We can’t escape the fact that our nation’s treatment of African Americans represents an indelible stain on its soul. Between 1619, when a Dutch ship first brought African slaves ashore at Jamestown, and 1865, when the 13th Amendment officially outlawed slavery, as many as 9 million Africans and their descendants were held in bondage and servitude in the United States. These men and women were routinely murdered, raped, beaten, and deprived of the most basic human rights.
Nor did the oppression of African Americans end with the abolition of slavery. From lynching to the rise and fall and rise of the Klan to legally enforced segregation, slavery was followed by more than a century and a half of second‐class citizenship. And even in the decades since the worst aspects of Jim Crow were finally outlawed in the 1960s, the treatment of African Americans has remained unequal.
Far too many conservatives pretend that the mere removal of legal barriers to African‐American progress instantly created a level playing field. In reality, even if overt discrimination has greatly diminished today, the consequences of past discrimination are still with us. From abuses in the criminal‐justice system to continued discrimination in employment, housing, and education, full equality remains as more aspiration than reality.