Initial thoughts about Barton’s American History in Black & White

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Local Voices

Frank Fetters

Mr. Bob Malkas was kind enough to send me a copy of AMERICAN HISTORY
IN BLACK & WHITE by David Barton. Here are my first impressions:

1. There is much original research here that the author used in his attempt to prove his case and make his point. The book contains photographs, names and details that don’t seem to be found in many other places, and much of this information appears to be accurate.

2. The research appears to be extensive but not comprehensive. In addition to giving us information about famous Black people in history, like Richard Allen and Frederick Douglass, the author mentions people whom many of us have never heard of, like the Reverend Henry Garnet, who was the first African-American to deliver a sermon before Congress; and Joseph Rainey, the first African-American to be elected to Congress. I appreciate this information, but there are names which are conspicuously missing from his treatise. For instance, I do not find anywhere in this author’s report the name of Crispus Attucks, the first African-American to give his life in the defense of liberty [he was killed during the Boston Tea Party]; or Sojourner Truth, whose famous “Ain’t I Woman” is every bit as iconic as Frederick Douglass’s speech about the Fourth of July.

3. I do believe there is an important flaw in this work. The author wrote this book with a premise in mind even before the research began, which is exactly the opposite of how a scholarly work should be written. In academia, the approach is to let the research support a journey of discovery, not a foregone conclusion. In other words, it’s like a math problem: facts plus corroborating evidence create a logical conclusion. This is why, I believe, the connections that the author tries to make between what these people accomplished and the message he is trying to convey are somewhat tenuous and do not always point to the conclusions he says they do.

4. There is no doubt that the amount of research the author has done is considerable, but it is telling to me that the author has only a bachelor’s degree and nothing above that level. This is, to me, a signal that in academic circles the author is likely to be chastised for his faulty assumptions, and therefore, would never get his work approved.

5. The author does not believe in separation of church and state. I haven’t researched it enough, but I suspect that there is nothing in the historical records of the Founding Fathers to support his position; furthermore, I would suggest that we can find in three separate books of the Holy Bible [Mark 12 verses 13 through 17; Luke 20 verses 20 through 26; and Matthew 22 verses 15 to 22] the words of Jesus Christ: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” I believe separation of church and state is important because a monolithic government can — and has throughout history — led to authoritarian dictatorships.

6. One thing I find confusing, and it may get cleared up as I continue to read, is the author’s characterization of the two major parties in our political system. As he discusses Democrats and Republicans, it seems to me that a number of opinions and party positions get conflated throughout this history, as if the Republican Party always has and forever will be the party of Lincoln, and therefore, the party which all African-Americans should support, and the Democratic Party always has and forever will be the party of racist whites deeply committed to maintaining a second-class citizenship for African-Americans. We all know that, regarding race relations, the two parties switched roles after Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, when many people south of the Mason/Dixon Line (and many above it as well) switched parties because they disagreed with the tenets of the Civil Rights Act he signed.

As I stated previously, I am just beginning to study this book and learn its message, so I may be revising my opinion as I go. Thank you for your time.

Respectfully submitted,
Frank Fetters


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6 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you, Mr. Fetters. This is the point I was trying to make on an earlier post. I have not read the book (only excerpts), but I did read about the author, and your points #5 and #6 are very apparent in his writings. As someone who has read numerous books written by acclaimed historians, I’m not inclined to spend time reading Mr. Barton’s works, but look forward to more of your impressions.

    • Thanks for your feedback, Linda. When I think I’m the only one to see something, it feels like I’m either very insightful or very incorrect. So your validating what I think and feel is important.

      Frank

  2. Thank you Frank, especially for point 3. I love to learn, and will listen to all viewpoints.

  3. Frank, Linda, and Linda-Do a search for WallBuilder. it will lead you to more books on American history topics that I think you would find informative.
    There are two categories of historians: one records the facts that are supported by primary sources; the other askes you to believe the author’s interpretation of facts. Once you know this you can make a decision on who you believe is right.
    I have written a number of articles that are relevant that you could read. just do a search for Bob Malkas

  4. I have finished reading AMERICAN HISTORY IN BLACK & WHITE, and I want to make some final comments. While extensive research was done by the author, I do not view this book as a conclusive document about American history. I haven’t found any major errors in what the research documents, but I believe it is incomplete. And because the book strikes me as more of a political document designed to reinforce its foregone conclusion, that the Republican Party deserves to be seen as the “Christian” party, God’s party [as the author does not believe in separation of church and state] and Democrats, in contrast, have been evil and racist from the beginning and perhaps, right now as well. It doesn’t help that the copyright for the book is 2004. The years following 2004 have given us a Republican party that seems to be a personality cult instead of the Republican party that existed at the time of the book’s printing. I am an independent voter, having high regard for George H.W. Bush, who was Secretary of the Navy when I was in the Marine Corps, and his son, George W. Bush, who was the last Republican I ever heard say, “I’m a uniter, not a divider.” The current, “post-Trumpian” Republican Party offers me no assurance whatsoever that they prefer democracy to authoritarianism. And despite Republicans I deeply respect, like Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Adam Kinzinger, I feel a deep sense of despair when I consider where that party appears to be heading now, and if the nation goes along for the ride, I cannot imagine that as being any kind of a positive situation for most of us.

    I’m sorry. I am not trying to be pugnacious or overly critical, but the current status of this current Republican Party terrifies me.

    Sincerely,
    Frank Fetters

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