By Joy-Ann Reid
While hundreds of thousands of Americans converge on the National Mall to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this weekend as the president dedicates a memorial to the slain civil rights leader, Rick Perry, the newly minted Republican Party presidential front-runner, will be attending a retreat with a man who believes King deserves no such honor.
The “call to action” retreat, reported by Politico’s Jonathan Martin earlier this month, will be hosted by a prominent San Antonio doctor, Jim Leininger, and his wife Cecilia. Among the co-hosts of the Fredericksburg, Texas event, which is being called a “get together to discuss the 2012 election,” rather than a fundraiser, will be David Barton, the founder of the evangelical Christian group WallBuilders.
It’s ironic that Perry will be spending the day before the King memorial dedication with a man who has said that King does not deserve credit for the revolutionary changes in civil rights law that took place in the 1950s and 60s.
Barton was among a group of Texas conservatives who in 2010 sought to revise that state’s textbooks to promote their view that the notion of a constitutional separation of church and state is a myth, and that students should be taught a version of American history that blends theology with themes of a constant clash of civilizations between Christians and Muslims. According to a Washington Monthly article in January 2010, Barton, the former head of the Texas Republican Party, and Peter Marshall, who the article described as “a Massachusetts-based preacher who has argued that California wildfires and Hurricane Katrina were God’s punishment for tolerating gays,” had even more ideas in mind when they testified before the Texas Education Assembly. Per the Washington Monthly:
Barton and Peter Marshall initially tried to purge the standards of key figures of the civil rights era, such as César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall, though they were forced to back down amid a deafening public uproar. They have since resorted to a more subtle tack; while they concede that people like Martin Luther King Jr. deserve a place in history, they argue that they shouldn’t be given credit for advancing the rights of minorities. As Barton put it, “Only majorities can expand political rights in America’s constitutional society.” Ergo, any rights people of color have were handed to them by whites–in his view, mostly white Republican men.
Both men are described in the Washington Monthly article as “self-styled historians,” with no actual training in the discipline. Barton has been featured the resident “historian” at events and on the radio and former Fox News television program of right wing gadfly Glenn Beck.
Barton’s views on race are unusual, to say the least. He has promoted the notion that slavery was “forced” on America by the British, and that even so, slavery was allowed by God because it is the wages of societal sin.
He has said that black Americans should seek reparations for slavery, but only from the Democratic Party. And in 1991, Barton twice spoke to groups associated with the white supremacist group Christian Identity.
One wonders what he and Perry and their other conferees will discuss if the issue of race comes up at that Texas retreat.