Each year at this time, many people take stock of the things for which they are thankful. That can be an awesome task if one is very thoughtful because there are so many things for which he/she can be truly thankful. In the past, the writer has expressed thanks for his family and friends. He has expressed thanks for teachers and mentors. He has expressed thanks for the environment in which he was born, was raised, and now lives. He has expressed thanks for his African and African American heritages. You get the idea.
This year, the writer expresses thanks for the continued existence of the History is Lunch program, under the auspices of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
In recent months, the program, coordinated by Professor Chris Goodwin, has featured some truly great authors and speakers. Among those, we will single out just two, “The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy and the Path to a Shared American Future” by Robert P. Jones and “Robert E. Lee and Me” by Ty Seidule. These two books and the discussions of them are underscored not because they are fundamentally different from the others nor because they are literally superior to the others. Rather, they are chosen because they represent the “conversion’ of two white Southerners who speak very clearly about racism in America and how it can and should be confronted. After all, the problem of racism has long been and remains America’s biggest and most destructive problem.
In his book, “The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy,” Jones defines racism, traces it to the religious roots of Europeans and white Americans, illustrates how it operates today, even behind the cloaks of Christianity, and shows how it is expressed by much of the far-right. Most of the members of the History is Lunch audience were really enlightened to learn about the sanctioning of slavery and the slave trade by Christian leaders, including the pope in the 1500s and later. He points to American racism against Native Americans and against African Americans, including several massacres against them, even in the name of religion. He, on several occasions, indicates that the discussion of America’s story cannot be confined to 1776, but must include the origins of forced Black labor and enslavement in 1619, as well as the arrival of the Indian peoples thousands of years earlier. He closes his book by quoting some of the current tenets of racist right-wingers or white nationalists, showing their parallels to earlier racial ideology. He puts forth the arguments that must be made against the white supremacists in order to create a path to a shared American future.
It was more than refreshing to “see” one of the sons of Jackson, MS, who was raised as a racist, out spreading the gospel, that is, helping people to become “woke.” To add to the power of his message, it was revealed that he has an earned doctoral degree in religion.
Seidule’s book attacks racism and white supremacy just as fervently, but from the angle of the white reverence for Robert E. Lee and the so-called “Lost Cause of the South.” Among other things, Seidule, who is a son of Virginia and was raised as a racist, talks about how his journey as a military man and a scholar led him to see the error of his ways and transformed him into a major proponent for getting rid of Confederate monuments, including changing the names of such military facilities as Forts Gordon, Bragg, Benning, Polk, Hill, Hood, Lee, and Pickett. Another thing that caught many audience members by surprise was the fact that, when the Civil War broke-out, six Virginia West Point graduates remained to fight with the U.S. military, with only Robert E. Lee choosing to resign and fight with the Confederates.
This was because he fully supported slavery and had become wealthy as a result of his position as a slave owner. Seidule closed his talk by stressing that removing the Confederate monuments does not change history. It will always be true that the Confederates rebelled and lost the war. Removing the monuments takes away the reverence or celebration of misplaced values. Instead of holding on to the idea that the South was somehow right in its position, Americans must come to the realization that the U.S. military, including more than 180,000 Black soldiers, saved America as a developing democracy. His challenge was for the current generation to get the history right and pass it on to others, thereby protecting the American ideals of democracy and human rights.
The messages of such scholars are important and critical to the elimination of the ideas of white supremacy, white nationalism, and authoritarianism. Many of the sessions of History is Lunch focus on the critical matter of racism. One of the first such sessions attended by the writer was one wherein Professor Isabel Wilkerson, who wrote the book “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” discussed her earlier book, “The Warmth of Other Suns.” She was such a powerful and insightful speaker that extra security had to be brought in during her second discussion. She, like the presenters since her, are of great benefit to this city and this country.
Several of the notable things about the History is Lunch program are that they are free and open to the public. One does not have to be affiliated with a college or enrolled in a class in order to attend. Each program includes an open, non-threatening question/answer session.
Professor Chris Goodwin continues to do an outstanding job in making the selections for the discussions and in coordinating the hour-long sessions. Therefore, History is Lunch is the writer’s object of thanksgiving for this year. The event is held at noon on Wednesdays, and it thoroughly benefits the public, promoting free speech and the pursuit of truth.
For more information, visit https://www.mdah.ms.gov/programs/history-is-lunch.