African-Americans have made a lasting impact on the United States and our nation’s history. Figures such as Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. are well remembered today for their insights and political thought. Each year, Black History Month honors these historical contributions and recognizes the unique culture and heritage of Black Americans.
In honor of black history and the contributions that African-Americans have made to our country, JMC presents a collection of fellows’ articles and other resources on African-American history and political thought.
Below is a collection of resources recognizing the influence of African-Americans on our country’s history and political thought. Browse these resources or jump from section to section by clicking the links below:
…Though a man of this class need not claim to be a hero or to be worshiped as such, there is genuine heroism in his struggle and something of sublimity and glory in his triumph. Every instance of such success is an example and a help to humanity. It, better than any mere assertion, gives us assurance of the latent powers and resources of simple and unaided manhood. It dignifies labor, honors application, lessens pain and depression, dispels gloom from the brow of the destitute and weariness from the heart of him about to faint, and enables man to take hold of the roughest and flintiest hardships incident to the battle of life, with a lighter heart, with higher hopes and a larger courage…
…I am certain that there is nothing good, great or desirable which man can possess in this world, that does not come by some kind of labor of physical or mental, moral or spiritual. A man, at times, gets something for nothing, but it will, in his hands, amount to nothing. What is true in the world of matter, is equally true in the world of the mind. Without culture there can be no growth; without exertion, no acquisition; without friction, no polish; without labor, no knowledge; without action, no progress and without conflict, no victory. A man that lies down a fool at night, hoping that he will waken wise in the morning, will rise up in the morning as he laid down in the evening…
…The lesson taught at this point by human experience is simply this, that the man who will get up will be helped up; and the man who will not get up will be allowed to stay down. This rule may appear somewhat harsh, but in its general application and operation it is wise, just and beneficent. I know of no other rule which can be substituted for it without bringing social chaos. Personal independence is a virtue and it is the soul out of which comes the sturdiest manhood. But there can be no independence without a large share of self-dependence, and this virtue cannot be bestowed. It must be developed from within…
…The nearest approach to justice to the negro for the past is to do him justice in the present. Throw open to him the doors of the schools, the factories, the workshops, and of all mechanical industries. For his own welfare, give him a chance to do whatever he can do well. If he fails then, let him fail! I can, however, assure you that he will not fail. Already has he proven it. As a soldier he proved it. He has since proved it by industry and sobriety and by the acquisition of knowledge and property. He is almost the only successful tiller of the soil of the South, and is fast becoming the owner of land formerly owned by his old master and by the old master class. In a thousand instances has he verified my theory of self-made men. He well performed the task of making bricks without straw: now give him straw. Give him all the facilities for honest and successful livelihood, and in all honorable avocations receive him as a man among men…
Diana Schaub and Nick Buccola on African-American Political Thought
Diana Schaub on the Life and Political Thought of Frederick Douglass
JMC Faculty Partner Diana Schaub spoke to JMC Board Member Bill Kristol on the life and political thought of Frederick Douglass for an episode Conversations with Bill Kristol:
Diana Schaub and Lucas Morel on Douglass’s View of Emancipation and Lincoln
Diana Schaub and Lucas Morel, Professor of Politics at Washington and Lee University, discuss Frederick Douglass’ thoughts about Lincoln and his role in emancipation at the American Enterprise Institute.
Diana Schaub on Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X
JMC faculty partner Diana Schaub has spoken on the differing ideologies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X – “Who Was a Better Citizen, Martin Luther King or Malcolm X?” on the Claremont Institute’s The American Mind with Charles Kesler:
Nicholas Buccola on Frederick Douglass and Libertarianism
Faculty partner Nicholas Buccola considers Douglass’s place in and his lasting contribution to the classical liberal movement in America.
Selected online resources on the Black American experience:
Colonial Life for Freedmen and Slaves
African-Americans played a crucial role in colonial American life – for example, during the 18th century, a full half of colonial Williamsburg’s population consisted of free and enslaved blacks. In memory of these residents, the Colonial Williamsburg website has gathered together historical articles on black everyday life at the time, including details of the conditions of slavery, the African-American family structure, and motivations to fight during the Revolutionary War.
Several black migrations, both forced and by free will, have occurred since colonial times. The PBS website maps these migrations as a part of Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. The webpage tracks migrations across hundreds of years, including the Middle Passage that brought many to death and enslavement, the Underground Railroad that brought many to freedom, and the Great Migration of the 20th century that brought greater economic opportunities.
African-American Military Contributions
Black servicemen have honorably served their country throughout America’s history, from the Battle of Lexington to recent conflicts in the Middle East. In honor of Black History Month, the U.S. Army offers an in-depth timeline of black military service. MilitaryTimes, a news website for veterans, also offers a variety of historical articles that specifically focus on the African-American military experience.
What So Proudly We Hail
The What So Proudly We Hail online curriculum offers an ebook,“The Meaning of Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” that reflects on the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement and assess their efforts to overcome racial discrimination and to promote racial equality and integration.
Are we at last one nation, with liberty and justice for all? In this ebook, we reflect on the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, and assess their efforts to overcome racial discrimination and to promote racial equality and integration. The first chapter explores the origins and traditions of the Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration, with particular attention to the American character of the holiday. The second chapter presents powerful accounts of the black American experience during the era of racial segregation with a focus on showing the need for civil rights. The third chapter brings us to the Civil Rights Movement itself, evaluating the goals, strategies, and tactics of the Movement’s various leaders. The final chapter raises questions about the challenging and vexed issues left open in the wake of the successes of the Civil Rights Movement: equality; family, religion, and culture; and identity.
Each selection includes a brief introduction by the editors with guiding questions for discussion. Also unique to this collection is a never before published letter by coeditor Leon R. Kass about his and his wife Amy’s experience working with civil rights activists in Mississippi during the summer of 1965.
The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship
The Library of Congress exhibition The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship, has an online counterpart that explores its African American collections. Sections of the exhibit include “Free Blacks in the Antebellum Period,” “The Booker T. Washington Era,” and “The Depression, The New Deal, and World War II,” and feature artwork, letters, and photos from each era.
*If you are a JMC fellow who’s published on the African-American experience, slavery, or civil rights, and would like your work included here, send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Relevant Supreme Court Cases from the JMC First Amendment Library:
R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (1992)
A teenager in St. Paul, Minnesota was charged under a local ordinance pertaining to “Bias-Motivated Crime” after he took part in burning a cross on the lawn of a black family. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court overturned the teenager’s conviction on the grounds that the ordinance in question was overbroad, which is to say it was not “narrowly tailored” to restrict only the kinds of speech that are not protected by the First Amendment. The Court did not rule that no law could criminalize the burning of crosses on someone’s lawn–indeed it emphasized that doing so is illegal under ordinary criminal codes–but concluded only that the particular ordinance used in this case was unconstitutional.
Virginia v. Black (2003)
In Virginia v. Black, the Supreme Court struck down a Virginia statute that criminalized cross-burning. The Court ruled that while states have the right to ban cross-burning when it is used to threaten or intimidate individuals, it cannot ban cross-burning as such. The statute in question explicitly stated that cross-burning was to be regarded as sufficient evidence “of an intent to intimidate a person or group.” It therefore cut off the opportunity of any defendants to argue that their particular burning of a cross was not intended to threaten anyone but was intended only as a symbolic expression of principles, however objectionable those principles might be.