History Matters


  • William H. Chafe Duke University




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


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.

Author Biography

William H. Chafe, Duke University

William Chafe is the Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of History (emeritus) at Duke University. He is the author and editor of thirteen books. His work has focused on civil rights history, women’s history, and modern political history. His book on the Greensboro sit-ins, Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina and the Black Struggle for Freedom, won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award in 1981. His book Never Stop Running: Allard K. Lowenstein and the Struggle to Save American Liberalism won the Sydney Hillman Book Award in 1993. During the past decade, he has increasingly been involved in a comparative study of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and the civil rights movement in America. Each year he brings students to South Africa to become immersed in South African history and to meet some of those who were most active in the battle against apartheid. He can be reached at william.chafe@gmail.com.




How to Cite

Chafe, W. H. (2018). History Matters. American Studies in Scandinavia, 50(1), 9–26. https://doi.org/10.22439/asca.v50i1.5691