The Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia was in the 1950s the strongest advocate in the Old Dominion for “massive resistance” to the move towards dismantling the Jim Crow legacy that began with Brown v Board of Education. And yet on July 17, 2015, the following words appear3d in that paper.; I share them here now because of their relevance to our own time, with the pushbacks against The 1619 Project, Critical Race Theory, voting rights, honest teaching of American History that acknowledge our flaws, etc. Draw your own conclusions, but I will as a 38 year resident note that the Old Dominion is now a very different place, with its state Government moving consistently in a more liberal direction than we are seeing in almost all of the rest of its brother states that were in the Confederacy.
Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” has opened with the greatest book smash since the Harry Potter novels. Atticus Finch, the lawyer of quiet dignity in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” apparently is revealed as a segregationist in older age. Humans indeed are complex beings; nevertheless, say it ain’t so.
We doubt the film version will star Gregory Peck.
In 1966, the Hanover School Board banned “To Kill a Mockingbird” from the county’s schools. A member deemed the book “immoral literature.” Widespread derision led Hanover to rescind the ban. In a letter to The News Leader, Lee mocked the county’s illiteracy. She also contributed $10 to the newspaper’s Beadle Bumble Fund, which was named for the Dickens character who said the law is an ass.
Speaking of literature and the South (and central Virginia): Douglas Southall Freeman won the Pulitzer Prize for his multivolume biography of Robert E. Lee. The editor of The News Leader, Freeman was an unsurpassed military historian. Generals studied his work. And has Jeff Schapiro’s column on the “Lost Cause” explained, Freeman contributed to Southern self-deception. The Lost Cause all but erased slavery from the reasons for the Civil War. The Confederacy stood not for a slaveocracy but for traditions of nobility and gentility. A code of honor prevailed. Denialism persists to this very day.
The Founders failed to resolve slavery; a Constitution that abolished it would not have been ratified. Southern states would have rejected it. Although slavery existed in the North as well, abolition in the North began in the early days of the republic. Almost every divisive issue from the founding to secession focused on slavery. The myth of the Noble Cause allowed Southern partisans to avoid a confrontation with the reality of an ignoble heritage. Freeman and others who venerated Lee did not indulge in racial demagogy, yet they implicitly encouraged attitudes that proved as pernicious as Massive Resistance.
The reasons the United States has not convened a truth and reconciliation commission correspond to the reasons it needs to convene one.
Another example of self-deception relates to the Constitution itself. It often is said that the Founders deliberately set out to create a limited government, particularly at the federal level. The Founders indeed believed in limited government, in checks and balances and other manifestations of restraint, but they assembled in Philadelphia to strengthen the federal government. They sought to erect a central authority the Articles of Confederation lacked. The visionaries among them produced the strongest federal government the times allowed. A Constitution written 20 years later would have consolidated more power in the national seat.
The Times-Dispatch supports small government, constitutional scruple and fiscal restraint. We also recognize that throughout the nation’s evolution, the federal government has proved a more effective and determined advocate of human rights — of liberty, justice and equality — than have the states. Virginia, home of Jefferson, Madison and Henry, has not always moved with the deliberate speed associated with Washington.