Alan Riquelmy: An honest history

I remember the first time I heard a public official publicly state that slavery was the cause of the Civil War.

I remember because it struck me that no one in my life up to that point, at any event that I’d attended — school or church or a random public function — could utter those words.

But, at a Veterans Day event in Grass Valley, I heard a member of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors say it clearly, unequivocally, and move on to the next topic.

It was a fact. No reason to harp on it. Say it, and get to the next thing.

If only some folks in the Deep South could get the memo.

Having lived in the South for most of my life, I’ve seen the stains a miseducation about the Civil War has left on people. It’s easy to forget about it most of the time, but then you pass a historical marker with the phrase “The War of Northern Aggression” printed on it, or someone expounds on why they celebrate Robert E. Lee Day, not MLK Day, and it all comes rushing back.

Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday made thoughts of the South surface. Embarrassingly, I only recently learned about the day. I was also never taught about the Tulsa race massacre in school.

And, not surprisingly, the Alabama schools I attended never mentioned that Helen Keller was a socialist.

But they loved to focus on the Lost Cause. Sure, slavery was a part of it, but look at all these other reasons for the War Between the States. Hand wave away the glaring truths, provide little context, and cherry pick quotations that seemingly reinforce the narrative that slavery wasn’t the root cause. Maybe then they can feel better about what happened and infect the next generation with a prettied up past.

No doubt Scarlett thinks it’s all doubleplusgood.

A history with the thinnest of glosses seeps into most every aspect of life in the South, like stains on your teeth from the chewing tobacco you just can’t quit. After the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting in 2015, leading state capitols across the South to start removing the Confederate flag, the pushback was enormous. Almost every stall at the flea market sold flags. People were keen to utter the phrase, “Heritage, not hate,” like a ward that would keep the reality of the situation away.

But the truth has a way of making itself known, pounding against the door of the eighth grade history class, no matter how many cotillions you attend.

Like the Civil War re-enactor telling a class of kids that slavery wasn’t the cause of the Civil War, this narrative continues to poison generations who then perpetuate the myth into adulthood. And, knowing this, how can you be surprised when the pushback continues, this time against the elevation of Juneteenth into a federal holiday?

They’ve been picking at Martin Luther King Jr. for decades, using his personal flaws as an attack against the movement he led. They’ve scowled at the Bloody Sunday remembrances and refused to leave their homes that weekend. They’ve voted against making Juneteenth a holiday, and paraded some reasons for doing so that are more transparent than a tatty dress from last year’s cotillion.

Even Scarlett won’t wear that thing anymore.

All of this is done in an effort to rewrite history and turn a despicable period of time into something worth honoring, whether it’s in the form of a statue in the town square or the book in your child’s hand.

We can’t have an honest conversation about how race has affected our nation’s history, we can’t get rid of the Confederate flag, we can’t admit that slavery caused the Civil War — because all of these things will remove the cheap gloss slopped over the history books and reveal the truth.

You can hear it now, knocking on the classroom door. It’s long past time someone answered it.

Alan Riquelmy is the editor-in-chief of the Sierra Sun and editor of The Union. He can be reached at and at 530-477-4249

Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User