In yesterday’s post I linked to an article about the impending opening of the Museum of the Confederacy’s Appomattox branch this coming weekend. The article included a quote from King Salim Khalfani, who is the Executive Director of the State Conference NAACP. Asked if he planned to attend the opening, Khalfani had this to say:
I have never been, and I have no plans to…. These people are still fighting the Civil War. They’re just not honest about the history and the story.
Khalfani’s bio page includes the following:
My greatest accomplishment is that I am by choice a revolutionary Afrikan Man. I am a Pan-Afrikanist. I am one who speaks truth to power unashamedly on behalf of Afrikan people. I have not cringed or cowered when faced with criticism, ostracism or threats of bodily harm.
Perhaps the Civil War just doesn’t fall on the radar screen of someone who self-identifies as an Afrikan Man or Pan-Afrikanist. That’s fine. What I do have a problem with, however, is when we speak truth to power without any evidence behind the action. Khalfani is no better than the Virginia Flaggers, Ed Sebesta, and the SCV, who have done next to nothing to explore what the Museum of the Confederacy has to offer.
I spent a few minutes on the Virginia NAACP’s website and I can’t find anything having to do with the Civil War Sesquicentennial. How unfortunate. Of course, other issues demand attention and resources, but this is a unique opportunity to connect the African American community in Virginia to an incredibly rich history. The Museum of the Confederacy is an essential stop along that journey. I’ve written quite a bit about the challenges associated with attracting African Americans to Civil War related events. To the extent that an adult white male can sympathize, I get it. That said, at some point we have to move beyond these irresponsible outbursts.
I’ve already suggested that this is not your grandfather’s Civil War commemoration. Let’s step up to the plate and move forward. Mr. Khalfani ought to lead the way.
I have nothing but the utmost respect for the men and women of the National Park Service, who help to preserve and interpret our nation’s historic sites. They include some of the most passionate and talented historians. For those focused on Civil War related sites their jobs come with increased attention and scrutiny by the media as well as various interest groups who have a stake in maintaining or protecting a specific narrative of the war.
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NAACP Protest in Charleston, SC, December 2010
In a recent post, Ta-Nehisis Coates is critical of the NAACP for its continued boycott of South Carolina as well as its struggle to remove the Confederate flag from state house grounds. I couldn’t agree more with Coates:
There is something that really strikes me as wrong about urging people to not visit South Carolina on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. I was listening to the radio a few days ago, and the mayor of Charleston was discussing the significance of the city’s slave ports in American history. I haven’t seen this on paper, but he claimed something like 20 percent of all African-American have an ancestor that came through Charleston. Whether that’s true, or not, you’re talking about a state with a unique place in black history, in particular, and American history at large…. At some point we have to stop telling people what they can’t believe in, and start telling them what they can. At some point we have push a positive view of history, not in the sense of white-washing, but in the sense of something beyond debunking. I don’t know that you can banish the Confederate flag from the South. I don’t know that you can make Tennessee come to terms with Nathan Bedford Forrest. But surely you can shine a light on Ida B Wells, Prince Rivers, Cassius Clay and Elizabeth Van Lew.
This really is the best possible time to host a blog on the Civil War and historical memory. If the next four years follows the past year we are in for a wild ride. At the same time there is something rather depressing about the level of discourse surrounding many of these high profile events. Consider the upcoming Secession Ball, scheduled for next Saturday in Charleston South Carolina. The event marks a specific event in the history of South Carolina and the nation. While organizers trot out the standard arguments distancing their event from the role that slavery played in helping to bring about the very event that is being celebrated the NAACP is working hard to distort and butcher their own version of the past.
NAACP State President Lonnie Randolph had this to say about the upcoming gala:
“There is nothing to celebrate about killing a million people. South Carolina still lives under the rule of the Confederacy today,” Randolph said. He compared the Secession Ball to celebrating Sept. 11, Adolf Hitler, or the American Indian massacre at Wounded Knee. “We want some consistency. We want South Carolina — and America — to be consistent in the way it treats and honors all its citizens.” Randolph said the argument that secession was about states’ rights misrepresents the facts of slavery. “The state wanted to right to buy and sell people. Tell the whole truth,” he said. He spoke at a news conference at the Charleston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, where he was surrounded by area leaders of the organization and ministers. Handouts at the meeting encouraged attendance at the march and mass meeting with the admonition: “A Call for Unity: Don’t Celebrate Slavery and Terrorism.”
Participants will watch segments of “Birth of a Nation,” a 1915 silent film that portrayed Ku Klux Klan members as heroes…. “The states wanted the right to sell human cargo,” he said [Randolph], adding the public would not tolerate similar disrespect of other minority groups – a Holocaust celebration or an event celebrating the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. “The reason this can take place so easily is we’re still suffering the effects of the Confederacy in this state,” Randolph said.
The NAACP is not going to win any converts by pushing a narrative of the war that is heavy on emotion and rhetoric and short on historical content.
Here is what I would do to protest this event. Station both black and white residents of Charleston in different sections of the city and at a scheduled time, during the Secession Ball, have them read the actual document that was approved by South Carolina’s secession convention. You could organize literally hundreds of people for this. I think it would be quite powerful to see South Carolinians take ownership of what South Carolinians in 1860. As Larry Wilmer noted the other night on the Jon Stewart Show, highlighting the role of slavery in this event is not “politically correct, it’s correct correct.” And that’s it.
Let the documents speak for themselves.
Thousands of Americans are expected to crowd the streets of Columbia, South Carolina today to demand the removal of the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds. This is the 10th such rally in South Carolina. I published this post back in 2008, but thought it might be appropriate to highlight it once again.
By now most of you are aware that the NAACP is once again pushing the state of South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds. In 2000 the flag was removed from atop the Capitol dome to a position near the Confederate Soldier Monument. First, let me say that I believe the NAACP has the right to protest a symbol that they believe to be offensive. Anyone who knows the history of that flag, especially during the era of “Massive Resistance”, must understand the perspective of African Americans. The idea that any one individual has a monopoly on the proper interpretation of such a divisive symbol is simply to fail to understand the epistemology of public symbols. I also want to say that I support the mission of the NAACP even though I do not agree with all of their programs and public positions. I say this this to preface the fact that I do not understand their decision to continue this protest in South Carolina. Continue reading