Slavery and racial segregation mark two of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history. Racism in the United States today is largely thought to have resulted from slavery’s enduring legacy. Given the long-lasting impact slavery and segregation have had on race relations in the U.S., it’s no surprise that sometimes politicians speak out about these issues. While some dignitaries, such as former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, have simply pointed out that the nation continues to suffer from the repercussions of slavery, others have been accused of diminishing its horrors. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Arkansas Rep. Jon Hubbard and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour are a few of the politicians who’ve made headlines with their controversial takes on segregation and slavery.
Hubbard Says Slavery Was Blessing for Blacks
Arkansas Rep. Jon Hubbard was accused of being a racist when he argued in his 2012 book, Letters to the Editor: Confessions of a Frustrated Conservative, that slavery actually benefited black people. “… The institution of slavery that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people may actually have been a blessing in disguise,” Hubbard asserted. “The blacks who could endure those conditions and circumstances would someday be rewarded with citizenship in the greatest nation ever established upon the face of the Earth.” Hubbard was widely panned for his comments, and the Republican Party of Arkansas actually distanced themselves from the congressmen due to his controversial remarks.
Rice Calls Slavery “Birth Defect”
In a surprise move, former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice spoke candidly about her feelings on racial equality. As a guest on CBS’ “Face the Nation” in 2011, Rice pointed out that African Americans have made many strides since her childhood in segregated Alabama. Despite these gains, Rice doubted that race would cease to be a factor in U.S. society. “It is a birth defect with which this country was born out of slavery; we’re never really going to be race blind,” she said. “I think it goes back to whether or not race and class – that is, race and poverty – is not becoming even more of a constraint. Because with the failing public schools, I worry that the way that my grandparents got out of poverty, the way that my parents became educated, is just not going to be there for a whole bunch of kids. And I do think that race and poverty is still a terrible witch’s brew.”
Michele Bachmann’s Slavery Gaffe
It wasn’t what Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann said about slavery in 2011 that landed her in hot water, it was the marriage pledge she signed about the peculiar institution. Sponsored by conservative group the Family Leader, the “Marriage Vow – A Declaration of Dependence upon Marriage and Family,” asserted that a black child was more likely to be raised in a two-parent household during slavery than he was during Barack Obama’s presidency. In fact, slaves couldn’t marry nor could they prevent their children from being sold away from them, making the pledge Bachmann signed very misleading. The marriage pledge’s take on slavery led to such loud public outcry that its creators eventually removed the slavery reference.
Barbour on Jim Crow: Wasn’t “That Bad”
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour raised eyebrows in 2010 after giving an interview to publication the Weekly Standard in which he recalled how racial segregation, or Jim Crow, played out in his town of Yazoo City, Miss. “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” Barbour said of the Jim Crow era. “I remember Martin Luther King came to town, in ’62. He spoke out at the old fairground and it was full of people, black and white.” The governor also said that the leaders of the citizens’ council in his town drove out white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. His comments elicited outcry from people such as Chris Myers Asch, an academic and author who pointed out in an opinion piece that life in Mississippi was indeed hard for black sharecroppers and that citizens’ councils functioned to preserve white supremacy, not eradicate it, as Barbour’s comments implied.
Rand Paul vs. Civil Rights Act
What if civil rights activists had lost their battle to be treated equally by private businesses? The lunch counter sit-ins not only would have been remembered as a failure, but businesses today might still be able to discriminate against patrons based on race. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul from Kentucky came under fire for suggesting that’s in fact what should have happened. He argued in 2010 that the federal government overstepped its bounds by telling private business they didn’t have the right to racially discriminate. Paul said that the government shouldn’t “harbor in on private businesses and their policies.” If the federal government hadn’t used the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to make such a move, where would race relations stand today? Would African Americans still be relegated to second-class citizen status by business owners who viewed them as less than?