Mona Charen

Liberals always get two shots at history -- one as events unfold, and another when playwrights, screenwriters, novelists, and other cultural arbiters recount events later. It's a crime against truth, but it happens every day.

In Washington, D.C., a new play opened recently. Titled "Every Tongue Confess," the play was described by The Root, a magazine for African-Americans, as "a moving response to an almost forgotten racial inferno of the mid-1990s, when hundreds of black churches in the South were mysteriously burned." The Washington Post review said that the play "tries through lyrical speeches, magical spirituality and densely interlocked subplots to locate the redemptive potential in a horrific set of circumstances: the serial burning of black churches in the Alabama of the mid-1990s."

It may be a great play. But the history is distorted. There was a ginned-up panic about black church burnings in the mid-1990s, but there actually was no epidemic, at least not until after President Clinton delivered a speech on the subject (which was followed by a rash of copycat crimes).

The press, salivating over the possibility of reaping civil rights glory, fanned the flames with headlines like "Flames of Hate: Racism Blamed in Shock Wave of Church Burnings" (New York Daily News) and "A Southern Plague Returns" (Associated Press). By the time a presidential task force issued its report showing that the overwhelming majority of the arsons (and more than half were of white churches) were the result of drunkenness, insurance fraud, burglary, and personal revenge, everyone had moved on. Of 64 arsons studied, only four turned out to have any racial motivation. Four are too many. But they aren't a "racial inferno."

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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