A federal board on Thursday approved the renaming of 16 sites in Texas whose names include the word âNegro,â a change long sought by politicians and activists in the state, but one that will affect only a small fraction of the hundreds of racist names of towns and geographical features that remain in the United States.
The U.S. Board on Geographic Names, a committee of the Department of the Interior, signed off on the name changes weeks after lawmakers in Texas unanimously passed a bill urging the board to approve them. (...)
The United States has a long history of towns and geographical features with racist names, and recent decades are dotted with efforts to change them. Many have been renamed, but other efforts have been met with resistance, often by locals who take pride in their history and see no reason to change.
âPeople chose to give these offensive names to roads and rivers and creeks because they wanted to make a statement, a statement that would go beyond their voice, beyond that generation,â Mr. Ellis said. âIf itâs a statement that is not something we want people to emulate, we should recognize that.â
In January, 2011, the House of Representatives undertook a recitation of the United States Constitution on the House floor. Lawmakers started with âWe the Peopleâ and took turns reading the text aloud for the next hour and a half. Orchestrated by a new Republican majority to perform devotion to the Constitution, the exercise excluded some provisions, including ones that supported slavery: the three-fifths clause, which says that an enslaved person counts as âthree-fifthsâ of a person for the purpose of apportioning congressional representatives and taxes, and the fugitive-slave clause, which commands that an enslaved person âescaping into anotherâ state, regardless of its laws, âshall be deliveredâ back to the slave owner. The Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery after the Civil War, was read aloud by Representative John Lewis. But Representative James Clyburn, the top-ranking Black congressman, refused to participate in the reading, calling the choice to omit provisions ârevisionist history.â Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr., similarly objected that the âredacted constitutional reading gives little deference to the long history of improving the Constitutionâ through âthe blood, sweat and tears of millions of Americans.â
A decade later, during the nationwide grappling with racial injustice that followed the murder of George Floyd, I saw a striking Twitter discussion among professors of constitutional law, a course that I also teach. They were debating whether much of the Supreme Court case of Dred Scott v. Sandford should be excised from constitutional-law courses. In the case, which Scott brought in federal court to assert his freedom from enslavement, the Supreme Court held, in 1857, that Scott did not have the privilege to bring the suit because, as a Black person, he could not be a âcitizenâ within the meaning of the Constitution. Matthew Steilen, a law professor at the University at Buffalo, launched the Twitter thread and advocated for editing the case down to a minimalistic page or so, to omit text that is âso gratuitously insulting and demeaning.â He wondered whether assigning that material is asking students âto relive the humiliation of Taneyâs language as evidence of his doctrine of white supremacy.â
The Dred Scott case addressed the moral and political struggle that in those years was threatening to tear the United States apart: whether slavery would be allowed in newly acquired territories. The man who enslaved Scott had taken him from Missouri, a slave state, to live in Illinois, a free state, and in a federal territory (present-day Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and parts of the Dakotas) where Congress had made slavery unlawful. Scott claimed that his stay in Illinois and the territory had emancipated him; a common-law doctrine said slaveholders who intentionally transported enslaved people into free jurisdictions freed them, regardless of intent.
The problem, though, was that, under the Constitution, in order to bring the lawsuit in the first place, one had to be a âcitizen.â To arrive at the conclusion that Scott was not one, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney zeroed in on the statement in the Declaration of Independence that it was âself-evidentâ âthat all men are created equalâ and âendowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.â If the Founding Fathers intended to include Black people in that declaration while personally enslaving them, Taney reasoned, that would mean that the Founding Fathers were hypocrites who âwould have deserved and received universal rebuke and reprobation.â But Taney found it impossible that these âgreat menâ acted in a manner so âutterly and flagrantly inconsistent with the principles they asserted.â So he concluded, instead, that their intent was to exclude Black people from the American political community. Of the two possibilities, grotesque hypocrisy or white supremacy, Taney found the latter far more plausible.
Indeed, Taney, a former Maryland slaveholder, said the language of equality and rights âwould not in any part of the civilized world be supposed to embrace the negro race, which, by common consent, had been excluded from civilized Governments and the family of nations, and doomed to slavery.â The âunhappy black race,â he wrote, was ânever thought of or spoken of except as property, and when the claims of the owner or the profit of the trader were supposed to need protection.â Most notoriously, Taney wrote that Blacks were âregarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.â He also noted that the Constitution itself took slavery as a given in the fugitive-slave clause, and the slave-trade clause, prohibiting Congress to abolish the âMigration or Importation of such Personsâ before 1808 and allowing an import tax of up to âten dollars for each Person.â Taney took this as evidence that the countryâs founding document did not confer on Black people âthe blessings of liberty, or any of the personal rights so carefully provided for the citizen (...)
This woman is as the kids say "spittin' fire!" and is giving more real talk than I have ever heard. She really gets to the heart of the matter and that is a rare communicative skill indeed for those that are not deflecting and obfuscating: