42 percent of all Americans, most of them white Southerners, still believe that slavery had little to do with the American Civil War. Eight out of ten Republicans said they admired the Southern leaders from our Civil War while 79 percent of Republicans said they admired Northern leaders. Here there may be a split between that party’s Northern and Southern wings. The CNN News Poll conducted on 9 and 10 April surveyed 824 adults with a standard margin of error of 3.5 percent.
Most Democrats said the South seceded over slavery and did not sympathize with Southern leaders. “The results of that question show that there are still racial, political and geographic divisions over the Civil War that exist a century and a half later,” CNN polling Director Holland Keating noted. Independents were divided on this question with a majority of Republicans saying that slavery was not connected to secession.
What the poll really reveals is that the racial divide in America is still very much with us. This is not news to African-Americans or Latino immigrants, or Asian-Americans or Native-Americans. Race is still a defining element in how citizens of the United States approach things politically. It has a lot to do with why people of color still face more limited opportunities and find their legitimate gains limited somehow.
As the nation moves to a composite color that makes President Obama more the norm than an anomaly, these are vital questions for us to consider. No doubt, Republicans who founded the party as an anti-slavery and later black equality political party would be horrified at the results of the CNN poll.
How do we look at the Civil War as the nation has begun to mark the 150th anniversary of so many seminal events in the history of the United States? Do we celebrate states’ rights and Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis? Or does our heart swell when we consider Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation, Frederick Douglass, and the struggles of blacks to find their way as new citizens?
The white South and too much of the white conservative Republican North has yet to embrace the black Freedom Struggle and make it central to the story of America. When you have one in four Americans in 2011 sympathizing yet with the Confederacy, an illegitimate and treasonous entity and that figure rises to four in ten when you look only at white Southerners, the race question is raised yet again. 52 percent of Americans do say that the South left the Union to protect slavery and do not sympathize with treason, slaveholding and moral wrong as Frederick Douglass would no doubt be reminding us today.
How do we view American history? Is it the story of white America with those of color left on the sidelines? Does that creep into our marking of the Civil War Sesquicentennial? Could it explain why the Governor of Virginia got caught issuing a proclamation that ignored black people in that state’s plans to mark the events of the war? Is that why Republican Presidential hopeful Haley Barbour could say this kind of flap “don’t mean diddly,” despite strong complaints from the Mississippi NAACP? He also indicated that things weren’t so bad during the twentieth century civil rights struggle in our nation. Well, the White Citizen’s Council and the Ku Klux Klan were very much active in Mississippi throughout Barbour’s younger years.
He was white. Things may have been rosy for him. But if he was say, Leronne Bennett Jr, former editor of Ebony magazine and he grew up in Clarksville, Mississippi things would have been different and with emphasis. Barbour is a Republican presidential hopeful. He fits right in with the Republican’s inability to embrace the central meaning of their party. It is now Democrats, the white man’s party for so many years that carries the banner of civil rights aloft.
Perhaps the problem is that far too many Americans, say 42 percent of us, have yet to move into the present and face our future because we have yet to face our past. The American Civil War lives on in the way we approach problems the nation faces today and what we consider the legacy of the nation to be. Is it the great struggle for the “all men are created equal” principle as Struggles For Justice contends or is it a celebration of white achievement and power and glory in military prowess and hyper patriotism? Haley Barbour are you listening?