The September that Abraham Lincoln set foot on the battlefield of Antietam to issue the Emancipation Proclamation he met in the White House with Bernard Kock to discuss colonizing a small island off the coast of Haiti with free blacks. The day before he signed the Emancipation Proclamation into law, January 1, 1863, Lincoln signed a contract with Kock to send nearly 500 black Americans from Washington, D.C. to that island as part of his continued efforts to colonize parts of Latin America and Africa with black Americans. Had the colonization scheme worked, history would have dubbed our sixteenth president as “The Great Colonizer.” Lincoln’s solution for black America, then referred to as the “Negro Question,” was based on the premise that blacks were a troublesome people. Today, CNN has reframed that question for its “Black in America 2” special; visitors to the program’s website can now click on the “Your solutions for black America” tab and upload their answers to a question premised on the idea that African Americans are a problem people. Continue reading
As Secretary of State, William Seward purchased the Alaskan Territory from Russia in 1867 for about two cents per acre—totaling $7,200,000. At the time the American public found the idea agreeable, but opponents were critical because the land was too distant, settling it too difficult, and administration too costly. The acquisition of the secluded wilderness was termed “Seward’s Folly.” That changed soon after gold was discovered there in the 1870s; a folly became a legacy.
Today, William Seward is celebrated annually in upstate New York. This past Saturday former Republican Vice Presidential Nominee and Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin delivered the keynote in which she attacked bailouts, big government, and Obama. Her praise for Seward’s achievements was mired by her lack of understanding about the history of the Alaskan purchase and his legacy. Continue reading
In 1896 Justice Henry Billings Brown, after hearing Plessy v. Ferguson, authored the Court’s majority opinion effectively establishing the “separate but equal” doctrine. This decision ushered in the era of Jim Crow, relegating people of color to second class citizenship while putting the burden of disadvantage squarely on their shoulders. In his opinion, Brown found that, “…the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.” Henry Billings Brown’s identity as an affluent white man influenced his decision in Plessy v. Ferguson and because of it generations of Americans of color endured discrimination and injustice to an extent white Americans will never know. Brown’s story is an example about how our highest court has institutionalized racism and white privilege. Today, white conservatives are on the attack of President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Her story and potential appointment to the land’s highest court threatens to further deconstruct that privilege and continue moving the court towards racial justice. Continue reading