Kate Smith, famous for “God Bless America,” has become the latest American to be jammed down the memory hole.
The singer, who died in 1986 at age 79, sang the semi-national anthem, most famously at baseball games, especially Yankee Stadium, which began regularly playing the recording during the seventh-inning stretch after 9/11. It invariably elicited tears and a sense of unified purpose.
But upon learning that Kate Smith sang a song called “Pickaninny Heaven” and “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” in the early 1930s, the Yankees announced an end to the tradition, as did the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team, which also removed a statue of her.
Smith’s indefensible renditions took place more than 85 years ago, when demeaning portrayals of blacks were common in Hollywood. The nation was not yet awakened to the toll exacted by institutional and cultural racism.
But for many blacks, the pain of second-class status is not so distant. It wasn’t until 1964 that the Civil Rights Act ended the Jim Crow era. The welfare system constructed by white liberals continues to hold millions of blacks in its patronizing grip.
Over the years, America has striven bumpily at times to live up to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream “that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
King’s fierce activism was tempered by his Christian faith. He talked of a land where all races lived side by side, not perpetually conflicted. It’s why radical leftists still see him as an Uncle Tom.
Leftists pour gasoline on racial animosity, encouraging segmentation for political purposes. Wielding critical race theory, a variation of Marxist class warfare, they tell us over and over that America is a uniquely sinful, irredeemable nation that must be destroyed and remade. The latest ploy is to demand reparations for slavery. Another is to accuse someone of “cultural appropriation” if they adopt a costume, custom, music or even a food associated with a different race.
Somehow, they overlook Democratic racism, such as the Ku Klux Klan’s and Jim Crow’s origins and the blackface adventures of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, who still hold office. Or Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, who schemed to eliminate “human weeds” such as black Americans from the population pool.
Newspapers and broadcasters love stories that inflame racial animosity and show how America falls short of its ideals.
The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen recently wrote a column, “Songs of our horrendously racist past.” Of Kate Smith, he wrote, “these episodes of recovered racism are useful. They are reminders of how indelibly racist America once was.” And part of the daily litany.
“We cannot enslave the present by forcing it to honor the dishonorable past,” he wrote. Which means that we have to keep beating ourselves up until our leftist cultural cops are satisfied, which means never.
Does Mr. Cohen subject those he loves to nonstop reminders of their shortcomings? Did Mr. Cohen himself ever do something that he now regrets? Should we remind him of it every single day? You know, out of love?
To be fair, Mr. Cohen notes that Kate Smith “did not write the racist songs she sang,” and that “she is at least once removed when it comes to racism.” He chided the Yankees themselves for taking eight years after Jackie Robinson’s debut to add their first black player, and noted that the Klan denounced “God Bless America” because it was written by a Jew — Irving Berlin.
Still, Mr. Cohen reveals his taste for radical conflict in his recollection of a 1970 pro-Vietnam War rally he attended in Washington. As Kate Smith sang “God Bless America,” protesters “waded through the Reflecting Pool on the Mall, smoking dope and hurling f-bombs her way. In one ear I heard Smith’s singing and in the other the proper profanity of a pissed-off generation. It was an extremely American afternoon.” Really? “Proper” f-bombs?
America is apparently only America when we’re brawling, with one side spewing profanities. That’s not just Mr. Cohen’s view. It’s the left’s vision for this country, but only until they fashion an all-powerful socialist government in which dissent will be a thing of the past.
Until then, as Saul Alinsky wrote, the “agitator” must “first rub raw the resentments of the people of the community; fan the latent hostilities. To agitate to the point of conflict.”
Kate Smith, who sang for American troops during World War II, raised millions in war bonds, and was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan, gave an impassioned plea against racism in 1945, saying, “Race hatreds — social prejudices — religious bigotry — they are the diseases that eat away the fibers of peace. Unless they are exterminated it’s inevitable that we will have another war.”
Rubbing salt into old wounds and damning the likes of Kate Smith benefits only those who want to fundamentally transform America into something else.
• Robert Knight is a contributor to The Washington Times.
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