As an American of African slave descent and a student of history, I know that black history is important. However, I have often wondered whether a “Black History Month” helps advance the knowledge of the subject and the unity of our country.
To be clear, the subject is important to me personally. I have done considerable research on my own history. It is fascinating, inspiring, frightening, at times mysterious, but always satisfying. In truth, the stories are not always something to be proud of, but they are my stories and part of my background.
For example, based on the history told to me by my father, I come from a long line of fighters. Stories have been passed down about my great grandfather, my grandfather and his siblings and most of them have to do with fighting. Even in the Jim Crow south, my grandfather apparently had a reputation as a black man who would not defer to anyone, including whites, even if it meant violently defending his life and taking someone else’s. That may be why he left the south, changed his first name and never allowed himself to be photographed.
That fighting tradition was the culture of my family. I joined the Marine Corps because the fighting spirit of the Corps appealed to me. When I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ in 1976, I renounced the culture of violence, but I am still a fighter. I’m fighting the good fight of faith now. I fight for my country, our Constitution and the Judeo-Christian values that created the greatest nation in history.
We are not accidents of evolution. Our personal history provides insight into the divine blueprint for our lives. The same can be said of our country. Americans are a pioneer people — rugged, self-reliant and determined. We are tough because we had to explore and tame this continent. Our national stories do not always make us proud, but they always teach us and make us better people if we learn their lessons.
That is why I do not understand the compulsion to tear down Confederate statues. I am no admirer of the Confederacy, but I am a student of American history. We should preserve it all and study it all, even the parts we cannot celebrate.
If we start censoring parts of our history we do not like, where does it end? George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Mason were slave owners. Yet they advanced the cause of the very freedom I have inherited. If we start destroying our symbols and historic figures because they were not perfect, nothing and no one will be worthy of admiration.
The sweeping judgment of “racist” against all Confederates is shallow and simplistic. Life is more complicated than that, and so are people. However, it would be equally superficial to act like Confederate symbols and statues do not remind us of a time of overt racism and deep division. While I would oppose destroying the statues, I would not stand in the way of local communities which want to move them to places where those who want to see them can, and others can choose not to see them. While I never want us to forget that history, I would not stand in the way of those who do not want a predominantly black school named after a Confederate figure.
Several years ago, my wife and I visited the Confederate Museum in Richmond, Virginia. We chose to do so because we are students of history. We found the visit educational.
Trying to censor that history is wrong. However, there is merit to the argument that public spaces should be adorned with symbols that unify rather than divide us. Each local community can decide for itself what those symbols are. It should be the American flag, rather than the Stars & Bars or the Red, Black & Green flag of “black liberation.” It should be the Founding Fathers rather than Confederate soldiers. Nonetheless, it is a waste of time and energy to re-litigate the Civil War when we have such pressing issues facing us in the here and now.
Given the importance of Black History to America’s history, on balance it is better to have a Black History month than to forget the experiences and contributions of Americans of African slave descent. However, in the America I envision, the various cultural streams of our history should be woven into the fabric of American history. The racial politics of our country make that impossible for now. I long for a time when American history is known and relished with such depth that it unifies rather than divides and segregates. May the day come when every ethnic group in our country identifies first as Americans and sees their own ethnic history as fully honored and part of what makes us the greatest nation in the history of mankind.
E.W. Jackson is a candidate for U.S. Senate in Virginia. Find out more about him at his website.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.