February is here, which means that it's Black History Month. Black history is an integral part of U.S. history, with African Americans making important contributions to the lifeblood of this country in all fields of endeavor. But there are many misconceptions and mischaracterizations when it comes to the public's general understanding of black history. They say that the truth will make you free. Well, here at theGrio, we thought we'd kick off February the right way by debunking the 10 biggest myths about black history.
1. The Civil War was not fought over slavery
If you want to know whether the Civil War was fought over slavery, just read the words of Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederate States of America in 1861:
The prevailing ideas entertained by...most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically.... Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error...Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery -- subordination to the superior race -- is his natural and normal condition.
Most historians agree that slavery was one of the primary issues leading to the Civil War. South Carolina seceded from the Union because of the clash between slave states and free states over the expansion of slavery. The Republican Party, then a new political party, made the fight against slavery in U.S. territories a key issue.
Historical revisionists have tried to whitewash history and improve the image of the Old South by eliminating slavery from the mix. And groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veteransinsist the war was fought over self-governance and states' rights. The war was about states' rights, the right of Southern states to own black people.
2. The civil rights movement was inherently Communist
Martin Luther King's inspiration for his philosophy of nonviolence and strategy of civil disobedience came from Mahatma Gandhi. The civil rights movement was not inspired by Communist beliefs or rhetoric, but the two biggest foes of the civil rights movement -- FBI chiefJ. Edgar Hoover and the Klu Klux Klan -- were fervently anti-Communist and characterized the civil rights workers as such.
It was the middle of the Cold War, and Hoover investigated any group that adopted the similar positions on civil liberties, racism, economic and peace as the Communist Party. Hoover thought the movement was a target of Communist infiltration, which is why his COINTELPROprogram went after so-called subversive causes deemed Communist or socialist -- including theNAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Black Panther Party and others.
3. The modern Democratic Party is still the party of the Klu Klux Klan
During the era of Jim Crow segregation, the Democratic Party ruled the South, and their reign of terror was made successful thanks to groups like the Klan, which provided the muscle that kept black people down, subordinated and 'in their place'. As historian Eric Foner noted in Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, "In effect, the Klan was a military force serving the interests of the Democratic party, the planter class, and all those who desired restoration of white supremacy."
Meanwhile, the Republican Party was a diverse party, a true "big tent" with liberals and moderates in their ranks. Following the Civil War during Reconstruction, blacks were overwhelmingly Republican. Even President Eisenhower received 39 percent of the black vote in 1956, while Nixon won 32 percent of the black vote in his loss against Kennedy. Moreover, greater majorities of Republican lawmakers voted for the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, the landmark civil rights legislation of 1964 and 1965. In fact, Democrats and Republicans outside of the South approved the bills in the face of a filibuster from Southern Democrats.
Things began to change in the 1960s, when Barry Goldwater ran for president in 1964, and Southern conservatives began to take over the GOP by appealing to white Southern resentment over civil rights. As a result of a Southern Strategy based on states' rights, white Democrats flocked to the Republicans. In today's South, the Republican Party is a mostly white conservative party, and the Democratic Party is disproportionately African-American. The parties switched places.
4. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican, and would today be aligned with conservatives
Conservatives point to Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech -- in which he said he wanted his four children to be judged not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character -- as proof that King opposed affirmative action and was a conservative Republican. But that is wishful thinking. First of all, the Republican Party of King's days was quite different from the party of today. Although King's father was a lifelong Republican, which made sense since the Democrats supported segregation, this does not mean the son was a Republican. Second, as PolitiFact notes, Dr. King was not a Republican, and historians and Martin Luther King III agree there is no proof of it.
In fact King spoke out passionately in opposition to conservative GOP 1964 nominee for the presidency, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. King said of Goldwater:
While I had followed a policy of not endorsing political candidates, I felt that the prospect of Senator Goldwater being President of the United States so threatened the health, morality, and survival of our nation, that I could not in good conscience fail to take a stand against what he represented.
King also wanted to spend billions of dollars to fight poverty and was vilified for his stance against the Vietnam War. And he fought with striking Memphis sanitation workers when he was assassinated. He also said that America "must undergo a radical revolution of values" and "must rapidly begin the shift from a 'thing-oriented' society to a 'person-oriented' society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered." That doesn't sound very conservative. Today's conservatives would likely brand him a socialist.