american history

AS A WHITE native Mississippian, I grew up among Confederate sympathizers. As an adopted Kentuckian, I live among them still. But the news cycles lately have been dominated by some fans of the Confederacy unlike any I’ve ever seen.

First there were the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, who purported to defend the honor of Robert E. Lee by chanting slogans such as “Jews will not replace us!” Those twisted and deluded young men and women are ignorant of so much; how could they be expected to know about the thousands of Jewish Confederate soldiers, or the Confederacy’s Jewish attorney general?

Then came President Trump, a New Yorker, going all atwitter about the loss of the “beautiful” [Confederate] statues and monuments in “our cities, towns, and parks.” Closer to home, our Kentucky governor, Matt Bevin, a right-wing multimillionaire businessman who grew up in New Hampshire, accused Kentuckians who want to remove a statue of Jefferson Davis from our state capitol of a “sanitization of history.” (Bevin later denied he said this—though there is a recording—and asserted that he meant to call these efforts “revisionist.”)

Unlike Bevin, I’ve seen history “sanitized.”

Image via RNS/Nigel Morris via Creative Commons

In one of his last official acts, President Obama has designated Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and other civil rights landmarks in Birmingham, Ala., as the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument.

The designation protects the historic A.G. Gaston Motel in that city, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders had their 1963 campaign headquarters, as well as Kelly Ingram Park, where police turned hoses and dogs on civil rights protesters. And it includes the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where four girls died in 1963, after the Ku Klux Klan detonated 19 sticks of dynamite outside the church basement.

Erin Wilson 4-08-2016

Yarrow Mamout. Charles Willson Peale [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. 

"Islam Hates Us!"

The recurring headline screams across every kind of media. Fear-based stories about Muslims have become standard fare this election cycle, rooted in the notion that Muslims are recent arrivals in America and somehow don’t belong. Some go so far as to suggest Muslims need to be plucked out from American society and “sent back home.”

9-17-2015
giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

Pope Francis leads the Easter vigil mass in Saint Peter's Basilica on Holy Saturday. Vatican City, 19 April 2014. Photo via giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

Yes, popes have been visiting the U.S. since Paul VI spent a day in New York in 1965, and each of the following eight papal trips — seven by John Paul II and one by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI — has been widely anticipated, and enormously successful.

Is it far-fetched to think this could be any different this time — that images of a beaming Roman pontiff taking in the local flavor would not lead to a surge of warm feelings toward a Catholic Church otherwise regarded as beleaguered and out-of-touch?

Yet at a moment of such excitement and goodwill, it is important to remember how unusual this trip is in the context of American history: The idea that a pope could arrive in the United States to fanfare and adulation, especially from leading American politicians, was once unthinkable.

Consider the case of Archbishop Gaetano Bedini, a representative of Pope Pius IX whose 1853 U.S. tour wrought an assassination plot and sparked violence in Cincinnati streets that led to one protester’s death and forced Bedini to flee the country under cover of night. Such extreme reactions grew from Bedini’s close association with his imperious boss, the pope, who denounced democratic government, religious liberty and all of “modern civilization.”

Jessie Choi 2-21-2012

Sunday, February 19, marked the 70th anniversary of the Japanese Internment Camps. In honor of the many Japanese Americans affected, the Japanese American National Museum partnered with Ancestry.com to start the Remembrance Project to ensure these Americans were not forgotten.

It’s important for Americans to remember this part of their history, George Takei tells The Washington Post.

I’m astounded by the number of people — particularly east of the Rockies — who say to me, aghast, ‘I had no idea such a thing had happened in the United States.’ 

Lisa Sharon Harper 1-26-2012
Lisa Sharon Harper

Lisa Sharon Harper

During a roundtable chat with a group of emerging young evangelical leaders recently, someone posed the question: “Has America become a post racial society?”

Well, we haven’t had a race riot in a while — does that mean race isn’t relevant anymore?

A black president just gave the State of the Union Address. How about that? Does that mean America’s OK with the race thing?

Our nation is a more ethnically diverse nation than it’s ever been. Does that count for anything?

Scholars across disciplines agree that what we think of as “race” literally was invented here in the 17th century to delineate castes within a system of extreme privilege and subjugation.

So, rather than thinking about the dreaded word, “racism,” to answer the question, perhaps it would be more helpful to think about how our society has been “racialized” and then ask if such a racialization still exists or reverberates in today's American culture.

Robert Chao Romero 5-10-2011
[Editors' Note: This month, Sojourners and Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform will be featuring "The Stories of Immigration" blog series.
Jim Wallis 5-06-2011
There is no more room or time for excuses.
Lisa Sharon Harper 3-10-2011

At the climax of The King's Speech, I held my breath with the rest of the packed audience and hoped to God that history was kind to King George VI.

Jim Wallis 12-07-2010
He should have fought this one. The richest 2 percent of the country just got an extension of tax cuts they didn't need at great cost to us all.

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