Revisiting Some of History’s Most Controversial Figures
When assistant editor Kendra Hamilton mentioned this year marked the 150th anniversary of the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and suggested visiting the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford, Conn., I thought it could make for an interesting article. However, even I was surprised by how much I didn’t know about Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the true influence the book as well as the character Uncle Tom have had on this country and worldwide.
We in the Black community have used the term “Uncle Tom” rather loosely to refer to Blacks considered to be, using Kendra’s term, a “sellout.” Webster’s New World Dictionary defines “Uncle Tom” as “a Black regarded as servile toward Whites: a term of contempt.”
In the article, scholars shed light on the history and use of the term “Uncle Tom” and discuss the influence the book and its characters have had on contemporary culture as well.
Even if you’re not particularly a fan of the book or of its author Harriet Beecher Stowe, I think you will find the cover story, “The Strange Career of Uncle Tom,” to be enlightening and an eye-opener.
The article “Keeping Jim Crow Alive” also was an eye-opener. We did not plan for this article to appear in the same edition as the Uncle Tom piece, but we think it’s appropriate. Both articles take us back to a time and place that many of us would rather not go. Dr. David Pilgrim, curator of the Jim Crow Museum for Racist Memorabilia, said that some Black people have cried after visiting the museum and some White people have apologized on the spot. And although Pilgrim says the goal of the museum is to broaden the dialogue about race — not to trigger tears or feelings of guilt — it is difficult not be struck by the emotions people experience following their visit to the museum.
We spend a number of pages in this issue reflecting on historical figures, but many in the education community are looking forward following the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals recent decision that the University of Michigan’s law school policy of considering race in admissions is constitutional. More than likely, it is not the last we have heard about this case. Most legal scholars agree this case is on its way to the Supreme Court.
Regardless of whether you are pro- or anti-affirmative action, everyone has an opinion. Disturbing, however, is University of Texas law school professor Lino Graglia’s prediction should the case reach the high court: “The law and Constitution will have nothing to do with the decision. It will all be about individual judgments.”
Unfortunately, it is those “individual judgments” that have the potential to create laws that instead of protecting all have led to some of history’s most painful periods and controversial figures. They are the type of laws that supported slavery, bringing about the creation of an Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and the type of laws that sustained a Jim Crow era of segregation. But, most importantly, they are the laws that cannot be forgotten.
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