The 'Between the World and Me' author argues the war was about slavery, not 'inability to compromise'

By Christian Holub
October 31, 2017 at 05:08 PM EDT
Paul Marotta/Getty Images; Win McNamee/Getty Images

Best-selling author Ta-Nehisi Coates isn’t happy with President Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly, who on Monday tried his hand at pontificating about history. In an interview with Fox News’ Lauren Ingraham, he said the Civil War happened because of “the lack of an ability to compromise.” Now, Coates is trying to educate the retired four-star Marine general — one of the more respected members of the scandal-plagued White House — deriding Kelly as someone who “believe in Santa Claus.” But he didn’t stop there, diving further into detail.

“Notion that Civil War resulted from a lack of compromise is belied by all the compromises made on enslavement from America’s founding,” Coates tweeted Tuesday as he began a now-viral Twitter thread. He continued, “I mean, like, it’s called the Three-Fifths Compromise for a reason. But it doesn’t stand alone. Missouri Compromise. Kansas-Nebraska Act.”

Coates is well-known now for his award-winning non-fiction book Between the World and Me (EW’s best book of 2015) and his recent Black Panther comics for Marvel. But first, he was a writer for The Atlantic, where he often wrote about history and the Civil War. Coates has been stressing for years how the Civil War was explicitly fought over slavery, not “states’ rights” as Confederate apologists often claim, and that this information is clear from historical primary-source documents. To demonstrate, he posted a link to Mississippi’s declaration of secession, the literal second sentence of which is, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world.”

Civil War revisionist history also applies to the most famous Confederate general, Robert E. Lee, who has recently become a focal point for renewed debates about the period. It was a pending removal of a statue of Lee that inspired white nationalists from around the country to rally in Charlottesville this summer, a violent display that ultimately killed counter-protestor Heather Heyer and injured many others. Though Lee is often praised for his “honor,” Coates reminded readers that he was a murderer who fought in defense of slavery. “Praising Bobby Lee as an honorable man is just sad. Like some kid insisting his deadbeat dad is actually a secret agent away on a mission,” Coates tweeted, sharing his Atlantic colleague Adam Serwer’s recent piece about Lee’s crimes.

Coates ultimately brought the discussion back to the critique of white supremacy, as a “dream” that many white Americans are lulled into, which he makes in his own books. His latest book, We Were Eight Years in Power, ends with an essay calling Donald Trump “the first white president.”

“Been a lot of hemming and hawing over the term ‘white supremacist.’ Fools who won’t be satisfied until Trump literally lynches someone,” Coates tweeted over a series. “But, like, when the ‘adult in the room’ believes a war for slavery was honorable… believes that the torturer of humans, vendor of people, who led that war was honorable … When that dude portrays a sitting member of Congress as some shucking and jiving hustler… When he sticks by that portrayal of a black woman, in the face of clear video evidence, when he has so descended into the dream… You really do see the effect of white supremacy.”

Check out selections from the Twitter thread below.

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