Wednesday, May 12, 2010
“Tell the Whole Story”?
By Bill Vallante
As the Sesquicentennial approaches and as some of its events begin to kick off, in Virginia and elsewhere, I’m hearing the phrase “Tell the Whole Story” more and more. “We need to tell the whole story” rings loud, clear and repeatedly in recent articles in the Richmond Times Dispatch and in Virginia’s Style Weekly Magazine. And in the context of those articles, there is no mistaking the fact that the phrase refers to, as one article put it, “the suffering and pain of human bondage.”
“Tell the whole story” – it’s a phrase that I continually heard coming out of the mouth of Museum of the Confederacy Director Waite Rawls back when I was a member of that organization. I resigned that membership 2 years ago in disgust over a number of issues, among them, the MOC cozying up to Doug Wilder’s Slavery Museum, and its public announcement that it was giving serious thought to dropping the word “Confederacy” from its title. I always wondered what Mr. Rawls meant by “tell the whole story.” Now that Sesquicentennial events are starting, I think I know, because I hear that phrase repeatedly, not only out of his mouth, but out of the mouths of people like Richmond Delegate Dolores McQuinn, a black woman whose favorite word seems to be “reconciliation,” Sesquicentennial planners, wack-ademics, newspaper editorialists and others.
Call me jaded and suspicious, but when I hear “tell the whole story,” coupled with words like “reconciliation,” I keep wondering if it means that someone needs to apologize. I hope they are not expecting that someone to be me because I assure you that the Pope will convert to Islam before that happens. In my life I have dealt happily and successfully with more different people from more different backgrounds than Al Sharpton has grievances. I have no guilt about anything, and am sorry for nothing, at least not insofar as my dealings with others are concerned. Need “Reconciliation?” Go somewhere else. I don’t do reconciliation.
Nor will I jump on the insanity bandwagon and start apologizing on behalf of past peoples doing what was common and quite the norm in their time. As I’ve said before, more and more I grow convinced that for the past 20 or 30 years, someone has been putting “stupid pills” in America’s water supply. I need to apologize because the America of 150+ years ago had slavery? I don’t think so. Charley Reese, former journalist for the Orlando Sentinel, once said that ‘the people of the past don’t owe anyone an apology. They, like us, fell out of the womb into a society that, like all societies, had pre-existing customs and mores. They played the cards that God dealt them the best way they knew how and that’s all that you can expect of them. It’s our play now, and the pot is the future.’ I stand with Mr. Reese on this one. And I will not budge for anyone. I don’t do apologies, I don’t do “reconciliation” and I don’t do “stupid pills” either.
Does “tell the whole story” mean telling the actual story of life as it was, good as well as bad, or, does it mean telling the story that the current crop of Sesquicentennial planners think that certain people would like to hear, or, a story that conforms to what might be called a politically correct agenda? I wonder if the version of “the whole story" that is being promulgated, at least in Virginia, will include things like……
Dick Poplar – a free black man from Petersburg who joined the 13th Va. Cavalry and who elected to spend 19 months in Point Lookout rather than take the oath of allegiance to the United States?
The unnamed black man who was hung by Union Col. Dalghren for giving him the wrong directions during his 1864 raid on Richmond? (Warning! Never give a Yankee directions!)
Phillip Slaughter, the free black musician whose band assisted the 150 old men and young boys who defended Petersburg against a union cavalry force of 1300 on June 9, 1864? Slaughter and his musicians repeatedly played “Dixie”, while moving hurriedly from one spot to another, in the hopes of confusing the Yankee attackers by making them think that there were several Confederate regiments in the area instead of a motley collection of home guards!
The free black woman who Union General Milroy tossed out of Winchester because she refused to remove a black corsage from her dress after Stonewall Jackson died?
The African American churches in what I think is the Roanoke area that were founded by former slaves who were students of Stonewall Jackson’s bible school?
Or Levi Miller, a Virginia slave and bodyservant? – “The body of Levi Miller, one of the few colored men regularly enlisted in the Confederate army during the Civil War, who died at Opequon, this county, yesterday morning, will be taken on Monday to Lexington Va., for burial."
Or Jason Boone – an ancestor of a woman from Norfolk who I have had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions? Boone was a free black farmer and who served as a laborer in the Confederate forces and who told those who would listen after the war, "I fought to defend what was mine"?
Or Jefferson Davis and his wife, who, in February 1864, rescued and adopted an abused free black child named Jim Limber? Little Jim lived in the Confederate White House until the end of the war. He played with, ate with and slept with the Davis children, and he functioned as a part of that family. As I recall, the Sons of Confederate Veterans commissioned a sculptor to make a statue of Davis and the child, and then offered it to the Tredegar Museum. Tredegar officials acted like they were being offered a case of bubonic plague.
Or the actual story of Nat Turner’s rebellion? I’m talking about the 61 white people who were killed, 47 of whom were women and children, including an infant who was held by one leg and bashed to death against a wall, and a 3 year old child who was beheaded.
And how about the fact that not all of the 189,000 men of the United States Colored Troops were freedom fighting volunteers? Many of those from the North were conscripted. Others were paid bounties for their service. Others, slaves “liberated” from their owners and in some cases carried off by Yankee troops, were forced to enlist and in some cases threatened with being shot if they did not. Still others, runaways in most cases, took the opportunity to join something that would at least give them the necessities of life, i.e., clothing, shelter, food and medical care, even if joining that “something” meant they could get killed! The alternative in those days, you see, was to starve or die of malnutrition or exposure. It was a matter of simple survival. Let’s see…where in the numerous USCT plaques and monuments that I have seen in the Richmond/Petersburg area have I seen these parts of “the whole story”?
It’s funny how I never see or hear things like these. I guess they are not part of “the whole story?” Nor do I expect that these “inconvenient truths” will ever become part of the “story.” If you’ve ever wanted an example of how a group of words which appear to mean one thing can end up meaning the complete opposite, you have it right here. “The whole story,” in case you haven’t already guessed, isn’t really “the whole story.” In an effort to get away from a “Gone With the Wind” picture of slavery and the war, the wonderful world of wack-ademics has created an “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” picture in its place. Since none of us were alive at the time of the war and since none of us saw it first hand, we are left to wonder where the truth lies, and indeed, what “the whole story” really is. I submit, that as in most cases like it, the truth lies somewhere in between the two extremes, and that it is a pity that few of us in these next 4 years will ever get to see or hear it.