By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Givens: We should learn from history, not deny it
Placeholder Image

Holidays and seasons of remembrance are as old as civilization. A lot can be learned about a culture by the nature of its holidays. In February we have President's Day, Valentine's Day and the designation of Black History Month. Throughout my life, I've heard people complain that Black History Month is politically correct nonsense. Due to recent events I could not disagree more.

Recognizing historical patterns prevents us from repeating mistakes. Though history technically doesn't change, how it is presented does change. There are dangerous efforts from both the left and right to edit the history of this country with regard to slavery and the 14th Amendment.

One book publisher has decided to publish The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn but replace the N-word with slave. Some may think this a fine move as the first word makes people so uncomfortable. Removing the word from works of literature allows for history to be rewritten.

Huck Finn gives excellent testimony to the history of racism and why that word is so hurtful. If we remove it from historical literature, within a generation historical revisionists could claim American slavery was not based on racism. They could falsely claim American slavery was like Greek and Roman slavery in which the slave could possess an honored position in society.

The tea party in Tennessee, in its list of priorities to Congress, lists: "no portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership." This could only be enforced by subjective censorship.

The great myths of history include heroes with tragic flaws. Agamemnon was given to rage and King David had the husband of his lover killed. The ancients understood we can learn from our flaws as much as we can from our strengths. To ignore the flaws of our founders is to obscure our history and prevent ourselves from gaining all the wisdom available.

This censorship is in our own community. Recently a work of art depicting the Confederate battle flag with images related to slavery and racism was removed from a Gainesville State College exhibit because it offended too many fans of the flag. Political correctness must have come full circle and reached its pinnacle since it's too controversial to display a work of art associating slavery with the battle flag of a nation with a Constitution protecting slavery.

Prior to the Civil War, slaves accounted for roughly 15 percent of the U.S. population and produced goods accounted for over 50 percent of U.S. exports. Cotton textiles accounted for 40 percent of England's exports and employed 20 percent of its population. The wealth of both nations was built on the backs of slaves. To ignore this or gloss over it would be a crime.

Thomas Jefferson complained that England had introduced slavery to America. America should have led the way in ending slavery. Ironically, that was not the case. England abolished the slave trade one year before we did. It abolished slavery itself in 1833. Granted, England still imported American cotton, it took us a war and 30-plus years to abolish slavery.

History repeats itself and so does abuse. For centuries the English persecuted the Irish by preventing them from owning land. They were tenant farmers with the fruits of their labor going to English overlords. Many immigrated to America.

In the U.S., many of these same Irish, my family included, abetted the English in setting up the slave economy here. Perhaps forgetting the pains of their ancestors, many of these Irish became overlords themselves, but this time over African slaves. Sadly, the freed American slaves in Liberia went on to deny the native Malinke their civil rights.

The cycle of abuse continues until knowledge and self awareness breaks it. Now people are trying to reinterpret the 14th Amendment to say that to be born here doesn't actually guarantee citizenship. They claim the amendment was meant to protect only the freed slaves and not just anyone born here. Well, the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments were intended to keep us from having a society with second-class citizens. Denying citizenship to children born here would do just that.

Fear of illegal immigrants and attempts to deny them citizenship has already occurred. In the 1880s, fear of mass immigration from Asia swept the country. The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed. Officials attempted to deny American-born Chinese American Wong Kim Ark his citizenship because his parents were foreign born.

In the United States vs. Wong Kim Ark in 1898, the Supreme Court ruled that citizenship extended to all people born in the U.S. despite race or the citizenship of their parents. Wong Kim Ark's parents weren't technically illegal immigrants at the time of his birth, so I guess we could retest the decision. But do we want to return to a system of having second-class citizens unable to vote or legally own title to property and working for substandard wages? Such a system has never worked.

This February, in the spirit of love and St. Valentine, let's consider the history of African-Americans and remember our presidents. Most importantly, let's honor our founders by learning from them and not repeating their mistakes.

Brandon Givens is a Hall County teacher and frequent columnist.