J. Pharoah Doss: The cleanest whitewash of history

Fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad – Getty Images stock photo

Following the publication of Florida’s new history standards, two sentences from the 216-page document drew criticism for distorting African American history.

Democratic critics throughout the country seized on the assertion that “slaves developed skills that, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit” and accused Florida’s Republican leaders of promoting the notion that slavery was beneficial to African Americans.

The other one, which instructed teachers to “include acts of violence perpetuated against and by African Americans” during race riots, received little attention. There were critics who denounced the new history standards for claiming there was violence on both sides.

When comparing the two statements, it is clear the Democratic critics could have bludgeoned Florida’s Republican leadership much more effectively with the second statement, but the national outrage was directed at the first.

Every honest person who read the 216-page document was fully aware that the new history standards never claimed slavery was beneficial to African Americans, and the Democratic critics were grandstanding. But teaching that there was violence against and by African Americans during race riots, on the other hand, is considerably more difficult to justify, especially if Florida’s Republican leadership is accused of blaming race riots on Black victims.

Why did the Democratic critics shy away from the stronger point of attack? The reactions to the “Montgomery Riverboat Brawl” made their decision clear.

This altercation broke out after a group of White individuals attacked a Black man, and a swarm of Black people rushed to his aid. The brawl quickly went viral on social media. Since the Blacks won, several Black social media commentators have referred to it as a late social justice win for their ancestors, who were victims of racial violence. Other Blacks on social media, who lived vicariously through the “social justice victory”, told White America that this generation of Black Americans was not like their nonviolent ancestors.

Some Black opinion writers reacted angrily to the social media commentators. They published essays to dispel the myth that their ancestors were passive victims of racial violence and to explain that Black Americans have always fought back.

Having said that, Democratic critics avoided focusing national attention on the issue of violence because they did not want to be corrected. Those corrections would be accompanied by a dark past that modern Democrats want buried.

The entire statement, which Democratic critics avoided, stated, “Instruction includes acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans, but is not limited to the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot, the 1919 Washington, D.C. Race Riot, the 1920 Ocoee Massacre, the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, and the 1923 Rosewood Massacre.”

Since the lesson is not limited to the incidents listed, we’ll look at the most horrific incident during Reconstruction, the 1868 Opelousas, Louisiana, Massacre.

It is vital to note that in 1868, Louisiana passed a new constitution. It granted voting rights to freed Black males while disenfranchising ex-Confederate rebels. It also established a public school system that was integrated. These were Republican initiatives inserted into the new constitution. As a result, White Democrats became intensely hostile toward the Republican Party and its Black supporters.

In September of 1868, Emerson Bently was taken out of a Freedmen’s Bureau school by “White supremacists.” Bently was badly beaten and whipped. The “White supremacists” were punishing Bently for an essay he published denouncing Democrats for random acts of violence and praising the “morals” of the Republican Party.

Emerson Bently, by the way, was a young White schoolteacher who also served as the secretary of the local Republican Party. He survived the attack but skipped town in secret. Unfortunately, reports arose among the Black residents, all of whom were Republicans, that the Freedmen’s Bureau School teacher was murdered by “White supremacists,” i.e., Democratic Party members.

The Black Republicans planned to retaliate and avenge the death of their schoolteacher. The White Democrats saw this as the start of a long-desired race war. According to the Black Past, “Both sides were armed and prepared for conflict as they gathered in Opelousas.  It’s unclear who initiated the battle. What’s clear is that the White Democrats had an overwhelming advantage in numbers and weapons. By the afternoon, the battle had become a massacre.”

This was a battle, and it’s not blaming the victims to teach it as one. The Modern Democratic Party doesn’t want anyone to know what transpired after the atrocity.

In Opelousas, the Republican Party was eliminated. There were no Republican votes cast in the 1868 presidential election because Democratic election officials announced that everyone who voted against the Democratic ticket would be executed within 24 hours.

Not focusing on violence against and by African Americans allowed the Democratic critics of Florida’s new history standards to avoid being corrected. Thus, pulling off one of the cleanest whitewashings of history.



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