Today, I read a Facebook post by a Missouri State Representative, Randy D. Dunn, in which he said that “The House was preparing to pass a bill honoring a man who’s [sic] wife, upon his encouragement wrote a book with the language below in dedication to him. Following my reading of the excerpt from the book on the House floor the bill was laid over.”
The man was Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, whom I had not heard of, so, of course, when I got home from work I consulted the oracle, Google, to gain more knowledge.
Schoolcraft was born in New York state, lived from 1793 to 1864, and did a few things, like publish a six-volume commissioned study called Indian Tribes of the United States. He was a geographer, a geologist, and an ethnologist. His first wife was of mixed-race — Scots-Irish and Ojibwe. She died in 1842.
Schoolcraft remarried in 1847 – this time to a slave-owning woman from South Carolina. Apparently, she spoke a lot about her life on the plantation, and he suggested she write about it. She did, publishing the novel, The Black Gauntlet: A Tale of Plantation Life in South Carolina in 1860. The linked excerpt above is from her dedication to her husband for encouraging her to write her memories, and in this whole dedication, while she thanks him the encouragement, she’s really talking about herself.
Are her words ugly? To my ears, to my eyes, to my mind, yes. But I cannot condemn a man’s life of achievement for the prejudice and bigotry of his second wife.
I’m not defending the words of an antebellum slave-owner; this happened to be a good example of a legislator taking something out of context to illustrate guilt by association: Schoolcraft the explorer must have harbored the same pro-slavery sentiment since he married a slave-owning woman.
Her words, her book’s dedication to him, surely proves it, because we instinctively understand the power of words.
We use words to build people up, we use them to tear people down. Once spoken, they cannot be unspoken. Once written, once printed, once published, they cannot be brought back to the barn — they belong to the universe.
Words taken out of context have been used over and over to smear, ridicule, and destroy. Few of us take the time to find the original quote or interview. Many of us simply accept what’s told to us, possibly because we trust the person providing the quote.
We are now living in a culture of “fake news” and “alternate facts,” and it’s become vitally important that we look beneath the shimmer and gloss to what lies beneath.
“We have met the enemy and he is us.” — Pogo