The issue of race relations in the United States has once again been making headlines around the world, following the death of an African-American man in police custody. George Floyd, 46, died in Minneapolis on 25 May after being pinned to the ground by a white police officer. The incident sparked protest and unrest in cities around the country, and reignited longstanding tensions both about police killings of black Americans and wider racism in the US.
It’s a complex subject about which feelings, understandably, run extremely high. Here, in the first of an occasional series of blogs exploring how the past manifests itself in 21st-century America, I’ll be looking at the ways in which historians writing for this website have tried to make sense of race relations and civil rights in the US. Although the current riots may, in part, have been fuelled by frustrations caused by the coronavirus pandemic, they’re also evidence that the issue of race remains very close to the surface in the United States.
A great starting point is this in-depth podcast interview with US historian Kevin Gaines, who is the Julian Bond Professor of Civil Rights and Social Justice at the University of Virginia. Part of our new ‘Everything You Wanted to Know About…’ series, it’s an expert run-through of the history of the civil rights movement, racial tensions in America, and the history behind the police violence of recent weeks. Click below to listen.