". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Sunday, January 13, 2008

U.S. and the Struggle for Civil Rights

The national commemoration of Martin Luther King's birthday is looming, along with the month of February, which is 'black history month," (about which Spike Lee has been attributed as observing something like, "You know they'd give us the coldest month," but if that is true or not I don't know.)

Reading about this new book, published, of course, at this time of the calendar, brings the sober realization that in the U.S. the struggle for civil rights has been going on so long that it can now be studied as an historical movement of 'longue durée" ("a term used by the French Annales School of historical writing to designate their approach to the study of history"):

Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950 by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore.

[ Forgotten Revolutionaries

How Southern communists, socialists and expatriates paved the way for civil rights.

Willful amnesia has been a chronic problem in American historical thought. Many of us, it seems, have preferred a simplified and sanitized version of national history, one that smooths out the rough edges that might complicate comforting visions of harmony and progress. This mythic approach to the past was especially popular during the two decades following World War II, when patterns of violence, extremism and political discord were either ignored or discounted. Politics, in the two-party context of American exceptionalism, had been reduced to a mere quibbling over details. In this fulsome view of the great American success story, there was no room for radical dissent, no place for systemic failure.

Recent decades, of course, have witnessed a withering assault on this attitude by an increasingly diverse cadre of professional historians, many of whom have shown a special interest in the evolution of social and political movements and the history of marginalized groups such as African Americans, women and the poor. Shining a light on the darkest recesses of U.S. history, revisionist scholars have challenged the presumptions of American exceptionalism. In the process, they have fostered a greater appreciation for the power of dissent and disorder, uncovering the radical roots of everything from the American Revolution and abolitionism to populism and organized labor. In the burgeoning field of civil rights studies, such an appreciation has been an important undercurrent for at least a decade. But with the publication of Glenda Gilmore's remarkable new book, Defying Dixie, the left-wing origins of the civil rights movement have risen to the surface of historical debate.

Gilmore, a North Carolina native and Yale history professor, transformed our understanding of the Southern progressive movement with her first book, Gender and Jim Crow, published in 1996. Defying Dixie promises to do the same for the emerging freedom struggle of the post-World War I era. The early stages of what Jacquelyn Dowd Hall has aptly labeled "the long Civil Rights Movement" have attracted considerable scholarly attention in recent years, so much so that most historians no longer feel comfortable with accounts of the movement that begin in the mid-1950s with the Brown decision or the Montgomery bus boycott. But even the most enlightened civil rights historians will find new material and much to ponder in Gilmore's richly textured study of the Southern communists, socialists and expatriates who challenged Jim Crow during the three decades following the Bolshevik Revolution. ]

My o my, isn't Senator Obama a long duration away from all this!

But -- and this is a most significant qualifier -- how much further away than this is Hillary Clinton's latest denial scramble re Martin Luther King and his effect upon the Civil Rights Movement. Just like her scramble that insists she thought she was voting for something other than the specifically titled, "Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002." Feh.


KreativeMix said...

Pretty cool information!! thanks for sharing and enlightening!!!

Foxessa said...

Your choice of blurb about yourself is wonderful --

"When you spilled the milk, did it look like the moon?

I wiped it up before looking :-)"

You are a most creative person, that is clear.

Love, C.

Flimsy Sanity said...

Politicians never initiate change. After the public becomes aroused, they crawl out of the sidelines to get in front of the parade. Except for the despots of course and the authority-loving crowd who adores them.

Foxessa said...

Flimsy / Diane (I hope I'm remembering that correctly! I do know though that whatever the real thing is, it rings more sweetly than your chosen handle, though I can understand how one would choose that in this degenerate age that assault our sanity from every side) --

Have you ever read great Polish journalist, Rhyzard Kapuscinski's *Shah of Shahs* (1982), available in this country from Vintage - Random House, his account of how the Iranian shah came to power, and the unspeakably evil police state of surveillance, informants, arrest, disappearance and torture, corruption and extortion and terror instituted by his father, first, and elaborated on by himself -- with all the propping and assistance of the U.S. and the CIA that you can imagine?

In the chapter titled, "The Dead Flame," our narrator / observer / reporter write thusly about rulers and politicans:

[ The most difficult thing to do while living in a palace is to imagine a different life -- for instance, you own life but outside of and minus the palace. Toward the end the rule finds people willing to help him out. Many lives regrettably, can be lost at such moments. The problem of honor in politics. Take de Gaulle -- a man of honor. He lost a referendum, tidied up his desk, and left the palace, never to return. He wanted to govern only under the condition that the majority accept him. The moment the majority refused him their trust, he left. But how many are like him? The others will cry, but they won't move; they'll torment the nation, but they won't budge, Thrown out one door, they sneak in through another; kicked down the stairs, they begin to crawl back up. They will excuse themselves, bow and scrape, lie and simper, provided they can stay -- or provided they can return. They will hold out their hands -- Look, no blood on them. But the very fact of having to show those hands covers them with the deepest shame. They will turn their pockets inside out -- Look, there's not much there. But the very fact of exposing their pockets -- how humiliating! The Shah, when he left the Palace, was crying. At the airport he was crying again. Later he explained in interviews how much money he had, and the it was less than people thought. (pp.119-20) ]

This is why people can these days admire Jimmy Carter and Al Gore, while despising both Clintons. They are doing everything, crawling back up those stairs, to get back into the palace. The shrubbery has never been OUTSIDE the palace in his life, nor has any of his family for several generations. Which is why so many of just can't bear to have a clinton back in the OO -- so many years of the palace belonging to only 2 families. We need someone else, desperately.

Love, C.