Letters to the Editor, August 29, 2018

Judging historical figures by modern standards

No one is born a bigot. Prejudice is not an inherited trait. But the environment one grows up in can obviously have a huge impact on how one sees people of different faiths, races and ethnicities.

It is perhaps instructive to note that William McKinley grew up in a religious family and that religion was the foundation of his worldview throughout his life. And the religion he was taught was predicated on the idea that all God’s children are created equal. As all his biographers attest to, he grew up in a strongly abolitionist family.

When the time arose to put those teachings into practice, the young McKinley did not hesitate to leave school at the age of nineteen and volunteer to serve in the Union Army, to preserve the republic and end the greatest evil ever practiced on our soil. He entered the service as a private and as a result of battlefield promotions left the army as a major.

He was later a Congressman, a governor, and U.S. president but when asked how he wished to be addressed he replied, “Major because I earned that. I’m not sure about the rest.” Earned it, he did. He had his horse shot out from under him. His exploits resulted in a monument to him at the Antietam battlefield. Strange activities for a “vicious racist,” no?

Again every McKinley biographer states that he was progressive for his time on matters of race and religion. His detractors correctly claim he didn’t do enough to advance that equality as president. I agree but neither did any president from Andrew Johnson to John Kennedy.

While McKinley could have done more, it should be mentioned that he spoke out against lynching in the same year the Supreme Court ruled segregation to be the law of the land. He also stood against the virulent anti-Catholicism of the period, exhibiting his ecumenical beliefs for all to see. And he was an early vocal supporter of women’s right to the franchise.

It is the worst kind of foolishness to judge historical figures by contemporary standards. I mean how was FDR on LGBT rights? How about Eisenhower on same-sex marriage?

Maybe McKinley directed his virulent racism at indigenous people here and around the world? Fyrhe Phoenix castigates him for this but in truth, all McKinley did was sign a bill passed by both houses of Congress authored by a Kaw Indian, Charles Curtis, who later became the highest ranking Native American in our history. The law did have some deleterious effects with respect to five tribes in Oklahoma but that was neither the intent of Mr. Curtis nor Mr. McKinley.

Since Mr. Phoenix and others have hurled wild racism charges at McKinley maybe it is a tad snarky of me to mention that the leaders of two of those tribes, the Choctaw and the Cherokee, were proud slave owners who fought for the Confederacy while McKinley risked his life fighting for the Union to end slavery.

The Choctaw and the Cherokee were proud slave owners who fought for the Confederacy while McKinley risked his life fighting for the Union to end slavery.

The historical record is far more complicated than the fallacious morality play presented to the Arcata City Council “scholars” and, again, I urge you to check out anything I have written here, in the past, or in the future. To be continued.

Still waiting for proof of the claim that Native Americans were sold at auction on the Arcata Plaza. Their silence is deafening.

Bob Holcomb

Spend statue-removal money on helping homeless

What is the cost to remove the statue of McKinley? Dollar figures have been proposed, but not verified. Some of those Confederate statues have run up to $375,000 to $700,000 proposed or actually cost.

But what about the other costs, the erasure of history? Now you may not like the history of McKinley, but you may not actually know the history of the man. Or just don’t care. Ignorance can be fixed, stupidity is not curable. One can read up on the man and figure out what is what for oneself instead of relying on hearsay.

It seems that if one did not live during that time, then all kinds of conjecture can be made up. After all, this is the era of “fake news.” Some of the rhetoric I have heard reminds me of Fox News or MSNBC slanted stories.

Ridgity. Stridency. Shrillness. Self-righteousness.

Let us try to remember the truth. McKinley did not have anything to do with the atrocities suffered by the Wiyot Tribe. He was not here, did not order any particular actions, etc. You might not have liked his politics, but then I haven’t been fond of the politics of quite a few presidents. Doesn’t mean that their history should be replaced, erased or rewritten. I am not the last word about those men or their actions because I could be wrong because I don’t have all the information. To err is human.

What this whole brouhaha reminds me of is Mark Twain and his tale of Huckleberry Finn. In writing the book, he included a character named “N-word” Jim, an escaped slave whom he shared the adventure with. This word today is considered unacceptable and extremely offensive. As it should be.

In 2010 school libraries were rewriting the N-word with the word slave. However, Twain was writing this in 1885. He was born in 1835. In Missouri. This was the world he lived in. This is how people spoke. And he was anti-slavery. Read the book. When Huck comes back to the raft he tells Jim “They’re after us.” He did not say “They’re after you.” Do you think he might have been making it fairly obvious concerning his feelings about slavery?

So when those libraries decide to change history, how does that serve the next generation’s understanding of that period of history?

The statue should stay and not be replaced with statues of some currently politically correct unicorns or a gazebo that will house the homeless. In fact, spend the money on the statue replacement with a treatment program for the mentally impaired. Those folks may have mental health issues, drug or alcohol dependency issues. If we as a community take care of them, we will be doing a good thing for those people, ourselves and our community. A far cry from the wailing and gnashing of teeth over a hunk of metal.

Expand your horizons and expect more of yourselves. This isn’t about who is right – it is about the right thing to do.

John Frederick



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