Barton and Civil Rights

by TFN

In TFN’s 2006 report The Anatomy of Power: The Religious Right and Political Power, we took a hard look at the career of pseudo-scholar David Barton and his efforts to provide a historical justification for making religion the basis for government policy.  Our conclusion:

His main accomplishment (has been) to provide a bridge between the secular and political world  of the Republican Party and the religious world of evangelicals.

Fast forward almost five years to present day, and Barton is now hard at work trying to bridge another gap — this one between the Republican Party and African-American voters. Barton is shopping a revised version of American civil rights history wherein the GOP is the champion of racial equality and Democrats defenders of racism. And guess who’s buying — the man who is preparing to headline a conservative rally at the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech this weekend: Glenn Beck.

But as is always the case with Barton, the story he tells is built on distorted history and half-truths. So says Julie Ingersoll, an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Florida:

Like Barton’s larger revisionist effort to develop and perpetuate the narrative that America is a “Christian nation,” the “Republicans-are-really-the-party-of-racial-equality” narrative is not entirely fictive. Some historical points Barton makes are true; but he and his star pupil Beck manipulate those points along with false historical claims in order to promote their political agenda.

Ingersoll points out that the case for this new right-leaning civil rights narrative is less than persuasive, to say the least. Barton focuses solely on southern congressional Democrats who opposed civil rights until 1964, and apparently has forgotten that a fellow Texan and a Democrat, President Lyndon Johnson, led the successful fight for tough civil rights legislation and enforcement in 1964. Johnson himself predicted correctly that this would lead many Southern Democrats to move to the Republican Party, but Barton also overlooks the subsequent “Southern strategy” used successfully by the Nixon and Reagan campaigns and, to this day, by many Southern politicians to exploit the race issue for their own political gain.

Ingersoll’s entire article on the Beck-Barton partnership is really worth a full read. And here are a few other articles on the controversy swirling around Beck’s attempt to “reclaim the civil rights movement” at this weekend’s rally:

“Glenn Beck’s rally cannot block nation’s path” (Rep. John Lewis in USA Today)

“Glenn Beck rewrites civil rights history” (CNN)

“Beck Rallies In Washington Undercut Church-State Separation” (Americans United for Separation of Church and State)

“Martin Luther King, Jr. Was a Social Justice Christian” (Rev. Jim Wallis on The Huffington Post)