You can’t erase racism from the history books

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State Rep. Kimberly Fiorello (R-149) was speaking in favor of SB 350, a law establishing June 16 as a holiday. But as she spoke, she showed a dangerous misunderstanding of this history.

Fiorello was among many lawmakers who spoke on the last day of the 2022 legislative session in support of a Connecticut holiday on June 19, the date in 1865 when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and informed the slaves that President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation had freed them. Only one legislator has spoken out against the holiday, opposing taxpayer funding of an additional paid day off for state employees. The bill passed 148-1.

Unlike every other speaker who supported the bill, including many black lawmakers who gave moving speeches about the significance of Juneteenth in the black experience and the historical significance of this emancipation day, Fiorello attempted to erase his darkness through his whitewashed version of the story. She objected to the focus on race, saying it was not about black history or race, but about equal treatment for all.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen a focus on race that I think is unhealthy,” she said.

Since his first election in 2020, Fiorello has always had this attitude, voting against all bills that address racial disparities. Last year, for example, she voted against a bill that acknowledged racism was contributing to a public health crisis in Connecticut. She called the bill, which passed by a bipartisan vote of 114 to 33, “reprehensible.”

“This bill tells the world … that the state of Connecticut has a problem with racism in its public health,” she told “Fox & Friends.” “To me, this is a critical theory of race in our laws.”

Fiorello began his June 19 speech with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, using it as a springboard for alternate history. The U.S. Constitution required compromises, she said, regarding the Three-Fifths Compromise which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person. She claimed that this compromise was in the service of freedom, ultimately leading to the recognition of slaves as full people.

In truth, slaves had no rights, but were counted as three-fifths of a person for tax purposes and, importantly, for the representation of the slave state in Congress. This compromise not only gave the slave states more congressional seats and electoral votes, but also allowed for the expansion of slavery.

In Fiorello’s alternate history, the Three-Fifths Compromise was finally settled in favor of slaves during the Civil War when Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address in 1863. Lincoln freed the slaves, making them people apart whole, end of racism. No mention of the need for the 13th, 14th and 15th Reconstruction Amendments, nor of the reaction of Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan, the burning of black schools and churches, the lynching, the separate but equal laws which continued for another century, racism that continues today.

The backlash against Fiorello’s astonishing claims was swift. Lawmakers, white and black, weighed in.

Rep. Christine Palm (D-36) felt compelled to set the record straight, pointing out that the three-fifths compromise lacked the humanity that Fiorello claimed for it. Palm called this fact of our history unpleasant, ugly and true, also pointing out the truth that our founders only aimed at white landowners in their reference to all men as equals.

“Hearing people talk about disparity and discrimination and saying it has nothing to do with racism really breaks the hearts of some of us who are going through these disparities,” said Rep. Anthony Nolan (D-39) .

Fiorello’s whitewashing of the Three-Fifths Compromise and erasing of racism from the American historical narrative is consistent with a MAGA-inspired national agenda to censor truthful teaching about slavery and racism. This is happening in legislatures and school boards across the country.

The June 19 debate deepened our understanding of American history, alerting us to the racist danger of Fiorello’s narrative and committing us to the need to address the unfinished business before us, the traditional hearing of Lincoln’s appeal. at Gettysburg.

“This bill is an acknowledgment of how far we’ve come,” said the last speaker, Rep. Jason Rojas (D-9). “But sadly, this bill is also an acknowledgment of all that we need to do, and with that, I urge its passage.”

Alma Rutgers served in the government of Greenwich for 30 years.

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