"12 Years A Slave," the cinematic version of Solomon Northrup's true story, just won a Best Picture Oscar Award. Lupita Nyong'o, who also won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, thanked director Steve McQueen in her acceptance speech for "taking a flashlight and shining it underneath the floorboards of this nation." Her remarks were an inspiring contrast to three recent items in The Post and Courier.
A letter by a local "tour guide" denounced the newly dedicated monument to Denmark Vesey, questioned the Civil War gallantry of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, and labeled the crew of the CSS Hunley men of valor and courage. I'll personally pass on his historically dubious "tour"!
A retired state highway patrolman, who was present when patrolmen shot at unarmed college students in the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre, criticized a column by Jack Bass - who was also there as a reporter and who wrote the definitive book on the massacre - and suggested that the patrolmen were the real victims.
Robert Rosen, former chairman of the City of Charleston Art and History Commission, benignly explained why the commission approved the Vesey monument, but also equated Vesey to Confederate Gen. Wade Hampton and post-Reconstruction, violently racist politician Ben Tillman, and criticized "The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the NAACP and others ... [for] equating the Confederate flag with the Nazi flag and racism."
Those writers highlight the need, as Ms. Nyong'o said, to shine a flashlight underneath the floorboards of this nation.
That light might help the tour guide realize that Denmark Vesey's "official story" was written by those who tortured and executed him and is a story tainted by coercion. It would also show that heroic African-American deeds can no longer be easily erased from history - even if those history makers had views that some might call "uppity." It would also show that heroism can be shaped by cultural perspective.
For me, the Hunley crewmen were not heroes, but terrorists who quit the United States, formed their own country and sank an American warship.
That light might help that highway patrolman to see that Mr. Bass did not call for reparations for Orangeburg Massacre survivors. He called for a state investigation and full airing of the facts to promote reconciliation, and described a racial massacre in Rosewood, Fla., that ultimately led to compensation for the descendants of those whose property was seized when they were either murdered or forced to flee the town because of the color of their skin.
It might also help that patrolman to see and hear other living survivors of the massacre, because I know some of them. One was a few years ahead of me in high school and would possibly have been the NFL's first black quarterback if he hadn't been shot in the back.
Others are clergy colleagues and public sector co-workers who still have chronic emotional wounds.
Their unanimously consistent personal accounts and the objective forensic facts show that the patrolmen were not "victims."
Not a single patrolman was shot, but three unarmed students were killed by law enforcement gunfire and 28 students and civil rights advocates were wounded - the overwhelming majority of whom were shot in the back of their bodies or the soles of their feet as they fled a hail of Highway Patrol bullets.
A little light might help Mr. Rosen to see that some things can't be creatively explained away.
The horrors of chattel slavery - that depended on dehumanization, abuse, rape and family destruction for social control - and their lingering psychological residue can't be minimized.
The battle cry of S.C. Col. William Mahone's victorious Confederate troops, who faced interracial Union troops at the 1864 "Battle of the Crater" near Petersburg, Virginia - "Take the white man, kill the n------" - can't be sanitized.
Progress begins not with empty justification for wrongdoing, but by talking to and arguing with each other to reach common ground, even if it's painful. The truth and reconciliation policies of South African President Nelson Mandela - that smoothed the nonviolent transition from apartheid to democracy - can work for us when we stop minimizing and justifying old evils, confess old "sins," deal with them and walk together to find enduring common ground.
The Rev. Joseph A. Darby is presiding elder of the Beaufort District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and first vice president of the Charleston Branch NAACP.
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