Daniel Haulman

American history, contrary to recent revisionists, is not just about what white people have done to people of color. Certainly much of American history is about that, when we consider the long history of slavery and segregation, lynching and denial of voting rights, and those ugly parts of American history cannot and should not be denied. But to focus only on that part of the story is a gross distortion. American history is also about what white people have done for people of color, and what white and colored persons have done together for the cause of equality for which the nation was founded. In case you have forgotten, let me give you some examples.

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, effective in 1863, and announced in Texas in 1865, for which many African Americans celebrate “Juneteenth.” More than any other individual, President Abraham Lincoln was responsible for the end of slavery in the United States. He was not the only abolitionist, for sure, and African Americans such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass were important leaders in the movement to end slavery in the United States, but Abraham Lincoln was a white man who became the most important abolitionist in history.

The Emancipation Proclamation would never have been enforced had it not been for the success of Union armies under the command of white generals such as General Ulysses S. Grant. Here is another example of a white man who championed the rights of non-whites, by ending the Confederacy and with it, slavery.

Three other examples of white men championing civil rights are what have been called the Civil War amendments to the Constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution ended slavery. The Fourteenth Amendment defined citizenship by birth, extended citizenship to all races, and promised to all American citizens the equal protection of the laws. The Fifteenth Amendment extended voting rights to nonwhites. All three of these amendments were passed and ratified by legislatures dominated by white men who were willing to give up their monopoly of power in the interest of equality, the principle for which the nation was founded.

President Harry Truman issued executive order 9981 in 1948, which mandated the end of racial segregation in the United States armed forces. Harry Truman was one of many white men who abandoned the racist culture of segregation in which he grew up for the cause of civil rights for which he became a champion. Truman’s support of civil rights for blacks caused what has been called the Dixiecrat revolt in the South, against the Democratic Party, led by Strom Thurmond.

Chief Justice Earl Warren and a majority of the members of the Supreme Court, in their 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision, called for the end of segregation in public schools. All the members of that court were white men, yet they ruled against segregation in the interests of equal rights for all. A few years later, President Dwight D. Eisenhower enforced that Supreme Court decision at Little Rock, Arkansas, ending “white only” public schools there.

Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended racial segregation in places of public accommodation, was supported by black civil rights leaders such as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, as well as John Lewis, but it was passed by a predominantly white Congress and signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The same can be said for the Voting Rights of 1965. Although pushed by activists on the Selma to Montgomery march, the Voting Rights Act was also passed by a Congress in which most members were white men willing to recognize that the rights they had also belonged to nonwhites.

In these and so many other examples, we see that American history is not just about what whites have done to victimize people of color, but also about what other whites have done to end that victimization. We need to remember that black lives have always mattered to many white Americans, and that being white in America, even generations ago, did not always mean being racist and anti-black. People such as Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Thaddeus Stevens, Harry Truman, Earl Warren, Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, and so many other whites joined together with so many heroes of color to champion the cause of equality, the advance of which has been the dominant theme in American history.