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Our Man in Olympia, Hans Dunshee, has a hang-up about the Confederacy. Back in ’02, Dunshee happened upon the Jefferson Davis Highway monument near Blaine. He raised a stink over memorializing a Confederate President and had the monument removed. It now sits on a tiny private plot that a local citizen bought especially for it.
No matter that Jefferson Davis was a reluctant Confederate President who had lobbied against secession. No matter that he fought for the U.S. in the Mexican War, was U.S. Secretary of War and a U.S. Senator and charted a route for a trans-continental railroad. Dunshee is down on Confederates.
Dunshee claims that any display of Confederate symbols expresses insensitivity to our Black population and its struggle to rise from the effects of slavery. They, too, might feel miffed if they took the time to think about it but this kind of symbol-mindedness apparently isn’t that big of a deal to them. They’re moving on.
You can find Jefferson Davis Highways across the south where sensitivity should be higher than among the blonde Icelanders and Dutch of Blaine. You’ll find Davis’ name on much of Virginia’s Route 1, State Route 58 and State Route 110. Louisiana marked U.S. 61, Highway 986 and Highway 76 as Jefferson Davis routes.
Most significant is the segment of U.S. Highway 80 from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, where Martin Luther King led a famous voting rights march. Nobody got upset that it was and is officially part of the Jefferson Davis memorial Parkway. If Davis’ name on a piece of roadway should raise a stink, that would be the place. But it didn’t happen. Possibly because Hans Dunshee wasn’t there.
Dunshee has struck again. When he visited a political forum held at Marysville’s A&T High School in October, he spotted a Confederate flag. If an obscure highway marker set him off, imagine his agitation at finding a Confederate battle flag in a public school. The flag was one of 33 historic flags being used as props for a special presentation on American History.
The presenter was Hugh Fleet, Telecom Manager for Marysville Schools. Fleet is a veteran of Vietnam, a proud citizen, father of three graduates of M-PHS and one from Lake Stevens High. History is his passion but when Dunshee complained to the Superintendent and School Board, causing the flag to be removed, freedom of speech became the issue.
Was the Confederate flag objectionable? Consider that Fleet’s program has been presented to the Navy League Convention, Snohomish and Everett Lions Clubs, Rotary, Boy Scouts — and get this — the NAACP. How did the NAACP react to the Confederate flag? It was a reminder of a dark chapter in history. The NAACP understands better than White people that you can’t cut-and-paste history to make it pretty. It is what it is. They loved Fleet’s American History lesson. The Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham, Alabama, doesn’t shy away from Confederate Flags. History is history.
Fleet’s flags aren’t strangers to the school scene. He has been invited by schools to put on his program for 24 years, four times at Marysville Middle School and various showings in schools at Stanwood, Mukilteo and Everett. It is especially interesting that Marysville’s former Black superintendent, Linda Whitehead, thought Fleet’s flag-based history lesson was so inspiring that she arranged for him to put on a special program for the School Board.
Today’s Board was reacting to a 2004 misuse of Confederate flags in which White racist students at MPHS used the symbol of the Old South to intimidate Black students. That was a racist crime that in no way relates to the educational use of Confederate or even Nazi flags. They simply cannot be banned from education. It is necessary that negative historical symbols and happenings be presented if history is to be honest and complete.
It is the issue of editing history that causes M-PHS’s American and World History texts to sit on my desk. The academic world knows how deeply flawed they are. Textbooks are published for profit so any company aiming to market textbooks to public schools has to make them palatable to the most conservative critics. So there isn’t a text on the market that doesn’t sanitize American history, avoiding or glossing over our many domestic and international misdeeds.
States like Texas allow only one American History text for all schools. By the time state review committees are done with a book, everything that might grate on anyone’s sensibilities is expunged. The result turns out to be not a frank display of history but a retreat from reality.
The intent of sanitizing history is to graduate another generation of students who believe that we wear the white hats and can do no wrong. Not having been exposed to the complete and honest history of our nation, high school graduates cling to the Great American Myth. It misguides their voting and their view of the rest of the world.
As to Representative Dunshee, we elected him to go to Olympia to make laws and establish state budgets. His job description does not include using his official status to twist arms and ban display of historical relics of our unfortunate Civil War. He can, however, write letters as a citizen, like you or me, expressing displeasure with this or that, but he should not exercise his political clout to tweak local details of what he personally views as politically incorrect.
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