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John Kelly -- and a whole lot of other Americans -- can't handle the truth about slavery

By Leonard Pitts Jr., Tribune Content Agency on

Slavery caused the Civil War. A failure to compromise had nothing to do with it.

Yes, I know a thousand people have made that point in the days since White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's nonsensical assertion on Fox "News" that "the lack of an ability to compromise" is what tore America apart. Allow me to be the 1,001st. There are things that need saying here, and I need to say them.

It's not just that there is no "compromise" between slavery and freedom. It is also that Kelly's use of that word is painfully ironic in a nation that has always been all too ready to bargain with the humanity of African-American people.

In 1776, in his first draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson condemned slavery. Southern states balked, so he compromised.

In 1820, North and South argued whether the new state of Missouri would permit slavery. Congress intervened, and they compromised.

In 1877, there was a disputed election. Someone suggested giving the presidency to Rutherford B. Hayes if he agreed to withdraw federal troops that had been protecting former slaves in the South. The two sides compromised.

 

In 1961, the Freedom Riders pulled into Mississippi. The federal government made a deal with the state that if Mississippi guaranteed no violence, it could arrest the riders, though they had done nothing illegal. They compromised.

And so on. Historically, America always seems to find a way to sell black people out.

Kelly is just the latest in a long line of those who lack the guts to face this straight on. They hide out in textbooks where slaves become "settlers," flee from "Roots" because it is "depressing." And they insist on moral equivalence between people sellers and the people they sold, lynchers and the people they lynched, traitors who fought to destroy America and patriots who fought to preserve it.

"Robert E. Lee was an honorable man," added Kelly in the Fox interview -- an interesting take for a military man on an enemy general in a war that killed more Americans than Hitler, Hirohito and Bin Laden combined.

...continued

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