Teaching For Black Lives and Teacher Unions and Social Justice

Teaching For Black Lives and Teacher Unions and Social Justice

Teaching for Black Lives, edited by Dyan Watson, Jesse Hagopian, and Wayne Au, grows directly out of the movement for Black lives. The editors recognize that anti-Black racism constructs Black people, and Blackness generally, as not counting as human life. They provide resources and demonstrate how teachers connect curriculum to young people’s lives and root their concerns and daily experiences in what is taught and how classrooms are set up. They also highlight the hope and beauty of student activism and collective action. Teacher Unions and Social Justice, edited by Michael Charney, Jesse Hagopian, and Bob Peterson, is an anthology of more than 60 articles documenting the history and the how-tos of social justice unionism. Together, they describe the growing movement to forge multiracial alliances with communities to defend and transform public education.

Origin and Meaning of Critical Race Theory

Origin and Meaning of Critical Race Theory

Alan Singer

On a November 2021 CNN broadcast, host Chris Cuomo interviewed comedian/commentator Bill Maher about a supposed leftwing peril threatening the United States, feeding him a series of softball questions and responding with “Oh my God” facial expressions. After acknowledging “I’m not in schools” and “I have no interaction with children,” Maher announced that he has heard from people all over the country that “kids are sometimes separated into groups, oppressor and oppressed” and being taught “racism is the essence of America.” He derided this practice as “just silly, it’s just virtue-signaling” and accused people advocating for curriculum revision of being “afraid to acknowledge progress,” a psychological disorder he alternately labeled “wokeness” and “progressophobia.” Maher’s comments on “wokeness” and “progressophobia” reminded me of a 19th century medical condition described by Dr. Samuel Cartwright from Louisiana in DeBow’s Review in 1851 as “Drapetomania, the disease causing Negroes to run away from slavery.”

I kept waiting for Chris Cuomo to ask Maher to provide an example, any example, to support his claims, but Cuomo never did and Maher never felt compelled to offer any evidence. On his television show, Maher promotes a group of contrarians that want to start their own college where they will be free to present offensive ideas and dismiss objections without having to provide supporting evidence or answer to anyone. Cuomo never asked Maher about that either.

In August 2021, the Brookings Institute reported that at least eight states had passed legislation banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory, although only Idaho actually used the phrase. The modern iteration of Critical Race Theory began in the 1980s when legal scholars followed by social scientists and educational researchers employed CRT as a way of understanding the persistence of race and racism in the United States. Kimberlé Crenshaw, who teaches law at UCLA and Columbia University and was an early proponent of critical race theory, described it as “an approach to grappling with a history of white supremacy that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it.” Basically, Critical Race Theory disputes the idea of colorblindness or legal neutrality and argues that race and racism have always played a major role in the formulation of American laws and the practices of American institutions. It is a study of laws and institutions that sifts through the surface cover to look for underlying meaning and motivation. In my work as a historian, I traced the current debate over “citizen’s arrest” back to its implementation in the South during the Civil War when it was used to prevent enslaved Africans from fleeing bondage. It essentially empowered any white person to seize and hold any Black person they suspected of a crime, stealing white property by stealing themselves As an academic discipline CRT does not claim that everything about the United States is racist or that all white people are racist. The CRT lens examines laws and institutions, not people, certainly not individual people.

What has come to be known as a CRT approach to understanding United States history and society actually has much deeper roots long before the 1980s. A 19th century French observer of American society, Alexis De Tocqueville, in the book Democracy in America published in 1835, wrote: “I do not believe that the white and black races will ever live in any country upon an equal footing . . . But I believe the difficulty to be still greater in the United States than elsewhere . . . [A]s long as the American democracy remains at the head of affairs . . . [I]t may be foreseen that the freer the white population of the United States becomes, the more isolated will it remain.

In an 1852 Independence Day speech delivered in Rochester, New York, Frederick Douglass rhetorically asked, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Douglass then answered his own question. “The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence [given] by your fathers is shared by you, not by me . . . What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; our shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”

In the 19th century, a reverse CRT lens was openly used by racists to justify the laws and institutions derided by Alexis De Tocqueville and Frederick Douglass. In the majority opinion of the Supreme Court in its 1857 Dred Scott decision, Chief Justice Roger Taney claimed, and the Court ruled, that “A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a ‘citizen’ within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States” because “When the Constitution was adopted, they were not regarded in any of the States as members of the community which constituted the State, and were not numbered among its ‘people or citizens.’ Consequently, the special rights and immunities guaranteed to citizens do not apply to them.”

The deep roots of racism were recognized by the United States Congress when it drafted the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments after the American Civil War. Abolitionist and civil rights proponent Congressman Thaddeus Stevens issued a warning in December 1865. We have turned, or are about to turn, loose four million slaves without a hut to shelter them or a cent in their pockets. The infernal laws of slavery have prevented them from acquiring an education, understanding the common laws of contract, or of managing the ordinary business of life. This Congress is bound to provide for them until they can take care of themselves. If we do not furnish them with homesteads, and hedge them around with protective laws; if we leave them to the legislation of their late masters, we had better have left them in bondage. If we fail in this great duty now, when we have the power, we shall deserve and receive the execration of history and of all future ages.” Stevens was right. Enforcement legislation was gutted by the Supreme Court making way for Jim Crow segregation, Klan terrorism, and the disenfranchisement of Black voters for the next 100 years. The power of racism was so great that in 1903, W.E.B. DuBois wrote in the forethought to The Souls of Black Folk that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.”

The legal system recognizing the legitimacy of racial distinction was affirmed by the Supreme Court in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision. Although the Supreme Court reversed itself with the Brown v. Topeka Kansas ruling in 1954, legal action to change American society really started with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, both designed to enforce the 14th Amendment prohibition that states could not make or enforce laws that “abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, as amended in 1982, outlawed laws and practices that had the result of denying a racial or language minority an equal opportunity to participate in the political process, even if the wording of the law did not expressly mention race. A racist result was racism.

The New York State Court of Appeals also argued that under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act a law could be challenged as discriminatory if the “practice has a sufficiently adverse racial impact–in other words, whether it falls significantly more harshly on a minority racial group than on the majority . . . Proof of discriminatory effect suffices to establish liability under the regulations promulgated pursuant to Title VI.” Governments have the obligation to demonstrate that “less discriminatory alternatives” were not available. This is the modern origin of Critical Race Theory.

According to the Texas Tribune, the “new Texas law designed to limit how race-related subjects are taught in public schools comes with so little guidance, the on-the-ground application is already tying educators up in semantic knots as they try to follow the Legislature’s intent.” In one Texas district, a director of Curriculum and Instruction notified teachers that they had to provide students with “opposing” perspectives on the World War II era European Holocaust, presumably Holocaust-denial voices. It remains unclear if science teachers will now have to legitimize social media claims that the COVID-19 virus arrived on Earth from outer space.

In her blog, Heather Cox Richardson, an American historian and professor of history at Boston College, focused on subjects that were crossed out of the law, which listed topics permissible to teach. The dropped topics included the history of Native Americans, the writings of founding “mothers and other founding persons,” Thomas Jefferson on religious freedom, Frederick Douglass articles in the North Star, William Still’s records for the Underground Railroad, the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, documents related to women’s suffrage and equal rights, and documents on the African American Civil Rights movement and the American labor movement, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. The Texas legislature also crossed out from the list of topics that are permissible to teach the “history of white supremacy, including but not limited to the institution of slavery, the eugenics movement, and the Ku Klux Klan, and the ways in which it is morally wrong.”

What caught my attention more though was what the Texas legislators decided to include on the permissible list, documents that they apparently had never read. The “good” topics and documents include the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Federalist Papers “including essays 10 and 51,” excerpts from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and the transcript of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate from 1858 when Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas ran against each other for Senator from Illinois. When you read these documents through a Critical Race Theory lens or any critical lens, they expose the depth of racism in America’s founding institutions.

The Declaration of Independence includes a passage that has stuck with me since I first read it as a high school student in the 1960s. “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” I was always impressed by the vagueness of the passage. Who has the right to abolish a government? Did they mean the majority of the people, some of the people, or did the decision have to approach near unanimity? Did enslaved Africans share this right to rebel? Very unlikely.

The words “slave” and “slavery” do not appear in the United States Constitution until passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865 that banned slavery. However, a number of clauses in the original document were intended to protect the institution. The three-fifths compromise, which refers to “other Persons,” gave extra voting strength to slave states in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College.  Another clause forbade Congress from outlawing the trans-Atlantic slave trade for at least twenty years. A fugitive slave clause required that freedom-seekers who fled slavery to states where it was outlawed had to be returned to slavery if they were apprehended. The Constitution also mandates the federal government to suppress slave insurrections and the Second Amendment protected the right of slaveholders and slave patrols to be armed.

Both Federalists 38 and 54, which were most likely written by future President James Madison, himself a slaveholder, justified slavery. Madison first mentioned slavery in Federalist 38 where he defended the right of the national government to regulate American participation in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In Federalist 54, Madison explained the legitimacy of the Constitution’s three-fifths clause and of slavery itself. According to Madison, “In being compelled to labor, not for himself, but for a master; in being vendible by one master to another master; and in being subject at all times to be restrained in his liberty and chastised in his body, by the capricious will of another, the slave may appear to be degraded from the human rank, and classed with those irrational animals which fall under the legal denomination of property. In being protected, on the other hand, in his life and in his limbs, against the violence of all others, even the master of his labor and his liberty; and in being punishable himself for all violence committed against others, the slave is no less evidently regarded by the law as a member of the society, not as a part of the irrational creation; as a moral person, not as a mere article of property. The federal Constitution, therefore, decides with great propriety on the case of our slaves, when it views them in the mixed character of persons and of property.”

In the first Lincoln-Douglas debate on August 21, 1858, Stephen Douglas accused Lincoln of trying to “abolitionize” American politics and supporting a “radical” abolitionist platform. Lincoln responded that he was “misrepresented.” While Lincoln claimed to hate slavery, he did not want to “Free them, and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not . . . We cannot, then, make them equals . . . anything that argues me into his idea of perfect social and political equality with the negro, is but a specious and fantastic arrangement of words . . . I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists.” Lincoln then added in words that show the depth of American racism, “I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality.”

The real question is why the big outrage about Critical Race Theory today? A group of traditional historians was infuriated by claims in the New York Times 1619 Project that race and racism have played a significant role in throughout American history, including as a motivation for the War for Independence. Whatever you think about that claim in the 1619 Project, I don’t think anyone seriously believes that opposition by a small group of historians is the basis for the assault on CRT. The much-criticized opening essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones does not even mention Critical Race Theory.

I believe the public attacks on Critical Race Theory, including in school board meetings, are a rightwing response to challenges to police actions following the murder of George Floyd and to the Black Lives Matter movement’s demands for racial justice. They have nothing to do with what or how we teach.

CRT became controversial when President Trump denounced it in an effort to rally his supporters during his re-election campaign. Trump declared, without any evidence, that “Critical race theory is being forced into our children’s schools, it’s being imposed into workplace trainings, and it’s being deployed to rip apart friends, neighbors and families.” According to Professor Crenshaw, acknowledging racism was being defined by President Trump and his supporters as racism. Racial equity laws and programs were called “aggression and discrimination against white people.”

We don’t teach CRT in the Pre-K to 12 curriculum because we don’t teach theory. We certainly don’t teach children to hate themselves or this country. What we do teach is critical thinking, and a critical race theory approach is definitely part of critical thinking.

Critical thinking means asking questions about text and events and evaluating evidence. It is at the core of Common Core and social studies education. I like to cite the conservative faction of the Supreme Court that claims to be “textualists,” meaning they carefully examine the text of laws to discover their meaning. Because they will need to become active citizens defending and extending democracy in the United States, we want young people to become “textualists,” to question, to challenge, to weigh different views, to evaluate evidence, as they formulate their own ideas about America’s past, the state of the nation today, and the world they would like to see.

The Texas anti-CRT law also includes more traditional social studies goals, “the ability to: (A) analyze and determine the reliability of information sources; (B) formulate and articulate reasoned positions;  (C) understand the manner in which local, state, and federal government works and operates through the use of simulations and models of governmental and democratic processes; (D) actively listen and engage in civil discourse, including discourse with those with different viewpoints; (E) responsibly participate as a citizen in a constitutional democracy; and (F) effectively engage with governmental institutions at the local, state, and federal levels.” It also includes an appreciation of “(A) the importance and responsibility of participating in civic life; (B) a commitment to the United States and its form of government; and (C) a commitment to free speech and civil discourse.”

Given these very clearly stated civics goals, I recommend that Texas social studies teachers obey the civics legal mandate by organizing with their students a mass campaign to challenge restrictions in the Texas law, including classroom “civil disobedience” by reading the material that was crossed out of the law. Maybe someday Texas students can share Martin Luther King’s “dream.”

AIM: How enlightened was the European Enlightenment? A CRT Lens Lesson

This lesson on the European Enlightenment is for the high school World History curriculum. The European Enlightenment is one of the first topics explored in the New York state 10th grade social studies curriculum. This lesson uses a CRT lens to build on understandings about the Scientific Revolution and the trans-Atlantic slave trade that were studied in the 9th grade. It establishes themes that reemerge in units on European Imperialism in Africa and Asia and lessons on Social Darwinism. Many scholars credit the European Enlightenment with establishing modern ideas like liberty and democracy. But it also defended gender inequality and attempted to establish a scientific basis for racism. Students are asked to take a closer look and decide: “How enlightened was the European Enlightenment?”

Do Now: The European Enlightenment is often known as the Age of Reason because Enlightenment thinkers tried to apply scientific principles to understand human behavior and how societies work. Many of the earliest Enlightenment thinkers were from England, Scotland, and France but the idea of using reason and a scientific approach spread to other European countries and their colonies. In the United States, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin are considered Enlightenment thinkers. While there are no firm dates, most historians argue that the European Enlightenment started in the mid-17th century building on the Scientific Revolution, and continued until the mid-19th century. Some historians have pointed out that the Age of Reason in Europe was also the peak years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade when millions of Africans were transported to the Americas as unfree labor on plantations.

One of the first major European Enlightenment thinkers was John Locke of England. Read the excerpt from Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government, written in 1690, and answer questions 1-4.

John Locke: “Liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others . . . Good and evil, reward and punishment, are the only motives to a rational creature: these are the spur and reins whereby all mankind are set on work, and guided . . . Man . . . hath by nature a power . . . to preserve his property – that is, his life, liberty, and estate – against the injuries and attempts of other men . . . The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom . . . All mankind . . . being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.”

Questions

  1. According to Locke, what is the most important human value?
  2. How does Locke believe this value is preserved?
  3. What document in United States history draws from Locke? Why do you select that document?
  4. In your opinion, why is John Locke considered a European Enlightenment thinker?

Activity: You will work with a team analyzing a quote from one of these European Enlightenment thinkers and answer the following questions. Select a representative to present your views to class. After presentations and discussion, you will complete an exit ticket answering the question, “How enlightened was the European Enlightenment?”

Questions

  1. Where is the author from? What year did they write this piece?
  2. What is the main topic of the excerpt?
  3. What does the author argue about the topic?
  4. Why is this author considered a European Enlightenment thinker?
  5. In your opinion, what do we learn about the European Enlightenment from this except?
 David Hume (Scotland, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 1779): “What truth so obvious, so certain, as the being of a God, which the most ignorant ages have acknowledged, for which the most refined geniuses have ambitiously striven to produce new proofs and arguments? What truth so important as this, which is the ground of all our hopes, the surest foundation of morality, the firmest support of society, and the only principle which ought never to be a moment absent from our thoughts and meditations? . . . Throw several pieces of steel together, without shape or form; they will never arrange themselves so as to compose a watch. Stone, and mortar, and wood, without an architect, never erect a house.”  
Baron de Montesquieu (France, The Spirit of the Laws, 1748): “Political liberty in a citizen is that tranquility of spirit which comes from the opinion each one has of his security, and in order for him to have this liberty the government must be such that one citizen cannot fear another citizen. When the legislative power is united with the executive power in a single person or in a single body of the magistracy, there is no liberty, because one can fear that the same monarch or senate that makes tyrannical laws will execute them tyrannically. Nor is there liberty if the power of judging is not separate from legislative power and from executive power. If it were joined to legislative power, the power over life and liberty of the citizens would be arbitrary, for the judge would be the legislator. If it were joined to executive power, the judge could have the force of an oppressor. All would be lost if the same man or the same body of principal men, either of nobles or of the people exercised these three powers: that of making the laws, that of executing public resolutions, and that of judging the crimes or disputes of individuals.”
Marquis de Lafayette (France, The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, 1789): “Therefore the National Assembly recognizes and proclaims, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of man and of the citizen: Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good. The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression. Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (France, Emile, or Education, 1762): “Women have ready tongues; they talk earlier, more easily, and more pleasantly than men. They are also said to talk more; this may be true, but I am prepared to reckon it to their credit; eyes and mouth are equally busy and for the same cause. A man says what he knows, a woman says what will please; the one needs knowledge, the other taste; utility should be the man’s object; the woman speaks to give pleasure. There should be nothing in common but truth . . . The earliest education is most important and it undoubtedly is woman’s work. If the author of nature had meant to assign it to men he would have given them milk to feed the child. Address your treatises on education to the women, for not only are they able to watch over it more closely than men, not only is their influence always predominant in education, its success concerns them more nearly, for most widows are at the mercy of their children, who show them very plainly whether their education was good or bad.”
Mary Wollstonecraft (England, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792): “Till women are more rationally educated, the progress in human virtue and improvement in knowledge must receive continual checks . . . The divine right of husbands, like the divine right of kings, may, it is to be hoped, in this enlightened age, be contested without danger . . . It would be an endless task to trace the variety of meannesses, cares, and sorrows, into which women are plunged by the prevailing opinion that they were created rather to feel than reason, and that all the power they obtain, must be obtained by their charms and weakness . . . It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world. . . . How many women thus waste life away the prey of discontent, who might have practiced as physicians, regulated a farm, managed a shop, and stood erect, supported by their own industry, instead of hanging their heads surcharged with the dew of sensibility, that consumes the beauty to which it at first gave lustre.”
Immanuel Kant (Germany, 1761, quoted in Achieving Our Humanity): “All inhabitants of the hottest zones are, without exceptions, idle . . . In the hot countries the human being matures earlier in all ways but does not reach the perfection of the temperate zones. Humanity exists in its greatest perfection in the white race. The yellow Indians have a smaller amount of Talent. The Negroes are lower and the lowest are a part of the American peoples . . . The race of the Negroes, one could say, is completely the opposite of the Americans; they are full of affect and passion, very lively, talkative and vain. They can be educated but only as servants (slaves), that is they allow themselves to be trained. They have many motivating forces, are also sensitive, are afraid of blows and do much out of a sense of honor.”
Thomas Jefferson (British North America, Preamble, Declaration of Independence, 1776): “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Thomas Jefferson (Virginia, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1785): “The first difference which strikes us is that of colour. Whether the black of the negro resides in the reticular membrane between the skin and scarf-skin, or in the scarf-skin itself; whether it proceeds from the colour of the blood, the colour of the bile, or from that of some other secretion, the difference is fixed in nature, and is as real as if its seat and cause were better known to us. And is this difference of no importance? Is it not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the two races? Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of colour in the one, preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immovable veil of black which covers all the emotions of the other race? . . . Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them. In general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection . . . Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous.”

Exit ticket: “In your opinion, how enlightened was the European Enlightenment?”

What did Thomas Jefferson Buy in October 1803?

The Louisiana Purchase is generally presented to students as a land deal between the United States and France. Napoleon’s hope for a French New World empire collapsed when formerly enslaved Africans on the western third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola defeated French forces and established an independent republic. The United States was anxious to purchase the French port of New Orleans near the mouth of the Mississippi River to open up the river to U.S. settlers west of the Appalachian Mountains.  Napoleon made a counter-offer and for $15 million the U.S. acquired over 800,000 square miles of land stretching from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. Or did it?

In middle school, students generally trace the expansion of American territory on maps and may read a biography of explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their First Nation guide and translator Sacagawea. Sacagawea was a Shoshone woman who had been kidnapped by another tribe. At the time of the expedition, she was married to a French fur-trapper and pregnant. Her baby, a son, was born during the expedition.

In high school students often examine the constitutional debate surrounding the purchase. President Thomas Jefferson was generally a strict constructionist who believed in limited federal authority. Although the Constitution did not expressly authorize the federal government to purchase territory, Jefferson and his special envoy James Monroe argued it was permissible under the government’s power to negotiate treaties with foreign powers. Parts or all of the present day states of Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana, were acquired by the United States.

However, despite claims to the territory between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains by both Spain and France, there were very few European settlers in the region outside of the area near New Orleans where the non-native population was about 60,000 people, including 30,000 enslaved Africans. During the expedition west, Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea encountered members of at least fifty different Native American tribes, some of whom had never met Europeans before, most of whom had never heard of France or Spain, and none of whom recognized Spanish, French, or American sovereignty over their homelands. The Native American population of the region included the Quapaw and Caddo in Louisiana itself, and the Shoshone, Pawnee, Osages, Witchitas, Kiowas, Cheyenne, Crow, Mandan, Minitari, Blackfeet, Chinook, and different branches of the Sioux on the Great Plains.

The reality is that for $15 million the United States purchased French claims to land that belonged to other people and was not France’s to sell and then used military force to drive the First Nations into restricted areas and instituted policies designed to destroy their cultures. Middle school students should consider how they would you feel if someone from someplace else who they had never met knocked on their door and told their family that they all had to leave because a King across the ocean or a President thousands of miles away gave them ownership over their house and the land it stood on? High school students should discuss whether Manifest Destiny, American expansion west to the Pacific, was a form of imperialism, and how it was similar or different from European colonization in the Americas, Africa, and Asia? High school students should also discuss whether United States treatment of the First Nations constitutes genocide and what would be an appropriate recompense for centuries of abuse.

As many areas of the United States shift from celebrating Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day, a good question to start with is to ask students exactly what did Thomas Jefferson buy in October 1803?

Using Literature to Teach about Race in America

Using Literature to Teach about Race in America

Stephanie Rosvoglou, Debra Willett, and Melissa Wilson

African American authors use the genre of historical fiction to highlight the experiences of their communities, urban, suburban or rural. Using short stories and novels, ordinary and sometimes not so ordinary events are relayed through the actions of fictional characters. Contemporary authors Colson, Whitehead, Walter Mosley and Guy Johnson use imaginary people in real-life settings that are reflections of African American life past and present, as did Zora Neale Hurston writing in the 1930s and Toni Morrison in the 1970s. Throughout these novels, racism and the inevitable cycle of abuse and poverty are present. Fiction can be used to help students develop a better understanding of race and racism in the United States past and present. These books can either be assigned as supplemental reading in a social studies class or in an English class paired with American history.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (Lippincott, 1937)

Zora Neale Hurston, a Columbia University trained anthropologist, explores racism and gender bias through the eyes and voice of her character Janie Crawford. Their Eyes Were Watching God is set in 1937 in Eatonville, Florida. It serves as a reminder of the brutalities that the plantation owners once caused to the previously enslaved community and how reminders of enslavement continue to haunt the community.

Janie’s grandmother was born into slavery and was raped by a plantation owner. His wife was suspicious and questioned why Janie’s mother looked white and had yellow hair. The wife threatened to whip her and sell her mother. This didn’t happen because African Americans were freed after the “Big Surrender at Richmond.” Janie’s grandmother and mother settled in West Florida. At seventeen, Janie’s mother was raped by her schoolteacher. As a result, Leafy started drinking and abandoned Janie. Because of the disadvantages that both Janie’s grandmother and mother faced, they were trapped in a class and cycle of abuse, hard labor, and poverty.

Through her relationships with men, especially the affluent Joe Starks, Janie is able to break the cycle of poverty and abuse that both her mother and grandmother faced, however she remained isolated from the Black community. After Starks death, Janie marries a younger and darker skinned man known as Tea Cake. Tea Cake is bit by a rabid dog. As he plunges into insanity, he attacks Janie who shoots him. Janie is put on trial, charged with his death, in a trial marked by all of the racial prejudice of the period. Janie is finally acquitted by an all-white jury. In this novel we learn how race prejudice has been absorbed by the Black community and fuels resentment against a lighter-skinned woman.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970)

Toni Morrison also exams how racial prejudice is absorbed by the Black community. The novel takes place in Ohio during 1940 and 1941 and is told through the voice of Claudia McTeer, the foster-sister of Pecola Breedlove. Pecola endures hatred, prejudice, and racism, including from the Black community, because she is dark skinned and considered unattractive. She dreams of having blue eyes, which symbolize whiteness. When Pecola goes to a candy store, the owner of the store looks at her with disgust. Pecola wonders how a white immigrant storekeeper could possibly understand a little black girl. Pecola is eventually raped and impregnated by her drunk and abusive father. The baby is born prematurely and dies as Pecola drifts into insanity. The abuse of Pecola and her insanity are attributed to racism that infests the Black community because of the racial hierarchy in American society.

Always Outmanned and Always Outgunned by Walter Mosley (Norton, 1997)

Walter Mosley is a bi-racial author born in California in 1952. His mother is of Russian Jewish linage and his father is African American World War II veteran from Louisiana. Mosley grew up in South Central L.A and witnessed many of the situations he writes about. His family eventually moved to a middle-class community bordering on affluent west L.A. Mosley is not only an award- winning author of crime novels, but he has also written for young adults, produced and written for motion pictures and television.

Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned follows the life of Socrates Fortlow, an ex-convict who battles to live a moral life in the city of Los Angeles. In the 1990s, 5.7 million people in the United States were under a form of correctional supervision. About 30% were white, 38% were black and 27% were Hispanic, but blacks made up only 12% of the general population. Overwhelmingly these jail sentences were due to drug arrests. Mosley uses an incident with a drug dealer to highlight Fortlow’s violent but moral code of life.

The setting for the novel is the poor L.A. neighborhood of Watts. Fortlow, who is now fifty-eight, has been released from prison after serving a sentence for a double homicide. He has been living in LA for the past eight years still encumbered by guilt and regret. He occasionally thinks about what transpired and what could have occurred if he made a different choice. Walter Mosley gives a sympathetic and compassionate account of Fortlow’s experience. We see him grow from a hard criminal to a person who tries to live the years he has left with moral conviction. He makes decisions and handles situations using methods that are unorthodox but necessary for the greater good of his neighborhood. Along the way, Fortlow meets young Darryl, an eleven-year-old that reminds him of himself. He feels obligated to save Darryl from a life of hardship and crime to ensure that he does not spend his life in prison. While struggling with the idea that he still viewed himself as a murderer, Fortlow mentors Darryl to keep him out of trouble. He ultimately saves Darryl and eventually finds self-identity, self-love, and self-confidence.

Mosley pulls you into the story with the astonishing developments of his main character, Socrates Fortlow. The reader can see the character transformation from a murder convict into a compassionate man that finds himself while helping others. I would have high school students read and study this novel to better understand the experiences of some African Americans living in poor neighborhoods and the struggles they go through throughout much of their lives. The teaching of this novel gets easier once the use of some of the difficult language is discussed, so that the students may better understand what terms are used and the context of those terms.

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas (Balzer Bray, 2017)

Starr Carter is a sixteen-year-old Black girl who lives in the poor neighborhood of Garden Heights while attending an all-white preparatory school across town. She decides to attend a party with her friends and runs into Khaill, a long-time childhood friend. They began to hang out and he offers her a ride home. While on the way, a white police officer pulls them over. Khaill gets out of the car awaiting the return of the officer. Khalil then opens the car door just to check on Starr and he was immediately shot and killed by the officer, badge number One-Fifteen. Khalil’s death makes national news and Starr wants justice. She wants people to know who he really was, not what the media is portraying him to be. While fighting for justice, Starr realizes that no one can shut her up. Her voice can be used as a weapon. She ultimately finds her voice and uses it to inform others of what really happened to Khalil and what happens to many black men and women in today’s society. Justice must prevail.

This book gives the reader the felt experience of Starr and how she deals with seeing her best friend get shot right in front of her. She has to deal with the implications of the media and police trying to dictate who he was and to justify the need to kill him. Starr’s greatest challenge is using her voice to bring justice to Khalil. It is often taught that black voices don’t matter, but through risk taking, bravery, and extreme strength and power, she finally recognizes the importance of speaking up for who you are and what you believe in, no matter the consequences. I would definitely allow my high school students to read and study this book. It gives an account of Starr’s experiences and the struggles she went through to speak to the world about who Khalil was and to get him true justice. Never stop using your voice and never give up.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday, 2019)

The Nickel Boys follows the life of Elwood Curtis, a business owner living in New York City. In the present day, an investigation takes place into the Nickel Academy that had been closed for several years. The investigation exposes the school’s hidden history of brutalities, including many bodies that were secretly buried on the grounds. Many men who were jailed at Nickel Academy are deciding to come forward to share their experiences of what happened there. Elwood Curtis is forced to tackle the long-term impacts of his experiences.

In 1960s Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis is a hardworking high school student with an idealistic sense of justice. Motivated by Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, he always tried to speak out about injustices. When he was chosen to attend a university to start earning credits for college, he was very excited. However, on the first day, he decides hitchhike with an African American man. When they are pulled over, it is revealed that the vehicle was stolen. Elwood is arrested and convicted. He is sent to Nickel Academy, a juvenile detention center. Most boys at Nickel Academy receive poor education, are made to perform hard labor, and regularly receive harsh physical reprimands. The staff ignores and conceals sexual abuse and visits to the “White House,” from which some boys never come back. The children are segregated by race, with black boys facing the worst treatment. Elwood makes friends with another boy by the name of Turner. Turner has been in the Nickel Academy for a while and knows how everything works. Elwood tries to serve his time while keeping his head down but is gravely beaten on two instances: once for interfering when a young boy was being attacked by sexual predators, and once after writing a letter to inspectors describing the facility’s inadequate conditions and mistreatment. Turner overhears the administration’s plan to have Elwood killed and they decide to try to escape. Elwood is shot and killed while Turner avoids being captured. We then discover that Turner has been using Elwood’s name and tried to live up to his principles. In the present day, he finally exposes his history and real name, Jack Turner, to his wife, then heads back to Florida to tell his friend’s story.

Colson Whitehead reveals the truth about a reform school that operated for 111 years. He revealed the harsh and unjust treatment of young black boys that destroyed their lives. This book gives very descriptive imagery on how these boys were treated and the condition they were in. If this book is taught, students could see the harsh treatments that these black children faced. It also shows how in society today, hanging out in a wrong crowd, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, could ruin your entire life in just an instant. It shows the injustices of what happens to black children. They are not even given a chance. They are sent straight to jail without anyone defending them and without anyone telling judges and authority figures who they really are as a person, or who they can be.

“Rights, Redistribution, and Recognition”:Newark and its Place in the Civil Rights Movement

“Rights, Redistribution, and Recognition”:Newark and its Place in the Civil Rights Movement

Victoria Burd

New Jersey, a northeastern state situated directly under New York and steeped in American history, is often seen as a liberal beacon for the 20th and 21st centuries. The state has consistently voted Democrat in every presidential election for over twenty years, holds a higher minimum wage than many other states, and has decriminalized marijuana in recent years. Despite these “progressive” stances, New Jersey, like the rest of the United States, is mired by a history of racial injustice and discriminatory violence, often perpetrated by the hands of the state itself. New Jersey’s key cities such as Newark, Trenton, and Camden served as battlegrounds in a fierce fight for equality and justice, yet these cities remain an often forgotten fragment of the Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century due to their location in the North.

Defining the Civil Rights movement is a difficult task, as Black Americans have been fighting against racism and discrimination in America for centuries before the term “Civil Rights movement” was even coined. For the purposes of this paper, the focus will be on the post-World War II Civil Rights movement, from the 1950s-1970s, where many famed protests and riots took place across the Northern and Southern United States. Large cities such as Newark, Trenton, Camden, and various others in New Jersey performed critical roles in the Northern Civil Rights movement, with Newark being one of the most publicized of its time. Acting as a catalyst to other race riots in cities such as Trenton and Plainfield, as well as being more thoroughly documented, the 1967 Newark riots serve as a case study by which to compare other cities in New Jersey, the events of the Civil Rights movement in Newark to other events in the North as a whole, and where Newark compares and contrasts with the Southern Civil Rights movement. This paper will explain the preceding events, context, and lasting effects of the 1967 Newark riots and the historiography existing around the Northern Civil Rights movement, before comparing and contrasting Newark and the Northern Civil Rights movement to that of the South and analyzing how the Civil Rights movement in Newark differed from other movements in the North.

According to the Report of The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known better as the Kerner Commission or Kerner Report, the Civil Rights movement can be separated into major stages: the Colonial Period, Civil War and “Emancipation”, Reconstruction, the Early 20th Century, World War I, the Great Depression and New Deal, World War II, and the focus of this paper, the postwar period (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 95-106). During the war, Black Americans waged what was known as the “Double-V Campaign”: victory against foreign enemies and fascism abroad, and victory against racial discrimination at home (Mumford, 2007, p. 32). After having experienced racially integrated life and interracial relationships while being deployed in Europe, specifically England and Germany, during the Second World War, Black veterans came home with a renewed vision for racial equality in the United States. Kevin Mumford, author of Newark: A History of Race, Rights, and Riots in America, describes this sentiment among Black Americans well, explaining that,“‘…before [Black American Soldiers] go out on foreign fields to fight the Hitlers of our day, [they] must get rid of all Hitlers around us,’’ (Mumford, 2007, p. 36). This renewed sense of conviction for equal rights combined with a World War II emphasis on liberty and personal freedoms (although not intended for Black Americans), antithetical to fascist governments of Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, formed the ideological groundwork for a culture of Black Americans ready to relentlessly pursue equal and just treatment during the postwar period.

The postwar period began with grassroots movements in the South, most prominently the Alabama bus boycotts which led to the meteoric rise of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who for many White Americans (on opposite sides of the spectrum of racial tolerance), served as the unofficial spokesman of the Civil Rights movement (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 106). While other Civil Rights leaders such as Malcolm X were prevalent within the movement, Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of nonviolent resistance meant less disruption in the lives of White Americans, and thus garnered more support from that group. As the Civil Rights movement gained traction, not just in the south but across the entire United States, elected officials were pressured to create legislation that would address the core agenda of the Civil Rights movement. One key example is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed employment discrimination against “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” under Title VII (Sugrue, 2008, p. 360-1). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark victory for Civil Rights groups in both the North and South, as it not only ended certain measures of discrimination, but provided the first steps towards “equality” of Black Americans.

This legal measure acted as the first step away from legal discrimination for Black Americans, but as legal barriers began to lift, social and corporate barriers quickly took their place. The definition of racism changed drastically during this period. According to Carol Anderson, author of White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide, “…[when] Confronted with civil rights headlines, depicting unflattering portrayals of KKK rallies and jackbooted sheriffs, white authority transformed those damning images of white supremacy into the sole definition of racism,” which in turn, caused more hostility between White and Black Americans, as Black Americans continued to fight for societal equality and justice (Anderson, 2017, p. 100). As racism became harder to prove on a legal basis, methods of resisting racism became more extreme. The transition from legal to societal discrimination marked a shift in the Civil Rights movement, with the justification of violence rising amongst many different Civil Rights groups and characterizing Northern protests from Southern.

Newark

Newark is a port city in New Jersey founded in 1666, by the Puritan colonists who claimed the land after removing the Hackensack Native American tribe against their will. Like the Black Americans who would come to occupy the city, the Hackensack natives would be largely removed from the narrative surrounding Newark’s development (Mumford, 2007, p. 13). Newark possessed a strong Black community for much of its history, yet this community existed outside of the White public sphere. This Black community published their own newspapers, participated in their own ceremonies, and formed their own societies, creating a distinct circle separate from the White population (Mumford, 2007, p. 17). Throughout many periods of the long Civil Rights movement, White citizens of Newark vigorously resisted Black American integration in their city, maintaining societal segregation (Mumford, 2007, p. 18).  In 1883, the City of Newark passed legislation prohibiting segregation in hotels, restaurants, and transportation, yet what could have been sweeping and unprecedented reform of 19th century civil rights policy was ultimately undermined when consecutive policies for equal protection and education were blatantly disregarded by White Newarkers (Mumford, 2007, p. 19). The culture of Jim Crow was alive and well in a city that saw neighborhoods of many different demographics tightly compacted next to each other (Mumford, 2007, p. 22).

The Great Migration period also affected Newark’s Black public sphere, with Black Southerners migrating to northern cities in hopes for a better life (Mumford, 2007, p. 20). At the same time, Newark experienced an influx of European immigrants from countries such as Italy and Poland. The relationship between Italian Americans and the Black community worsened during the Great Depression, as both groups were affected by diminishing opportunities in manufacturing jobs, a relationship that would only continue to curdle into the 1950s and 1960s (Mumford, 2007, p. 27). This relationship was only further exacerbated by Italians taking up positions of authority in public housing projects that housed mostly black tenants and families (Mumford, 2007, p. 58). The Great Migration, which resulted in 1.2 million Southerners heading North due to World War I labor shortages, was emphasized by ambitious recruitment and enthusiasm for a new place (Mumford, 2007, p. 20). According to demographer Lieberson and Wilkinson, the migrating Black Southerners did find some success in the economic opportunities of the North, with an inconsequential difference between the incomes of Black native Northerners and themselves (Lieberson & Wilkinson, 1976, p. 209). Overall, northern cities offered blacks economic opportunities unavailable in much of the South—indeed many migrated to northern cities during and after World War I and World War II when employers faced a shortage of workers. Overall, however, blacks were confined to what one observer called “the meanest and dirtiest jobs,” (Sugrue, 2008, p. 12).

Integration continued to spread throughout the Central Ward of Newark (otherwise known as the heart of the city, and predominantly black), and into the South, West, and North Wards, with the North Wards containing a large Italian migrant population (Mumford, 2007, p.

62). By 1961, the Civil Rights movement officially entered Newark, with the Freedom Riders, Civil Rights activists from the South, congregating in Newark’s Military Park before continuing their journey to other Southern states (Mumford, 2007, p. 78). Tensions between Italians and Black Americans came to a head in 1967, when an unqualified Italian “crony”, rather than an already appointed capable Black candidate, was appointed by the mayor for a public school board position at a school in which half the students were black. The conflict arising from this situation would eventually become one of the reasons for the 1967 Newark riots (Mumford, 2007, p. 104).

Newark Riots of 1967

The inciting incident of the Newark riots was the arrest and subsequent beating of cab driver John William Smith at the hands of White police officers (Mumford, 2007, p. 98). According to those living in apartments that face the Fourth Precinct Station House, they were able to see Smith being dragged in through the precinct doors. As recounted in the Kerner Commission, “Within a few minutes, at least two civil rights leaders received calls from a hysterical woman declaring a cab driver was being beaten by the police. When one of the persons at the station notified the cab company of Smith’s arrest, cab drivers all over the city began learning of it over their cab radios,” (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 33). After the police refused to negotiate with civil rights leaders representing a mob that formed outside, the crowd was dispersed by force, and reports of looting came in not long after. The Newark riots had begun, and they would end up being the most destructive race riot among the forty riots that occurred since Watts two years earlier (Reeves, 1967). The violence, looting, and firebombing became so severe that units of both State Police and National Guardsmen were sent into the Central Ward to lay siege to the city (Bergesen, 1982, p. 265). According to newspaper articles written about the riots, “Scores of Negroes were taken into custody, although the police said that 75 had been arrested…the injured in the hundreds…more than 100 persons had been treated [in hospital] alone,” (Carroll, 1967). Additionally, “A physician at Newark City Hospital said four persons had been admitted there with gunshot wounds…stabbed or struck by rocks, bottles, and bricks,” (Carroll, 1967).  Four people were shot by Police for looting and six Black Newarkers died as a result of police officers and National Guardsmen firing into crowds, showcasing that police violence during the Newark riots was indiscriminate, racially charged, and often fatal (Bergeson, 1982, p. 265). The initiating events in Newark would spread to other major urban centers in New Jersey in the week following the riots, with varying degrees of severity.

Understanding the history of Newark, the inciting events of these riots, and the progress of these riots is key to uncovering Newark’s and, in a broader sense, New Jersey’s role in the Civil Rights movement. This paper analyzes how violence is used as a distinction between riots in the North and South. It also investigates the main causes of the Civil Rights movement and subsequent rioting in Newark, including the phenomenon of  “White flight,” redlining and the housing crisis, and poverty caused by rapid urbanization. Lastly, the paper considers the impact of the lack of public welfare programs, intercommunity-autonomy and governmental transparency as tools for curbing civil unrest amongst majority black communities.

Lasting Effects on the City of Newark

Twenty-six people died during the Newark riots, most of whom were Black residents of the city, and over 700 people were injured or hospitalized during the riots. The property damage resulting from the looting and fires valued at over ten million dollars, and spaces still exist where buildings once stood (Rojas & Atkinson, 2017). The long-term physical and psychological effects of the riots on the people of Newark and on the reputation of the city itself cannot be understated (Rojas & Atkinson, 2017). Beyond the pain and grief caused by the loss of life and property, the riots represented a paradigm shift for Newark as a city. The eruptive violence in the city streets was perhaps the final nail in the coffin arranged by systemic racism, as Newark’s reputation as a dangerous city plagued by violence and corruption solidified in the minds of its former White residents and White generations long after (Rojas & Atkinson, 2017). As a result, the entrenched Black communities of Newark found themselves losing tax revenue and job opportunities quickly. The disadvantages that came from the riots and their causes only further incentivized White families to keep their tax dollars and children as far away from Newark as possible; this also occurred during a time in which taxes for police, fire, and medical services were being increased to compensate emergency departments for their involvement in the riots (Treadwell, 1992). Areas such as Springfield Avenue, once a highly commercialized street, were turned into abandoned, boarded up-buildings, further contributing to Newark’s negative reputation (Treadwell, 1992). What once were public housing projects, well lived-in homes, and family businesses remain vacant and crumbling, if not already demolished from the looting and fires fifty years ago which much of Newark did not rebuild (Treadwell, 1992). Even church buildings which once conveyed a sense of openness to all of the public are lined with fences and barbed-wire to prevent looting and vandalism (Treadwell, 1992). While the riots did lead to Black and Latino Americans vying for political positions that previously belonged to the White population, ushering in the election of the first Black mayor and first Black city council members in Newark in 1970 (Treadwell, 1992). Despite Black Americans gaining some control politically, the Central Ward still lacked economic and social renewal, with any efforts towards regenerating Newark failing to undo the larger effects of the riots of 1967 (Treadwell, 1992). Any of the limited economic development that did occur was largely restricted to “White areas”, such as downtown Newark, as opposed to the Black communities (“50 Years Later,” 2017). Larry Hamm, appointed to the Board of Education at 17 years old by Newark’s first Black mayor, expounds on the economic disparity between Black and White Newarkers, with “dynamism [prevalent] downtown, and poverty in the neighborhoods,” (Hampson, 2017). Fifty years after the riots, police brutality remains a constant for Black Newarkers, with a 2016 investigation into the Newark police department finding that officers were still making illegal and illegitimate arrests, often using excessive force and retaliatory actions against the Black population (“50 Years Later,” 2017). A city with a large Black population, one third of Newark residents remain below the poverty line, with Newark residents only representing one fifth of the city’s jobs (Hampson, 2017). Despite the foothold that Black Americans have gained in Newark’s politics, the economic power largely remains in the hands of White corporations and organizations (Hampson, 2017). Other economic factors, such as increases in the cost of insurance due to increased property risk, tax increases for increased police and fire protection, and businesses and job opportunities either closing or moving to different (Whiter) neighborhoods following White flight also have a significant lasting economic impact on the city (“How the 1960s’ Riots Hurt African-Americans,” 2004). The people of Newark were also affected psychologically and emotionally. On one hand, many Black Americans felt empowered – their community had risen against injustice and was largely successful in catching the nation’s attention despite the lack of real organization, challenging the system that desperately tried to keep them isolated and creating a movement that emphasized their power (“Outcomes and Impacts – the North,” 2021). Yet, just as many Black Americans became hopeless, seeing a country and its law enforcement continue to disregard their lives and stability, treating them as secondary citizens despite the many legal changes made under the guise of creating equality (CBS New York, 2020).

The riots of 1967 destroyed Newark’s reputation and economic stability, steeping the population in poverty. While the Black Community used this opportunity to gain political power in the city and to jumpstart the Black Power movement in New Jersey, many Black Newarkers remain in despair, seeing their community members injured and killed with no change to the systemic cycle of racism that perpetuates the city.

The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders Report (Kerner Commission Report)

The 1968 National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders Report is one of the most referenced resources in this paper, due to the unique document’s origins, in which sitting President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967 tasked a commission specifically with determining the causes of the rising number of U.S. race riots that had occured that summer, with the riots in Detroit and Newark acting as catalysts for the founding of the commission. While Johnson essentially anticipated a report that would serve to legitimize his Great Society policies, the Kerner Report would come to be one of the most candid and progressive examinations of how public policy affected Black Americans’ lives (Wills, 2020). The Commission was led by Illinois Governor Otto Kerner, and consisted of ten other men, most of whom were White. The only non-white members of the Commission were Roy Wilkins, an NAACP head, and Sen. Edward Brooke, a Republican from Massachusetts (Bates, 2018). Despite the lack of racial representation on the commission, the members placed themselves in the segregated and redlined Black communities they were writing about, interviewing ordinary Black Americans and relaying their struggles with a humanistic clarity that was largely uncharacteristic of federal politics in the 1960s. This report identified rampant and blatant racism as the cause of the race riots of 1967, starkly departing from Lyndon B. Johnson’s views on race relations and in the process establishing historical legitimacy as a well-supported and largely objective source (Haberman, 2020). The Kerner Commission clearly outlines how segregation, White Flight and police brutality contributed the most to worsening race relations and rising tensions between Black communities and the White municipal governments who mandated said communities (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 119, 120, 160). Despite the Kerner Commission clearly outlining the causes and effects of the racial climate of the 1960s, the commission makes no effort to justify the riots themselves, or even validate the emotions and frustrations resulting from the oppression that the Commission identifies. For everything that the commission does state, it leaves just as much unstated. As the Commission explains, America in the 1960s was in the process of dividing into two separate, unequal, and increasingly racially ubiquitous societies, and the Commission itself validates this theory by displaying a clear identification of what the Black experience looks like while having next to no willingness to justify or defend the riots themselves (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 225). The Kerner Commission is a factually accurate but contextually apathetic document which, for its purpose in this paper, serves as one of the key documents due to its accuracy; yet it is important to acknowledge its shortcomings in the larger context of the Civil Rights Movement. Despite clearly identifying both the causes of the 1967 race riots and racial tensions in America, the Kerner Commission has gone largely ignored, as many of the issues identified by the commission remain present in Black communities, and in some instances, have worsened significantly, such as the issues of income inequality and rising incarceration rates (Wilson, 2018).

Section 1: How Newark and the Northern Civil Rights Movement was Alike and Consistent with Civil Rights Movements in the South

Newark’s riots and Civil Rights movement reflected many of the same characteristics seen in Civil Right movements across the country, both in the North and South. Key similarities between Newark and the rest of the Civil Rights movements in the United States, as well as decisive factors that sparked the rioting in Newark, include the phenomenon of “White Flight”, effects from police brutality and over-policing as a result of White Flight, and the quickly deteriorating relationship between black communities and law enforcement with the introduction of the National Guard into areas of conflict, combined with the familiar effects of redlining that are still visible across the United States today.

White Flight

One of the main causes of the Newark riots was the phenomenon known as “White flight”, and the effects caused by extreme racial isolation. To truly understand the impacts of “White Flight”, one must first define the concept. “White Flight” is the unique phenomenon of middle class White Americans leaving cities that were becoming more diversely integrated with Black Americans who were migrating from rural areas to these cities. In the 1950s, 45.5 million White Americans lived in areas considered to be “cities”, yet research by Thomas Sugrue in his work Sweet Land of Liberty explains how although the White population in cities did increase in the next decade, it was not of the same rate as previous years or in line with the Nation’s whole white population, with theoretically 4.9 million White Americans leaving cities between 1960 and 1965 (Sugrue, 2008, ch. 7, Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 119). American cities were becoming less white, caused by Black American populations in cities increasing, and resulting in an even greater Black population in urban centers (Sugrue, 2008, p. 259). This population movement was not only seen in the South or key cities in the North such as Detroit and Chicago (though present there as well). Kevin Mumford explains Newark’s experience with this phenomenon, citing how the Central Ward of Newark (i.e., the “heart” of the city) included 90 percent of the black population of Newark, a drastic difference from the initial years of the Great Migration which saw only 30 percent of Newark’s black population settling in the Central Ward (Mumford, 2007, p. 23). White flight changed the landscape of New Jersey, with densely populated cities such as Newark, Trenton, and Camden becoming more clearly divided from new suburban residential areas, and the development of these new suburban areas leading thousands to flee the inner cities (Mumford, 2007, p. 50).

White flight impacted more than just the distinct and divided racial makeup of cities and suburbs; impacts were also seen in other areas of life. The “persistant racial segregation” in post-war America often decided what kind of education an individual received, what jobs were accessible, and even the quality of an individual’s life (Sugrue, 2008, p. 201). Urban (i.e., majority Black) residents were further hurt from this White flight, as suburban areas located close to urban centers drained urban areas of their taxes, decreased their population, and left fewer jobs available to urban communities (Sugrue, 2008, p. 206). The lack of urban taxes funding urban public schools resulted in unequal educational opportunities, further validating the White argument that having Black Americans in cities “ …signified disorder and failure” (Mumford, 2007, p. 5).

What ultimately made White Flight possible and cyclically reinforced White privilege was agency. White Americans possessed the agency to choose home ownership, involved and “cookie-cutter” communities, and access to adequate education. They had stronger and better-funded education systems, public services, and largely avoided many of the social problems that plagued black communities, including economic instability, lack of reliable housing, and health issues further exacerbated by overcrowded living conditions. Furthermore, White Americans did not fear the police, as this form of law enforcement showed an extensive history of protecting and benefitting White communities. As explained by Sugrue,”Ultimately, the problem of housing segregation was one of political and economic power, of coercion, not choice, personal attitudes, or personal morality,” (Sugrue, 2008, p. 249). The existence of a black middle class and integrated suburbs represented a deterioration of this agency, and was therefore not permitted by the larger White population. The considerable and ever growing gap of wealth, stature, and control between White and Black Americans was not lost on the Black urban population. After being revitalized by the hope that the World War II emphasis on freedom and liberty gave Black Americans, the disappointment and bitterness that stemmed from the lack of social change morphed public opinion in Black communities from that of optimism to resentment (Sugrue, 2008, p. 257). This resentment, exacerbated by continuous outside stressors, would eventually bubble over into violent demonstrations. The hundreds of racial revolts of the 1960s [The Newark riots among them] marked a major turning point in the black revolution, highlighting the demand for African American self-determination (Woodard, 2003, p. 289).

White Flight was a fundamental motivator in the Newark riots, yet was experienced by urban centers across the North, South, Midwest, and West Coast. The stark contrast between Black and White Americans in regards to agency over housing, public programs, education and law enforcement, stemming from the upending of White Americans’ tax dollars from urban centers grew dramatically and inversely during the 1950s and 1960s, setting the stage for a period of unprecedented violence and racial unrest in America’s cities. Post-war optimism among Black Americans was severely dashed by the lack of extension of freedom and liberty at home, and the financial and social atrophy that followed would inform fierce resentment among Black Americans, ushering in a newer, more embittered chapter of the Civil Rights movement.

Police Brutality, “Snipers”, and the National Guard

As American cities became increasingly Black due to the phenomenon of White flight, already strained relationships between Black Americans and law enforcement worsened. Newark saw a palpable shift in intercommunity relations with the police. Over-policing and police brutality in Black neighborhoods acted as a product of a lack of racial representation in the ranks of American police forces (Bigart, 1968). To further emphasize this divide between the police and minority groups, the use of brute force was prevalent on the Black population, especially during the riots of the late 1960s. Police brutality against John William Smith acted as an inciting event to the Newark riots, but brazen, and often fatal violence at the hands of Newark’s police forces fanned the flames of violent unrest.

Even before the Newark riots, the police were infiltrating and undermining Civil Rights groups in America’s cities. One such case that preceded the riots occurred in the suburb of East Orange, New Jersey, in which multiple Black Muslims were arrested, resulting in the arrestees being released from jail having sustained a fragmented skull, lacerations, and genital trauma at the hands of the police (Mumford, 2007, p. 110). This incident occurred only a week before the Newark riots, and is, in hindsight, indicative of the Newark Police Department’s willingness to enact acts of brutal violence in the name of “keeping the peace” and disrupting leftist organizations (Mumford, 2007, p. 110). As chronicled by Sugrue, the Black population of America,”…doesn’t see anything but the dogs and hoses. It’s all the white cop,” (Sugrue, 2008, p. 329).

The Newark riots began, fittingly, at a police station. After John William Smith was allegedly beaten by two white officers and brutalized in holding, a mob formed in front of the Fourth Precinct demanding to see the taxi driver and his condition. Any hopes of the crowd being dispersed peacefully and a riot being avoided were dashed when a Molotov cocktail struck the police station (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 33). The ensuing riot control would prove more destructive and archaic than the looting and arson being committed at the hands of rioters. Riot police, armed with automatic rifles and carbines, fired indiscriminately into the air, at cars, at residential buildings, and into empty storefronts of pro-black businesses (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 38). At least four looters were shot and at least six civilians were killed as a result of firing into crowds (Bergesen, 1982, p. 264-5). Beyond gun violence, a specific instance in which a black off-duty police officer attempting to enter his precinct during the riots was beaten and brutalized by his white coworkers who did not recognize him offers an indication of how unprompted much of the violence against the Black population of Newark was (Carroll, 1967). In the end, 26 people died, and over 69 were injured (Carroll, 1967).

As extreme as the violence against demonstrators was during the Newark riots, it was far from unique. Similarly tactless and lethal methods of crowd control had been deployed during race riots in Watts and Detroit (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 20, 54). Another similarity between these three race riots, as well as other race riots in the South, were the supposedly looming presence of urban snipers (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 180). While it remains unseen if Black nationalists armed with sniper rifles were truly as ubiquitous as the media would have then made it seem, what is verifiable is the fact that Riot Police used urban snipers as justification to scale up militarization efforts and enter and proliferate Black communities (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 40, Mumford, 2007, p. 142). Despite being difficult to verify, the threat of snipers waiting patiently to pick off police officers in dense urban areas was a deeply vivid and real threat to police and National Guardsmen sent into Newark and other cities. In Newark, there are multiple accounts of police firing indiscriminately into apartment windows out of fear for snipers. It is assumed, however, that most reports of sniper fire during race riots across cities in the United States were misidentified shots sourced from police or National Guardsmen (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 180).

The presence of the National Guard as peacekeepers during the Newark riots is another factor that is both consistent with other race riots and contributed heavily to high death tolls among said race riots. Of the roughly 17,000 enlisted New Jersey National Guardsmen that responded to the riots in 1967, only 303 of them were Black (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 37). The largely white Guardsmen who were tasked with keeping the peace in cities in the full swing of anarchy had for the most part only had limited experience with black people, let alone crowd control operations. The majority of the reporting Guardsmen at Newark were young, not adequately psychologically or tactically prepared, and “trigger happy” (Bigart, 1968). The naivety of these Guardsmen, the presence of military-grade equipment such as machine guns and armored vehicles, and the looming threat of snipers created a situation in which it is possible that black demonstrators were seen as an enemy force to be subdued or neutralized, rather than American citizens engaging in protest. By any measure, however, the temperament of the National Guard displayed a clear and fervent prejudice against African Americans, and Guardsmen were reported to have taken part in the destruction of Black lives and property alongside Newark Police and New Jersey State Police (Bigart, 1968). Reinforcing a clear bias against Black Americans, Black enlistment in the National Guard declined deeply following integration within the Guard. There is no way of knowing for sure if a higher number of enlisted black Guardsmen would have led to a deeper understanding of Black communities, and in turn a less destructive response to the race riots of the 1960s; yet the police brutality that faced John William Smith, and the subsequent brutality that faced Newark rioters further exacerbated the riots themselves, with police using the word “sniper” as an excuse to wreak havoc on the Black masses.

Redlining and the Turn from Legal to Public Discrimination

Redlining is a discriminatory practice in which Black citizens were segregated into specific neighborhoods under the guise of lacking financial assistance through loans and government programs, rather than Jim Crow Laws. Large areas of residential housing occupied disproportionately by Black homeowners were designated to be high-risk by banking organizations, and would thus be denied housing loans to move out of their neighborhood. The results of this practice were strictly segregated neighborhoods that existed far beyond the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and ostensibly dashed any possibility for Black Americans to build generational wealth. Redlining is a key example of how many discrimination practices, in both the North and South, changed from being legally enforced to publicly and socially enforced. Redlining and public discrimination practices affected Black communities in both the Northern and Southern United States, and contributed directly to the Newark riots by preventing Black Americans from accruing generational wealth, pushing out “ghetto” communities through urban renewal, and forcing Black Americans to remain in impoverished communities through publicly enforced racial lines.

Redlining was conceptualized and implemented during the Second World War, when William Levitt revolutionized residential communities with easily built and affordable housing in the form of Levittown, America’s first true suburb. Initially, Levitt, a staunch segregationist, outright banned Black Americans from living in his communities on the basis of race. As a result, Black Americans paid more on average for housing than White Americans did, while being excluded from access to new and contemporary housing (Sugrue, 2008, p. 200). As advancements in legal protections for Black Americans were made during the 1950’s, realtors, leasing managers and landlords shifted their efforts towards a more privatized form of discrimination, emphasizing the individual rights of businesses to decide who to do business with (Sugrue, 2008, p. 202). White Americans in the North during this time had developed a curious sense of superiority over the discriminatory culture and customs of the South, despite engaging in the same discriminatory practices under the guise of “Freedom of Association,” (Sugrue, 2008, p. 202). White Americans in the north drew their own lines, publicly enforcing White-only neighborhoods and refusing Black consumers access to their housing market, similar to the Jim Crow laws in the South. At the same time that White liberals were expressing admiration for Dr. Martin Luther King, they were drawing invisible borders through their communities, ready and willing to relegate Black Americans to ghettos if it meant their property value remained high (Mumford, 2007, p. 65). Black Americans not only faced discriminatory lending practices, as a single black family had the potential to shutter a community of well-to-do-whites, but in addition the Federal Housing Administration was in open support of restrictive covenants (Sugrue, 2008, p. 204).

For Black Americans, it was not only enough to prove that they could exist in white neighborhoods without presenting a risk to White financial assets and housing, it was their responsibility to justify their existence in White suburbs against the risk of financial loss. As Sugrue explains, “It was one thing to challenge the status quo; it was another to create viable alternatives,” and black communities were not able to create these alternatives while still effectively being segregated (Sugrue, 2008, p. 220). As a result of these discriminatory practices, Black Americans’ experiences with White Americans was primarily relegated to that of interactions with the police. Redlining only served to further solidify many Black communities as “ghettos”, as many areas that became heavily redlined were already suffering from unemployment and disinvestment. Furthermore, redlined communities were subject to urban renewal efforts, where black communities were essentially uprooted to make room for expanding public projects that were intended to displace the ghetto population (Theoharis & Woodard, 2003, p. 291). A specific example of this phenomenon would be the “Medical School Crisis”, a major catalyst for the Newark riots in which a school campus was proposed that would displace Black citizens in Newark’s Central Ward (Theoharis & Woodard, 2003, p. 291).

The effects of redlining in Black neighborhoods was severe. The extent of the widening wealth gap was not lost on Black Americans, who truly began to feel the effects of a lack of self-governance and generational wealth, both of which could not exist inside redlined communities. Black Americans became further aware not only of the wealth gap, but in the differences in status and power that existed between Black and White Americans (Sugrue, 2008, p. 257). Economic inequality became synonymous with racial inequality, and Black Americans began actively protesting both as a result of redlining (Sugrue, 2012, p. 10). As previously mentioned, urban development was a rising trend amongst metropolitan areas, and the superhighways needed to make the newly paved American Highway system work often involved building massive ramps and tracts of highway over residential housing that could not be sold (Sugrue, 2008, p. 259). Public school systems were affected as well. As previously recounted in the effects of White flight, taxes were being drained from urban centers to fund schools bordering between central cities and White suburbs, yet Black Americans did not benefit from these schools, remaining segregated and without necessary resources to make their education truly “equal” (Sugrue, 2008, p. 206). Gerrymandering further ensured these separate school districts, drawing more invisible lines that dictated which schools children living in certain areas would attend (Sugrue, 2012, p. 13). Many White community members argued that these schools were not separated intentionally, but that it was “… the natural consequence of individual choices about where to live and where to send children to school,” completely disregarding that the segregated districts are a byproduct of White-imposed redlining (Sugrue, 2012, p. 14). The effects of this practice were so dire that Newark’s mayor called for the state control of public schools (Bigart, 1968). In the end, the image many White Americans held of Black neighborhoods became a self-fulfilling prophecy; that redlined areas were occupied by gangsters, bootleggers, and other criminals. In reality, the economic hardships imposed by stringent redlining created the circumstances under which crime was inevitable (Sugrue, 2008, p. 203).

Beyond a network of financial discrimination, the White general public also maintained the lines surrounding redlined communities through publicly and socially enforced separation. Rare cases of Black families attempting to move into segregated majority White neighborhoods such as Levittown were almost always met with at best, verbal, and at worst, physical abuse (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 119). To Whites, the impoverished neighborhoods of Newark were no better than “…a vast crawl of negro slums and poverty, a festering center of diseases, vice injustice, and crime,” (Mumford, 2007, p. 52) and the acceptance of Black families into White neighborhoods represented a direct threat that their communities would be labeled the same way.

Redlining and the practice of socially and publicly enforcing discrimination measures affected Black communities across America, and contributed directly to the riots by preventing Black Americans from leaving the poverty-stricken neighborhoods known as “ghettos”, forcing urban renewal on the already limited spaces Black Americans could live, and furthering the wealth gap between Black and White Americans. Redlining proved to be a long-lasting roadblock in the slow march towards the advancement of America’s Black Population. Its inception and widespread use was indicative of a still-segregationist White America who was willing to explore alternative avenues in the name of maintaining the racial purity of their neighborhoods. Redlining essentially served as the next interpretation of Jim Crow laws – severe stratification of Black economies, reinforced by a White majority committed to keeping said system in place (Mumford, 2007, p. 22). In response to these measures, Black groups that were not against using violence to enact results began to popularize, leading to an expansion of the Black public sphere, the establishment of the Black Power movements, and the rise in riots across the country.

Section 2: How Newark and the Northern Civil Rights Movement Differed from the

Civil Rights Movement of the South

Despite their significant similarities, the Northern and Southern Civil Rights movement differ in various ways that allow for specific characteristics of each movement. The greatest difference between the two regional movements was the ideas and theories surrounding the use of, and different applications of, violence as a means for social change. As the South turned towards nonviolent measures of civil protest, the North did the opposite, at times using the South as an example of how nonviolent protests were not successful (Sugrue, 2008, p. 291). After experiencing the nonviolent tactics of the South and observing the little change it brought to the North, people in Newark and other cities in the North began to use more aggressive tactics, such as firebombs, molotovs, and violent protests, both as aggressors and defenders.

The South and Nonviolence

In the years leading up to the Newark riots, attention was once again on the South as nonviolent ideology continued to spread and characterize the Southern Civil Rights movement.

Nonviolent protests stemmed out of Selma, Alabama, when Civil Rights workers staged a protest in 1965, law enforcement interrupted the protest, and weeks later two White supporters of the Civil Rights movement were killed by racists due to their participation (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 20). Other indicators of the Southern ideology of the Civil Rights movement are further exemplified by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a Civil Rights organization which used protest measures such as sit-ins, boycotts, and the Freedom Rides, and whose headquarters was located in Atlanta (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 29). When the Freedom Riders arrived in Newark in 1961 on their way to Tennessee, the Black community of Newark saw firsthand how nonviolent protesting in the South functioned (Mumford, 2007, p. 78). Newark would experience many other nonviolent Civil Rights events before the riots of 1967, including the events of Freedom Summer 1964, which acted as a campaign to recruit Black voters, and the actions of the Congress of Racial Equality (at this point a civil disobedience organization that would later join the Black Power movement) who organized sit-ins at White Castle diners across New Jersey for better treatment of Black consumers and just hiring protocols for aspiring Black employees (Mumford, 2007, p. 80). Violence against Black Americans continued despite these protests, including the death of Lester Long Jr. and Walter Mathis, which further reminded the

Black community of one of the most notorious lynchings, Emmett Till (Mumford, 2007, p. 117).

It was clear to many Black Northerners that racism, discrimination, and brutality against Black Americans would not bend to nonviolent will, therefore causing the Northern Civil Rights movement, and, by extension, the Newark rioters, to use more aggressive tactics in order to stimulate change.

Violence and Resistance in Newark and the North

Black Americans in Newark and across the North bore witness to the nonviolent protests in areas such as Birmingham and Selma, and, instead of imitating their methods, used these events as justification for turning to more violent tactics (Sugrue, 2008, p. 291). Nonviolent protesting measures were criticized by many, including key individuals such as Nathan Wright, an author prevalent in the Black Power movement, who claimed that it lowered “black self-esteem” and led to the ideology that Black community members themselves were not worth defending (Mumford, 2007, p. 111). To many Black Americans, violence was a justifiable means, aligning with the psychoanalytic theory of Frantz Fanon, who claimed that “…the development of violence among the colonized people will be proportionate to the violence exercised by the threatened colonial regime,” (Mumford, 2007, p. 109). Up to this stage in the Civil Rights movement, and for decades after, the effect of White colonialism, segregation, brutality, redlining, and other discriminatory measures more than sufficed as violence exercised against the Black American people, and therefore provided the North and the rioters of Newark with a justifiable means to turn towards violence.

The Northern Civil Rights riots themselves were steeped in aggressive tactics, though it is uncertain in many circumstances whether the rioters were the true initiators of such events. Molotovs and firebombs became key components of the movement, mostly the threat rather than the use themselves. Police confiscated six bottles with the makings of Molotov cocktails after raiding the homes of various Black Americans who were classified as “militant”, and Black activists anonymously dispersed guides on how to assemble these incendiary weapons (Mumford, 2007, p. 115, Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 22). During the Newark riots, fires spread through downtown Newark, yet officials from the Fire Department adamantly claimed that the rioters were not the ones who set the fire (Carroll, 1967). There were also reports of gunfire between law enforcement and Black rioters, with the gunfire being “aimed” at police reportedly originating from the tops of buildings and the interiors of cars, further exacerbating the rumors of “snipers” attacking the police and National Guard (Carroll, 1967).

Other riots in the North experienced severe aggression as well, though with substantial evidence that some rioters were instigators in the events. In the Plainfield riots, a series of New Jersey riots that mirrored those of Newark, black youths were reported physically assaulting and murdering a police officer, Gleason, to which the police department then claimed that “…under the circumstances and in the atmosphere that prevailed at that moment, any police officer, black or white, would have been killed…” in the hostile situation (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 44). This, black rioters recognized, would be used as a justification for retaliation against all Black rioters. Rioters (the majority young) then began arming themselves with carbines from a local arms manufacturing company, and firing without clear targets (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 45). This is a drastic change from the nonviolent protests that characterized the South, and furthered the distinction between the Northern Civil Rights and Southern Civil Rights movements. Though the changes between the protesting tactics of the North and South remain markedly different, there remain many differences between Northern protests as well, including the roles that welfare and public programs, intercommunity agency, and governmental transparency play in maintaining peace.

Section 3: How Various Civil Rights Movements in the North Differed from Newark and Each Other

Anti-Poverty and Welfare Programs

Anti-Poverty and welfare programs proved to be invaluable tools for New Jersey’s cities in diffusing racial violence before it escalated to the level of the Newark riots. In New Brunswick, following the events in Newark, a growingly despondent group of Black youths began committing what the Kerner Commission refers to as “random vandalism” and “mischief” (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 46). Despite being relatively harmless, concerns still loomed that an eruption of violence comparable with Newark remained a possibility in New Brunswick. As a result, the city government funded a summer program for the city’s anti-poverty agency (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 46). Enough young people signed up for leadership positions in the summer program that the city cut their stipends in half and hired twice as many young people (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 46). This summer program did not single-handedly deescalate racial tensions between Black youth and White city government, but it did establish a rapport that was utilized to come to a sort of common ground (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 46). The same cannot be said about the events that transpired in Plainfield, around the same time. Like New Brunswick, Plainfield was on the brink of extreme racial violence, and in similar fashion, young people and teenagers were demanding community recreation activities be expanded. The city government, however, refused, and Plainfield went on to sustain violence and destruction at the hands of rioters, second only to the Newark riots (Mumford, 2007, p. 107).

Perhaps it seems overly simplistic to suggest the difference between neighborhood kids and radicalized arsonists is simply having something to do; but what is repeatedly noted by the Kerner Commission in their profile of an average Newark rioter is a lack of preoccupation. They describe the typical rioter as young, male, unmarried, uneducated and often unemployed (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 73). These men often did not attend high school or university, and went into and out of periods of joblessness. What is noteworthy is that the attitude of these men towards education and employment is that of frustration, rather than apathy (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 78). According to the Commission Report, rioters typically desired more consistent and gainful employment or the opportunity to pursue a higher education, but were stymied by race or class barriers (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 78). The Kerner Report established a pattern of explaining systemic barriers to positive social, health, economic, and education outcomes, quickly followed by assertions of black pathology. The report does not conclude that it is absolutely logical to find oppression intolerable and that some type of action should be expected, or an apathy toward political and educational systems would be a rational response to these barriers (Bentley-Edwards et. al., 2018). Regardless, there appears to be a direct correlation between giving urban youths leadership positions within their communities, and a desire to preserve and protect that community. Perhaps if this tactic was employed by the city of Newark, there would have been less desire to loot and proliferate, and more importantly, the possibility that this tactic could be used in contemporary urban centers.

Communal Autonomy and Self-Governance

As mentioned earlier in this paper, a sense of communal agency was paramount in upholding White privilege, and was a consistently desired standard in New Jersey’s cities during the 1960s. In Elizabeth, an impending race riot was preemptively undone by utilizing intercommunity autonomy and self-governance (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 40). Among a hundred volunteer peacekeepers in Elizabeth was Hesham Jaaber, an orthodox Muslim leader who led two dozen of his followers into the streets, armed with a bullhorn to urge peace and order (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 40). Both demonstrators and police dissipated and a full riot failed to materialize in Elizabeth (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 40). This approach can be compared with the Newark riots, in which peace was supposed to be achieved at the hands of nearly 8,000 heavily armed, excessively violent White National Guardsmen who knew nothing about the people they were supposedly deployed to serve. Per the example in New Brunswick, a correlation between the effectiveness of de-escalation measures from law enforcement who live in that community and the ineffectiveness of de-escalation in cities when law enforcement do not reside in that community becomes apparent.

Government Transparency and Community-Government Partnerships

An excellent example of how government transparency can positively affect race relations is the previous example of New Brunswick. Despite the success of the anti-poverty summer program, there still remained a radical sect of incensed young people in the city. When this group of 35 teenagers expressed an interest in speaking directly to the newly instated Mayor Sheehan, the Mayor obliged their request and agreed to meet with them (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 46). After a long discussion in which the teenagers “poured their hearts out,” Sheehan agreed to draw up plans to address the social ills that these young Black Americans were facing. In return, the 35 young people began sending radio broadcasts to other young people, insisting that they “cool it,” and emphasized the Mayor’s willingness to tackle Black issues (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 46). Sheehan also demonstrated her willingness for peaceful negotiation with her constituents when in the days after the Newark riots, a mob materialized on the steps of city hall, demanding that all those jailed during demonstrations in New Brunswick that day be released from holding. Rather than using the police to disperse the group by force, Sheehan met the mob face to face with a bullhorn and informed them that all held arrestees had already been released. Upon hearing this, the mob willingly dispersed and returned home (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 47).

It is perhaps unsurprising that the Newark police did not utilize these tactics, though they had ample opportunities to do so. In the moments directly before the riot, in front of the Fourth Precinct Station House, Mayor Addonizio and Police Director Spina repeatedly ignored attempts by Civil Rights leader Robert Curvin to appease the crowd by performing a visual inspection of John William Smith for injuries (Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968, p. 117). It was not until nearly a full day of rioting had occurred before Mayor Addonizio even considered a political solution to the rioters demands, and by that point it was too late to reach an arrangement (Mumford, 2007, p. 129).

The consistent factor among instances of avoided and deescalated violence is a level of mutual respect between city government officials and Black communities. Repeatedly, arson, looting, and destruction of property occurred in areas where rioters felt that their surroundings, their infrastructure, and community did not belong to them. Based on evidence mentioned in this section, it is clear that the more a community is involved in administering the area that they live in, the more they feel inclined to defend and preserve their neighborhood.

Conclusions and Why Teaching This History is Necessary

This paper analyzed key distinctions between inciting events of the Civil Rights movement riots in the North and South, including the differing ideologies on nonviolent verses violent protesting, the phenomenon of “White flight” and subsequent redlining, the housing crisis and poverty caused by rapid urbanization and lack of public welfare programs. This paper explains how intercommunity autonomy and government transparency, along with anti-poverty measures were underutilized tools in curbing civil unrest amongst Black communities, leading to increased tensions, anger, and distrust between Black Americans and White communities and government. It also compares the violence prevalent in Northern Civil Rights movement protests, stemming from disregard and denial of the blatant systemic racism rampant in the states, to the nonviolent protesting measures characteristic of the South and the Civil Rights movement as a whole. Throughout the recapitulation of the Civil Rights movement, specifically that in New Jersey using the Newark Riots of 1967, a side of state history that is often overlooked becomes clearer. Through this clarification, one can see the effects this history still has on New Jersey, and, in a larger sense, the United States today. As students continue to see protests regarding the injustice, inequality, and brutality facing Black communities in New Jersey and across the country, the importance of understanding the decisions throughout history that sparked these events becomes all the more important. Without understanding “White flight”, students cannot fully understand why center cities have a vast majority Black population, while suburbs remain significantly White. Without understanding redlining in key cities such as Newark, students cannot understand why New Jersey schools severely lack diversity, still remaining severely separated, or why tax money from central cities are being redirected to schools bordering suburbs.

Without understanding the deep history of police brutality toward Black Americans, students cannot fully understand or analyze the tragedies of today, such as the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah Jovan McClain, and countless others. Racism and discrimination is deeply rooted not only in the South, not only in the North, but in New Jersey and the entirety of America, and the effects of such racism and discrimination are still seen daily. It is impossible to separate the history of New Jersey from its racist roots, making understanding these roots integral to understanding New Jersey. Now more than ever, teachers are forced to critically think about what role the history of racism in America has in their classroom – yet the conversation must exist with students for as long as the effects of this racist past are still seen in classrooms across the United States, including their home state. By centering the education of racism on New Jersey, students make a deeper connection to the history, and recognize that racism and segregation, as often taught in history classes, did not solely exist in the South, but down the street from them, in their capital, and across the “civilized” North. Teachers can use Newark as a way to initiate the conversation of racism in New Jersey, educating students on how racist institutions and injustices evolved into rioting, how the cycle is still seen today, and how many of the reasons people in 1967 rioted are still reasons that they saw people riot in 2020. When teaching about the Civil Rights movement, teachers can include the North in their instruction, emphasizing how racism looked different in the North compared to the South, yet still perpetuated inequality. It is not a happy history, nor one that citizens should be proud of- and it is far from being rectified. Yet, it is the duty of citizens and students of New Jersey to research these topics that are often overlooked and hidden, to analyze how racism and discrimination still impacts Black New Jersians, before analyzing the post-war Civil Rights movement and the activism and movements such as Black Lives Matter in New Jersey today. By failing to educate students on the effects of racism in the North, students are left uneducated on how to identify legal and institutionalized racism, and vulnerable to misinformation. Until the measures of deeply ingrained racism and discrimination are fully dissolved and racial injustice is consistently upended, beginning with proper education, protesting and civil unrest will remain a constant in the American experience, as will the consistent need to educate students on these injustices.

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Wills, M. (2020). “The Kerner Commission Report on White Racism, 50 Years on …” JSTOR Daily. Retrieved from https://daily-jstor-org.ezproxy.usach.cl/the-kerner-commission-report-on-white-racism-50 -years-on/.

Wilson, B. L. (2018). “The Kerner Commission Report 50 Years Later.” GW Today. Retrieved from https://gwtoday.gwu.edu/kerner-commission-report-50-years-later.

Secondary Sources:

Anderson, C. (2017). White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (1st ed.). Bloomsbury, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Bentley-Edwards, K. L., Edwards, M. C., Spence, C.N., Darity Jr., W. A., Hamilton, D., & Perez, D. (2018). “How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? The Missing Kerner Commission Report.” RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the SocialSciences 4, no. 6: 20–40. https://doi.org/10.7758/rsf.2018.4.6.02.

Bergesen, A. (1982). “Race Riots of 1967: An Analysis of Police Violence in Detroit and Newark.” Journal of Black Studies 12, no. 3 (March 1, 1982): 261–74. Retrieved from https://search-ebscohost-com.rider.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsjsr&AN= edsjsr.2784247&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Lieberson, S., and Wilkinson, C. A. (1976). “A Comparison between Northern and Southern Blacks Residing in the North.” Demography 13, no. 2: 199–224. https://doi.org/10.2307/2060801.

Mumford, K. J. (2007). Newark : A History of Race, Rights, and Riots in America. American History and Culture. New York University Press. Retrieved from https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat03997a&AN=RUL.b140884 3&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Sugrue, T. J. (2012). “Northern Lights: The Black Freedom Struggle Outside the South.” OAH Magazine of History 26, no. 1: 9–15. doi:10.1093/oahmag/oar052

Sugrue, T. J. (2008). Sweet Land of Liberty : The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North. 1st ed. Random House. Retrieved from https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat03997a&AN=RUL.b140557

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Theoharis, J., & Woodard, K. (2003). Freedom North: Black Freedom Struggles Outside the South, 1940-1980. 1st ed. Palgrave Macmillan. Retrieved from https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat03997a&AN=RUL.b1327086&site=eds-live&scope=site.

John Dewey’s Century-Old Thoughts on Anti-Asian Bigotry

John Dewey’s Century-Old Thoughts on Anti-Asian Bigotry

Charles F. Howlett

(Reprinted with permission from the History News Network, https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/179923)

Whether or not one agrees with Pulitzer-prize winning historian Richard Hofstadter’s observation that the famous philosopher John Dewey’s “style is suggestive of the cannonading of distant armies: one concludes that something portentous is going on at a remote and inaccessible distance, but one cannot determine just what it is” or the noted Harvard pragmatist, William James, who opined that his writings are “damnable; you might even say God-damnable,” it remains hard to ignore Dewey’s social and political views regarding American attitudes toward Asian Americans. After all, Dewey was more commentator than philosopher in many respects.  The organization Stop AAPI Hate identifies 3,800 reported events of anti-Asian hate incidents in the US over the past 12 months (a total that represents a fraction of all such events).

A century ago, John Dewey commented on the issue of race prejudice in the wake of another global crisis — the aftereffects of World War I. Today, we are experiencing another world crisis, COVID-19, and there are similar parallels when it comes to how we are treating our Asian American citizens.  The global pandemic that has consumed and overtaken our lives has led to a fresh wave of hatred against those of Asian descent but particularly Chinese Americans. The recent attacks at massage parlors in Atlanta and random assaults on the streets of New York and other cities are stark reminders of what can happen when people feel confined, angry, and compelled to blame someone else for their own current predicament. Scholars at Cal State San Bernardino estimate that in 2020, attacks against Asian Americans increased by one hundred and fifty percent from the previous year, a trend which seems to be intensifying in 2021.

The current spate of hate crimes and prejudice against those of Asian descent is particularly worrisome but should not come as a complete surprise. We have a long history of nativist resentment towards those who do not look Western European. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the 1885 killing of twenty-eight Chinese coal miners by a white mob in Rock Springs, Wyoming, The Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907, and most famously, the establishment of Internment Camps during World War II, which witnessed Japanese American citizens being torn from their homes and jobs on the West Coast under the pretext of national security (measures not imposed on Germans or Italians in other parts of the country), are just some examples of how Asian ethnic groups have become targets at moments of national tension.

As he was America’s most noted philosopher of the day, Dewey’s post-World War I trip to Asia remains instructive.  Fresh from a two-year sabbatical to the Far East from 1919 to1921, Dewey returned to resume his duties at Columbia prior to his retirement in 1930. He had been battered and intellectually bruised by his former student, Randolph Bourne, who soundly criticized him for supporting America’s entry into the war without carefully thinking about its associated consequences. Indeed, the resulting petty bickering at the Treaty of Versailles and failures to implement all of Wilson’s Fourteen Points resulted in Dewey issuing his own public apologia, “The Discrediting of Idealism.” He heartily welcomed this needed hiatus when invited to the Far East by a number of his former Chinese students at Teachers College—he was encouraged, especially by Hu Shih, to present his ideas on progressive education to coincide with the wave of nationalism and modernization as China emerged from its feudalistic past.  

The two years he spent, first lecturing in Japan for six weeks and then teaching and lecturing at the University of Nanking and other colleges in China while traveling about the countryside during the remainder of his sabbatical, gave Dewey a newfound appreciation for the Chinese and their culture. While he found Chinese thinking difficult to penetrate he was uplifted by their willingness to entertain certain aspects of Western democracy and industrialization.  

But what he did not count upon when he arrived back in his own homeland was the virulent xenophobic nationalism that had surged in his absence. Symptoms included the Red Scare of 1919, the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan, rural suspicions of expanding urban centers, and growing calls for a stricter immigration bill. The pinnacle of white Anglo-Saxon nativism was the 1924 National Origins Act, which imposed strict quotas to restrict immigration by those not from Northern Europe. The historian John Higham neatly captures the reasons for this nativist hostility in his excellent work, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism.

Naturally, Dewey had hoped that upon his return to the United States attitudes would be different. Unfortunately, it was not to be the case. Perhaps he should have seen this coming as a result of the war hysteria and anti-German feelings exhibited between 1914-1918. Although the war had discredited his own idealism, he still found it very difficult to understand why his own nation not only refused to abandon its wartime intolerance but focused it on new enemies; he viewed with dismay and disappointment the nativist mind-set sweeping across the American landscape in the new decade.

Determined to speak out and challenge Americans to try and understand their reasons for treating Asian Americans the way that they did, as well as satisfy Chinese doubts about the sincerity of Western intentions, he presented a powerful and moving speech in 1921. He then fine-tuned it with force and conviction for his American readership. It appeared in a 1922 issue of the Chinese Social and Political Science Review appropriatelytitled, “Race Prejudice and Friction.”

What is most interesting about this speech and why it needs retelling today is how Dewey defined race and prejudice. In this article he insisted that racial prejudice is a social disease, one that comes before judgment; it cuts short our thinking, relies simply on desire or emotion thereby forcing people to see things only in one light and slanting one’s beliefs. What is shocking to our customary habits, Dewey observed, is the manufactured creation of a mentality that nurtures intolerance and hatred.

The anti-foreign sentiment Dewey experienced upon his return led to his further exploration of the nature of the causes for such attitudes. In re-reading this essay I decided to dig deeper into the philosopher’s thinking only to find out to my surprise that he hit upon the obvious: what leads to such reaction is a current crisis. In our case, today, it is the pandemic; what exacerbates the attitudes we are witnessing currently against Asian Americans have been fanned by those who chose political expediency and blame rather than accepting responsibility for their own inactions from the very beginning of this crisis here in the United States.

Perhaps a good way to frame Dewey’s line of thinking and applying it to our present situation is based upon the principle of post hoc, ergo propter hoc, a fallacious determination that, in Dewey’s own words, “since one thing happens after another it happens because of it.” Since things did not go well once the pandemic hit, Asian Americans have now become objects of blame, contempt, and anger. The same analogy can be applied to Muslim-Americans in the wake of 9/11. Indeed, the anti-foreign animus, which Dewey experienced after World War I, continues to resonate within a certain element of Americans who see only Darth Vader among those U.S. citizens of a different color skin, religion, and physical appearance. We can even make the same argument when it comes to immigration from south of our border. We doubt, however, that there would be the same reaction if a bunch of French-speaking Canadians crossed the St. Lawrence River, and invaded Maine; they might even encounter a friendly moose or two as they set up camp.

For Dewey race is an abstract idea and in terms of science is primarily a “mythical idea.” What we, as Americans, must learn from Dewey’s own words is that race “in its popular usage is merely a name given to a large number of phenomena which strike attention because they are different.” We must consider those factors complicating the relationships in our “melting pot” while paying close attention to those cultural aspects found in our “salad bowl.” When and if understanding of the mythical nature of race becomes common, it may counteract the tendency to regard ethnic Americans as strange, unwelcome, or threatening. More importantly, it may allow the embrace of Asian Americans as equal participants in Dewey’s ideal of democracy as a way of life, rather than a mere political construct.

And speaking of political realities, perhaps the most important lesson Dewey gave us in this speech and later published is that race, unfortunately, has been tied too closely to the notion of nationalism, which in turn has “become almost exclusively political fact.” Let Dewey’s words speak for themselves. “The political factor,” he wrote, “works in two ways. In the first place, the fact of political domination creates the belief in superiority on one side and inferiority on the other. It changes race prejudice into racial discrimination.” The second aspect, he argued, is one that engenders a “psychological effect of rule upon the dominant political group”—one that inevitably fosters arrogance and contempt. Seeking cover for its own missteps, certain public officials made all those of Asian nationality responsible for America’s misfortune—it was a calculated-driven attempt based on a tone of self-righteous superiority and indignation.

In reading Dewey’s words we can only wonder if anything has really changed about the true nature of American nativism: “The same man who is sure of the inherent superiority of the white race will for example hold forth on the Yellow Peril in a style which would make one believe that he believed in the inherent inferiority of the white race, though he usually tries to save himself by attributing fear to superiority in numbers.” Race prejudice, Dewey maintained throughout his life, is nothing more than an instinctive dislike and dread of what is different. It is a prejudice “converted into discrimination and friction by accidental physical features, and by cultural differences of language, religion, and, especially at the present time, by an intermixture of political and economic forces [just think today of the political and economic consequences of our current pandemic].” Need Dewey to have said more?

Yet Dewey’s philosophy was not so much about ideas in and of themselves but how they could work out our common social problems. Civic or public involvement captures his philosophical view of democracy in action. A democracy is only as good as the people who make it, apart from the political structure in place, he once proclaimed in The Public and Its Problems. What he sought to do in his writings and speeches was offer a method of inquiry for revising those ideas preventing people from understanding exactly which social and political problems required thought and action, which were necessary for remediation and correction. He was truly a public philosopher whose works were aimed for audiences outside of the academy—an important virtue that has rapidly declined over the years.

By applying his own method of inquiry upon his return to America, he recognized the critical importance of getting at the root of racial prejudice and, in his case, how we treat Asian Americans. What needed correction, then and now, is how those “who have claimed racial superiority and who instigated and used race prejudice to maintain their state of superiority” were allowed to get away with it and why education in schools lost sight of its democratic/civic purpose. How is it possible, Dewey asked, to separate the governing constructs of democracy from the social and cultural patterns of the way we live?

So, what did Dewey suggest? Dewey argued that the nation needed to do a better job to promote a clear understanding of foreign cultures. Despite global communication networks available to encourage understanding, we still remain ill-informed and even less willing to work on this proposition individually. Many of us receive information passively with the goal of being given certainty of knowledge and guidance on how to act on it, or selectively with the goal of confirming pre-existing prejudice (problems Dewey certainly recognized). What still persists is an ongoing reluctance to examine critically and question vigorously what needs to be understood for overcoming long-held misconceptions and built-in biases regarding cultural differences.

But perhaps more importantly, Dewey did provide a vital clue in his own time that continues to resonate and make sense. What society has never fully come to grips with is dealing with the problem of what he called, “acute nationalism.” To solve animosity toward those of non-Western European heritage, we need in Dewey’s words a “degree of political internationalism.” In other words, what he argued a century ago was that the biggest obstacle to cultural assimilation is actually not one of race but a reluctance to adjust to different types of culture. This can only occur when a new state of mind is created that is favorably inclined to encourage fundamental changes in political and economic relationships—one which breaks down those cultural barriers currently steering many white or native-born Americans to blame and anger over a supposed “Chinese virus” instead of the embrace of shared humanity in fighting the global pandemic. An appreciation and willingness, Dewey insisted, which would forego nationalistic predilections by entrenched political systems existing solely for the preservation of the status quo. Indeed, in his concluding words, he warned his readers that “the problem of the mutual adjustment to one another of distinct cultures each having its roots deep in the past is not an easy one at the best. It is not a task to be approached in either an off-hand or a querulous mood. At the present moment the situation is not at its best; we may hope in fact that it is at its worst.” Unfortunately, despite what he observed and what he encouraged a century ago, the way we are treating our Asian American citizens today would not make Dewey very happy. His message still remains unheeded.    

A Graveyard’s Link to the “Most Photographed Slave Child in History”

A Graveyard’s Link to the “Most Photographed Slave Child in History”

Chris Connell

Piedmont Journalism Foundation

Reprinted with permission from https://www.fauquier.com/lifestyles/a-rectortown-graveyard-s-link-to-the-most-photographed-slave-child-in-history/article_2deb32d8-9716-11eb-a138-c310ca021a59.html

A fallen tombstone in an old cemetery on a farm outside Rectortown, Virginia marks the grave of a man who killed a neighbor in 1859 and set in motion events that made a little blue-eyed, flaxen-haired enslaved girl a poster child for abolition during the Civil War. In 1863, when Fannie Lawrence was 5, a famed abolitionist preacher in New York had her pose Shirley Temple-like in fancy dresses, then the photos were sold to raise money from sympathizers of the movement. The Library of Congress has an online exhibit on Fannie Lawrence. And her tale is detailed in a 2015 account, “A Sad Story of Redemption,” written by Page Johnson, editor of a newsletter for Historic Fairfax City, a group dedicated to preserving local heritage.

Johnson drew largely on the 1893 autobiography of Catherine S. Lawrence, an ardent anti-slavery and temperance crusader from upstate New York who had come to Virginia to nurse Union soldiers at a tent hospital on the grounds of the Episcopal Seminary in Alexandria. Fannie and two older sisters, Viana and Sally, were among several children of three enslaved women who had been impregnated by their owner, Charles Rufus Ayres. He was a wealthy young Virginian, who studied at Yale and the University of Virginia to practice law, but instead owned a mill and farmed 500 acres outside Rectortown with at least 12 enslaved workers. Despite his dependency on slavery, he was “a Union man,” Johnson wrote, and in his will, the 32-year-old Ayres promised the three women their freedom and money for them to move north and to pay for their children’s education when he died.

The 1857 will came into force sooner than Ayres could have imagined. A bitter quarrel with a neighbor, William Wesley Phillips, over a gate ended in an exchange of gun fire on Nov. 11, 1859. Ayres – whose shot missed – was mortally wounded by Phillips and his 18-year-old son, Samuel. Father and son were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to three years in the state penitentiary in Richmond, which was soon to be the capital of the Confederacy.

Ayres’ testamentary wishes did not go to plan. The women – including Fannie’s mother, Mary Fletcher, who had still-enslaved children in the area – at first forsook freedom and elected to remain in Virginia, living with Ayres’ kindly mother. When she died, Fannie, Viana, Sallie and many others escaped Rectortown, eluded Confederate patrols and wild hogs for more than 40 miles, and made it safely behind Union lines to Fort Williams in Alexandria near the seminary.

According to Lawrence’s autobiography, Viana, at 10 or 12 the eldest sister, pleaded for her to adopt 4-year-old Fannie. The nurse agreed to temporarily take the “beautiful child and I soon became very much attached to her.”

Lawrence wound up keeping her and taking her to New York, where she had Fannie christened at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn by the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Beecher paraded the “redeemed slave child,” as he called her, before his congregation, baptized her as Fannie Virginia Casseopia Lawrence and took up a collection reportedly of $1,200, although Lawrence said she never received any of the money. He warned that her light skin put her in danger of being abused by slave-masters or sold into prostitution.  “Look upon this child,” the preacher urged. “Tell me, have you ever seen a fairer, sweeter face? This is a sample of the slavery which absorbs into itself everything fair and attractive. The loveliness of this child would only make her so much more valuable as a chattel.”

Fannie Virginia Casseopia Lawrence

He sent Fannie to the studio of a Brooklyn photographer to pose in formal dresses, sometimes with her adoptive mother. The daguerreotypes, photographs developed on special silvered plates, were mounted on “cartes de visite,” calling cards that were popular in that era, and sold to abolitionist sympathizers. Fannie posed at least 17 times in Brooklyn and elsewhere. The cards “were wildly popular in the North, making Fanny the most photographed slave child in history,” Johnson wrote in “A Sad Story of Redemption.” Lawrence took Fannie on tours to sing at churches and may have profited herself from sales of the cards.

The story has no happy ending for Fannie or her sisters. Lawrence went back to Virginia to retrieve Viana and Sallie with the idea of placing them in “good Christian families” in New York who promised to educate them.

Instead, they used them as servants. Sallie died of consumption in 1867. Viana lived just four years more. Fannie reached adulthood, but against her adoptive mother’s wishes “married one whom I opposed, knowing his reckless life rendered him wholly unfit for her,” Lawrence said. The husband abandoned Fannie with an infant daughter, leaving them to destitution. When Fannie died, her “double orphan” child was left “unprotected and unprovided for, only as far as the small savings of her mother’s hard labor will go.” “My three Southern children are all laid away, for which I thank my heavenly Father,” Lawrence wrote in the autobiography, titled “Sketch of the Life and Labors of Miss Catherine S. Lawrence, Who in Early Life Distinguished Herself as a Bitter Opponent of Slavery and Intemperance.” The Civil War nurse died at 84 in 1904. It is not known how or when Fannie died or where she is buried.

“The Captain’s Story” by Harriet Beecher Stowe

“The Captain’s Story” by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Ellen Gruber Garvey

This article is reprinted with permission of the author. It was originally published in the Washington Post under the headline “A forgotten 19th-century story can help us navigate today’s political fractures.”  https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/03/23/forgotten-19th-century-story-can-help-us-navigate-todays-political-fractures/   

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Can Democrats truly reconcile with those Republicans who called President Biden’s election fraudulent and encouraged violent attack of the U.S. Capitol? Earlier moments in U.S. history should caution us about the lure and danger of reconciliation when one side refuses to acknowledge wrongdoing. After the Civil War, former Union partisans sought to get along with the Southerners who fought to keep Black people enslaved even after the war. But later, they doubted the wisdom of having done so.

One of those people was Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (1852), the most influential novel in the United States during the 19th century. Her famous book kindled readers’ sense that they could and must end slavery, even if that meant disrupting alliances, friendships and family ties with enslavers and their supporters. Thirty years later, Stowe wrote a story little known even it its own time, in which she considered what happened when these same White Northerners who fought against slavery reconciled too easily with former enslavers.

Can Democrats truly reconcile with those Republicans who called President Biden’s election fraudulent and encouraged violent attack of the U.S. Capitol? Earlier moments in U.S. history should caution us about the lure and danger of reconciliation when one side refuses to acknowledge wrongdoing. After the Civil War, former Union partisans sought to get along with the Southerners who fought to keep Black people enslaved even after the war. But later, they doubted the wisdom of having done so.

One of those people was Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (1852), the most influential novel in the United States during the 19th century. Her famous book kindled readers’ sense that they could and must end slavery, even if that meant disrupting alliances, friendships and family ties with enslavers and their supporters. Thirty years later, Stowe wrote a story little known even it its own time, in which she considered what happened when these same White Northerners who fought against slavery reconciled too easily with former enslavers.

Written in 1882, but set in 1866, “The Captain’s Story” tells of two former Union army captains who visit Florida, where they once fought on the battlefield. They hope to relax and recuperate from the toll the war had taken on their health. The two listen to their white Floridian guide’s ghost story, which includes his casual mention of having murdered enslaved African captives. The ghost of one captive continues to haunt a nearby plantation, he says. Despite moral qualms, the two captains decide to continue their trip with their murderous guide who can show them all the best fishing grounds. They will get along, and leave his punishment to God.

Stowe began spending winters in Florida just after the Civil War, about the time the story is set, initially hoping to help her son recover from his own Civil War trauma. She wrote popular travel articles in the 1870s touting the state’s pleasures for Protestant Northern Whites, hoping to attract them to politically overwhelm the Southern planters. Full of chummy advice on how to travel south and where to buy land, the accounts spurred the state’s first tourist boom while also raising money for a Black school. In “The Captain’s Story,” she swerves to remind her readers of the brutalities of her Florida neighbors who once enslaved people.

Although Stowe was a founder of the Atlantic Monthly, “The Captain’s Story” was not published there, perhaps because few 1880s editors wished to take the horrors of slavery seriously. Albion Tourgée, the editor of the short-lived but high-paying weekly Our Continent, did, however. He was a Union veteran who worked for Reconstruction then wrote about his experiences in two best-selling novels focusing on the difficulties and assaults the freed people faced. He went on to fight Jim Crow, as the lawyer representing a Black plaintiff attacking segregation in public facilities in Plessy v. Ferguson.

Although Our Continent was not a crusading publication and sought to attract White Southern readers, too, Tourgée published other works that acknowledged that the Civil War was fought over slavery. Yet Our Continent was obscure enough that “The Captain’s Story” received no notice in the press at the time. It was not anthologized or reprinted.

The story’s questioning of White complicity in postwar racism is subtle and conflicted. But it does stand in stark contrast to other popular magazine stories of the time. Northern magazines shoveled out stories romanticizing Southern plantations as places where sweet, quasi-familial ties between enslavers and enslaved people infused life with graciousness. Plantation fiction frequently featured a tired Northern businessman who, like the two captains, goes South to rest and comes to appreciate relaxed Southern hospitality.

Marriage to a Southern woman in these stories offered an allegory of reconciliation between Northern and Southern Whites. As the White abolitionist and orator Anna E. Dickinson noted, “The fashion of the day has been, and is, to talk of the love feast that is spread between old foes, till at last we of the North and of the South are doing what our forefathers did 30 years ago — grasping hands across the prostrate body of the negro.”

Of course, former Confederates did not seek reconciliation. Instead, they created the cult of the Lost Cause, celebrating the nobility and heroism of the Confederacy, leading to the erection of statues honoring Confederate leaders and school textbooks that continued to inculcate this version of history for over a century.

That is why Stowe’s story is significant. It called out the murderous past, presented plantation owners and their friends as lawless, brutal, disloyal, casual killers, scornful of the family ties of enslaved people.But the story disappeared, and that illuminated the shifting reality of race relations in 1882. Reconstruction had ended, a reign of racial terror lynchings had commenced, and states passed Black Codes that allowed Southern Whites to continue to coerce the labor of African Americans.White supremacy had regrouped with new legal structures and Northern collusion, and former Confederates were back in power in the South. Ex-Confederates suppressed the Black vote and reinstated slavery under different names.

The myth of benevolent plantation life took hold through sheer repetition in fictional work, most familiar now through “Gone With the Wind,” imagery and plantation tours. Burying Stowe’s story while celebrating that myth matters. It is another small part of concealing slavery’s past and obscuring the power of white supremacy, which still haunt the United States.

Teaching the 1898 Wilmington Race Massacre using the History Lab Model

Teaching the 1898 Wilmington Race Massacre using the History Lab Model

Cara Ward and Lisa Brown Buchanan

Instances of racial violence towards Black Americans have a longstanding history in the United States. Though a few events and names are recalled most often in textbooks (e.g., Freedom Rides, Nat Turner) their retellings are generally presented from a White viewpoint; in fact, some events have been completely omitted from formal curriculum. This article discusses the teaching of racial violence in the United States, explores how Black historical principles of power and oppression can frame the study of events of racial violence, and outlines a concrete history lab designed to study the 1898 Wilmington Race Massacre (also commonly called the Wilmington Coup or Wilmington Insurrection).

An Overview of the Teaching of Racial Violence

Scholars of teaching Black history have documented the teaching and omission of racial violence towards Black and African Americans for decades (see, for example, Brown, Brown, & Ward, 2017; Busey & Walker 2017; Love, 2019; Vasquez Heilig, Brown, & Brown, 2012). Most research on teaching Black history has focused on PK-12 teaching and knowledge (Woodson, 2017), with some analysis of preservice teachers’ knowledge of Black history (King, 2019). More recently, resources for classroom teachers have become available that are focused on centering the Black experience and perspectives, particularly in experiences of racial violence (see, for example, Learning for Justice’s Teaching Hard History podcast series, New York Times’ 1619 Project, Facing History and Ourselves’ Race in US History collection) and some scholars have described pedagogical approaches to teaching Black history with accuracy and intention in K-12 (Simmons, 2016; Vickery, & Rodríguez, 2021; Vickery & Salinas, 2019).

Some have argued Black history is American history, suggesting a shared legacy between Black and White Americans (King, 2021) which is generally untrue. Others have taken this sentiment to task, pointing out that while the teaching of Black history altogether has been sidelined or disregarded, at best, the teaching of racial violence has been overwhelmingly avoided or if taught at all, with tremendous gaps and inaccuracies (Brown & Brown, 2010a, 2010b, 2011; Woodson, 2017).

In order to improve Black history education historical and contemporary racial violence must be taught as part of American history and Black history (King, 2021). As Brown, Brown, and Ward (2017) explain, classroom investigations of racial violence taught within the context of students’ lives presents a curriculum that “acknowledges race and racism in their present lives.” Using a framework of Black historical consciousness is one way to study racial violence within the context of Black history.

Teaching the Wilmington Race Massacre through Principles of Black Historical Consciousness

Scholars have described the need for teaching a more complete story of Black history (e.g., King, 2021; Muhammad, 2020; Rodríguez & Vickery, 2020) and using a Black historical consciousness framework centers the Black experience and perspective, both largely missing from traditional retellings of Black history. King describes six principles of Black historical consciousness (see King, 2021). While all are in some way directly related to racial violence, in this article, we focus on the principle of power and oppression (King, 2021). King (2021) suggests racial violence as a potential topic for the principle of power and oppression, and similar to our use of the history lab below to examine racial violence, suggests the use of compelling questions that align with interrogating systemic racism. Recognizing that “it is important to understand that Black people have been victims or victimized by oppressive structures, but have never been solely victims (King, 2021, p. 338)” teaching the Wilmington, NC Race Massacre of 1898 through the lens of power and oppression provides a historical context and conscious that is missing in traditional teaching of Black history and illustrates how power and oppression are created and sustained through society (King, 2021, p. 338). Complex ideas like power and oppression are often difficult knowledge for learners, and in concrete examples like the Wilmington Race Massacre, content may be taboo, rendering it obsolete in curricula and standards. Often coined as “hard history”, such content can be taught in powerful and productive ways. We posit that the history lab model, focused on evidence-based answers, offers the structure to unpack complex ideas of power and oppression while identifying the lasting impact of racial violence through the use of historical sources.

History Labs as an Instructional Strategy for Teaching Difficult Knowledge

Teachers are often wary of including instances of “hard history” as these events can be unsettling and spark tense discussions, especially in the current era of political polarization (McAvoy, 2016). In addition to building a cooperative and supportive classroom community before covering such events, there are instructional methods that can lead to productive classroom discussions and a deeper understanding of complex history. One such method is a history lab; first described by Bruce Lesh (2011), this form of instruction includes three main components:  a compelling question, sources to examine, and an evidence-based answer. This teaching method is inquiry-based and includes components of Swan, Lee, and Grant’s (2015) Inquiry Design Model which is now widely used in the field of social studies.

To create a history lab, teachers develop an overarching, open-ended question called a compelling question for students to consider. Swan, Lee, and Grant (2018, 2019) have devoted a chapter in each of their books on the Inquiry Design Model to the topic of compelling questions and how to develop them. After question development, teachers select related sources for students to examine, often a mix of primary sources for details and secondary sources for background information and clarification. After presenting the question and sources to students, teachers facilitate the examination of the documents, reminding students to cite evidence from the documents while formulating their answer to the compelling question (Lesh, 2011).

Careful facilitation of discussion is the key to the effectiveness of this teaching method since it is critical for students to cite evidence in their answers. The most effective history labs are structured in ways that allow student interaction and opportunities to share thoughts throughout instead of just working through a “packet” and writing an individual response. An important first step is determining how to have students examine the primary and secondary sources that are presented. This can be done via gallery walks, jigsaw grouping, small group analysis, and whole group seminar style examination (Author, 2017; Author, 2018; Authors, 2020). Creating guiding questions, prompts, or a graphic organizer to help guide students through a lab can also be beneficial.

Another important consideration in the pandemic-induced era of increased online learning is whether a lab will take place synchronously or asynchronously. While the traditional face-to-face classroom setting is ideal, labs can also work well in either the fully virtual or hybrid classroom. Online synchronous methods such as breakout rooms can be used as a method for having small groups examine sources together. Another effective synchronous method is a whole class seminar-style discussion where students can speak one at a time or even use the chat to respond. For asynchronous course delivery, teachers can put the question and sources in a Google Doc or Jamboard and ask students to share thoughts by adding comments. Another option is to use the discussion board feature in a learning management system such as Google Classroom or Canvas for students to respond to individual sources. Teachers can also use video response and sharing tools such as Flipgrid for students to record their evidence-based answer to a compelling question. For hybrid models, teachers can ask students to examine sources ahead of time, using some of the online tools mentioned above, and then use face-to-face time in class for a whole group discussion.

The 1898 Wilmington Massacre

One example of hard history that can be effectively examined through the use of a history lab is the 1898 Wilmington Massacre. November 10, 1898 was a day of horrific racial violence inflicted upon the thriving, successful Black community in the coastal town of Wilmington, North Carolina. An election year, 1898 had been filled with White supremacist propaganda in local and state newspapers which ultimately led to intimidation of Black voters and a rigged election in Wilmington on November 8th. Two days later, a White mob armed themselves, burned the office of the local Black newspaper The Daily Record to the ground, and took over the city’s biracial government by violent force. During the chaos, the mob killed approximately 60 Black citizens (likely more as an official death toll was impossible to determine) and forced untold numbers out of town. The mayor and members of the board of aldermen were replaced by White supremacists. The event holds great historic significance not only on a local and state level, but also on a national scale. It is the only successful coup d’état in the history of the United States (McCluskey, 2018; Everett, 2015; Tyson, 2006; Umfleet, 2009) and is an example of the extreme violence and resulting large-scale loss of life that could occur as a result of the rise of angry White supremacists in the Jim Crow era. The 1898 Massacre has been compared to what happened in Tulsa in 1921 (Everett, 2015; Umfleet, 2015) and has been referenced multiple times in coverage of the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol (Butler-Arnold, 2021; Cornish, 2021; Hayes, 2021; Ingram, 2021; Meyers, 2021).

The significance of this event is ever-increasing and the economic, social, and political impact is still apparent in Wilmington, NC today. As with other events of racial violence, this event has been largely overlooked and rarely taught, even in North Carolina, due to a lack of information about the event (Everett, 2015). Even the terminology used to describe the event is still evolving – originally called a race riot, in recent years, it has been referred to as an insurrection, massacre, and coup d’état (Fonvielle, 2018; Tyson, 2006; Zucchino, 2020). For all of these reasons, the Wilmington Race Massacre should be taught with middle and secondary students and we believe a history lab is the most appropriate method for studying the event.

A History Lab about the 1898 Wilmington Massacre

We offer the following example of a history lab about 1898 that we developed for students to demonstrate how the work described above can be done. The lab described below can be found at https://tinyurl.com/1898historylab  and is formatted as a view-only Google Slides presentation. This format allows teachers who would like to use the lab either a ready-made version that can be used right away or the flexibility to make a copy of the document to edit for their specific instructional needs. The original sources are linked in the speaker notes area for each slide.

While there are many questions that could be asked about this event, we feel that asking students to examine the long-term impact of the 1898 is most critical to their comprehension of the scale and significance of this event. Therefore, our compelling question is “What is the lasting impact of the 1898 Wilmington Massacre?”

In order to introduce the lab, we have included two sources, one primary and one secondary to give students some background information before they begin analyzing sources. The first source (slide 2) is a photograph of the mob in front of the burnt remains of The Daily Record newspaper office. The next source (slide 3) is a 12-minute video published by Vox which gives a brief, but informative summary of the event. These two sources give students some sense of what happened so that they have some frame of reference for the additional sources.

We selected three guiding questions to help direct student thinking and analysis throughout the lab. For each of these questions, we selected three sources for students to examine. In terms of format for this lab, we recommend dividing the class into three groups (1, 2, 3) and having each group thoroughly examine one of the questions and the accompanying sources, thus allowing a group of students to become “experts” on their assigned question. After this analysis, the class should “jigsaw” into three new groups (A, B, C) which each include members from groups 1, 2, and 3. In groups A, B, and C, the representatives for each question should take turns sharing their analysis of their assigned question with the group so all can gain a sense of what happened and begin to consider what the lasting impact is.

What were the events that led to the 1898 Wilmington Massacre?

For this question, we selected a photograph of the waterfront in downtown Wilmington in the late 1800s which shows the prominent display of White supremacy banners (slide 7). We also selected an excerpt from a speech by Rebecca Lattimore Felton during which she endorsed lynching as a punishment for Black men who had relationships with White women (slide 8). The third source we selected for this question was an editorial written by Alexander Manly in response to Felton’s speech where he points out the unjust and hypocritical nature of her stance (slide 9). These sources should give students a glimpse of the extent to which White supremacy impacted daily life and conversations. While all of the sources in the lab are about a violent event, it should also be noted that Felton’s full speech and Manly’s full editorial which are linked include references to rape. We recommend that teachers thoroughly examine all the sources themselves before presenting them to students.

What happened during the event?

The first source for this question is a telegram sent to then President of the United States, William McKinley warning him of the volatile situation in Wilmington (slide 11). The next source is a map marking the location of those wounded and killed during the event (slide 12). The final source for this question is an interactive timeline and map which gives a comprehensive overview of the events (slide 13). These sources outline the seriousness of the situation and how violent it became.

What was the economic and social impact of the 1898 Wilmington Massacre?

We selected three charts from Umfleet’s (2009) book A Day of Blood for students to examine. The first chart compares the 1897 and 1900 occupations by race for Wilmington citizens (slide 15). The second chart shows the census population by race from 1860 to 1910 for Wilmington (slide 16) and the third chart shows the same data for North Carolina (slide 17). These charts show the loss of economic opportunities for Black Wilmingtonians as well as the decline in the city’s Black population.

We recommend concluding this lab with a whole class discussion focusing back on the compelling question: “What is the lasting impact of the 1898 Wilmington Massacre?” and the evidence that students examined in their groups. Students will likely reference the rise of White supremacy, the loss of human life and the impact on population, economic repercussions such as decreased employment for Black citizens, voter intimidation, and lack of Black political leaders in Wilmington in years that followed the event. Since this is an open-ended question, other responses may be offered as well, but students should back up their ideas with evidence from the sources.

Additional Teacher Resources

We understand that most teachers are unfamiliar with the 1898 Wilmington massacre and may need additional resources to improve their content knowledge of this series of events. We suggest the resources in Table 1 for a more in-depth history of the Wilmington Race Massacre. Teachers may find these sources useful as they study 1898 alongside their students.

  Table 1: Additional Teacher Resources for 1898 Wilmington Race Massacre
Umfleet, L.S. (2009). A day of blood. Raleigh: North Carolina Office of Archives and History.
Zucchino, D. (2020). Wilmington’s lie. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.
Everett, C. (2015). Wilmington on fire [Documentary film]. United States: Speller Street Films.
Oliver, N. (2016). The red cape [Motion picture]. United States.
Footnote: this lab is available for viewing at https://tinyurl.com/1898historylab (tiny URL view only Google Slides)

Conclusion

While this lab focuses on the Wilmington Race Massacre, we would be remiss to not recognize the abhorrent number of massacre events in United States history to date similar to 1898. If we are committed to teaching the story of Black America (King, 2021), we must be willing to navigate a more complete story of race and racism in the United States, which we believe includes studying “hard history”. Bringing together a Black historical consciousness framework and history lab structure is one powerful and productive approach to a more complete story of Black history.

References

Brown, A.L., Brown, K.D, & Ward, A. (2017). Critical race theory meets culturally relevant pedagogy: Advancing a critical sociohistorical consciousness for teaching and  curriculum. Social Education, 81(1), 23-27.

Brown, K.D. & Brown, A.L. (2011). Teaching K-8 students about race: African Americans, racism, & the struggle for social justice in the U.S. Multicultural Education, 19(1), 9-13.

Brown, A. L., & Brown, K. D. (2010a). Strange fruit indeed: Interrogating contemporary textbook representations of racial violence toward African Americans. Teachers College Record, 112(1), 31-67.

Brown, K. D., & Brown, A. L. (2010b). Silenced memories: An examination of the sociocultural knowledge on race and racial violence in official school curriculum. Equity & Excellence in Education, 43(2), 139-154.

Busey, C. L., & Walker, I. (2017). A dream and a bus: Black critical patriotism in elementary social studies standards. Theory & Research in Social Education, 45(4), 456-488.

Butler-Arnold, A. (2021). Why my students weren’t surprised on January 6th. Social Education, 85(1), 8-10.

Cornish, A. (2021, January 8). Race and the Capitol riot: An American story we’ve heard before [Radio Broadcast]. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/transcripts/953286955   

Everett, C. (2015). Wilmington on fire [Documentary film]. United States: Speller Street Films.

Fonvielle, C. (2018, January 24). Email correspondence.

Hayes, C. (2021, January 6). Trump must be lawfully removed from office as fast as possible. MSNBC. Retrieved from https://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/watch/chris-hayes-trump-must-be-lawfully-removed-from-office-as-fast-as-possible-99014213834

Ingram, H. (2021, January 7). 1898 Wilmington massacre and Capitol Hill: Historical parallels at nation’s capital. Star-News. Retrieved from  https://www.starnewsonline.com/story/news/local/2021/01/07/history-shows-parallels-between-1898-wilmington-coup-and-capitol-hill-riot/6579616002/

King, L. (2019). Interpreting Black History: Toward a Black History Framework for Teacher Education. Urban Education, 54(3), 368-396.

King, L. (2021). Black history is not American history: Toward a framework of Black historical consciousness. Social Education, 84(6), 335-341.

Lesh, B. A. (2011). “Why won’t you just tell us the answer?”: Teaching historical thinking in grades 7-12. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Love, B. (2019). We want to do more than survive: Abolitionist teaching and the pursuit of educational freedom. Beacon Press.

McAvoy, P. (2016). Preparing young adults for polarized America. In Journell, W. (Ed.)

Teaching social studies in an era of divisiveness: The challenges of discussing social issues in a non-partisan way. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Press, 31-46.

McCluskey, M. (2018, August 5). America’s only coup d’état. Retrieved from https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2018/americas-only-coup-detat  

Meyers, S.. (2021, January 7). Seth Meyers calls for Trump’s removal after violent insurrection at Capitol. [Video]. Youtube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOIFBKB4mIE

Muhammad, G. (2020). Cultivating genius: An equity framework for culturally and historically responsive literacy. Scholastic.

Rodríguez, N.N. and Vickery, A.E. (2020). More than a hamburger: Disrupting problematic picturebook depictions of the Civil Rights Movement. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 21(2), 109-128.

Simmons, D. (2016, February 29). Black history month is over. Now what? Learning for Justice. Retrieved from https://www.learningforjustice.org/magazine/black-history-month-is-over-now-what

Swan, K., Grant, S. G., & Lee, J. (2019). Blueprinting: An inquiry-based curriculum. National Council for the Social Studies and C3 Teachers.

Swan, K., Lee, J., & Grant, S. G. (2015). The New York state toolkit and the inquiry design model:  Anatomy of an inquiry. Social Education, 79(5), 316-322.

Swan, K., Lee, J., & Grant, S. G. (2018). Inquiry design model: Building inquiries in social studies. National Council for the Social Studies and C3 Teachers.

Tyson, T. B. (2006, November 17). The ghosts of 1898: Wilmington’s race riot and the rise of White supremacy. Retrieved from http://media2.newsobserver.com/content/media/2010/5/3/ghostsof1898.pdf  

Umfleet, L.S. (2009). A day of blood. Raleigh: North Carolina Office of Archives and History.

Vasquez Heilig, J., Brown, K.D., & Brown, A.L. (2012). The illusion of inclusion: A Critical Race Theory textual analysis of race and standards. Harvard Educational Review, 82(3), 403-424.

Vickery, A.E. & Rodríguez, N. N. (2021). “A woman question and a race problem”: Attending to intersectionality in children’s literature. The Social Studies, 112(2), 57-62.

Vickery, A.E. and Salinas, C. (2019). “I Question America…. Is this America”: Centering the narratives of Black women in the Civil Rights Movement. Curriculum Inquiry, 49(3), 260-283.

Woodson, A. N. (2017). There ain’t no White people here”: Master narratives of the Civil Rights Movement in the stories of urban youth. Urban Education, 52(3), 316-342.

Zucchino, D. (2020). Wilmington’s lie. Atlantic Monthly Press.

A Question of Freedom by William G. Thomas III, Reviewed by Hank Bitten

A Question of Freedom:

The Families Who Challenged Slavery from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War

by William G. Thomas III

Reviewed by Hank Bitten, Executive Director NJ Council for the Social Studies

Having taught the colonial unit for decades as part of the U.S. History 1 course, I always dedicated time to Lord Calvert, the persecution of Roman Catholics in Maryland, the Toleration Act of 1649, and life of Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Although I would document his wealth and plantation, I never made the connection to his slaves or the role of the Roman Catholic Church in operating a tobacco plantation with slaves in Prince George’s County.

The history of slaves in Maryland and the role of the Society of Jesuits in conducting the business of a tobacco corporation in complicated.  As a result of reading A Question of Freedom, I have a new perspective and credible documentation of how slavery became rooted in the laws of our colonies, states, and national government.

The opening chapter is a compelling account of the life of Edward Queen who sued for freedom in 1791 because he was the son of a freewoman, his grandmother. (p. 3) The struggle for freedom by Edward Queen continued for 22 years until the decision in Queen v. Hepburn by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1813. His attorney was Francis Scott Key.

Teachers who are looking for the right questions to engage students in historical inquiry and investigative research will find the questions presented by Professor Thomas (University of Nebraska, Lincoln) a valuable resource. This book is filled with inquiry based questions that encourage exploration and debate. Here are some examples:

  1. Why did the Jesuits and other slaveholders fight so ferociously in court to hold on to the people they enslaved?
  2. What did people like Edward Queen hope to achieve, and what did they think was within their reach?
  3. Why did lawyers, like Francis Scott Key take these cases and how did judges, even those with moderate antislavery convictions, end up advancing legal principles in the trials that would ultimately uphold slavery?
  4. How did Duvall, Key, and Queen families know one another long before the case was argued in the Supreme Court in February 1813?
  5. Did the Queen case leave any lasting impression on the thinking of Francis Scott Key when he wrote the poem that would become “The Star Spangled Banner?’ (p. 5)

Professor Thomas discovered the name of Allen Bowie Duckett, Associate Justice to the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia in his research.  Justice Duckett’s father presided over a case for freedom by the Edward Queen family and ruled in their favor. In fact, this decision resulted in the freedom of twenty members of the Queen family. What Professor Thomas discovered through his research was that his grandmother’s family owned plantations adjacent to the area known as White Marsh on the Chesapeake Bay peninsula. He discovered that Elizabeth M. Duckett claimed slaves at the end of the Civil War. The document reported Henny Queen, age 35, and her five children ages six months to eight years old.

Teachers interested in teaching about Continuity and Change will see insights in Chapter 2 about how the aftermath of the Seven Years War and the American Revolution gave rise to the election of liberal and conservative members in the British House of Commons. In America, laws about slavery were limited to each colony before 1789 but in the case of England, its protection, importation, manumission, and abolition applied to a global colonial empire.

Did British Common Law Apply to its Colonies?

Even though the importation of slaves was legal in the United States until 1808, slaves who were brought to England were not compelled to leave according to a common law decision by Chief Justice Lord Mansfield in the decision of James Somersett.  James Somersett, a slave, was taken to England by his master, Charles Stewart, a customs officer in Boston. He ran away and was eventually tracked down and placed in prison. A writ of habeas corpus was issued for his release by the abolitionist Granville Sharp in connection with a pending case by merchants from the West Indies who wanted assurance by common law that slaves were a safe investment. The case of Somersett v. Stewart, 1772 became a landmark case that inspired hope for slaves held in bondage throughout the British empire.

The language of the Somersett decision indicates the complexities of the status of slaves as persons under natural and moral law or as property protected by laws. England will not abolish slavery for 60 years (1833) but without a specific law in England to sanction slavery, a person with the legal status of a slave in a colony could not be forced to leave England and return to slavery. James Somersett continued with his status as a slave but could not be forced to return to chattel slavery. The language is confusing in stating that slavery was odious but a temporary presence in England did not guarantee manumission, and questions would continue regarding if the common law ruling applied only to the definition of being in England or if being on a ship or at a port in the Tames River applied.

“Mansfield’s decision moved slavery entirely out of the reach of the common law and its moral protection.  Whatever slavery was, it was not sanctioned by English common law. As a result, Somersett v. Stewart wiped out the line of seventeenth century precedents that had once propped up slavery as a lawful form of property.” (p. 34)

Professor Thomas researched the case of Mahoney v. Ashton in Maryland. “In its length and complexity, Mahoney v. Ashton was like almost no other petition for freedom in American history.” (p. 88) Charles Mahoney and 40 of his relatives were owned by Charles Carrollton, Maryland’s leading politician and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The basis of the trial dated back to Ann Joice, grandmother of Charles Mahoney.  Ann Joice was a black indentured servant from Barbados who spent time in England before coming to Maryland to work for Lord Baltimore.  As an indentured servant, she should be entitled to her freedom, as should her 1,500 descendants who were slaves in Maryland. People of color born from a free woman were not slaves!  Unfortunately, it was difficult to provide evidence that she was in England. The research provided in this case, with its twists and turns, is worth your reading.  In the trial, the jurors heard testimony from hearsay of Mary Queen, a free black woman who came to Virginia from New Spain instead of the Popo region of West Africa as claimed by Benjamin Duvall, representing the slaveholders.

“The all-white slaveholding jury gave greater weight to the testimony of the Queen witnesses, followed the ruling of the general court in Edward’s case, and rendered a verdict in favor of freedom for Phillis Queen. The decision made sense.  A higher court determined Edward Queen was free, so surely his mother, Phillis should be also.  Since Edward’s grandmother, Mary Queen was “not a slave,” surely her daughter could not be a slave either.” (p. 76) “On May 12, 1799, the jury returned an unambiguous verdict: ‘Charles Mahoney is a free man.’” (p. 99)

As a result of this decision, twenty related lawsuits freed over fifty children and grandchildren. “The trials cost John Ashton and the Jesuits 6,795 pounds of tobacco in damages, court costs, and fees.” (p. 78) The year is 1796 and the cost was even greater since tobacco prices were depressed in the mid-1790s. In this same year, the Maryland legislature allowed manumission by last will and testament for individuals in good health, under the age of forty-five, who could support themselves. Unfortunately, legal precedents can change and Charles Mahoney’s family experienced their loss of freedom.

“On June 25, 1802, the High Court of Appeals reversed the May 1799 judgment freeing Charles Mahoney. The defeat was total.”  Setting a foot in England was no longer a basis for the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for Charles, Patrick, and Daniel Mahoney or others. (p. 112)

What a teachable moment!

  1. Is this decision evidence that in the United States, slaves were defined as property because of the color of their skin?
  2. Is this decision a reaction against the popularity of the Jeffersonian Republicans after the Election of 1800?
  3. Did the ill-fated rebellion near Richmond, Virginia by Gabriel Prosser in 1800 and the French and Haitian Revolutions increase fears of mob rule and the loss of property?
  4. Is the decision valid based on the arguments of Robert Goodloe Harper that Somersett v. Stewart only suspended a slaveholder’s right to property?
  5. Is the position of the Democratic Republicans contradictory in its support for slavery on the basis of race while advocating for the freedom of specific individuals, like the Mahoney family?

These questions should motivate deeper questions by your students leading to evidence that legal precedents are being established in states that will support the basis of Roger Taney’s obiter dictum in Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857. The Question of Freedom provides insights into why laws for voting based on the ownership of property were changed to qualifications based on race and skin color. (p. 115) States began to introduce legislation outlawing manumission and requiring free blacks to carry a certificate of freedom signed by the county court. Judges provided instructions to jurors that the burden of proof fell on the enslaved person to prove their freedom and that the color of their mulatto skin was white. “Judges and juries would observe their color, hair, and physical features.  Testimony about the racial features of their ancestors would give greater weight than what contemporaries said about their status as free persons.” (p. 132)

The Impact of the Domestic Slave Trade

The freedom case of Priscilla and Mina Queen (Queen v. Hepburn) offers unique insights into the slave trade, black market trade of enslaved persons, impact of bankruptcy on slaveowners and enslaved persons, and changing financial markets.  The case began in 1809 and a successful outcome depended on Priscilla and Mina Queen proving their grandmother was Nanny Cooper, the daughter of Mary Queen who was in England, and establishing that she came to Maryland as a free woman before 1715 (100 years ago).

John Hepburn, inherited over one thousand acres in 1775 and over the years overspent his fortune in a lucrative life style. As a result of filing for bankruptcy, his creditors could acquire slaves, sell them, and separate them from their children. Blacks, both free and slave, were in high demand to meet the labor needs for the construction of buildings and roads in the new capital city of Washington D.C. and to pick cotton to meet the international demand for cotton textiles.

The U.S. prohibited the international slave trade of slaves in 1808 but the domestic slave trade became a daily event at auctions.  “Former New York congressman John P. Van Ness advertised in the newspaper a year later that he had ‘A Negro Boy for Sale.’” (p. 166) When Catholic women joined the convent, their parents gave the Roman Catholic Church their dowries, which often included slaves. As a result of the increasing population of people of color in the new capital, strict black codes designed to limit freedom in the evening were enacted. (p. 162)

Chapter 5 presents the facts in a concise manner that offers teachers an opportunity to create a mock trial simulation of Queen v. Hepburn and Queen v. Neale. These cases have twists and turns regarding hearsay evidence, transcription errors in documents, and connections to shipping records and wills. Furthermore, the Queen’s lawyer is Francis Scott Key and one of the associate judges on the U.S. Supreme Court, Gabriel Duvall, had previous ruled in favor of Charles Mahoney.  There is also a map of Washington D.C. (1815) identifying the homes and offices of the major individuals in this story.  The research is splendid and the controversial issues for students to debate provide a powerful understanding of both systemic racism in the United States and the depth of individual freedom.  The arguments for the protection of property are real and the right to individual freedom is powerful. (pp. 169 -179

  1. William Cranch, Federalist and nephew of Abigail Adams is the chief judge of the circuit court in D.C. Although a Federalist, expert in property contracts, his decisions generally benefited slaves in their freedom suits.
  2. Francs Scott Key presented all the depositions from the 21 freedom suits of the Queen family that Gabriel Duvall had taken years before. The evidence that Mary Queen was an indentured servant was carefully explained.
  3. Fredus Ryland was a star witness and had previously given a deposition in 1796 stating that he met Mary Queen and heard her story first hand. His deposition clearly stated that she was ‘born free’ came from Guayaquil (Ecuador or New Spain) and was transported around the world and to England by Captain Woodes Rogers and lived in London for three years!
  4. Everyone who was literate in the United States was familiar with Daniel Defoe’s popular book, Robinson Crusoe, which is based on the account of Captain Rogers and includes a reference to a passenger Maria. Could this be Mary Queen?
  5. Francis Scott Key introduced the will of James Carroll bequeathing a woman named Mary to Anthony Carroll, John Carroll’s seven-year old nephew.
  6. The attorneys for Rev. Francis Neale, objected to the deposition of Fredus Ryland claiming it was based on hearsay.

Read the digital files of the freedom suits at The Georgetown Slavery Archive and University of Nebraska-Lincoln O Say Can You See Project

Students should ask questions about the rules of evidence in trials, especially in the case of slaves who lacked birth records and travel documents. In the 21st century lawyers and judges argue over what evidence is credible and what needs to be excluded.  Many judges were open to hearsay evidence in freedom trials, especially when it was supported by multiple individuals. With the rejection of hearsay evidence, Priscilla Queen and Nina Queen both lost their suit for freedom.  However, Nina Queen appealed her decision to the U.S. Supreme Court in February 1813.

In the context of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, I taught my students about the slave trade in Washington, D.C. and the market value of the price of slaves.  After reading Question of freedom, I realized this needs to be taught much earlier. Professor Thomas provides detailed research of the slave trade and prisons in our nation’s capital dating back to 1800 and the demand for laborers in building the U.S. Capitol, ships for our navy, and house servants for elected members of our government. It is a valuable resource for teachers, as is Solomon Northrup, Twelve Years a Slave, who want to teach about continuity and change and how the questions relating to slavery, property, and individual freedom changed in the first six decades of the 19th century.

“The men, women, and children were ‘bound together in pairs, some with ropes, and some with iron chains.” (Report from Dr. Jesse Torrey, circa 1815, p. 196)

Slave Trades in Washington D.C.

The locations of hidden slave pen on the upper floor of George Miller’s Tavern on F Street (between 13th and 14th), Williams Yellow House, and Robey’s Tavern on Independence Ave. between 7th and 8th Streets.

The story of Ann Williams captures the fear that every black person faced daily as the demand for labor intensified with the construction of roads and buildings and the cotton economy in the South.  Ann Williams and her two young daughters were taken from their home in Bladensburg, Maryland and marched in chains for seven miles to Washington D.C. She pried open a window and jumped three floors breaking her spine. George Miller, the tavern owner, kept her on a wooden pallet providing her with food and water. 

Engage your students in reflective thinking to determine if his motives were for humanitarian reasons or for profit from the children she would likely give birth to after she was healed. This is a powerful story that your students will never forget. Furthermore, the Circuit Court in D.C. issued a writ of habeas corpus to investigate the incident at the Miller Tavern only to have it rescinded on the grounds that Ann Williams was property and therefore a writ of habeas corpus could not apply because it is only for persons detained. Her story is even more important because on July 2, 1832, she received her freedom through a verdict from a jury in the District of Columbia Court – 17 years after she jumped from the top floor of Miller’s Tavern.

The questions presented by Professor Williams are at times clearly stated and they are also hidden in the perspectives. For example, the argument by George Miller that slaves were property and could be denied a writ of habeas corpus are of national importance.  This incident influenced the Missouri Compromise, Tallmadge Amendment, and the African Colonization Society. With every economic crisis in 1817, 1837, with the changing markets for labor, with burgeoning individual debts and personal bankruptcy, enslaved persons were vulnerable.

Henry Clay

Teachers must ask their students how did economics influence the principles of slaveholders such as Francis Scott Key, John Marshall, Roger B. Taney, Henry Clay and other prominent Americans who are also understood as reformers? The evidence illustrates the inequality of the United States of America in a way that the debate over a $15 minimum wage has arguments for maintaining wages below the poverty level and increasing profits for businesses above the expected rate of inflation. History is complicated!

However, the freedom suit filed by Charlotte Dupee in 1829 for her freedom from Henry Clay, Secretary of State, displays these conflicts.  Henry Clay is a founding member of the American Colonization Society (the chairperson), an aspiring candidate for president, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, and a senator from Kentucky.  Henry Clay stated, “free black confronted unconquerable prejudices resulting from their color and they never could amalgamate with the free whites of this country.” (pp. 200-201)

Henry Clay purchased Charlotte for $450 (a high price) in 1815. She married Henry Clay’s personal assistant and driver, Aaron Dupee. Charlotte and Aaron married and had two children, Charles and Mary Ann.  They lived with Henry Clay in his home (Decatur House) on Lafayette Square. Charlotte’s parents lived in Maryland as a free family and her family visited with them regularly. Charlotte and Aaron were well known and respected among the Washington political elites and likely very aware of legislation and debates relating to slavery.

Charlotte’s law suit was based on the fact that when she was born her parents were free and not slaves. However, she was born in 1787 and her father received his freedom in 1790 and her mother in 1792. She claimed her sale to Henry Clay was illegal.  After the Electoral College declared Andrew Jackson as president, Henry Clay would return to Kentucky with Charlotte and Aaron and their two children. They could be separated and sold at any time.

The case embarrassed Henry Clay and called into question his political reputation. In another interesting twist of research, Professor Williams observes that Charlotte remained in Washington D.C. because of her pending lawsuit and found new employment with Martin Van Buren, the new vice-president and political enemy of Henry Clay.  The Court decided in May 1830 in favor of Henry Clay with the statement “Charlotte Dupee was born a slave for life.” (p.227). Henry Clay instructed his attorney to inform Charlotte to return to his home in Kentucky at her expense.  Students will find Henry Clay’s letter to his attorney of interest:

“I approve entirely of your order to the Marshall to imprison Lotty (Charlotte).Her husband and children are here. Her refusal therefore to return home, when requested by me to do so through you, was unnatural towards them as it was disobedient to me.  She has been her own mistress, upwards of 18 months, since I left her in Washington, in consequence of the groundless writ which she was prompted to bring against me for her freedom; and as that writ has been decided against her, and as her conduct has created insubordination among her relatives here, I think it is high time to put a stop to it.” (p. 227)

Charlotte Dupee was taken to the D.C. City Jail and sent to Henry Clay’s daughter in New Orleans. Charlotte’s freedom suit was never reported in the newspapers. In 1840, Henry Clay emancipated Charlotte and her daughter Mary Anne. She was 53 years old. However, Henry Clay did not free Mary Anne’s children. Have your students examine slavery in America with snapshots taken in 1790 (ratification of the U.S. Constitution), 1800 (rise of Jeffersonian Republicans), 1810 (end to the importation of slaves), 1820 (Missouri Compromise), 1830 (Charlotte Dupee’s freedom suit), 1831 (Nat Turner’s Rebellion), and now in 1840 (Whig Party).

Fears Every Black American Experienced

There were more urban riots in the summer of 1835 than in any other year. The 1835 riots in Washington D.C. exploded in the Washington Navy Yard following the decision to bring thirteen slaves and three free black men to complete the work on the USS Columbia.   The fear of industrial slave labor might replace skilled white workers. After someone reported the theft of compression pins from the blacksmith shop, the white workers went on strike.

The diary (1813-1865) kept by Michael Shiner, one of the enslaved workers who was a literate carpenter reveals the fears of the black community and a unique perspective of the events in Washington D.C.  Michael Shiner was one year away from his freedom when the riots of 1835 happened.  Another event that shook America was the death of John Marshall on July 6, which was followed by the nomination of Roger B. Taney. The diary of Michael Shiner also recorded the arrest of a young African American, Arthur Bowen for the attempted murder of a notable white woman, which involved the U.S. marines to keep order and prevent the lynching of Arthur Bowen.  The U.S. district attorney was Francis Scott Key, a tough prosecutor and brother-in-law to Chief Justice Taney, who arrested Professor Reuben Crandall, a botany professor at Yale.  There are many factors related to these events in the summer of 1835 for students to analyze and each of them reveals engaging questions about abolition, the influence of the Ebenezer African Methodist Church on Fourth and G Streets, the inequality experienced by residents in the area around the Navy Yard (Northeast), the citywide Memorial Petition calling for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, the slave trading corporation of Isaac Franklin and John Armfield with scheduled transports of slaves to New Orleans, Natchez, and other ports in the South. Some of the questions that intrigued me are:

  1. Is holding abolitionist literature and distributing a pamphlet to another person the same as publishing abolitionist literature?
  2. Francis Scott Key represented slaves in their request for freedom, is a founding member of the American Colonization Society, defended slave holders, owned seven slaves, freed four of his slaves, and facilitated the sale of 272 black men, women, and children for $115,000 to balance the accounts of Georgetown College. How should I teach my students about the life of Francis Scott Key?
  3. Did the rhetoric of the abolitionists, intended to end slavery, encourage slaves to become violent and become counter-productive to the cause of freedom?
  4. Was the decision to expand the U.S. Supreme Court in 1837 from seven to nine justices, motivated to protect the property of slaveholders or by the westward expansion of the United States? (President Jackson appointed seven of the nine justices)

System Racism

The evidence in Chapter 8 regarding the financial implications of how slaves were “assembled, sold, and transported,” the exponential impact of how the sale of a few enslaved persons affected the lives of hundreds, the importance of understanding how the panics or economic recessions of 1837 and 1857 contributed to the sale of enslaved persons and the breaking up of families, and the legal theories that were advanced by slaveholders and abolitionists is powerful and clearly articulated. The claims and arguments in this chapter regarding systemic racism in the United States are convincing.

  1. Enslaved persons were treated in every contract and sale as part of a “lot.” Individuals were clearly property and packaged in a way that mortgages are sold as bonds in today’s market. Individual slaves were sold as priced commodities based on their skin colors, genders, skills, histories, and ages. They were sold to different buyers in a similar way that odd lot purchases of stocks are bought and sold on today’s stock exchanges.  Slaves were chattel and appraised for their value. For example, Ann Bell lived independently in Washington D.C. from approximately 1825 to 1836. Unknown to her, she was privately bequeathed as estate property by Gerald T. Greenfield of Tennessee.

“Thirteen-year old Andrew was valued at $375. Caroline, now nine years old, was priced at $250.  Eleven-year old Mary Ellen and seven-year old George were valued at $200 each.  Five-year old Daniel and his three-year old sister Harriett were priced at $100 each.”  (p. 303)

2. After the expiration of the Charter of the Bank of the United States in 1836, state banks developed “property banking” to provide capital for land speculation in land and slaves. For example, the Union Bank of Louisiana arranged for slaveholders to leverage their land and slaves as collateral for expanding their cotton plantations. This was called “hypothecation.” (p. 281). Unfortunately, when supply was greater than demand, creditors demanded payments on loans in gold or specie, or the price of cotton, sugar, or tobacco declined, slaves were traded and sold. It was heartbreaking for families who were broken up.

3. Slavery was legally defined at the state level. For example, in Louisiana ALL Negroes of black color were “presumed to be slaves.”  Slaves could not be freed through a will because they were required to leave the state.  In Maryland, the General Assembly ratified a constitutional amendment in 1837 stating that “the relation of master and slave, in this State, shall not be abolished unless by unanimous vote of the General Assembly and with full compensation to slaveholders.” (p. 263) The reason for this new law was that fugitives were not being returned to Maryland from free states as required by the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act without a legal definition that slaves were property.

5. During the decade of 1831-1840, more than 285,000 slaves from Maryland and Virginia were sold through interstate trade – about 30,000 a year or about 80 a day. (p. 271)

6. The free black population in Maryland doubled between 1790-1800 from 10,000 to 20,000. Forty years later, the number of free blacks had more than tripled to 62,000, and four in every ten African Americans were free. (p. 316)

Slaves purchased on the market walked (perhaps 400-500 miles) to their new destinations in the Carolinas and Georgia or transported on vessels owned by Isaac Franklin and John Armfield, to New Orleans and Natchez.

“Their vessels, built in Connecticut, had been designed specifically for the slave trade, and their holds were similar to those in the ships that plied the transatlantic slave trade. Each captive had only about 36 cubic feet of space, (6x3x2) sometimes less, when more than 180 people were jammed into the tightly packed holds below decks.  Built for Franklin and Armfield’s in 1833, the Uncas carried thousands to New Orleans in the booming interstate slave trade. Franklin and Armfield typically separated the men and boys from the woman and girls on the voyage and heavily fortified the section of the ship holding the men.  Nothing prevented the captain or the officers from entering the women’s hold and seizing any of them for sex. The Uncas carried approximately 50 people.” (p. 290)

In 1850, the slave trade in the District of Columbia ended with the Compromise of 1850. The Fugitive Slave Act followed the neutral language in the Constitution of “persons held to service or labor” instead of slaves. Although these words could provide evidence that slaves were persons with basic constitutional rights of due process under the Fifth Amendment, they were seized without a warrant. Even Frederick Douglass, a runaway, was at risk of being returned to slavery!

Professor Thomas raises excellent questions for students to answer:

  1. Did enslaved persons have any rights under the Constitution?
  2. Was slavery a local condition without fundamental legitimacy in the law and therefore restricted to certain, specific restraints?
  3. Did enslaved persons lack any rights at all, and was slavery national in scope and legal authority under the Constitution?

The answers to these questions are difficult as reflected in the response of the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.  The Compromise of 1850 made Garrison choose between the U.S. Constitution and the moral evil of slavery.

“Their idealism was such that they would not participate in purchasing the freedom of a single enslaved person who fled bondage.” (p. 318)

One of the Performance Expectations for students in New Jersey public schools is to learn about free black communities:

6.1.12.HistoryUP.2.b: Analyze the impact and contributions of African American leaders and institutions in the development and activities of black communities in the North and South before and after the Civil War

Although Maryland had the third highest population of slaves in the United States with more than a hundred thousand people in bondage, (p.6), it was also the home to more than 8,000 free blacks living in communities, such as Annapolis and Baltimore and organizing institutions. (p. 42).  Forty years later, the number of free blacks was 62,000, and four in every ten African Americans were free. (p. 316) Students need to know this!

Another insight I learned from reading Question of Freedom was the diversity of Maryland regarding plantation slavery in the Chesapeake Bay area and the absence of slavery in Frederick County in northwestern Maryland. (p.91)

The evidence in A Question of Freedom, regarding the presence of systemic racism in the United States is convincing and it is presented over 240 years beginning with Mary Queen

For further inquiry and exploration, research the digital resources on the freedom suits of enslaved persons from Maryland.

The Georgetown Slavery Archive

University of Nebraska-Lincoln O Say Can You See Project

Bryan Stevenson: On Equality and Social Justice

Bryan Stevenson: I know this to be true

On Equality and Social Justice

Book Reviewed by Hank Bitten, NJCSS Executive Director

I am a history teacher who wanted to learn about the perspectives of racial inequality and social justice as a result of the events during the summer of 2020. Although I have a strong content background in the history of African Americans, slavery, reconstruction, prejudice and discrimination, constitutional law, the economics of poverty, and human rights, I never taught a course on social inequality, criminal justice, or how to address problems in this area.

A former student, Dr. Christopher Borgen, who is a law professor at St. John’s University, introduced me to the Equal Justice Initiative and its founder, Bryan Stevenson. After visiting the EJI website and learning from others that Bryan Stevenson was a past speaker at an NCSS convention, I read his book, all 66 pages in about 30 minutes!

The book was different from what I was expecting. When I read the description on the Amazon website, I was expecting stories of convicted felons on death row who were falsely accused and then represented by Dr. Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative. Instead, I discovered that I shared the same hopes, values, and mission as Bryan Stevenson, even though our life experiences were very different. The things we shared were loving grandmothers, disappointing high school educational experiences, religious faith, and a calling to help people by making a difference in their lives. My world view that we are placed into situations by circumstance (or divine intervention) was reinforced in the 66 pages of what I read.

Bryan Stevenson lived in a rural town in southern Delaware from 1959 until he graduated from Eastern University (PA) in 1977. He attended the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard where he earned a Master of Arts degree in Public Policy and a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School. After moving to Atlanta, he was an attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights in 1989 he founded the non-profit law center, Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery. His life’s work is committed to eliminating life-without-parole sentences and capital punishment for juveniles. The Equal Justice Initiative have won reversals or release for 135 wrongly convicted death row prisoners.

The EJI opened the Legacy Museum in 2018 in Montgomery, Alabama to focus on racial inequality and the challenges of race discrimination in the criminal justice system in the United States. The current digital exhibits on racial justice, Reconstruction, and criminal justice reform are informative.

As a white, middle class, educated person living in a suburban community, my wife and I taught our children and now we are teaching our grandchildren that the police are your friend.  We instill in them that if you are ever in trouble to seek the advice of the police who are easily recognized by their uniforms. This is teachable because all of us deserve to be treated equally! The book provides examples of how “our society applies a presumption of dangerousness and guilt to young black men, and that’s what leads to wrongful arrests ad wrongful convictions and wrongful death sentences, not just wrongful shootings.” The example of injustice is the story of Walter McMillian who was sentenced to death in 1986 for the murder of Ronda Morrison, an eighteen-year old white woman. He was treated unfairly because he was targeted, the victim of false testimonies, convicted of a life sentence by an all-white jury, and then this sentence was changed to the death sentence by judicial override.  This short book emphasizes the power of mercy and redemption and how simple interventions based on perseverance can lead to justice and goodness and change lives.

The K-12 educational experience of Bryan Stevenson gave me a different perspective of my own experiences. I was educated in the Paterson Public Schools from 1952-1964. I went to overcrowded schools, we were attacked by black teenagers from the other side of the real estate dividing line, lacked a college preparatory experience even though I was in the Academic program, and skipped two years graduating at age 16. Bryan Stevenson’s experience was similar and yet opposite. Although he went to school a decade later, his mother and grandmother were anxious every day about his experiences in an integrated school. Both of our mothers and grandparents were influential in teaching us to read (newspapers and encyclopedias) and we were both the first in our families to attend and graduate from college.

The second perspective I gained from this book was first introduced to me in Race Matters by Cornell West. I read this book in the 1990s and the narrative demonstrated by African Americans through all the years of segregation, insecurity, and prejudice is one of love, hope, and a desire for acceptance. During the current national dialogue of racial inequality and social injustice, I think back to my first years as a teacher at Martin Luther High School in Maspeth, Queens. This was the year of the strike by teachers in the New York Public Schools and the year that neighborhood schools ended and busing to integrated schools began. As a new teacher, I was instructed to start an African American History course, even though college courses in this field were rare and not part of my education. As a result, I learned with my students, enrollment increased to multiple sections, and my students taught me about their experiences in East New York, (and other communities), threats against them on public transportation, and the difficulty in finding work. I also learned about the experiences of their parents in the workforce at a time when the Bakke decision by the Supreme Court challenged the validity of minority quotas.

The third perspective, the one that motivated me to write this book review, was the role and influence of the church and the driving values that motivated the life work and decisions of Bryan Stevenson.  I discovered in this narrative the importance of social and emotional learning, that solutions are always a process rather than an answer, and the importance of teachers in educating students.

It is important for teachers to understand the narrative of fear.  This is evident in the restrictions of the plantation, denial of literacy, and Jim Crow segregation.  It is also evident in the classification of drug addicts and users as criminals instead of individuals with a sickness or mental health condition. Fear is a powerful force in the human condition. We are taught to fear the consequences of breaking laws and rules as well as fearing failure.

It is equally important for teachers to teach and be a voice of hope and help. The social studies teachers I am privileged to know want to make a positive difference in the lives of their students. This is why civic education and historical context is important to them because the context supports equality, freedom, respect, justice, respect, and human rights. These are the threads that weave every day in the lessons of ancient societies, the Enlightenment, totalitarian rulers, colonial America, abolition, suffrage, Reconstruction, the New Deal, Fair Deal, Great Society, and the American Dream.

The impressive personal story of Bryan Stevenson is one of notable accomplishments but the difference he has been able to make in the lives of people through the Equal Justice Initiative is very similar to the impactful stories of teachers.  Although our calling is to teach social studies, we are also teachers of life skills, the extraordinary lessons of handling crises, and how to persevere through the frustrations of declining test scores and disappointments. Teachers are always modeling resilience, perseverance, and help.

Another lesson that was reinforced for me through this book was the concept of leadership. Leadership in the classroom is demonstrated by getting our students to support common goals of listening to others, searching for the truth, asking questions, doing our best, and supporting each other.  Bryan Stevenson also includes speaking out for what is right!  This includes making our classrooms and schools free from fear and anger, free from complacency and ignorance, and places where students feel comfortable to ask questions, learn different perspectives, and respect the competing ideas that are inherent in a democracy.

There are many lessons throughout this book and they will speak to each person in a different way. Regarding civic engagement, it is important to follow the calling in one’s heart in addition to their cognitive knowledge of what needs to be changed. It also means to think small when there are big problems. Bryan Stevenson lives in a state with a very high poverty rate and a record of harsh punishments against people. The lesson I came away with is to make a difference where I can, even if it is in the lives of just a few. For your students, let them know that they are witnesses to everything they see – bullying, sexism, injustice, inequality, favoritism, patronizing, cheating, lying, exaggerating, complacency, etc.

The book takes only a few hours to read but the messages in the book will last a long time!