Feature

Rewriting the history of civil rights

Today’s conservative leaders are giving the black struggle for equality “the social and political equivalent of an extreme makeover,” said Leonard Pitts in The Miami Herald.

Leonard PittsThe Miami Herald

Did you know that conservatives supported the civil-rights movement back in the 1960s? asked Leonard Pitts. Just ask today’s conservative leaders, who are now giving the black struggle for equality “the social and political equivalent of an extreme makeover.”

At his recent rally in Washington, Fox News populist Glenn Beck laid claim to Martin Luther King Jr.’s quest for a colorblind society, telling the mostly white crowd: “We were the people that did it in the first place!” No mention of whites “blockading polling places, burning buses, and cracking skulls.” Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is singing the same tune, insisting that white Southerners didn’t oppose integration—not one bit. Why, when he attended the University of Mississippi in 1965, Barbour says, he “never thought twice” about having black classmates.

One black classmate, Verna Bailey, says that Ole Miss back then was full of racial enmity, with whites pelting black students with coins and beer and insults. “I thought my life was going to end,” Bailey said. So let’s stop prettifying the past. “When history collides with self-image, it is not history a principled person seeks to change.”

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