He might be correct: Donald Trump has influenced the lives of African Americans as much as any president, with the possible exception of … Jefferson Davis. No wonder he sides so consistently with those who want to maintain statues of Confederate leaders, including Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.
To refresh your memory, the South was defeated in that one. Although many people still consider it the “Lost Cause,” suggesting to this day that the Southern way of life was worth defending, with its easygoing charm, good manners and its slavery — that was really why the Southern states seceded from the Union and set up their own government in Richmond, Virginia. Davis is honored by some Southerners as representing the genteel stereotype they like to portray, but the fact is he was a nasty person, inept as can be. To know him was to dislike him.
How fitting that protestors recently pulled down the statue of him that had stood in Richmond since 1907. There is a long-overdue movement to take these monuments to slavery down, the ones that honor the heroes of the Confederacy — Robert E. Lee on down to lesser-known figures. Let us not forget that after a deadly turn in an August 2017 white supremacist demonstration to defend a Robert E. Lee statue to be taken down by the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, President Trump memorably said there were “very fine people on both sides,” including the racists who marched to defend the Lee statue.
And it is President Trump today — even in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and “we’ve had enough” massive upheavals that are the nation’s latest fresh wound — who opposes the renaming of several military bases in the United States that currently memorialize Confederate luminaries, if there ever was such a thing. There is a movement afoot in the U.S. to deny the racists a place of honor in our stained history, and certainly to get rid of symbols of hatred like the Confederate flag.
It’s even happening at NASCAR, which began when moonshiners used fast cars to protect their moonshine and outrun the “revenooers.” They then started racing these cars on dirt tracks, and NASCAR grew out of that. But even NASCAR has banned the Confederate flag, embracing the Black Lives Matter movement.
As for the national anthem, perhaps it’s time to consider replacing it, considering that the author, in 1814, Francis Scott Key, was a slaveowner. In the third verse of his poem, he had a warning to those slaves struggling for their freedom:
“No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave”
But what could we replace it with? How about “We Shall Overcome”?
“We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome, someday”
Overcome what? The answer is bigotry.
“We’ll walk hand in hand
We’ll walk hand in hand
We’ll walk hand in hand, someday”
Someday, but certainly not now. And certainly not with the racist in chief destroying our country. He whips his followers into an ignorant frenzy. It’ll be interesting to see how many statues there are of him after he leaves the presidency, which can’t come soon enough.
(Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.)
© 2020 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.