It might seem that memory and heritage have lost their power to excite political action and are no longer the medium through which white supremacy is asserted. Yet Lost Cause mythology has never gone away and maintains its firm grip on the thoughts and emotions of many white Americans.
White children who were taught history lessons including information about racism experienced by African Americans demonstrated less biased attitudes toward African Americans than their white counterparts who received otherwise identical lessons that omitted those ‘pessimistic, unpatriotic’ teachings.
White backlash was never limited to the southern states. Vast and sudden changes after 1865—especially implied by the prospect of emancipating four million black people—stirred ugly counterattacks and racial backlash against the nation’s free black northern population.
Racism and oppression, like domestic terrorism, have deep roots in the United States. As modern Americans confront a seemingly endless barrage of racial violence and terrorism, the language associated with these crimes serves as an important marker of national values and beliefs.
While the response of the president was certainly unprecedented, the inclination to highlight violence on the Left, and especially violence from black Americans, is not. In the mid 1960s, as black activists engaged in a decidedly nonviolent struggle for justice, that same tactic appears.
By his own admission, film creator Gottlieb was able to spend most of his life in Silver Spring shielded from the community’s past that included widespread discrimination in the community’s businesses, public buildings, and housing. Even after completing the film, Gottlieb appears to have learned little about the substantial role racism played in shaping his community.