Guest columnists Allen J. Davis and Tom Weiner: America’s 2nd Civil War — from 1865 to present

Published: 1/8/2021 4:17:18 PM
Modified: 1/8/2021 4:17:03 PM

The United States has been enmeshed in what many refer to as a culture war since at least the 1980s when Ronald Reagan actually said to a full house of evangelical Christians, “I know that you can’t endorse me, but I want you to know that I endorse you.”

The roots of such a divide go back even further and can be said to have characterized the opposing forces in the fight for women’s rights from voting to equal pay, for LGBTQ rights to be out and to marry and for civil rights starting with Reconstruction.

It is the struggle for civil rights that we want to focus upon. It is our contention that the past 155 years since the end of the 1st American Civil War, America has seen a 2nd Civil War between those supporting justice and equality for African Americans and those fearing the loss of power that characterizes white supremacy.

The evidence for this view is voluminous and we will only be able to scratch its surface here. We want to make it clear that there are many components to this war against Black people and the white people who have aligned themselves with them. What makes it a civil war and not just a culture war is that since it began in 1865 it has featured not only nonviolent acts of aggression that have been destructive emotionally and psychically on every front, but also:

■Economic — the obscene wealth gap

■Housing — Black people denied the GI Bill and numerous racist lending policies

■Educational — schools more segregated now than before Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and affirmative action under attack

But the civil war has also been undeniably violent since its inception. The violence we are referring to has its origins in the acceptance of lynching, the intimidation of the KKK, the 26 known massacres of African Americans from New Orleans in 1866 to Charleston in 2015 and continuing to the present moment with the brutal murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Walter Wallace and others more recently.

In light of our recent election it is also worth acknowledging that (in the words of Jelani Cobb in a New Yorker piece entitled, “What Black History Should Already Have Taught Us About the Fragility of American Democracy”),“the lynching campaigns and terrorism that disenfranchised Black people in the South in the decades that followed (the Civil War) weren’t only an expression of racism, though they were very much that; they were an attack on the mechanisms that were put in place to inhibit one of the nation’s worst habits: a gleeful expression of defiance toward a government that dared try to uphold democracy.”

The case can most assuredly be made that in 2020, it was once again Black Americans, who were put in the position of defying the white supremacists emboldened and empowered by Trumpism, who have upheld our fragile democracy. It is Black people who have withstood all of the threats to their lives posed by the 2nd Civil War who continue to survive against all odds — now including the pandemic’s grip on their community — and who we turn to, to bail out what’s left of our democracy.

What is required to fully grasp the significance of being able to acknowledge that there has been a 2nd Civil War raging in this country since the end of the last one, is not just the willingness to study the true history of America. We clearly need to make room for the New York Times 1619 Project that conveys the central role of enslavement in our country’s history to enter our schools, colleges and universities, but it is not just learning about the past horrors of Jim Crow, Black Codes, segregation, police brutality and all of the nonviolent methods employed to keep Black people from accessing their rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

It is our work as white people that James Baldwin was speaking of, though he included all Americans, “We must tell the truth ‘til we can no longer bear it…” Once you know what you’ve been taught is filled with omissions and lies it is our hope that you can’t be silent, that you can’t bear letting this war continue one more day.

Tragically as it is now 2021, our election tells us that more than 74.2 million people are both in denial about the full story of our past not having learned anything different. That has to end if we are to have a chance of offering justice and equality to all.

Allen J. Davis lives in Dublin, New Hampshire. Tom Weiner lives in Northampton.
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