Forgive Us Our Trespasses

Recent conversations and a few newspaper articles about the death of Ted Kennedy have revealed the continuing animosity toward Kennedy with regard to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. This has highlighted to me the tendency that we often have to think and act in a personal way toward public figures. This is true of politicians, celebrities, and notorious criminals, and those we might think fit into the triple overlap of these categories (if it were a Venn diagram, they would be in the middle).

With elected politicians, we have a responsibility to call them to account for their actions and decide whether they should continue to represent us – by impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors, and by voting against them in the next election for lesser reasons. Except for citizens of Massachusetts, this is where unforgiveness toward Ted Kennedy falls short. Though he was nationally known, he did not represent the nation. He was elected by the people of Massachusetts and it was their decision, for better or worse, to return him seven times to the United States Senate.

The idea of forgiving or not forgiving public figures not personally known to us is foreign to any concept in the scriptures. Jesus said we should pray, asking the Father to “forgive our tresspasses and we forgive those who trespass against us,” and said further said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” It’s a personal thing.

Not forgiving Ted Kennedy is about as pointless as the politicians on Capitol Hill who apologised last summer and this summer for something they didn’t do. In July of last year, the U.S. House of Represenatives apologised for slavery and racial segregation. The Senate did the same thing in June of this year with almost identical language.

This is ridiculous for a number of reasons. First of all, neither the House nor the Senate ever legalised slavery. Slavery has always existed. (It still exists today, even in the US, but that is a subject for a future post.)

Admittedly, they did vote to approve the Corwin Amendment which would have prohibited any other Amendment to the Constitution allowing the federal government to interfere with slavery. (Congressmes and Senators from the seven Deep South states did not vote for the Corwin Amendment, as they were already in the process of seceding – it was a Northern proposed amendment to preserve slavery.) Despite their apology 148 years later, that amendment is still pending as it was only ratified by the state legislatures of Ohio, Maryland, and Illinois.

The only slaves that could be said to have been owned by the United States itself were those used by the Union armies in the Recent Unpleasantness. Not the freedmen soldiers that everyone hears about, but the still enslaved laborers. (I can’t imagine why those Yankee-authored history books fail to mention this.) Neither the House nor Senate mentioned the Corwin Amendment or the use of slave labor by the bluecoats and I don’t think either body had either issue in mind.

On the other hand, Congress at times voted to restrict slavery’s extenstion into certain territories. It then voted to abolish slavery through the 13th Amendment. Likewise it passed the 14th and 15th Amendments to send to the states for ratification. It passed various Civil Rights Acts. So even if it could apologise, there is nothing to apologise for.

But what really angers me about both House Resolution 194 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 26 is that both purport to apologise on my behalf. “The Congress…apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws…” This may surprise some people, but I have never owned a single African-American slave. I would go so far as to suggest that no living American citizen has ever owned a single African-American slave. Having been born less than four months before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 came into effect, I can also assure readers that I have never promulgated or enforced any Jim Crow laws. (But then again, neither has the US Congress, in its present, or any previous, incarnation, as Jim Crow laws were state laws.)

I have lots of ancestors who owned slaves. Lots of slaves. Just for the record, I do not apologise for them either. I couldn’t even if I wanted to do so.

I do admit to calling another 2nd grader “nigger” in 1971. I will not even offer the excuse that my erstwhile friend Scott encouraged me to do it. I was beaten soundly about the buttocks by the school principal and had to apologise, so I think I have paid my debt. (I hope that any of my friends who haven’t forgiven Ted Kennedy for the Chappaquiddick incident will not also refuse to forgive me for something that happened two years after.) However, I do not believe the US Congress needs to apologise for this on my behalf.

Obama Throws Churchill Out of the White House

We are already learning what’s in and what’s out with the change of administration in Washington. Brits have noticed one thing: Winston Churchill is definitely out. The whole “special relationship” thing between the US and UK is on thin ice anyway, but Churchill has left the White House.

After 9/11, the British Government loaned President Bush a bronze bust of the former Prime Minister, a Jacob Epstein creation worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. It had pride of place in the Oval Office. After all, US Presidents like to quote Churchill, as noted in one of the most viewed stories on the Daily Telegraph website. Presidents, that is, other than Barack Obama.

Obama’s view of Churchill is coloured by his grandfather’s alleged torture by the British during the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya in 1953 when Churchill was Prime Minister. So when the British Government offered to extend the loan of the Churchill bronze, Obama declined. He sent Winston packing.

The Brits didn’t exactly know what to do with him. They tried to avoid reporters questions until they found an suitable alternative location in residence of the British Ambassador to the US.

So Obama has moved the racist Churchill out of the Oval Office and replaced him with the racist Abraham Lincoln. Of course the difference is that only academics know Lincoln was a racist – since they are the only ones who bother to read what he actually wrote – and nobody would believe them. People who surely know better – like the well-educated Mr Obama – dare not bring it up.

But Mr Obama has a lot to look up to when it comes to following the example of Mr Lincoln. It was Mr Lincoln, after all, who took advantage of a very difficult time in history to aggrandize the power of the Presidency and the Executive branch. Mr Lincoln trampled over the power of the sovereign States.

Lincoln’s actions led to deaths of over 600,000 Americans. Yet such is the re-writing of Yankee hagiography that he is was recently ranked the best president in a survey of 65 historians. Mr Lincoln gets credit for freeing slaves, even though no action of his ever freed a single one. I’m sure Mr Obama will find things to take credit for that he’ll have never done either.  I just hope he isn’t responsible for as many deaths in the meantime.

So it’s out with Mr Churchill and in with Mr Lincoln. God help us all.

Nothing New With Nothing to Offer

I just watched Obama’s acceptance speech, available here because the UK news networks wanted to share in the glory of the new world messiah.

Now I can’t say I watched it all that closely after a while, because I got bored with more of the same old thing. However, as the speech reached its crescendo, I listened just to marvel at how many sentences Obama and his speech writers could string together without actually saying anything.  The crowd was getting so excited at what he was saying and he wasn’t saying anything.

As he was being invested as a demi-god in the faux Greek temple, cheered in a football stadium by throngs of supporters, I marvelled once again at his rise. After a bit more than half a term in the US Senate and the equivalent of two terms in the Illinois Senate, he is the answer to all that troubles the world.

I thought it was particularly interesting that the news coverage talked to people who quoted Martin Luther King’s line from the “I Have a Dream” speech, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But that’s exact what has happened. Barak Obama’s candidacy is not the fulfilment of King’s dream – or if he’s the fulfilment of King’s own dream, he’s not the fulfilment of King’s words. Obama is being judged by the colour of his skin.

After all, he is neither the descendant of the black American experience nor was did he grow up in his own experience of racial discrimination. But he’s black. He may be the first actual African-American every elected to any federal office. After all, his father was African and his mother is American. All of the other black elected officials I’ve known of were born to an American father and an American mother which makes them American-Americans, as best I can tell. So if people are wanting to elect an African-American, he’s about as authentic as they can get and about the only chance they are ever going to get.

If people are wanting to vindicate the slave heritage and the triumph of civil rights, then there is nothing remarkable or groundbreaking about his nomination. Denver was not, in the words of the Sky News, “The scene of an unprecedented night American history.” He has nothing in common with Martin Luther King, W.E.B. DuBois, Thurgood Marshall, James Meredith, or the Little Rock Nine, other than the amount of melanin in his skin.

Ancestral Lands

Since I have been visiting my parents, where much of my personal library is located, I have had a chance to read a book that I got many years ago when it was withdrawn from circulation by the Gonzales Public Library, an establishment that was a regular haunt of mine in my college days.

In what has been one of the more popular posts on this blog, I talked about my Uncle George Littlefield. The book I am reading is George Littlefield: Texan by J. Evetts Haley, published in 1943 by the University of Oklahoma Press. At the time I acquired it, I knew that I was related to Uncle George – and he was always referred to as Uncle George Littlefield by my mother’s family – but I hadn’t made the exact genealogical connection. I just knew that he had put my great-grandmother through college.

Since, as you might expect, the first chapter of the biography covers his family background, it has been very interesting to read about my great-great-great-grandparents (his parents) in a real book (not a self-published genealogy-driven tome) with real footnotes referencing a wide range of primary source materials. The book details both real and personal property they possessed, acquired and sold. Through my genealogical research, I knew where some of this land was.

The personal recollections of former slaves continues to confirm my understanding the positive relationship they shared with my family. Because that is relevant to the novel I am intending to write, this has been particularly helpful.

During the years I lived in Gonzales County, I had thought it would be a nice place to settle. River bottom being the most desirable and fertile real estate, I had always wanted to own the land at the confluence of the San Marcos and Guadalupe Rivers. I figured if one river made for good land, two must be so much the better.

Having never read that book I bought from the Gonzales Public Library, I had no idea my great-great-great-grandmother thought the same and not only acquired that land, but also moved there from the original plantation where she had settled with my great-great-great-grandfather located about 15 miles up the Guadalupe.

Were I to someday win the lottery or perhaps become a wildly successful writer – though the lottery win is the more likely of the two – I might yet buy that land.

My Confederate Heroes

Today is the 201st birthday of Robert E. Lee. It is a legal and public holiday in Florida. In Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi it will be celebrated on Monday, along with the birthday of another son of the South.

In my home state of Texas, it is Confederate Heroes Day. So whilst I am happy to remember General Lee, I also think there are others who deserve mention.

In September, 1861, my uncle George Washington Littlefield mustered in as a 2nd Sergeant of Company I, of what would be officially designated the 8th Texas Cavalry, but is usually known to history as Terry’s Texas Rangers. On January 10, 1862, he was elected 2nd Lieutenant.

He commanded the company at the Battle of Shiloh, because the Captain and 1st Lieutenant were on furlough in Texas. The Captain never returned and the 1st Lieutenant was killed a few days after returning to the regiment, so my uncle was elected Captain on May 10. There was only one man younger than him in the entire company and he was not yet 20 years old.

He commanded his company through the battles of Perryville and Murfreesboro. After Chickamuaga on September 18-20, 1863, he was made acting major of the regiment. He fought at the Third (and most famous) Battle of Chattanooga, specifically the part known as the Battle of Lookout Mountain, and then a little over a month later at the lesser known Battle of Mossy Creek.

It was there on December 29, 1863 that, in his own words, “I was blown off my horse by a piece of shell passing through my left hip, cutting a wound 11 by 9 inches from my groin across my hip . . . While laying on the ground, General Thomas Harrison road up and looked at me and remarked that he promoted me to the rank of Major, for Gallantry in action.” My Uncle George was 21 years old. He further commented, “I was never able to do duty again, did not quit use of my crutches until July, 1867, two years after the war was closed.”

George W. Littlefield did recover and later became a successful cattleman and banker, and the single largest donor to the University of Texas in it’s first 50 years. At one point, when the Governor of Texas threaten to veto the biennial appropriations for the university, my Uncle George offered to personally fund the university for those two years. The Governor backed down.

If you visit the plot of George Littlefield’s grave in Austin’s Oakwood Cemetery you will find the another Confederate hero there as well. Nathan Stokes was Uncle George’s life-long servant. He followed him throughout his military service and nursed him back to health from his severe wounds. People who are ignorant about slavery and its aftermath would not understand why the 13th Amendment may have changed the legal relationship between Uncle George and Nathan, but not the personal relationship.

Nathan is a hero on my mother’s side just like Abe Officer, a slave on my father’s side, whose quick thinking saved my cousin’s life from Federal troops when they surrounded my aunt and uncle’s house in Tennessee and massacred the other six Confederate soldiers having breakfast inside and wounded my aunt. (Those troops, as history would strangely have it, also belonged to Terry’s Texas Rangers.) Abe and my cousin would be life-long friends.

There are other Confederate heroes in my family, about whom I know less and time would not allow me to ramble on if I could. Christopher Columbus Littlefield, Charles Erasmus Littlefield, and Robert Littlefield were cousins that also served with Terry’s Texas Rangers. My great-great-grandfather Samuel Pearson Carson Hampton served with several units, including Gore’s Tennessee Calvary. My cousin Alexander Officer died at Corinth, Mississippi. There are many other cousins as well, some whose service I have yet to uncover. May their memories be eternal.

As with soldiers in any war, there are unsung heroes whose acts are known only to God. If nowhere else but in his infinite knowledge, may their memories also be eternal.

Yet Another Apology for Slavery

When I saw on the CNN website that New Jersey was considering joining the misguided legislators of the Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland in apologising for slavery, I thought, here we go again, more of liberal white folks and their politically correct guilt. Then I got curious.

The resolution is sponsored by Assemblymen William Payne and Craig Stanley. They are both black. Funny, CNN didn’t mention that. Why are they apologising for slavery? So it’s not so much that they feel guilty for slavery as they want to make other people feel guilty for it.

The resolution is being considered today by committee. The Assembly Appropriations Committee. When I saw that, I thought it seemed odd. There’s no spending involved in the resolution. Why would it get assigned to Appropriations? Somebody must have convinced the Assembly Speaker to send it to Appropriations. Will it get an easier ride there than somewhere else?

After all, the closest comparable legislation this session was ACR 175 which “Honors victims of the Holocaust forced to wear yellow badge with Star of David.” It was sent to the State Government Committee, where it died there without action. It was, however, introduced by two Republicans.

And maybe the Holocaust resolution wasn’t forceful enough. It was, after all, a modest five “Whereas” sentences long. ACR 270, the slavery resolution, with a verbosity that would make Al Sharpton proud, runs 26 paragraphs, some of them quite lengthy. See for yourself.

When I looked into why ACR 270 might get an easy ride in Appropriations, I saw that Chairwoman Nellie Pou had co-sponsored other legislation with Payne and Stanley, including extra money for the Wynona M. Lipman Ethnic Studies Center at Keen University. So you know me – I wanted to find out more about this facility. I found a report on the dedication of the center in 2003. It was in this report that I found a unique bit of journalism.

The daughter of the late Senator for whom the center is named spoke at the dedication. Or as the writer put it, “In memory of her mother, and in honor of the event, she read a stirring poem from the late poet, rapper and activist Tupac Shakur. . .” This is the same Tupac Shakur who shot two police officers, went to prison for a sexual assault that the judge descibed as “an act of brutal violence against a helpless woman”, went back to jail for an attack on a former employer, paid off a family in six figures for the death of their six-year-old son, had a former friend murdered execution-sytle, and finally beat the crap out the wrong person which led to Tupac’s death the same night in a drive-by shooting.

But for Assemblymen Payne and Stanley, all that is no doubt the fault of white people in the 18th and 19th century, so they want an apology.