Losing history

I’m not ancient, but sometimes I really feel like it. Such as when I was explaining to someone recently that the legal notion that a woman’s body was the property of her husband, rather than herself, was still fully active in U.S. law only 35 years ago (and that some vestiges of that notion still survive in the law today).

I remember when I was in junior high school people were still quoting parts of the Bible (that had been previously used to justify slavery) to argue against civil rights laws to protect racial minorities. The federal civil rights act had been passed some years before, but politicians and activists were still openly arguing that some races were inferior to others — and they were using the Bible to justify it.

One such politician ran as a third-party candidate for president in 1968 on an explicitly racist platform and won several states. He softened his proclamations when he ran again in 1972, but his compaign speeches had enough racist “dog whistles” (including some biblical ones) that it was clear he was still appealing to racist voters. And he was doing very well in the democratic primaries, until a nutjob out five bullets into him in an attempt to assassinate him (and even then, he did well in the next two state primary votes while recovering in a hospital).

So it is disheartening to learn how many christian journalism students at a recent conference didn’t realize that when a speaker said the Bible had been used to justify slavery he was simply reporting a fact, and not even one from ancient history, but rather within his own lifetime.

Just because it didn’t happen on twitter doesn’t mean it is ancient history, totally inapplicable to the here and now.

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