During the weekend when Representative John Lewis was being honored in his home state of Alabama, a thirty-year-old state representative who represents a district northwest of Montgomery chose to honor another native of Alabama.
According to his Facebook post, Will Dismukes gave the opening invocation for the annual celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s birthday. His post showed him standing behind the lectern surrounded by several Confederate flags at a location named Fort Dixie. He writes on his post, “Always a great time and some sure enough good eating.”
Dismukes and all the other celebrators at Fort Dixie, someone’s private property near Selma, are free to observe the birthday of a Confederate officer, a slave owner, and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Kian. They are free to hang all the Confederate flags they want and to continue this annual event with all the “good eating” present at such occasions.
It does not surprise me that some areas of America still celebrate such men as Forrest. What shocks me is that a politician so young as Dismukes would attend, participate, and share his role on Facebook, then he expresses surprise that some readers react negatively to his post. A graduate of Faulkner University and the pastor of his Baptist church, Dismukes saw nothing wrong in honoring Forrest but not Lewis.
Senator Tom Cotton has spent a year trying to stop the use of the 1619 curriculum in public schools. He views the curriculum as biased concerning racism is America. Senator Cotton firmly believes that America is not a racist country and that slavery was “a necessary evil” that helped build our country.
While reading various newspaper accounts of Senator Cotton’s battle against the 1619 curriculum and of Dismukes’ celebration of a racist traitor to America, I kept wondering how did these men manage to graduate college and law school without gaining knowledge of slavery and its horrific effect on America? As an educator who required students to read and discuss and write about books by Richard Wright, Earnest Gaines, Alice Walker, and Gloria Naylor, to name a few, I am saddened that these men, elected leaders, have such a limited understanding of that “peculiar institution.” I wonder what they understand about the Jim Crow era and how Dr. King, Jr. used non-violence for change.
Dismukes is only thirty. I had believed that we had done a better job of educating our young people. Yet, he chooses to honor a bigot, not a hero. He chooses to go to a place named Fort Dixie, which is ironically near Selma, where Mr. Lewis helped change our country. Does his choice to travel to Fort Dixie and not Troy, Alabama demonstrate his failure to learn our history or does it speak to our failure to educate him?
Senator Cotton writes falsehoods and pushes misinformation about the practice of human chattel. I wonder what he has read about slavery. Has he considered reading Tocqueville’s examination of slavery. If his blind loyalty to Southern heritage prevents him from reading an account by a non-American, I highly recommend Hodding Carter’s Southern Legacy, which examines the South, but does not glorify it.
My take of all this is that we have a long way to go in educating our citizens concerning slavery, the Traitor’s War, Jim Crow, and more. But because of the influence of COVID-19 on our educational system, we have the opportunity to change our educational systems. The pandemic has given us a chance. Let’s take advantage of it by teaching the true history of our country.