Monday, January 21, 2008

A Granite Icon

One of the Civil war topics I enjoy reading about & discussing is the question of why poor, hard scrabble white Southerners flocked to defend & die for a relatively small, wealthy, slave-owning class that considered them "trash." Blacks had nothing, the average rural white Southerner had next-to-nothing, & both were under the heel of economic oppression. I'm not saying that the life of a northern factory worker was so great, but the northern worker had a freedom & mobility that didn't exist in the South. Northeastern family farmers were migrating west to homestead, not transplant the plantation system.

Why poor Southern whites fought exposes the ruse of racism as a cover for maintaining class divisions by setting have-nots against have-nothings. Today, it's about illegal immigrant day laborers threatening to take away low-paying, non-union jobs. The current generation of Bosses think it's great when Americans have to work three jobs to survive, they call it productivity.

To strike at the heart of racism requires identifying the actual sources of oppression, exposing what is gained from promoting racial & ethnic discord, & drawing people together on the basis of true self-interest. In his final years, Dr. King sought to create a coalition that included the very white underclass that had most visibly & violently opposed civil rights in the South. The Johnson White House considered Dr. King disloyal for opposing the Vietnam War. But Dr. King saw who was actually fighting the war - draftees without college student deferments or trade skills. He was killed while in Memphis in support of a labor union. We must be careful not to accept a granite icon in place of the real Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson

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