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Kenneth C. Davis

Kenneth C. Davis

Posted: July 18, 2009 03:38 PM

An American History Lesson for Pat Buchanan


I did not hear right wing talking head Pat Buchanan's remarks on African American history the other day on MSNBC. According to an account on the Huffington Post, Buchanan and host Rachel Maddow had a hot exchange during which Buchanan said:

"White men were 100% of the people that wrote the Constitution, 100% of the people that signed the Declaration of Independence, 100% of the people who died at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, probably close to 100% of the people who died at Normandy. This has been a country built basically by white folks, who were 90% of the nation in 1960 when I was growing up and the other 10% were African-Americans who had been discriminated against."

The video of the exchange: http://www.wikio.co.uk/video/1410248

The Huffington Post story: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/07/16/rachel-maddow-duels-with_n_237036.html

I can't begin to dismiss all of the inaccuracies and flawed logic contained in this statement. But it is an appropriate day tell you that on July 18, 1863 nearly 100% of the Union soldiers who died while storming Fort Wagner in South Carolina were black. These were the men of the famed 54th Massachusetts Regiment who fought and died in the tragic battle that was made famous in the film Glory. Pat Buchanan's words are an offense to their honor and sacrifice. (Yes, Mr. Buchanan, there have been other movies about the Civil War besides Gone With the Wind.)

If you haven't seen the film Glory, it recounts the true story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, one of the first officially organized and recognized all-black fighting units in the Civil War. The regiment was organized in March 1863 after the Emancipation Proclamation was officially announced by President Lincoln. The men were commanded by white officers, including Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, whose parents were abolitionists.

At first consigned to work details, the 54th eventually saw combat. In its most famous engagement, the 54th led the assault on Fort (Battery) Wagner, near Charleston, South Carolina. The battle came fifteen days after the Battle of Gettysburg concluded.

In the fierce fighting, Colonel Shaw was killed leading his men --116 of whom died in the fighting Colonel Shaw's body was thrown into a mass grave with his men, which the Confederates thought was an indignity. However, Shaw's family considered it a badge of honor. One of the Regiment's men, Sergeant William Harvey Carney, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, one of the first black soldiers so honored.

Of course, the 54th Massachusetts was only one small group of more than 250,000 African American soldiers who served in the Union armies during the Civil War. So, yes, it was not just white men fighting in the Civil War. Black soldiers served, fought and died in every American conflict since the Revolution. There were freedmen at Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill. George Washington tried to prevent black enlistments, but eventually needed these men to fight. These facts are part of America's Hidden History, but were ignored in 100% 0f my textbooks, which were definitely 100% written by white men.

Yes, no black men signed the Declaration. They were consigned to the plantations of many of the men who did the signing, putting food on their tables and money in their purses. They did not sign the Constitution. They were held in "Involuntary servitude," recognized by that document and the Framers only as "three-fifths of a man." Thomas Jefferson was elected President in part because slaves inflated the number of Electors in the slave-holding states. After his election in 1800, Jefferson was derided as the "Negro President."

And of course, those black men built the nation's capital -- not as free laborers but as slaves. They, along with the black women and millions of other immigrant laborers of all colors, also built this nation -- its rails, canals, factories, bridges and dams.

Yes, Mr. Buchanan even a few Irishmen helped too. Although they had to face plenty of discrimination as well. On that note, it was not until 1836 that a Catholic -- Roger Taney who delivered the dreadful Dred Scott decision which said slaves were property and had no more rights than farm animals -- sat on the Supreme Court. It would be 1894 before a second Catholic was appointed. The Supreme Court was not only a white, male bastion, but a Protestant one as well.

On a night when we honor the memory of Walter Cronkite, one of America's greatest television journalists and a man who was dedicated to the truth, it seems particularly sad to have to correct the shameful errors of a man whose swagger and clever phrase-making keep him on the television screen, in spite of his tainted views.

I don't know if Pat Buchanan is a racist. I can't say what is in his heart. But I do know when he spouts words like these, he is just an ignorant old man --"Full of the sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Follow Kenneth C. Davis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kennethcdavis