History of history

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 22, 2008

A couple of big historical events occurred this week. In some way, each is related to the other.

If you have never listened to slave narratives, you missed your chance at the National Voting Rights Museum&8217;s annual recognition of Juneteenth. People also have called it Freedom Day or Emancipation Day.

The discussions raised just in recognizing that day give all of us an opportunity to study our collective pasts.

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Among historians, even the writing of slavery becomes historical. Take, for instance, the first history written after the Civil War by U.B. Phillips, &8220;American Negro Slavery: Survey of the Supply, Employment and Control of Negro Labor as Determined by the Plantation Regime.&8221;

In his book, published in 1908, Phillips argues slavery as unprofitable for slave owners and maintained for racial and cultural reason, not self interest. Phillip&8217;s view stood as the answer for slavery until 1956, two years after Brown v. Board of Education struck down the general philosophy of separate but equal and ordered school desegregation.

Kenneth Stampp wrote &8220;The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Antebellum South,&8221; and countered Phillips by examining slavery as a system of controlling and exploiting labor.

One of the key historians to change the argument: Eugene Genovese, who wrote &8220;Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made.&8221;

Genovese argued how much the slave culture stood on its on independent from white culture

a way of using passive resistance to control lives under the heel of the master.

The class of cultures bring to mind the other historical event this week. On June 21, 44 years ago, three men &8212;

two white and one black &8212;

disappeared after they investigated a church burning in Philadelphia, Miss.

History remembers them as Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney.

Neshoba County law enforcement officers in cahoots with Ku Klux Klansmen from Meridian, Miss., pulled over the trio&8217;s station wagon on trumped-up charges of speeding. Law enforcement released them from jail several hours later. As the three returned to Meridian, the headquarters for the Council of Federated Organizations, the KKK and law enforcement, pulled them over and took them to Rock Cut Road. The KKK killed the three and buried them in a dam near what is now an area that thrives with casinos and shopping.

Three years ago, The Rev. Edgar Ray Killen received a prison sentence for his part in the murders.

We cannot undo the past. We certainly can learn from it. But we have to quit living in it before we can use the lessons learned from it.

Leesha Faulkner is executive editor of the Selma Times-Journal and selmatimesjournal.com. You may reach her at 410-1730 or e-mail her at leesha.faulkner@selmatimesjournal.com