PITTSFIELD

The late New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said: "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." Thus, while Phil Robertson of "Duck Dynasty" is constitutionally entitled to express his opinion about his perceived lack of "mistreatment of any black person" in Louisiana where he grew up in the 1940s and ‘50s, he is not entitled to be believed that his opinion is a fact in the face of overwhelming, irrefutable and clear evidence to the contrary.

This is not a story of whether Robertson had a constitutional right to make this statement. Nor is it a story about whether it was politically correct for him to make this comment. The story is that Robertson egregiously misstated the facts of an important era in this nation’s history and that he should have been called out for this by the media, historians and our political leaders.

This period was the height of the Jim Crow era and the violent, murderous fight by its supporters in an attempt to preserve the separation of the races as a means to treat black persons as inferiors. The knowledge of the facts of this era in America’s history is important for Americans to understand themselves and their society.

Ironically, it was Robertson’s home state of Louisiana that led to legally recognized segregation in America. Louisiana’s Jim Crow laws separated train travel for blacks and whites, as each had to travel in segregated cars.


Advertisement

Homer Plessy, a shoemaker who was 1/8th black, was active in a group in New Orleans fighting to strike down segregation laws. Plessy, who could pass for a white person, volunteered to buy a ticket for a train car for whites only. After he took his seat, he got up and declared that he was black. He was taken off the train and later fined $25.

His case eventually was heard by the Supreme Court and decided in 1896 when the court upheld the Louisiana state law and thus established the doctrine of separate but equal facilities as being constitutional. This case legitimized Jim Crow laws that were enacted in the southern states and enforced until the court in the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education overruled the Plessey case. Chief Justice Earl Warren forcefully made the point that separating the races pins a badge of inferiority on black persons.

Louisiana, along with the other southern states, passed laws ranging from prohibiting black and white children from playing games together to segregating drinking fountains, restrooms, theaters and other similar facilities for black and white use. Black voters were given difficult literacy tests (such as reciting the entire Constitution) before they could vote. A poll tax, which many black voters could not afford, was imposed to keep them from voting. In addition an unwritten code of behavior between the two races was established. For example, whites addressed an adult black as "boy."

In a recent "All In" MSNBC television show, the host, Chris Hayes, interviewed a black woman and writer who grew up in Louisiana in this era. She said that blacks were expected to show deference to whites. They, according to her, were not supposed to look directly at white persons.

She also told the story of a gas station encounter by the father of Boston Celtics basketball star Bill Russell. His father stopped, she said, to buy gas, but he was made to wait while white drivers who arrived after him were served before him. Then becoming angered at this delay, he tried to leave the station, but the owner aimed a shotgun at him and told him to wait until it was his turn to be served. Hayes remarked that it was a good thing that Russell’s father moved from Louisiana to California because of his and his son’s attitude toward the treatment of blacks, as they probably would not have survived in Louisiana and basketball fans would have missed seeing Russell play.

Unless Phil Robertson was living in a cave, cut off from all outside contact, it is beyond belief that he would have missed the much publicized story of the murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964. Robertson would have been 18 years of age. One has to also wonder how he could have missed the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Alabama that killed four young girls at their Sunday school class. These events were just the tip of the iceberg of all the lynching’s and murders of black persons that had previously occurred during the Jim Crow era.

There appears to be a movement to revise American history so as to erase the disgrace of slavery, segregation and the consequential racism that followed in this country. Last year there was a proposal in Virginia for a Confederate history month without mentioning slavery. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, the year before that, said that by the time he was in school in his state in the 1960s, the people of Mississippi never "thought twice about" segregation or integration.

The insidious effect of Robertson’s distortion of history is that "Duck Dynasty" is probably more popular with many Americans than history books.

Robert "Frank" Jakubowicz Is a regular Eagle contributor.