Genma Speaks

Entrepreneur/ Writer/ Radio-Host

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

National Confederate History Month...My Perspective

HBCU Alcorn State University (steep in Black pride) is name after former slave owner James Lusk Alcorn. ASU is the first land grant college in US and the first college in the U.S. to grant degrees to Blacks and Whites.

Blanche K. Bruce of Bolivar County, Mississippi, in 1875 was the second black sent to the U. S. Senate and was the first black to serve a full term in the Senate.

Hiram R. Revels of Natchez was appointed by the predominantly Republican Mississippi Legislature in 1870 to serve out the unexpired term of Jefferson Davis and became the first black to serve in the U. S. Senate.

Reading was promoted heavily in my family when I was a child. We competed to see how many books we could read over the summer. I read Nancy Drew mysteries religiously and I read anything by author Beverly Cleary. No "See Jane Run" on my book shelf.By the time I entered third grade my grandfather said, “You need to learn your history. How do you know where you are going, if you do not know where you come from? Our people perish from lack of knowledge? ” With those words planted firmly in my head, I became a lover of all things history. My mom taught me my family history. My grandfather was a walking encyclopedia on Civil Rights history. I attended a Catholic school where I got a heavy does of the history of the Catholic Church. The school was located in Natchez, Miss where one my favorite teachers, Ms. Voss, taught Natchez History. In her teachings, we visited antebellum homes all over the Deep South where I learned Southern History that included Confederate and Civil War History. All of this was part of my family’s plan to ensure we learned our history…all of it.

The history buff in me was amused this weekend while watching many TV pundits’ mass hysterics about Virginia’s Governor McDonnell proclaiming April as Confederate History Month and did not mention slavery. A Magnolia State radio host called and asked me to come on his show to comment on the outrage because of the Governor’s omission. I told the host that I did not know any family folks who were upset about the Governor’s lack of knowledge or exclusion of slavery. If a Governor of any state does not know history that goes to show that you do not have to be smarter than a fifth grader to get elected to public office.

I could hear the dismay in his voice as he tried to interpret my thoughts and words. Since I knew he needed a statement to stir up mess and mayhem, I said, “If my grandfather was alive, he would probably have a cart selling confederate memorabilia on the side of the road. If you are going to declare Confederate History Month, you need vendors to sell; shirts, towels, statues, confederate dollars and what-nots. With all the war re-enactment folks in Tennessee, I could make a ton of money.” After more back and fourth, I said, “This is another media distraction to get folks off real issues; employment and the lack of jobs, the mortgage crisis and education.” Governor McDonnell’s words were not surprising to me nor did I get a knee jerk reaction to the media’s fixation on his words. When you know your history and your truth, you get to pick your battles. Since I was educated in a town rich in Confederate History, let share some historical facts that are not always talked about or known by TV pundits.

Natchez, Mississippi was named after the Natchez Indians. The Indians occupied the area for many years before it became a colony of the French. In the Natchez area during the years that slavery was an institution, there were many free Blacks. They were educated home owners with businesses like William Johnson nicknamed the “Barber of Natchez”. Some historians have stated that there were more free Blacks in the South than there were in the North prior to the start of the Civil War. This is rarely mentioned in history books but is widely taught in Natchez. The Mississippi Historical Society has documented that 75% of free blacks in Mississippi lived in the prosperous city of Natchez at one point.

In Dec 1869, MS granted Black folks the right to vote. This was one of the actions that allowed MS to return to the Union. There was a time in MS history when Blacks were elected to office and held government positions. In 1890, the right to vote was repealed. Many years later, my grandfather, a founding member of the NAACP in Jefferson County, became one of the first Blacks to vote after reconstruction in Mississippi in Jefferson County. My grandfather worked to get Blacks registered to vote and later, elected to office. During those years, Republicans and Democrats, Blacks and Whites, Catholics and Jews walked hand in hand to accomplish this mission. In 1969, Fayette, Mississippi, the county seat, elected the first Black Mayor of a city in Mississippi after Reconstruction; Charles Evers, a Republican. He was Mayor for several terms. Charles Evers was the older brother of slain Civil Rights worker, Medgar Evers.

When I go back to Mississippi, I try to visit many antebellum homes in Natchez, Port Gibson, Vicksburg and Fayette. My Aunt Henrietta owns an antebellum home in the area. Natchez’s main commerce is tourism that is funded by its historical home tours. Today, many Black folks earn a living in the area from tourism dollars that flow into the city. Tourists by the bus loads come to visit the Civil War sites and the famous homes like Melrose, Stanton Hall and Longwood. The homes are Historical Mansions that are key pieces of American History. Tourists are putting dollars into the “River City” that employs many people including Black folks. There is no difference in the visitors who enter the White House, a famous house built by slaves. I don't know how many visit the White House to see what the slaves built? The White House is one of the most visited historical sites in the country, and everyone knows that slaves built the house, including the current President. In life, some things are simple and contextual.

There are thousands in the South who are employed from river boat engineers to tour guides to hotel managers to conference organizers and everything in between whose employment is based on the history of the Civil War. Slavery was part of our American History that should be taught; we do not have to embrace an idea or shy away from it to learn its significance in our lives today. The Civil War is part of American History, it happened. Very few can argue facts but the media sound bites can distort the truth. History is very different from sound bites and at this moment in our country we are being fed more sound bites more than facts. Why do TV pundits go on tangents about “what if the South had won”? The South did not win, that is a fact. At a time when racial tensions are extremely high in this country, media punditry purposely stroke those flames from every angle, including Black and White talking heads. They are making money by inciting rage instead of using the minutes on air to give facts about the news of the day that can be history repeating its self from lessons not learned.

One of the most evil men in history was Adolf Hitler who used the media to stir up hate against the Jews. This led to the death of millions of people. I first learned about Hitler by studying the history of World War I and II and later through the oral history of Jewish friends whose families lived through the Holocaust. Hitler wrote about using the media propaganda to feed half truth to the massive and kept them distracted while he perfected his agenda to create a “pure” nation of men and women. From My Struggle (Mein Kemp):

“Propaganda must not investigate the truth objectively and, in so far as it is favourable to the other side, present it according to the theoretical rules of justice; yet it must present only that aspect of the truth which is favourable to its own side. (…) The receptive powers of the masses are very restricted, and their understanding is feeble. On the other hand, they quickly forget. Such being the case, all effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials and those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotyped formulas. These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward. (…) Every change that is made in the subject of a propagandist message must always emphasize the same conclusion. The leading slogan must of course be illustrated in many ways and from several angles, but in the end one must always return to the assertion of the same formula.”

Those words were written while Hitler was imprisoned after World War I. It’s chilling to read his eerie words and then turn on cable news. Even from the most evil minds, we can learn from their thinking in order to not repeat past abominations and atrocities like the institution of slavery and the horrors of the Holocaust.

(The Hall of Remembrance Holocaust Museum)Dt 4:9

I am blessed to have a family that taught me MY history; written facts, what was left out of history books and our oral history that is passed from one generation to another. My mom spent many conversations reminding her children often about our Black/White/Indian heritage. I held the hand of my grandmother’s grandmother, Big Mama. She lived until she was 109 years old. I can remember braiding her snow white locks as if it was yesterday. At that time, She WAS history and several articles were written about the Century Old Diva. She died when I was in grade school as I was embracing the love of reading. I thank God my family made sure history was important part of knowing the facts about living in the South. We accepted the good and learned from the bad. The last few months of my grandfather’s life, I held history tightly. I cherish the many firsts he made with his life that made a difference too many people. Do I think the Governor of VA know any of this? Nope. Do I care? Nope. Who or what a Governor acknowledges is not going to change my history and my truth. Once we had a media that recorded history, today it seems as it is trying to rewrite history. Let’s not allow media punditry to keep distracting us by keeping us focused on useless propaganda…we have too much to do.

Photo Credits
Revels, Alcorn, Blanche
Library of Congress
City of Natchez
Reference Material
Notes from Mississippi Historical Society
"Between Two Worlds: Free Blacks in the Antebellum South"
Natchez Library
National Register of Historical Places
National Holocaust Museum, Washington D.C.


Just Suzanne said...

You so totally ROCK! No wonder we love you so!

vicksburgnews said...

Read every word again and enjoyed it. You are an excellent writer because you are an excellent reader.

I knew several people from Fayette when I worked at Grand Gulf. One of the last students I taught was Kenya Haley. I worked with Shirley Williams many years and consider her a great friend. She is the only one I call up from time to time that Used to work with before I retired. Something tells me you know many people that I got to know from Fayette. Charles Bell

Lyn FH said...

I have read this twice as well. It is a beautifully written post. When can we all get together, dinner party, tweet up, something? I want to teach my children not to fear or be ashamed of history, but to love it and to understand why events transpired. I have much I'd love to share with you. And would love to hear your perspective.

I interpret your overall point as this is not about celebrating confederate history. It is about a media and political use of this to flame hate fires. Fires that we need to smother with education and understanding. Bravo!

lmlTN said...

I.LOVE.THIS. I like your history lessons better than anyone else's. :)

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