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Ta-Nehisi Coates Thoroughly Debunks John Kelly’s Narrative About the Civil War and Robert E. Lee

Chief of Staff John Kelly’s claim that the Civil War occurred because of a “lack of an ability to compromise” has spurred a lengthy thread from Ta-Nehisi Coates. The award-winning author dug up plenty of proof for why Kelly’s statement simply isn’t true on Monday, Oct. 31 and historians have also chimed in.

After rattling off a list of literal compromises the government came up with — like the Missouri Compromise, which allowed for Maine to become a state as long as it was based on enslavement — Coates examined Abraham Lincoln’s compromise.

Coates cited historian David Blight’s argument the country was reunited through a compromise with white supremacy. Blight broke down the constructed memories of the war in his book, “Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.

After noting how easily accessible all of this war information is, Coates said the Black people living at the start of the battle were aware of how wrong enslavement was. Throughout such tweets, he blasted Kelly’s comparison of the institution against today’s standards.

“I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man,” Kelly said on CNBC. “He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today.”

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Cue Coates to poke holes in that comment about General Lee, too.

Coates also clarified that seceding states wanted to expand their rights to enslavement. Then, he blasted those who participate in Lost Cause mythology.

As Coates spent the morning defending and sourcing his tweets, historians — including David Blight himself — have sounded off on Kelly’s remarks.

“This is profound ignorance, that’s what one has to say first, at least of pretty basic things about the American historical narrative,” Blight told The Washington Post. “I mean, it’s one thing to hear it from Trump who, let’s be honest, just really doesn’t know any history and has demonstrated it over and over and over. But Gen. Kelly has a long history in the American military.”

“That statement could have been given by [former Confederate general] Jubal Early in 1880,” said Stephanie McCurry, professor of history at Columbia University. “What’s so strange about this statement is how closely it tracks or resembles the view of the Civil War that the South had finally got the nation to embrace by the early 20th century.  It’s the Jim Crow version of the causes of the Civil War. I mean, it tracks all of the major talking points of this pro-Confederate view of the Civil War.”

And actor Wendell Pierce simply had this to say.


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