In 1859, just outside of Savannah, Ga., a big slave auction was held after the break-up of an old family estate with two plantations. People came from several states to secure the 436 slaves for sale.
I know. You're saying what does that have to do with us today?
Well, I thought about that sale when I saw duly elected President Barack Obama stand before this nation last week as aides passed out the "long form" of his birth certificate as proof he is an American.
The reason I connected the two events is because of a paragraph a reporter for the New York Tribune wrote after covering the auction. The Tribune editor who sent the reporter to Georgia was Horace Greeley, a well-known abolitionist.
The reporter wrote: "The negroes were examined with as little consideration as if they had been brutes indeed; the buyers pulling their mouths open to see their teeth, pinching their limbs to find how muscular they were, walking them up and down to detect any signs of lameness, making them stoop and bend in different ways that they might be certain there was no concealed rupture or wound; and in addition to all this treatment, asking them scores of questions relative to their qualifications and accomplishments."
It seems to me that that's how some people, folks who know how to capture the attention of the news media, have been treating America's first black president.
And I can't help but wonder, now that the president has stooped and trotted across a stage because of the growing fervor of fringed intelligentsia, now that there are no other birth documents to search to possibly disprove Obama is an American like them, what's next?
Will the crowd now step forward and get in a bidding war to take him home as their own? Will they finally accept him and call him their president?
Of course not.
As Herald-Leader political cartoonist Joel Pett noted on April 28, Obama is still black. And on top of that, he is an emancipated black. Free. Equal to people conducting the examinations and the bidding for fit flesh.
But he isn't. Bygone days have returned.
And here comes the sting of another whip. Now the fringe is trying to broadcast a new conspiracy theory: Obama is dumb. They are demanding that he prove his "qualifications and accomplishments," just as slave owners demanded in 1859.
His grades couldn't have been good enough to get into such a demanding school as Harvard. Show us your transcripts, they say.
Wednesday, CBS News Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer called it what it is: "That's just code for saying he got into law school because he's black. This is an ugly strain of racism that's running through this whole thing. We can hope that that kind of comes to an end, too."
The fringe thinks that surely the man who graduated from Harvard Law School magna cum laude and was the editor of the Harvard Law Review, a prestigious, earned honor, can't possibly be smarter than they are.
I hope it ends soon. We've had years of this mess, fuzzy attacks dripping in racism but colored with fabricated intentions.
Black people and some folks of all colors have pointed out the racism directed at Obama since he announced his candidacy. If these insidious, hurtful attacks are being directed at the most visible black person in America, imagine what the rest of the black population is enduring.
Now it is time for white people, particularly conservative Republican white people, to put an end to this insanity. You cannot continue to allow the fringe to hijack the Republican message by lacing it with disguised racial superiority.
Instead of the brilliance shown by draping the GOP with a cloak of "family values" that resonated with people, the Republican Party is beginning to look like a party passing out tin foil skull caps.
I think that hurts America. A viable, critically thinking, two-party system works for this country. It always has.
Republicans, please tell your leaders to put a stop to this insanity and let America grow into the country we all dream of.
Do it for our future, for children of all colors.