Black Agenda Radio Commentaries
News, analysis and commentary on the human condition from a black left perspective.
Racist Symbolism Posing as Memorial Day Tradition

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

The so-called "tradition" of U.S. presidents honoring the Confederate war dead began with the Dixiecrat Woodrow Wilson, in 1914. Wilson, born in Virginia, brought segregation to Washington's federal bureaucracy, and praised the Ku Klux Klan-celebrating movie, Birth of a Nation. The Confederate Memorial at Arlington was designed to honor those who fought to "save Anglo-Saxon civilization" - meaning, white rule. President Obama carries on the tradition.

Racist Symbolism Posing as Memorial Day Tradition

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

Obama cannot possibly harbor genuine respect for Black Union dead if he conveys the same honors on Confederates.”

Most of what presidents do is about wielding power, but a great deal of being president is symbolic. Barack Obama is as attuned to symbolism as any of his predecessors – maybe more. When President Obama delivered a wreath to the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, on Memorial Day, he knew was playing a very cynical game of incompatible symbols. One cannot pay sincere tribute to the memory of the Black soldiers that fought for the Union in the Civil War, while giving equal honors – or any honors at all – to the soldiers of the Confederacy. But Obama tried to do both. Obama thinks he can finesse anything – which is an indication that he truly respects nothing. He cannot possibly harbor genuine respect for Black Union dead if he conveys the same honors – in the form of a wreath – on Confederates.

Obama is also disrespecting those of us who possess an awareness of history.

The Confederate Memorial was paid for by the Daughters of the Confederacy, and presented as a gift to the federal government in 1914. Woodrow Wilson was president – the most demonstrably racist resident of the White House of the 20th century. The Jim-Crowing of the South was by then all but complete. Wilson was a Democrat – or rather, a Dixiecrat, born in Virginia – and he lost no time imposing segregation on the federal bureaucracy in Washington, DC, where it had not previously existed. Wilson put up walls and partitions to keep Black and white office workers apart, and instituted separate bathrooms. When D.W. Griffith screened his white supremacist epic, Birth of a Nation – a celebration of the Ku Klux Klan – at the White House, President Wilson gave the film its best review. "It's like writing history with lightning,” said Wilson. “And my only regret,” he continued, “is that it is all terribly true."

President Wilson was embracing a national reconciliation with the Confederate cause – at Black people’s expense.”

In short, President Wilson was a low-down, Ku Klux Klan loving, racist dog. It was, therefore, totally in character for Wilson to become the first president to lay a wreath at the Confederate Memorial. The practice began as a political act, celebrating the new consensus among whites, North and South, that the race problem – the “Negro problem” – would no longer divide them. Instead, the South, and Woodrow Wilson’s Washington DC, would be allowed to divide Black people from whites at every level of society – and to lynch those that objected. That’s the spirit behind Woodrow Wilson’s embrace of the Confederate Memorial. He was also embracing a national reconciliation with the Confederate cause – at Black people’s expense.

Barack Obama now continues the symbolic practice, which celebrates the definitive triumph of white supremacy over all vestiges of Black Reconstruction, at the highest level of the U.S. government. African Americans are supposed to accept that the first Black president sends a wreath to honor Confederates, because he also sent a wreath to the Black Unionists’ memorial. Obama doesn’t think we’ll notice that that puts the Black Civil War dead on an equal basis with the people who were trying to put them back into slavery. He pretends not to recognize that that’s an insult to every decent American. For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to www.BlackAgendaReport.com.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.



Direct download: 20090527_gf_confederate_memorial.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:24am EDT