History obviously isn’t one of Gov. Paul LePage’s strong points.

In  a radio interview Tuesday, LePage took issue with U.S. Rep. John Lewis’ decision to boycott the presidential inauguration because he doesn’t consider Donald Trump “a legitimate president.”

The governor then proceeded to deliver a mangled history lesson to the civil rights leader who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and wound up with a fractured skull during the famous march in Selma, Alabama.

LePage told Bangor’s WVOM, “I will just say this, John Lewis ought to look at history. It was Abraham Lincoln who freed the slaves. It was Rutherford B. Hayes and Ulysses S. Grant who fought against Jim Crow laws. A simple thank-you would suffice.”

Colby College history professor Robert Weisbrot said Lewis, “one of the great Americans of our time,” doesn’t need a history lesson. “The very notion is foolish.”

Bates College history professor Margaret Creighton said the governor “is basically wrong on all three counts” and offered to provide him with a brief tutorial on the Civil War and Reconstruction period of the nation’s past.


Rachel Talbot Ross, state director of the NAACP in Maine, said it also would “welcome the opportunity to correct the governor’s historical assessment of the Civil Rights Movement.”

In a statement released Tuesday, she said it is unfortunate that LePage “felt it was right to revise that history and disparage a congressman who, through his sacrifices, gave so much to ensuring our basic rights.”

Lewis became a focal point for opposition to Trump following his statement on “Meet the Press” in part because the president-elect tweeted that Lewis was “all talk, talk, talk — no action or results. Sad!”

Weisbrot, a scholar of the civil rights era, said Lewis was actually “all action” and put his life on the line repeatedly for the cause.

“The deeds are what make him so admirable,” Weisbrot said.

Creighton said LePage’s radio commentary managed to get everything wrong.


To begin with, she said, the Republican Party that began as an ally for African-Americans in the 19th century isn’t the same GOP today.

But looking only at what happened during and soon after the Civil War, LePage missed the mark as well.

Creighton said Lincoln, admirable as he was, did not free the slaves. Though he was an enemy of slavery, he didn’t initially think slaves should become citizens, preferring instead to entertain the idea of transporting them to Haiti, Central America or Africa, she said.

What changed Lincoln’s mind, she said, were the persistent arguments by African-Americans such as abolition leader Frederick Douglass who convinced him that deporting former slaves was a repugnant plan.

She said the prodding and poking of African-Americans — and the blood they shed once allowed into the Union armies in 1863 — convinced Lincoln of the necessity of emancipation.

Lincoln deserves credit for listening and taking heed, Creighton said, but it’s simply untrue that he freed the slaves. For that, it took armies and arguments, with African-Americans anything but passive recipients of the white leader’s choice.


The Jim Crow laws that LePage said Hayes and Grant fought as presidents weren’t even enacted until after the end of Reconstruction in 1876. Over the next couple of decades, Southern whites imposed a whole series of laws that limited the rights of black Americans.

Weisbrot said he might give a little credit on an exam anyway because both Hayes and Grant led the Union forces during the war, in a sense fighting against the mindset that later imposed Jim Crow on Dixie.

But that’s a stretch.

Hayes, who took office in 1877 after losing the popular vote in the 1876 election but striking a “corrupt bargain” with Southern Democrats, is actually the president who pulled northern forces out of the South and left it in the hands of white supremacists, both professors pointed out.

They held power, employing Jim Crow laws, for nearly a century to follow.

“Jim Crow didn’t die until people like John Lewis killed it,” Creighton said.


LePage’s mistaken commentary won’t soon be forgotten.

“The ripple effects of this insult reverberate far beyond Maine’s African-American community,” Ross said. “It’s a painful reminder to every person in Maine and those nationwide that the fight for equal rights and dignity continues.”

Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport said it was an understatement to say she was “disturbed by the latest tirade regarding the Civil Rights Movement by Gov. LePage.”

“This disparagement of others does not represent who we are as Mainers. I implore the governor to take the time to reflect on why he has, yet again, crossed the line,” Gideon said in a prepared statement.

“Our openness and welcoming spirit are part of what makes Maine such a special place,” she said. “This divisive rhetoric casts a shadow on our work here in Augusta and our reputation in the country.”

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