In addition to being the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War, this year also marks the 75th anniversary of the most wildly successful, poisonously syrupy and all-around trashiest justification for slavery produced in the U.S.: Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel Gone With the Wind. The continued popularity of such racist “entertainment” as this book and movie counters the myth, touted by President Barack Obama, that he has ushered in a “post-racial” society. Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, countering the “smug insistence that race is no longer a factor in our society,” pointed out recently that the result of the histories written in the war’s aftermath “has been to blur the reality that slavery was at the heart of the matter, ignore the baser realities of the brutal fighting, romanticize our own home-grown terrorist organization, the Ku Klux Klan, and distort the consequences of the Civil War that still intrude on our national life” (“A Conflict’s Acoustic Shadows,” New York Times, 12 April).
Atlanta will host Gone With the Wind celebrations once again this summer, billed as “a global pilgrimage to Atlanta.” On the occasion of the book’s 50th anniversary, the Atlanta area saw “Tara balls” ad nauseam, one of which was attended by then mayor Andrew Young and his wife, the only black people present amid the plethora of Confederate army uniforms. On that occasion, we wrote “‘Gone With the Wind’—50 Years of Racist Trash” (WV No. 407, 4 July 1986), excerpts from which are printed below.
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This book and the hugely successful movie based on it sprinkle “moonlight and magnolias” on one of the most brutal slave systems the world has ever known. The life of a slave meant backbreaking work from dawn to dusk; a slave’s child or spouse could be sold at any time; hunger was ever-present. The antebellum South was a totalitarian police state ever in fear of slave uprisings. This is the society Margaret Mitchell referred to as “glamorous,” writing at length about the happiness of the “childlike” slave and his devotion to his master. At one point, the novel’s heroine, Scarlett O’Hara, muses that “Negroes were provoking sometimes and stupid and lazy, but there was loyalty in them that money couldn’t buy, a feeling of oneness with their white folks.”…
Gone With the Wind, the novel, appeared in the mid-1930s in a period of unremittent lynch terror in the South, symbolized by the prolonged struggle to save the Scottsboro Boys from the hangman’s noose—while “liberals” like Franklin D. Roosevelt and the editor of the Atlanta Constitution opposed the anti-lynching law in Congress. The movie came out on the eve of World War II. The heritage of slavery and police-state oppression of blacks in the Jim Crow South belied American imperialism’s fraudulent claim to be fighting for “democracy” against Nazi racism. Gone With the Wind shined up the tarnished image of racist America and in this way furthered Washington’s mobilization for war. Attacks on the struggle for black rights have always accompanied the U.S. rulers’ preparations for war.
Margaret Mitchell worshipped slave society. She grew up in a period that saw the rebirth of the Klan with the hanging of the innocent Jewish businessman Leo Frank, framed for the murder of a white girl, a period when the Klan off and on ran the Georgia state government for years. Mitchell was a reporter for the Atlanta Constitution in an era when Georgia was trying to crush the life out of courageous black Communist Angelo Herndon. It says a lot about Mitchell that she was ten years old by the time her family broke the news to her that the South had lost the war!
Gone With the Wind is not just another trashy Harlequin romance, a piece of escapist fluff. It is about as politically innocent as D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, which openly glorified the Klan. It will take a third American revolution to truly finish the Civil War, set the record straight and relegate Gone With the Wind to the scrap heap of history. The cultural record of human emancipation will record this debunking with great relish.