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Let’s learn from history, and stop being afraid of it

Auto pioneer Henry Ford supposedly said that history is bunk. If so, that would make him a hero for many in today’s Republican Party. For those who think that we can and should learn from history, I offer today’s short quiz.

The answers are at the bottom, and you are encouraged to peek. The purpose of this exercise is not to get a good grade but to possibly learn something that you didn’t know.

I think the sources for these answers are pretty good, but I’m always open to correction. After all, we shouldn’t be afraid of learning, should we?

Here goes:

1. Which American president had a father who was arrested during a Ku Klux Klan rally?

2. Who was the most racist American president?

3. How many American presidents owned slaves?

4. How many times was slavery mentioned in the U.S. Constitution?

And now the answers:

1. That would be Donald Trump whose father, Fred, was among seven men arrested in Queens, New York, in 1927 when a brawl broke out between Klansmen and police. Although some try to place Fred Trump, who was 21 at the time, among the robed Klansmen, the evidence does not support it. Six of the seven arrested faced serious assault charges but Fred Trump was dismissed with a charge of only “refusing to disperse from a parade when ordered to do so.” No one has proven he was among the Klan. He quite possibly was just one of the “very fine people” watching the parade.

2. This is subjective, to be sure, but it’s difficult to see how any past president could surpass Woodrow Wilson when it comes to abject racism. Born prior to the Civil War, he was raised in a Virginia household served by enslaved men and women. After he was elected president in 1912, Wilson issued executive orders to segregate federal offices. He also fired a number of Black federal employees who had been hired during the administration of Theodore Roosevelt. Wilson was the first president to watch a movie in the White House, immensely enjoying the virulently racist Birth of a Nation that glorified white supremacy and valorized the Klan as the saviors of the southern way of life. Wilson loved the movie. Wilson did issue a statement that renounced lynching, but he maintained there wasn’t a danged thing that the federal government could do about it.

3. An even dozen including ten of the first 12, or all of the American presidents through the year 1850 whose last name wasn’t Adams. While a couple had as few as one slave, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington each owned more than 600 people, many of whom were inherited and who accounted for their substantial wealth.The regular occurrence of slave-owning presidents meant that through the 19th century the Supreme Court was dominated by justices appointed by men who owned people. That may explain court decisions such as Plessy v. Fergusson and Dred Scott and other cases that gave legal standing to slavery, white supremacy, and Jim Crow.

4. Not once. But the nation’s founding document still managed to protect, condone, encourage, and expand slavery. The three-fifths provision, for instance, allowed southern states to count slaves for the purpose of determining the number of members in the House of Representatives, as well as providing additional clout in the Electoral College. That helps explain why so many slaveholders were elected president. The Fugitive Slave clause in the Constitution required non-slavery states to return runaways to their southern masters. The Constitution also extended the transatlantic slave trade for twenty years until it ended in 1808. All this without once mentioning the word “slave.”

How did you do? Did you learn anything? Or did this just make you feel sad about being white?

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