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Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You was written by Jason Reynolds. It is
based on Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist
Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi, published by Bold Type Books.

Copyright © 2020 by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds

Cover art copyright © 2020 by Erin Robinson. Title and author lettering
copyright © 2020 by Dirty Bandits. Cover design by Karina Granda based
on design by the Book Designers. Cover copyright © 2020 by Hachette
Book Group, Inc.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Reynolds, Jason, author. | Kendi, Ibram X., author.
Title: Stamped : racism, antiracism, and you / Jason Reynolds and Ibram

X. Kendi.
Description: First edition. | New York : Little, Brown and Company, 2020. |

“An Adaptation of the National Book Award–winning Stamped from the
Beginning.” | Includes bibliographical references and index. | Audience:
Ages 12 and up. | Summary: “A history of racist and antiracist ideas in
America, from their roots in Europe until today, adapted from the
National Book Award winner Stamped from the Beginning.”—Provided
by publisher.

Identifiers: LCCN 2019033917 | ISBN 9780316453691 (hardcover) | ISBN
9780316453707 (ebook) | ISBN 9780316453677

Subjects: LCSH: Racism—United States—History—Juvenile literature. |
United States—Race relations—History—Juvenile literature.

Classification: LCC E184.A1 K346 2020 | DDC 305.800973—dc23
LC record available at

ISBNs: 978-0-316-45369-1 (hardcover), 978-0-316-45370-7 (ebook)




SECTION 1: 1415–1728
1. The Story of the World’s First Racist
2. Puritan Power
3. A Different Adam
4. A Racist Wunderkind

SECTION 2: 1743–1826
5. Proof in the Poetry
6. Time Out
7. Time In
8. Jefferson’s Notes
9. Uplift Suasion
10. The Great Contradictor

SECTION 3: 1826–1879
11. Mass Communication for Mass Emancipation
12. Uncle Tom


13. Complicated Abe
14. Garrison’s Last Stand

SECTION 4: 1868–1963
15. Battle of the Black Brains
16. Jack Johnson vs. Tarzan
17. Birth of a Nation (and a New Nuisance)
18. The Mission Is in the Name
19. Can’t Sing and Dance and Write It Away
20. Home Is Where the Hatred Is

21. When Death Comes
22. Black Power
23. Murder Was the Case
24. What War on Drugs?
25. The Soundtrack of Sorrow and Subversion
26. A Million Strong
27. A Bill Too Many
28. A Miracle and Still a Maybe


To January Hartwell, my great-great-great-grandfather

To the lives they said don’t matter

Explore book giveaways, sneak peeks, deals, and more.

Tap here to learn more.



To know the past is to know the present. To know the present is to know

I write about the history of racism to understand racism today. I want to
understand racism today to understand how it is affecting me today. I want
you to understand racism today to understand how it is affecting you and
America today.

The book you’re holding is a remix of my book, Stamped from the
Beginning, a narrative history of racist and antiracist ideas. A racist idea is
any idea that suggests something is wrong or right, superior or inferior,
better or worse about a racial group. An antiracist idea is any idea that
suggests that racial groups are equals. Racist and antiracist ideas have
lived in human minds for nearly six hundred years. Born in western
Europe in the mid-1400s, racist ideas traveled to colonial America and
have lived in the United States from its beginning. I chronicled their entire
life in Stamped from the Beginning.

The novelist Jason Reynolds adapted Stamped from the Beginning into this
book for you. I wish I learned this history at your age. But there were no
books telling the complete story of racist ideas. Some books told parts of
the story. I hardly wanted to read them, though. Most were so boring,
written in ways I could not relate to. But not Jason’s books. Not this book.
Jason is one of the most gifted writers and thinkers of our time. I don’t
know of anyone who would have been better at connecting the past to the
present for you. Jason is a great writer in the purest sense. A great writer

snatches the human eye in the way that a thumping beat snatches the
human ear, makes your head bob up and down. It is hard to stop when the
beat is on. A great writer makes my head bob from side to side. It is hard
to stop when the book is open.

I don’t think I’m a great writer like Jason, but I do think I’m a
courageous writer. I wrote Stamped from the Beginning with my cell phone
on, with my television on, with my anger on, with my joy on—always
thinking on and on. I watched the televised and untelevised life of the
shooting star of #Black Lives Matter during America’s stormiest nights. I
watched the televised and untelevised killings of unarmed Black human
beings at the hands of cops and wannabe cops. I somehow managed to
write Stamped from the Beginning between the heartbreaking deaths of
seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin and seventeen-year-old Darnesha
Harris and twelve-year-old Tamir Rice and sixteen-year-old Kimani Gray
and eighteen-year-old Michael Brown, heartbreaks that are a product of
America’s history of racist ideas as much as a history of racist ideas is a
product of these heartbreaks.

Meaning, if not for racist ideas, George Zimmerman would not have
thought the hooded Florida teen who liked LeBron James, hip-hop, and
South Park had to be a robber. Zimmerman’s racist ideas in 2012
transformed an easygoing Trayvon Martin walking home from a 7-Eleven
holding watermelon juice and Skittles into a menace to society holding
danger. Racist ideas cause people to look at an innocent Black face and see
a criminal. If not for racist ideas, Trayvon would still be alive. His dreams
of becoming a pilot would still be alive.

Young Black males were twenty-one times more likely to be killed by
police than their White counterparts between 2010 and 2012, according to
federal statistics. The under-recorded, under-analyzed racial disparities
between female victims of lethal police force may be even greater. Black
people are five times more likely to be incarcerated than Whites.

I’m no math whiz, but if Black people make up 13 percent of the US
population, then Black people should make up somewhere close to 13
percent of the Americans killed by the police, and somewhere close to 13
percent of the Americans sitting in prisons. But today, the United States
remains nowhere close to racial equality. African Americans make up 40
percent of the incarcerated population. These are racial inequities, older

than the life of the United States.
Even before Thomas Jefferson and the other founders declared

independence in 1776, Americans were arguing over racial inequities, over
why they exist and persist, and over why White Americans as a group were
prospering more than Black Americans as a group. Historically, there have
been three groups involved in this heated argument. Both segregationists
and assimilationists, as I call these racist positions in Stamped from the
Beginning, think Black people are to blame for racial inequity. Both the
segregationists and the assimilationists think there is something wrong
with Black people and that’s why Black people are on the lower and dying
end of racial inequity. The assimilationists believe Black people as a group
can be changed for the better, and the segregationists do not. The
segregationists and the assimilationists are challenged by antiracists. The
antiracists say there is nothing wrong or right about Black people and
everything wrong with racism. The antiracists say racism is the problem in
need of changing, not Black people. The antiracists try to transform
racism. The assimilationists try to transform Black people. The
segregationists try to get away from Black people. These are the three
distinct racial positions you will hear throughout Stamped: Racism,
Antiracism, and You—the segregationists, the assimilationists, and the
antiracists, and how they each have rationalized racial inequity.

In writing Stamped from the Beginning, I did not want to just write about
racist ideas. I wanted to discover the source of racist ideas. When I was in
school and first really learning about racism, I was taught the popular
origin story. I was taught that ignorant and hateful people had produced
racist ideas, and that these racist people had instituted racist policies. But
when I learned the motives behind the production of racist ideas, it
became obvious that this folktale, though sensible, was not true. I found
that the need of powerful people to defend racist policies that benefited
them led them to produce racist ideas, and when unsuspecting people
consumed these racist ideas, they became ignorant and hateful.

Think of it this way. There are only two potential explanations for
racial inequity, for why White people were free and Black people were
enslaved in the United States. Either racist policies forced Black people

into enslavement, or animalistic Black people were fit for slavery. Now, if
you make a lot of money enslaving people, then to defend your business
you want people to believe that Black people are fit for slavery. You will
produce and circulate this racist idea to stop abolitionists from challenging
slavery, from abolishing what is making you rich. You see the racist
policies of slavery arrive first and then racist ideas follow to justify
slavery. And these racist ideas make people ignorant about racism and
hateful of racial groups.

When I began writing Stamped from the Beginning, I must confess that
I held quite a few racist ideas. Yes, me. I’m an African American. I’m a
historian of African Americans. But it’s important to remember that racist
ideas are ideas. Anyone can produce them or consume them, as this book
shows. I thought there were certain things wrong with Black people (and
other racial groups). Fooled by racist ideas, I did not fully realize that the
only thing wrong with Black people is that we think something is wrong
with Black people. I did not fully realize that the only thing extraordinary
about White people is that they think something is extraordinary about
White people. There are lazy, hardworking, wise, unwise, harmless, and
harmful individuals of every race, but no racial group is better or worse
than another racial group in any way.

Committed to this antiracist idea of group equality, I was able to
discover, self-critique, and shed the racist ideas I had consumed over my
lifetime while I uncovered and exposed the racist ideas that others have
produced over the lifetime of America. The first step to building an
antiracist America is acknowledging America’s racist past. By
acknowledging America’s racist past, we can acknowledge America’s
racist present. In acknowledging America’s racist present, we can work
toward building an antiracist America. An antiracist America where no
racial group has more or less, or is thought of as more or less. An
antiracist America where the people no longer hate on racial groups or try
to change racial groups. An antiracist America where our skin color is as
irrelevant as the colors of the clothes over our skin.

And an antiracist America is sure to come. No power lasts forever.
There will come a time when Americans will realize that the only thing
wrong with Black people is that they think something is wrong with Black
people. There will come a time when racist ideas will no longer obstruct

us from seeing the complete and utter abnormality of racial disparities.
There will come a time when we will love humanity, when we will gain the
courage to fight for an equitable society for our beloved humanity,
knowing, intelligently, that when we fight for humanity, we are fighting for
ourselves. There will come a time. Maybe, just maybe, that time is now.

In solidarity,

Ibram X. Kendi


The Story of the World’s First Racist

I repeat, this is not a history book. At least not like the ones you’re used to
reading in school. The ones that feel more like a list of dates (there will be
some), with an occasional war here and there, a declaration (definitely
gotta mention that), a constitution (that too), a court case or two, and, of
course, the paragraph that’s read during Black History Month (Harriet!
Rosa! Martin!). This isn’t that. This isn’t a history book. Or, at least, it’s
not that kind of history book. Instead, what this is, is a book that contains
history. A history directly connected to our lives as we live them right this
minute. This is a present book. A book about the here and now. A book that
hopefully will help us better understand why we are where we are as
Americans, specifically as our identity pertains to race.

Uh-oh. The R-word. Which for many of us still feels rated R. Or can be
matched only with another R word—run. But don’t. Let’s all just take a
deep breath. Inhale. Hold it. Exhale and breathe out:

See? Not so bad. Except for the fact that race has been a strange and

persistent poison in American history, which I’m sure you already know.
I’m also sure that, depending on where you are and where you’ve grown
up, your experiences with it—or at least the moment in which you
recognize it—may vary. Some may believe race isn’t an issue anymore,
that it’s a thing of the past, old tales of bad times. Others may be certain
that race is like an alligator, a dinosaur that never went extinct but instead
evolved. And though hiding in murky swamp waters, that leftover monster
is still deadly. And then there are those of you who know that race and,
more critical, racism are everywhere. Those of you who see racism
regularly robbing people of liberty, whether as a violent stickup or as a sly

pickpocket. The thief known as racism is all around. This book, this not
history history book, this present book, is meant to take you on a race
journey from then to now, to show why we feel how we feel, why we live
how we live, and why this poison, whether recognizable or unrecognizable,
whether it’s a scream or a whisper, just won’t go away.

This isn’t the be-all end-all. This isn’t the whole meal. It’s more like an
appetizer. Something in preparation for the feast to come. Something to
get you excited about choosing your seat—the right seat—at the table.

Oh! And there are three words I want you to keep in mind. Three words
to describe the people we’ll be exploring:

Segregationists. Assimilationists. Antiracists.
There are serious definitions to these things, but… I’m going to give

you mine.
Segregationists are haters. Like, real haters. People who hate you for

not being like them. Assimilationists are people who like you, but only
with quotation marks. Like…“like” you. Meaning, they “like” you because
you’re like them. And then there are antiracists. They love you because
you’re like you. But it’s important to note, life can rarely be wrapped into
single-word descriptions. It isn’t neat and perfectly shaped. So sometimes,
over the course of a lifetime (and even over the course of a day), people
can take on and act out ideas represented by more than one of these three
identities. Can be both, and. Just keep that in mind as we explore these

And, actually, these aren’t just the words we’ll be using to describe the
people in this book. They’re also the words we’ll be using to describe you.
And me. All of us.

So where do we start? We might as well just jump in and begin with the
world’s first racist. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, How
could anyone know who the world’s first racist was? Or you’re thinking,
Yeah, tell us, so we can find out where he lives. Well, he’s dead. Been dead
for six hundred years. Thankfully. And before I tell you about him, I have
to give you a little context.

Europe. That’s where we are. Where he was. As I’m sure you’ve
learned by now, the Europeans (Italians, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch,

French, British) were conquering everyone, because if there’s one thing all
history books do say, it’s that Europeans conquered the majority of the
world. The year is 1415, and Prince Henry (there’s always a Prince Henry)
convinced his father, King John of Portugal, to basically pull a caper and
capture the main Muslim trading depot on the northeastern tip of
Morocco. Why? Simple. Prince Henry was jealous. The Muslims had
riches, and if Prince Henry could get the Muslims out of the way, then
those riches and resources could be easily accessed. Stolen. A jack move.
A robbery. Plain and simple. The take, a bountiful supply of gold. And
Africans. That’s right, the Portuguese were capturing Moorish people, who
would become prisoners of war in a war the Moors hadn’t planned on
fighting but had to, to survive. And by prisoners, I mean property. Human

But neither Prince Henry nor King John of Portugal was given the title
World’s First Racist, because the truth is, capturing people wasn’t an
unusual thing back then. Just a fact of life. That illustrious moniker would
go to a man named neither Henry nor John but something way more
awesome, who did something not awesome at all—Gomes Eanes de
Zurara. Zurara, which sounds like a cheerleader chant, did just that.
Cheerleaded? Cheerled? Whatever. He was a cheerleader. Kind of. Not the
kind who roots for a team and pumps up a crowd, but he was a man who
made sure the team he played for was represented and heralded as great.
He made sure Prince Henry was looked at as a brilliant quarterback
making ingenious plays, and that every touchdown was the mark of a
superior player. How did Zurara do this? Through literature. Storytelling.

He wrote the story, a biography of the life and slave trading of Prince
Henry. Zurara was an obedient commander in Prince Henry’s Military
Order of Christ and would eventually complete his book, which would
become the first defense of African slave trading. It was called The
Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea. In it, Zurara bragged
about the Portuguese being early in bringing enslaved Africans from the
Western Sahara Cape, and spoke about owning humans as if they were
exclusive pairs of sneakers. Again, this was common. But he upped the
brag by also explaining what made Portugal different from their European
neighbors in terms of slave trading. The Portuguese now saw enslaving
people as missionary work. A mission from God to help civilize and

Christianize the African “savages.” At least, that’s what Zurara claimed.
And the reason this was a one-up on his competitors, the Spanish and
Italians, was because they were still enslaving eastern Europeans, as in
White people (not called White people back then). Zurara’s ace, his trick
shot, was that the Portuguese had enslaved Africans (of all shades, by the
way) supposedly for the purpose of saving their wretched souls.

Zurara made Prince Henry out to be some kind of youth minister
canvassing the street, doing community work, when what Prince Henry
really was, was more of a gangster. More of a shakedown man, a kidnapper
getting a commission for bringing the king captives. Prince Henry’s cut,
like a finder’s fee: 185 slaves, equaling money, money, money, though it
was always framed as a noble cause, thanks to Zurara, who was also paid
for his pen. Seems like Zurara was just a liar, right? A fiction writer? So,
what makes him the world’s first racist? Well, Zurara was the first person
to write about and defend Black human ownership, and this single
document began the recorded history of anti-Black racist ideas. You know
how the kings are always attached to where they rule? Like, King John of
Portugal? Well, if Gomes Eanes de Zurara was the king of anything (which
he wasn’t), he would’ve been King Gomes of Racism.

Zurara’s book, The Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea,
was a hit. And you know what hits do—they spread. Like a pop song that
everyone claims to hate, but everyone knows the words to, and then
suddenly no one hates the song anymore, and instead it becomes an
anthem. Zurara’s book became an anthem. A song sung all across Europe
as the primary source of knowledge on unknown Africa and African
peoples for the original slave traders and enslavers in Spain, Holland,
France, and England.

Zurara depicted Africans as savage animals that needed taming. This
depiction over time would even begin to convince some African people
that they were inferior, like al-Hasan Ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan al-Fasi, a
well-educated Moroccan who was on a diplomatic journey along the
Mediterranean Sea when he was captured and enslaved. He was eventually
freed by Pope Leo X, who converted him to Christianity, renamed him
Johannes Leo (he later become known as Leo Africanus, or Leo the
African), and possibly commissioned him to write a survey of Africa. And
in that survey, Africanus echoed Zurara’s sentiments of Africans, his own

people. He said they were hypersexual savages, making him the first
known African racist. When I was growing up, we called this “drinking the
Kool-Aid” or “selling out.” Either way, Zurara’s documentation of the
racist idea that Africans needed slavery in order to be fed and taught Jesus,
and that it was all ordained by God, began to seep in and stick to the
European cultural psyche. And a few hundred years later, this idea would
eventually reach America.


Puritan Power

history books I’m used to. And if you aren’t saying that, well… you’re a
liar. And, guess what, you wouldn’t be the first.

After Gomes Eanes de Zurara’s ridiculous, money-grabbing lie, there
were other European “race theorists” who followed suit, using his text as a
jumping-off point for their own concepts and racist ideas to justify the
enslavement of Africans. Because if there’s one thing we all know about
humans, it’s that most of us are followers, looking for something to be part
of to make us feel better about our own selfishness. Or is that just me? Just
me? Got it. Anyway, the followers came sniffing around, drumming up
their own cockamamie (best word ever, even better than Zurara, though
possibly a synonym) theories, two of which would set the table for the
conversation around racism for centuries to come.

Those theories were:

This actually came from Aristotle (we’ll get back to him
later), who questioned whether Africans were born “this
way” or if the heat of the continent made them inferior.
Many agreed it was climate, and that if African people lived
in cooler temperatures, they could, in fact, become White.

In 1577, after noticing that Inuit people in northeastern
(freezing-cold) Canada were darker than the people living
in the hotter south, English travel writer George Best

determined—conveniently for all parties interested in
owning slaves—that it couldn’t have been climate that
made darker people inferior, and instead determined that
Africans were, in fact, cursed. (First of all, could you
imagine someone on the Travel Channel telling you that
you’re cursed? Like… really?) And what did Best use to
prove this theory? Only one of the most irrefutable books of
the time: the Bible. In Best’s whimsical interpretation of the
book of Genesis, Noah orders his White sons not to have
sex with their wives on the ark, and then tells them that the
first child born after the flood would inherit the earth.
When the evil, tyrannical, and hypersexual Ham (goes
HAM and) has sex on the ark, God wills that Ham’s
descendants will be dark and disgusting, and the whole
world will look at them as symbols of trouble. Simply put,
Ham’s kids would be Black and bad, ultimately making
Black… bad. Curse theory would become the anchor of
what would justify American slavery.

It would branch off into another ridiculous idea, the strange concept
that because Africans were cursed and because, according to these
Europeans, they needed enslavement in order to be saved and civilized, the
relationship between slave and master was loving. That it was more like
parent and child. Or minister and member. Mentor, mentee. They were
painting a compassionate picture about what was certainly a terrible
experience, because, well, human beings were being forced into servitude,
and there’s no way to spin that into one big happy family.

But the literature said otherwise. That’s right, there was another piece
of literature, this one written by a man named William Perkins, called
Ordering a Familie, published in 1590, in which he argued that the slave
was just part of a loving family unit that was ordered a particular way. And
that the souls and the potential of the souls were equal, but not the skin.
It’s like saying, “I look at my dog like I look at my children, even though
I’ve trained my dog to fetch my paper by beating it and yanking its leash.”
But the idea of it all let the new enslavers off the emotional hook and

portrayed them as benevolent do-gooders “cleaning up” the Africans.
A generation later, slavery touched down in the newly colonized

America. And the people there to usher it in and, more important, to use it
to build this new country were two men, each of whom saw himself as a
similar kind of do-gooder. Their names, John Cotton and Richard Mather.

About Cotton and Mather. They were Puritans.
About Puritans. They were English Protestants who believed the

reformation of the Church of England was basically watering down
Christianity, and they sought to regulate it to keep it more disciplined and
rigid. So, these two men, at different times, traveled across the Atlantic in
search of a new land (which would be Boston) where they could escape
English persecution and preach their version—a “purer” version—of
Christianity. They landed in America after treacherous trips, especially
Richard Mather, whose ship sailed into a storm in 1635 and almost
collided with a massive rock in the ocean. Mather, of course, saw his
survival of this journey to America as a miracle, and became even more
devoted to God.

Both men were ministers. They built churches in Massachusetts but,
more important, they built systems. The church wasn’t just a place of
worship. The church was a place of power and influence, and in this new
land, John Cotton and Richard Mather had a whole lot of power and
influence. And the first thing they did to spread the Puritan way was find
other people who were like-minded. And with those like-minded folks,
they created schools to enforce higher education skewed toward their way
of thinking.

What school, do you think, was the first to get the Puritan touch? This
is a trick question. Because the answer is the very first university in
America, ever (remember, this society is all brand-new!). And the very
first university in America ever was Harvard University. But a tricky thing
happens with the opening of Harvard. A thing that directly connects to
Zurara, and the curse and climate theories and everything we’ve talked
about thus far. See, Cotton and Mather were students of Aristotle. And
Aristotle, though held up as one of the greatest Greek philosophers of all
time, famous for things we will not be discussing here because this is not a
history book, believed something else he’s not nearly as famous for. And
that’s his belief in human hierarchy.

Aristotle believed that Greeks were superior to non-Greeks. John
Cotton and Richard Mather took Aristotle’s idea (because they, too, were
followers) and flipped it into a new equation, substituting “Puritan” for
“Greek.” And because of their miraculous journeys across the raging
ocean, especially Richard Mather’s, they believed they were a chosen
people. Special in the eyes of God. Puritan superiority.

According to the Puritans, they were better than:

1. Native Americans.

2. Anglican (English) people who weren’t Puritans.

3. Everyone else who wasn’t a Puritan.

4. Especially African people.

And guess what they did during the development of Harvard? They
made it so that Greek and Latin texts could not be disputed. Which meant
Aristotle, a man who believed in human hierarchy and used climate to
justify which humans were better, could not be disputed, and instead had
to be taken as truth.

And just like that, the groundwork was laid not only for slavery to be
justified but for it to be justified for a long, long time, simply because it
was woven into the religious and educational systems of America. All that
was needed to complete this oppressive puzzle was slaves.

America at this time was like one of those games where you have to build
a world. A social network of farmers and planters. And if you weren’t a
farmer-planter, then you were a missionary. So, you were either dirt folk
or church folk, everyone working to grow on stolen land—obviously their
native neighbors weren’t happy about any of this, because their world was
being broken, while a new world was being built, planted one seed at a

That seed? Tobacco. A man named John Pory (a defender of curse
theory), the cousin of one of the early major landowners, was named

America’s first legislative leader. First thing he did was set the price of
tobacco, seeing as it would be the country’s cash crop. But if tobacco was
really going to bring in some money, if it was really going to be the natural
resource used to power the country, then they would need more human
resource to grow it.

See where this is going?
In August 1619, a Spanish ship called the San Juan Bautista was

hijacked by two pirate ships. The Bautista was carrying 350 Angolans,
because Latin American slaveholders had already figured out their own
slave-trading system and had enslaved 250,000 people. The pirates robbed
the Bautista, taking sixty of the Angolans. They headed east, eventually
coming upon the shores of Jamestown, Virginia. They sold twenty
Angolans to that cousin of John Pory. The one with all the land, who
happened also to be the governor of Virginia. His name was George
Yeardley, and those first twenty slaves, for Yeardley and Pory, were right
on time… to work.

But remember, America was full of planters and missionaries. And the
new slaves would cause a bit of conflict between the two. For the planter,
the slave was a big help and could be the four-digit code to the American
ATM. Here comes the cash. On the flip side, missionaries—coming down
the line of Puritanism and Zurara’s propaganda—felt slavery was a means
to salvation. Planters wanted to grow profits, while missionaries wanted to
grow God’s kingdom.

No one cared what the enslaved African wanted (which, to start,
would’ve been not to be enslaved). They definitely didn’t want the religion
of their masters. And their masters resisted, too. Enslavers weren’t
interested in hearing anything about converting their slaves. Saving their
crops each year was more important to them than saving souls. It was
harvest over humanity. And the excuses they gave to avoid baptizing
slaves were:

Africans were too barbaric to be converted.
Africans were savage at the soul.
Africans couldn’t be loved



A Different Adam

slave trading and the savage nature of Africans, many other Europeans
started to write their own testimonies and theories. But it didn’t stop with
just Aristotle or George Best (the travel writer). A century later, the
tradition—one that would go on indefinitely—of writing about the African
was alive and well and more creative than ever. And when I say creative, I
mean trash.

There was a piece in 1664 by the British minister Richard Baxter called
A Christian Directory.

He believed slavery was helpful for African people. He
even said there were “voluntary slaves,” as in Africans who
wanted to be slaves so that they could be baptized.
(Voluntary slaves? Richard Baxter was clearly out of his

There was also work by the great English philosopher John Locke.

NOTES ON LOCKE (in regard to African people):
He believed that the most unblemished, purest, perfect
minds belonged to Whites, which basically meant Africans
had dirty brains.

And by the Italian philosopher Lucilio Vanini.

He believed Africans were born of a “different Adam,” and
had a different creation story. Of course, this would mean

they were a different species. It was kind of like saying (or
to him, proving) that Africans weren’t actually human. Like
they were maybe animals, or monsters, or aliens, but not
human—at least not like Whites—and therefore didn’t have
to be treated as such. This theory, which is called
polygenesis, broke the race conversation wide open. It took
Zurara’s initial benevolent-master mess and put it in bold.
Like, Africans went from savages to SAVAGES, which
revved up the necessity for Christian conversion and

I know we’ve been going on and on about the people working to justify

slavery, but it’s important (very important) to note that there were also
people all along the way who stood up and fought against these
ridiculously racist ideas with abolitionist ideas. In this particular case, the
case of Vanini’s theory of polygenesis, a group of Mennonites in
Germantown, Pennsylvania, rose up. The Mennonites were a Christian
denomination from the German- and Dutch-speaking areas of central
Europe. During the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, orthodox
authorities were killing them for their religious beliefs. Mennonites didn’t
want to leave behind one place of oppression to build another in America,
so they circulated an antislavery petition on April 18, 1688, denouncing
oppression due to skin color by equating it with oppression due to religion.
Both oppressions were wrong. This petition—the 1688 Germantown
Petition Against Slavery—was the first piece of writing that was
antiracist (word check!) among European settlers in colonial America.

But whenever people rise up against bad things, bad things tend to get
worse. You know the old saying, When the going gets tough, the tough
get… racist. Or something like that. So, all that antiracist talk coming
from the Mennonites was shut down because slaveholders didn’t like their
business talked about like it was wrong.

Because they needed their slaves.
Because their slaves made them money.
It’s really all quite simple.

Now there’s an obvious backdrop we need to discuss—the subject of our
first-grade, color-in-the-lines cornucopia worksheets. The misinterpreted,
misrepresented owners of this terrain—the Native Americans. All this is
happening on their land. A land that was taken from them forcefully,
claimed and owned by Europeans running from their homelands, afraid for
their lives. It’s kind of like the kid who gets beat up every day at school,
comes home crying to his mother, and she decides to take him to a new
school. And guess what he does when he gets to the new school? He
pretends like he wasn’t just on the receiving end of a boot sole and instead
becomes the most annoying tough guy in the world. And the Native
Americans were sick of the tough-acting, arrogant new kid.

The Native American and new (White) American beef had been

brewing for over a year (but let’s be honest, it had to have been brewing
much longer than that). And when I say brewing, I mean… people were
dying. Bloodshed in the soil. The Puritans in New England had already lost
homes and dozens of soldiers. But eventually a man named Metacomet, a
Native American war leader, was killed, which basically ended the battle
in 1676. Puritans cut up his body (like… savages?) as if it were a hog’s,
and paraded his remains around Plymouth.

But Metacomet’s tribe weren’t the only indigenous people, obviously.
Or the only ones being attacked. Down in Virginia, a twenty-nine-year-old
frontier planter, Nathaniel Bacon… Wait. Let’s take a time-out and
acknowledge the irony in the fact that there was a planter whose last name
was bacon. Bacon! Maybe he should’ve been a butcher! Anyway, Bacon
was upset not about the race issue but instead about the class issue. Here
he was, a White laborer who was also being taken advantage of by the
White elite. So, what he did to disrupt the powers that be was shift his
anger from the rich Whites to the Susquehannocks, a tribe of Natives. This
may seem like a strange move, but it was a smart play because the
governor at the time, William Berkeley, was doing anything he could not
to fight with the Natives, because it would mess up his fur trade, and thus
mess up his money. So, attacking the Natives was a way of attacking the
power structure, but through the back door. As we say now, “Hit ’em in
their pockets, where it really hurts.” And to make matters worse, Bacon
declared liberty for all servants and Blacks, because, as far as he was

concerned, though they were different races, they were the same class and
should be united against the true enemy—rich Whites. But the governor
knew if Blacks and Whites joined forces, he’d be done. Everything would
be done. It would’ve been an apocalypse. So, he had to devise a way to
turn poor Whites and poor Blacks against each other, so that they’d be
forever separated and unwilling to join hands and raise fists against the
elite. And the way he did this was by creating (wait for it… ) White

Time for a breath break. Everyone inhale. Hold it. Exhale and breathe it

Still here? Good. Let’s move on.
So, White privileges were created, and, at this time, they included:

1. Only the White rebels were pardoned; legislators prescribed thirty
lashes for any slave who lifted a hand “against any Christian”
(Christian now meant White).

2. All Whites now wielded absolute power to abuse any African

Those are the two most important ones—poor Whites wouldn’t be
punished, but they could surely do the punishing.


A Racist Wunderkind

American race ball rolling? Well, turns out they had a grandson. Well, not
the two of them together, obviously, but:

Richard Mather’s wife dies.
John Cotton dies.
Richard Mather marries John Cotton’s widow, Sarah.
Richard Mather’s youngest son, Increase, marries Sarah’s daughter,

Maria, making her his wife and stepsister. (Umm… )
Increase and Maria have a son. February 12, 1663. They name him after

both families.
Cotton and Mather becomes… Cotton Mather.
By the time Cotton Mather heard about Bacon’s Rebellion, he was

already in college. An eleven-year-old Harvard student (the youngest of all
time), he was obviously a nerd, and on top of all that, he was extremely
religious. He knew he was special, or at least meant to be, which of course
did nothing but fill his fellow classmates with spite. They wanted
desperately to break him down, make him sin. Because no one likes a
show-off. Basically, Cotton Mather was obsessed with being perfect and
blamed himself for everything wrong or different with him, believing even
his stutter, with which he struggled, was due to something sinful he’d

Because he was so insecure about his speech impediment, Cotton
Mather took to writing, and eventually he would write more sermons than
any other Puritan in history. By the time he graduated from Harvard, he’d
overcome his stutter, which to him was, of course, a deliverance from

Being delivered from his stutter was a good thing, because he was
destined for the pulpit. The grandson of two Puritan preachers had to grow
up to be one. No other choice. And there was no better way to begin his
career as a clergyman than for him to co-pastor his father’s (also a
preacher) church. But while he was avoiding his bullies at Harvard, trying

to use his words and doing anything he could to walk a righteous path in
the eyes of God, there was a tension brewing between New England and
“Old” England. In 1676, an English colonial administrator, Edward
Randolph, had journeyed to New England to see the damage done by
Metacomet, the indigenous war hero, and his warriors. Randolph reported
this back to King Charles II and suggested they tighten the grip around
New England because, clearly, the New World experiment wasn’t going so
well. So now big brother was threatening to step in and clean up little
brother’s mess, which meant Massachusetts would lose local rule if it
didn’t defy the king. Of course, the other option was for the colonists to
just fall in line. But that would mean giving up everything they’d worked
to build. Defiance seemed like a stronger play. And in 1689, New
Englanders did just that.

The thing about revolution is that it almost always has to do with poor
people angry about being manipulated by the rich. So, Cotton Mather,
though a recent graduate of Harvard and a God-fearing, sermonizing, well-
read man, had a problem on his hands because… he was rich. He’d come
from an elite family, gotten an elite education, and lived an elite, though
pious, life, far from the planters and even farther from the slaves. So, the
Revolution of 1688, which was called the Glorious Revolution, was not so
glorious for him. And, fearing that the anger that caused the uprising
would go from the British elites to the elites right at home—meaning him
—he created a new villain as a distraction. An invisible demon (cue the
scary music).

Mather wrote a book called Memorable Providences, Relating to
Witchcrafts and Possessions. That’s right, Cotton Mather, the genius boy,
destined for intellectual and spiritual greatness, was obsessed with
witches. And this obsession would set a fire he couldn’t have seen coming,
but welcomed as the will of God.

Mather’s book, outlining the symptoms of witchcraft, reflected his
crusade against the enemies of White souls. His father was just as
obsessed, but no one poured gasoline on the witchy fire like a minister in
Salem, Massachusetts, named Samuel Parris. In 1692, when Parris’s nine-
year-old daughter suffered convulsions and chokes, he believed she’d been

possessed or cursed by a witch.
That was all it took. The witch hunt began.
Over the next few months, as bewitching instances continued to

happen, people continued to be accused of witchcraft, which, luckily for
folks like Cotton Mather, turned attention away from the political and onto
the religious. And in nearly every instance, “the devil” who was preying
upon innocent White Puritans was described as Black. Of course. One
Puritan accuser described the devil as “a little black bearded man”;
another saw “a black thing of a considerable bigness.” A Black thing
jumped in one man’s window. “The body was like that of a Monkey,” the
observer added. “The Feet like a Cocks, but the Face much like a man’s.”
Since the devil represented criminality, and since criminals in New
England were said to be the devil’s minions, the Salem witch hunt made
the Black face the face of criminality. It was like racist algebra. Solve for
x. Solve for White. Solve for anything other than truth.

Once the witch hunt eventually died down, the Massachusetts
authorities apologized to the accused, reversed the convictions of the
trials, and provided reparations in the early 1700s. But Cotton Mather
never stopped defending the Salem witch trials, because he never stopped
defending the religious, slaveholding, gender, class, and racial hierarchies
reinforced by the trials. He saw himself as the defender of God’s law and
the crucifier of any non-Puritan, African, Native American, poor person,
or woman who defied God’s law by not submitting to it.

And just as it went with the theorists who came before him—the racist
children of Zurara—Cotton Mather’s ideas and writings spread from
Massachusetts throughout the land. This was just as two other things were
happening: Boston was becoming the intellectual capital of the new
America, and tobacco was taking off. Booming. Which meant more slaves
were needed in order to manage it.

As the population of enslaved people grew, which is what slaveholders
needed in order to till the land and grow the tobacco for free, the fear of
more revolt grew with it. Seems like a natural fear in response to such an
unnatural system. So, in order to keep their human property from rising
up, slaveholders and politicians created a new unnatural system. A new set
of racist codes.

1. No interracial relationships.

2. Tax imported captives.

3. Classify Natives and Blacks the same way you would horses and
hogs in the tax code. Meaning, they were literally classified as
livestock, and not as human.

4. Blacks can’t hold office.

5. All property owned by a slave is sold, which of course contributes
to Black poverty.

6. Oh, and White indentured servants who were freed are awarded
fifty acres of property, of course contributing to White prosperity.

And while all this was going on—all this systemic knife turning, all
this racist political play, all the violence and discrimination—Cotton
Mather, all high and mighty, was still trying to convince people that the
only thing necessary, the only mission of slavery, had to be to save the
souls of the slaves, because through that salvation the enslaved would in
turn be whitened. Purified.

Enslavers became more open to these ideas over time, right up until the
First Great Awakening, which swept through the colonies in the 1730s,
spearheaded by a Connecticut man named Jonathan Edwards. Edwards,
whose father had studied under Increase Mather, was a direct descendant
of the Mathers’ Puritan thought. He spoke about human equality (in soul)
and the capability of everyone for conversion. And as this racist Christian
awakening continued to evolve, as people like Edwards carried on the
torch of torture, Cotton Mather continued to age. In 1728, on his sixty-
fifth birthday, he called his church’s pastor into the room for prayer. The
next day, Cotton Mather, one of New England’s greatest God-fearing
scholars, was dead. But you know how death is. Your body goes, but your
ideas don’t. Your impact lingers on, even when it’s poisonous. Some
bodies get put into the ground and daisies bloom. Others encourage the
sprouting of weeds, weeds that work to strangle whatever’s living and
growing around them.


Proof in the Poetry

THIS IS THE WAY LIFE WORKS. THINGS GROW AND change, or at least things
seem to change. Sometimes the change is in name only; sometimes there’s
a fundamental shift. Most times it’s a bit of both. In the mid-1700s, after
Cotton Mather’s death and in the midst of his followers’ continuing his
legacy, the new America entered what we now call the Enlightenment era.

Enlightenment. What does it mean? Well, according to our old pals
Merriam and Webster, enlightenment is defined as “the act or means of
enlightening: the state of being enlightened.” (Isn’t it funny how every
teacher has always told you not to define a word by using the word in the
definition? Hey, next time, just say, “If the folks who wrote the dictionary
can do it, so can I!”) But to be enlightened just means to be informed. To
be free from ignorance. So, this new movement, the Enlightenment, was
megaphoning the fact that there was a new generation, a new era that knew
more. Better thinkers. And in America the leader of this “better thinkers”
movement was Mr. One-Hundred-Dollar Bill himself—Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin started a club called the American Philosophical Society in
1743 in Philadelphia. It was modeled after the Royal Society in England,
and served as, basically, a club for smart (White) people. Thinkers.
Philosophers. And… racists. See, in the Enlightenment era, light was seen
as a metaphor for intelligence (think, I see the light) and also whiteness
(think, opposite of dark). And this is what Franklin was bringing to
America through his club of ingenious fools. And one of those walking
contradictions was Thomas Jefferson.

About Jefferson. You know how I said Gomes Eanes de Zurara was the
world’s first racist? Well, Thomas Jefferson might’ve been the world’s
first White person to say, “I have Black friends.” I don’t know if that’s
true, but I’m willing to make the bet. He was raised nonreligious, in a
house where Native Americans were houseguests, and Black people,
though slaves, were his friends, as far as he could tell. As a young man, he
didn’t think of them as less or consider slavery much at all. As a matter of
fact, Jefferson didn’t even really see them as slaves. It wasn’t until he was

older, when his African “friends” started telling him about the horrors of
slavery—including the terror in his own home—that he realized their lives
were more different than he’d ever known. And how could they not be?
His father owned the second-largest number of enslaved people in
Albemarle County, Virginia, and I don’t know about you all, but I don’t
own my friends.

As Thomas Jefferson grew up, he studied law to grapple with antiracist
thought (yes, the slave owner was studying antiracism). He eventually
went on to build his own plantation, in Charlottesville, Virginia, putting
money over morals, a lesson learned from his father. Slavery wasn’t about
people, it was about profit. Business.

I often wonder if there were times on Jefferson’s plantation when one
of his slaves—one of his friends—taught him things he couldn’t learn
from the American Philosophical Society. And, if so, if that particular
slave was seen as someone, something, different. Like a “Super Black.”
And if his “I have Black friends” was ever followed up with, “You’re not
like the rest of them.” And if when Jefferson’s friends came over, he had
that slave showcase his intelligence or his talent or whatever “special”
thing he thought only White people could do. Because up the coast, in
Boston, during the time that Jefferson was building his plantation, a young
woman named Phillis Wheatley was under a microscope, for being

Not, like, literally under a microscope. She was too big for that. Not
microscopic at all. As a matter of fact, she was being studied not because
she was small but rather because she had an intellectual and creative
bigness that White people couldn’t believe.

She was a poet. But before she was a poet, she was a young girl, a
captive brought over on a ship from Senegambia. She was purchased by
the Wheatley family, who wanted a daughter to replace the one they’d lost.
Phillis would be that stand-in. And because she was a “daughter,” she was
actually never a working slave and was even homeschooled.

By eleven, she’d written her first poem.
By twelve, she could read Greek and Latin classics, English literature,

and the Bible.
That same year she also published her first poem.
By fifteen, she’d written a poem about wanting to go to Harvard, which

was all male and all White.
By nineteen, she began gathering her poems into a collection. A book.
By now, you know there was no way she was going to get published. At

least not without jumping through some serious hoops. So, in 1772, John
Wheatley, Phillis’s adoptive father, got eighteen of the smartest men in
America together in Boston so that they could test her. See if a Black
person could really be as intelligent and literate as Phillis. As they were.
And, of course, she answered every question correctly and proved
herself… human.

Still, no one would publish her. I mean, those eighteen men knew she
was brilliant, but none of them were publishers, and even if they were,
why would they risk their businesses by publishing a Black girl in the
midst of a racist world where poetry was for and by rich White people?

But Wheatley’s achievements still proved a point, that Black people
weren’t dumb, and this information became ammo for people who were
antislavery. People like Benjamin Rush, a physician from Philadelphia
who wrote a pamphlet saying that Black people weren’t born savages but
instead were made savages by slavery.

Record scratch.
Okay, let’s just get something straight, because this is an argument you

will hear over and over again through life (I hope not, but probably). To
say that slavery—or, in today’s time, poverty—makes Black people
animals or subhuman is racist. I know, I know. It seems to be coming from
a “good” place. Like, when people say, “You’re cute… for a (insert
physical attribute that shouldn’t be used as an insult but is definitely used
as an insult because it doesn’t fit with the strange and narrow European
standard of beauty).” It’s underhanded and still doesn’t recognize you for
you. It’s the difference between an assimilationist and an antiracist (word

So, when it came to Phillis Wheatley, an assimilationist like Benjamin
Rush argued that she was intelligent only because she’d never really been
a slave, i.e., slavery makes you dumb. News flash: Wheatley was
intelligent because she had the opportunity to learn and wasn’t tortured
every day of her life. And even people who were tortured every day of

their lives and did not have the opportunity to go to school still found
ways to think and create. Still found ways to be human in their own way.
Although their poetry looked different. Although they did not often have
the opportunity to write their poetry.

See how that works, Mr. Rush? Mr. Enlightened? Huh? Yeah. Thanks,
but no thanks.

While Rush was working to make this argument, Wheatley was over in
London being trotted around like a superstar. The British would go on to
publish her work. Not only would they publish her a year after slavery was
abolished in England, they would use her (and Rush’s pamphlet) as a way
to condemn American slavery. Let me explain why that was a big deal. It’s
basically your mother telling you she’s “not mad, but she’s disappointed in
you.” Remember, America was made up of a bunch of Europeans,
specifically British people. They still owned America. It was their home
away from home (hence New England). The British disapproval applied
pressure to the American slavery system, which was the American
economic system, and in order for America to feel comfortable with
continuing slavery, they had to get away from, break free of, Britain once
and for all.


Time Out


1. Africans are savages because Africa is hot, and extreme weather
made them that way.

2. Africans are savages because they were cursed through Ham, in the

3. Africans are savages because they were created as an entirely
different species.

4. Africans are savages because there is a natural human hierarchy
and they are at the bottom.

5. Africans are savages because dark equals dumb and evil, and light
equals smart and… White.

6. Africans are savages because slavery made them so.

7. Africans are savages.

Note: You will see these ideas repeated over and over again throughout
this book. But that’s not a good enough reason for you to stop reading.
So… don’t even try it.


Time In



Jefferson’s Notes

in context so they really make sense.

Britain had ended slavery (at least in England, but not in the British

America refused to do so.
Britain looked at America as… dumb.
America said, “Mind your business, Britain.”
Britain said, “You are my business, America.”
America said, “Well, we can change that.”
And in 1776, before anyone could spell W-E W-A-N-T S-L-A-V-E-R-Y,

Thomas Jefferson, who at the time was a thirty-three-year-old delegate to
the Second Continental Congress, sat down to pen the Declaration of
Independence. At the beginning of the declaration, he paraphrased the
Virginia Constitution (every state has one) and wrote, “All men are created

Bears repeating. All men are created equal.
Say it with me: All men are created equal.
But were slaves seen as “men”? And what about women? And what did

it mean that Jefferson, a man who owned nearly two hundred slaves, was
writing America’s freedom document? Was he talking about an all-
encompassing freedom or just America being free from England? While
these questions hung in the air, slaves were taking matters into their own
hands. They were running away from plantations all over the South by the
tens of thousands. They wanted freedom, and guess who was to blame?
Wait, first of all, guess who should’ve been blamed? Slaveholders,
obviously. But Thomas Jefferson and other slave owners blamed Britain
for inspiring this kind of rebellion. He’d written into the declaration all the
ways Britain was abusing America, even stating that the British, though
arguing against slavery, were actually trying to enslave (White) America.
But remember, Jefferson agreed with slavery only as an economic system.
I mean, he’d grown up with “Black friends,” for goodness’ sake. So, he

also wrote into the declaration the antiracist sentiment that slavery was a
“cruel war against human nature,” but that part, and parts like it, were
edited out by the other, more established delegates.

Over the next five years, the Americans and the British fought the
Revolutionary War. And while British soldiers stormed the shores of
Virginia looking for Jefferson, he was hiding out with his family, writing.
Imagine that. The man who wrote the document that further fueled the war
was hiding. As my mother says, “Don’t throw a stone, then hide your
hand.” Jefferson was definitely hiding his hand. But he’d show it shortly
after, because while hiding from capture, he decided to answer a series of
questions, in writing, from a French diplomat who was basically collecting
information about America (because America was becoming AMERICA!).
And instead of just answering the questions, Jefferson decided to flex his
muscle. To tell his truth.

He titled his book of answers Notes on the State of Virginia. In it, he
expressed his real thoughts on Black people. Uh-oh. He said they could
never assimilate because they were inferior by nature. Uh-oh. Said they
felt love more, but pain less. Uh-oh. That they aren’t reflective, and
operate only on instincts. Yikes. That the freedom of slaves would result in
the extermination of one of the races, i.e., a race war. Uh-oh. And the
answer to “the problem” of slaves was that they should be sent back to
Africa. So much for his “Black friends,” huh? The ones he’d known to be
intelligent blacksmiths, shoemakers, bricklayers, coopers, carpenters,
engineers, manufacturers, artisans, musicians, farmers, midwives,
physicians, overseers, house managers, cooks, and bi- and trilingual
translators—all the workers who made his Virginia plantation and many
others almost entirely self-sufficient.

Surprise, surprise.
Oh, the best part: He didn’t intend to publish these notes widely, but a

small devious printer did so without his permission.
Surprise, surprise!
When it came to Black people, Jefferson’s whole life was one big

contradiction, as if he were struggling with what he knew was true and
what was supposed to be true. In 1784, Jefferson moved to Paris. His wife
had died, and his old Monticello home suddenly felt pretty lonely. He was
exhausted from his grief and years of being hunted by the British. So, he

did what he always seemed to do in moments of crisis. He ran. To France.
As soon as he made contact with the French foreign minister, he sent word
home to his own slaves to speed up tobacco production in hopes that
French merchants could pay back British creditors. On one hand, Jefferson
was telling his slaves to work harder, and on the other hand he was telling
abolitionists that there was nothing he wanted more than an end to slavery.
And while he was busy playing the good guy, promoting, defending, and
ensuring that the French knew America was becoming AMERICA! (and
also having a good ol’ French time), back home there was a convention
taking place in Philadelphia to talk about the new constitution.

Turns out, Jefferson’s declaration resulted in years of violent struggle
with the British but, more important, it exposed a weak American
government. So, this constitution was supposed to define it and solidify it.
But before it was set in stone, there had to be a series of compromises.

1. The Great Compromise:
This one created the House and the Senate. Two senators per
state. House of Representatives based on population. The
bigger the population, the more representatives each state
could have to fight for its interests. This causes issues,
specifically between southern states and northern states,
because they aren’t sure how to count slaves. Which leads
us to

2. The Three-Fifths Compromise:
The South wanted to play both sides of the fence. On one
hand, they didn’t want to count slaves as people, but instead
wanted to count them as property, because the greater the
population, the more taxes you have to pay. But, on the
other hand, they needed more population, because the
greater the population, the more representation they got,
and with more representation came more power. And the

North was like, “NOOOOPE! Slaves can’t be human,”
because the North didn’t have (as many) slaves and
therefore couldn’t risk letting the South have more power.
So, the compromise was to create a fraction. Every five
slaves equaled three humans. So, just to do the math, that’s
like saying if there were fifteen slaves in the room, on
paper, they counted as only nine people.

This three-fifths-of-a-man equation worked for both the
assimilationists and the segregationists, because it fit right into the
argument that slaves were both human and subhuman, which they both
agreed on. For the assimilationists, the three-fifths rule allowed them to
argue that someday slaves might be able to achieve five-fifths. Wholeness.
Whiteness. One day. And for segregationists, it proved that slaves were
mathematically wretched. Segregationists and assimilationists may have
had different intentions, but both of them agreed that Black people were
inferior. And that agreement, that shared bond, allowed slavery and racist
ideas to be permanently stamped into the founding document of America.

While all this was going on, Jefferson was in France, chillin’. That is, until
the French Revolution broke out. At first, he didn’t mind the French
unrest. If anything, it made him happy to know America wasn’t the only
warring country. But then it spilled over into Haiti. And that was a
problem. A big problem.

In August 1791, close to half a million enslaved Africans in Haiti rose
up against French rule. It was a revolt like nothing anyone had ever seen.
A revolt that the Africans in Haiti won. And because of that victory, Haiti
would become the Eastern Hemisphere’s symbol of freedom. Not America.
And what made that frightening to every American slaveholder, including
Thomas Jefferson, was that they knew the Haitian Revolution would
inspire their slaves to also fight back.


Uplift Suasion


Imagine it as a parenthetical, a side note, a just so you know.

Black people—slaves—started to get free. Runaways. And abolitionists
urged the newly freed people to go to church regularly, learn to speak
“proper” English, learn math, adopt trades, get married, stay away from
vices (smoking and drinking), and basically live what they would consider
to be respectable lives. Basically, live like White people. If Black people
behaved “admirably,” they could prove all the stereotypes about them were

This strategy was called uplift suasion. It was racist, because what it
said was that Black people couldn’t be accepted as themselves, and that
they had to fit into some kind of White mold to deserve their freedom. But
in the 1790s, uplift suasion was working. At least, it seemed to be.

It’s important that you keep this in mind, because it would be the
cornerstone of assimilationist thought, which basically said:

Make yourself small,

make yourself unthreatening,

make yourself the same,

make yourself safe,

make yourself quiet,

to make White people
comfortable with your



The Great Contradictor

Secretary of state. Vice president. But before Thomas Jefferson took on the
role of president, his racist ideas took top position in the minds of many
White people. Especially as slaves, many of whom were still inspired by
the Haitian Revolution, were continuing to attempt insurrection.

Like Gabriel and Nancy Prosser. The Prossers were planning a slave
rebellion, recruiting hundreds of slaves to revolt in Virginia. They had it
all mapped out. And it was meant to be epic. Hundreds of captives were
supposed to march on Richmond, where they would steal four thousand
unguarded muskets, arrest the governor, and hold the city until other
slaves arrived from surrounding counties to negotiate the end of slavery
and the establishment of equal rights. Allies were to be recruited among
Virginia’s poor Whites and Native Americans. The lives of friendly
Methodists, Quakers, and French people were to be spared. But racist
Blacks, they would be killed. The Prossers took into account the fact that
antiracists of any color were more necessary, more important to their
liberation, than Black assimilationists. And this theory would be proved
when the revolt—and their covers—were blown.

The revolt was scheduled for Saturday, August 30, 1800. But two
cynical slaves—snitches—begging for their master’s favor, betrayed what
would have been the largest slave revolt in the history of North America,
with as many as fifty thousand rebels joining in from as far away as
Norfolk, Virginia. That was all it took for Governor James Monroe to have
a militia waiting. Gabriel Prosser was eventually caught and hanged.
Game over.

Well, not completely. More like, game changer.
The attempted (and failed) revolt made slave owners nervous. As it

should’ve. So, up from the soil of slavery sprouted new racist ideas to
protect White lives. Sending slaves “back” to Africa and the Caribbean—
Thomas Jefferson’s idea of colonization—was one of them.

Lots of people got behind the strategy of colonization, including

(eventually) a delegate from Virginia, Charles Fenton Mercer, and an
antislavery clergyman, Robert Finley. Finley would take the colonization
idea and run with it. He started an organization called the American
Colonization Society (ACS) and wrote the manifesto for it, outlining how
free Blacks would need to be trained to take care of themselves so that
they could go back to Africa and take care of their motherland. Build it up.
Civilize it. But when all this was actually pitched to freed Black people,
they weren’t for it. Not having it. Black people didn’t want to go “back” to
a place they’d never known. They’d built America as slaves and wanted to
reap the benefits of their labor as free people.

America was now their land.
This debate, the back-and-forth of what to do with slaves and free

Blacks, was what Thomas Jefferson was stepping into when he became
president in 1801. And his response to all the fuss was that he needed to
put a policy in place that he thought might actually start the process of
ending slavery, ultimately leading to colonization.

Wait. But he had slaves.
Wait. So, did he want to end slavery, but not free his own?
Wait. Was he proslavery and antislavery?
Contradiction. Could’ve been his middle name. Thomas Contradiction

Jefferson. And that held true in 1807, when, as president, he brought about
a new Slave Trade Act. The goal was to stop the import of people from
Africa and the Caribbean into America, and fine illegal slave traders.
(Yes!) Instead, the act turned out to be paper thin and did nothing to stop
domestic slavery or the international slave trade. (No!) Kids were still
being snatched from their parents, and slave ships were selling slaves
“down river” from Virginia to New Orleans, which took just as many days
as the trip across the Atlantic. (Nooo!) And Jefferson, the man who signed
this Transatlantic Slave Trade Act, started “breeding” slaves. (NO!) He
and other like-minded slave owners began forcing their men and women
slaves to conceive children so that they, the owners, could keep up with all
the farming demands of the Deep South. Slaves were being treated like
human factories, birthing farming machines. Tractors with heartbeats.
Backhoes that bleed.

But by the end of his presidential term, Jefferson had had enough. Of it

all. For real this time. Done deal. He was ready to step away from
everything. From all the mess and madness of Washington and return to
his home in Virginia, where he could read, write, and think. His Notes on
the State of Virginia would’ve been a bestseller if bestsellers were a thing
back then, and at this point in his life, he even wanted to be done with the
fame it had brought him.

He seemed to be grinding a different gear now. At least, he was trying
to. He’d apologized for slavery—PAUSE.

He’d apologized for slavery.
UNPAUSE. He’d retired and returned to Monticello, so he

could… run his plantation—PAUSE.
So he could run his plantation?
UNPAUSE. He’d expressed remorse for slavery but still needed

slave labor to pay his debts and pay for his luxuries. And on top of that,
though he’d grown tired of the antislavery fight (which was also
proslavery for him) he still, still, still continued to champion sending
Black people back to Africa.

And if not Africa, Louisiana.
Jefferson had purchased the Louisiana Territory from the French early

in his presidency. He’d wanted it to be the safe haven for freed slaves. It
was supposed to be a bubble (pronounced cage) for Blacks, where they
could be safe, and where White people could be safe from their potential
response to, I don’t know, the whole slavery thing. Colonization within the
country, which was like Black people being banished to the basement of
the house they’d built under the premise that it was better than sleeping in
the street. But the Louisiana Territory got shaky when the question of
Missouri came into play.

You have to remember that your map isn’t the map they were using.
The fifty states didn’t exist yet. So, Louisiana, or as it was known then, the
Louisiana Territory, took up the entire middle of the country. It stretched

from north to south. It wasn’t the “boot,” as we know it now. Trombones
and red beans? No.

The northern part of that swath of Louisiana was cut into what became
the Missouri Territory. Its location—the Missouri part—was almost right
smack in the middle of the country, meaning there was a geographical
conundrum to be dealt with: Would Missouri be considered a slave state or
a free state?

Well, the answer is, there was a bill passed to admit Missouri into the
Union (the North) as a slave state. A man named James Tallmadge Jr.
added an amendment to that bill that would’ve made it illegal for enslaved
Africans to enter the new state, and stated that all children born from
slaves in the state would be freed at the age of twenty-five. The Tallmadge
Amendment sparked an explosive debate that burned for two years.
Southerners saw this as a trick to limit the political power of southern
agriculture and mess with their money and leverage in the House of
Representatives, and therefore their power.

Ultimately, the debate was cooled by another compromise. The
Missouri Compromise of 1820. Congress agreed to go on and admit
Missouri as a slave state, but they’d also admit Maine as a free state to
make sure there was still an equal amount of slave states and free states,
so that no region, or way of governing, felt disadvantaged. Balance. And
also to prohibit the introduction of slavery in the northern section of
Jefferson’s vast Louisiana Territory. His experimental land for
colonization. An experiment that seemed unlikely.

But Jefferson would never give up on that idea. Even as he aged. And
even though he didn’t really support Finley’s American Colonization
Society, he still saw the mission as golden. He looked at it almost as if
he’d be sending Black people home from camp, smarter and stronger and
ready to build. Like it was benevolent and maybe even forgiving. Thomas
Contradiction Jefferson, who grew up with Black friends, hoped it would
all come out in the wash and that slavery would ultimately produce “more
good than evil.”

At least, that’s one side of the coin. The smooth side. The textured side
of Jefferson’s intention was that he basically believed that sending Black
people back to where they came from would make America what it was
always meant to be in his eyes—a playground for rich White Christians.

Despite the fact that Africans were brought to this land. Enslaved. Drained
of their abilities and knowledge of growing and tending crops, exploited
for their physical might and creativity when it came to building structures
and making meals, stripped of their reproductive agency, stripped of their
religions and languages, stripped of their dignity. American soil sopping
with Black blood, their DNA now literally woven into the fibers of this

I wonder if Black people were thinking, Where can we send you all?
Back to Europe? Or maybe instead of sending them, they were thinking
more about ending them. It wouldn’t be long before that choice was made
for Jefferson.

By the spring of 1826, his health had deteriorated to the point that he
couldn’t leave home. By summer, he couldn’t even leave his bed, so sick
he was unable to attend the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of

Aside from the children he had had with one of his slaves, Sally
Hemings (how can you truly love humans you own?), Jefferson did not
free any of the other enslaved people at Monticello, despite his believing
that slavery was morally wrong, cementing once and for all the winner in
his struggle between the ethical and the economic. One historian estimated
that Jefferson had owned more than six hundred slaves over the course of
his lifetime. In 1826, he held around two hundred people as property and
he was about $100,000 in debt (about $2.5 million today), an amount so
staggering that he knew that once he died, everything—and everyone—
would be sold.

On July 2, 1826, Jefferson seemed to be fighting to stay alive. The
eighty-three-year-old awoke before dawn on July 4 and called out for his
house servants. The enslaved Black faces gathered around his bed. They
were probably his final sight, and he gave them his final words. He had
been a segregationist at times, an assimilationist at other times—usually
both in the same act—but he never quite made it to being antiracist. He
knew slavery was wrong, but not wrong enough to free his own slaves. He
knew as a child that Black people were people, but never fully treated
them as such. Saw them as “friends” but never saw them. He knew the
freedom to live was fair, but not the freedom to live in America. The
America built on their backs. He knew that all men are created equal. He

wrote it. But couldn’t rewrite his own racist ideas. And the irony in that is
that now his life had come full circle. In his earliest childhood memory
and in his final lucid moment, Thomas Jefferson lay there dying—death
being the ultimate equalizer—in the comfort of slavery. Surrounded by a
comfort those slaves never felt.


Mass Communication for Mass

I HAD A FRIEND. LET’S CALL HIM MIKE. HE WAS SIX foot five and an easy three
hundred pounds. A football player. I’d watched him truck people on the
field, watched him put parents’ children on gurneys all in the name of
school pride and athletic victory. I’d watched him grunt and spit and slap
himself around like a beast. And we cheered for him. Said his name on the
morning announcements, wrote about him in the school paper, even held
an in-school press conference when he committed to playing football in

But many of us cheered for him for other reasons. Because he also was
part of the tap dance club. Because he played Santa Claus in the winter
play. Because he took creative writing classes (with me) to explore his
love of poetry. Because he spoke out against the mistreatment of young
women in our school and stood up for classmates who were being bullied.

Mike didn’t always get it right, but he was always open to learning and
was never afraid to try.

The abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was like that—a man with
power and privilege, not afraid to try. But before we get to him, we have to
address one of the greatest series of coincidences that led him to become a
central figure in the conversation around race and abolitionism.

Coincidence 1:
Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams (President #2,
before Jefferson) died on July 4, 1826, on the fiftieth
anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Instead of
people seeing this double death as a sign that the old ways
of doing things were out of style—literally dead—people
looked at their deaths as some kind of encouragement to
carry out their legacies. It just so happens those legacies
were deeply entwined with slavery. Boston had grown to

nearly sixty thousand people and was fully immersed in
New England’s industrial revolution, which was now
running on the wheels of southern cotton.

Coincidence 2:
Though the revolutionary abolitionist movement was
practically dead, Robert Finley’s American Colonization
Society was still functioning at full throttle, trying to get
freed slaves to go back to Africa and set up their own
colony. The ACS had asked a twenty-three-year-old
firebrand named William Lloyd Garrison to give their
Fourth of July address in 1829. Garrison was the man. He
was smart and forward-thinking and worked as an editor of
a Quaker-run abolitionist newspaper. But the ACS didn’t
know that Garrison had gone even further to the side of
abolitionism, not colonization. He favored a gradual
abolition—a freedom in steps—but abolition nonetheless.
And that’s what he spoke about at the ACS conference,
which, let’s just say, was a little off brand. Like someone
speaking at a Nike conference, suggesting that the future of
better running wasn’t better sneakers but better feet. And
Nike should figure out how to make better feet!

Garrison wasn’t the only man who felt this way (about abolishing
slavery, not sneakers) and was unafraid to speak out against colonization.
David Walker was another. Walker was a Black man, and he had written a
pamphlet, An Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, arguing
against the idea that Black people were made to serve White people.
Walker’s Appeal spread, Garrison read it, and eventually the two men met.
But before they could really start making a mess of slavery, Walker, just
thirty-three years old, died of tuberculosis.

Garrison was influenced greatly by Walker’s ideas and carried them on,
spreading them by doing what everyone had done before him: Literature.
Writing. Language. The only difference was that Garrison’s predecessors
in propaganda always spread damaging information. At least about Black

people. They’d always printed poison, narratives about Black inferiority
and White superiority. But Garrison would buck that trend and start a
newspaper, the Liberator. The name alone was a match strike. This paper
relaunched the abolitionist movement among White people. In his first
editorial piece, Garrison changed perspectives from gradual abolition to
immediate abolition. Meaning, he used to believe that freedom was
incremental. A little bit at a time. A slow walk. Now he believed that
freedom should be instant. Freedom right now. Immediately. Break the
chains. Period. But (because there’s always a but) immediate equality,
well… that was a different story and, according to Garrison, should be…
in steps. Gradual. So physical freedom now, but social freedom…

This idea of gradual equality was rooted in the same principles of uplift
suasion. Blacks were seen as scary, and it was their responsibility to
convince White people that they weren’t. At least, this is what Garrison
believed. But this idea was challenged by a man who disagreed with not
only the idea of gradual equality but also the idea that Black people
needed White people to save them, or that they—Black people—were part
of the problem at all. His name was Nat Turner. He was a slave and a
preacher, and just as slave owners before the Enlightenment era believed
slavery was a holy mission, Turner believed the same was true for
freedom. That he was called upon by God to plan and execute a massive
crusade, an uprising that would free slaves, and in so doing would leave
slave masters, their wives, and even their children slaughtered. All in the
name of liberation. And it did. There was a lot of bloodshed across the
state of Virginia, until Turner finally got caught and hanged.

Again, slaveholders got scared. Tightened the yoke.
Garrison counteracted the intensity of the slave masters with an

intensity of his own. He wrote a book that refuted colonizationists and
gave birth to a new group called the American Anti-Slavery Society
(AASS), a group of abolitionists. At the annual meeting of the AASS in
May 1835, members decided to rely on the new technology of mass
printing and an efficient postal service to overwhelm the nation with
twenty to fifty thousand pamphlets a week. Garrison began flooding the
market with new and improved abolitionist information. Social media
before social media. And slaveholders had no clue what was coming: a

million antislavery pamphlets distributed by the end of the year.


Uncle Tom

politicians and scholars—who were proslavery turned up the fear and hate,
therefore turning up their ridiculous racist ideas. There were people still
preaching that slavery was good, that it was the will of God. That equality
between the races was impossible because the species were different. Yep,
still stuck on the polygenesis theory, but this time it was backed by
“science.” There was a scientist, Samuel Morton, the father of American
anthropology, who was measuring the skulls of humans (gross) and
determined that White people had bigger skulls and therefore greater
intellectual capacity, which, by the way, was how I combated being told all
my life that I have a big head. Yeah, because I got a big brain. I never
knew I was a scientist!

I also didn’t know I was… insane. I’m not. But if I were alive and free
back then, there’s a good chance I would’ve been labeled as such. The US
Census report of 1840 said that free Blacks were insane and enslaved
Blacks were sane, and that biracial people had shorter life spans than
Whites. Of course this wasn’t true. They were cooking the books.

And, speaking of books, in Samuel Morton’s Crania Aegyptiaca, he
also introduced the narrative that historically there was a “White” Egypt
that had Black slaves. Who knew? (The answer is no one. Not even
Egyptians.) The propaganda just kept coming. Anything to justify
supremacy and slavery.

And if bunk literature and false “studies” were the breakbeats of racism
—looped samples pulsing on and on—then John C. Calhoun, a senator
from South Carolina, was the emcee for slavery—an effective one—there
to rock the racist crowd. Calhoun was fighting even for Texas to become a
slave state in the 1844 election. He was running for office and angry that
congressmen were even debating emancipation. Possibly ending slavery?
An outrage! Calhoun eventually pulled out of the race, and it’s a good
thing he did, because William Lloyd Garrison was about to present a
secret weapon to the abolitionist movement.

See, it’s one thing to talk around slavery. To talk about how the slaves
lived, and what they were thinking, and how good they had it. It’s another
thing to hear a man who was a slave tell his own story. There was a new
“special” Black person on the scene. A new Black exhibit. A new Phillis
Wheatley, but this time not in need of a publisher. Garrison would be that.

That man’s name was Frederick Douglass.
In June 1845, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an

American Slave was published. It outlined Douglass’s life and gave a
firsthand account of the horrors of slavery. It was a hit, and a necessary
weapon, to once again fight against the idea that Black people were
subpar, and that White people were the benevolent Christians that the likes
of Zurara and Cotton Mather worked so hard to portray. It was also meant
to gain some kind of White sympathy. But Douglass was a runaway slave
with a book about being a runaway slave, which meant he’d basically
snitched on himself and needed to run farther away. So, he went to Great
Britain and spread his antislavery message there, while in America
proslavery politicians—now with Texas as a slave state—pushed for even
more expansion, west.

Douglass’s narrative wasn’t the only one (is there ever only one?). In fact,
the telling of his story sparked the telling of many others, including one
about an enslaved woman—The Narrative of Sojourner Truth. Up until this
point, women had been left out of the conversation around slavery. As if
they weren’t slaves. Or, as if they weren’t slaveholders. Sojourner Truth
was a former slave with the moxie of a woman slaveholder. The kind of
woman who would stand up in a room full of White people and declare her
humanity. She was bold, and that boldness, along with news about the
Fugitive Slave Act, which was snatching free Blacks and sending them to
the cotton fields, inspired a White writer to go on to write a book that
would be much, much bigger than Truth’s or Douglass’s.

The book was called Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
The author, Harriet Beecher Stowe.


1. Tom, a slave, is sold down the river.

2. He meets a young White girl, Eva.

3. Eva’s father buys Tom.

4. Tom and Eva become friends, connecting over Christianity.

5. Eva dies two years later, but not before having a vision of heaven.

6. After her death, the White people decide to change their racist

7. Eva’s father even promises to free Tom.

8. Eva’s father dies before he frees Tom, and Eva’s mother sells Tom
to a harsher slave owner.

9. This slave owner (Simon Legree) hates Tom for not whipping a
fellow slave.

10. Legree tries to break Tom by breaking his faith. But Tom holds
tight to Christianity. So, Legree has him killed.

Moral of the story: We all must be slaves… to God. And since docile
Black people made the best slaves (to man), they made the best Christians.
And since domineering Whites made the worst slaves, they made the worst
Christians. So, slavery, though a brutal attack on Black humanity, was
really just proof that White people were bad believers in Jesus.

I know. But, hey, it didn’t have to make too much sense. Despite
critiques by intellectual giants like William Lloyd Garrison, who pointed
out in the Liberator the religious bigotry in the book and Stowe’s
endorsement of colonization, and by Frederick Douglass—from an
assimilationist angle—who followed up by assuring Whites that the Black
man, unlike the Native, loves civilization and therefore would never go
back to Africa (as if Africa were uncivilized), Uncle Tom’s Cabin exploded
and became the biggest book of its time. Harriet Beecher Stowe became

the J. K. Rowling of slave books. And even though Black men hated the
novel because they were depicted as weak, Stowe’s story was drawing
more northerners to the abolitionist movement than the writings and
speeches of Garrison and Douglass did in the 1850s. And that was no small
feat. Garrison had used the Liberator as a consistent antiracist sounding
board, and Douglass had boldly argued against polygenesis and proved
there was no White Egypt, making him the world’s most famous Black
male abolitionist and assimilationist. But women were in support of
Stowe. They were ready to fight for their rights and set the nation on fire.

Stowe was their gasoline.
And her novel was a time bomb that ticked and ticked and, after

exploding, set the stage for a new political force, especially when it came
to the conversation around slavery: Abraham Lincoln.


Complicated Abe

white shirt, top hat, beard. The Great Emancipator (hmmm), one of the
best, or at least most, -known and -loved presidents in America’s history.

That’s what we’re taught.
But Lincoln wasn’t that simple. As I mentioned at the start of this

journey, life rarely fits neatly into a box. People are complicated and
selfish and contradictory. I mean, if there’s anything we’ve learned from
Thomas Jefferson, it’s that you can be antislavery and not antiracist. You
cannot see Black people as people but know that mistreating and enslaving
them are bad for business. Bad for your brand. Bad for your opportunity.
That’s more in line of who Lincoln was.

Gasp. I know. This would mean we’d have to, perhaps, rethink the
whole “Honest Abe” thing.

It wasn’t that great a nickname anyway.
He wasn’t even that great a politician, at first. Before he ever won, he

lost. Got spanked in a Senate race in 1858 by a man named Stephen
Douglas. Douglas was proslavery. Lincoln was fighting on behalf of the
abolitionist movement—because you can’t win if you don’t have an
opposing view to debate—and the Free Soilers, the people who believed
slavery should not continue to extend west. The two men debated, and
Douglas, slick tongued and sharp suited, wiped the racist floor with
Lincoln and won the election.

But it wasn’t a loss in vain. Though Lincoln was defeated, there was an
obvious change in opinion in the country. A shift. Lincoln shifted with the
shift and started to preach that slavery needed to end—but not because of
the human horror. Because if labor was free, what exactly were poor White
people expected to do to make money? If you weren’t one of the wealthy
White people who owned slaves, slavery didn’t necessarily work in your
favor. Lincoln was speaking out of… three sides of his mouth.

On one hand, he wanted slavery gone. Black people liked that. On
another hand, he didn’t think Black people should necessarily have equal

rights. Racists loved that. And then, on a third hand (a foot, maybe?), he
argued that the end of slavery would bolster the poor White economy,
which poor White people loved. Lincoln had created an airtight case where
no one could trust him (Garrison definitely didn’t), but everyone kinda…
wanted to. And when Lincoln lost, he’d still made a splash as his party, the
Republican Party, won many of the House seats in the states that were
antislavery. So much so, that Garrison, though critical of Lincoln, kept his
critiques to himself because he saw a future where maybe—maybe—
antislavery politicians could take over.

But it was politics as usual for Lincoln. Because he’d taken an
antislavery approach against Stephen Douglas, the Republicans were
labeled “Black Republicans,” which was the worst thing to be called,
obviously. There were still racists in the North. Still racists everywhere.
And why would racists want to vote for the party “in support” of Black
people? So, Lincoln changed his tune. Or maybe he just sang the whole
song while running for president.

Lincoln was against Black voting.
Lincoln was against racial equality.
Lincoln and the party pledged not to challenge southern slavery.
And Lincoln won.
But with the sixteenth president of the United States in place,

untrusting slaveholders broke into panic. Panic that the economic
institution that kept them living like kings would be in jeopardy. Panic that
they wouldn’t be able to stop slave revolts and would be overthrown
(Haiti! Haiti!). So, they did what most people, well… most bullies do
when they’ve been bested on the playground. They—the South—took their
ball and left.

The secession, which just means to withdraw from being a member of, not
to be confused with succession, meaning a line of people sharing a role
one after the other (like a succession of slave owners), not to be confused
with success, which means to win (because that didn’t happen), started
with South Carolina. They left the Union. Which means they were starting
their own territory, where they could make up their own rules and live
their lives as racist as they wanted. Shortly thereafter, the rest of the South

joined in on the disjoining. This was a big deal, because to lose an entire
region meant the other states lost that region’s resources. All that land.
Those crops. Those people. That wealth. But it happened, and the split-offs
called themselves the Confederacy. They voted in their own president,
Jefferson Davis, who had declared that Black people should never and
would never be equal to Whites. There were now two governments, like
rival gangs. And what have gangs always done when one gang feels their
turf is being threatened?

Welcome to the Civil War.
The biggest change agent in the war was that slaves wanted to fight

against their slave owners, and therefore join Northern soldiers in battle.
They wanted the chance to fight against the thing that had been beating
them, raping them, killing them. So, the first chance they got, they ran.
They ran, ran, ran by the droves. They ran north to cross into the Union
and join the Union army.

Anything for freedom.
And then got sent back.
Anything for slavery.
Union soldiers were enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act, which mandated

that all runaways be returned to their owners. This was the summer of
1861. But by the summer of 1862, the slave act had been repealed and a
bill passed that declared all Confederate-owned Africans who escaped to
Union lines or who resided in territories occupied by the Union to be
“forever free of their servitude.” And it was this bill that would morph into
an even bolder bill by Lincoln just five days later. “All persons held as
slaves within any state [under rebel control] shall then, thenceforward, and
forever, be free.”

Just like that.

Lincoln was labeled the Great Emancipator, but really, Black people were
emancipating themselves. By the end of 1863, four hundred thousand
Black people had escaped their plantations and found Union lines.
Meaning four hundred thousand Black people found freedom.

Or at least the potential for it. Because let’s not pretend that life in the

North, life across Union lines, was immediately sweet. It wasn’t some
bastion of peace and acceptance. The Union believed most of the same
hype about Black people as the Confederacy. The only difference was
they’d pushed past owning them a little sooner. But their feelings toward
Black people—that they were lazy and savage and blah, blah, blah—were
the same. On top of that, there were many Black people who feared that
freedom would be nothing without land. What good was it to be free if
they had nowhere to go and no way to build a life for themselves? And
what about voting? These were a couple of the questions at hand, a few of
the issues Lincoln was trying to work through. What he was comfortable
with, however, was the way Black people praised him. They’d run up to
him in the street, drop to their knees, and kiss his hands. And when the
Civil War finally ended in April 1865, on the eleventh day of that same
month, Lincoln delivered his plans for reconstruction. And in that plan, he
said what no president had ever said before him—that Blacks (the
intelligent ones) should have the right to vote.

No wonder three days later he was shot in the back of the head.


Garrison’s Last Stand


Three weeks after Lincoln’s death, William Lloyd Garrison, who had
been steady on his antiracist journey—producing antiracist literature in
the Liberator, including his critiques of Lincoln’s racist political ploys,
and his work for the American Anti-Slavery Society—called it quits. He
announced his retirement. He believed that because emancipation was
imminent, his job as an abolitionist was done. But his team, his followers,
refused to stop their work, and instead shifted their focus to Black voting.
A focus that leaned toward immediate equality. And while Garrison was
trying to bow out gracefully, Lincoln’s successor was forcefully breaking
in. And breaking down what had been, for Black people, a breakthrough.

His name was Andrew Johnson, and he basically reversed a lot of
Lincoln’s promises, allowing Confederate states to bar Blacks from voting,
and making sure their emancipation was upheld only if Black people
didn’t break laws. Black codes—social codes used to stop Black people
from living freely—were created. They would quickly evolve into Jim
Crow laws, which were laws that legalized racial segregation. No need for
the loopholes anymore. All this was under President Johnson’s watch. He
emboldened the Ku Klux Klan, allowing them to wreck Black lives with
no consequence and enshrine those racist codes and laws. Turned out,
freedom in America was like quicksand. It looked solid until a Black
person tried to stand on it. Then it became clear that it was a sinkhole.

Antiracists were fighting against all these things. Some people, like
Pennsylvania congressman Thaddeus Stevens, even fought for the
redistribution of land to award former slaves forty acres to work for
themselves. But the arguments against this plan were relentless and racist,
presented in this strange way that makes the freed Black person seem
stupid. How will they know how to care for the land if it’s just given to
them? Um… really?

And guess who was quiet? William Lloyd Garrison. Having suffered
two bad falls in 1866 that physically sidelined him, he chose not to engage

in the political struggle against racial discrimination. But he still looked
on, watching the racist roadblocks being erected at every turn, and the
political and physical violence working to break the bones of Black
liberation. Yes, Garrison still looked on, his ideas about gradual equality
still evolving. After all, it had been his genius, whether he knew it or not,
that had transformed abolitionism from a messy political stance (like
Jefferson’s) to a simple moral stance: Slavery was evil, and those racists
justifying or ignoring slavery were evil, and it was the moral duty of the
United States to eliminate the evil of slavery.

Andrew Johnson was one of the evil. He did everything he could to

keep Black people as “free” slaves. In response, Black people had to fight
to build their own institutions. Their own spaces to thrive, like colleges, or
as they’re now called, Historically Black Colleges and Universities
(HBCUs). From there came the Black (male) politician. And eventually, on
February 3, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment was made official. The
amendment made it so that no one could be prohibited from voting due to
“race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” But the thing about this
amendment (as well as the Thirteenth and Fourteenth) was that there were
loopholes. Racist loopholes. Potholes. See, the amendment doesn’t state
that Black politicians would be protected. Or that the voting requirements
would be equal.

Even so, racists didn’t want the amendment to be pushed through
because they saw giving the right to vote to all Black people as the
establishment of some kind of Black supremacy. Really, it was just Black
equality. Black opportunity. Black people from Boston to Richmond to
Vicksburg, Mississippi, planned grand celebrations after the ratification.
For their keynote speaker, several communities invited a living legend
back to the main stage. William Lloyd Garrison.

The Fifteenth Amendment was a big deal. But here’s the thing about
big deals. If people aren’t careful, they can be tricked into believing a big
deal is a done deal. Like there’s no more fight left. No reason to keep
pushing. That freedom is an actual destination. And that’s how Garrison
and the American Anti-Slavery Society felt. Like their jobs were done.
They disbanded in 1870. Everyone let their guard down, and the racists
were right there with right hooks and uppercuts to the face of freedom.

Bring on the White terrorism.
Bring on more propaganda about brute and savage Blacks.
Bring on Black people doing their best to fight back.

Bring on women fighting back.

Bring on political pacifiers.
Bring on more talks about colonization, this time to the Dominican

Bring on domestic migration. To Kansas. Freedom from a second

It was this, Black people moving to safer pastures like Kansas, that

William Lloyd Garrison supported at the end of his life. With Black
people eager to leave the South, eager to give themselves a chance at
safety, Kansas seemed to make more sense than the ever-present
conversation of colonization to Africa. Or even the North. Or the far West.
Northern allies worked tirelessly to raise money for southern Black people
who wanted to flee Mississippi or Louisiana. Garrison, now seventy-four,
his abolitionist heart still pumping, exhausted himself gathering resources
for hundreds of Black people on the move toward Kansas.

It was the best he could do.
He’d wanted immediate emancipation. He now even wanted immediate

equality. Neither of those things happened during the Reconstruction after
the Civil War. And neither of them would in his lifetime.


Battle of the Black Brains


This is not a history book. But there are some names in this story that
you’ve read in history books. Names you know. At least names you should
know. It’s okay if you don’t know them, because that’s what this not
history history book is for. But… I’m sure you know this one, because his
name definitely comes up every February.

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, or as he was known when he was
younger, Willie Du Bois, or as he was known when he was older, W. E. B.
Du Bois, because nicknames are awesome when you have four names. He
and his brother were raised in Massachusetts, by a single mother who
struggled to take care of them. Young Willie was hit with his first racial
experience on an interracial playground when he was ten years old, in the
same way many of us experience our first racial experiences. A girl
refused a card from him. Okay, maybe this isn’t the first racial experience
for a lot of us, but a lot of us have experienced, and will experience, this
kind of rejection. Some of us will experience it romantically—she/he/they
just aren’t that into you—and others of us, like Du Bois, will experience it
as a direct result of our differences. In his case, his biggest difference was
the color of his skin. That’s all he needed to begin competing with his
White classmates, determined to convince them that he was not different.
And if he was different, it was because he was better.

W. E. B. Du Bois didn’t know it at ten years old, but he was going to
become the king of uplift suasion. The king of I can do anything they can
do. The king of If I’m like you, will you love me? Making him, without a
doubt, the Black king of assimilation.

At least for a while.
But we’ll get to all that.
For now, let’s get into how Du Bois as a teenager decided, like Phillis

Wheatley a few generations before him, that he wanted to go to Harvard.
All-White Harvard. But, of course, that wasn’t an option. So, the
townspeople—good White folks—pooled their money and sent young

Willie to Fisk University, in Nashville, the best Black school in the
country and the top of the top when it came to teaching Black people uplift
suasion. Du Bois gobbled up the lessons on how to win White people over.
And after his time at Fisk, Du Bois was able to put what he’d learned
about assimilationism into practice.

His dream had come true. He got into Harvard to earn a postgraduate

But not only did he get in, he did so well there that he even spoke at his

W. E. B. Du Bois had graduated from the best Black school and the best
White school, proving the capabilities of Black people. At least in his own
mind. Like I said, he was obsessed with keeping up with White people.
Running their race. But in his speech, he gave credit to Jefferson Davis—
Jefferson Davis!—saying that the Confederate president represented some
kind of rugged individualism, as opposed to the “submissive” nature of the
slave. Yikes. Just as John Cotton and Richard Mather had planned several
generations before, these ideas were coming out of Du Bois’s Ivy League
classrooms, where he’d basically been fed the same narrative that Black
people had been ruined by slavery. That they were irredeemable, in
desperate need of fixing but unfortunately unfixable, which meant he was
obviously exceptional, and… an exception. But the root of his
exceptionalism, his excellence, came from his being biracial. It must have.
According to one of Du Bois’s intellectual mentors, mulattoes were
practically the same as any White man.

Du Bois even went so far as to blame Black people for being
mistreated. Blamed them for fighting back, which meant he blamed them
for being lynched. For instance, when White people challenged the
Fifteenth Amendment—the right to vote—by attaching an educational
qualification to what was supposed be a freedom for all, Du Bois, an
educated man, found fault in the Black rage. And found justification in the
White response to the Black rage. Because Black people were breaking the
law by wanting White people to stop breaking the law. That they were
wrong for wanting to live. And Du Bois wasn’t the only Black man who
believed that Black men were bad. Booker T. Washington, the shining star
of Tuskegee Institute—a college that cranked out Black brilliance—
believed this, and even a dying Frederick Douglass did. As a matter of

fact, it took a young antiracist Black woman to set these racist men

Ida B. Wells-Barnett was an investigative journalist who did the
necessary research to expose the inconsistencies in the data. In a pamphlet
she published in 1892 called Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its
Phases, she found that from a sampling of 728 lynching reports, only a
third of Black men lynched had actually “ever been charged with rape, to
say nothing of those who were innocent of the charge.” White men were
lying about Black-on-White rape and hiding their own assaults of Black
women. But the accusation of rape could make it easier for southern White
men to puff up and act maliciously, all in the name of defending the honor
of White women. And Du Bois didn’t challenge it.

Do the crime, do the time.
Don’t do the crime… die.
I know. W. E. B. Du Bois doesn’t really sound that awesome. So, let’s

talk about someone else.

Booker T. Washington. (Strike that thing I just said about him a few lines
up. Actually, don’t strike it, because it’s true. But… there’s more.)

Booker T. Washington wanted Blacks to focus on what would now be
called blue-collar work. While Du Bois was rubbing elbows in the halls of
the White academy, Washington was in the fields. Well, not really. Though
he was the head of Tuskegee, his push for civil rights was more of a
backdoor approach. After Frederick Douglass’s death in 1895, Washington
stepped into his place as the new leader of Black America, and though
privately he supported empowerment, what he advised was that Black
people publicly focus on lower pursuits, such as tending the fields. Labor.
Common work. Because he knew that would be more acceptable to White
people. Knew they would eat it up. Why wouldn’t they? A Black man
saying, post-slavery, that Black people should be happy with the bottom,
because at least the bottom is a dignified start. For White people, that
sounded perfect, because it meant there was a greater chance Black people
would stay out of positions of power, and therefore would never actually
have any.

Oof. I guess Booker T. Washington really doesn’t sound that great,

Du Bois believed in being like White people to eliminate threat so that

Black people could compete. Washington believed in eliminating thoughts
of competition so that White people wouldn’t be threatened by Black
sustainability. And there were Black people who believed both men,
because, though we’re critiquing their assimilationist ideas in this
moment, they were thought leaders of their time. The wildest part about
these two men is that they didn’t get along. They were like the Biggie and
Tupac of their day. Or maybe Michael Jackson and Prince. Hmm, maybe
Malcolm and Martin. They believed in the destination, which was Black
freedom, but, regarding the journey there, they couldn’t have disagreed

Du Bois, the hyper-intellectual golden child. Washington, the man of
the people.

Du Bois wrote The Souls of Black Folk, which intellectualized who
Black people really were. Washington wrote Up from Slavery, which
outlined the diligence, faith, and fortitude it took (and takes) to survive in
America, coupled with the idea of the “White savior.”

Stories featuring White people having antiracist epiphanies or
moments of empathy resulting in the “saving” of Black people—White
savior stories—were becoming a fixture in American media, and the
problem with them wasn’t that there weren’t any “good” White people in
real life, it’s that the stories gave the illusion that there were more than
there really were. That White people, in general, were (once again) the
“saviors” of Black people.

Because of that (partially), Up from Slavery was a hit. And Du Bois
couldn’t take it. He couldn’t stomach the fact that Washington was in the
spotlight, shining. Washington was even invited to the White House once
Theodore Roosevelt got into office, while the always sophisticated Du
Bois publicly critiqued Washington, calling him old-fashioned for being so
accommodating to White people, for presenting the idea that Black people
should find dignity through work, and that no education was complete
without the learning of a trade. Meanwhile, his own book, The Souls of
Black Folk, set out to establish the mere fact that Black people were
complex human beings. It was in this work that Du Bois introduced the
idea of double consciousness. A two-ness. A self that is Black and a self

that is American. And from this he fashioned a sample set of Black people
who sat at the converging point. Black people to be “positive”
representatives of the race. Like, if Blackness—“good” Blackness—was a
brand, Du Bois wanted these Black people to be the ambassadors of that
brand. One in every ten, he believed, were worthy of the job. He called
them the Talented Tenth.

Though Du Bois was against accommodating White people—at least,
that’s what he criticized Washington for—he was still the same man
fighting for White approval. He still believed that he could think and dress
and speak racism away. No matter what he said about Washington’s antics
and “accommodation,” W. E. B. Du Bois was, in fact, still the emperor of
uplift suasion.

But Du Bois would get a wake-up call. A slap in the face, even. Not
from Washington, but from a man named Franz Boas, who had immigrated
to America from Germany in 1886 because of anti-Jewish persecution.
Boas had become one of America’s most prominent anthropologists and
had been drawing similarities between the way his people were mistreated
in Germany and the way Black people were being mistreated in America—
with each nation justifying the treatment by saying the persecuted group
was naturally inferior. Same story, different book. But in 1906, when Du
Bois asked Boas to come speak at Atlanta University (where he was
teaching), he had no idea what he was in for. Boas affirmed that the idea
that Black people are naturally inferior, or even that they’ve been made
inferior from slavery, was false, and all one needed to do to prove this was
dig through the history of Black people before they got to America. Black
people had a history. And that history—an African history—wasn’t one of
inferiority. Instead, it was one full of glorious empires, like those of
Ghana, Mali, and Songhay, full of intellects and innovators.

Du Bois’s head blew right off his shoulders. At least, that’s the way I
imagine it. Either way, his mind and all the White mumbo jumbo he’d
consumed had started to change.

But the intellectual high wouldn’t last, because by the end of that same
year, Black people helped the Republicans regain the House of
Representatives in the midterm elections, and as soon as they did,
Roosevelt, the president who’d invited Booker T. Washington to his house
—the most popular president among Black people ever—kicked a bunch

of Black soldiers out of the army. Without any money. One hundred sixty-
seven soldiers, to be exact. A dozen of them had been falsely accused of
murdering a bartender and wounding a cop in Texas. These soldiers, of the
25th Infantry Regiment, were a point of pride for Black America. For them
to be mistreated, as fighters for a country that had been fighting against
them their entire lives, was a blow to the Black psyche. And just like that,
Roosevelt was seen as a backstabber by Black people. And because Booker
T. Washington was Roosevelt’s guy, his man, his “Black friend,”
Washington also had to feel the wrath when the president hurt his people.

Due to the social blow Booker T. Washington took because of his
familiar and “friendly” history with Roosevelt, Du Bois’s Talented Tenth
rose in influence.


Jack Johnson vs. Tarzan

with the actual boxing that gripped the entire nation. Black people used
Black fighters as a way to symbolically beat on White America’s racism.
White people used White fighters to prove superiority over Black people
in the ring, and therefore in the world. No boxer broke the backs of White
people, and puffed up the chests of Black people, like Jack Johnson.

He was the most famous Black man in America. And the most hated.
Because he was the best. He’d beaten the brakes off every White boxer,
and in December 1908, he finally got a shot at the heavyweight title. His
opponent, Tommy Burns. The fight took place in Australia, and, well, let’s
just say Jack left Tommy “down under.” I know, a bad joke. A dad joke. A
bad dad joke. But still, a fact.

For racists, athletes and entertainers could be spun into narratives of
the Black aggressor, the natural dancer, etc. Like, the reason Black people
were good wasn’t because of practice and hard work but because they were
born with it. (Note: Black assimilationists have also made this argument.)
Which is racist. It gave White people a way to explain away their own
failures. Their competitive losses. Also gave them justification to find
ways to cheat, inside the arena or outside.

For Black people, however, sports and entertainment were, and still are,
a way to step into the shoes of the big-timer. It was a way to use the athlete
or the entertainer—Johnson being both—as an avatar. As a representative
of the entire race. Like human teleportation machines, zapping Black
people, especially poor Black people, from powerlessness to possibility.
So, if Johnson arrived on the scene dressed in fancy clothes, hands adorned
with diamonds, all Black people were psychologically dressed to the nines.
At least for a while. If Johnson talked slick to White men, saying whatever
he wanted, all Black people got away with a verbal jab or two (in their
minds). And, most important, if Johnson knocked out a White man, guess
what? All Black people knocked out a White man.

And White people couldn’t have that.

Immediately, White people started to cry out for a “Great White Hope”
to beat Johnson. That “hope” was a retired heavyweight champion, James
J. Jeffries. Retired. Their hope was someone who had already quit the
sport. Really. I mean… come on.

No need to build suspense. You know what happened.
Jeffries lost, too, and though this was a big deal, especially for White

people, it was everything else about Jack Johnson—not just his fighting—
that set off alarms in the racist world.

1. His ego. Jack Johnson was a champ who acted like a champ. Fur
coats and diamonds. An early god of flash. And…

2. The biggest spike in the heart of White America: Jack Johnson’s
wife… was white. (Cue the dramatic organ or the gunshots or the
thunder crack or the hissing cat or… )

Johnson had too much power. Power to defeat White men. Power to be
with White women. And, just like with the Haitian Revolution, White
people were afraid all Black men would feel just as powerful, and that was
a no-go. So, they figured out a way to get rid of Jack Johnson. To stop him.
They arrested him on trumped-up charges for trafficking a prostitute (or
rather a White woman) across state lines. He ran, spent seven years out of
the country before turning himself in and doing a year in jail.

But the end of Jack Johnson still wasn’t enough to make White men
feel good about themselves, so a man named Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote
a book to reinforce the idea of White supremacy and to remind White men
that Africans (Black people) were savages. It was called Tarzan of the

Here’s the basic plot of the book series:

1. A White child named John Clayton is orphaned in central Africa.

2. John is raised by apes.

3. They change his name to Tarzan, which means “white skin.”

4. Tarzan becomes the best hunter and warrior. Better than all the

5. Eventually he teaches himself to read.

6. In the sequels and subsequent stories, Tarzan protects a White
woman named Jane from being ravished by Africans.

7. Tarzan protects a White woman named Jane from being ravished
by Africans.

8. Tarzan protects a White woman named Jane from being ravished
by Africans.

9. Get it?

Tarzan was bigger than Jack Johnson ever was or would be. He became
a cultural phenomenon, made into comic strips, movies, television shows,
and even toys. I’m sure some of you have seen the movies or the old TV
shows, in which Tarzan does that yodel, a call of White masculinity that
we’ve all mimicked as children. At least I did.


Birth of a Nation (and a New

tricked again (AGAIN) by a political candidate. They helped to get the
Democrat Woodrow Wilson elected.

Now seems like a good time to address the whole Republican/Democrat
thing. At this point in history, the Democrats dominated the South. They
were opposed to the expansion of civil rights and anything that had to do
with far-reaching federal power, like railroads, settling the West with
homesteaders and not slave owners, even state university systems. Today,
we’d say they were against “Big Government.” Republicans at this time
dominated the North. They were “for” civil rights (at least politically) and
wanted expansion and railroads, and even a state university system.

I know. It feels like I got their descriptions mixed up. Like we’re living
in backward land. Maybe we are.

Anyway, back to Woodrow Wilson. He was a Democrat. And during his
first term, he let Black people know what he thought about them by
enjoying the first-ever film screening in the White House, of Hollywood’s
first blockbuster film, D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation. The film was
based on a book called The Clansman. Can you guess what this movie was

Here’s the basic plot:

1. A Black man (played by a White man in blackface) tries to rape a
White woman.

2. She jumps off a cliff and kills herself.

3. Klansmen avenge her death.

4. The end.

The beginning of a new outrage. I want to be clear here. Rape isn’t
something to be taken lightly or to be turned back on the victim as a sharp
blade of blame. But during this time, allegations of rape were often used
as an excuse to lynch Black men, rooted in the stereotype of the savagery
of the Black man and the preciousness of the White woman. Black people
protested the movie. The intellects, like Booker T. Washington and W. E.
B. Du Bois, fought in their intellectual ways. Writing. But southern Black
activists did much more. They protested with their feet.

It was time to go.
It’s important to note that this was during the Great War, also known as

World War I, but the great war at home between Blacks and Whites had
pushed Blacks to the brink. Black people started to leave the South in
droves. Imagine the biggest parade you’ve ever seen, and then multiply it
by a bazillion, but it didn’t look as uniform or as happy. This was a parade
of progress. One of hope after severe exhaustion. Black people were tired
of being lied to. Tired of being told life was better after emancipation, as
if Jim Crow laws hadn’t made their lives miserable. As if politicians
hadn’t taken advantage of them, milking them for votes to gain power,
only to slap Black people back down. As if the media hadn’t continued to
push racist narratives that would put Black people’s lives at risk, off page
and off screen.


The Mission Is in the Name

New York. Some even came from the Caribbean to escape colonialism. A
Jamaican man, Marcus Garvey, was one of them. He’d come to America to
raise money for a school in Jamaica, and the first thing he did once he
arrived in New York in 1916 was visit the NAACP office.

The NAACP was started by two men who had written books about the
antislavery activist John Brown. In 1859, Brown—a White man—raided
the United States Armory in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, with the
intention of arming slaves and starting a revolution. He was caught and, of
course, executed. Du Bois wrote Brown’s biography, and the year it was
published, 1909, was also the year a man named Oswald Garrison Villard
published his biography of John Brown. Villard was White and happened
to be William Lloyd Garrison’s grandson. Who do you think sold more
books? But instead of Du Bois cutting Villard down like he did Booker T.
Washington, he decided to work with Villard to form the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Their
mission was in the name.

And when Marcus Garvey showed up, he was expecting that mission to
be shown in the actual people working for the organization. See, Garvey
was looking for Du Bois, but when he got to the office, he was confused
about whether the NAACP was a Black organization or a White one. And
that was simply because no one dark-skinned worked there. It was as if the
only Black people who could succeed in America were biracial or lighter
skinned. As if the Talented Tenth were the only Black people of value.
Such an assimilationist way of thinking. An antiracist like Garvey saw all
Black people as valuable. Saw Blackness as valuable, in culture and in
color. So Garvey decided to set up shop in Harlem and start his own
organization, called the Universal Negro Improvement Association
(UNIA). Its purpose was to focus on African solidarity, the beauty of dark
skin and African American culture, and global African self-determination.
He basically created the exact opposite of the Talented Tenth.

Garvey wasn’t the only one who noticed the growing power of biracial
Americans. Scholars were paying attention. Eugenicists—people who
believed you could control the “quality” of human beings by keeping
undesirable genetics out, meaning the genetics of Black people—were
criticizing and berating the mixing of races, because Whiteness was seen
as pure. There were new versions of the racial hierarchy, which weren’t
that new because Black people still existed at the bottom, but the argument
was that the more White (Nordic) blood people had, the better they would
be, intellectually. Listen, I could give you more of their lines, but I’ve said
this a million times by now. They were arguing what they’d been arguing
—that Black people were born to be less-than, and that mixing with
Whites gave them a leg up because they then weren’t “all the way” Black.
This would tie in with the creation of IQ tests and standardized tests, all
skewed to justify the dumb Black, and the ones that did well must’ve had
some White in them. Yada yada yada.

Yet in the midst of the Great War, Black men were good enough to
fight. Smart enough to be tactical. Motivated enough to run, roll, shoot,
and save. Of course.

Du Bois went over to Paris after the war ended to document the stories
of Black soldiers for the Crisis, the newspaper he’d started. The stories he
was told, and that he documented, were ones of Black heroes. But when
the White officers came back to the States to tell their versions of the
stories, the Black heroes had become Black nothings. More important,
Black soldiers had been treated relatively well in France. And the
president at the time, Woodrow Wilson, feared that being treated decently
overseas would embolden Black soldiers. Make them too big for their
britches. Make them expect fair treatment at home, the home for which
they’d just risked their lives.

Let that sink in.
The home for which they bled for. Killed for. This was the final gust of

wind (not really the final, but he was getting there) on Du Bois’s tiptoe
tightrope walk of racism. His past critiques of antiracists, spinning them
into imaginary hate-mongers, had finally come back to bite him. He’d
spent so many years trying to convince Black people to mold themselves
into a version of White people. He’d spent so much time trying to learn,
speak, dress, and impress racism away. He’d tried to provide White

Americans with the scientific facts of racial disparities, believing reason
could kill racism, as if reason had birthed it. He had even spent energy
ridiculing leaders like Ida B. Wells-Barnett for passionately calling on
Black people to fight. But every year, as the failures for freedom piled up,
Du Bois’s urgings for Black people to protest and fight became stronger.

Du Bois, the king of assimilation, began calling out White men’s
twisting of words. It was time for a New Negro, he preached. One that
would no longer sit quietly, waiting to assimilate. And in 1919, when many
of those soldiers came home from war, they came home as New Negroes.

Unfortunately, New Negroes were met by Old Whites. Violence. The
normal racist ideas weren’t working on Black people, so racists had to go
above and beyond. The summer of 1919 was the bloodiest summer since
Reconstruction. So much so, it was named Red Summer. Du Bois
responded to Red Summer with a collection of essays arguing many things
about Black people being people, but one of the most revolutionary things
he did in the collection was honor Black women. This was a huge deal,
because Black women had either been completely left out of the race
conversation or turned into objects to look at and take advantage of.

Even though Du Bois had done this, Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican who
had taken issue with the NAACP, still despised him. Like I said, Garvey
was a staunch antiracist; though Du Bois was making antiracist strides, he
was still straddling the assimilationist line, and Garvey thought he was
condescending to his own race. That he moved and acted like he was a
better Black person. A special Black person. An exception. And, of course,
there was the biggest beef of all, the conflict around the premise that
lighter-skinned people were being given advantages and treated better—
colorism. Garvey wasn’t completely wrong. Though Du Bois wanted Black
people to be a people with the freedom to be different when it came to art
and music and spirituality, he definitely looked at himself as the standard.
So, if you weren’t him—light-skinned, hyper-educated—you weren’t quite
good enough. He also reinforced Harriet Beecher Stowe’s idea that Black
people had more soul than Whites (which meant they had less mind) and
therefore were better at creative things. Garvey would’ve argued against
that, but he didn’t get the chance to, because the US government charged
him with mail fraud, and he was deported three years later.

With no one there to challenge him, Du Bois’s old crutch that he just

couldn’t seem to divorce himself from, uplift suasion, was about to
transform into a different kind of be my friend bait.


Can’t Sing and Dance and Write It

artists up in Harlem. On March 21, 1924, he’d gone to a club to see a
bunch of young poets and novelists who were supporters of his. This event
is where he’d meet many of the young Black artists who would form
what’s now known as the Harlem Renaissance, and Du Bois wanted to
make sure they used their art to advance Black people by getting White
people to respect them. It was a new form of uplift suasion—media
suasion—which basically just means using media, in this case, art, to woo

But not everyone was kissing Du Bois’s assimilationist feet. There was
a resistant group of artists that emerged in 1926 who called themselves the
Niggerati. They believed they should be able to make whatever they
wanted to express themselves as whole humans without worrying about
White acceptance. One of the Niggerati’s most prominent poets was
Langston Hughes, who declared that if a Black artist leaned toward
Whiteness, his art wouldn’t truly be his own. That it was okay to be a
Black artist without having to feel insecurity or shame. They wanted to
function the same way as the blues women, like Ma Rainey and Bessie
Smith, who sang about pain and sex and whatever else they wanted to.
Even if the images of Blackness weren’t always positive. W. E. B. Du Bois
and his supporters of uplift suasion and media suasion had a hard time
accepting any narrative of Black people being less than perfect. Less than
dignified. But the Niggerati were arguing that, if Black people couldn’t be
shown as imperfect, they couldn’t be shown as human. And that was racist.

It would be up to Black artists to show themselves. To write and paint
and dance and sculpt their humanity, whether White people liked it or not.
Whether White people saw them as human or not. And they didn’t see
them as human. Instead, Black people were symbols, animals, and ideas to
be feared. As a matter of fact, in 1929, three years after the formation of

the Niggerati, Claude G. Bowers, an editor for the New York Post,
confirmed this in a book he wrote called The Tragic Era: The Revolution
After Lincoln.

Lincoln? Lincoln?! Abraham Lincoln had been dead for more than
sixty years. But Reconstruction, if spun correctly, could be used as a way
to play upon the hatred of racist White people. This was a way Bowers
could tap back into the old days. Drum up that old hateful feeling. Rev the
engine of racism, which, by the way, was still just as alive and consistent
(which is why antiracist artists like the Niggerati found it silly to play into
White comfort). Bowers was angry about the fact that Herbert Hoover, a
Republican, swept the election in 1928 (remember the switcheroo),
snatching several southern states. The Tragic Era was meant to remind
Democrats, southerners, and racists that innocent White people were
tortured by Black Republicans during Reconstruction. It’s almost
laughable. Almost. But it charged up racists and even sparked a re-release
of the racist classic Birth of a Nation.

The argument of the savage, inferior Black person rides again. (It’s
getting exhausting, right?) And this time, Du Bois, who’d been slowly
inching toward antiracism, decided to respond to the Bowers book. Du
Bois wrote and published what he thought was his best work, Black
Reconstruction in America: 1860–1880. In it he debunked all of Bowers’s
arguments and described how, if anything, Reconstruction was stifled by
White racist elites who created more White privileges for poor White
people as long as they stood, shoulder to shoulder, on the necks of Black
people. Whiteness first. Always Whiteness first.

It was 1933. Du Bois’s life as an assimilationist had finally started to
vaporize. He just wanted Black people to be self-sufficient. To be Black.
And for that to be enough. Here he argued that the American educational
system was failing the country because it wouldn’t tell the truth about race
in America, because it was too concerned with protecting and defending
the White race. Ultimately, he was arguing what he’d been arguing in
various different ways, and what Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth,
Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Marcus Garvey, and many
others before him had argued ad nauseam: that Black people were human.

Despite uplift suasion.
Despite media suasion.

Despite the fact that the NAACP was under new leadership, Walter
White, who had decided to lean more into uplift suasion. White wanted to
transform the NAACP into an organization of “refined” folks like himself,
whose mission was to go before courts and politicians to persuade the
White judges and legislators to end racial discrimination. But in 1933, Du
Bois wanted nothing to do with this method.

He had finally turned away from assimilationism.
He had finally turned toward antiracism.
So, he took off from the NAACP, escaping the madness and

bureaucracy, and headed down to Atlanta University to teach. He’d taken
up a new school of thought. Inspired by Karl Marx, Du Bois broke ground
on a new idea—antiracist socialism. He used this idea to move further into
antiracism, even critiquing Black colleges for having White-centered
curriculums or for having White teachers teaching Negro studies in Black

The reason he’d turned such a sharp corner was, perhaps, because the
country had entered into the Great Depression. No one had money. But it’s
one thing to have no money. It’s another thing to have no money and no
freedom. So Black people were experiencing a kind of double Depression.
And even though the sitting president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat,
had developed an initiative called the New Deal, a flurry of government
relief programs and job programs to keep people afloat, Black people
needed their own New Deal to keep them safe from the old deal, which
was the racist deal, which was no deal at all.

(Note: This was the start of the shift, where the Democratic and
Republican parties start transforming into the ones we have today.)

It’s not that the New Deal didn’t help Black people at all. It did. Just
not enough, and not at the same rate as it helped White people. And while
poor Black people were trying to build their own systems, and as elite
Black people were uncomfortable and pushing back against Du Bois, he
published an article that would rock everyone.

It was 1934. The piece was called “Segregation.” Du Bois sided with
his former rival, Marcus Garvey, stating that there is a place, maybe even
an importance, to a voluntary nondiscriminatory separation. Basically, Du
Bois was arguing for Black safe spaces. Spaces that would resist and fight
against the media storm of racist ideas that came year after year. From the

stereotype that Black people were sexually immoral or hypersexual. Or
that Black households were absent of fathers, and that this family dynamic
made them inferior. Or that skin tone and hair texture were connected to
beauty and intelligence. Du Bois, without the support of his partners at the
NAACP, the assimilationists who were once in line with him, wanted to
combat it all.


Home Is Where the Hatred Is


I know, this isn’t supposed to be a history book, but… come on.
After the United States entered World War II in 1942, Du Bois felt

energized by Black America’s “Double V Campaign”: victory against
racism at home and victory against fascism abroad. The Double V
Campaign kicked the civil rights movement into high gear. And as World
War II neared its end in April 1945, W. E. B. Du Bois joined
representatives of fifty countries at the United Nations Conference on
International Organization in San Francisco. He wanted the new United
Nations Charter to become a buffer against racism. Then, later in the year,
Du Bois attended the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England.
Pan-Africanism is a movement that encourages solidarity among all
people of African descent. Strength in numbers. Global power. That was
the key. At the Fifth Congress, in 1945, Du Bois was fittingly introduced
as the “Father of Pan-Africanism.”

In attendance were two hundred men and women, including Ghana’s
Kwame Nkrumah and Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta, young revolutionaries who
would go on to lead the African decolonization movements, which were
meant to remove colonial leaders. These delegates did not make the
politically racist request of past pan-African congresses of gradual
decolonization, as if Africans were not ready to rule Africans.

And what I mean when I mention “Africans ruling Africans” is
Africans governing themselves. Imagine that. It must’ve felt like a bomb
dropped on the heads of racist Europeans. Those weren’t the only bombs

The United States emerged from World War II, looked over at the
ravaged European and east Asian worlds, and flexed its unmatched capital,
industrial force, and military arms as the new global leader. The only
problem was, America, the land of the free, home of the brave, still had a
race problem. And that race problem was starting to affect its relationships
around the world. American freedom wasn’t free. Hell, it wasn’t even real.

But no matter what compromises President Harry Truman (who took over
after Roosevelt died in 1945) tried to make, the South always fought back.

I almost don’t want to tell you what happened because I’ve told you
what happened a lot already. But if you were to guess that White people
started to perpetuate lies about Black people being inferior to keep the
world of racism spinning, you’d be right.

On February 2, 1948, Truman urged Congress to implement a civil
rights act, despite the lack of support among White Americans. You can
imagine the outrage. Many left the Democratic Party. Others stayed and
formed what they called the Dixiecrats, who, in order to fight back against
Truman’s push for civil rights, ran a man named Strom Thurmond for
president. It was a grossly segregationist platform. Fortunately, it didn’t

Black voters made sure Truman won, and once he did, his
administration brought forth a few game-changing civil rights cases:

1. Shelley v. Kraemer, 1948:
The case was decided with the Supreme Court determining
that the courts could not enforce Whites-only real estate
contracts in northern cities to keep out migrants and stop
housing desegregation. This brought on the open housing
movement, which basically exposed White people stopping
Black people from living where they wanted to live. The
fear was the same old fear. That Black people would make
the neighborhoods dangerous. That their White daughters
would be in danger. That the property value would go down.
Some Black people wanted to live in White neighborhoods
for validation. Some Black people were just looking for
better housing options. Some White people were so afraid,
they literally packed up and left their homes. White flight.

2. Brown v. Board of Education, 1954:

I’m sure you’ve heard of this one. If you live in the South
and go to a diverse school, this is why. This was the case
that said racial segregation in public schools was
unconstitutional. The results: The schools began to mix.
What’s really interesting about this case, though, something
rarely discussed, is that it’s actually a pretty racist idea. I
mean, what it basically suggests is that Black kids need a
fair shot, and a fair shot is in White schools. I mean, why
weren’t there any White kids integrating into Black
schools? The assumption was that Black kids weren’t as
intelligent because they weren’t around White kids, as if the
mere presence of White kids would make Black kids better.
Not. True. A good school is a good school, whether there
are White people there or not. Oh, and of course people
were pissed about this.

People were pissed about them both.
And pissed people do pissed things.
A year later, a fourteen-year-old boy named Emmett Till was brutally

murdered in Money, Mississippi, for supposedly “hissing” at a White
woman. They beat Till so ruthlessly that his face was unrecognizable
during his open-casket funeral in his native Chicago. The gruesome
pictures were shown around the enraged Black world, at the request of his
mother. And though supremacists in power continued to blame Brown v.
Board of Education for the problems, young Emmett’s death lit a fire
under the civil rights movement, led by a young, charismatic preacher
from Atlanta who idolized W. E. B. Du Bois—Martin Luther King Jr.

There was a youthful energy to the movement. A new wave. A new way
of doing things. And Du Bois loved watching it grow more and more
powerful. He was now ninety years old, and hopeful. He’d never stopped
struggling, and Dr. King was cut from similar cloth. He and Du Bois had
not let up, and neither had college students. Four Black freshmen at North
Carolina A&T entered a Woolworth’s in Greensboro on February 1, 1960.
They sat down at the “Whites only” counter, where they were denied
service, and stayed there until the store closed. Within days, hundreds of

students from area colleges and high schools were “sitting in.” News
reports of these nonviolent sit-ins flashed on TV screens nationally, setting
off a sit-in wave to desegregate southern businesses. By April, students
were staging sit-ins in seventy-eight southern and border communities,
and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had been
established. These college kids were like new New Negroes. They weren’t
waiting for White saviors, not in politicians like John F. Kennedy, who was
running for office, or writers like Harper Lee, whose novel To Kill a
Mockingbird was basically the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of the civil rights
movement. Don’t mind if I… don’t.

Nope, no White saviors for them. But they also weren’t interested in
being Black saviors. They weren’t necessarily “saving” themselves. They
were just “being” themselves. But the thing about being Black is that just
being can bring bloodshed.

And that’s what Dr. King, and the SNCC, and the civil rights movement
as a whole were banking on.

The vicious violence in response to the nonviolent civil rights
movement was embarrassing the country, all around the non-White world.

On April 3, 1963, King helped kick off a series of demonstrations in
Birmingham, bringing on the wrath of the city’s ruggedly segregationist
police chief, “Bull” Connor. Nine days later, on Good Friday, eight White
anti-segregationist Alabama clergymen signed a public statement
requesting that these “unwise and untimely” street demonstrations end.
Martin Luther King Jr., jailed that same day, read the statement from his
cell. Angry, he started doing something he rarely did. He responded to
critics, in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” published that summer.

No one knows whether the sickly W. E. B. Du Bois read King’s
jailhouse letter. But just as Du Bois had done in 1903, and later regretted,
in his letter King erroneously conflated two opposing groups: the
antiracists who hated racial discrimination and the Black separatists who
hated White people (in groups like the Nation of Islam). King later
distanced himself from both, speaking to a growing split within the civil
rights movement. More and more battle-worn young activists were
becoming frustrated with King’s nonviolence and were more often
listening to Malcolm X’s sermons. Malcolm X was a minister in the
Nation of Islam, a religious organization focused on the liberation of

Black people through discipline, self-defense, community organizing, and
a fortified understanding of who Black people were regardless of White
people’s opinions. He preached that Blacks were the original people of the
world, which pushed back against the Bible and the early theories of White
Egypt. He also preached Black self-sufficiency—that Black people could
care for themselves, their families, and their communities all by
themselves. Sure, he was a polarizing force, but he was also an antiracist
persuading away assimilationist ideas.

On May 3, 1963, the young folks that followed leaders like Malcolm
watched on television as Bull Connor’s vicious bloodhounds ripped to
pieces the children and teenagers of Black Birmingham, who had been
following Dr. King; as Connor’s fire hoses broke limbs, blew clothes off,
and slammed bodies into storefronts; and as his officers clubbed marchers
with nightsticks.

The world watched, too.
On June 11, President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation—or the

world, rather—and summoned Congress to pass civil rights legislation.
“Today we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect
the rights of all who wish to be free,” Kennedy said. “We preach freedom
around the world, and we mean it.”

With the eyes of the globe on him, Kennedy—who really didn’t have
much of a choice—introduced civil rights legislation. But it didn’t stop the
momentum of the long-awaited March on Washington for Jobs and
Freedom. Though it had been organized by civil rights groups, the
Kennedy administration controlled the event, ruling out civil
disobedience. Kennedy aides approved the speakers and speeches—no
Black women, no James Baldwin (an openly gay Black novelist who’d
become a bold and brilliant political voice through his writings), and no
Malcolm X. On August 28, approximately 250,000 activists and reporters
from around the world marched to the area between the Lincoln Memorial
and the Washington Monument. And King closed the day with what’s
probably the most iconic speech of all time—“I Have a Dream.” But there
was bad news. W. E. B. Du Bois had died in his sleep the previous day.

Indeed, a younger Du Bois had called for such a gathering, hoping it
would persuade millions of White people to love the lowly souls of Black
folk. And, yes, the older Du Bois had chosen another path—the antiracist

path less traveled—toward forcing millions to accept the equal souls of
Black folk. It was the path of civil disobedience that the young marchers
in the SNCC and CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality, also responsible
for much of the nonviolence training for the movement) had desired for
the March on Washington, a path a young woman from Birmingham’s
Dynamite Hill was already traveling and would never leave. But Roy
Wilkins, one of Dr. King’s right-hand men, and the bearer of the bad news,
did not dwell on the different paths. Looking out at the lively March on
Washington, he just asked for a moment of silence to honor the ninety-
five-year-old movement of a man.


When Death Comes


These were the names of four girls killed in a church bombing.
It’s September 16, 1963. The Herald Tribune. Angela Davis was a

college student, a junior at Brandeis University, when she read these
names in the newspaper—four girls killed in Birmingham, Alabama.

Angela Davis was from Birmingham. She knew these names. Her
mother, Sallye, had taught Carol Denise in the first grade. The Robertson
and Davis families had been close friends for as long as she could
remember. The Wesleys lived around the block in the hilly Birmingham
neighborhood where Angela grew up. Angela’s mother wasn’t deterred by
the bombings. It was a frightening and painful moment, but the Davises
were active, and by “active,” I mean activists.

Sallye Davis had been a leader in the Southern Negro Youth Congress,
an antiracist organization that protested racial and economic disparities.
On Dynamite Hill, where Angela Davis grew up, Sallye and her husband
trained their daughter to be an antiracist. And so most of her childhood
was spent wrestling with the poverty and racism around her. Why didn’t
her classmates have certain things? Why were they hungry? Why weren’t
they able to eat in school? She even decided early on that she would never
—despite the pressure—desire to be White.

She fought and spoke out all the way up until she got to college at
Brandeis—a predominately White institution—where she didn’t agree
with the kind of activism going on. An activism laid out by White people
who couldn’t see that they weren’t the standard. But she found her outlets.
She found a place to put her activist energy.

James Baldwin, one of Davis’s favorite authors, came to Brandeis in
1962, just before the release of his activist manifesto, The Fire Next Time.
Baldwin crafted a collection of essays that encapsulated the Black
experience with racism. The book contains a letter to his nephew, warning
him of the oppression coming his way, and another letter addressing the

centennial celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation, in which he
charges both Black and White Americans to attack the nasty legacy of
racism. It’s a macro- and micro-examination of the American race
machine, and ultimately a master class in antiracism.

Malcolm X also came, and though Davis didn’t agree with his religious
leanings, she really fell in line with his political ideas. She was fascinated
by the way he explained the racism Black people had internalized, an
inferiority complex forced on them by White supremacy.

But during Davis’s junior year, while studying abroad in France, she
was emotionally transported home when she read the four names in the
Tribune. Cynthia Wesley. Carole Robertson. Carol Denise McNair. Addie
Mae Collins. Back to Dynamite Hill.

Davis didn’t see this moment as a special event, a one-off incident, no.
She had grown up fully aware of American racism and its deadly potential.
All she could do was swallow it and use it as fuel to keep fighting.

President John F. Kennedy, on the other hand, had to figure out how to
fix it. Well, there was no fixing it, but at least he had to do something to
snuff out what could become a complete explosion on Dynamite Hill. He
launched an investigation, which, by the way, caused his approval ratings
to drop. Can you believe that? Four children were killed. Bombed. And
because the president tried to get to the bottom of it, his southern
constituents and supporters were actually upset. Kennedy tried to rebound.
Tried to boost his ratings back up in Dallas two months later. He never
made it back to the White House.

Two days after Kennedy’s burial, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who was now
president, proclaimed that the civil rights bill that Kennedy had been
working on would be passed.

But what did that mean?
On paper it would mean that discrimination on the basis of race was

illegal. But what it actually meant was that White people, even those in
favor of it (in theory), could then argue that everything was now fine. That
Black people should stop crying and fighting and “get over” everything,
because now things were equal. It meant they’d argue what they’d been
arguing, that Black people’s circumstances are caused solely by
themselves, and if they just worked harder and got educations, they’d
succeed. It meant they’d completely ignore the hundreds of years of head

starts White people had in America. And the worst part, the Civil Rights
Act of 1964 would’ve caused White people to rethink White seniority and
superiority, and instead of dealing with it, they’d turn it on its head, flip it
around, do the old okey-doke and claim that they were now the victims.
That they were being treated unfairly. Unjustly. So, even though the act
was supposed to outlaw discrimination, it ended up causing a backlash of
more racist ideas.

Nonetheless, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the first important civil
rights legislation since the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Hours after President
Johnson signed it into law, on July 2, 1964, he hit the TV screen to play up
the whole American ideal of freedom. His appearance on television may as
well have been a sitcom. A show, fully cast with the best actors, complete
with smiling faces and a laugh track. And Black Americans, at least those
who’d seen the show before, looked on, entertained, but fully aware it was
all scripted.

And… cut!
Malcolm X, full of distrust for America, spoke out not against the bill

but about the likelihood of its actually ever being enforced. Who was
going to make sure the laws would be followed if the law, lawmakers, and
law enforcers were all White and racist? Angela Davis felt the same way.
And Angela and Malcolm weren’t wrong. This was a political play.
President Johnson knew that since he’d made it about Kennedy, this bill
wouldn’t hurt his position as president or his potential to get reelected. At
least, that’s what he thought. But George Wallace, the governor of
Alabama and ultimate racist, threw a major wrench into Johnson’s
reelection plans. Wallace had taken a public stand for segregation the year
before, and received 100,000 letters of support, mostly from northerners.

Wait. What? Yep. Northerners. Sending in letters in support of
Wallace’s stance for segregation. This proved, painfully, that everyone—
the North and the South—hated Black people.

Barry Goldwater, a senator from Arizona, was also running. Goldwater
was ushering in a new kind of conservatism. His platform was that
government assistance, which White people had been receiving for a long
time, was bad for human beings. That it turned people into animals. Of
course, this racist epiphany hit Goldwater once Black people started
receiving government assistance, too. Funny how that happens. Yet not

funny at all. It’s like someone telling you they hate your shoes, and then a
week later, once they’ve put you down and made you feel insecure, they
start wearing them. This strange game of whatever’s good for the goose
not being good for the gander. A gander is a male goose. But for this
example, a gander is a whole bunch of Black people.

But Goldwater, despite the support he had from well-to-do Whites,
didn’t worry Johnson, either. Johnson was concerned about the Black
political movements, like the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and
the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, who weren’t satisfied
with what Johnson was doing for them. The northern activists had been
dealing with and protesting police brutality and exploitation. The southern
activists had survived, and were continuing to survive, the Klan. And what
did Johnson offer them? What leverage did he grant the SNCC and MFDP?
Two seats at the Democratic National Convention, which was basically
nothing. No power. And without power, all the protesting in the world
meant nothing. The shift went from fighting for civil rights to fighting for
freedom. The difference between the two is simple. One implies a fight for
fairness. The other, a right to live.

Malcolm X’s empowerment philosophy of Black national and
international unity, self-determination, self-defense, and cultural pride
started to sound like music to the ears of the SNCC youth. At the end of
1964, Malcolm X returned from an extended trip to Africa to a growing
band of SNCC admirers and a growing band of enemies. Unfortunately, a
few months later—February 21, 1965—at a Harlem rally, Malcolm would
be gunned down by those enemies.

When James Baldwin heard the news in London, he was devastated.
When Dr. Martin Luther King heard the news in Selma, Alabama, he

was calm. Reflective. Acknowledged that, though they didn’t always agree
on methods—much like Du Bois and Washington, and Du Bois and Garvey
—they wanted the same thing.

Malcolm X’s death rocked the Black antiracist followers, especially the
ones populating urban environments. He’d instilled a sense of pride, a
sense of intellectual prowess, a sense of self into many. He’d made street
guys feel that they had a place in the movement. He gave athletes like
Muhammad Ali a higher purpose than boxing. He’d debated and
deconstructed racism with a fearlessness many people had never seen, and

his ideas evolved into a more inclusive Constitution just before the end of
his life.

The media, however… well, the media did what the media had been
doing for decades… centuries. They spun his entire life into a boogeyman
tale, devoid of context. “Malcolm X’s life was strangely and pitifully
wasted,” read a New York Times editorial.

But antiracists honored him and would have something to hold on to
forever to reference his ideas. Alex Haley had been working with Malcolm
on his autobiography, and the book would be published after his death. His
ideological transformation, from assimilationist to anti-White separatist to
antiracist, inspired millions. He argued that though White people weren’t
born racist, America was built to make them that way. And that if they
wanted to fight against it, they had to address it with the other racist White
people around them. He critiqued Black assimilationists. Called them
puppets, especially the “leaders” who had exploited their own people to
climb the White ladder. Malcolm X stamped that he was for truth—not
hate—truth and truth alone, no matter where it was coming from. His
autobiography would become antiracist scripture. It would become one of
the most important books in American history.

President Johnson, still dealing with the hate (from White people) and
the distrust (from Black people) around the Civil Rights Act, decides to go
even further than that bill. Decides to double down. Dig his heels into the
antiracist mud. After the Civil Rights Act came the Voting Rights Act of
1965. And though it would cause what every bit of progress caused, White
rage and resistance, the Voting Rights Act would become the most
effective piece of antiracist legislation ever passed by the Congress of the
United States of America.


Black Power

take long for the mutated rebellion to meet that racism and look it square
in the eye. Actually, it was met with a little more than a mean look. See,
five days after the Voting Rights Act was signed into law, a social bomb
exploded in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles when a police incident
set off six days of violence. This became the deadliest and most
destructive urban rebellion in history. Enough. Enough! There was no
more picketing. No more marching. The squawking mockingbird had
stopped its pecking and had transformed into a panther, brandishing teeth.

As Watts burned, Angela Davis boarded a boat headed for Germany to
get her graduate degree in philosophy. Shortly after she arrived, in
September 1965, an international group of scholars gathered in
Copenhagen for the Race and Colour Conference. Davis didn’t attend. But
if she had, she would have heard lectures on the racist role of language
symbolism. Scholars pointed out everyday phrases such as black sheep,
blackballing, blackmail, and blacklisting, among others, that had long
associated Blackness and negativity. Two other words could’ve been
included—words that still exist today: minority, as if Black people are
minor, making White people major; and ghetto, a term first used to
describe an undesirable area of a city in which Jewish people were forced
to live. But in the racist context of America, ghetto and minority became
synonyms for Black. And all three of those words seemed to be knives.

That is, until people like Stokely Carmichael showed up.
Carmichael was born in Trinidad in 1941 and moved to the Bronx in

1952, the same year his idol, Malcolm X, was paroled from prison. In
1964, Carmichael graduated from Howard University. By then, Malcolm’s
disciples, including Carmichael, were saying that the word Negro was to
describe Black assimilationists, and Black was for the antiracist, removing
the ugliness and evil that had been attached to it. They were now
passionately embracing the term Black, which stunned Martin Luther King
Jr.’s “Negro” disciples and their own assimilationist parents and

grandparents, who would rather be called “nigger” than “Black.”
Carmichael was the kind of guy who’d rather be called dead than

afraid. He was the new chairman of the SNCC. And a year after the
uprising in Watts, he and the SNCC found themselves at a rally in
Greenwood, Mississippi, called the March Against Fear. It was at this rally
that Carmichael would exclaim a culture-shifting phrase. “What we gonna
start saying now is Black Power!”

Black Power. And when Black people—especially the disenfranchised
but also antiracist ones—caught wind of this phrase and married it to
Malcolm X’s autobiography (Black Power basically sums up the book),
Black Power became a red fire burning in the Black community and
burning down the White one. Well, maybe not burning it down, but
definitely heating its butt.

What Stokely Carmichael meant by Black Power:


What (racist) White people (and media) heard:

And once again, the mere notion of antiracist ideas got purposely

jumbled into hateful extremism. There were even Black civil rights
leaders, such as Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, who were against the Black
Power mantra. Wilkins thought it was “reverse Mississippi,” and “reverse
Hitler.” He would’ve been one of the Black people Malcolm X referred to
as a Negro.

Despite all the assimilationist vomit coming from the Black elites and
the racist vomit coming from White segregationists, Carmichael and his
Black Power mantra pushed on. He traveled around the country, speaking,
building the movement. But another movement was sprouting up at the

same time.
Oakland, California. Two frustrated young men started their own two-

man movement. They called themselves the Black Panther Party for Self

I’m sure you’ve seen the photos. These days they’re on T-shirts and
posters, randomly plastered around places as if the Black Panthers were
Disney. They weren’t. The black hats and leather jackets, the sunglasses
and guns all were real. Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale weren’t
characters. They were men, fed up. So they composed a ten-point platform
of things they were fighting for in the newly founded Black Panther Party
for Self Defense.

The Ten-Point Platform (paraphrased):

1. Power to determine the destiny of our Black community.

2. Full employment.

3. An end to the robbery of the Black community by the government.

4. Decent housing.

5. Real education.

6. For all Black men to be exempt from military service.

7. An immediate end to police brutality and murder of Black people.

8. Freedom for all Black prisoners.

9. For all Black people on trial to be tried by a jury of their peers.

10. Peace, and Black representation in the United Nations.

In the next few years, the Black Panther Party spread in chapters across
the country, attracting thousands of committed and charismatic young
community members. They policed the police, provided free breakfast for

children, and organized medical services and political education programs,
among a series of other initiatives.

And with the Black Panther Party growling, and the Black Power
movement howling, Angela Davis was in Germany reading about it all.
Finally, when she couldn’t take being outside the action any longer, she
packed up and moved back to America.

It was the summer of 1967, and Angela Davis was bound for California.
The University of California, San Diego, to be exact. And as soon as she
got there, she settled in and ramped up the Black Power movement,
immediately starting a Black Student Union (BSU) on campus. Wherever
there were Black students, they were building BSUs or taking over student
governments, requesting and demanding an antiracist and relevant
education at historically Black and historically White colleges.

All sorts of different minds engaged with Black Power. Separatists,
pan-Africanists, and everything in between. Black Power even appealed to
the face of the civil rights movement. That’s right, even Dr. King, in 1967,
was turning away from assimilationist thought in the same way W. E. B.
Du Bois had later in his life. Dr. King had now realized that desegregation
was good only for elite Black people, while everyone else was harmed by
it. It left millions drowning in poverty. So King switched gears and started
planning the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Poor People’s
Campaign. His goal was to bring poor people to Washington, DC, in order
to force the government to pass an “economic bill of rights” committing to
full employment, guaranteed income, and affordable housing, a bill that
sounded a lot like the economic proposals in the Black Panther Party’s ten-
point platform.

Of course King was criticized. By his own people.
Of course White rage and fear sparked up. Too many protests. Civil

rights. Poor people. Vietnam War. Too. Many. Protests.
Of course there was a moment in the media, a pop culture phenomenon

like The Birth of a Nation or Tarzan, to send a message to White people to
take up arms and be afraid, and also to send a shock through the confident
backbone of Black America, to remind them of their place. This time, in
1968, the movie was called Planet of the Apes.

Here’s the basic plot:

1. White astronauts land on a planet after a two-thousand-year

2. Apes enslave them.

3. Turns out, they’re not on a faraway planet at all. They’re on Earth.

4. (Noooooooooooooooooo!)

While Tarzan put the racist conquering of Africa and Africans on the
screen, Planet of the Apes stoked the racist fear fire by showing the dark
world rising against the White conqueror. And just like with Tarzan,
Planet of the Apes went boom. Became a megahit, complete with sequels
and comics and merchandise. And just like that, the conversation coming
from the American government shifted to protect their “planet.” Black
Power was met by a new slogan, one spat out like a racist slur. Law and

A week later, on April 4, Angela Davis was at the new office of the
SNCC in Los Angeles. The newly organized SNCC chapter was her new
activist home as she shuffled back and forth between Los Angeles and her
doctoral studies at UC San Diego. That afternoon, she heard a scream.
Following the scream came the news. Dr. King, after giving a speech that
referenced a “human rights revolution,” had been shot dead.

King’s death transformed countless doubly conscious activists into
singly conscious antiracists, and Black Power suddenly grew into the
largest American antiracist movement ever. There was a shift happening.

James Brown made a song that insisted everyone “Say It Loud—I’m
Black and I’m Proud.” Black people started to move away from colorism,
and some reversed. The darker, the better. The kinkier the hair, the better.
The more African the clothing, the better.

From 1967 to 1970, Black students and their hundreds of thousands of
non-Black allies compelled nearly a thousand colleges and universities
spanning almost every US state to introduce Black Studies departments,
programs, and courses. The demand for Black Studies filtered down into
K–12 schools, too, where textbooks still often presented African
Americans as subhuman, happy slaves. Early Black Studies intellectuals

went to work on new antiracist textbooks. Black Studies, and Black Power
ideas in general, also began to inspire antiracist transformations among
non-Blacks. White hippies, who had been anti–Vietnam War, had now
begun pledging to (try to) strip the influence of racism from White
Americans. Puerto Rican antiracists and the emerging Brown Power
movement, which also challenged the color hierarchy. And while the
movement continued to grow, Angela Davis was dipping her toe in
different waters.

See, the Black Power movement wasn’t perfect, of course. And though
it had a righteous cause, it was still sexist. Men ran it all. Women were
pushed to the back, like they’d been in every racial liberation movement in
history. So, Davis started seriously considering joining the Communist
Party, which at the time was feared by the American government, who
thought the Communists (and communism, which was rooted in ending
social classes) would overthrow democracy. Davis, a subscriber to the
Communist ideals of revolution, felt the Communist Party hadn’t paid
enough attention to race. But there was a collective of Communists of
color that did. The Che-Lumumba Club. They were all it took to push her
over the edge and join the Party. Her first role was working on the
campaign for the first Black woman to run for the US presidency, the
Communist Party candidate Charlene Mitchell.

In the 1968 presidential election, Mitchell squared off against Lyndon
Johnson’s vice president, Hubert Humphrey. Richard Nixon ran on the
Republican ticket. His innovative campaign would reveal the future of
racist ideas.


Murder Was the Case

his campaign (Vote for Hate!) and felt like it was a good idea to follow in
his footsteps. Nixon believed the segregationist approach was a good one
because it would lock down all the true-blue segregationists. Like, the
varsity squad of racists. Along with those, Nixon figured he could also
attract the White people who were afraid of… everything Black. Black
neighborhoods. Black schools. Black… people. And the brilliant game
plan (ugh) Nixon used to drive an even bigger wedge and get racists on his
side was to simply demean Black people in every speech, while also
praising White people. But the magic trick in it all—the “how did you hide
that rabbit in that hat?” part—was that he did all this without ever actually
saying “Black people” and “White people.”

It goes back to things like the word ghetto.
And today, maybe you’ve heard urban.
Or how about undesirables?
Oh, and my favorite (not), dangerous elements.
Which would eventually become thugs.
My mother would call this “gettin’ over,” but for the sake of this not

history history book, let’s go with what the historians have named it: the
“southern strategy.” And, in fact, it was—and remained over the next five
decades—the national strategy Republicans used to unite northern and
southern racists, war hawks, and fiscal and social conservatives. The
strategy was right on time. With the southern strategy in full tilt, and with
the messaging being all about law and order—which meant doing anything
to shut down protests, or at least to paint them as bloodbaths—Richard
Nixon won the presidency.

In the fall of 1969, with Charlene Mitchell’s campaign behind her, Angela
Davis settled into a teaching position at the University of California, Los
Angeles (UCLA). But the FBI had other plans. J. Edgar Hoover, the

director of the FBI, had launched a war to destroy the Black Power
movement that year. And all they needed to cut Davis down was to know
that she was part of the Communist Party. Ronald Reagan, the governor of
California at the time, had her fired from UCLA. When she tried to plead
her case, it set off a media storm. Hate mail started filling up her mailbox.
She received threatening phone calls, and police officers started harassing
her. And even though the California Superior Court would overturn her
firing and allow her to go back to work, Reagan searched for new ways to
get rid of her.

And he would succeed. The next time, he fired her for speaking out in
defense of three Black inmates in Soledad State Prison who she felt were
detained only because they were Black Power activists. Here’s what
happened. George Jackson was transferred to Soledad from San Quentin
after disciplinary infractions. He had already served some years, after
being accused of robbing a gas station of seventy dollars. His sentence for
that crime—one year to life in prison. In 1970, a year after arriving in
Soledad, Jackson and fellow Black inmates John Clutchette and Fleeta
Drumgo were accused of murdering a prison guard in a racially charged
prison fight. Whatever chance he had at freedom was now locked up with
him behind bars.

Angela Davis had become friends with George Jackson’s younger
brother, Jonathan, who was committed to freeing his brother. They had
been rallying. Angela Davis had been speaking. They had been fighting the
good fight. But it wasn’t enough for Jonathan Jackson, brother of George.
He decided to take the freeing of his brother into his own hands.

This is real.
Pay attention.
It’s gonna go quickly.

August 7, 1970.

Jonathan Jackson walked into a courtroom in California’s Marin

He was holding three guns.

He took the judge, the prosecutor, and three jurors hostage.

He freed three inmates who were on trial.

He led the hostages to a van parked outside.

Police opened fire.

The shoot-out took the lives of the judge, two inmates, and also
Jonathan Jackson.

He was seventeen years old.

A week later, Angela Davis was charged with murder.

Record scratch. Repeat.
A week later, Angela Davis was charged with murder. Because police

said one of the guns Jonathan Jackson used was actually hers. If found
guilty, she’d be sentenced to death. Angela went on the run. She was
caught months later on the other side of the country. New York. October
13, 1970. She was arrested and brought to the New York Women’s House
of Detention. While she was in there, around so many other Black and
Brown incarcerated women, she began to develop her Black feminist

On the other side of the prison walls, organizations were fighting and
rallying for her freedom. And this rallying cry continued after December
1970, when Davis was sent back to California, where she spent most of her
jail time in solitary confinement, awaiting trial. She read the letters—
thousands of letters—from activists and supporters. She also studied her
case. Studied it and studied it and studied it. A year and a half later, her
trial finally began.

She represented herself. And won.
On June 4, 1972, Angela Davis was free. But not. Not free in her own

mind until she could help all the women and men she was leaving behind

bars get free. There was no value, to her, in her own exceptionalism. She
was an antiracist. She knew better than to beat her chest when there was a
much bigger challenge to be beaten. Much stronger chains to break.

Three years later, Angela Davis returned to teaching. Nixon had resigned
from office after a scandal he wasn’t punished for (no surprise) and Gerald
Ford was president. Just telling you that because you’d probably be
wondering what happened to Nixon. Turns out, he was… a liar and
couldn’t, as my mother would say, get over. Anyway, Davis had taken a job
at the Claremont Colleges Black Studies Center in Southern California,
and she realized quickly that not much had changed since she’d been gone.
Segregationists were still arguing some kind of natural-born problem with
Black people. And assimilationists were still trying to figure out why
integration had failed. And the one thing that Black male assimilationist
scholars kept arguing about was that Black masculinity was what was
frightening to White men. That it was sexual jealousy that spawned
systemic oppression, which is ridiculous, because it buys into the racist
idea that Black men are sexually superior (making them superhuman,
making them not human) and also continues the narrative that Black
women just don’t matter. Black women didn’t have a place in the
conversation, though they’d been the steadying stick from the moment the
conversation began. All this is in line with decades—centuries!—of racist
propaganda. Centuries of White men, and White women, and Black men,
all working to erase or discredit who they thought posed the greatest threat
to freedom, even if it’s only—in the case of Black men—the freedom to
pretend to be freer than they actually are.

And what about the LGBT community? Were they not to be included in
this conversation? Fortunately there was… media. But not another Tarzan
or Planet of the Apes. Not another Uncle Tom’s Cabin, either. This time,
just like with novelist Zora Neale Hurston, who had in the past written
southern dialect into the mouths of strong women characters (Their Eyes
Were Watching God), Black women were screaming with Black feminist,
antiracist work.

Audre Lorde produced essays, stories, and poems from the perspective
of being Black and lesbian. She pushed back against the idea that she, as a

Black person, woman, and lesbian, was expected to educate White people,
men, and/or heterosexuals in order for them to recognize her humanity.

Ntozake Shange used her creative, antiracist energy to produce a play,
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is
Enuf, portraying the lives of Black women and their experiences of abuse,
joy, heartbreak, strength, weakness, love, and longing for love. Some
people were afraid it would strengthen stereotypes of Black women. Some
were afraid it would strengthen stereotypes of Black men. Both fears are
code for the fear of an antiracist truth.

Alice Walker wrote The Color Purple, a novel that presents a Black
woman dealing with abusive Black men, abusive southern poverty, and
abusive racist Whites. The tired argument about the Black male stereotype
arose again. But… so what?

And Michele Wallace wrote a book called Black Macho and the Myth
of the Superwoman. Wallace believed sexism was an even greater concern
than racism. She was loved, but she was hated just as much.

And while the idea of Black masculinity was being challenged by Black
women, White masculinity was being threatened, constantly, by Black
men. So, once again, White America created a symbol of hope. Of “man.”
I mean, MAN. Of macho. Of victor. And plastered it on the big screen.
Again. This time his name was Rocky.

I’m sure you’ve seen at least one of the movies, even if it’s one of the
new ones. And if you haven’t, you know the fight song. The song playing
while Rocky runs up a set of museum steps, training, tired, but triumphant.

Rocky, played by Sylvester Stallone, was a poor, kind, slow-talking,
slow-punching, humble, hardworking, steel-jawed Italian American boxer
in Philadelphia, facing off against the unkind, fast-talking, fast-punching,
cocky African American world heavyweight champion. I mean, really?
Rocky’s opponent, Apollo Creed (the new movies are about his son), with
his amazing thunderstorm of punches, symbolized the empowerment
movements, the rising Black middle class, and the real-life heavyweight
champion of the world in 1976, the pride of Black Power masculinity,
Muhammad Ali. Rocky symbolized the pride of White supremacist
masculinity’s refusal to be knocked out from the thunderstorm of civil
rights and Black Power protests and policies.

Weeks before Americans ran out to see Rocky, though, they ran out to
buy Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Haley, who was
known for working with Malcolm X on his autobiography, had now
basically written the slave story of all slave stories. It was a seven-
hundred-page book, then made into a miniseries that became the most
watched show in television history. It blew up a bunch of racist ideas about
how slaves were lazy brutes, mammies, and sambos, and how slave owners
were benevolent and kind… landlords. But as much as antiracist Black
Americans loved their Roots, racist White Americans loved—on and off
screen—their Rocky, with his unrelenting fight for the law and order of
racism. And then, in 1976, their Rocky ran for president.


What War on Drugs?

the character, Sylvester Stallone (though that would’ve been funny—or
not). But it was, in fact, an actor. One who had already done damage to
Black people. The one who’d been gunning for Angela Davis. Who kept
her from working. That’s right, Ronald Reagan was running for president.
He’d lose the nomination to Gerald Ford in 1976 but would come right
back in 1980 with a vengeance. He’d use an updated version of law and
order politics and the southern strategy to address his constituents and talk
about his enemies without ever having to say White or Black. He
dominated the media (Angela Davis was running against him, for the vice
president seat, and couldn’t get any coverage), created false narratives
about the state of the country, and won.

And lots of things unfolded. New, shaky propaganda that many people
took seriously, about genetics coding us to be who we are. As if there were
a gene for racism. New antiracist feminist thought coming from writers
like bell hooks and, of course, Angela Davis. But nothing could prepare
anyone for what was coming.

Two years into Reagan’s presidency, he issued one of the most
devastating executive orders of the twentieth century. The War on Drugs.
Its role, maximum punishment for drugs like marijuana. This war was
really one on Black people. At the time, drug crime was declining. As a
matter of fact, only 2 percent of Americans viewed drugs as America’s
most pressing problem. Few believed that marijuana was even that
dangerous, especially compared with the much more addictive heroin. But
President Reagan wants to go to war? Against drugs?

If you’re like me, you’re asking yourself, Was he on drugs? Yes. Yes,
he was. The most addictive drug known to America. Racism. It causes
wealth, an inflated sense of self, and hallucinations. In this case, it would
unfairly incarcerate millions of Black Americans. And in 1986, during his
second term, Reagan doubled down on the War on Drugs by passing the
Anti–Drug Abuse Act. This bill gave a minimum five-year sentence for a

drug dealer or drug user caught with five grams of crack, the amount
typically handled by Blacks and poor people, while the mostly White and
rich users and dealers of powder cocaine—who operated in neighborhoods
with fewer police—had to be caught with five hundred grams to receive
the same five-year minimum sentence.

Let that sink in.
Same drug. Different form.
One gets five years in prison if caught with five grams (the size of two

The other gets five years in prison for five hundred grams (the size of a

The results should be obvious. Mass incarceration of Black people,

even though White people and Black people were selling and using drugs
at similar rates. Not to mention police officers policed Black
neighborhoods more, and the more police, the more arrests. It’s not rocket
science. It’s racism. And it would, once again, tear the Black community
apart. More Black men were going to prison, and when (if) they came
home, it was without the right to vote. No political voice. Also, no jobs.
Not just because of felony charges, but because Reagan’s economic
policies caused unemployment to skyrocket. So violent crimes rose
because people were hungry. And, according to Reagan and racists, it was
all Black people’s fault. Not the racist policies that jammed Black people

And the media, as always, drove the stereotypes without discussing the
racist framework that created much of them. Once again, Black people
were lazy and violent, the men were absent from the home because they
were irresponsible and careless, and the Black family was withering due to
all this, but especially, according to Reagan, because of welfare. There was
no evidence to support any of this, but hey, who needs evidence when you
have power, right?

The worst part is that everyone believed it. Even Black people. And to
offset that image, or at least attempt to, another television show was
created portraying the perfect Black family.

The Cosby Show.
A doctor and a lawyer with five children, in the upscale section of

Brooklyn Heights. Upper middle class. Healthy marriage. Good parents.

The father, Heathcliff Huxtable, played by Bill Cosby, even has his office
in his home so that he never has to risk not being there for his children.
There’s the older, responsible daughter; the rebellious second daughter;
the goofy but endearing son; the awkward and nerdy third daughter; and
the cute, lovable baby girl. And their collective role as a family of
extraordinary Negroes was to convince White people that Black families
were more than what they were being portrayed to be. Which of course
was racist in and of itself, because it basically said that if a Black family
didn’t operate like the Huxtables, they weren’t worthy of respect.

And, of course, the Cosbys did nothing to slow Reagan’s war. If
anything, the show helped create a more polarizing view, because in 1989,
a Pulitzer Prize–winning, Harvard medical degree–holding Washington
Post columnist named Charles Krauthammer invented the term crack
baby. It was a term used to blanket a generation of Black children born
from drug-addicted parents, saying they were now destined for inferiority.
That they were subhuman. That the drugs had changed their genetics.
There was no science to prove any of this. But who needs science when
you have racism? And that term, that label, crack baby, grew long arms
and wrapped them around Black children all over the inner cities of
America, whether it was true or not. Krauthammer and racists had
basically figured out how to create a generation of criminals in their

But Black people, as always, fought back. And this time, in the late
eighties, after the election of George H. W. Bush (who of course used
Reagan’s racist ideas to win), they would beat racism back with… a beat.


The Soundtrack of Sorrow and


My mic sounds nice. (Check one.)
My mic sounds nice. (Check two.)
Hip-hop had arrived. It had been about a decade since it was born in the

South Bronx. BET and MTV started airing hip-hop shows. The Source
magazine hit newsstands that year, beginning its reign as the world’s
longest-running rap periodical. But it was the music itself that was driving
change and empowerment.

Here are a few songs from that year (check them out!):

Slick Rick: “Children’s Story”

Ice-T: “Colors”

N.W.A.: “Straight Outta Compton”

Boogie Down Productions: “Stop the Violence”

Queen Latifah: “Wrath of My Madness”

Public Enemy: “Don’t Believe the Hype”

It would be Public Enemy that really set the tone the following year. In
1989, they wrote a song that was placed in Spike Lee’s Black rebellion
movie Do the Right Thing. The song was a forceful mantra. An updated
version of Stokely Carmichael’s “Black Power!” and James Brown’s “Say
It Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud.” For the new generation of hip-hop

heads and rebellious Black teenagers angry about racist mistreatment, it
was Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.”

And with all the Black feminist thought, including the work of
Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, who focused on the intersection between
race and sex, women rappers like MC Lyte and Salt-N-Pepa took their
place on the hip-hop stage. Actually, they fared better than women in
Hollywood because at least their art was in mass circulation. Aside from
Julie Dash’s pioneering Daughters of the Dust, Black men were the only
ones producing major Black films in 1991. These included illustrious
films like Mario Van Peebles’s New Jack City; John Singleton’s debut
antiracist tragedy, Boyz N the Hood; and Spike Lee’s acclaimed interracial
relationship satire, Jungle Fever.

Black men produced more films in 1991 than during all of the 1980s.
But a White man, George Holliday, shot the most influential racial film of
the year on March 3 from the balcony of his Los Angeles apartment. He
was filming a twenty-five-year-old Black man, Rodney King, being
brutally beaten by four Los Angeles police officers.

The public—the Black public—broke open. The levees holding back
the waters of righteous indignation crumbled under the sight of those
officers’ batons.

How much more can we take?
How much more?
President Bush danced around the issue. Appointed a Black Supreme

Court justice, Clarence Thomas, to replace Thurgood Marshall, as if that
were supposed to pacify an angry and hurt Black community. And to make
matters worse, Clarence Thomas was an assimilationist in the worst way.
He saw himself as the king of self-reliance. A “pick yourselves up by the
bootstraps” kind of guy, even though his work as an activist got him into
his fancy schools and landed him this fancy job. And to add the racist
cherry on top, Clarence Thomas had been accused by a woman named
Anita Hill of sexual harassment when she served as his assistant at an
earlier job. Nothing was done. No one believed her. In fact, she was

So, in 1991, Angela Davis was reeling. Her year had started with the
brutal beating of Rodney King (the cops were on trial at this point) and
ended with the verbal lashing of Anita Hill (Thomas was confirmed as a

Supreme Court justice anyway). As if the reminder that being Black and
being a woman weren’t enough of a double whammy, the year also ended
for Davis in an unfamiliar place. She had taken a new professorship at the
University of California, Santa Cruz, and stepped away from the
Communist Party after spending twenty-three years as the most
recognizable Communist in America. The Party refused to acknowledge
the issues that Davis had fought so hard to bring to light. Racism. Sexism.
Elitism. All things the Communist Party ultimately took part in
perpetuating. So she left. But she didn’t jump from Communist to
Democrat. Or rather, a New Democrat, as the party was going through a bit
of an overhaul. A remix. A revamp. Fiscally liberal, but tough on welfare
and crime. And the man leading this new Democratic Party was a dazzling,
well-spoken, and calculating Arkansas governor named Bill Clinton.

It was 1992. And by the time the cops who had beaten Rodney King
were found not guilty, Clinton had already run away with the Democratic
nomination. But who could think about that when America had just told
millions of people who had watched the Rodney King beating that those
officers had done nothing wrong? So, Black people hit the L.A. streets in
rebellion. It would take twenty thousand troops to stop them. Bill Clinton
blamed both political parties for failing Black America while also blaming
Black America and calling the people in the midst of the uprising—people
in immense pain—lawless vandals.

About a month later, Clinton took his campaign to the national
conference of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition. Though Jackson was
widely unpopular among the racist Whites whom Clinton was trying to
attract to the New Democrats, when Jackson invited the hip-hop artist
Sister Souljah to address the conference, the Clinton team saw its political
opportunity. The twenty-eight-year-old Bronx native had just released 360
Degrees of Power, an antiracist album so provocative that it made Spike
Lee’s films and Ice Cube’s albums seem like The Cosby Show.

And Clinton’s response to Sister Souljah was that she was being racist.
It was a political stunt, but it thrilled racist voters, and catapulted Clinton
to a lead he’d never lose.

By the end of 1993, rappers were under attack. They were being
criticized from all sides, not just from Bill Clinton. Sixty-six-year-old
civil rights veteran C. Delores Tucker and her National Political Congress

of Black Women took the media portrayals debate to a new racist level in
their strong campaign to ban “gangsta rap.” To her, rap music was setting
Black people back. She felt like it was making Black people more violent,
more materialistic, more sexual. To Tucker, the music was making its
urban Black listeners inferior, though she never said anything about its
suburban White listeners.

While Tucker focused on shutting down gangsta rap, the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology historian Evelyn Hammonds mobilized to defend
against the defamation of Black womanhood. More than two thousand
Black female scholars from all across the country made their way to MIT’s
campus on January 13, 1994, for “Black Women in the Academy:
Defending Our Name, 1894–1994.” Among them was Angela Davis. She
was the conference’s closing speaker. She was certainly the nation’s most
famous Black American woman academic. But, more important, over the
course of her career, she had consistently defended Black women,
including those Black women who even some Black women did not want
to defend. She had been arguably America’s most antiracist voice over the
past two decades, unwavering in her search for antiracist explanations
when others took the easier and racist way of Black blame.

In her speech, she proposed a “new abolitionism,” pushing for a
rethinking of prisons and how they function. Ten days later, President Bill
Clinton endorsed, basically, a new slavery. A “three strikes and you’re out”
law. It was called the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act,
giving hard time to certain three-time offenders, which ended up causing
the largest increase of the prison population in US history, mostly on
nonviolent drug offenses. Mostly Black men. Of course, this once more
put fuel in the “Black people are naturally criminals” vehicle, a vehicle
that had been driving fast for a long time, running over everything in its
path. But there was (another) academic debate brewing on whether Black
people were natural or nurtured fools. And this particular debate had
serious political repercussions for Clinton’s tough-on-Blacks New
Democrats, and the newest force in American politics, which pledged to be
even tougher.


A Million Strong

Either way, it was what academics were talking about as Bill Clinton’s
crime laws drove the unintelligent-Black narrative. What scholars were
arguing is that intelligence is so relative, it’s impossible to actually
measure fairly and without bias. Uh-oh. This notion virtually shook the
foundations of the racist ideas that Black people were less intelligent than
White people. Or that women were less intelligent than men. Or that poor
people were less intelligent than rich. It shook the idea that White schools
were better, and even poked at the reason White students were perhaps
going to wealthy White universities—not because of intelligence but
because of racism. In the form of flawed and biased standardized testing.

Enter Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray. Harvard guys. They
wouldn’t stand for this kind of talk. No, no, no. So they wrote a book
refuting it all. It was called The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class
Structure in American Life. The book argued that standardized testing was
real and valid and, most important, fair. Which then meant that Black
people, who were disproportionately doing poorly on these tests, were
intellectually inferior due to genetics or environment. (I wish there was
something new to add. But, as you can see, the entire history was a
recycling of the same racist ideas. Not the most original people, those

The year is 1994. And Herrnstein and Murray’s book was published
during the final stretch of the midterm elections. New Republicans issued
their extremely tough “Contract with America” to take the welfare and
crime issue back from Clinton’s New Democrats. (Funny how all the new
things feel so… old.) Charles Murray jumped on board and started to rally
voters and campaign for the Republicans by encouraging and rationalizing
the anti-welfare bill, called the Personal Responsibility and Work
Opportunity Reconciliation Act.

Personal responsibility… hmmm.
This was another one of those get-overs.

The mandate was simple enough: Black people, especially poor Black
people, needed to take “personal responsibility” for their economic
situation and for racial disparities and stop blaming racism for their
problems and depending on the government to fix them. It convinced a
new generation of Americans that irresponsible Black people, not racism,
caused the racial inequities. It sold the lie that racism has had no effect. So
Black people should stop crying about it.

It became a game of one-ups. The Democrats were tough on crime and
welfare. The Republicans got tougher. Then the Democrats got tougher.
Then the Republicans got tougher. So tough that they tried, once more, to
get Angela Davis fired after University of California, Santa Cruz’s faculty
awarded her the prestigious President’s Chair professorship in January
1995. She was still a threat. But how could she be a threat while at the
same time Republicans were claiming racism was over? What would she
be threatening? What would she still be fighting? Why would she need to
be fired?

Not to mention, 1995 was a year that made clear that racism was far
from over.

I mean, 1995 was when the O. J. Simpson thing happened. The trial. I
know you know about it. If not, he was accused of killing his wife and her
friend, both White. The trial split the country in half, with Black people
rooting for O. J.’s acquittal and White people rooting for his
imprisonment. It was like watching the worst reality show of all time.

The year 1995 was when the term super predator was created by
Princeton University scholar John J. Dilulio to describe Black fourteen- to
seventeen-year-olds. Murder rates were up among that age range, but so
was unemployment. Of course, Dilulio left that part out.

The year 1995 was also when the biggest political mobilization in
Black American history took place. The Million Man March. It had been
proposed by Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. Though the
march was powerful in its groundswell, it was flawed in its sexism, which
Angela Davis spoke out against the day before the march.

The year 1995 was when activists would come together to defend the
world’s most famous Black male political prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal. He
had been convicted of killing a White police officer in Philadelphia in
1982, though he claims innocence. A book of his commentaries was

published that year, Live from Death Row. His execution was to be August
17, 1995, but because of the protests, Mumia was granted an indefinite
stay of execution.

And where was Bill Clinton when all this was going on? Not at the
Million Man March, that’s for sure. He was in Texas, pleading to
evangelicals for racial healing. Instead of listening to the people dealing
with it, he went to beg people not dealing with it to ask God to fix it. And,
of course, it slipped into pray God fixes Black people. Even though a year
later, affirmative action was banned in California, making the playing
field, especially as it pertained to higher education, more lopsided. The
percentage of African Americans at University of California campuses
began to decline, and the push for the end of affirmative action would
spread, all under Bill Clinton’s watch.

A year later, in June 1997, Clinton gave a commencement address at
Angela Davis’s alma mater, UC San Diego. It was as if suddenly he’d seen
the light (the irony!) and pledged to lead “the American people in a great
and unprecedented conversation on race.”

Racial reformers applauded him.
And Black women had something to say. A nudge. You know, to get the

conversation started.
And when I say Black women, what I mean is… one million of them.
On October 25, 1997, in Philadelphia, a million Black women gathered

to have their voices heard. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Sister Souljah,
Winnie Mandela, Attallah and Ilyasah Shabazz (daughters of Malcolm X),
and Dorothy Height all spoke. But so did White men. Not at the march, but
in the media. And what they argued in response to Clinton’s statements
was that the way to fix racism was to stop focusing on it.

But that’s what they said. And that sentiment set the tone for what

would become “color blindness.”
Take a breath. How many of you know the “I have a Black friend”

person, who then follows that statement with this one: “But I don’t see


This color-blind rhetoric seemed to have its intended effect.
Segregationists and assimilationists started favoring the color-blind
product nearly a century after the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of
“separate but equal.” And it had the same effect. Lip service. The
millennium was coming, and people still couldn’t fathom equality,
because of color. But they used a new “multicultural” paint to brush over a
racist stain. And a single coat wouldn’t do.


A Bill Too Many

yet not surprising at all?

Scientific evidence that the races are 99.9 percent the same was
brought forth on June 26, 2000. The year 2000 was when people were
given scientific evidence that human beings were the same, despite the
color of their skin. Isn’t that wild?

Bill Clinton delivered the news as if it were news.
But Craig Venter, one of the scientists responsible, was more frank than

Clinton in how he spoke about it. “The concept of race has no genetic or
scientific basis,” Venter said. His research team at Celera Genomics had
determined “the genetic code” of five individuals, who were identified as
either “Hispanic, Asian, Caucasian, or African American,” and the
scientists could not tell one race from another.

But there was 0.1 percent still out there. And that 0.1 percent difference
between humans must be racial. Whether it is or isn’t, it was going to be
exploited by racist scientists who did everything they could to provide
evidence that the races were biologically different. First curse theory and
polygenesis, and now genes—racists were relentless.

But they didn’t get much traction. Months later, the United States
Report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination pointed out what was now the broken US race record:
There had been “substantial successes,” but there were “significant
obstacles” remaining. It was September 2000, and Texas governor George
W. Bush was pledging to restore “honor and dignity” to the White House,
while Vice President Al Gore was trying to distance himself from Bill
Clinton’s impeachment scandal. The report’s findings of discrimination
and disparities across the American board did not become campaign
talking points, as they reflected poorly on both the Clinton administration
and the Republicans’ color-blind America. Science says the races are
biologically equal. So, if they’re not equal in society, the only reason why
can be racism.

And it played out again in the law a few months later, when tens of
thousands of Black voters in Governor Jeb Bush’s Florida were barred
from voting or had their votes destroyed, allowing George W. Bush to win
his brother’s state by fewer than five hundred votes. This racist act would
end up leading George W. Bush to the presidency.

But once in office, he also couldn’t stop the antiracist momentum. The
reparations conversation had kicked into high gear, and nearly twelve
thousand women and men ventured to beautiful Durban, South Africa, for
the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial
Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held from August 31
to September 7, 2001. Delegates passed around a report on the prison-
industrial complex and women of color that had been coauthored by
Angela Davis. They also identified the Internet as the latest mechanism for
spreading racist ideas, citing the roughly sixty thousand White
supremacist sites and the racist statements so often made in comments
sections following online stories about Black people. The United States
had the largest delegation, and antiracist Americans established fruitful
connections with activists from around the world, many of whom wanted
to ensure that the conference kicked off a global antiracist movement. As
participants started venturing back to Senegal, the United States, Japan,
Brazil, and France around September 7, 2001, they carried their antiracist
momentum around the world.

And then it all came crashing down. Literally. September 11, 2001.
After about three thousand Americans heartbreakingly lost their lives in
attacks on the World Trade Center, on the Pentagon, on United Airlines
Flight 93 that went down in Pennsylvania, President Bush condemned the
“evil-doers,” the insane “terrorists,” all the while promoting anti-Islamic
and anti-Arab sentiments. Color-blind racists exploited the raw feelings in
the post-9/11 moment, playing up a united, patriotic America, where
anyone who wasn’t waving a flag was in fact an enemy to the country.

But there was no united front. Not in the broad scheme of things.
Affirmative action was still being challenged, and no one wanted to
grapple with the fact that the issue with education could be better dealt
with if the racial preferences of standardized testing were eradicated. But
the use of standardized testing grew in K–12 schooling when the Bush
administration’s bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act took effect in 2003.

The premise was simple. Set high goals and test often to see if those goals
are being met. And then fund the schools based on those results. And
though it was called No Child Left Behind, it actually encouraged
mechanisms that decreased funding to schools when students were not
making improvements, thus leaving the neediest students behind. It once
again put the blame on Black children. And Black teachers. And public
schools. Not on racist policies.

And the worst part is that Black assimilationists bought in once more.
People like Bill Cosby, who blamed Black parents. “The lower economic
people are not holding up their end in this deal. These people are not
parenting,” Cosby said in Washington, DC, after being honored at an
NAACP gala in May 2004. “They are buying things for kids. Five-
hundred-dollar sneakers for what? And they won’t spend two hundred
dollars for Hooked on Phonics. I am talking about these people who cry
when their son is standing there in an orange suit.”

And while Bill Cosby took his racist ideas on the road for a speaking
tour, a rising star of the Democratic Party, Barack Obama, subverted
Cosby’s message during his keynote address at the Democratic National
Convention in Boston on July 27, 2004. “Go into any inner-city
neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can’t teach
kids to learn. They know that parents have to teach, that children can’t
achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets
and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting
white. They know those things.” A booming applause interrupted Obama
as his takedown of Cosby’s critique settled in. Obama presented himself as
a racial and socioeconomic unicorn. Humble beginnings and a lofty ascent.
Both native and immigrant ancestry. Also, both African and European
ancestry. He checked every box. And though at the time he was
campaigning for John Kerry (who would lose the election to George W.
Bush), it was clear a star was born.


A Miracle and Still a Maybe

memoir, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, was
republished. It rushed up the charts and snatched rave reviews in the final
months of 2004. Toni Morrison, the queen of American letters and the
editor of Angela Davis’s iconic memoir three decades earlier, deemed
Dreams from My Father “quite extraordinary.” Obama had written the
memoir in the racially packed year of 1995 as he prepared to begin his
political career in the Illinois Senate.

In the book, he claimed to be exempt from being an “extraordinary
Negro,” but racist Americans of all colors would in 2004 begin hailing
Barack Obama, with all his public intelligence, morality, speaking ability,
and political success, as such. The “extraordinary Negro” hallmark had
come a mighty long way from Phillis Wheatley to Barack Obama, who
became the nation’s only African American in the US Senate in 2005.
With Phillis Wheatley, racists despised the capable Black mind, but with
Obama, they were turning their backs on history so that they could see him
as a symbol of a post-racial America. An excuse to say the ugliness is

But it was a devastating natural and racial disaster that summer that
would burst the bubble of post-racial make-believe, and if anything, forced
a tense debate about racism. During the final days of August 2005,
Hurricane Katrina took more than 1,800 lives, forced millions to migrate,
flooded the beautiful Gulf Coast, and caused billions in property damage.
Hurricane Katrina blew the color-blind roof off America and allowed all to
see—if they dared to look—the dreadful progression of racism.

For years, scientists and journalists had warned that if southern
Louisiana took “a direct hit from a major hurricane,” the levees could fail
and the region—a poor Black community—would be flooded and
destroyed. No one did anything.

And once it happened, the response from the Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA) was delayed. It was rumored that the Bush

administration directed FEMA to delay its response in order to amplify the
destructive reward for those who would benefit. Whether or not this is
true, they were delayed. And people were drowning. It took three days to
deploy rescue troops to the Gulf Coast region, more time than it took to
get troops on the ground to quell the 1992 Rodney King rebellion. And
then came the media. This time spinning tales of looting and gruesome,
sensationalized stories of children in the Superdome (where people were
being sheltered) having their throats cut.

In the era of color-blind racism, no matter how gruesome the racial
crime, no matter how much evidence was stacked against them, racists
were standing before the judge and pleading “not guilty.” But how many
criminals actually confess when they don’t have to? From “civilizers” to
standardized testers, assimilationists have rarely confessed to racism.
Enslavers and Jim Crow segregationists went to their graves claiming
innocence. And just as many presidents before him have, including
Reagan, Lincoln, and Jefferson, George W. Bush will likely do the same.

On February 10, 2007, Barack Obama stood in front of the Old State
Capitol building in Springfield, Illinois, and formally announced his
presidential candidacy. He stood on the same spot where Abraham Lincoln
had delivered his historic “House Divided” speech in 1858. Obama
brimmed with words of American unity, hope, and change. No one saw
him coming. As a matter of fact, everyone said Hillary Clinton was the
inevitable choice, until Obama came through Iowa and snatched it from
under her nose. By February 5, 2008, Super Tuesday (the Tuesday in the
presidential election season when the greatest number of states hold
primary elections), Americans had been swept up in the Obama “Yes We
Can” crusade of hope and change, themes he embodied and spoke about so
eloquently in his speeches that people started to hunger for him. But in
mid-February, his perceptive and brilliant wife, Michelle Obama, told a
Milwaukee rally, “For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of
my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think
people are hungry for change.” That’s all racists needed to pounce and call
her unpatriotic. To try to tear the Obamas down and discredit them. Racist
commentators became obsessed with Michelle Obama’s body, her near-

six-foot, chiseled, and curvy frame simultaneously semi-masculine and
hyper-feminine. They searched for problems in her Black marriage and
family, calling them extraordinary when they did not find any.

Then they found a scapegoat in one of Black America’s most revered
liberation theologians, the recently retired pastor of Chicago’s large
Trinity United Church of Christ—Jeremiah Wright. He’d officiated at the
Obamas’ wedding and spoke honestly about his feelings for a country that
had worked overtime to kill him and his people. But the media used
Wright’s critiques of America to slander Obama.

Obama tried to brush it off. Tried to downplay his relationship with
Pastor Wright, but nothing was working. So, instead, he delivered the
speech of his life. It was called “A More Perfect Union.” It was a speech
on race, and it teetered back and forth between painful assimilationist
thought and bold antiracism.

And it worked. It pushed him on, past the barrage of obstacles to come,
including the one fueled by Donald Trump that challenged whether or not
Obama was an American.

And on November 4, 2008, a sixty-four-year-old recently retired
professor, Angela Davis, cast a vote for a major political party for the first
time in her voting life. She had retired from academia but not from her
very public activism of four decades. She was still traveling the country
trying to rouse an abolitionist movement against prisons. In casting her
vote for Democrat Barack Obama, Davis joined roughly 69.5 million
Americans. But more than voting for the man, Davis voted for the
grassroots efforts of the campaign organizers, those millions of people
demanding change.

When the networks started announcing that Obama had been elected
the forty-fourth president of the United States, happiness exploded from
coast to coast. It burst from the United States and spread around the
antiracist world. Davis was in the delirium of Oakland. People whom she
did not know came up and hugged her as she walked the streets. She saw
people singing to the heavens, and she saw people dancing in the streets.
And the people Angela Davis saw and all the others around the world who
were celebrating were not enraptured from the election of an individual;
they were enraptured by the pride of the victory for Black people, by the
success of millions of grassroots organizers, and because they had shown

all those disbelievers, who had said that electing a Black president was
impossible, to be wrong. Most of all, they were enraptured by the
antiracist potential of a Black president.

But, like my mother says, there’s not much payout for potential, is
there? President Obama was a symbol. Yes, one of hope. One of progress.
But also one of assimilationism. So much so that he was used to explain
racism away. Used to absolve it. Obama fell in line with the likes of
Lincoln, Du Bois, Washington, Douglass, and many others, who had
flashes—true moments—of antiracist thought, but always seemed to
assimilate under pressure. He rose to fame for calling out Bill Cosby for
blaming Black people, then dived headfirst into assimilation shortly
thereafter, critiquing Black people in the exact same ways. And just as
with the Black leaders before him, the assimilation didn’t work.
Segregationists climbed out of every hateful hole and out from under
every racist rock. They hated him, worked tirelessly to destroy and
discredit him, and used him as a way to demean Black people. To ramp up
racist absurdity and stereotypes, once again calling back to their favorite
bigoted playlist, playing all the classic racist tunes—Black savage, Black
dummy, Black do-nothing, Black be-nothing. Anything to smear President
Obama and Black people in the media. Racist politicians and media
personalities worked to figure out ways to tamp down the ego that they
assumed came with a Black president.

And came with being Black in the time of a Black president.
And came with… being Black.
People started to die. People continued to die. Children’s lives, ended at

the hands of police officers and vigilantes who placed no value on Black
humanity. Police officers and vigilantes who walk free. But, just like in
other parts of America’s racist history, antiracists push forth from the
margins to fight back. Black President or not.

Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi founded
#BlackLivesMatter as a direct response to racist backlash in the form of
police brutality. From the minds and hearts of these three Black women—
two of whom are queer—this declaration of love intuitively signified that
in order to truly be antiracists, we must also oppose all the sexism,
homophobia, colorism, ethnocentrism, nativism, cultural prejudice, and
class bias teeming and teaming with racism to harm so many Black lives.

The antiracist declaration of the era quickly leaped from social media onto
shouting signs and shouting mouths at antiracist protests across the
country in 2014. These protesters rejected the racist declaration of six
centuries: that Black lives don’t matter. #BlackLivesMatter quickly
transformed from an antiracist love declaration into an antiracist
movement filled with young people operating in local BLM groups across
the nation, often led by young Black women. Collectively, these activists
were pressing against discrimination in all forms, in all areas of society,
and from a myriad of vantage points. And in reaction to those who acted as
if Black male lives mattered the most, antiracist feminists boldly
demanded of America to #SayHerName, to shine light on the women who
have also been affected by the hands and feet of racism. Perhaps they, the
antiracist daughters of Davis, should be held up as symbols of hope, for
taking potential and turning it into power. More important, perhaps we
should all do the same.


book, you’re left with some answers. I hope it’s clear how the construct of
race has always been used to gain and keep power, whether financially or
politically. How it has always been used to create dynamics that separate
us to keep us quiet. To keep the ball of White and rich privilege rolling.
And that it’s not woven into people as much as it’s woven into policy that
people adhere to and believe is truth.

Laws that have kept Black people from freedom, from voting, from
education, from insurance, from housing, from government assistance,
from health care, from shopping, from walking, from driving, from…

Laws that treat Black human beings like nothing. No, like animals.
Let’s go with that. Animals. If we call a particular person a dog long

enough, someone who is not like that person and who has more power than
that person will believe it. Especially if we give the powerful person a
leash and justify putting it around the oppressed person’s neck. If we
justify feeding them dog food. If we muzzle them when they bark,
claiming that their barks, as well as their whines, are violent. If we clip
their tail. Their ears. Punish them when they chew up the house, when they
gnaw at the wooden door. And if we can convince the person with power
that a child is a dog—if we present (fraudulent) pedigree papers—why
would they even question humans (as dogs) being considered pets, being
owned, trained, used, bred, and sold?

This is how racism works.
I mean, all it takes is the right kind of media to spark it. To spin it. At

least, that’s what history has shown us. Tell a certain story a certain way.

Make a movie that paints you as the hero. Get enough people on your side
to tell you you’re right, and you’re right. Even if you’re wrong. And once
you’ve been told you’re right long enough, and once your being right has
led you to a profitable and privileged life, you’d do anything to not be
proved wrong. Even pretend human beings aren’t human beings.

From Zurara to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Sojourner Truth to Audre
Lorde. Ida B. Wells-Barnett to Zora Neale Hurston. Frederick Douglass to
Marcus Garvey. Jack Johnson to Muhammad Ali. Tarzan to Planet of the
Apes. Ma Rainey to Public Enemy. Langston Hughes to James Baldwin.

Cotton Mather

to Thomas Jefferson

to William Lloyd Garrison

to W. E. B. Du Bois

to Angela Davis

to Angela Davis

to Angela Davis,

leads back to the question of whether you, reader, want to be a
segregationist (a hater), an assimilationist (a coward), or an antiracist
(someone who truly loves).

Choice is yours.
Don’t freak out.
Just breathe in. Inhale. Hold it. Now exhale slowly:



Yoskowitz at Little, Brown, and my agent, Elena Giovinazzo, both of
whom believed I was capable of doing this. I’d like to thank my mother,
who believes I’m capable of doing anything. And, of course, I’d like to
thank Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. Your brilliance and diligence are to be praised.
Thank you for being an example and for trusting me with such a special
project. More important, thank you for this massive and groundbreaking
contribution to our complex history. Your book is a new cornerstone in the
American race conversation. Your voice is a new tuning fork.

But there is no one I’d like to thank more than all the young people.
Those who have read this book (and are now reading it) and those who
may never break the spine. All of you deserve thanks. All of you deserve
acknowledgment. All of you deserve to know that you are in fact the
antidote to anti-Blackness, xenophobia, homophobia, classism, sexism,
and the other cancers that you have not caused but surely have the
potential to cure.

You know how I know this? Because I’m one of the fortunate people
who get to spend time with you. I’ve been in your schools, have walked
the hallways with you. I’ve sat at your lunch tables and cracked jokes with
you. I’ve popped into your libraries and community centers, from the
suburbs to public-housing complexes. I’ve been to the alternative schools
and the detention centers. From inner city to Iowa. And what I’ve learned
is that you’re far more open and empathetic than the generations before
you. So much so, that your sensitivity is used as an insult, a slight against
you. Your desire for a fair world is seen as a weakness. What I’ve learned
is that your anger is global, because the world now sits in the palm of your

hand. You have the ability to teleport, to scroll upon a war zone or a
murder. To witness protest and revolution from cultures not your own but
who share your frustration. Your refusal. Your fear.

But I have to warn you:
Scrolling will never be enough.
Reposting will never be enough.
Hashtagging will never be enough.
Because hatred has a way of convincing us that half love is whole.

What I mean by that is we—all of us—have to fight against performance
and lean into participation. We have to be participants. Active. We have to
be more than audience members sitting comfortably in the stands of
morality, shouting, “WRONG!” That’s too easy. Instead, we must be
players on the field, on the court, in our classrooms and communities,
trying to do right. Because it takes a whole hand—both hands—to grab
hold of hatred. Not just a texting thumb and a scrolling index finger.

But I have to warn you, again:
We can’t attack a thing we don’t know.
That’s dangerous. And… foolish. It would be like trying to chop down a

tree from the top of it. If we understand how the tree works, how the trunk
and roots are where the power lies, and how gravity is on our side, we can
attack it, each of us with small axes, and change the face of the forest.

So let’s learn all there is to know about the tree of racism. The root.
The fruit. The sap and trunk. The nests built over time, the changing
leaves. That way, your generation can finally, actively chop it down.

Thank you, young people. I wish I could name you all.
But I’d much rather you name yourselves.


I would like to acknowledge all the people I know and do not know who
assisted and supported me in composing Stamped from the Beginning,
which this book is based on. From my ever-loving family members and

friends to my ever-supportive colleagues across academia and at American
University, and to the countless thinkers, dead and alive, inside and outside
academia, whose works on race have shaped my thinking and this history
—I thank you. Without a doubt, this book is as much by you as it is by me.

I aimed to write a history book that could be devoured by as many
people as possible—without shortchanging the serious complexities—
because racist ideas and their history have affected all of us. But Jason
Reynolds took his remix of Stamped from the Beginning to another level of
accessibility and luster. I can’t thank him enough for his willingness to
produce this sophisticated remix that will impact generations of young and
not so young people.

I would like to acknowledge my agent, Ayesha Pande, who from the
beginning was one of the major champions of Stamped from the Beginning
and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. Ayesha, I do not take for
granted that you believed in these books. And I must thank Little, Brown
Books for Young Readers and our remarkable editor, Lisa Yoskowitz, who
from the beginning clearly recognized the importance and potential impact
of Stamped. To Katy O’Donnell at Bold Type Books, thank you again for
working with me on Stamped from the Beginning. To Michelle Campbell,
Jackie Engel, Jen Graham, Karina Granda, Siena Koncsol, Christie Michel,
Michael Pietsch, Emilie Polster, Victoria Stapleton, Megan Tingley—to
all the people involved in the production and marketing of this book, I
cannot thank you enough.

I would like to give a special acknowledgment to my parents, Carol and
Larry Rogers, and to my brothers, Akil and Macharia. Love is truly a verb,
and I thank you for your love.

I saved one person, who was as excited as I was that Jason and I were
working together on this book, for last—my wife, Sadiqa. Thank you,
Sadiqa, and thank you, everyone, for everything.


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Complete Writings by Phillis Wheatley (Penguin Classics, 2001)
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass (Anti-

Slavery Office, 1845; Signet Classics Edition, 2005)
Narrative of Sojourner Truth by Sojourner Truth (Printed for the Author,

1850; Penguin Classic Editions, 1998)
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (J. B. Lippincott,

1937; HarperCollins, 2000)
The Black Jacobins by C. L. R. James (Secker & Warburg, 1938)
Native Son by Richard Wright (Harper & Brothers, 1940)
Montage of a Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes (Henry Holt, 1951)
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (Random House, 1952)
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (Dial Press, 1963)
The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley by Malcolm X

(Grove Press, 1965; Ballantine Books, 1992)
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (Random House,

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970)
The Dutchman by LeRoi Jones (Quill Editions, 1971)
The Color Purple by Alice Walker (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982)
Women, Race, and Class by Angela Y. Davis (Vintage Books, 1983)
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde (Crossing Press, 1984)
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is

Enuf by Ntozake Shange (Scribner, 1989)
Monster by Walter Dean Myers (HarperCollins, 1999)

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (The New Press, 2010)
Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness by Rebecca Walker (Soft

Skull Press, 2012)
Long Division by Kiese Laymon (Agate Bolden, 2013)
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Putnam/Nancy Paulsen

Books, 2014)
How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon (Henry Holt, 2014)
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

(Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2015)
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel & Grau, 2015)
March (Books 1–3) by John Lewis (Top Shelf Productions, 2016)
Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi (Bold Type Books, 2016)
The Fire This Time edited by Jesmyn Ward (Scribner, 2016)
Dear Martin by Nic Stone (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2017)
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books,

Miles Morales: Spider-Man (A Marvel YA Novel) by Jason Reynolds

(Marvel Press, 2017)
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Balzer + Bray, 2017)
Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro (Tor Teen, 2018)
Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston (Amistad, 2018)
Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown Books for Young

Readers, 2018)
Black Enough edited by Ibi Zoboi (Balzer + Bray, 2019)
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (One World, 2019)
Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan (Bloomsbury, 2019)



1 Young Black males were twenty-one times more likely to be killed:
Ryan Gabrielson, Ryann Grochowski Jones, and Eric Sagara, “Deadly
Force, in Black and White,” ProPublica, October 10, 2014; Rakesh
Kochhar and Richard Fry, “Wealth Inequality Has Widened Along
Racial, Ethnic Lines Since End of Great Recession,” December 12,
2014, Pew Research Center,
tank/2014/12/12/racial-wealth-gaps-great-recession; Sabrina Tavernise,
“Racial Disparities in Life Spans Narrow, but Persist,” New York Times,
July 18, 2013,

2 Black people should make up somewhere close to 13 percent: Leah
Sakala, “Breaking Down Mass Incarceration in the 2010 Census: State-
by-State Incarceration Rates by Race/Ethnicity,” Prison Policy
Initiative, May 28, 2014,;
Matt Bruenig, “The Racial Wealth Gap,” American Prospect,
November 6, 2013,

3 Historically, there have been three groups involved: Ruth Benedict,
Race: Science and Politics (New York: Modern Age Books, 1940);
Ruth Benedict, Race and Racism (London: G. Routledge and Sons,

SECTION 1: 1415–1728

CHAPTER 1: The Story of the World’s First Racist

1 He wrote the story, a biography of the life and slave trading of Prince

Henry: P. E. Russell, Prince Henry “the Navigator”: A Life (New
Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), 6; Gomes Eanes de Zurara,
Charles Raymond Beazley, and Edgar Prestage, Chronicle of the
Discovery and Conquest of Guinea, 2 vols. (London: Printed for the
Hakluyt Society, 1896), 1, 6, 7, 29.

2 Prince Henry’s cut, like a finder’s fee: 185 slaves: Hugh Thomas, The
Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440–1870 (New
York: Simon and Schuster, 1997); Zurara et al., Chronicle, xx–xl;
Russell, Prince Henry “the Navigator,” 246.

3 the primary source of knowledge on unknown Africa and African
peoples: Zurara et al., Chronicle, lv–lviii; Francisco Bethencourt,
Racisms: From the Crusades to the Twentieth Century (Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 2013), 187.

4 Africanus echoed Zurara’s sentiments of Africans: Leo Africanus, John
Pory, and Robert Brown, The History and Description of Africa, 3 vols.
(London: Hakluyt Society, 1896), 130, 187–190.

CHAPTER 2: Puritan Power

1 This actually came from Aristotle: Bethencourt, Racisms, 3, 13–15;
David Goldenberg, “Racism, Color Symbolism, and Color Prejudice,”
in The Origins of Racism in the West, ed. Miriam Eliav-Feldon,
Benjamin Isaac, and Joseph Ziegler (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
University Press, 2009), 88–92; Aristotle, edited and translated by
Ernest Barker, The Politics of Aristotle (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1946), 91253b; Peter Garnsey, Ideas of Slavery from Aristotle to
Augustine (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 114.

2 English travel writer George Best determined: Gary Taylor, Buying
Whiteness: Race, Culture, and Identity from Columbus to Hip Hop,
Signs of Race (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 222–223; Joseph
R. Washington, Anti-Blackness in English Religion, 1500–1800 (New
York: E. Mellen Press, 1984), 113–114.

3 the strange concept that… the relationship between slave and master
was loving; William Perkins… argued that the slave was just part of a
loving family unit: Everett H. Emerson, John Cotton (New York:
Twayne, 1965), 18, 20, 37, 88, 98, 100, 108–109, 111, 131; Washington,

Anti-Blackness, 174–182.
4 They landed in America after treacherous trips: Richard Mather,

Journal of Richard Mather: 1635, His Life and Death, 1670 (Boston: D.
Clapp, 1850), 27–28; “Great New England Hurricane of 1635 Even
Worse Than Thought,” Associated Press, November 21, 2006.

5 Both men were ministers: Samuel Eliot Morison, The Founding of
Harvard College (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1935),
242–243; Richard Mather et al., The Whole Booke of Psalmes
Faithfully Translated into English Metre (Cambridge, MA: S. Daye,
1640); John Cotton, Spiritual Milk for Boston Babes in Either England
(Boston: S. G., for Hezekiah Usher, 1656); Christopher J. Lucas,
American Higher Education: A History, 2nd ed. (New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2006), 109–110; Frederick Rudolph, Curriculum: A History
of the American Undergraduate Course of Study Since 1636 (San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1977), 29–30.

6 Cotton and Mather were students of Aristotle; According to the
Puritans, they were better than: Bethencourt, Racisms, 3, 13–15;
Goldenberg, “Racism,” 88–92; Aristotle, Politics, 91253b; Garnsey,
Ideas, 114.

7 during the development of Harvard: Morison, Founding, 242–243;
Mather et al., The Whole Booke; Cotton, Spiritual Milk; Lucas,
American Higher Education, 109–110; Rudolph, Curriculum, 29–30.

8 was named America’s first legislative leader: Jon Meacham, Thomas
Jefferson: The Art of Power (New York: Random House, 2012), 5.

9 First thing he did was set the price of tobacco: Alden T. Vaughan, Roots
of American Racism: Essays on the Colonial Experience (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1995), 130–134.

10 the San Juan Bautista was hijacked: Tim Hashaw, The Birth of Black
America: The First African Americans and the Pursuit of Freedom at
Jamestown (New York: Carroll and Graf, 2007), xv–xvi.

11 slaves would cause a bit of conflict between the two: Edmund S.
Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial
Virginia (New York: W. W. Norton, 1975), 348–351; Parke Rouse,
James Blair of Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
Press, 1971), 16–22, 25–26, 30, 37–38, 40, 43, 71–73, 145, 147–148;
Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the

Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 100;
Kenneth Silverman, The Life and Times of Cotton Mather (New York:
Harper and Row, 1984), 241–242.

CHAPTER 3: A Different Adam

1 Notes on Baxter: Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory (London:
Richard Edwards, 1825), 216–220.

2 Notes on Locke: R. S. Woolhouse, Locke: A Biography (Cambridge,
UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 98, 276; Jeffrey Robert
Young, “Introduction,” in Proslavery and Sectional Thought in the
Early South, 1740–1829: An Anthology, ed. Jeffrey Robert Young
(Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006), 18.

3 Mennonites in Germantown, Pennsylvania, rose up: Washington, Anti-
Blackness, 460–461; Hildegard Binder-Johnson, “The Germantown
Protest of 1688 Against Negro Slavery,” Pennsylvania Magazine of
History and Biography 65 (1941): 151; Katharine Gerbner, “‘We Are
Against the Traffik of Men-Body’: The Germantown Quaker Protest of
1688 and the Origins of American Abolitionism,” Pennsylvania
History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 74, no. 2 (2007): 159–166;
Thomas, Slave Trade, 458; “William Edmundson,” The Friend: A
Religious and Literary Journal 7, no. 1 (1833): 5–6.

4 Native American and new (White) American beef had been brewing:
Craig Steven Wilder, Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled
History of America’s Universities (New York: Bloomsbury Press), 40.

5 Bacon was upset not about the race issue: Ronald T. Takaki, A Different
Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (Boston: Little, Brown,
1993), 63–68; Anthony S. Parent, Foul Means: The Formation of a
Slave Society in Virginia, 1660–1740 (Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 2003), 126–127, 143–146; David R. Roediger, How
Race Survived U.S. History: From Settlement and Slavery to the Obama
Phenomenon (London: Verso, 2008), 19–20; Morgan, American Slavery,
American Freedom, 252–270, 328–329.

CHAPTER 4: A Racist Wunderkind

1 they had a grandson: Washington, Anti-Blackness, 455–456; Lorenzo J.
Greene, The Negro in Colonial New England, 1620–1776 (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1942), 275; Young, “Introduction,” 19–21;
Brycchan Carey, From Peace to Freedom: Quaker Rhetoric and the
Birth of American Antislavery, 1657–1761 (New Haven, CT: Yale
University Press, 2012), 7–8.

2 By the time Cotton Mather heard about Bacon’s rebellion: Silverman,
Life and Times of Cotton Mather; Tony Williams, The Pox and the
Covenant: Mather, Franklin, and the Epidemic That Changed America’s
Destiny (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2010), 34.

3 He knew he was special: Robert Middlekauff, The Mathers: Three
Generations of Puritan Intellectuals, 1596–1728 (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1971), 198–199; Ralph Philip Boas and Louise Schutz
Boas, Cotton Mather: Keeper of the Puritan Conscience (Hamden, CT:
Archon Books, 1964), 27–31.

4 Because he was so insecure about his speech impediment: Greene, The
Negro in Colonial New England, 237; Silverman, Life and Times of
Cotton Mather, 31, 36–37, 159–160.

5 Mather wrote a book: Philip Jenkins, Intimate Enemies: Moral Panics
in Contemporary Great Britain (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1992),
3–5; Silverman, Life and Times of Cotton Mather, 84–85.

6 no one poured gasoline on the witchy fire like a minister: Edward J.
Blum and Paul Harvey, The Color of Christ: The Son of God & the Saga
of Race in America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
2012), 20–21, 27, 40–41; Silverman, Life and Times of Cotton Mather,

7 turned attention away from the political and onto the religious: Charles
Wentworth Upham, Salem Witchcraft; with an Account of Salem
Village, a History of Opinions on Witchcraft and Kindred Subjects, vol.
1 (Boston: Wiggin and Lunt, 1867), 411–412; Blum and Harvey, The
Color of Christ, 27–28; Boas and Boas, Cotton Mather, 109–110.

8 Massachusetts authorities apologized: Silverman, Life and Times of
Cotton Mather, 83–120; Thomas N. Ingersoll, “‘Riches and Honour
Were Rejected by Them as Loathsome Vomit’: The Fear of Leveling in
New England,” in Inequality in Early America, ed. Carla Gardina
Pestana and Sharon Vineberg Salinger (Hanover, NH: University Press

of New England, 1999), 46–54.
9 Mather’s ideas and writings spread: Cotton Mather, Diary of Cotton

Mather, 1681–1724, 2 vols., vol. 1 (Boston: The Society, 1911), 226–
229; Silverman, Life and Times of Cotton Mather, 262–263; Parent,
Foul Means, 86–89.

10 As the population of enslaved people grew: Parent, Foul Means, 120–
123; Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom, 330–344; Greene,
The Negro in Colonial New England, 171.

11 Enslavers became more open: Greene, The Negro in Colonial New
England, 275–276; Jon Sensbach, “Slaves to Intolerance: African
American Christianity and Religious Freedom in Early America,” in
The First Prejudice: Religious Tolerance and Intolerance in Early
America, ed. Chris Beneke and Christopher S. Grenda (Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), 208–209; Kenneth P.
Minkema, “Jonathan Edwards’s Defense of Slavery,” Massachusetts
Historical Review 4 (2002): 23, 24, 40; Francis D. Adams and Barry
Sanders, Alienable Rights: The Exclusion of African Americans in a
White Man’s Land, 1619–2000 (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), 40–

12 Cotton Mather continued to age: Silverman, Life and Times of Cotton
Mather, 372–419.

SECTION 2: 1743–1826

CHAPTER 5: Proof in the Poetry

1 Franklin started a club called the American Philosophical Society:
Benjamin Franklin, “A Proposal for Promoting Useful Knowledge
Among the British Plantations in America,” Transactions of the
Literary and Philosophical Society of New York 1, no. 1 (1815): 89–90.

2 in a house where Native Americans were houseguests: Thomas
Jefferson, “To John Adams,” in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed.
H. A. Washington (Washington, DC: Taylor and Maury, 1854), 61.

3 when his African “friends” started telling him about the horrors:
Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (London: J. Stockdale,
1787), 271.

4 Phillis Wheatley was under a microscope: Henry Louis Gates, The
Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America’s First Black Poet and Her
Encounters with the Founding Fathers (New York: Basic Civitas,
2010), 14.

5 a captive brought over on a ship: Vincent Carretta, Phillis Wheatley:
Biography of a Genius in Bondage (Athens: University of Georgia
Press, 2011), 4–5, 7–8, 12–14; Kathrynn Seidler Engberg, The Right to
Write: The Literary Politics of Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley
(Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2010), 35–36.

6 because she was a “daughter”: Carretta, Phillis Wheatley, 1–17, 37–38.
7 got eighteen of the smartest men in America together: Gates, The Trials

of Phillis Wheatley, 14.
8 Wheatley was over in London being trotted around like a superstar:

Carretta, Phillis Wheatley, 91, 95–98; Gates, Trials of Phillis Wheatley,
33–34; Phillis Wheatley, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and
Moral (London: A. Bell, 1773).

CHAPTER 8: Jefferson’s Notes

1 sat down to pen the Declaration of Independence: Meacham, Thomas
Jefferson, 103.

2 they were running away from plantations all over the South: Jacqueline
Jones, A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to
Obama’s America (New York: Basic Books, 2013), 64.

3 slavery was a “cruel war against human nature”: Joseph J. Ellis,
American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson (New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), 27–71; Meacham, Thomas Jefferson, 106.

4 he expressed his real thoughts on Black people: Jefferson, Notes on the
State of Virginia, 229.

5 intelligent blacksmiths, shoemakers, bricklayers: Herbert Aptheker,
Anti-Racism in U.S. History: The First Two Hundred Years (New York:
Greenwood Press, 1992), 47–48.

6 He ran. To France: Meacham, Thomas Jefferson, xxvi, 144, 146, 175,

7 Jefferson was telling his slaves to work harder: Adams and Sanders,
Alienable Rights, 88–89; Meacham, Thomas Jefferson, 188–189;

Thomas Jefferson, “To Brissot de Warville, February 11, 1788,” in The
Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 12:577–578.

8 Every five slaves equaled three humans: David O. Stewart, The Summer
of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution (New York: Simon
and Schuster, 2007), 68–81.

9 enslaved Africans in Haiti rose up against French rule: Meacham,
Thomas Jefferson, 231–235, 239, 241, 249, 254.

CHAPTER 9: Uplift Suasion

1 abolitionists urged the newly freed people: Leon F. Litwack, North of
Slavery: The Negro in the Free States, 1790–1860 (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1961), 18–19; Joanne Pope Melish, “The ‘Condition’
Debate and Racial Discourse in the Antebellum North,” Journal of the
Early Republic 19 (1999), 651–657, 661–665.

CHAPTER 10: The Great Contradictor

1 The Prossers were planning a slave rebellion: Herbert Aptheker,
American Negro Slave Revolts (New York: International Publishers,
1963), 222–223.

2 up from the soil of slavery sprouted new racist ideas: Larry E. Tise,
Proslavery: A History of the Defense of Slavery in America, 1701–1840
(Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987), 58.

3 Charles Fenton Mercer, and an antislavery clergyman: Charles Fenton
Mercer, An Exposition of the Weakness and Inefficiency of the
Government of the United States of North America (n.p., 1845), 173,

4 Black people didn’t want to go “back”: Scott L. Malcomson, One Drop
of Blood: The American Misadventure of Race (New York: Farrar,
Straus, and Giroux, 2000), 191; Robert Finley, “Thoughts on the
Colonization of Free Blacks,” African Repository and Colonial Journal
9 (1834), 332–334.

5 did nothing to stop domestic slavery: Angela Y. Davis, Women, Race &
Class (New York: Vintage Books, 1983), 7; Thomas, Slave Trade, 551–
552, 568–572; Peter Kolchin, American Slavery, 1619–1877, rev. ed.

(New York: Hill and Wang, 2003), 93–95; Thomas Jefferson, “To John
W. Eppes, June 30, 1820,” in Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book: With
Commentary and Relevant Extracts from Other Writings, ed. Edwin
Morris Betts (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1953), 46.

6 almost as if he’d be sending Black people home from camp: Thomas
Jefferson to Jared Sparks Monticello, February 4, 1824, The Letters of
Thomas Jefferson, 1743–1826, American History,

7 so sick he was unable to attend the fiftieth anniversary: Meacham,
Thomas Jefferson, 488.

8 Jefferson seemed to be fighting to stay alive: Silvio A. Bedini, Thomas
Jefferson: Statesman of Science (New York: Macmillan, 1990), 478–
480; Meacham, Thomas Jefferson, 48, 492–496.

SECTION 3: 1826–1879

CHAPTER 11: Mass Communication for Mass Emancipation

1 those legacies were deeply entwined with slavery: Wilder, Ebony & Ivy,
255, 256, 259, 265–266.

2 Garrison had gone even further to the side of abolitionism: Henry
Mayer, All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of
Slavery (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), 62–68.

3 In his first editorial piece, Garrison changed perspectives: William
Lloyd Garrison, “To the Public,” Liberator, January 1, 1831.

4 That he was called upon by God to plan and execute a massive crusade:
Aptheker, American Negro Slave Revolts, 293–295, 300–307; Blum and
Harvey, The Color of Christ, 123; Nat Turner and Thomas R. Gray, The
Confessions of Nat Turner (Richmond: T. R. Gray, 1832), 9–10.

5 members decided to rely on the new technology of mass printing:
Mayer, All on Fire, 195; Russel B. Nye, William Lloyd Garrison and
the Humanitarian Reformers, Library of American Biography (Boston:
Little, Brown, 1955), 81–82.

CHAPTER 12: Uncle Tom

1 father of American anthropology, who was measuring the skulls:
Samuel George Morton, Crania Americana (Philadelphia: J. Dobson,
1839), 1–7.

2 free blacks were insane: Edward Jarvis, “Statistics of Insanity in the
United States,” Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 27, no. 7 (1842):

3 there was a “White” Egypt that had Black slaves: William Ragan
Stanton, The Leopard’s Spots: Scientific Attitudes toward Race in
America, 1815–59 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), 45–
53, 60–65; George M. Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White
Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817–
1914 (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1987), 74–75; H.
Shelton Smith, In His Image, But…: Racism in Southern Religion,
1780–1910 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1972), 144; Litwack,
North of Slavery, 46.

4 in America proslavery politicians—now with Texas as a slave state:
Juan González and Joseph Torres, News for All the People: The Epic
Story of Race and the American Media (London: Verso, 2011), 118–

CHAPTER 13: Complicated Abe

1 if labor was free, what exactly were poor White people expected to do:
Hinton Rowan Helper, The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet
It (New York: Burdick Brothers, 1857), 184.

2 Garrison, though critical of Lincoln, kept his critiques to himself:
Mayer, All on Fire, 474–477.

3 started with South Carolina. They left the Union: “Declaration of the
Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify Secession of South
Carolina from the Federal Union,” The Avalon Project: Documents in
Law, History and Diplomacy, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law
Roediger, How Race Survived U.S. History, 70–71; Eric Foner,
Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877 (New
York: Perennial Classics, 2002), 25; Eric Foner, The Fiery Trial:
Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (New York: W. W. Norton,

2010), 146–147; Myron O. Stachiw, “‘For the Sake of Commerce’:
Slavery, Antislavery, and Northern Industry,” in The Meaning of
Slavery in the North, ed. David Roediger and Martin H. Blatt (New
York: Garland, 1998), 33–35.

4 Union soldiers were enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act: William C.
Davis, Look Away!: A History of the Confederate States of America
(New York: Free Press, 2002), 142–143.

5 “All persons held as slaves within any state”: Abraham Lincoln,
“Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation,” September 22, 1862,
National Archives and Records Administration,

6 four hundred thousand black people had escaped their plantations:
Foner, Fiery Trial, 238–247; Paul D. Escott, “What Shall We Do with
the Negro?” Lincoln, White Racism, and Civil War America
(Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009), 62–63.

7 What good was it to be free if they had nowhere to go: “Account of a
Meeting of Black Religious Leaders in Savannah, Georgia, with the
Secretary of War and the Commander of the Military Division of the
Mississippi,” in Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation,
1861–1867, series 1, vol. 3, ed. Ira Berlin et al. (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1982), 334–335.

8 They’d run up to him in the street: Foner, Reconstruction, 73.
9 that Blacks (the intelligent ones) should have the right to vote: Foner,

Reconstruction, 31, 67–68; Foner, Fiery Trial, 330–331.
10 he was shot in the back of the head: Terry Alford, Fortune’s Fool: The

Life of John Wilkes Booth (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015),

CHAPTER 14: Garrison’s Last Stand

1 his job as an abolitionist was done: Foner, Reconstruction, 67; Adams
and Sanders, Alienable Rights, 196–197; Hans L. Trefousse, Andrew
Johnson: A Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1989), 183; Clifton
R. Hall, Andrew Johnson: Military Governor of Tennessee (Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 1916), 102.

2 no one could be prohibited from voting: Foner, Reconstruction, 446–
447; Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White Mind, 185–186; C.
Vann Woodward, American Counterpoint: Slavery and Racism in the
North-South Dialogue (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971), 177–179.

3 Black people from Boston to Richmond: Forrest G. Wood, Black Scare:
The Racist Response to Emancipation and Reconstruction (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1968), 102.

4 He’d wanted immediate emancipation: Adams and Sanders, Alienable
Rights, 228; Foner, Reconstruction, 598–602; Mayer, All on Fire, 624–

SECTION 4: 1868–1963

CHAPTER 15: Battle of the Black Brains

1 Willie was hit with his first racial experience: David Levering Lewis,
W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868–1919 (New York: Henry
Holt, 1993), 11–37.

2 sent young Willie to Fisk University: Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois, 1868–
1919, 51–76.

3 he gave credit to Jefferson Davis: Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois, 1868–1919,

4 mulattoes were practically the same as any White man: Albert Bushnell
Hart, The Southern South (New York: D. Appleton, 1910), 99–105, 134;
Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois, 1868–1919, 111–113.

5 Du Bois wasn’t the only Black man: Giddings, When and Where I
Enter, 18; Ida B. Wells, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases
(New York: New York Age, 1892),; Adams and
Sanders, Alienable Rights, 231–232.

6 she found that from a sampling of 728 lynching reports: Giddings,
When and Where I Enter, 18; Ida B. Wells, Southern Horrors; Adams
and Sanders, Alienable Rights, 231–232.

7 For Washington’s private civil rights activism, see David H. Jackson,
Booker T. Washington and the Struggle Against White Supremacy: The
Southern Educational Tours, 1908–1912 (New York: Palgrave

Macmillan, 2008); David H. Jackson, A Chief Lieutenant of the
Tuskegee Machine: Charles Banks of Mississippi (Gainesville:
University Press of Florida, 2002).

8 White savior stories—were becoming a fixture in American media:
Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery: An Autobiography (New York:
Doubleday, Page, 1901).

9 Du Bois introduced the idea of double consciousness: Aptheker, Anti-
Racism in U.S. History, 25; W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk:
Essays and Sketches (Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1903), 11–12.

10 one in every ten, he believed, were worthy of the job: Du Bois, The
Souls of Black Folk, 53.

11 drawing similarities between the way his people were mistreated in
Germany: Sander Gilman, Jewish Frontiers: Essays on Bodies,
Histories, and Identities (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 89.

12 an African history—wasn’t one of inferiority: Michael Yudell, Race
Unmasked: Biology and Race in the Twentieth Century (New York:
Columbia University Press, 2014), 48–49; W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Folk
Then and Now: An Essay in the History and Sociology of the Negro
Race (New York: Henry Holt, 1939), vii.

13 One hundred sixty-seven soldiers, to be exact: Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois,
1868–1919, 331–333; Theodore Roosevelt, “Sixth Annual Message,”
December 3, 1906, at Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, American
Presidency Project,

14 Washington also had to feel the wrath: Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois, 1868–
1919, 332.

CHAPTER 16: Jack Johnson vs. Tarzan

1 They arrested him on trumped-up charges: John Gilbert, Knuckles and
Gloves (London: W. Collins Sons, 1922), 45; González and Torres,
News for All the People, 209–211; Geoffrey C. Ward, Unforgivable
Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (New York: Alfred A.
Knopf, 2004), 115–116.

2 He became a cultural phenomenon: Curtis A. Keim, Mistaking Africa:
Curiosities and Inventions of the American Mind, 3rd ed. (Boulder:
Westview Press, 2014), 48; Emily S. Rosenberg, Financial

Missionaries to the World: The Politics and Culture of Dollar
Diplomacy, 1900–1930 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003),

CHAPTER 18: The Mission Is in the Name

1 Who do you think sold more books: W. E. B. Du Bois, The
Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life
from the Last Decade of Its First Century (New York: International
Publishers, 1968), 227–229.

2 he was confused about whether the NAACP was a Black organization:
David Levering Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the
American Century, 1919–1963 (New York: Henry Holt, 1993), 50–55.

3 being treated decently overseas would embolden Black soldiers: Ira
Katznelson, When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of
Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America (New York: W. W.
Norton, 2005), 84–86.

4 in 1919, when many of those soldiers came home: Katznelson, When
Affirmative Action Was White, 84–86.

5 1919 was the bloodiest summer: Cameron McWhirter, Red Summer:
The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America (New York:
Henry Holt, 2011), 10, 12–17, 56–59.

6 one of the most revolutionary things he did in the collection: W. E. B.
Du Bois, Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil (New York: Harcourt,
Brace, and Howe, 1920), 166, 168, 185–186.

7 acted like he was a better Black person: Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois, 1919–
1963, 20–23.

8 if you weren’t him—light-skinned, hyper-educated: Kathy Russell-
Cole, Midge Wilson, and Ronald E. Hall, The Color Complex: The
Politics of Skin Color Among African Americans (New York: Harcourt,
Brace, Jovanovich, 1992), 26, 30–32; Giddings, When and Where I
Enter, 178; Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois, 1919–1963, 66–71.

9 charged him with mail fraud: Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois, 1919–1963, 77–
84, 118–128, 148–152.

CHAPTER 19: Can’t Sing and Dance and Write It Away

1 he’d meet many of the young Black artists: Lewis, W. E. B. Dubois,
1919–1963, 153–159, 161–166; Alain Locke, “The New Negro,” in The
New Negro: Voices of the Harlem Renaissance, ed. Alain Locke (New
York: Simon and Schuster, 1992), 15.

2 a resistant group of artists that emerged in 1926: Valerie Boyd,
Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston (New York:
Simon and Schuster, 1997), 116–119; Wallace Thurman, The Blacker
the Berry (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996).

3 it was okay to be a Black artist without having to feel insecurity:
Langston Hughes, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” The
Nation, June 1926.

4 innocent White people were tortured: Claude G. Bowers, The Tragic
Era: The Revolution After Lincoln (Cambridge, MA: Riverside, 1929),

5 Reconstruction was stifled: Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois, 1919–1963, 320–
324; W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay
Towards a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt
to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860–1880 (New York:
Atheneum, 1971), 700, 725; David R. Roediger, The Wages of
Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, rev.
ed. (London: Verso, 2007).

6 But in 1933, Du Bois wanted nothing to do with this method: Lewis, W.
E. B. Du Bois, 1919–1963, 256–265, 299–301, 306–311.

7 critiquing Black colleges for having White-centered curriculums:
Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois, 1919–1963, 295–297, 300–314; James D.
Anderson, The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860–1935 (Chapel
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 276–277; Carter G.
Woodson, The Miseducation of the Negro (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2005),

8 there is a place, maybe even an importance, to a voluntary
nondiscriminatory separation: W. E. B. Du Bois, “On Being Ashamed,”
The Crisis, September 1933; W. E. B. Du Bois, “Pan-Africa and New
Racial Philosophy,” The Crisis, November 1933; W. E. B. Du Bois,
“Segregation,” The Crisis, January 1934.

CHAPTER 20: Home Is Where the Hatred Is

1 These delegates did not make the politically racist request: Lewis, W. E.
B. Du Bois, 1919–1963, 510–515.

2 that race problem was starting to affect its relationships: Robert L.
Fleeger, “Theodore G. Bilbo and the Decline of Public Racism, 1938–
1947,” Journal of Mississippi History 68, no. 1 (2006), 2–3.

3 On February 2, 1948, Truman urged Congress: Harry S. Truman,
“Special Message to the Congress on Civil Rights,” February 2, 1948,
at Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency
Project,; Robert A. Caro,
Means of Ascent: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, vol. 2 (New York:
Vintage, 1990), 125; Francis Njubi Nesbitt, Race for Sanctions: African
Americans Against Apartheid, 1946–1994 (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 2004), 9–10.

4 This brought on the open housing movement: Thomas J. Sugrue, The
Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit,
Princeton Studies in American Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1996), 181–258; Douglas S. Massey and Nancy A.
Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the
Underclass (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), 49–51.

5 racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional: Brown v.
Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954),

6 students were staging sit-ins: Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois, 1919–1963, 566.
7 To Kill a Mockingbird was basically the Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Isaac

Saney, “The Case Against To Kill a Mockingbird,” Race & Class 45, no.
1 (2003): 99–110.

8 “Today we are committed to a worldwide struggle”: Mary L. Dudziak,
Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 169–187.

9 W. E. B. Du Bois had died: Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights, 187–200,
216–219; Du Bois, W. E. B. Du Bois, 1868–1919, 2.


CHAPTER 21: When Death Comes

1 She knew these names: Angela Y. Davis, Angela Davis: An
Autobiography (New York: International Publishers, 1988), 128–131.

2 she would never—despite the pressure—desire to be White: Davis,
Autobiography, 77–99.

3 White people who couldn’t see that they weren’t the standard: Davis,
Autobiography, 101–112.

4 an inferiority complex forced on them: Davis, Autobiography, 117–127.
5 He launched an investigation: John F. Kennedy, “Statement by the

President on the Sunday Bombing in Birmingham,” September 16,
1963, Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency

6 the civil rights bill that Kennedy had been working on: Lyndon B.
Johnson, “Address to a Joint Session of Congress,” November 27, 1963,
Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B.
Johnson, 1963–64, vol. 1, entry 11 (Washington, DC: US Government
Printing Office, 1965), 8–10.

7 Who was going to make sure the laws would be followed: Dudziak,
Cold War Civil Rights, 208–214, 219–231; Malcolm X, “Appeal to
African Heads of State,” in Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and
Statements, ed. George Breitman (New York: Grove Press, 1965), 76.

8 everyone—the North and the South—hated Black people: Dan T. Carter,
The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New
Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics (Baton
Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000), 344.

9 government assistance, which White people had been receiving: Adams
and Sanders, Alienable Rights, 287–291; Barry M. Goldwater, The
Conscience of a Conservative (Washington, DC: Regnery, 1994), 67.

10 What leverage did he grant the SNCC and MFDP: Chana Kai Lee, For
Freedom’s Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, Women in American
History (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 89, 99; Cleveland
Sellers and Robert L. Terrell, The River of No Return: The
Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC
(Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1990), 111.

11 When James Baldwin; When Dr. Martin Luther King: “Baldwin Blames
White Supremacy,” New York Post, February 22, 1965; Telegram from
Martin Luther King Jr. to Betty al-Shabazz, February 26, 1965, The

Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford

12 “Malcolm X’s life was strangely”: “Malcolm X,” editorial, New York
Times, February 22, 1965.

13 Malcolm X stamped that he was for truth: Eliot Fremont-Smith, “An
Eloquent Testament,” New York Times, November 5, 1965; Malcolm X
and Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (New York:
Ballantine, 1999).

14 the Voting Rights Act would become the most effective piece of
antiracist legislation: US House of Representatives, “Voting Rights Act
of 1965,” House Report 439, 89th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington, DC: US
Government Printing Office, 1965), 3.

CHAPTER 22: Black Power

1 the racist role of language symbolism: Davis, Autobiography, 133–139;
Russell-Cole et al. The Color Complex, 59–61.

2 Black was for the antiracist: Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps, Hair
Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America (New York: St.
Martin’s Press, 2001).

3 “What we gonna start saying now is Black Power!”: Peniel E. Joseph,
Waiting ’Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in
America (New York: Henry Holt, 2006), 141–142.

4 The Ten-Point Platform: Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Black
Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013), 70–73.

5 ramped up the Black Power movement: “New Black Consciousness
Takes Over College Campus,” Chicago Defender, December 4, 1967.

6 to introduce Black Studies departments: Ibram H. Rogers, The Black
Campus Movement: Black Students and the Racial Reconstitution of
Higher Education, 1965–1972 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012),
114; Hillel Black, The American Schoolbook (New York: Morrow,
1967), 106; Joseph Moreau, Schoolbook Nation: Conflicts over
American History Textbooks from the Civil War to the Present (Ann

Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003).
7 working on the campaign for the first Black woman to run for the US

presidency: Davis, Autobiography, 180–191.

CHAPTER 23: Murder Was the Case

1 without ever actually saying “Black people”: Dan T. Carter, From
George Wallace to Newt Gingrich: Race in the Conservative
Counterrevolution (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press,
1996), 27; John Ehrlichman, Witness to Power: The Nixon Years (New
York: Simon and Schuster, 1982), 223.

2 historians have named it: the “southern strategy”: Carter, From George
Wallace to Newt Gingrich, 27; Ehrlichman, Witness to Power, 223.

3 she was part of the Communist Party: Davis, Autobiography, 216–223;
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Betrayed: A History of Presidential Failure to
Protect Black Lives (Boulder: Westview Press, 1996), 145–149.

4 were accused of murdering a prison guard: Davis, Autobiography, 250–
255, 263–266.

5 Not free in her own mind: Davis, Autobiography, 359.
6 Black masculinity was what was frightening to White men: Charles

Herbert Stember, Sexual Racism: The Emotional Barrier to an
Integrated Society (New York: Elsevier, 1976).

7 from the perspective of being Black and lesbian: Audre Lorde, “Age,
Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” in Sister
Outsider: Essays and Speeches, ed. Audre Lorde (Berkeley, CA:
Crossing Press, 2007), 115.

8 Ntozake Shange used her creative, antiracist energy: Salamishah Tillet,
“Black Feminism, Tyler Perry Style,” The Root, November 11, 2010,

9 Rocky symbolized the pride of White supremacist masculinity’s refusal
to be knocked out: Ed Guerrero, Framing Blackness: The African
American Image in Film (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993),

CHAPTER 24: What War on Drugs?

1 only 2 percent of Americans viewed drugs as America’s most pressing
problem: Michael K. Brown et al, Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a
Color-Blind Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003),
136–137; Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration
in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: New Press, 2010), 5–7, 49;
Julian Roberts, “Public Opinion, Crime, and Criminal Justice,” in
Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, vol. 16, ed. Michael Tonry
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992); Ronald Reagan,
“Remarks on Signing Executive Order 12368, Concerning Federal Drug
Abuse Policy Functions,” June 24, 1982, Gerhard Peters and John T.
Woolley, The American Presidency Project,

2 Reagan doubled down on the War on Drugs: “Reagan Signs Anti-Drug
Measure; Hopes for ‘Drug-Free Generation,’” New York Times, October
28, 1968,

3 Mass incarceration of Black people: The Sentencing Project, “Crack
Cocaine Sentencing Policy: Unjustified and Unreasonable,” April 1997.

4 Charles Krauthammer invented the term crack baby: Charles
Krauthammer, “Children of Cocaine,” Washington Post, July 30, 1989.

5 no science to prove any of this: Washington, Medical Apartheid, 212–
215; “‘Crack Baby’ Study Ends with Unexpected but Clear Result,”
Philadelphia Inquirer, July 22, 2013,

CHAPTER 25: The Soundtrack of Sorrow and Subversion

1 Black men were the only ones producing major Black films: Guerrero,
Framing Blackness, 157–167.

2 Clarence Thomas had been accused: Manning Marable, Race, Reform,
and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction and Beyond in Black
America, 1945–2006 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007),
216–217; Earl Ofari Hutchinson, The Assassination of the Black Male
Image (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), 63–70; Duchess Harris,
Black Feminist Politics from Kennedy to Clinton, Contemporary Black

History (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 90–98; Deborah Gray
White, Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves,
1894–1994 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999), 15–16.

3 stepped away from the Communist Party: Joy James, “Introduction,” in
The Angela Y. Davis Reader, ed. Joy James (Malden, MA: Blackwell,
1998), 9–10.

4 she proposed a “new abolitionism”: Angela Y. Davis, “Black Women
and the Academy,” in The Angela Y. Davis Reader, 222–231.

5 the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act: Alexander, The
New Jim Crow, 55–59; Marable, Race, Reform, and Rebellion, 218–
219; Bill Clinton, “1994 State of the Union Address,” January 25, 1994,
srv/politics/special/states/docs/sou94.htm; Ben Schreckinger and Annie
Karni, “Hillary’s Criminal Justice Plan: Reverse Bill’s Policies,”
Politico, April 30, 2014,

CHAPTER 26: A Million Strong

1 were intellectually inferior due to genetics or environment: Richard J.
Herrnstein and Charles A. Murray, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and
Class Structure in American Life (New York: Free Press, 1994), xxv, 1–
24, 311–312, 551; Dorothy E. Roberts, Killing the Black Body: Race,
Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty (New York: Pantheon Books,
1997), 270.

2 New Republicans issued their extremely tough “Contract with
America”: “Republican Contract with America,” 1994, see

3 they tried, once more, to get Angela Davis fired: Marina Budhos,
“Angela Davis Appointed to Major Chair,” Journal of Blacks in Higher
Education 7 (1995): 44–45; Manning Marable, “Along the Color Line:
In Defense of Angela Davis,” Michigan Citizen, April 22, 1995.

4 The year 1995 was when the term super predator was created: B. W.
Burston, D. Jones, and P. Roberson-Saunders, “Drug Use and African
Americans: Myth Versus Reality,” Journal of Alcohol and Drug

Education 40 (1995), 19–39; Alexander, The New Jim Crow, 122–125;
John J. Dilulio Jr., “The Coming of the Super Predators,” Weekly
Standard, November 27, 1995.

5 it was flawed in its sexism: “Black Women Are Split over All-Male
March on Washington,” New York Times, October 14, 1995.

6 A book of his commentaries was published: Mumia Abu-Jamal, Live
from Death Row (New York: HarperCollins, 1996), 4–5.

7 because of the protests, Mumia was granted an indefinite stay: “August
12 ‘Day of Protest’ Continues Despite Mumia’s Stay of Execution,”
Sun Reporter, August 10, 1995; Kathleen Cleaver, “Mobilizing for
Mumia Abu-Jamal in Paris,” in Liberation, Imagination, and the Black
Panther Party: A New Look at the Panthers and Their Legacy, ed.
Kathleen Cleaver and George N. Katsiaficas (New York: Routledge,
2001), 51–68.

8 pledged to lead “the American people in a great and unprecedented
conversation on race”: William J. Clinton, “Commencement Address at
the University of California San Diego in La Jolla, California,” June
14, 1997, Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American
Presidency Project,

CHAPTER 27: A Bill Too Many

1 “The concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis”: “Remarks
Made by the President, Prime Minister Tony Blair of England (via
satellite), Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Human Genome
Research Institute, and Dr. Craig Venter, President and Chief Scientific
Officer, Celera Genomics Corporation, on the Completion of the First
Survey of the Entire Human Genome Project,” June 26, 2000,

2 And that 0.1 percent difference between humans must be racial:
Nicholas Wade, “For Genome Mappers, the Tricky Terrain of Race
Requires Some Careful Navigating,” New York Times, July 20, 2001.

3 President Bush condemned the “evil-doers”: Marable, Race, Reform,
and Rebellion, 240–243.

4 It once again put the blame on Black children: Marable, Race, Reform,
and Rebellion, 247.

5 Barack Obama, subverted Cosby’s message: “Transcript: Illinois Senate
Candidate Barack Obama,” Washington Post, July 27, 2004.

CHAPTER 28: A Miracle and Still a Maybe

1 He claimed to be exempt from being an “extraordinary Negro”: Barack
Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
(New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004), 98–100.

2 if southern Louisiana took “a direct hit from a major hurricane”:
“Washing Away,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 23–27, 2002;
Jessie Daniels, Cyber Racism: White Supremacy Online and the New
Attack on Civil Rights, Perspectives on a Multiracial America
(Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009), 117–155; Naomi Klein,
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York:
Metropolitan Books / Henry Holt, 2007).

3 spoke honestly about his feelings for a country that had worked
overtime to kill him and his people: “Obama’s Pastor: God Damn
America, U.S. to Blame for 9/11,” ABC News, March 13, 2008,

4 Angela Davis, cast a vote for a major political party for the first time in
her voting life: “On Revolution: A Conversation Between Grace Lee
Boggs and Angela Davis,” March 2, 2012, University of California,
Berkeley, video and transcript,

5 Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi founded
#BlackLivesMatter: “Meet the Woman Who Coined
#BlackLivesMatter,” USA Today, March 4, 2015,

Nathan Bajar


is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, a Newbery Medal honoree, a
Printz Award honoree, a National Book Award finalist, a Kirkus Prize
winner, a two-time Walter Dean Myers Award winner, an NAACP Image
Award winner, and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King Honors. He
was the American Booksellers Association’s 2017 and 2018 spokesperson
for Indies First, and his many books include When I Was the Greatest, The
Boy in the Black Suit, All American Boys (cowritten with Brendan Kiely),
As Brave as You, For Every One, the Track series (Ghost, Patina, Sunny,
and Lu), Long Way Down, which received both a Newbery Honor and a
Printz Honor, and Look Both Ways. He lives in Washington, DC. He invites

you to visit him online at


is a New York Times bestselling author and the founding executive director
of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University. A
professor of history and international relations and a frequent public
speaker, Kendi is a contributing writer at the Atlantic. He is the author of
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in
America, which won the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction. He is
also the author of the instant New York Times bestseller How to Be an
Antiracist and the award-winning The Black Campus Movement. Kendi has
written numerous essays in periodicals such as the New York Times, the
Washington Post, the Guardian, Time, and the Root. He earned his
undergraduate degree from Florida A&M University and his doctorate

from Temple University. He lives in Washington, DC. He invites you to
visit him online at





SECTION 1: 1415–1728

1. The Story of the World’s First Racist

2. Puritan Power

3. A Different Adam

4. A Racist Wunderkind

SECTION 2: 1743–1826

5. Proof in the Poetry

6. Time Out

7. Time In

8. Jefferson’s Notes

9. Uplift Suasion

10. The Great Contradictor

SECTION 3: 1826–1879

11. Mass Communication for Mass Emancipation

12. Uncle Tom

13. Complicated Abe

14. Garrison’s Last Stand

SECTION 4: 1868–1963

15. Battle of the Black Brains

16. Jack Johnson vs. Tarzan

17. Birth of a Nation (and a New Nuisance)

18. The Mission Is in the Name

19. Can’t Sing and Dance and Write It Away

20. Home Is Where the Hatred Is


21. When Death Comes

22. Black Power

23. Murder Was the Case

24. What War on Drugs?

25. The Soundtrack of Sorrow and Subversion

26. A Million Strong

27. A Bill Too Many

28. A Miracle and Still a Maybe







In each of your chapter reviews, you should, first, clearly

the authors’ principal arguments and offer any critique of their views you deem necessary. In the final few sentences of each paper, you should note the expository writing technique, if any, that the authors employed as they advanced their positions. To document your claim, provide the specific example the authors used.

Content Indicators

Failing (F Grade)

Demonstrates limited competence regarding the writing assignment; is seriously flawed.

Below Average (D Grade)

Demonstrates some degree of competence in response to the assignment but is clearly flawed.

Average (C Grade)

Demonstrates minimum acceptable competence in response to the assignment.

Above Average (B Grade)

Demonstrates clear competence in response to the assignment but may have minor errors.

Excellent (A Grade)

In general, demonstrates a high degree of competence in response to the assignment.

An identifiable statement of the writing’s goal and perspective.

Essay is off-assignment or presents a very unclear or unidentifiable thesis.

The thesis may be unclear; often the thesis cannot be discerned without significant work on the part of the reader.

The essay presents an appropriate thesis, but that thesis may be too broad or the audience might, for some reason, have trouble immediately identifying the thesis.

The writing presents a clearly identifiable thesis that is appropriate to the writing task in scope, focus, and direction.

The paper has a clear and compelling thesis statement that may be a novel or original approach to the problem.

Audience & Purpose
The writing’s effectiveness in appealing to its stated or implied audience; the writing’s sense of its rhetorical purpose.

The essay demonstrates no discernible sense of purpose, unclear or problematic sense of the audience of the piece.

The essay has a poor sense of its audience and its values, and a limited sense of purpose. The topic may be banal or the approach to it superficial.

The writing illustrates an appropriate if unsophisticated sense of its audience and purpose; the writer’s topic and approach to it are appropriate for college-level writing.

The essay accommodates itself well to its intended audience and has a clear sense of purpose. There might be awareness or consideration of other points of view.

There is a clear and sustained sense of audience and purpose; the language and approach are effective in accommodating that audience, and the author displays an awareness and understanding of other points of view.

The clarity, cohesion, and placement of elements of the paper.

The essay is not organized logically, or has problems with essay- or paragraph-level coherence

The essay suffers from a counter-intuitive or confusing organizational scheme; paragraphs are misplaced or would be far more effective in other places.

The paper is adequately organized and developed; the transitions between logical elements of the paper is in general clear. Some elements may be out of place or more effective elsewhere, but the overall scheme of the paper is acceptable.

The paper is generally well-organized. Each section flows naturally and intuitively from one to the next, and logical transitions are in general clear.

The paper is well-organized and coherently developed; each element of the paper is logically connected to the larger aim of the work.

Detail & Development

How well the
essay uses supporting details and other evidence to clarify and reinforce its points.

The work presents few or no relevant details to support its assertions or presents evidence that is difficult to understand or inappropriate in some way.

What information used from external sources is cited incorrectly or in inappropriate style.

The essay in general lacks supportive relevant details. There is inadequate explanation or illustration of key ideas; irrelevant information may instead be present; the reasoning will necessarily be flawed.

The paper has tried to use or cite information from external sources, but the problems in the selection or appropriateness of the evidence renders this problematic in some way.

The paper explains or illustrates some of its key ideas with appropriate descriptions, analysis or other evidence, but may feature flaws in evidence or reasoning; any awareness of other points of view is limited.

Evidence from external sources is cited with an assignment-appropriate citation style, though there may be minor mistakes in formatting citations.

The B-level work clearly explains or illustrates key ideas, using concrete details, description, or other appropriate evidence in a compelling and affecting manner. Some evidence may be obvious or problematic in some way, but the writer does not consistently settle for the obvious.

Evidence from external sources is cited with an assignment-appropriate citation style, though there may be isolated minor mistakes in formatting citations.

The paper clearly and consistently explains or illustrates key ideas, using concrete details, description, or other appropriate evidence. The use or selection of evidence may be novel or original in some way.

Evidence from external sources is correctly cited with an assignment-appropriate citation style.

Introduction & Conclusion
Elements of the paper that establish a sense of exigence and importance for the topic.

Introduction or conclusion may be missing in the F essay, or they might be ineffective in generating a sense of importance for the topic.

The work may present an unclear or ineffective introduction and / or conclusion (one of these elements may even be missing) that fails to establish (or re-establish) a sense of importance and relevance for the audience.

The essay presents an appropriate introduction and conclusion that establishes a sense of importance and relevance for the topic for the selected audience. These elements may be flawed or not as effective as they might be.

The introduction and conclusion are clear and appropriate to the writing task, though they might not be as forceful or exciting as they could be.

The paper contains a strong introduction and conclusion that clearly lay out the purpose and importance of the paper’s topic.

Mechanics and Grammar

The paper’s effectiveness in the use of language.

The writing is plagued with serious and repeated errors in mechanics and grammar that distract from the writer’s meaning and clarity.
F essays are often characterized by at least two repeated major errors, three instances of different major errors, or an accumulation of many minor errors.

The essay illustrates a pattern of major and minor errors in grammar, mechanics, or usage that distracts from or obscures the writer’s intended meaning. Word choice or diction may be limited or inappropriate for the writing task.
Often, these essays contain one repeated major error or two instances of different major errors, and accumulation of minor errors.

The C essay demonstrates adequate facility with language; while the prose adheres to the constraints of Standardized English Grammar, syntactic variety, subordination, and other sophisticated elements of sentence structure may be lacking; the essay may be written in a “wooden” style.

The essay may display some errors in mechanics, usage, and sentence structure
but does not display a consistent pattern of such errors, nor is the writer’s intended meaning obscured by their presence.

The prose, while competent, may lack a sense of the author’s voice.

The writing in this paper displays above-average competency in the use of language, using conventional sentence structure, subordination, emphasis, sentence length and other syntactic variations are present. There are no major sentence errors, such as run-ons or fragments present.

The prose is generally free from errors in mechanics and usage; punctuation, grammar, and spelling are consistent with the standards of Standard English Grammar.

The paper has a noticeable sense of the writer’s voice.

The writing evinces exceptional facility in the use of language; the prose is clear, coherent, and even occasionally memorable. The paper is generally free from errors in mechanics, usage, and sentence structure; what few errors there are do not undermine the overall effectiveness of the paper.

The writer has evoked a clear and distinctive voice in the paper.

Some part of this Grading Rubric was developed from the Association of American Colleges and Universities: “Reprinted [or Excerpted] with permission from Assessing Outcomes and Improving Achievement: Tips and tools for Using Rubrics, edited by Terrel L. Rhodes. Copyright 2010 by the Association of American Colleges and Universities.”











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