Opinion: Conservatives seek to rewrite history

February 3, 2013


Rush Limbaugh thinks John Lewis should have been armed.

“If a lot of African-Americans back in the ’60s had guns and the legal right to use them for self-defense, you think they would have needed Selma?” he said recently on his radio show, referencing the 1965 voting rights campaign in which Lewis, now a congressman from Georgia, had his skull fractured by Alabama state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. “If John Lewis had had a gun, would he have been beat upside the head on the bridge?”

Right. Because a shootout between protesters and state troopers would have done so much more to secure the right to vote.

Incredibly, that’s not the stupidest thing anyone has said recently about the Civil Rights Movement.

No, that distinction goes to one Larry Ward, who claimed in an appearance on CNN that Martin Luther King Jr. would have supported Ward’s call for a Gun Appreciation Day “if he were alive today.” In other words, the premiere American pacifist of the 20th century would be singing the praises of guns, except that he was shot in the face with one 45 years ago.

Thus do social conservatives continue to rewrite the inconvenient truths of African-American history, repurposing that tale of incandescent triumph and inconsolable woe to make it useful within the crabbed corners of their failed and discredited dogma. This seems an especially appropriate moment to call them on it. Not simply because Friday was the first day of Black History Month, but because Monday is the centenary of a signal event within that history.

Rosa Louise McCauley was born a hundred years ago. You know her better by her married name — Rosa Parks, the quiet, unassuming 42-year-old seamstress from Montgomery, Ala., who ignited the Civil Rights Movement in December 1955 when bus driver J.F. Blake ordered her to give up her seat for a white man and she refused.

Doubtless, Limbaugh thinks she should have shot Blake instead, but she did not. She only waited quietly for police to come arrest her. Thus began the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Though legend would have it that Parks, who died in 2005, refused because her feet were tired, the truth, she always said, was that it was not her body that was fatigued. “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in” to a system that judged her, as a black woman, unworthy of a seat on a public bus.

Years later, Martin Luther King, Jr., the young preacher who led the boycott, would phrase that philosophy of refusal in terms of rhetorical elegance: “Noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.”

Mrs. Parks put it more simply that day in 1955: “No,” she said.

The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., which counts Rosa Parks’ bus among its holdings, has persuaded the Senate to designate Monday a “National Day of Courage” in her honor. Full disclosure: I gave a compensated speech for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights at the Museum last month. While there, I had the distinct privilege of climbing onto that bus.

Sitting in that sacred space, it is easy to imagine yourself transported back to that fateful moment of decision. Fifty-eight years later, those of us who are guardians — and beneficiaries — of African-American history, who live in a world transformed by the decisions of Rosa, Martin, Fannie Lou, Malcolm, Frederick, W.E.B., Booker T and a million others whose names history did not record, now have decisions of our own to make. One of them is this:

What shall we say to conservatives who seem hellbent on rewriting, disrespecting and arrogating that history? Many sharp rebukes come to mind, but none of them improves on the brave thing said by a tired woman born a hundred years ago this week.


— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


Paul R Getto 5 years, 4 months ago

"History" is written/rewritten by the winners. The R's are trying to continue that tradition.

Abdu Omar 5 years, 4 months ago

But the "R's" are losers. There is no reason to rewrite history. Rosa Parks was a forward thinker unlike most "R's".

tomatogrower 5 years, 4 months ago

That hasn't stopped them. They've even tried to rewrite the Bible, so Jesus doesn't come across as the bleeding heart liberal that he was.


Armstrong 5 years, 4 months ago

The sentece I find the hardest to believe in this piece....

"I gave a compensated speech for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights at the Museum last month."

Armstrong 5 years, 4 months ago

Pitts needs no help being discredited, he dose that himself

Shelley Bock 5 years, 4 months ago

Unfortunately, coming from Armstrong, it is too funny.

tomatogrower 5 years, 4 months ago

The new Republicans creed is "We don't let facts get in our way." Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement used the tactics that Ghandi used in India. King was a huge follower of Ghandi. They could have been more like the radical Muslims who use violence to make their point, but, tell me, who has been more successful? If Palestinians had used non violent resistance, Israel would have already given them a homeland, or would have integrated them into their society. If the Whaco, I mean Waco, cult crew hadn't used guns, well the police probably wouldn't have been there in the first place, but they certainly would have had more backers, and they would be alive. If the Civil Rights Movement had used violence, it would have given the racists and excuse to come down on them harder and enslaved them again. When they decided to use sane acts of resistance to nasty, racist policies, they showed the world how nasty the racist were and still are.

Abdu Omar 5 years, 4 months ago

Tomato, at first when Israel became a state, they tried peacful demonstrations in Palistine. But the Israelis had weapons and used them while the Palestinians threw rocks. Don't you remember that? And, the Palestinians are not radical as in Al Queda. They only want to have back their land.

preebo 5 years, 4 months ago

It should be noted that both Gandhi and MLK both got their central philosophy from one, Henry David Thoreau. Civil Disobedience, one of his many seminal works, has stood the test of time and inspired many "revolutionaries" who seek change without violent revolt or overt confrontation. Your point on Israel is well taken, but this has been posed before and a minority within the Palestinian Authority have voiced such an opinion in the past, to no avail of course.

Mike Ford 5 years, 4 months ago

think tanks are where the fact fudgers get their training. go after the people funding the lie tanks to cut off the funds as was done with ALEC.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 4 months ago

But you can be proud that the KKK has found a (not-so-new) home in your Republican Party.

Armstrong 5 years, 4 months ago

Now boarding the plane to Spinville, Cap'n Boz is your pilot

tomatogrower 5 years, 4 months ago

The entire south has started voting Republican. Some of the tea party signs are very racist, even if they are not a member of KKK. The history you are talking about goes back decades. Lincoln would NOT have been a part of the present day Republican party. Remember? He forced the south to accept the "evil" federal government. He was in favor of income taxes to pay for the Civil War. He is probably the person most hated by people who believe in state's rights, because he made sure that federal laws took precedence. The last 20 years has seen even bigger changes in the Republican party. If you listened much to Reagan, he wouldn't even be a party of your party.

chootspa 5 years, 4 months ago

Pity about the Southern strategy ruining the legacy of the Republican party. You can brag about being a member of the the party of Lincoln, but Snopes says that there's no evidence that MLK was a Republican.

chootspa 5 years, 4 months ago

Snopes not good enough for you? Would you prefer Politifact? http://www.politifact.com/tennessee/statements/2012/jan/23/charlotte-bergmann/another-republican-claims-martin-luther-king-jr-wa/

Or woud you just like me to give you a source you can immediately discredit so that you don't have to confront the uncomfortable reality that you are wrong? Cognitive dissonance hurts.

It's a plausible enough idea. It just doesn't happen to be true.

I find the shift from Republicans as social progressives to the dog-whistling Southern strategy to be fascinating. There's a reason why the party that was formed for the very purpose of ending slavery now has very few black members. That reason is the modern day Republican party.

deec 5 years, 4 months ago

" "in the past, I always voted the Democratic ticket."

fiddleback 5 years, 4 months ago


Try staring at that date a moment. Even broken clocks are right twice a day, but leave it to you to reflexively blurt a temporal impossibility...

Seriously, aren't you really just a liberal prankster trying to embarrass and discredit conservatives? Assuming so, great work. Reneging on your election wager and forfeiting the slightest pretense of integrity was also a great touch. Mission more-than-accomplished, you are hereby discharged with honors!

Mike Ford 5 years, 4 months ago

In 1948 Harry Truman signed an executive order integrating the US Military thus pushing Orville Faubus, Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms, and George Wallace into the Dixiecrat Party splitting the Democratic vote making people think Dewey would defeat Truman in 1948. Brown V. Board of Education and supposed "Activist Judges" anger these bigots more as did Little Rock and Ole Miss during Eisenhower and Kennedy. The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent legislation angered these bigots even more and George Wallace blocked the University of Alabama entrance to an African American student touting "Segregation now... Segregation forever". By the late 1960's Governor Wallace was a third party presidential candidate going all over the country to recruit archie bunkers and future rush limbaugh listeners to his fold. He survived an assassination attempt while Richard M. Nixon stole his southern strategy for recruiting southern white angry archie bunker voters to the GOP which was also used in the late 1970's along with the religious fervor of Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggert, James Dobson to combine race politics, state's rights, and evangelicalism into what is the GOP now. The tea party is these people trying to pull the party away from Nixon and Dole moderateness, Own the fact that the Democrats kicked these people out of their party with legislation practices these racists couldn't stomach and now they reside in the GOP and Tea Party. I grew up all over Louisiana and Mississippi in the 1970's and saw the birth of this political movement and the way the Reagan campaign used these people for votes. The consequences of the vote using by the Reagan and Father Bush and Son Bush administration of the Right Wing led to the creation of the Tea Party. No wikipedia here just me speaking firsthand to the mess I've witnessed as a Preacher's kid through three states and a couple of decades.

tomatogrower 5 years, 4 months ago

Obviously you haven't studied present day history.

Armstrong 5 years, 4 months ago

Those pesky facts, they're killin your arguement tomato

JayCat_67 5 years, 4 months ago

So, you not only admit that the Republican party was, at one time, the more liberal and progressive of the two parties, but you are also proud of it. Neat. Puzzling, but neat.

fiddleback 5 years, 4 months ago

Try as you might to draw a straight line from Lincoln to the current GOP, nobody has forgotten that in the quarter century between 1945 and 1970, the Democrats completed a 180 turn from the party of "states' rights" to the party of Civil Rights, and the GOP made itself a welcoming refuge for all the bitter and disaffected. Look at how the Deep South made a hard right turn and voted for Goldwater, who opposed the Civil Rights Act, in 1964. Or how they doubled down and voted for third-party segregationist George Wallace in 1968 (he, Byrd and others had to temper or renounce segregationist views to later re-join the Democrats).

http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=1964&off=0&f=1 http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=1968&off=0&f=1

By 1976, the disgrace of Nixon, the futility of trying to revive segregation, plus Carter's good ol' Southern boy charms swayed the South back to voting for a Democrat. But then in 1980 when Reagan toured the South dropping loaded references to "states' rights," the subliminal seeds of the Southern Strategy again bore fruit, and it was only a matter of time before the even the statehouses of the former Confederacy became as solidly GOP as they had been Democrat for over a century.

So yeah, sorry, but you simply can't deny this history; the parties have effectively done a 180 in terms of social progressiveness. Nobody is buying these attempts by the current GOP to lay claim to the legacy of Lincoln anymore than they buy this malarkey about MLK Jr. as anti-gun control. At its most innocent, this is patent historical illiteracy; if it's intentional, it crosses the line from cynical spin to sociopathic/Orwellian dishonesty.

Alyosha 5 years, 4 months ago

History doesn't stop in the 1950's. All those Democrats became Dixiecrats, and then Republicans.

Armstrong 5 years, 4 months ago

Nice try, the bill was written so the PUBLIC could not leagally carry loaded firearms - oops

Katara 5 years, 4 months ago

Public = people. Try reading comprehension sometime. It's fun!

jonas_opines 5 years, 4 months ago

Not for Armstrong. If he actually read and thought, he'd realize that he's wrong virtually 100% of the time.

But on the other hand, he also bet seriously that he'd stop posting if Obama won the election, and here he is. So why are we even responding to him?

Katara 5 years, 4 months ago

You are right regarding the bet. It is just best to ignore him.

Mike Ford 5 years, 4 months ago

rockchalk doesn't acknowledge history or facts either. in his world repeated nonsense becomes fact. he and glenn beck have a lot in common. being born in 1977 doesn't help either.

notaubermime 5 years, 4 months ago

I find it amusing this whole 'imagine if the civil rights movement had guns to defend themselves'. You don't have to imagine it, though I would not have thought that conservatives would ever endorse the Black Panthers...

Katara 5 years, 4 months ago

It is incredibly amusing.

Remember the freakout over this?

ThePilgrim 5 years, 4 months ago

Quoting Limbaugh is like shooting yourself in the foot (pun intended). Rush is an entertainer. If you even briefly listen to him you realize that he thinks that he is hilarious, so much so that he references himself repeatedly, and doesn't understand, or doesn't care, that he is purposely inflammatory.

ThePilgrim 5 years, 4 months ago

And BTW, that isn't a defense of Limbaugh. I personally can't understand why no one "gets" him. He is obviously jesting most of the time, and laughs all the way to the bank. And Repubs don't have a sense of humor, so they don't get the joke. Remember - Limbaugh's "Operation Chaos", Republicans registered as Dems in 2008 primaries, dragged out the Democratic primaries and, arguably one of the mechanisms where they inadvertently helped Obama win the election. All because Limbaugh and listeners could not even imagine that Hillary would lose to a no-experience Obama.

grandnanny 5 years, 4 months ago

All of this arguing over history is stupid. Everyone knows, or should know, that at one time the Republican Party was the progressive, more liberal party. The Republican Party was founded in 1954 in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. But not anymore. The Southern Democrats became the face of the Republican Party in the 1970s and 80s. Northern Democrats became the Democratic Party of today. In the 1950s, Republicans supported Unions (I've seen their posters) and some Democrats, but certainly not all, opposed integration. I grew up as a Democrat in Kansas - a Republican state that was always considered progressive (except where alcohol is concerned). Democrats and Republicans worked together to have one of the top educations systems in the country and were proud of our state. Not any more - we are on track to become the most conservative state in the union if King Brownback has his way. He has stated that we must get rid of all Democrats in the Kansas government. The Koch Brothers and the Chamber of Commerce own us. Brownback wants to appoint all appeals court and Supreme Court judges thus getting rid of "checks and balances." I am amazed at how "smaller government" Republicans want to control every aspect of my life while claiming just the opposite. His underfunding of education will soon be followed by "tax-payer private and charter schools." He has publicly stated that he wants Kansas to be more like Texas, the state that ranks near the bottom in almost every category that is important.

jayhawklawrence 5 years, 4 months ago

I have seldom read or listened to a conservative commentator that was not referencing history out of context or incorrectly in order to frame one of their arguments which is normally consumed unquestioningly by their faithful followers. In fact, they are so used to doing this that they often forget that someone might look it up and do a fact check on them at which time they will become defensive. These are people who create reality in their minds first and then explain it to the rest of us.

The Republican Party is in trouble because more and more people are fact checking.

The Democrats won the election and they are holding the ball. They have to prove that they can govern. They have to show that they can cut the deficit. The focus of late has been on gun control which is a misnomer in my view.

If the NRA was in charge of transportation we would probably drive cars the way people used to ride horses. No traffic lanes and no street lights for starters...

We have spent far too much time arguing about this issue. I think the American people are going to start believing that this congress cannot do anything at all, much less govern.

jayhawklawrence 5 years, 4 months ago

Two of the biggest issues our government has been obsessed with over the last month or more has been Benghazi and so-called gun control.

What this is telling me is that these politicians are afraid or unable to take responsibility for the major issues of our country and these are side shows. It is up to the American people to start complaining about it.

The politicians assume that we are stupid. How does that make you feel?

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