Toward the end of 2021, Fox News host, Howard Kurtz authored an article titled, “The Capitol Riot and Revisionist History: The Battle Over the Jan. 6 Legacy.” Kurtz’s title captures a very important battle in the conflict over how history gets remembered and recorded. Emerging from the work of Northwestern University alumnus and journalist Steven Saint Thomas, this work explores January 6, 2020, as an historical fact, and not as a romanticized fictious account.
University of Wisconsin – Madison Professor Emeritus, historian Dr. William L. Van Deburg, stated that a “‘fact’ is a verified happening.” Unfortunately remembering, describing, labeling, and recording historical facts is contestable. The one-year anniversary of the shocking and disturbing occurrence from January 6, 2021, serves as a prime example. Consider the following versions from a constellation of sources:
On that day last year, 800 patriots responded to an appeal from then President Donald J. Trump calling for Americans to ascend on the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C. Trump tweeted: “The BIG Protest Rally in Washington, D.C., will take place at 11.00 A.M. on January 6th. Location and details to follow. StopTheSteal!”
The rally sought to protest the November 2020 presidential election results that many viewed as rigged against the American people. “We’re storming the Capital,” as a result because, “It’s a revolution” stated “Elizabeth” from Knoxville, Tennessee who participated in the attack on the Capital.
Roughly one yar ago, a pro Donald Trump mob seized the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C. to oppose the certification of the November 2020 election. The MAGA crowd came from around the country to gather in D.C. to attend the Stop the Steal rally. The gathering turned violent and murderous as a mob of rioters seized the Capitol building. People climbed alongside the structure and overwhelmed ill-prepared law enforcement to take control of the building. Once inside, images captured the rioters ransacking offices and engaged in other thuggish behaviors. The domestic terrorism displayed in the madness on January 6th would, as the legendary, Hall of Fame hip hop group Public Enemy would say, “seems inconceivable,” in 21st century America.
Varying viewpoints of the historical is nothing new. Practices to control the historical narrative, however, include censorship, whitewashing, and making the ugly reality of America more palliative. A clear example is the adage that, “History is written by the victors.” When history is only viewed from the victor, “the danger of a single story” exists.
America’s colleges and universities, in fact, may welcome differing and opposing points of view as academic debates can lead to increased learning. Having or engaging in differing viewpoints of history is not merely an academic exercise nor recreational activity because “the danger of a single story” can significantly influence slant beliefs, actions, attitudes, and dispositions toward bias/erroneous perspectives related to the dominant view. Whatever the positionality, the stance must not be fiction or opinion, but rather rooted in creditability with supporting analysis and evidence.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the “Father of Black History,” knew its importance. Woodson’s work not only corrected the American historical record by including Blacks into the narrative, but also provided hope, aspiration, and confidence in a race of people ignored by history or portrayed as insignificant. Woodson poignantly captured the importance by stating that, “When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his 'proper place' and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door.”
Documenting the historical, therefore, must be an inclusive practice of the past so that an accurate recollection can occur.
Accurately capturing an essential episode in the history of the United States, what transpired on January 6, 2021, is critically important, particularly in an age where Critical Race Theory and other aspects surrounding the teaching of race in our educational system is under attack. Integrity, reliability, and dependability must be pillars in establishing a sturdy and trustworthy historical record that speaks to a complete truth. Educators, administrators, policy makers, and everyone involved in learning, recording, and sharing American history needs to prioritize the integrity and the facts of this historical event by not playing politics, but rather valuing factual truth with inclusivity.
Dr. Cornelius Gilbert is an is an assistant professor of educational leadership at University of St. Thomas.