In the 1950s and 1960s, the Confederacy was portrayed in a sympathetic light, both in the north and in the south. Huge numbers of students were simply shuffled off to vocational or technical high schools. Southern blacks remained entirely outside the reach of formal education, even after Brown v. Board of Education. Indeed, the kind of education described in “Damaged Discourse” (4/2/2010) was only ever available to a small minority of students.
The political discourse was also not much improved. Lee Harvey Oswald killed John F. Kennedy amid attacks on Kennedy’s religion, birth, and claims that Kennedy was a soviet agent destroying America. The idea that 1970 was the year in which violence became a political tool is founded on forgetfulness. Lynching was a political act, and one that was unceasingly employed to fight against civil rights activists since the end of Reconstruction. Political violence has a long history in the U.S.
Against this backdrop, civility became not a virtue but a vice. The unending calls for moderation and understanding when the United States engaged in an illegal and horrific war in Indochina were calls for compromises with evil. When it came to civil rights, the calls for moderation were no less pernicious in their intention. By creating a common narrative of U.S. history that whitewashed slavery, ignored the labor movement, and justified segregation, the education system in the 1950s created a narrative whose believers supported a status quo that was unjustifiable.
Class of 2013