed slavery in their colonies in the first half of the 1800s it grew from 700,000 in 1787 to almost 4 million during the 1850s in the United States.

In 1860, the lower Mississippi Valley had more millionaires (all planters) than the rest of the country, and the value of their plantations — including the slaves — exceeded that of the combined U.S. manufacturing and the railroad systems. If the Confederacy had been a separate country it would have been the fourth-largest economy in the world at the time.

Three weeks before the Southern states started the Civil War in 1861, Alexander H. Stephens, vice president of the Confederate States, proclaimed that the United States had been founded on the false idea that all men are created equal. “The Confederacy, by contrast, is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based on this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

After the 1867 Reconstruction Act newly enfranchised Black voters gained control of several state houses in the South, and white supremacist groups responded with deadly violence against Blacks from Virginia to Louisiana.

The 1873 Cruikshank decision by the conservative Supreme Court effectively sanctioned these atrocities as the perpetrators of the Colfax massacre went unpunished, encouraging even more murders of Blacks.

The 1896 Plessy decision cemented second-class citizenship through the separate but equal doctrine and endured for almost 60 years.

The Equal Justice Initiative has documented the killings of 2,200 Black Americans during the Reconstruction Era from 1865 to 1877, and 4,400 more during the Redemption Era from 1877 to 1965.

Mr. Montes criticizes the national discussion about race that the Lost Cause narrative so successfully has hijacked. For more than a century, politicians, writers, media personalities and other prominent public figures have falsely described the Civil War as a matter of states’ rights, of the little guy against the big bully of the federal government, when the war really was about establishing a permanent slave state and undoing the founding principle of America that all men are created equal.

Movies like “Birth of a Nation” (1918) and “Gone With the Wind” (1939) portrayed Blacks as simple-minded and sexually aggressive, and the KKK as heroes fighting an oppressive federal government. Only three decades ago, these movies were elevated to the National Film Register as culturally significant, reinforcing the disingenuous narrative of the rustic and genteel sophistication of the Southern planter culture while ignoring the particularly brutal type of chattel slavery it was based upon.

A survey only 10 years ago of high school teachers showed that most had taught their students that states’ rights was the main reason for the Civil War. Recent Pew Research polling likewise indicate most Americans still believe the Civil War was primarily about states’ rights rather than expanding chattel slavery to every corner of the United States.

Perhaps as a response to the impending 100-year anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, on May 7 Republican Gov. Stitt signed an Oklahoma state bill to suppress the teaching of critical race theory in Oklahoma schools. In 1921, over a three day period, 300 Blacks were killed and 30 city blocks of Black businesses and residential homes looted and burned. After the atrocities, local newspaper records, police and military archives were purged, and until the 1970s the gruesome events were not publicly discussed or taught.

On this Memorial Day, three Black survivors from those days of terror will be honored despite the continued obstruction efforts by Lost Cause adherents who continue to deny the racist policies that still permeate our society to this day.

Richardt Stormsgaard lives in Nevada City.

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