Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee were only the beginning. For anyone that believed American iconoclasm would stop once Confederate statues were removed or “contextualized,” they were rudely awakened last week after the Philadelphia Flyers decided to remove the Kate Smith statue in front of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia due to her “racist” recording history.
They first bagged it, then removed it. This action came on the heels of the New York Yankees banning her rendition of “God Bless America” from the seventh inning stretch. The team had been playing her version since 2001 following the September 11 attacks.
Smith, who died in 1986, was clearly another low hanging fruit. After all, she was born in Virginia and was called the “Songbird of the South” at the height of her popularity during World War II. She must be a racist. Smith recorded one “offensive song” in 1931, “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” and another for the 1933 musical Hello, Everybody, “Pickaninnay Heaven.” She also posed in an advertisement for a “mammy doll” in the 1940s. This was enough to boot her from public spaces and polite conversation, or more importantly, to lose the ability to enjoy her beautiful contralto voice at Yankee or Flyer games.
Not everyone bought the latest social justice crusade with even some traditionally leftist voices saying this went too far, but once the Reign of Terror begins, all vestiges of the ancien regime have to go. It’s almost as if these Dantonists are slandering Robespierre before they lose their heads, too.
One New Jersey town offered to take the statue, but the Flyers refused. Just like Confederate statues bulldozed by city governments, they must be removed from public site, or better yet placed in a junkyard.
We can shake our heads at the destructive tendencies of these social justice morons and their useful idiots in the public sphere, but the lesson is that reconciliation is no longer fashionable. The American education system has succeeded in in its goal of making presentism the dominant “historical” lens. Judge everything by fashionable present standards or off with your head!
It used to be that Northerners of all races and backgrounds would sing and write about the South in glowing terms. They weren’t duped into this position. They experienced it themselves and sought to capitalize on the dominant view of the American South, and black Americans loved the South as much as white Americans. Louis Armstrong’s “music video” for “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South” would be panned today for its “overt racism,” but Louis Armstrong and every actor in the video are African-American. They loved their home. Armstrong wasn’t forced to record this tune, and it was, in fact, one of his standards. Does that make him a racist?
Moreover, Smith wasn’t the only person to record “That’s Why Darkies Were Born.” African-American Paul Robeson performed the tune as well, and his version is perhaps better than Smith’s. Does that make him a racist?
Or how about the any other African-American musician that performed antebellum plantation tunes in the early to mid-twentieth century? Does that make them racist?
The point of reconciliation was to heal the wounds of the War and Reconstruction. Music had that effect, and because all American music is Southern music, Louis Armstrong’s South, not the modern interpretation of the region, is what dominated popular opinion in the mid-twentieth century. The Kate Smith disaster is what should be expected in our modern Orwellian society. American history cannot begin until about 1975. Everyone before that needs to be “contextualized” according to modern standards, if not marginalized or removed.
The point of history is to understand through the context of the time in which the actors lived. That cannot be done in our current political and social climate. But that is the objective. Slogans, chants, and platitudes have replaced real scholarship and understanding, and Kate Smith’s “God Bless America” is the latest victim. It doesn’t matter that Smith helped raise truck loads of cash for the war effort in the 1940s, or that she was instrumental in getting female African-American artists air time, or that African-American artists performed the same “racist” songs as Smith, or that her version of “God Bless America” was used in both the 1940s and early 2000s as a cathartic release, or that she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1982. Kate Smith committed the sin of being a woman of her time and for that she and her legacy must be punished or banished.
Unfortunately, this won’t end any time soon.