- - Thursday, June 18, 2020

Ignorance is dangerous.

Rioters defaced the statue of Matthias Baldwin outside of the city hall in Philadelphia. If only they had bothered to learn about his incredible life.

Baldwin was a successful owner of a company that made trains. He used part of his wealth to open a school in Philadelphia for black children during the 1800s. He personally paid for the salary of the teachers.

All throughout his life, Matthias Baldwin spoke out for the abolition of slavery in the United States. His beliefs were driven by his faith as a devoted Christian. His statements in opposition to slavery were used against him by his competitors in business when they tried to get business with railroads based in the South.

In 1837, Baldwin was a member of the Pennsylvania State Constitutional Convention. He voted against the exclusion of black property owners from the right of franchise. If only the vandals had known a thing or two about history. Instead of defacing his statue, they should be following his principled example.

Sadly, ignorance is not limited to rioters. Years ago, I was asked by a reporter what we were going to do about taking down Civil War monuments in Wisconsin. “Which ones,” I responded, “Lincoln or Grant?” Apparently it didn’t dawn on this reporter that our ancestors fought on the side of the Union and helped win the Civil War.

My state is filled with statues honoring President Abraham Lincoln and General and later President Ulysses S. Grant. Both men were fellow Midwesterners.

Ignorance is dangerous.

In Boston, vandals damaged the Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment Memorial with phrases including “No Justice, No Peace” and “Police are Pigs.” Ironically, the memorial features the likenesses of one of the first African-American volunteer infantry units that fought after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

In my state of Wisconsin, a group of people opposed to slavery came together in a school house on March 20, 1854. They suggested the name Republican for the new anti-slavery party. The first nominating convention was held later that summer in Michigan. Republicans opposed the expansion of slavery into the western territories.

Lincoln was the first nominee of the newly formed party. His Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves.

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — which banned slavery in the United States — was passed under Republican congressional leadership. With unanimous Republican support and against intense Democratic opposition, Congress passes the 14th Amendment, which gives former slaves citizenship and equal protection rights.

Ignorance is dangerous.

The media are a part of that ignorance. Several media outlets have referred to former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who infamously stood in the schoolhouse door to try and block black students from entering schools with white students, as a Republican. He was a Democrat.

So was former Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd from West Virginia. He was also a former Ku Klux Klan Exalted Cyclops. And he was the president pro tempore in 2010, when Democrats controlled the Senate.

And remember when former Vice President Joe Biden reminisced last year about civility in the Senate? The members he mentioned were both segregationists from the South. At the time, an NBC anchor said they were Republicans — but they were actually Democrats.

Ignorance is dangerous.

Speaking of Mr. Biden, he has some explaining to do. Recently released letters show Mr. Biden asking for the support of Sen. James Eastland, a Mississippi Democrat, for his bill that opposed busing to desegregate schools. Eastland was a leading symbol of Southern resistance to desegregation and he frequently spoke of blacks as “an inferior race.”

Mr. Biden, then a first-term senator, wrote to Eastland who was then the Judiciary Committee chairman, “Dear Mr. Chairman, I want you to know that I very much appreciate your help during this week’s committee meeting in attempting to bring my anti-busing legislation to a vote.” Mr. Biden also thanked Eastland for his “efforts in support of my bill to limit court ordered busing.”

During his first term, Mr. Biden also said about his opposition to court-ordered busing, “Unless we do something about this, my children are going to grow up in a jungle, the jungle being a racial jungle with tensions having built so high that it is going to explode at some point. We have got to make some move on this.” A New York Times report said that Mr. Biden “objected to the education department mandating desegregation absent a court order, and warned of white flight to the suburbs and even racial unrest.”

Democrats were the party of slavery, Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan, and anti-desegregation. Republicans were the party of Lincoln, Reconstruction, anti-lynching laws, and the civil rights acts. And vandals should actually learn about many of the leaders for equality and freedom that we honor in our memorials across America.

• Scott Walker was the 45th governor of Wisconsin. You can contact him at swalker@washingtontimes.com or follow him @ScottWalker.

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