America's 'democratic experiment' is inextricably tied to the history of slaveryRoundup
tags: slavery, democracy, 1619
Peniel E Joseph is the Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.
This year marks 400 years since enslaved Africans from Angola were forcibly brought to Jamestown, Virginia. This forced migration of black bodies on to what would become the United States of America represents the intertwined origin story of racial slavery and democracy. This year also marks what would have been the 90th birthday of Martin Luther King, the most well-known mobilizer of the civil rights movement’s heroic period between 1954 and 1965.
While Americans are quick to recognize Jamestown as the first episode of a continuing democratic experiment, the nation remains less willing to confront the way in which racial slavery proved crucial to the flourishing of American capitalism, democratic freedoms, and racial identity. The year 1619 laid out rough boundaries of citizenship, freedom, and democracy that are still being policed in our own time.
Although we hardly remember this today, King often discussed how the imposing shadow of slavery impacted the civil rights struggle, perhaps most notably on 28 August 1963, during the March on Washington.
Addressing a quarter of a million people in front of the Lincoln Memorial, King acknowledged racial slavery’s uncanny hold on the American imagination. A century earlier, Abraham Lincoln, whom King called “a great American”, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet 100 years later, black people remained marginalized from the American dream. “Instead of honoring this sacred obligation,” King said, African Americans had received a “bad check” – one that the nation would have to pay in full to overcome the tragic dimensions of a racial past that continued to constrain its future.
comments powered by Disqus
- Joe Biden is making a Supreme Court promise. Ronald Reagan did, too.
- Land Deed for Pioneering School Sheds Light on an Early American Anti-Slavery Effort
- Pathologizing Politics: Eugenics and Political Discourse in the Modern United States
- Behind Dover Publications’ eclectic 10,000-title catalog lies a remarkable story of 20th century innovation
- Could Never Bernie Make It a Contested Convention? Here's 4 Contested Conventions in Presidential Election History
- Historian Heidi Tworek Interviewed on the History Behind Coronavirus Racism
- Gordon Wood Reviews Mary Beth Norton's ‘1774’ for the Wall Street Journal
- Black Perspectives Reviews Black Banking and Women Financial Power Brokers
- A lost history, recovered: Faded records tell the story of school segregation in Virginia
- H.R. McMaster book `Battlegrounds’ coming out in April