For history-challenged candidates, Civil War source material is nearby

Who would have thought so many of those competing to be president of the United States would have slept through American History 101? And I wonder why, if a working-class student at a modest Catholic school in Baltimore managed bus trips to museums in that city and neighboring Washington, D.C., folks who grew up with far more resources than I ever dreamed of never found the time to learn from the treasures such institutions contain?

Welcome to campaign 2024, when it seems each day’s headlines include at least one fractured history lesson, revealing just how much our leaders don’t know or don’t want to know about America’s past, and why that matters for our present and future.

Two visions of America’s past — and future

“I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.” And just to make sure everyone in the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference and those watching at home got the message, former president and current presidential candidate Donald Trump repeated that last line: “I am your retribution.”

Trump revisited his “American carnage” 2017 inauguration speech to again paint a picture of an angry and divided America — with a promise to lead a charge into battle if elected.

On the same weekend, President Joe Biden traveled to Selma, Ala., to commemorate the 58th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, that day on March 7, 1965, when marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge heading to the capital city of Montgomery for voting rights and for justice in the name of civil rights activist Jimmie Lee Jackson — who was killed by an Alabama state trooper — were met with violence from law enforcement as the world watched.

The result of the marchers’ resolve and sacrifice was the Voting Rights Act, signed by Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson on Aug. 6, 1965.

“No matter how hard some people try, we can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know,” Biden said Sunday. “We should learn everything — the good, the bad, the truth — of who we are as a nation.”

And, after renewing his call to strengthen those same voting rights citizens had demanded that day in 1965, Biden concluded: “My fellow Americans, on this Sunday of our time, we know where we’ve been and we know, more importantly, where we have to go: forward together.”

At CPAC at National Harbor, Md., last week, the speaker’s list included Jair Bolsonaro, the former president of Brazil, whose followers attacked his country’s capital city after his loss; and Kari Lake, still in election denial about her own November defeat in Arizona’s gubernatorial race. Notice the theme?

Attendees could choose between sessions on “Finish the Wall, Build the Dome” or “No Chinese Balloon Above Tennessee,” but there was no room for a lesson on the American history made on that Selma bridge 58 years ago.

The demeaning of ‘woke’ — or when attention to injustice becomes too much

Endesha Ida Mae Holland smiled as she recounted the events of the Mississippi voter registration movement for the 1994 documentary “Freedom on My Mind.” That movement, from 1961 to 1964, was marked by the bravery of activists and the violence meted out by those who felt threatened by the very idea of Black citizens exercising their fundamental rights.

Holland’s upbringing as a young African American in Mississippi, her work in the struggle and the retaliation that followed had left her unprepared for her first encounter at a Southern lunch counter following the passage of civil rights laws she fought so hard for. She said that when the clerk politely greeted her, it was so overwhelming and appreciated, she ordered everything on the menu, just to experience the balm of kind words covering her again and again.

At the close of Freedom Summer — only a few years after a Black farmer who tried to register to vote was shot and killed by a Mississippi state representative, who got away with it — respect seemed a triumph to someone whose humanity had been denied for so long.

Remember the phrase “political correctness”? It’s not so in vogue these days, mostly because it has outlived its usefulness.

I remember when it was all the rage, an effort to reframe any rude and insensitive lout as a bold rule-breaker. My feelings about all the fuss? Despite protests to the contrary, there was never a prohibition against making rude remarks, no law that punished anyone who chucked racist or misogynistic or homophobic comments toward acquaintances or perfect strangers or who viewed the world through a lens of hardened stereotypes.

‘U.S. immigration policy is racist’

Many in the nation were shocked when horrifying photographs appeared of immigration officers on horseback rounding up Haitian asylum seekers at the border last month. To unpack this difficult subject, Mary C. Curtis turned to Patrice Lawrence of UndocuBlack to talk about whether policies differ for white, brown and Black migrants and the overall human toll.

Pairing leadership with justice: Is that so hard, Washington?

It was an example of leadership and justice. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, fresh off surviving a recall vote, was not laying low but standing in front of cameras, signing a bill that would return prime property in Manhattan Beach — known as Bruce’s Beach — to descendants of the Black couple who had been run off the land they owned close to a century ago.

It turns out the very white Manhattan Beach was not always that way; the transformation was not by coincidence, but by design.

“As governor of California, let me do what apparently Manhattan Beach is unwilling to do: I want to apologize to the Bruce family,” said Newsom, as reported in the Los Angeles Times. He then handed the signing pen to Anthony Bruce, whose great-great-grandparents, Willa and Charles Bruce, had once turned the lovely stretch along the water into a needed getaway for African Americans, complete with lodge, cafe and dance hall.

Newsom wasn’t standing alone, literally or otherwise. Behind stood activists with organizations such as Where Is My Land, co-founded by Kavon Ward and Ashanti Martin, who have worked hard and know that the meaning of the word “reparations,” so feared in some circles, is merely “the making of amends for a wrong one has done.”

‘The intrinsic value of whiteness’

The country’s history of redlining, racially restrictive covenants, zoning regulations and more has embedded racism in its housing policies. Simply put, Black communities have been devalued through these policies. Untangling that legacy has proved difficult, especially when some politicians have resisted progress. Mary C. Curtis sits down with Andre M. Perry, author of “Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities,” to discuss how we got here, what the Biden administration is trying to change and what can be done to dismantle housing discrimination.

Reporters’ Roundtable

We’re at the Reporters’ Roundtable with a look at some of the top stories of the week.  On deck tonight… a pedestrian bridge collapse in dc,  President Biden announces a crack down crime and illegal guns.  Capitol Hill politics, voting rights, DC statehood, Loudoun County schools and an active NFL player comes out.

POLITICAL WRAP: President Biden to Meet with Russian President Putin

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Wednesday, President Biden will wrap up his first international trip as president, with a highly anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Sunday, Biden said he agrees with Putin that relations between the U.S. and Russia are at a “low point.”

Why do Black American women die having babies?

The United States has the highest — yes the highest — maternal mortality rates in the developed world. Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues than white women. That is in keeping with other sobering statistics of racial health inequities revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Mary C. Curtis sits down with Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, President Biden’s pick to lead the task force on health equity. They discuss why Black people suffer disproportionately and what is being done to change the equation.

Mary C. Curtis: Businesses Struggling with Staff Shortages

CHARLOTTE, NC — As the economy opens back up businesses in our area and across the country are struggling to find help.

WCCB Political Contributor Mary C. Curtis talks about what’s leading to the shortage and if it will get better.