Thanksgiving Mythology Began with the First Thanksgiving
But we must never forget that it pre-eminently serves political ends. Remember in 2003 when President George Bush flew into Bagdad on Thanksgiving Day to visit and celebrate with our troops. He stayed a few hours and brought a host of media photographers to snap his picture bearing a glazed turkey. No one ate the turkey . . . it was cardboard, a stage prop. This exploitation began almost four centuries ago. Thanksgiving mythology began with the first Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving Day memorializes the Pilgrims' survival of their first winter in New England. 149 people had arrived in November 1620 aboard the Mayflower and were saved from starvation and disaster because the Wampanoug nation brought them corn and meat and taught them wilderness survival skills. This truly was an effort worthy of gratitude. And in 1621 Governor William Bradford of Plymouth proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving -- but not to the Wampanougs but to his fellow Pilgrims and their omnipotent God. Christians had staved off hunger through their devotion, courage and resourcefulness. And to this day our politicians, ministers and most educators would have us see it this way.
Bradford's fable is an early example of "Eurothink" -- a grotesque lie encased in arrogance. For Europeans, people who were neither Christian nor white -- no matter how much they helped - were considered undeserving of recognition. The heroic scenario has no room for them. Bradford's tale has his Pilgrims inviting Native Americans to celebrate the victory over famine so Pilgrims and Wampanoug friends sit down to bread, turkey and other treats. Since the colonists classified their dark-skinned, “infidel” neighbors as inferiors, if present at all, they were asked to bring and serve and not share the food.
As the English pursued their economic goals in the 1620s, they increasingly turned to outright aggression against their Native American neighbors and hosts. Matters came to a head one night in 1637 when Governor Bradford, without provocation, dispatched his militia against his Pequot neighbors. Seeing themselves as devout Christians locked in mortal combat with infidels, the officers and soldiers made a systematic assault on a sleeping Pequot Indian village. Bradford described the night of fire, pain and death:
It was a fearful sight to see them frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same and horrible was the stink and stench thereof. But the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice and they [the militiamen] gave praise thereof to God.
The colony's famous minister, Reverend Increase Mather, rejoiced and called on his congregation to give thanks to God "that on this day we have sent six hundred heathen souls to hell." Mather and Bradford are still celebrated in school texts as colonial heroes. The 1993 edition [P. 351] of the authoritative Columbia Encyclopedia states of Bradford, "He maintained friendly relations with the Native Americans." The authoratative Dictionary of American History [P. 77] states of his rule: “He was a firm, determined man and an excellent leader; kept relations with the Indians on friendly terms; tolerant toward newcomers and new religions . . . .” The views of Native Americans were not recorded, but can be imagined.
The Mayflower, renamed the Meijbloom (Dutch for Mayflower), continued to make notable voyages. In May 1657, it carried a crucial message to Amsterdam that their new South African colony needed supplies. Along costal Africa the ship became one of the first to carry enslaved Africans to the West Indies.
Those opposed to oppression and favoring democratic values in the Americas have little to celebrate in today's Thanksgiving Day. It stands as an affirmation of barbaric racial beliefs and actions that soon shaped the world's most unrelenting genocide.
What is worth giving thanks to is the alliance between Native Americans and Africans that sprang forth to resist the English, Spanish and other foreign invaders. In 1619 20 Africans were unloaded in Jamestown, Virginia and traded for food and water. They were sent out to work in the colony's tobacco fields as unpaid laborers. Enslaved together, people of color fought back together, and often united in armed maroon colonies beyond the white settlements that dotted the coastline. But above all, this alliance initiated an American tradition of resistance to tyranny, a demand for self-rule, and equality. These ideas would appear centuries later written on a parchment celebrated on July 4, 1776.
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