Huffpost Education

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Joel Shatzky Headshot

Educating for Democracy: Who Really Won the Civil War?

Posted: Updated:

April 12, 2011 is marked historically as the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War when the attack on Fort Sumter, SC, initiated hostilities between the North and South. This war resulted in a greater number of casualties on both sides -- 600,000 -- than the combined number of war dead in all our conflicts before or since including two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and the present-day wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That day was also the day the first African-American President signed a "compromise" bill that will include one of the most clearly racially targeted pieces of legislation to come from Congress since Reconstruction: the complete cutting off of funds for abortion procedures in the District of Columbia whose population is overwhelmingly Black. Another part of this legislation is the serious reduction in funding for WIC which provides nutrition to mothers and children who have been failed by our increasingly elitist economic system.

Certainly, there are mothers and children and unwillingly pregnant women who are not Black who will also suffer from this regressive policy, but there is no doubt in my mind who the most visible targets are: the poor, which, in the minds of many white Americans, mean people of color. The fact is, according to the latest census figures, over 9.5 million white families live in what could be considered poverty -- with earnings under $25,000 a year -- while Black families are less than a third of that number -- just under 3 million. The actual percentages, of course, are quite different: among the very poor, under $10,000 annual income, with twice as many African-Americans living in abject poverty compared to whites as a percentage of their total populations.

But these are people who simply "don't count" in the calculus of the contemporary American political scene: they don't vote proportionate to their numbers, they don't have the money to give to candidates running for office, and they have no voice in the media or on the radar of political discourse except for mass entertainment as a "human interest" story, generally of that one-in-a-million success that is used to mislead the most needy into believing that they, too, will "get lucky."

Given that the poorest part of the country has traditionally been the South it seems to me that instead of "spreading the wealth," national policy is going in the direction of "spreading the poverty" to a larger and larger segment of our working and middle class families so that one day, we can all live in a Southern economy: the one that existed 150 years ago.

Although the South "lost" the Civil War, its regressive policies in terms of working class wages, living conditions and racially divided social customs and institutions never have really disappeared. It's "Right to Work" laws which gave working class people no rights whatsoever are now being advanced by mid-Western governors whose basic aim under the pretext of "fiscal responsibility," is to pauperize an increasing proportion of their constituents by eliminating collective bargaining. Even in union governance, the "Southern influence" was accepted as a necessary part of granting working people bargaining rights in the 1936 Wagner-Connery Act by allowing racial discrimination in excluding people of color from unions.

Few people realize that the trade-off for the abolition of slavery in the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was the establishment of "Involuntary Servitude," an opening for Southern states to re-institute slavery by other means: a regressive penal system, established through the Black Codes, that created felonies out of minor misdemeanors and provided these states with a form of "slave labor" which built and maintained roads and other public resources. Today, the United States has the largest number of incarcerated people in the world: one quarter of all those in jail on the planet, and almost 3 percent of the nation's population are under the control of the penal system.

Finally, the "separate but equal" myth that was supposedly made illegal in the 1954 Supreme Court decision has become reality again with the "educational reform" movement which, I believe, has increased the rate of segregation in the public schools across the country. Even though the Civil War was a victory for the North, the social, economic and educational elitism and racism that have been more pronounced, although certainly not exclusively, in the South than the rest of the country, is now turning into the national norm. We might as well admit as much and have the "Star-Spangled Banner" replaced by "Dixie."