Fourteenth Amendment Citizenship and the Reconstruction-Era Black Public Sphere
33 Pages Posted: 21 Sep 2009
Date Written: September 18, 2009
This article, which is part of a symposium on the 140th anniversary of the fourteenth amendment, explores the Reconstruction-Era black public sphere as a source for possible meanings for the fourteenth amendment. Similar to some of the work of popular constitutionalism scholars, I propose that an important and overlooked source for meanings of constitutional citizenship lies in the statements and actions of those who attempted to redefine citizenship in a more egalitarian and democratic manner and who established meanings for citizenship on the ground. To do this I borrow theoretical frameworks from political and social theory: civil society and the public sphere. I do so because these concepts capture the structure of nineteenth century social experience while at the same time also connecting this experience to modern notions of politics and society. After explicating some of the main principles of civil society and public sphere theory, I analyze a particular form of civil society and the public sphere that I think reveals important aspects of democratic citizenship - the black convention movement. This movement both enacted citizenship on the ground and engaged in a discourse about citizenship in the public sphere that presented alternative, progressive visions of citizenship, ones that included political rights (suffrage) and social rights (access to the public sphere). The article concludes with thoughts on how the black public sphere reflected different and significant understandings of democratic citizenship, equality, freedom compared to how those concepts were constructed in the dominant public sphere.
Keywords: black public sphere, fourtheenth amendment, Reconstruction; civil society, democratic citizenship
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