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At the Smithsonian, a living lesson on racism?

As the institutional memory of American culture and chief steward of our national collections, the Smithsonian Institution ought, without delay, to seek to acquire all photographs, writings and oral musings of Keith Bardwell -- the justice of the peace for Tangipahoa Parish’s 8th Ward in the state of Louisiana who recently refused to marry an interracial couple -- if not the man himself. Bardwell, more than any single American alive today, is a living symbol of America’s darkest hours in race relations. His presence must be preserved.

Through his unabashed and unswerving 21st-century devotion to racism and his refusal, as a justice of the peace, to bring white women and African American men -- and vice versa -- together in marriage, Bardwell fills the gap in publicly displayed bigotry since it was forced underground by civil rights laws in the '60s.

Whole generations of American youth have only encountered people such as Keith Bardwell in books or in tales told by grandparents and elders -- stories of racism so outlandish as to be suspected of old-folks’ exaggeration. But thanks to him, America now has a way to present an object of our nation’s past in real time. Through Bardwell, students will be able to connect with discredited and costly ideas of yesteryear.

The Smithsonian must find a way to encourage Louisiana to bequeath or donate Bardwell, and all that he possesses, to its collection on Washington's Mall. Think of it: The institution could even stage a live musical or theatrical performances featuring the unapologetic Bardwell acting out his refusal to issue marriage licenses to interracial couples. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Smithsonian, just get Keith Bardwell here.

By Colbert King  | October 19, 2009; 4:44 PM ET
Categories:  King  | Tags:  Colbert King  
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From what I learned during the 2008 general election, there is plenty of blame to be shared within the African American community, they see the entire world through racism. The JP should be fired because of his behavior, not skin color. He made a foolish judgement about two people, not two black people.

I think it's time to lean into the American part as much as the African part. It only divides people and further spreads the disease.

Either Dr. King was right when he said to judge people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin, or he wasn't. You can't cherry pick what's most convenient. African American's need to take a serious look at their side of the street and clean theirs first. It would go a long way in building character.

Posted by: billbridgesmaccom | October 19, 2009 5:11 PM | Report abuse

I wonder how many people who (rightfully) find Mr. Bardwell's views on inter-racial marriage abhorent also have no problem with measures that ban gay marriage and are incapable of seeing the parallels.

Posted by: tracyandreen | October 19, 2009 5:34 PM | Report abuse

The persistent raising of race by liberal columnists is getting ridiculous. It is as though they don't have faith that Obama can be successful so maintaining the race card is vital to his credibility's survival.

The "victim" and "entitlement" thinking does nothing but stir up problems that don't exist in reality, and raise expectations that Obama must provide "his own" with something for nothing. It is pure foolishness and makes a mockery of President Obama; that he can actually be successful all on his own without the crutch of race.

I know these articles generate a lot of emotional commentary, especially from the fringe on both sides. I think most of us are tired of it all and seriously want to move on!

Posted by: 2009frank | October 19, 2009 5:54 PM | Report abuse

Obama will blame race for the 2010 mid term disaster about to befall him. He will have passed no legislation, even though he had REID and PELOSI and super majorities in both houses to get it for him. My guess is white America did this to Obama. Like they will blame Zorn for Campbell.

Posted by: -PBL- | October 19, 2009 7:15 PM | Report abuse

Colbert- Made me laugh man, maybe we could take him to visit the white house too while he is here, recording his reation when he meets President Obama would also be historical. If the idea of having a colored guy in the oval office doesn't give him a heart attack. Maybe while we are at it we can march out a bunch of Swedish bikini models and tell him that they are all part of Obama's harem (he is a muslim after all).

Posted by: DCDave11 | October 19, 2009 7:46 PM | Report abuse

Only one non-racist posting so far. Typical.

Posted by: cllrdr | October 19, 2009 7:56 PM | Report abuse

For the people who don't see Mr. Bardwell's actions as racist, I'd like to know what it would take to see ANYTHING as racist. By the way, racism means believing that one's race is superior to another's race, so many people are misusing the word. So, President Obama is not a racist and, yes, Rush Limbaugh is.

Posted by: gsross | October 19, 2009 8:08 PM | Report abuse

This gets sticky.

The man stood up for his beleif system, and should have the right to do so.

In a free society, he might be disgusting , but he is a free man to be disgusting.

Racism should never be the reasons to void ourselves of freedoms vested in the Constitution.

He pointed out that he referred the couple to a place that didn't have his feelings, and in fact did nothing to stop their marriage, except exercise his own freedom.

Hence, I, as a result of mixed race, and married into a mixed race, applaud his free American right to be himself, thought he disgusts me. He drinks his tea his own way freely.

I want that same base right, and let's be realistic, so do you.

Posted by: dottydo | October 19, 2009 8:18 PM | Report abuse

Dottydo, your argument is absurd on its face. The JP can hold his beliefs dear all day long as long as they do NOT interfere with his duties as a government representative. What you are supporting is institutional racism. BTW, one is not married "mixed race" its interrace if that's really want you want to believe.

Posted by: flabbergast | October 19, 2009 8:27 PM | Report abuse

Find another issue already...this stale racism nonsense is nauseating. As they say in Louisiana - that dog don't hunt. If you have nothing else to comment on...find a new career. Enough is enough.

Posted by: sero1 | October 19, 2009 8:57 PM | Report abuse

OMG. A black man writing an article, whining about racism. Get a life.

I don't care who sticks it in whom...what I care about are whining individuals ... continuing to purport their victim mentality because of their skin color. It's the only song they know how to sing.

When are you ever going to let it go?

Posted by: easttxisfreaky | October 19, 2009 9:25 PM | Report abuse


The Washington Post crys racism again about something. I don't even bother to read the articles anymore, it's a daily occurance with this Newspaper.

Posted by: robtr | October 19, 2009 10:27 PM | Report abuse

I work with two 40-something Afrian American women who told me that it's "disgusting" for a black man to marry a white woman. A different generation, but the ignorance is the same.

Posted by: rag91354 | October 19, 2009 11:51 PM | Report abuse

Good to see Mr. King back in these precincts. I miss him.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | October 19, 2009 11:55 PM | Report abuse

There are two parts to this character Bardwell's behavior - personal and official.

His personal behavior is his, and from my perspective shows a lack of ongoing analysis of why he thinks the way he thinks by himself. He has spent 30-some years in the same place doing the same thing and has never had to re-think his position on this issue. It would not surprise me that he is generally very color-blind when dealing with individuals in other situations.

His public behavior as a public official is a horse of another color. For that, his personal views can not come in to play when he makes official decisions. Somehow Loving vs. Virginia did not reach him. He should go as quickly and quietly as possible. He does not need punished - that would feed the Martyr Complex of the true overt racists - and would help those who have not thought the issue through a chance to deal with their behind the times attitude.

Unthought through bigotry is out there. For example, there are people who think a mixed marriage is one between a Presbyterian and an Episcopalian. As time goes by there will fewer of them, and they will be further back in the woods.

Posted by: GHF_LRLTD | October 20, 2009 1:31 AM | Report abuse

I really don't know a great deal about the parish where Mr. Bardwell lives, but I can say that his contention that "mixed race" children are not accepted and nurtured by the Caucasian community is objectively untrue in a Mississippi county that borders on Louisiana. I spoke at a church in South Central MS this past Sunday. I was pastor of that church 23 years ago and would have thought that racism was more deeply rooted in that congregation and community than anywhere in the United States. This past Sunday there were two "mixed race" children sitting with their Caucasian mother on the front row of the sanctuary and no one said "Boo" to them.
Mr. Bardwell may need to open his eyes to what has changed over the last twenty years.

Posted by: jaltman1 | October 20, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

In an effort to present a fair and balanced picture of racism in America today the Bardwell exhibit could be shared with one hosted by the Rev Jeremiah Wright preaching Black Liberation. The racist street in America today is two-way.

Posted by: staterighter | October 20, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Fine, as long as the presence of Al Sharpton is preserved with equal recognition. An African in America who treats diversity and inclusion as something only to be received but never given.

Posted by: colorkindness | October 20, 2009 7:15 PM | Report abuse

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