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November 2010, Week 2

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Fri, 12 Nov 2010 23:54:45 -0500
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Thanksgiving . . . But Who to Thank?

by William Loren Katz 
Submitted to Portside by the author

November 12, 2010

Thanksgiving remains the most treasured holiday in the
United States, honored by Presidents since the Civil
War when Abraham Lincoln used to stir northern
patriotism. Thanksgiving has often served political
ends. In 2003 President George Bush flew to Baghdad,
Iraq to celebrate Thanksgiving Day with U.S. troops. He
brought a host of media photographers to capture him
carrying a glazed turkey to the troops. He flew home in
three hours, and soon after TV brought his act of
courage and generosity to Americans. But the turkey he
carried to the soldiers in Baghdad was never eaten. It
was cardboard, a stage prop . . . Thanksgiving as a
photo-op.

Baghdad in 2003 had a lot in common with the origin of
Thanksgiving. In 1620 149 English Pilgrims aboard the
Mayflower landed at Plymouth and survived their first
New England winter because Wampanoug people brought
them corn, meat and other gifts. Then in 1621 Governor
William Bradford of Plymouth proclaimed a day of
Thanksgiving - but not for the Wampanoug saviors but
his Pilgrims. His Christian settlers had staved off
hunger through their courage, resourcefulness, and
devotion to God, that was his spin. To this day most
politicians, ministers and educators describe this
First Thanksgiving as the Governor did.

Bradford's fable is an early example of "Eurothink"  --
another example is "Columbus discovered America" -- an
arrogant lie that casts European conquest as progress.
European settlers saw Native Americans -- who were
neither Christian nor white -- as undeserving. The
heroic European scenario of school texts rarely has
room for others.

Bradford claims Native Americans were invited to the
dinner. Really? Since Pilgrims classified their dark
neighbors as "infidels" and inferiors, if invited at
all, they would be asked to provide and serve and not
share the food.

English military power pushed westward after 1621. In
1637 Governor Bradford, without provocation, dispatched
his militia against their Pequot neighbors. As devout
Christians locked in mortal combat with heathens,
Pilgrim soldiers assaulted a village of sleeping men,
women and children. Bradford rejoiced: "It was a
fearful sight to see them frying in the fire and the
streams of blood quenching the same and horrible was
the stink and stench thereof. But the victory seemed a
sweet sacrifice and they [the militiamen] gave praise
thereof to God."

Years later Pilgrim Reverend Increase Mather asked his
congregation to give thanks to God "that on this day we
have sent six hundred heathen souls to hell."

School texts still honor Bradford. The 1993 edition of
the authoritative Columbia Encyclopedia [P. 351] states
of Bradford, "He maintained friendly relations with the
Native Americans." The scholarly Dictionary of American
History [P. 77] said, "He was a firm, determined man
and an excellent leader; kept relations with the
Indians on friendly terms; tolerant toward newcomers
and new religions . . . ."

The Mayflower, renamed the Meijbloom (Dutch for
Mayflower), continued to make history. It became one of
the first ships to carry enslaved Africans to the
Americas.

Currently Thanksgiving celebrates not justice or
equality but aggression and enslavement. It affirms
racial beliefs that led to the world's worst genocide
-- the wanton destruction of tens of millions and
ancient cultures.

It's time for a different American Thanksgiving. I
suggest one that honors the American continent's
freedom-fighting tradition that ended European colonial
rule. This began a century before the Mayflower landed,
and it leading figures were enslaved Africans and
Native Americans who fled their chains. Thousands
united in "maroons" settlements creating an alternative
society to colonial tyranny and slavery. As early as
1605 red and black men, women and children had formed
the Republic of Palmares, a great three-walled city in
northeastern Brazil and it grew to 11,000 people. To
survive it fought off dozens of Dutch and Portuguese
armies, and lasted until 1694.

The freedom-fighters of Palmares left no written
record. But their ideas of liberty, equality and
justice surfaced again on July 4, 1776.

[William Loren Katz is the author of forty U.S. history
books. This essay is adopted from his Black Indians: A
Hidden Heritage. His website is www.williamlkatz.com ]

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