Letting the losers in a war write the history causes fake histories, such as the one claiming that a 1960s switch turned Republicans into the racist party.
In the context of world affairs, victory doesn’t always belong to the side that won the actual battles; it really rests with the side that writes the history. Viewed in that light, the last shot fired in the Civil War didn’t take place on the battlefield. Instead, it took place in 1936, when Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind hit the shelves.
GWTW took the South’s mythology and nationalized it. The epic 1939 movie was a force multiplier. Suddenly, the South, rather than being the losing side in a war fought primarily to end slavery, a foul institution in its own right and one made especially awful in America because it betrayed the promises in America’s founding documents, was a romantic entity, built upon unending charm and graciousness. Moreover, thanks to Margaret Mitchell, readers were well-schooled in two facts that perpetuated black subordination: (a) good slaves loved their masters and (b) bad slaves were evil and/or stupid.
The hold that Margaret Mitchell’s dynamic, romantic, fascinating narrative had on the popular consciousness probably started weakening during WWII, when Americans outside of the South got to see blacks in action, in factories and on battlefields. Truman’s executive order integrating the military, causing black and white troops to serve side by side further educated white Americans about their black fellow citizens.
The final rewrite was the Civil Rights movement. Thanks to television, Northern whites got to see a different side of blacks. They were no longer Margaret Mitchell’s plaster saints, grateful for the chance to serve their white masters or Topsy-esque fools. Instead, they were people of immense dignity, led by a man of God whose words burned themselves into American souls.
People understand the outlines of the Civil Rights, but too many do not know that, in the 1950s, it was the Republican party that drove that train. And it was the Democrat party that fought tooth-and-nail against any effort to remove the legal and social impediments imposed upon blacks, mostly in the South, but also throughout America.
This political division was unsurprising to people at the time. The history of the Democrats from their founding to the Civil Rights movement was as a slavery party, dedicated entirely to ensuring that blacks remained subordinate in America. It was open and proud about its status as the racist party. Meanwhile, the Republicans came into being as an abolitionist party, with Abraham Lincoln becoming their first standard-bearer.
Why then, are Republicans tarred as the racist party today? After all, Republicans won the Civil War, freeing blacks from slavery, and the Civil Rights war, freeing blacks from Jim Crow and the myriad other discriminatory laws in America. Shouldn’t they be viewed as the non-racist party? [Read more…]