Lately, whenever Democrats have called for Confederate statues and monuments to be taken down, critics have harrumphed that those monuments were originally erected by Democrats–conveniently forgetting that those decisions were made in a time before the national party came to its senses on civil rights. A school board member in my hometown of Charlotte found this out the hard way. He tried to peddle this alternative fact on Facebook, and the resulting backlash forced him to apologize.
On Tuesday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent Clayton Wilcox sent a message to system employees and area families ahead of the start of the new school year next Monday. Wilcox said that he had “struggled” to find how to join what he saw as a badly-needed “national conversation.” He did so simply–by stating that there was “no place” for bigotry at CMS, and sharing a number of resources from the National Association of School Psychologists on how to address this important issue.
Less than 24 hours earlier, Paul Bailey, who represents most of Charlotte’s southeastern suburbs–such as Matthews, Mint Hill, and Pineville–took to Facebook in order to join the conversation. His message, however, was somewhat different. Dedrick Russell of WBTV in Charlotte got a screenshot.
— Dedrick Russell WBTV (@dedrickrussell) August 22, 2017
The full meme read:
“Black people who were never slaves are fighting white people who were never Nazis over a Confederate statue erected by Democrats, because Democrats can’t stand their own history anymore … and somehow it’s Trumps fault?”
The criticism came in fast and hard. Many felt that it was particularly insensitive since CMS is now a majority-minority district. Specifically, 38 percent black, 29 percent non-Hispanic white, 24 percent Latino, and six percent Asian.
The loudest criticism came from board chairwoman Mary McCray, who said that school board members must be “an example” for Charlotte’s kids, and must be willing to be “a beacon of light for a child who needs a beacon of light.” By then, however, Bailey had realized he’d stepped in it. He told Russell that he realized it was a mistake, and “deeply regret(ted)” making it.
That wasn’t enough for McCray, who insisted on a public apology at Tuesday night’s school board meeting. Bailey complied, leading off the meeting by extending a “heartfelt apology” for the post. He admitted that at the time, he didn’t understand “the impact the post would have,” and admitted that he’d failed in his duty as a leader to “maintain the level of respect and kindness” that others expect of him.
If anyone needs a reckoning with their own history, it’s the GOP, particularly in the South. While it is true that these monuments were put up in the days of Jim Crow, it is also true that many of those people started abandoning the Democrats in 1948 when the national party added a strong civil rights plank to its platform. That trickle picked up steam as the 1940s and 1950s wore on, becoming a flood after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
As the 1960s and 1970s wore on, a number of old-line segregationist Democrats, like Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond, defected to the GOP. Rather than tell them to go pound sand, the GOP abandoned its legacy as the party of Lincoln and antislavery and welcomed these segregationist tail-enders into their party. It’s a big reason why the Republicans have a credibility gap with blacks of my generation and younger.
Perhaps if Reince Priebus and the Republican leadership had been aware of this history, they probably wouldn’t have been as willing to sell their souls again in 2016. And perhaps if Bailey had been aware of this history, he would have thought twice about hitting the “share” button.”
(featured image: screenshot courtesy Troy Bowlby, WBTV)