“America’s ‘democratic experiment’ is inextricably tied to the history of slavery.”

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Solid, thought-provoking essay for Sunday morning coffee. But maybe you’d rather be watching a film derived from a comic book.

America’s ‘democratic experiment’ is inextricably tied to the history of slavery, by Peniel E. Joseph (The Guardian)

The year 1619 laid out rough boundaries of citizenship, freedom, and democracy that are still being policed

This year marks 400 years since enslaved Africans from Angola were forcibly brought to Jamestown, Virginia. This forced migration of black bodies on to what would become the United States of America represents the intertwined origin story of racial slavery and democracy. This year also marks what would have been the 90th birthday of Martin Luther King, the most well-known mobilizer of the civil rights movement’s heroic period between 1954 and 1965.

While Americans are quick to recognize Jamestown as the first episode of a continuing democratic experiment, the nation remains less willing to confront the way in which racial slavery proved crucial to the flourishing of American capitalism, democratic freedoms, and racial identity. The year 1619 laid out rough boundaries of citizenship, freedom, and democracy that are still being policed in our own time …

This writer doesn’t disagree with the consequences of slavery, but isn’t in favor of selecting a specific year (1619) as the jumping off point.

The Misguided Focus on 1619 as the Beginning of Slavery in the U.S. Damages Our Understanding of American History, by Michael Guasco (Smithsonian)

The year the first enslaved Africans were brought to Jamestown is drilled into students’ memories, but overemphasizing this date distorts history

1619 is not the best place to begin a meaningful inquiry into the history of African peoples in America. Certainly, there is a story to be told that begins in 1619, but it is neither well-suited to help us understand slavery as an institution nor to help us better grasp the complicated place of African peoples in the early modern Atlantic world. For too long, the focus on 1619 has led the general public and scholars alike to ignore more important issues and, worse, to silently accept unquestioned assumptions that continue to impact us in remarkably consequential ways.

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