Correcting San Juan County’s GOP version of history | Letter

Submitted by David Kobrin

Orcas Island

I was saddened by the tone set in the San Juan County Republican Party’s response to an earlier Democratic resolution on police reform.

To my mind, it is one thing for President Trump to use pejorative and overly generalized terms to describe those who oppose him. In San Juan County, by contrast, we are all neighbors; members of the same island community.

I have not seen, heard or read anything that validates describing the program of the local Democratic Party (or national party, for that matter) as “Marxist radicals,” or advocates for “socialism,” the prime characteristic of which is ownership of the nation’s means of production and distribution by the national government. Nor have I seen anywhere that the Democratic Party advocates the “abolition of police force.” What many are suggesting — and certainly not only in the Democratic Party — is that some of the funding now granted to police departments be redirected toward community and social services to help combat crime. They would work with the local police force, not replace them.

What upset me most about the San Juan County Republican Party’s letter to the editor was their version of U.S. history. For example:

1) They cite total deaths in the Civil War as an example of how our nation came together, at a great cost in American lives, to end slavery. The figure they quote, however, includes soldiers from the Confederacy. That is, those who gave their lives to protect and preserve slavery.

2) Their letter notes the protections enshrined in the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution. These did guarantee essential equality of rights for all — on paper. The reality, however, especially in the South, was quite different after the pre-Civil War white state governments were restored (1877). For instance, “Black Codes” were passed the made “crimes” out of traveling, or lacking a full-time job. Black were imprisoned and then used as labor for corporations. Literacy tests, poll taxes, violence and intimidation were used to deprive black people of their guaranteed voting rights. In 1896, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of “separate but equal” in public accommodations, schools, railroads — and much more. Local authorities sometimes were among the white crowds that gathered to see lynchings of black people. Picture postcards were sold as souvenirs.

3) Not mentioned in the Republican Party’s letter are the many federal programs designed during the Great Depression, World War II, and after World War II, like Social Security, federal jobs programs, government-backed loans for buying a house, all of which included, in local practice at the time, racial discrimination which largely excluded black people from these benefits.

4) The armed forces of the United States remained legally racially segregated until after the end of World War II. We fought the Nazis with a racially segregated army and navy.

None of what I’ve written is radical, or “revisionist,” history. Nor is it new, or a “fabrication.” To check this, look at your child or young adult’s history textbook.

I didn’t enjoy writing this letter. However, as a historian, I feel a responsibility to respond. Name-calling and misleading statements are not leadership.