A colleague shared the video below with me many moons ago, thinking (rightly) that I might appreciate it. I decided to post it but apparently got interrupted, and lingered in my “drafts” folder until today.
I remembered it today when I ran across a video of a reporter at an NRA rally in the South interviewing a gray-haired old fellow wearing a confederate flag tee shirt. The reporter remarked that some people viewed that flag as a racist symbol. The man countered that it was a symbol of “our heritage.” The report pointed out that slavery was part of that heritage. Was the man for or against slavery? The man replied: “No comment.”
Well, in the string of comments on the video I found a link to a speech delivered by the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens–a response to principles laid out by Abraham Lincoln in his First Inaugural Address. Here is the core of Stephens’ argument as put forward in his famous “Cornerstone” speech:
The prevailing ideas entertained by [Thomas Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”
Our new [Confederate] government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
This intellectualized racism triggered in me the memory of Nikky Finney’s speech, which had lain so long in that drafts folder. How lucky I feel to have rediscovered it! It stands as a powerful rebuttal to Stephens’ racist construct, which underpinned the Confederacy’s rebellion, just as it underpins the notion of “heritage” trumpeted by confederate flag tee shirts.
In any case, I have to echo the comment made by John Lithgow, host of the event, after Finney completed her remarks: “That was the best acceptance speech for anything that I’ve ever heard in my life.”