Saturday, March 28, 2009

Churchill v. Franklin

Major computer malfunction at the D-blog manse yesterday, so I'll just refer you over to fellow shit-knitter PB for yesterday's Churchill trial news. But here I'll note this piece in the Salt Lake Tribune by Jonathan Zimmerman on Ward Churchill and civil-rights pioneer John Hope Franklin, who died Wednesday at 94:

When John Hope Franklin started graduate school at Harvard in the 1930s, most American history books described blacks as ignorant savages and slavery as a benign institution for civilizing them. Blacks looted Southern coffers in the wake of the Civil War and raped white women, who were saved by the noble knights of the Ku Klux Klan. And the rest, as they say, was history.

It wasn't, of course; it was deceit and folk wisdom, dressed up as fact. So Franklin and his generation painstakingly dismantled it, uncovering millions of new documents--including letters, diaries, and interviews--that gave us a more accurate account of our past.

As any historian can tell you, this process is never easy. But it was many times harder for Franklin, who was denied access to whites-only archives or forced to sit in segregated sections of them. Conducting research at the Library of Congress, he couldn't find a nearby restaurant that would serve him.

But he pressed on. "For a Negro scholar searching for truth," Franklin later recalled, "the search for food in the city of Washington was one of the minor inconveniences."

To Ward Churchill, by contrast, the search for truth is itself an inconvenience. And that's the real scandal here. Why try to document your hunches with archival material, when you can pass them off as fact? Indeed, why visit an archive at all? . . .

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