Unfinished Business: Racial Junctures in Us History and Their Legacy
June 17, 2002
Being reprinted in David Lyons, CONFRONTING INJUSTICE: Moral History and Political Theory, Oxford University Press, May 2013.
Boston Univ. School of Law Research Paper No. 02-06
This essay traces the 17th century creation of race-based slavery in the North American English colonies, its 18th century entrenchment in the U.S. Constitution and subsequent public policy, the aborted post-Civil War “reconstruction” of the former slave states, followed by the development of Jim Crow, a system as close to chattel slavery as federal policy allowed, and the 20th century commitment to civil rights. History reveals that race relations were fluid in the early colonies, that racial stratification was not predetermined, and that racist policies developed when decision-makers were aware of more egalitarian alternatives. Recent substantive civil rights reforms now appear irreversible, but public policy leaves largely undisturbed the persisting legacy of racial subordination, which defeats our ideal of equal opportunity and presents a radical challenge to people of good will.
Keywords: Slavery, racism, African Americans, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, civil rights, equal opportunity, reparations
JEL Classification: K1, K10, K19, K3, K39
Date posted: June 21, 2002 ; Last revised: May 5, 2013