Buried Civil Rights Treasures Unearthed in New Texts, by Cerere Kihoro


Cerere Kihoro

Buried Civil Rights Treasures Unearthed in New Texts

by Cerere Kihoro (bio)

To many, Barack Obama’s election marked a new era of race relations – a time when Americans will come closer to resolving the lingering racial issues in politics and society.  

Similarly, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech is often considered the catalyst that awakened the passion of freedom-loving, patriotic Americans to embrace genuine colorblindness, equality of opportunity and equality before the law. 

After all, is there any doubt that America has – in Dr. King’s words – “rise[n] from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice”?  Some may hang onto cynicism, but the personal popularity of the new president – despite growing disfavor with his policies – indicates that crude conventions of racism have long been renounced. 

While outposts of prejudice and hostility certainly remain, the mainstream no longer tolerates the overt bigotry of the past. 

But this process didn’t start with Dr. King.  America has a long written history of this change of heart.  Race and Liberty in America (Jonathan J. Bean, editor; The Independent Institute and the University Press of Kentucky) and The 13th Amendment Freedom Week Manual (authored and published by Project 21 member Kariem Abdul Haqq) memorialize the words of those brave souls who took the first steps on the journey towards the sunlit path Americans now walk. 

Bean and the Independent Institute perform a generous service by compiling a treasure trove of historical documents that create a comprehensive account of the progression of race relations in American history. 

Although many of the Founding Fathers were classical liberals, little is acknowledged these days of the contributions of classical liberalism to race and American politics.  People instead tend to extrapolate contemporary political experience backwards – thinking about the events of yesteryear in ideological patterns they recently picked up. 

With its wide collection of writings on race and immigration, Race & Liberty neatly sidesteps left-right characterization and permits the pure ideas of those who endeavored to focus the debate on our common origins, dignity and destiny to shine through.  It does not seek to proselytize to the reader.  Instead, it provides an insight into the intellectual foundation of civil rights traditions firmly rooted in American principles: individual freedom, equality before the law and fidelity to the Constitution. 

Race and Liberty will expose readers to documents such as Frederick Douglass’s famed 1852 Fourth of July Oration, congressional testimony by black stone mason Jack Johnson in 1871 about being harassed by the KKK for voting Republican and a modern National Review essay by Ward Connerly of the American Civil Rights Institute.  Race and Liberty is insightful, thought-provoking and just what is needed to freshen up the stale, bi-polar attitude toward questions of race that stifles contemporary political discussion in both the classroom and the newsroom. 

Similarly, Haqq’s The 13th Amendment Freedom Week Manual is an earnest attempt at encouraging blacks to break into the social, political and economic mainstream. 

Haqq takes an unorthodox approach toward chronicling the struggle for freedom that engulfed this nation and lead to the formal abolition of slavery through the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  His book features the prominent pro- and anti-slavery writings and other documents providing a brief glimpse into the events and literature of the antebellum period. 

It’s obvious Haqq believes it is important for blacks to understand the legal details of this period in order to embrace its historical outcomes as a unique part of their own history.  But this is not a textbook.  Instead, Haqq endeavors to present a “man-on-the-street” analysis.  He reaches out and inserts his own interpretations of economic and political systems as well.  He communicates these weighty issues in a form more palatable to the everyday reader.   The 13th Amendment Freedom Week Manual does not set out on a grand mission, which is perhaps the reason for its simplicity. 

Both books embark on a pilgrimage to rediscover the meaning of freedom – then and now.

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