History Matters

William H. Chafe

Abstract


This essay surveys the degree to which racism has been a dominant theme – indeed, often the single most important theme – of all American history. It shaped the Constitution, dominated Congressional and judicial controversies during the first six decades of the 19th century, and then continued to shape the country’s politics, economy, and social structure all the way through the present. This essay also emphasizes the degree to which black resistance of racism was a constant, taking on different forms depending on the politics and culture of the times, but always present. It discusses the emergence of the modern civil rights movement in the years after World War II, but argues that, notwithstanding the legislative and judicial gains made as a result of that movement, racism remains a central and structural reality in America to this day, most notably visible in the mass incarceration of blacks, and the economic and social inequalities that continue to be pervasive in contemporary America.


Keywords


race; class; civil rights movement; sit-ins; mass incarceration; SNCC; black protest

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ISSN: 0044-8060
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