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.


jayhawklawrence 1 year, 2 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?


jayhawklawrence 1 year, 2 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.


grandnanny 1 year, 2 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.


ThePilgrim 1 year, 2 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.


notaubermime 1 year, 2 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...


Mike Ford 1 year, 2 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.


Nubrick 1 year, 2 months ago

Since certain people kill each other more than others. Why not restrict guns from them and them only?

The sanctimonious government people could check their record books to sort people out. They could start in Chicago or Detroit or anywhere there is groups of people that hang out with one another and kill each other.

Think of all the children that could be saved with this one simple method.


rockchalk1977 1 year, 2 months ago

Right you are Nubrick... Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Republican. His father, Daddy King was a Republican. The 13th Amendment to abolish slavery was voted for by 100% of the Republicans in congress and by 23% of the Democrats in congress. Not one Democrat either in the House or the Senate voted for the 14th amendment declaring that former slaves were full citizens of the state in which they lived. Not a single one of the 56 Democrats in Congress voted for the 15th amendment that granted explicit voting rights to black Americans. Jim Crow laws, poll taxes, grandfather clauses, Literacy tests, white only primaries, and physical violence all came from the Democratic Party. I wonder if Leonard really knows anything about the history of the Democrat Party!


Mike Ford 1 year, 2 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.


Steven Gaudreau 1 year, 2 months ago

Does the race card have an expiration date?


Nubrick 1 year, 2 months ago

I'm proud that MLK was a Christian. A Baptist minister. A Republican. I am ashamed that the KKK started in the Democrat party.


Mike Ford 1 year, 2 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.


tomatogrower 1 year, 2 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.


Armstrong 1 year, 2 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."


Paul R Getto 1 year, 2 months ago

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


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