God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen - Jars of Clay - listen now

Monday, January 19, 2009

Myth, Truth, Square Peg, Round Hole

On Tuesday, Barack Obama will stand on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and take an oath making him the nation's first president of African heritage.

The statue of Abraham Lincoln, which sits facing the Capitol in a temple two miles away, will not give two thumbs up. Neither will it weep, commune with the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. or dance a Macarena of joy.

The point is obvious, yes, but also necessary given that when Obama was elected in November, every third political cartoonist seemed to use an image of a celebrating Lincoln to comment upon the milestone that had occurred. Lincoln, they told us, would have been overjoyed.

Actually, Lincoln likely would have been appalled. How could he not? He was a 19th century white man who famously said in 1858 that "there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which . . . will forever forbid the two races living together upon terms of social and political equality.''

How do you reconcile that with all those cartoons of Lincoln congratulating Obama? You don't. You simply recognize it for what it is: yet another illustration of how shallow our comprehension of history is, yet another instance where myth supersedes reality.
Of course in the South, we never let minor details like the truth interfere with a good story. There is much to value in stories, and as Mr. Pitts goes on to say: "Abraham Lincoln did not believe in the equality of black people. He did, however -- and this was no minor distinction in his era -- believe in their humanity." The Union isn't perfect - has never been perfect - but politics and politicians aside it is getting more perfect.

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