Wednesday, June 30, 2021

GOP tries to sucker punch U.S. history

Muhammad Ali at the 1966 Bud Billiken Parade (Sun-Times Photo)

     Chicago is a boxing town. Or was.
     That shouldn’t be news, but I suspect it is, to some. The three most important heavyweight champions of the world in the 20th century all lived in Chicago. Jack Johnson bought a home for his mother on South Wabash Avenue in 1910, then moved in himself in 1912. Joe Louis lived at 4320 S. Michigan Ave. and won his first title at Comiskey Park in 1937. As a teen, Muhammad Ali won his first fights as a Golden Gloves champion here and later lived at several locations on the South Side.
     I could share inspiring tales — the luxurious life Johnson led, the silver spittoons at CafĂ© de Champion, the club he owned on West 31st Street. Louis’ humility in the face of global fame. How Ali would stop his Rolls Royce and shadow box kids on the street.
     Pause here, and consider how learning about this historic connection makes you feel about Chicago. Proud? Happy? Eager to know more?
     I hope so. Because I left out something crucial. Johnson, Louis and Ali were — stop the presses — Black. Their race was in no way incidental to their athletic careers and personal lives. Just the opposite; it was pivotal. Because of his race, Johnson was at first prevented from fighting for the title; he had to go to Australia to do it. Johnson was then vilified for winning, and for dating white women. He was hung in effigy at State and Walton streets.
     Louis had to act humble, trying to avoid the trouble Johnson got into. When named Cassius Clay, Ali was initially sneered at by the public as a poetry-spewing clown. After he found his Muslim faith and changed his name, white America refused to use it, as if he wasn’t a man who could call himself whatever he liked. Nobody objected to “Bob Dylan.”
     Does the second, racial element of my boxing tale wreck it for you? Make you feel small? Or does it, as I believe, enlarge the story, nudging it from a mere gloss toward the complexity that real history demands?

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  1. Those of us disgusted with the fairy-tale histories foisted on generations of children still have to decide if future generations can "stand the truth." The only thing most of us learned in school about George Washington was that he cut down a cherry tree and wouldn't lie about it, a fiction on about the level of the Easter Bunny. That throughout his life he was an owner of people is only admitted by mentioning that he freed some...after his death. It's not pleasant to hear that the Great Emancipator was also a shill for railroads and no respecter of Indian rights. We don't really want to know whether Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower might have had sexual relations with women not their wives. And there's worse, much worse, of course. I don't know if "the truth and nothing but the truth" necessarily applies here, but a little bit of the truth might be called for at the very least.


  2. Real history: the good guys made terrible sacrifices and won the Civil War. We should start there.

  3. We're no different than any other nation. They all teach "convenient" history. Stuff that makes them look like either the good guys or the victims.
    Maybe if they got the whole scoop, those who believe African Americans and other minorities are getting "special treatment" would realize that it was us, from day one, who never gave them a real chance.
    It was bad enough to be enslaved, but after the Civil War they became hated by those who can't handle the truth.

  4. I read up on critical race theory, and it gave me a headache. It's extreme form is, I think, objectionable because it seems to suggest, against evidence, that racial differences are unresolvable. But the FOX News crowd are just using it to argue against a warts and all teaching of American history and historical figures. On that, those of us who profess to be Christians learn in Sunday School that Paul of Tarsus was a bad guy before he set about founding our religion. As Herr Kant put it so well: "Out of the crooked timber of mankind nothing straight was ever made."


  5. It seems that the politicians who do not want actual history to be taught all have political careers to which actual history would not be kind.


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