Racism, American style May 20, 2017
Slavery was brought to North America in the 1600s, where it took hold in colonies established by white Europeans who relied for money on the sale of tobacco and cotton. White plantation owners prospered on the backs of slave laborers. England’s effort to assert control over the colonies by, among other things, encouraging slaves to revolt stoked the revolutionary spirit of Southern whites. Yet, these same would-be revolutionaries objected to language in Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence which faulted King George III for slavery. Such language implied that slavery was wrong and immoral, a proposition they summarily rejected. Slavery was therefore removed from the Declaration’s list of grievances against the King. By the time of the Constitutional Convention, and even after the Articles of Confederation had proven so patently inadequate to the governance of the several States, slave-holding States declared their opposition to any constitutional provision that limited or interfered with, or even had the prospect of limiting or interfering with, their ownership of slaves. But for a sinful compromise with representatives from these southern States, the Constitution would not have been ratified. Over time, as more and more people recognized slavery’s inherent incompatibility with the ideals of freedom and democracy described in the Constitution, southern states broke from the Union, precipitating a bloody Civil War that claimed nearly 700,000 American lives. Although the Confederacy was defeated, deeply engrained racial animus against blacks persisted, giving rise to Jim Crow laws and the perpetuation of a malicious stigma against black Americans for no reason other than the color of their skin. In negotiations at the Versailles Conference following WWI, Woodrow Wilson rejected efforts by Japan to include a clause declaring all races equal, fearing political retaliation by Southern congressional leaders were he to agree. Even when blacks stepped forward to serve their Country in World War II, and routinely proved their valor in combat, they were forcibly segregated from whites and were rarely recognized for their contributions. Later, when LBJ passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banning racial discrimination in employment, formerly southern Democrats were so incensed that they renounced their party affiliation and became Republicans.
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