Schenectady, NY --Monday, 14-Jan-2002
The View From Here
Black hero boosted by white guilt
By CARL STROCK
Yes, I did notice that Gov. Pataki betook himself to Arlington National Cemetery the other day to lay a wreath at the newly discovered grave of Henry Johnson, the black World War I hero from Albany, and no, I was not surprised.
Nor was I surprised that Assemblymen Jack McEneny and Ron Canestrari made the trip, that this newspaper sent a reporter and a photographer, that the Times Union also sent a reporter and a photographer, that Channel 6 and Channel 13 each sent a camera crew.
I am well aware there is a huge appetite for evidence of white racism and black victimhood, an appetite that is apparently insatiable, so I am not surprised by anything in that line.
I wouldn't have been surprised if our government leaders had made the trip on their knees, like penitents on a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
Nor was I really surprised at the reaction to the discovery of the grave.
It was long accepted as gospel that Henry Johnson died destitute in 1938 and got a pauper's funeral in what was then known as Potter's Field, outside of Albany.
And it's still accepted as gospel - and may well be true, as far as I know - that he failed to receive a Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during World War I simply because he was black, which is of course the cause of the great fuss over him today, that he is a classic victim of white racism.
But when it recently came to light that this supposedly neglected war hero had actually been buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, in 1929, would you have expected the breast-beating to abate somewhat? Would you have expected someone to say, "Hmmm, maybe that old white racism wasn't quite as encompassing as we thought?"
Not at all, ladies and gentlemen.
If Henry Johnson's mortal remains lie not under the runway at Albany International Airport as previously believed but in the national field of honor at Arlington, Va., then that is "a great victory for all those who admire courage and patriotism," as Gov. Pataki commented without missing a beat, and, "can only serve to bolster our already strong case" - meaning the already strong case for getting him a posthumous Medal of Honor, which, believe it or not, has been an absolutely urgent matter for all right-thinking public officials and media pundits in Albany for the past 12 years or so.
The hell with murder rates in Arbor Hill. Black veterans and black historians are united in holding up a Medal of Honor for long-dead Henry Johnson as the Number One issue of racial justice in Albany, and no white public official or pundit would dare demur.
This has been going on since the late 1980s, when a black historian by the name of Leroy Ramsey got on the case, and white leaders since then just haven't been able to do enough. You would think all their parents and grandparents had been grand koogles in the Ku Klux Klan, the way they grovel and carry on.
In 1991 the city of Albany renamed a section of Northern Boulevard as Henry Johnson Boulevard and at the same time erected a granite monument to Johnson in Washington Park.
A few years later they came back and installed a bronze bust.
Henry Johnson is probably the most honored war hero in Albany this side of George Washington, but it doesn't matter. None of it counts.
The Times Union headlined its wreath-laying report from Arlington, "Tribute, at last," as if nothing had ever been done.
It's really something to behold.
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