The new movie "12 Years a Slave," based on a true story, establishes beyond doubt that American slavery was the very definition of evil. So why do monuments to those who fought to perpetuate the evil still dot the landscape of Southern states? And what are newspapers in those places saying about that?
The answer to the latter appears to be not much, though there are exceptions. "Live and let live" appears to prevail, as though each side in the conflict held equal moral footing.
A website honoring Jefferson Davis, president of the defeated "Confederate States of America," quotes Davis: "My own convictions as to negro slavery are strong. It has its evils and abuses…We recognize the negro as God and God’s Book and God’s Laws, in nature, tell us to recognize him — our inferior, fitted expressly for servitude…You cannot transform the negro into anything one-tenth as useful or as good as what slavery enables them to be."
Yet Wikipedia was able to compile a list of at least 25 memorials to Davis around the country.
In 1913, the United Daughters of the Confederacy conceived of a Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway that would extend coast to coast. Eventually a 14-ton statue of Davis was added to the project on the Virginia border with Washington, D.C., though it was soon moved as a traffic hazard. The Federal Highway Administration notes that "some parts of the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway still carry that name," singling out Virginia and Alabama. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march ironically took place on a section of the Davis highway.
As this columnist noted in another venue, "Does no one remember that when Lincoln was assassinated, Jefferson Davis was considered so disloyal that new President Andrew Johnson offered $100,000 for the defeated Confederate president’s arrest?" (Davis’ citizenship rights were restored in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter.)
Historian David W. Blight points out in his 2001 book "Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory" that most of the Confederate memorializing originated in an attempt to rehabilitate the "Lost Cause" and reinstate white supremacy after the South lost the war. Defeated Gen. Robert E. Lee joined Davis as the icon for these hopes.
"As the Lost Cause found its new, forward-looking voice of reconciliation, the Southern terms on which it flourished included the demeaning of black people as helpless, sentimental children and the crushing of their adult rights to political and civil liberty under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments," Blight wrote.
"In the next two decades Jim Crow danced his steps at hundreds of Confederate monument unveilings and veterans’ parades. High atop his monument in Richmond, Lee represented many of the inspirations Southerners now took from their heritage; a sense of pride and soldierly honor, an end to defeatism, and a new sense of racial mastery."
Kirk Savage, author of the 1997 book "Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America," adds this anecdote about the campaign to finish the equestrian monument to Lee in Richmond, Va.:
In 1871, a year after Lee’s death, Richmond-based sculptor Edward Valentine asked to see Lee’s horse, Traveller, ridden so that he could study the action of the horse. "One of Lee’s daughters ‘ordered a negro boy to mount,’ and though Traveller was fourteen years old and looking very meek he thrust his forefeet in the air and ‘positively refused to allow the mount.’ Only after a ‘young Texan,’ a college student from Washington and Lee, bought a new saddle and mounted the animal himself could the demonstration take place. The story is far-fetched in its racism. . . . The story is constructed to show how Traveller instinctively understood the white supremacist system that elevated Lee to its pinnacle. He refused to allow blacks to ride him and responded only to legitimate white authority, in this case the college-educated Texan. . . ."
The anecdote was published in the main Richmond newspaper.
Today’s editorial page editors do not seem eager to tamper with the residue of those times.
"We have not commented on Confederate statues (we supported a Lincoln statue) but have editorialized against flying the Confederate flag in various circumstances," Todd A. Culbertson, editorial page editor at the Richmond Times-Dispatch and a veteran of 36 years at the paper, messaged Journal-isms on Monday. Like the others contacted, he had not seen "12 Years a Slave."
Ned Barnett, editorial page editor at the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer, said by email, "We have not editorialized about it. Generally, our feeling is that the monuments are part of history and worth keeping.
"However wrong the war, North Carolina lost a great deal in lives and treasure and that loss deserves a commemoration."
But Barnett added, "A former staffer, Peder Zane, who is joining our op-ed page as a bi-monthly columnist this week, has called for the monument to the Confederate dead on the Capitol grounds to come down," and enclosed a link to Zane’s essay.
Cynthia Tucker, editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from 2001 to 2009, had a different experience. "As it turns out, Atlanta isn’t a city full of Confederate monuments, so it didn’t come up when I was editorial page editor," Tucker said by email. "However, Georgia had about a decade-long fight over removing the St. Andrew’s cross from the Georgia flag. (Georgia didn’t straight up fly the Confederate flag over public buildings. Instead, in the 1950s, as a stick-in-the-eye to the budding civil rights movement and an increasingly progressive Supreme Court, the Ga. Legislature voted to incorporate the St. Andrew’s cross and stars into the state flag.) We sided, of course, with changing the flag, which finally happened. But it was a drawn-out and ugly fight."
Tucker’s successor, Editorial Editor Andre Jackson, who like Tucker is a black journalist, said that last week the Journal-Consitution weighed in on a debate "over removing a statue of white supremacist Thomas Watson from the grounds of the State Capitol.
"We tackled it using op-eds in favor of removing it, or of keeping it with proper interpretation as to the historical context," Jackson said by email."Jay Bookman also wrote a column on the subject. The debate was necessitated by the governor’s announcement of the statue’s removal because of needed maintenance to the plaza. It will be permanently relocated, as it turns out."
Bob Davis, associate publisher and editor of the Anniston (Ala.) Star, replied, "This history is baked into the name of the county where Anniston is the county seat, Calhoun County.
"It was once called ‘Benton County,’ named for Thomas Hart Benton, the Southern politician who gradually turned against slavery," Davis said by email. "By the mid-19th century as Benton was undergoing his change of heart on the big issue of the day, the residents here did some changing of their own — renaming their county ‘Calhoun County’ in honor of John C. Calhoun. That history speaks loud and clear, eh?"
His own position, said Davis, who is immediate past president of the Association of Opinion Journalists, is that "there’s wiggle room between those two options" of celebrating the monuments or considering them as honoring attempts to maintain slavery.
"(It’s much the same way most folks see the wrongness of preemptive invasion of Iraq 10 years ago yet draw a distinction between its originators and the U.S. soldiers who fought there.) The answers can be more subtle, which, as I see it, should be the way of editorial pages that seek to persuade the readers that there are more sides to an issue than two. We can recognize the wrongness of the war launched by the South in an attempt to prolong slavery. Yet we can note the bravery of those on both sides who fought in it, particularly those who had very little to gain."
Davis attached links to previous pieces in his newspaper. Last year, H. Brandt Ayers, publisher of the Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co., wrote, "It would be smart for Democrats to recognize that it is wrong to suppress a people’s culture and to admit that it is okay for people to celebrate their history and their better traditions. The party could then compete nationally.
"Wouldn’t it be a grand all-American concert if the two cultures merged in enjoyment of the orchestra playing in sequence the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic,’ ‘Dixie,’ ‘We Shall Overcome’ and ‘The Bonnie Blue Flag’?
"Until we all develop the self-confidence in our own culture to be enlightened and entertained by such a concert, our cultures will not merge. We will perceive each other in the false half-light of our incomplete understanding."
Zane, writing in the News & Observer last year, compared the disposition of the monument to Confederate war dead with Penn State’s decision to remove its monument to disgraced coach Joe Paterno, whose transgressions were then a hot news item.
"Like Penn State, we would be acknowledging that a source of pride has become a symbol of shame. This would not — it could not — erase the past (if only it were that easy). Paterno’s specter will long loom over Happy Valley just as surely as the Civil War and Jim Crow era are still palpable presences in our state. Tearing down this singularly prominent monument would send a powerful message that we know our history well enough, care about it deeply enough, to control it.
"We do not build monuments to remember the past; we erect them to reflect our best values, hopes and achievements. . . ."
Noah Berlatsky, the Atlantic: 12 Years a Slave’s Reminder: Slaves Didn’t Win Freedom by Being Manly (Oct. 18)
Joanne M. Braxton, Daily Press, Newport News, Va.: Watching ’12 years a Slave’ in the shadow of the Emancipation Oak (Oct. 26)
Callie Crossley with Phillip Martin, Kim McLarin, Peniel Joseph, Gayle Pemberton, "Basic Black," WGBH-FM, Boston: Hollywood and the Slave Narrative
Chauncey DeVega, Salon: The scary lesson of "12 Years a Slave": How little America has changed (Oct. 23)
Editorial, Boston Globe: ’12 Years a Slave’: How slavery looked to victims
Demetria L. Lucas, the Grio: ’12 Years a Slave’: Black audiences need more than slave narratives
Kenneth R. Morefield, Christianity Today: 12 Years a Slave: What could any of us do, but pray for mercy? (Oct. 18)
Kirsten West Savali, the Grio: Why the black backlash against ’12 Years a Slave’?
Starita Smith, McClatchy-Tribune News Service: Why you must see "12 Years a Slave"
Akiba Solomon, ColorLines: How ’12 Years a Slave’ Exposes Early Rape Culture (Oct. 28)
Ray Subers, boxofficemojo.com: Weekend Report: ‘Ender’ Wins Box Office ‘Game,’ ‘Thor’ Mighty Overseas
Wendi C. Thomas, Commercial Appeal, Memphis: Nathan Bedford Forrest Park an ugly anchor to an embarrassing past (Feb. 9)
Armond White, New York Film Critics Circle: Dud of the Week: 12 Years a Slave
"Al Jazeera America, the American news channel that launched in August, announced today that celebrated journalist Ray Suarez has joined the channel as the permanent host of its daily program Inside Story," the network announced on Monday. "Suarez’s first day hosting the program will be Monday, Nov. 11.
" ‘Ray’s extensive television and radio experience will be an incredible asset to Al Jazeera America and Inside Story’s viewers,’ said Al Jazeera America President Kate O’Brian. ‘Ray has repeatedly proven that he can deliver compelling coverage of the most challenging news stories and events with objectivity and depth, punctuated by Ray’s own brand of thoughtful analysis. That’s exactly what Inside Story is all about.’ "
"Suarez was with PBS’ NewsHour from 1999 to 2013, most recently as its chief national correspondent. He hosted National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation for six years before joining PBS. Ray also spent seven years reporting for Chicago’s NBC-owned station WMAQ-TV. Suarez began his career as a Los Angeles correspondent for CNN, a producer for the ABC Radio Network in New York and a reporter for CBS Radio in Rome. . . ."
Suarez said in the release, "This is an exciting time to be joining Al Jazeera America and a great opportunity for me personally. This is exactly what I wanted to do: host a program that provides viewers with a close look at the day’s news and the issues they care about the most without the partisan rancor that you often see and hear elsewhere on television."
Discussing his decision to leave the "NewsHour," Suarez told Fox News Latino last week, "I felt like I didn’t have much of a future with the broadcast, (They) didn’t have much of a plan for me."
Suarez might be reaching fewer viewers in his new job, however. "When the channel launched, Nielsen reported its audience was so low that the ratings service could not accurately estimate it," David Hinckley wrote last week for the Daily News in New York, reporting that the channel was nevertheless announcing a major ambitious expansion.
"That would mean that anywhere from 25,000 to 40,000 people could be watching, nationally, at any given time. . . ."
"Two French journalists were kidnapped and killed in northern Mali on Saturday, the French Foreign Ministry said, underscoring the continuing instability of a region retaken from fighters linked to Al Qaeda only eight months ago," Adam Nossiter reported Saturday for the New York Times.
"The reporters, Ghislaine Dupont, 51, and Claude Verlon, 58, worked for Radio France Internationale, a French state-supported broadcaster. They had been interviewing a leader with a separatist group in the town of Kidal in Mali’s unstable desert north.
"Gunmen forced the reporters into a truck as they were leaving the leader’s house in the center of town on Saturday afternoon, a ranking officer in Mali’s army said. Their bodies were found shortly after, with their throats slit, about eight miles outside Kidal in the Sahara, the officer, Col. Didier Dacko, said by telephone.
"French forces stationed in the town pursued the kidnappers, according to an official with the military in Kidal who insisted on anonymity. ‘Lots of military vehicles sped out of town,’ the official said, ‘even helicopters.’
"The kidnappers apparently realized that ‘they were not going to make it’ with their hostages, at which point they killed them, the official said. They then fled into the hills surrounding Kidal, he said. . . ."
Andrew Beaujon, Poynter Institute: French and Malian troops search for journalists’ killers
International Federation of Journalists: Murderers of French Journalists in Mali Must Face Justice, say IFJ/EFJ
Reporters Without Borders: Dim prospects for media freedom in north after French journalists’ murder
"In Dayton, Cox Media Group is integrating its print, TV (a CBS affiliate) and radio operations and using the slogan, ‘Come Together,’ "Jim Romenesko wrote Monday on his media blog. "According to a memo that Dayton Daily News staffers received on Friday, coming together means not publishing anything critical about CBS.
"Rashida Rawls, a Cox editor, sent the memo below after the News ran this review of the fall TV season, picked up from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
"The wire filler story on D2 of today’s Life section cast all of the TV networks, including CBS, in a negative light. Our news station — WHIO-TV is a CBS-affiliate station. We do not want to run any stories that cast our station in a negative light or even allude to it negatively.
"I know we’re working really hard — and very quickly — to do the very best in selecting wire stories. But I wanted to bring this to our attention so that we can be more careful in selecting nondaily wire copy and in our editing and/or selection of stories that contain references to CBS. Remember, we are better together.
"Please let me know if you have any questions.
Rawls, bridge editor at the Cox Media Group, did not respond to a request for comment. But Mike Athmer, Cox Media Group Ohio communications manager, told Romenesko by email, "We can assure you that our partnership with WHIO-TV, a CBS affiliate, in no way keeps us from objectively covering any news story. . . .".
The news media are reluctant to label the suspect in the deadly ambush of Transportation Security Administration officers at Los Angeles International Airport Friday a terrorist, despite calls by some writers to do so.
"One TSA officer was killed and two others were wounded when a gunman, identified as Paul Anthony Ciancia, 23, pulled a semiautomatic rifle out of a bag and started shooting at a security checkpoint. A passenger was also wounded in the barrage," NBC News reported.
The U.S. attorney in Los Angeles has charged Ciancia with slaying a federal officer and committing violence at an international airport — crimes that carry the threat of execution if he is convicted, NBC said. But Ciancia has not been charged with terrorism.
"By now it should be clear that there is a pattern: acts of spectacular violence, predominantly by white men, are rarely termed ‘terrorist’ even when all the evidence points in that direction according to the government’s own standards," Ali Abunimah wrote Sunday for the Electronic Intifada.
Arsalan Iftikhar wrote for the Islamic Monthly that Ciancia "took his anti-government political ideology clearly into the realm of ‘terrorism’ when he inflicted mass violence aimed at instilling terror within the general public as thousands of innocent airline travelers at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) feared for their lives one sunny Friday morning."
Dean Obeidallah wrote Monday for the Daily Beast:
"(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
"(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
"(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.
"The handwritten note allegedly carried by Ciancia, according to law enforcement, makes it plain that his goal was to ‘affect the conduct of government by’ killing TSA employees. Ciancia was an angry patriot who apparently felt that TSA officers were treading on the constitutional rights of Americans. Thus, he allegedly used violence to protest and/or change this policy.
"How can this be anything but ‘domestic terrorism’?"
Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times: Is LAX shooting the result of anti-government hatred?
"A strong article by J. David Goodman in Wednesday’s New York section was the first substantial treatment in The Times about the recent claims of racial profiling at two Manhattan stores," Margaret Sullivan, the New York Times public editor, wrote last week.
"My post on Monday raised the question of why The Times hadn’t yet written about the story that has received plenty of attention elsewhere over the past few weeks, particularly in New York’s tabloid newspapers. The Metro section editor, Wendell Jamieson, said that The Times would write about it only when there was a way to move the story forward from what competing news organizations had already written.
"He told me Wednesday that a reporter had been assigned to the story last week, and that on Tuesday, he was able to confirm a piece of news — that changes in security practices at Barneys had resulted in more shoppers being detained and in significantly more contact between store security and the New York Police Department. That, in addition to the announcement of an investigation by the state attorney general’s office, provided enough news value for The Times to publish it, Mr. Jamieson said.
"He said he was reluctant to mention that the story had been assigned when I questioned him Monday. ‘We don’t talk about what our reporters are working on,’ he said. ‘And I had no idea if our reporting would pan out.’
"Whatever the reasons were, I was glad to see The Times let its readers know about this developing story, under the byline of one of its own police reporters. . . ."
Wayne Bennett, the Field Negro: Barneys misses a sale, and "if the hood fits". (Oct. 23)
Editorial, Daily News, New York: Very small of you, Jay Z (Oct. 27)
Robin Givhan, Washington Post: What can Jay Z do about alleged racial profiling at Barneys?
Seth Motel and Carroll Doherty, Pew Research Center: From courts to cops to shops: Where blacks perceive discrimination
The National Association of Black Journalists Monday announced eight Hall of Fame inductees for 2014: Herb Boyd, journalist for the black press, filmmaker, activist and teacher; the late Ernest Dunbar, first black reporter at Look magazine; Jay Harris, former chairman and publisher of the San Jose Mercury News; Moses Newson, who covered some of the biggest stories of the civil rights era for the black press; the late pioneer black cartoonist Zelda "Jackie" Ormes; retired CNN anchor Bernard Shaw; the late Lee Thornton, pioneer broadcast journalist and professor at the University of Maryland; and Maureen Bunyan, anchor at WJLA-TV in Washington and a co-founder of NABJ.
Eleven start-ups are competing for two, $20,000 seed grants from NewU, a entrepreneurial program for journalists funded by Unity: Journalists for Diversity. "Your job is to review all 11 companies’ video pitches and choose two whom you think should be funded," co-directors Alli Joseph andDoug Mitchell tell visitors to the Unity website. "Voting is now open and will close out Friday, Nov 29th at midnight PST."
"When he was tapped to run CNN a year ago, Jeff Zucker was supposed to help lift ratings at the 24-hour cable news network," Scott Collinsreported Monday for the Los Angeles Times. "Whoops. CNN last week plunged to its worst numbers since August 2012, months before Zucker, a former NBC boss, was brought aboard to right the ship. . . . "
"Most of the focus Monday was on the arrival of new FCC chairman Tom Wheeler and Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, but now-former acting chair Mignon Clyburn’s ears must have been burning as she got some major shout-outs," John Eggerton reported for Broadcasting & Cable. "In a blog posting Monday afternoon, AT&T top D.C. exec Jim Cicconi said he knows from personal experience the due diligence Clyburn put in as more than a placeholder chair." Eggerton also wrote, "The Minority Media & Telecommunications Council beat Cicconi to the punch earlier in the day with a ‘greatest hits‘ compilation of those accomplishments for its online mag. . . ."
"Sylvia Ulloa, a Las Cruces resident and former features co-editor at the El Paso Times, has been named the new managing editor of the Las Cruces Sun-News," the Silver City (N.M.) Sun-News reported Sunday. "Ulloa began the position on Friday. An experienced journalist, Ulloa spent 12 years at the San Jose Mercury News in San Jose, Calif., in a variety of capacities, including news and features design, design director, metro news editor and copy editor. She began at the features department of the El Paso Times in 2011. . . ."
Bill Moyers announced last week to his colleagues in public television that the last broadcast of his Moyers & Company public-affairs show will air Jan. 3, 2014, when current funding commitments end, Dru Sefton reported for Current.org.
"My Oct. 25 review of a new exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, ‘Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art,’ ignited strong reactions from some Latino artists," Philip Kennicott wrote Sunday for the Washington Post. "Several participants in a conversation on Facebook took particular exception to my claim that the show’s lack of focus was ‘a telling symptom of an insoluble problem: Latino art, today, is a meaningless category.’ I asked the author of the original post, digital artist and filmmaker Alex Rivera, best known for his Sundance award-winning feature film ‘Sleep Dealer,’ if he would like to have the conversation more publicly. He agreed, and what follows is a shorter, edited version of an e-mail exchange over a two-day period. . . ."
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Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (www.mije.org). Reprinted on The Root by permission