Annette Gordon-Reed: January 6 a Turning Point

Historians in the News
tags: racism, democracy, Capitol Riot

Right-wing hysteria about "critical race theory" is not happening in a vacuum. It is part of a much larger project by the Jim Crow Republicans, neofascists and the broader white right to legitimize a new type of American apartheid in which nonwhites — especially Black people — do not have equal rights with white "conservatives" and others loyal to their cause.

This crisis of democracy has forced questions of history and public memory to the forefront of America's struggle against neofascism and authoritarianism.


Ultimately, these fights about the past are fronts in a larger war about the present and future of American society. In an effort to better understand these struggles over history, power, memory and the color line in the Age of Trump and beyond, I recently spoke with historian Annette Gordon-Reed.

She is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard University and the author of several books, including "Thomas Jefferson And Sally Hemings: An American Controversy" (which was awarded the National Book Award) and the Pulitzer Prize–winning "The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family." Gordon-Reed was also awarded the Pulitzer Prize in history in 2009. Her new book is "On Juneteenth."

In this conversation, Gordon-Reed explains how Donald Trump's coup attempt and his followers' attack on the Capitol represent a much older struggle in America over multiracial democracy and "white freedom." She warns that the events of Jan. 6 pose a fundamental threat to the future of the American republic and democratic experiment.

Gordon-Reed also discusses how African Americans, from slavery to freedom and beyond, have been stalwart defenders of the best principles of American democracy, yet find themselves still fighting against white people who want to deny them their civil rights. She locates the attacks on "critical race theory" relative to deeper societal questions about white guilt, evasions of reality and responsibility, historical memory and white supremacy.

How do we begin to understand the events of Jan. 6 within the larger history of America's multiracial democracy?  

It shows the predicament that we are in as a country. African Americans have from the very beginning been the people who tried to make the promise of America real. They believed in the words of the Declaration of Independence. African Americans have tried to uphold those words, in the face of other people who did not seem to take those words and the values as seriously as they did.

African Americans have long tried to uphold the values of the Declaration and the notion of equality in the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, which brought Black people into citizenship and represent the idea that people should be treated as equal citizens. Yet there are people right now here in the United States who do not take those parts of the Constitution seriously. They are imagined as "true" Americans, and are given the benefit of the doubt when, for example, they attack the Capitol building.

Read entire article at Salon

comments powered by Disqus