Eric Foner Defines America

Jane Weir, American Renaissance, March 9, 2015

If you liked the Underground Railroad, you’ll love illegal immigration.

Here’s a conundrum you’ve heard before. Why aren’t black people protesting against immigration amnesty? Why aren’t all those outstanding African-American politicians shouting for deportation of illegal aliens until every native-born Person of Dark Color has a job? It appears there is an active campaign to persuade American blacks that they should be sympathetic to illegal aliens because they were once in a very similar situation.

The argument is contrived and harebrained, but it is being pushed by the popular, persuasive, very leftist history professor at Columbia University, Eric Foner.

On February 24, Prof. Foner spoke in Harlem at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a branch of the New York Public Library. He has just published a new book, a popular history on the Underground Railroad (Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad). After talking about the book for about an hour, Prof. Foner answered questions from the audience–most of them easy softballs. At the very end a hefty, elderly black woman stood up and asked one more question:

With all the stuff going on with Mexicans and immigration, I get a feeling this is a lot like what you been talkin’ about. So is there a parallel there, with immigration, and the Underground Railroad?

Prof. Foner absolutely beamed at this, as though he’d been hoping for it all evening.

“Yes, there is!” he agreed. “It’s people seeking a better life, and some people want to throw them out and some want to help. The parallels with the Underground Railroad are real. The people we admire now are the ones who tried to help these people. And I think a hundred, hundred-fifty years from today, we will see that. Looking back, [illegal immigration] will all look different!”

Whereupon somebody asked him why, if he felt that way, he doesn’t run for office. Prof. Foner replied, “I’m like Frederick Douglass, I don’t think I should take part in politics.”

I don’t know if the hefty woman and her “immigration parallel” question was a plant, but it was a perfect Eric Foner moment. His main field of study for the past 40 years has been the Reconstruction Era, but his specialty, his talent–and it is a real gift–is his ability to reframe history by subtly introducing outlandish, contrarian twists and points of view, so that he winds up standing traditional history on its head.

Of course, Prof. Foner does this to promote a political agenda. His retelling of Reconstruction is meant to instruct us that it was not really a tragic era of rapacious capitalists, carpetbaggers, scalawags and chaotic black-run state governments. That is the Reconstruction that historians now refer to as the Dunning School of history, after an early 20th-century historian, Prof. Foner’s long-ago predecessor at Columbia. It’s probably also the version you learned in grade school, and the Reconstruction you know from the films Gone With the Wind and The Birth of a Nation–which was released 100 years ago, when the horrors of Reconstruction were still living memory.

You may also have learned that this era of abuse and infamy from 1865 to 1877 ended only because Democrats agreed to swap the White House–their man Gov. Tilden had won the popular vote–if the Republicans would agree to withdraw Federal troops from the South.

Gradually, insidiously, Eric Foner has replaced this traditional telling of Reconstruction with the fable that Reconstruction was really a bright and wonderful thing. In fact, it should have gone on longer! We should have more of it today! This quite literally was the theme of his 1988 masterwork, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, as well a dozen other books and papers he’s written on the subject since 1970.

Eric Foner

Eric Foner

In Fonerland, the defeated Southerners were wicked people who deserved to be punished and impoverished. The key players of the Reconstruction South were not carpetbaggers and the other cliché scapegoats of the cinema, but rather the freedmen, the ex-slaves. Capable, industrious, and optimistic, these were neither victims nor political footballs. The ex-slaves were the new, natural political leaders of the era, striving to rebuild the South on the noble principle of free labor!

No one has had more fun with Eric Foner’s twisted history, perhaps, than Paul Gottfried. Speaking at the Mencken Club in 2012, he surveyed leftist-agenda historians in general, and soon came to Prof. Foner, whom he summed up with these crisp remarks:

[Foner’s] portraits of former slaves who oversaw state governments in the occupied South with a wisdom worthy of a philosopher king left me gaping with disbelief. For those who are not entirely hallucinatory or egregiously dishonest, such narratives should be open to question. Equally noteworthy is Foner’s demonization of any white Southerner who objected to the Reconstruction government. This author holds no brief for the complaints or misfortunes of defeated white Southerners. For those who were trampled underfoot after a lost war, Foner has about as much sympathy as he does for those who were destroyed by the Soviet experiment under Lenin and Stalin.

Writing in The American Conservative in 2009, Prof. Gottfried excoriated Prof. Foner’s history and political agenda at length, taking special note of the way he rewrites history to suit some current twitch or fad of “political correctness:”

Foner’s vision of American history comports with the political correctness favored by the Left today–indeed at times he seems less interested in Reconstruction than in reconstructing latter-day American society. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, this project has won him influential admirers among the Republican Party. But even as Foner invokes the legacy of slavery and other racial iniquities as pretexts for government-mandated “social justice” and sensitivity today, he has never had to say he was sorry that he and his family whitewashed the crimes of Stalin’s USSR.

Prof. Gottfried detects inconsistencies that no other critic seems to have noticed. The young Eric Foner was definitely and frankly a Red Diaper Baby; his father and uncle were Communist historians. But when it comes to the Civil War and Reconstruction, we cannot easily tag him as a “Marxist historian,” because the orthodox Marxist analysis of Reconstruction is very close to what you got from the traditional Dunning School–or from Birth of a Nation, or from a modern neo-Confederate such as Thomas DiLorenzo. Under the Marxist lens, Reconstruction was basically an economic and social rape of a defeated territory by northern capitalists, who plundered Southern commerce, tax revenues and the “freed slaves” to further their own interests. Thus, Eric Foner is a pro-capitalist of convenience, when his social agenda demands that we make heroes of carpetbaggers and scalawags.

At Harlem’s Schomburg Center on February 24, there were several instances of Prof. Foner’s didactic sophistry. His equation of illegal aliens to Underground Railroad and runaways was the most obvious and daffy, but there were others.

For example, anti-neo-Confederate writers accuse the Southern states of hypocrisy when they claimed to be in favor of States’ Rights but demanded that the Fugitive Slave Act be attached to the 1850 Omnibus Bill. That law, Prof. Foner declared, was the most “active and intrusive” instance of federal power ever enacted. “The South wanted vigorous federal intervention,” he said. “When South Carolina secedes and they issue this kind of declaration of complaints, the big issue is the number of slaves not returned.”

Why was the Fugitive Slave Act not a contradiction of States’ Rights? For one thing, this was the third federal law mandating the return of slaves. The first was in the Constitution, the second was in 1793. Furthermore, return of runaway slaves, or stolen property, from one state to another, is implicitly required by the “full faith and credit” clause of the Constitution.

In the 1840s, some Northern states (Massachusetts in particular) passed laws that interfered with or countermanded the return of runaways. These were arguably unconstitutional as they did not uphold “full faith and credit” of another sovereign state’s laws. That is why the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act was necessary: to override these legislative attacks by one state upon another. That slavery is widely regarded as distasteful is quite beside the point, and does not justify Prof. Foner’s dishonest characterization of a federal law.

Up on stage with Prof. Foner was a former student of his, a black historian named Leslie Harris, author of In the Shadow of Slavery. They chatted amiably about how wonderful a person, and what a fine historian each other was: a real love-fest. I’ve interviewed Prof. Foner in the past, and can attest that he is a very smooth and affable fellow. No doubt this is one reason why his revisionist history is so dangerous. You don’t see it coming; he’s not a firebrand. He’s taking your country from you, but doing it so smoothly that in another century you’ll look back and thank him.

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Jane Weir
Jane Weir is a former journalist and current (unpublished) novelist now living in New York City. She has been published in Punch, The Spectator, Food & Wine, and San Diego Home-Garden Lifestyles.
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  • Chip Carver

    Mr. Foner. No surprises. You would have to be the most ignorant or the disingenuous person to ever peruse this site to claim surprise at what this man says.

    • The news here is that he’s got a new game, and it’s not just more Reconstruction: the Sequel. More like Race Replacement: Part III.

    • Julius Caesar

      My current American history course at Illinois State University requires two of Mr. Foner’s textbooks for the class. The professor, a completely disingenuous Marxist, treats Mr. Foner’s books as THE definitive authority on American history. It’s disgusting, really.

      • bilderbuster

        Now you know how communist college professors rake in the big bucks.
        Professor publishes books that no one would ever buy or read. His colleagues across the nation make their students buy them for $200 a book.
        Professor updates or revises book every year so new students have to buy revised edition.
        They all do it.

  • Here’s a conundrum you’ve heard before. Why aren’t black people protesting against immigration amnesty? Why aren’t all those outstanding African-American politicians shouting for deportation of illegal aliens until every native-born Person of Dark Color has a job?

    Because their black leaders, black politicians, black activists and black preachers, aren’t egging them on to do so. And the reason for that is that black politicians, black activists and black preachers are more invested in the health of the Democrat Party than they are the well being of black people. And the Democrat Party is convinced that electing a new people via open borders, border surge and zero immigration enforcement is key to its health for the foreseeable future.

    • bilderbuster

      That and the old “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” rule also applies when it comes to hating Whitey.

  • Reynardine

    It’s pretty simple: blacks lack forward time orientation. If they had more of that, they’d be more pro-police (seeing the benefits that strict policing has on keeping black neighbourhoods from having a Ferguson Freak Out every weekend), anti-illegal immigration (which steals jobs from them), and pro-segregation (it would open up a range of jobs for blacks that currently they cannot compete for with White and Asian intelligentsia).

    They’re just too busy hatin’ whitey and getting da “it’s free, swipe yo EBT” handouts.

    • Whitetrashgang

      No, their 70ish IQs keep them to busy to think.

      • Reynardine

        Part of the IQ test actually involves temporal reasoning, at least when I took it it did. Since it’s a general intelligence test, I assume that specific intelligence tests would show that they lack even simple time-orientation (cf. the marshmallow test).

  • connorhus

    Met many a professor like this guy. Most of them were of a Feminist bent but that is probably because of the the time I was in grad school, the racist one’s were on their way up then too but hadn’t made themselves a position yet. They typically pick a very under studied period and then delve further into an even drier sub-section if that period to lessen the chance of a real expert tripping them up. They omit many facts to make their point and will grasp miniscule things they can twist around to promote their conclusions.

    Used to be the Historian community kept these types in check. These days they are running the joint.

    • Jason Lewis

      I bet most of those professors lived in a 98% white gated community and sent their kids to private schools?

      • LeonNJ

        For sure. The only racial diversity they enjoy and experience for themselves is when they turn on the tv and watch baseball.

        • bilderbuster

          Most likely at university functions where they meet the 1% percenters over wine and cheese.

    • Young Werther

      It is true.

  • Americaandthewestshouldbewhite

    These liberal professors who are smooth talking like snake oils salesmen are the most dangerous ones. Silent but very deadly.

    • John Smith

      This guy is an outright Marxist, just like his dad and the rest of his family of kosher immigrants from Russia.

      • Americaandthewestshouldbewhite

        Oh he is a semite?? did not know that.

        • John Smith

          It’s usually the case.

          • bv

            What is their sick need to destroy something that is already good? I can’t understand this twisted desire? Someone please explain it to me.

  • I found this on Occidental Dissent:

    “The Jewish historian Eric Foner explains how his family background in radical Jewish socialist politics influenced his imaginative “reinterpretation” of Reconstruction era. Naturally, his sympathies are with the Radical Republicans, whose project Foner callsAmerica’s Unfinished Revolution.”

    He’s a Bolshevik. He’s flipped the script, which is what they do. They’re driven by hatred. Interesting that his hatred doesn’t come out in his public appearances. We should be trolling the guy if he makes an appearance where we live. Go prepared and with friends and ask seemingly innocuous questions, but don’t let him off the hook.

    • Jason Lewis


    • tetrapod

      Same ol’ kikery.

    • bilderbuster

      His fellow traveler Tim Wise is scheduled to speak at Indiana State University at Bloomington March 11th so if anyone is in the area drop by and let him know how much we appreciate him.

  • listenupbub

    Blacks are more interested in watching whitey fall from power and lose their control of the culture. That is why they don’t care about illegal immigration. Many blacks have no real hope or purpose to their lives in America, they just brew in hatred for whites.

    • Jason Lewis

      Cutting of their noses to spite their face?

      • bv

        I’d expect nothing more from them of course. I wonder how the Hispanics will deal with them in the future in the areas they control? Any personal insight into that question would be appreciated.

        • Jason Lewis

          Most I’ve seen have the same opinion as whites however there has been a huge attempt, successful in many ways, to make them as much a victim group of the white patriarchy as the blacks. I dunno how they’re vicims when 90% of those here came within the past 3 generations on their own accord. The most laughable is the left trying to make Asians a victim group.

        • blah1130am

          Latinos took over Compton and now account for 70% of the population there. They ran blacks out, often violently and dramatically reduced crime. I’ve read that it’s down to the levels last seen in 1970. If you look at many Latin and South American countries, the elites are light skinned.

          Once they get political power and/or money they usually want to assimilate and lose desire to work with blacks. Even when they join forces, they call them mayates. Or dung beetles.

          • bv

            As long as they make life miserable for the Blacks, I’m happy.

  • B.A_2014

    Mr. Foner looks like the spokesman for paedophiles rights.

    • LexiconD1

      He is creepy looking, and does give off NAMBLA vibes…

      • Zimriel

        He’s a professional liar. People like that who go into finance become super-rich. People like that who go into places with lots of 18 year old girls, well, do the math.

        (Not boys. Pedos who like boys go the highschool route.)

      • phillyguy

        he is a member of the tribe who controls the media Hollywood and academia.

  • The underground railroad was all conducted secretly.

    Illegal immigration is an in-your-face invasion;
    the welcome mat being unfurled by our ‘leaders’.

    • Young Werther

      The point is that both are carried out by law-breakers and the radical elements of the time that support radical change by breaking standing laws instead of moving ideas and change via a democratic process of changing laws. Granted the concept of democracy then was very different from the various concepts of “democracy” today…Any Communist will tell you that Communism in all its forms is Democracy. America was set up as a Republic not a Democracy…democracy is a practice that can exist under a Republican form of government as opposed to a monarchy. *Individual Freedom* is Republic, collective freedom is democratic and will always oppress the individual in favor of the collective.

  • Deacon Blue

    I just threw up in my mouth after reading three paragraphs. Illegal Immigration is to Underground Railroad as…bowling balls are to postcards. There…I feel better now.

    • Young Werther

      The writer is saying both II and UR appeals to the ego of radical leftist and terrorists and PC freaks who know nothing of actual history.

  • John Smith

    The national Underground Railroad museum is in town, yet it’s hardly patronized by negroes, with most of the meager number of visitors being “guilty” whites. These “people” don’t care about this horsesh-t – they just want sex, money, booze and liquor paid for by YT.

    • bv

      Why didn’t they just stay in Russia?

      • John Smith

        Russia was suffering from JFS.

        • bilderbuster

          The entire White world is suffering.

        • bv


          • John Smith

            J—– Fatigue Syndrome.

  • superlloyd

    Professor Foney is yet another cultural marxist liar and manipulatorof the lumpen proletariat black masses and libtard college students. Apex on his hous, I say.

  • James Hamilton

    Like every other immigrant group Latinos have overtaken blacks who remain resolutely planted at the foot of American society. Even with their meagre intellects you’d think blacks would realise that more competion for low level jobs is not in their best interests.

    • newscomments70 mean competition for welfare and other handouts. No one wants those low level jobs once they have their citizenship.

    • bv

      As long as the white establishment is destroyed they’ll be happy.

  • WR_the_realist

    Who knew that the illegal immigrants are escaped slaves from Mexico, Guatemala, and other places?

  • Occidental Bookworm

    I didn’t know Barbara Spectre had a sex-change operation and goes by the name ‘Eric’ these days.

  • Three Stars

    “they were once in a very similar situation”

    By the same logic, they could be goaded into sympathizing with Johny Deer

  • jaye ellis

    I am a writer for Occidental Dissent a leading Neo Confederate, Southern separatist blog.

    Both the editor Hunter Wallace and myself will be unable to attend this year’s Amren conference in Nashville TN. We have family obligations and are re-organizing for new, effective activism.

    We have published some excellent “greatest hits” of Occidental Dissent, American Renaissance in magazine format, also some excellent propaganda post cards. Is anyone interested in distributing them for us, representing them for us at Amren?

    • Julius Caesar

      Where can I purchase the magazine and postcards? I would love to buy some.

    • Young Werther


      • Young Werther

        Then again, the Black Christian Leaders have openly united with Radical Black Islam so what the heck? Power in numbers.

  • DaveMed

    Great article, and I don’t want to get too off-topic, but Blacks and Latinos absolutely do have common interests. The coalition of the colored overwhelmingly votes for government-enforced redistribution of wealth from Whites to their own communities. Having more non-Whites is better for their bottom line.

    • Young Werther

      As a group they are Christian and not compatable with Radical Islam as are so many Blacks in America (conversion ration high).

  • Americaandthewestshouldbewhite

    I am watching the movie Malcolm X and in it he says that his father agreed with Marcus Garvey about the back to Africa movement. I have one question, why didn’t these negroes go back to Africa and lead the way. Why were they still in America until the day they died. Hypocrites. They talk big, but do not walk the talk.

    • Jason Lewis

      Would you go back? America is pretty dang good for them.

      • Young Werther

        The American Government made sure Garvey went to prison and deported…they put a stop to him.

  • Young Werther

    This is one of the best written and informative article I have ever read. This is the kind of intellect…the kind of WOMAN groups need, but only if they sincerely desire the white race to continue to exist. *Jane* has nailed the components of her essay with actual truth. This article IS the truth, it is factual. Will she be at the upcoming Convention…she should be a speaker…she is great! Such a cleverly written piece of work.

    • Yep, I have it on good authority Jane was there. She did not speak… maybe next year?

  • Young Werther

    ba da bing