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Honest Abe is good with context

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Illustration by Flor Barajas | Staff Illustrator

A quick Google search is all you need to find a comprehensive list of blog posts exposing the true nature of some of the world’s most impactful people such as Dr. Martin Luther King, and, particularly, his response to a kid who asked for advice about his gay thoughts which would have King crucified in today’s atmosphere.

Or the even more popular argument that any Founding Father or president prior to 1865 are not people to be celebrated because they owned slaves at one point in their lives. Although not every early president owned slaves, the claim is still likely made by United States citizens who depend on the constitution to enumerate their rights and be their leverage against governmental abuse.

What the “well actually” community misses is that our history books have made these people out to be god-like figures in our minds with their seemingly impossible triumphs. However, each person that is heralded as someone who made a fundamental change to our country was a human being with the same human characteristics as any person that walks the earth today. Since no citizen, pundit or politician alive today has all the right answers, why expect anything different from those of the past?

In reality, their problematic mindsets are not as far removed from that which is prevalent today. It is this post-facto application of the countries values to historical figures, that dampens the good legacy that should be acclaimed in order to propagate such values in perpetuity across generations.

Every human being is born into the status quo and is equally limited by its restraints on forward thinking. These historical figures had the foresight to affect change based on the world they lived in. Almost none of those people could have imagined what the world would be like a decade from their deaths.

That fact remains true today, because while we like to think that we are an open-minded society because we have a growing acceptance on non-traditional sexuality and gender, the future will call us closed-minded for the lack of empathy we have when we interact with Siri. That claim seems extreme now, but 300 years ago so did a black president.

It is okay to celebrate parts of a person’s legacy based on the size of their contribution to the world. Does that redeem slavery as a righteous practice? Absolutely not, but given the context of the society the individual lived in at the time, it does not negate the positive change they made to the world.

That is the fundamental difference between Abraham Lincoln’s ownership of slaves and Jefferson Davis’. Abraham Lincoln was willing to change his position on the issue, and did much more good for the country than he did damage by owning slaves. Jefferson Davis contributed nothing, only doubled down when the moral question was raised therefore his legacy promotes no values good enough to compensate for the damage he did to the country and deserves no praise.

– Carrington Tatum is an electronic media sophomore

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