When I saw the headline of an article in the NTH claiming “Labor union members say they saw racist book in Ferguson’s D.C. office,” I admit to having my curiosity piqued at the implied bombastic nature of the article.
I mean, in the current political climate of identity politics, why would anyone allow even remotely questionable material in the sphere of their influence. But as I read on and discovered that the “racist” book in question was actually an 1897 edition of “Robert Edward Lee: Soldier, Citizen and Christian Patriot.”
I had to do a double-take to see if perhaps I’d read the headline incorrectly.
Robert E. Lee is an American and particularly a Southern hero. His character and leadership are unparalleled in our history, and he has stood as the highest standard of integrity for 150 years. It is mentioned that he was a West Point graduate, but misses the fact that he was one of only two graduates who never received a single demerit.
Duty, honor, and country were his hallmarks. For Rep. Drew Ferguson to have such a book on display in his office is not “utterly despicable” as AFGE president David Cox declares, rather it is a credit to Rep. Ferguson’s own character that he might hope to emulate such an honorable figure as Lee.
The supposedly offended government worker who read a passage by Lee in the book which quotes the general favorably comparing the conditions of southern slaves to their brethren still in Africa. What is not mentioned in the article and certainly not by the “upset” employee is that the cherry-picked quote came from a letter written to Lee’s wife in 1856.
The previous portion of the letter which the employee and reporter chose not to include quotes Lee giving his further opinion that, “In this enlightened age, there are few, I believe, but what will acknowledge that slavery as an institution, is a moral and political evil in any country,” hardly the ravings of a racist, particularly given the spirit of the times in which Lee lived.
But the obvious goal of the AFGE is not to root out offensive material, it is to continue the attack on the history and heritage of Southerners in an effort to silence their voice in national politics. Drew Ferguson will now be slandered as a racist and bigot, and he will have to constantly attempt to defend himself for the mortal sin of taking pride in his heritage and for possessing a rare historical text extolling the virtues of a great regional icon.
So if Lee is considered racist, who then is worthy of admiration from that era? What about Abraham Lincoln? Currently, politicians from Trump to Obama quote him and reference his policies repeatedly, putting him on a political pedestal for all to adore. If Ferguson had Lincoln’s biography on “prominent display,” there should be no issue, right? Unless that book was opened to the quote in 1858, two years beyond Lee’s letter to his wife, where the Great Emancipator states: “I will say then, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters of the negroes, or jurors, or having them hold office, nor to intermarry with white people. There is a difference between the black and white races which will forever forbid the two races living together in terms of social and political equality and inasmuch as they cannot so live that while they remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, that I as much as any other man am in favor of the superior position being assigned to the white man.”
History is a strange, contradictory and muddied affair. Kennedy had Mafia ties. King was a
Philanderer. J. Edgar Hoover dressed in women’s clothes, etc., etc., etc. Like Lincoln, like Lee, like many others, their shortcomings made them human. It did not reduce their greatness. And it does not mean that by admiring their greatness that it diminishes the character of their admirers for doing so.
Ferguson’s book on Lee may “glorify the Confederacy” to some, while to others it reminds them of the pride they have in their ancestors and their state and region. I would challenge everyone who feels differently to actually pick up a book or two and gain a deeper understanding of this or any other issue and not merely swallow the simplistic pabulum doled out by the media and political pundits.
To do otherwise, as George Orwell so eloquently said, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” Instead of finding offense at every perceived slight, why not accept that just because another person
has a different background, heritage, opinion or interest that it doesn’t mean they are anything more than just that.
They are not evil or racist or bigoted. They are merely different.
And to the NTH, why not take a pass on printing articles such as this that seek to incite division and dissension. I only hope that Rep. Ferguson has the backbone to stand firm in the face of the race-baiters who wait slavering in the wings.
Michael G. Stewart, PhD