Century Marks

Century Marks

Terrorizing churches

In the week following the shooting of nine people at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, there was a rash of fires at black churches  in North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee. The symbolism is haunting: going back to the Civil War, burning black churches is a direct attack on an institution at the center of African-American life. A string of black church arsons in the 1990s led President Clinton to form a church-arson investigative task force. Congress passed a law in 1996 that increased sentences for church arsonists, especially for arsons associated with race and ethnicity (Atlantic, June 25).

True stories?

Storytelling is a collaboration between teller and listener. Listeners want a good story, so they give license to a storyteller to embellish the truth. But historians and journalists don’t have that kind of freedom with the facts, as NBC newscaster Brian Williams discovered when it was revealed that he was embellishing stories about the dangers he faced covering the Iraq War. Historian James McWilliams says that misremembering the past isn’t that unusual, especially when it has to do with our own memories or with war. Historians too use their imaginations and creativity to re-create a narrative from the past, going beyond the merely factual (American Scholar, Summer).

Perspective on race

In the aftermath of the Charleston shootings, Chad Williams, a professor of African and Afro-American studies at Brandeis University, put together an extensive bibliography on American race relations. The list includes sections on the history of the South, slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Confederate flag, white supremacy, race and religion, racism in the North, and the civil rights era.

Gay in Russia

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage sparked a renewed debate in Russia over gay rights. One Russian legislator suggested that Russia should block Facebook users’ ability to decorate their profile pictures with the rainbow flag of the gay rights movement.  Many Russians had added a rainbow image to their photos. Opponents immediately came up with a counter move, superimposing a Russian tricolor flag on the photos. One legislator suggested Russia should adopt the now defunct American policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Russian culture remains highly homophobic. Hardly any public figures have come out as gay. President Vladimir Putin signed a law in 2013 banning the promotion or display of homosexuality in front of minors (AFP).

Instrument of peace

As an act of resisting the violence in Iraq, Karim Wasfi has been playing his cello at the site of bomb explosions across Baghdad. Wasfi, conductor of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra, says that “the other side chose to turn . . . every aspect of life in Iraq into a battle and into a war zone. I chose to turn every corner of Iraq into a spot for civility, beauty, and compassion.” A deadly explosion in his own upscale neighborhood nearly killed him. Videos of Wasfi playing in the rubble left by bombings can be seen on YouTube (NPR, June 8).