Our Turn: America’s second Civil War – from 1865 to today

Published: 1/17/2021 6:01:09 AM

The United States has been enmeshed in a culture war since at least the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan said to a full house of evangelical Christians, “I know that you can’t endorse me, but I want you to know that I endorse you.”

The roots of such a divide go back further and can be said to have characterized the opposing forces in the fight for women’s rights, from voting to equal pay, for LGBTQ rights to be out and to marry, and for civil rights starting with Reconstruction.

It’s the struggle for civil rights that we want to focus upon.

The last 156 years since the end of the first Civil War has seen a second Civil War between those supporting justice and equality on moral grounds for African Americans and those fearing the loss of power that characterizes white supremacy.

The evidence for this view is voluminous, and we will only scratch its surface here.

There are many components to this war against Black people and the white people who have aligned themselves with them. What makes it a civil war and not just a culture war is that it has featured not only nonviolent acts of aggression that have been destructive emotionally and psychically on every front, including:

■Economic: the widening 10-to-1 wealth gap.

■Housing: Black people denied the GI Bill, as well as ongoing racist lending policies.

■Education: schools more segregated than before Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and affirmative action under attack.

■Voting Rights: Endless efforts at denial and suppression, including in 2020.

But, it has also been undeniably violent since its inception.

The violence has its origins in the acceptance of lynching, the intimidation of the KKK and the 26 known massacres of African Americans from New Orleans in 1866 to Charleston in 2015.

Such violence continues to the present moment, with the brutal murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Walter Wallace, and so many others whose names are honored at Black Lives Matter events.

Adding to the tragedy, the perpetrators rarely face the consequences of their actions – then and now.

In light of our recent election, it’s worth acknowledging what Jelani Cobb wrote in a recent New Yorker article titled, “What Black History Should Already Have Taught Us About The Fragility of American Democracy”: “The lynching campaigns and terrorism that disenfranchised Black people in the South in the decades that followed (the Civil War) weren’t only an expression of racism, though they were very much that; they were an attack on the mechanisms that were put in place to inhibit one of the nation’s worst habits: a gleeful expression of defiance toward a government that dared try to uphold democracy.”

We believe that in 2020 it was once again Black Americans, who were put in the position of defying white supremacists emboldened and empowered by Trumpism, who have upheld our fragile democracy. It is Black people who have withstood all of the threats to their lives posed by the second Civil War who continue to survive against all odds – now including the pandemic’s grip on their community – and who we turn to to bail out what’s left of our democracy.

The significance of being able to acknowledge that there has been a second Civil War raging in the country for well over a century is not just the willingness to study the true history of America. We need to make room for the New York Times 1619 Project to enter our schools, colleges, and universities, but it is not just learning about the horrors of Jim Crow, Black Codes, police brutality and all of the methods employed to keep Black people from accessing their rights. It is our work as white people that James Baldwin was speaking of, though he included all Americans: “We must tell the truth till we can no longer bear it.”

Once you know what you have been taught is filled with omissions and lies, it is our hope that you cannot be silent, that you cannot bear to let this war continue one more day.

Tragically, as it is now 2021, our election tells us that 74 million Americans are either in denial about the full story of our past or have been miseducated. That has to end if we are to have a chance of offering justice and equality to all and ending the second Civil War.

P.S.: Some of the people seeking to overthrow the results of the 2020 Presidential election on Jan. 6 were carrying the Confederate flag.

(Allen J. Davis of Dublin is an educator and racial and social justice advocate. Tom Weiner is a retired teacher, author, and member of the anti-racist group Bridge4Unity.)




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