Revolution #265, April 8, 2012

The U.S. Constitution and the Constitution for the
New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)

Two Constitutions, Two Different Systems,
Two Different Futures for African-American People

In January 2011, for the first time, the opening session of the U.S. Congress included a reading of the U.S. Constitution. Tea Party activists had just helped win a significant number of new Republican congressional seats. And this reading was widely acknowledged as a symbolic gesture to emphasize a new Republican rule requiring that all proposed bills must cite text from the U.S. Constitution permitting them to become law.

For 90 minutes, members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, took turns reading the Constitution. But in consultation with the Congressional Research Service and others, they read an edited version of the country’s founding document.

The version they read covered over the fact that the U.S. Constitution was not only written at the time of slavery, but in order to uphold and defend the practice of owning human beings as private property. This version did not include the sections referring to slaves as “three-fifths of all other Persons,” indentured servants “bound to Service for a Term of Years,” and the fugitive-slave clause that required that slaves that escaped to another state be returned to the owner in the state from which they escaped.

* * * * *

It is an ugly exposure of America’s foundations that slavery is openly sanctioned in the U.S. Constitution. But part of the “genius” of the U.S. Constitution is that it is a charter that appears to treat everyone the same—while concealing and reinforcing the profound inequalities, disparities, and class divisions at the heart of the capitalist economic, social, and political system. Indeed, since the abolition of slavery, the U.S. Constitution has provided the legal framework for the continuing oppression of Black people.

The National Civil Right Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, provides people with some powerful history of the struggle against this oppression.

Before the Civil War, Memphis, Tennessee, was a major slave market. Auction Square on North Main Street still displays the original plaque which commemorates the two kinds of trade that shaped much of the economy of Memphis at the time—slaves and cotton.

At the National Civil Rights Museum, you can go on a searing and unforgettable journey that deeply and artistically depicts the lives, struggles, resistance, and aspirations for the liberation of Black people in the United States. The museum’s corridors and galleries pull you through hundreds of years of horrific oppression and courageous resistance.

Beginning with the European-controlled slave dungeons on Africa’s western coast in the 17th century, through the savagery of the “middle passage” across the Atlantic, in which millions of African people died, and into the centuries of slavery. Exhibits display the heroic efforts of the Black soldiers who fought for the Union in the U.S. Civil War and the bitter results of emancipation’s betrayal that came not long after that war ended. Then the long nightmare of Jim Crow and legal segregation, the lynch mobs, the rise of the KKK and other racist vigilantes. The museum sweeps a visitor into the upheavals and transformations of the 20th century: the great migrations out of the rural South into the cities of the North and Midwest, the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement in the ’50s with battles around public education and against the savage lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955.

The heart of the museum focuses on the upheavals of the ’50s and ’60s, struggle that began as the Civil Rights Movement and then erupted into the radical and revolutionary movements for Black Liberation.

Many people who walk through this tour leave it emotionally drained, filled with turbulent and intense emotions, with indelible images of centuries of oppression—and heroic resistance—etched in their memory.

A theme of this museum is that the U.S. Constitution, from its origins and at key junctures, provided a basis for greater and expanding numbers of people to be included in its aims of equal civil rights for everyone—won at the cost of great struggle, sacrifice and bloodshed.

But the question must be asked. What lessons should actually be drawn from this legacy of horrific oppression and courageous resistance? Can the liberation of Black and other oppressed people be won through the provisions and in the framework of the U.S. Constitution? Or is a radical—a revolutionary—leap beyond and away from that framework required for the emancipation of all of humanity, including Black people?

* * * * *

The U.S. Constitution was drafted, debated, and approved by slave owners and exploiters. This is a profound truth about the historical birth of the United States and the character of its founding legal document.

Still many people argue that the U.S. Constitution, despite its origins in a society that practiced slavery, has protected and expanded the political and civil rights of ever broader numbers of people. The Constitution is seen as something that continues to provide the legal foundation and political vision for overcoming existing inequalities and injustices. In particular, the argument goes, Black people in the U.S. have gone from being enslaved to the point where a Black man is president, a development that could only have happened because of the provisions and foundation established by the U.S. Constitution.

This message—that the U.S. Constitution establishes a vision and basis for achieving a society where “everyone is equal”—is profoundly UNTRUE and actually does great harm.

From its writing and adoption in 1787 to today, this Constitution has provided the legal framework and justifications for a society torn by deep inequalities, and the preservation of a whole economic and social setup in which a relatively small number of people rule over an exploitative society, and maintain that dominance. As Bob Avakian has pointed out:

“Over the 200 years that this Constitution has been in force, down to today, despite the formal rights of persons it proclaims, and even though the Constitution has been amended to outlaw slavery where one person actually owns another as property, the U.S. Constitution has always remained a document that upholds and gives legal authority to a system in which the masses of people, or their ability to work, have been used as wealth-creating property for the profit of the few.”

In particular, the subordinate, oppressed—and, for almost a century, enslaved—position of Black people has been sanctioned by this Constitution. And this oppression has been reinforced by laws and court rulings flowing from this Constitution and the social-economic system based on exploitation that it serves.

* * * * *

In 2010 the Revolutionary Communist Party published the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) (CNSRNA). This visionary document is based on the new synthesis of communism developed over decades by Bob Avakian.

Take a Radical Step into the Future...
This Constitution (Draft Proposal) is written with the future in mind. It is intended to set forth a basic model, and fundamental principles and guidelines, for the nature and functioning of a vastly different society and government than now exists: the New Socialist Republic in North America, a socialist state which would embody, institutionalize and promote radically different relations and values among people; a socialist state whose final and fundamental aim would be to achieve, together with the revolutionary struggle throughout the world, the emancipation of humanity as a whole and the opening of a whole new epoch in human history–communism–with the final abolition of all exploitative and oppressive relations among human beings and the destructive antagonistic conflicts to which these relations give rise.

Buy online at: or at amazon (search for: Constitution-Socialist-Republic-America)

Send money orders or checks of $8 plus $2.78 shipping/handling/tax to: RCP Publications, PO Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654

This Constitution is nothing less than the framework for a whole new society: a new political system in which the will of the people will be expressed... and a new economic system that will actually be geared to meeting people’s material needs, as well as taking care of the environment and contributing to the revolutionary international process of eliminating all exploitation. Even more fundamentally, this is a framework to advance to a communist world—a world in which exploitation and oppression will be things to read about in history books and people will no longer be divided into antagonistic social groups but will instead live and work together as a freely associating community of human beings all over the planet.

The CNSRNA is a draft proposal for an actual Constitution: the framework, the guiding principles and the processes of a radically new government, a radically new form of state power. We ARE building a movement for revolution—a revolution that WILL put this document into practice. These are the rules of a whole new game... a guide for those who will lead the new power for what to do on Day One, and after.

On the question of doing away with national oppression the Preamble to the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) states:

“The New Socialist Republic in North America is a multi-national and multi-lingual state, which is based on the principle of equality between different nationalities and cultures and has as one of its essential objectives fully overcoming national oppression and inequality, which was such a fundamental part of the imperialist USA throughout its history. Only on the basis of these principles and objectives can divisions among humanity by country and nation be finally overcome and surpassed and a world community of freely associating human beings be brought into being. This orientation is also embodied in the various institutions of the state and in the functioning of the government in the New Socialist Republic in North America.”

* * * * *

This article begins a series that will compare and contrast the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)—in relation to the enslavement, oppression and emancipation of African-American people. We encourage readers to discuss and study this series; spread and share it among your friends; get it into the classrooms, communities and prisons; and send us your comments.

Part 1: A Slaveholders' Union

The U.S. Constitution was drafted, debated, and approved by slave owners and exploiters. Despite this profound truth about the historical birth of the United States, many people argue that the Constitution has protected and expanded the political and civil rights of the people; and that it continues to provide the legal foundation and political vision for overcoming existing inequalities and injustices. But this message—that the U.S. Constitution establishes a vision and basis for achieving a society where “everyone is equal”—is profoundly UNTRUE and actually does great harm. From the very beginning this Constitution has provided the legal framework and justifications for a society torn by deep inequalities, and the preservation of a whole economic and social setup in which a relatively small number of people rule over an exploitative society and maintain that dominance.

In 2010 the Revolutionary Communist Party published the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) (CNSRNA). This visionary document, based on the new synthesis of communism developed over decades by Bob Avakian, provides the framework for a whole new society, a framework to advance to a communist world—a world no longer divided into antagonistic social groups, where people will instead live and work together as a freely associating community of human beings, all over the planet.

This series compares and contrasts the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)—in relation to the enslavement, oppression and emancipation of African-American people. We encourage readers to discuss and study this series, spread and share it among your friends; get it into the classrooms, communities and prisons; and send us your comments.

* * * * *

American enslavement of African people and their descendents was a never-ending hell of work, abuse, torture, rape, and degradation. It was enforced by whips, chains, shotguns, and vicious bloodhounds. The culture and outlook of white supremacy penetrated every aspect of life in the U.S., South and North alike. And all this was enshrined in the “law of the land,” starting with the U.S. Constitution—the binding legal document of the new country.

The U.S. Constitution was, and is, dedicated to the defense of “private property rights” based on exploitation, and for eight decades that included the enslavement of Black people. James Madison, the main author of the U.S. Constitution, wrote that the law in the U.S. regarded slaves as “inhabitants, but debased by servitude below the equal level of free inhabitants.… The true state of the case is that they partake of both these qualities: being considered by our laws, in some respects, as persons, and in other respects as property.... This is in fact their true character. It is the character bestowed on them by the laws under which they live; and it will not be denied that these are the proper criterion.”1

Here Madison was arguing for and defending a legal principle that established Black people as a form of property in U.S. law.

“Inhabitants, but debased by servitude below the equal level of free inhabitants”—which meant slaves had no rights whatsoever under the law.

“Being considered by our laws, in some respects, as persons, and in other respects as property”—which meant they could be put on an auction block to be bought and sold, and witness their loved ones taken from them as someone else’s purchase.

“It is the character bestowed on them by the laws under which they live”—which meant they could be forced to work like animals under the whip, chained up and hounded by dogs if they dared to escape; subjected to subhuman conditions of life, and the constant knowledge that the slave master could end their lives on even the slightest whim.

During more than the first 70 years of the United States, constitutionally sanctioned and court approved cruelty towards enslaved Black people knew no limits. The system of “justice” developed under the U.S. Constitution was dedicated to providing the legal basis for complete control of the slave master over their human property. For example: “In one case, a Missouri court considered the ‘crime’ of Celia, a slave who had killed her master while resisting a sexual assault. State law deemed ‘any woman’ in such circumstances to be acting in self-defense. But Celia, the court ruled, was not, legally speaking, ‘a woman’. She was a slave, whose master had complete power over her person. The court sentenced her to death. However, since Celia was pregnant, her execution was postponed until the child was born, so as not to deprive Celia’s owner’s heirs of their property rights.”2

A Slaveholders’ Union

The enslavement of African people and their descendents was integral to the development of what Europeans called the “new world” beginning in 1502. By the time the U.S. declared its independence from England in 1776, slavery existed in all 13 colonies, but it was most concentrated in the southern colonies—Virginia, Maryland, North and South Carolina, and Georgia, especially in the cotton and tobacco plantation regions.

In May 1787, 55 delegates gathered in Philadelphia to write a constitution for a nation formed from the 13 newly independent British colonies. Since winning their war of independence, the former colonies had until this time been held together tenuously, by a weak and largely ineffective central power.

Whether these delegates could compose and agree upon a document capable of uniting the colonies into a coherent national state was not a settled question. Sharp, contentious debate expressing the conflicting interests of representatives from different states, in particular the slave owners of the South and the merchant capitalists of the North, continued for over four months before a complete document was drafted and approved by the delegates.

Much of their contention was shaped and driven by the question of slavery. George William Van Cleve writes in A Slaveholders’ Union: Slavery, Politics, and the Constitution in the Early American Republic, that by 1770 slavery in the American colonies “had become a central economic institution … slaves had become a major economic asset, with a conservatively estimated collective market value of about 14 million pounds sterling (about $2.4 billion today). Slaves constituted nearly 20% of total private wealth in the 13 colonies in 1774.”3

Two convention delegates delivered speeches denouncing slavery. But the debate here was not about the morality of slavery at the Constitutional Convention. There were no passionate speeches condemning this barbaric atrocity inherited from a colonial empire. There were no demands for its immediate abolition. The arguments concerning slavery centered on several inter-related issues: whether property or population would be the main factor determining representation in the new government’s congress, and the power of the new central government to control trade, commerce, and treaties—and most specifically, the international slave trade.

One Constitution, Two Mutually Dependent Economic Systems

Defenders of the U.S. Constitution often note that it doesn’t contain the word “slavery.” There are several possible reasons for this, including that at least some of its writers and signers recognized the contradiction in overtly recognizing slavery in a document that proclaims to be based on and represent “the people.”

But the fact is that this Constitution—the highest, binding political/legal document of the United States—acknowledged and defended the outright ownership as “property” of an entire category of human beings: Africans and their descendents. Building upon this constitutional foundation, the U.S., through both its political apparatus and its system of courts and laws, continued in its first 70 years to uphold this status of human “property” as a legal category.

The newly formed U.S. included two co-existing economic systems—capitalism and slavery, two ways of organizing society on a foundation of exploitation. These two systems were mutually dependent on each other. The merchants, lawyers, slave traders and slave owners, bankers, ship owners and other prosperous men who debated and wrote the U.S. Constitution needed to create a framework in which both capitalism and slavery could continue to develop. They needed a central state structure capable of protecting their sometimes clashing interests, while at the same time holding them within a unified federal state. They needed a constitution—a document that established the legal and political “rules” of the new country.

From the beginning, the U.S. was formed with the understanding that such a unified state was needed to forge a powerful new country in the Western hemisphere, one capable of resisting domination or interference by European powers, and with a central government strong enough to work out differences between northern capitalists and southern slave owners, especially as it expanded into its western territories. The Constitution’s “pro-slavery character” was the result of efforts to deal with this contradiction. Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution declared the slaves to be three-fifths human beings. In this way, the property of the slave owners, i.e. human slaves, were counted in the system of political representation—giving the South an advantage in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College—while denying slaves legal rights as persons.

Slavery was concentrated in the southern states. But it existed in a mutually reliant economic structure with the mercantile capitalism then dominant in the northern states and within a common political framework. Slavery was decisive to the growth, expansion, and prosperity of the entire country. The economic well-being of both southern slave owners and northern capitalists depended on each other’s activities. Cotton and other agricultural products from the slave plantations were processed in northern factories and shipped from northern ports, which also dominated most of the trade coming into the new country.

The Constitution that emerged from the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia protected both the capitalist and slave forms of exploitation and enrichment for a small number of people and established a means for their often intense differences to be worked through. The framework that the U.S. Constitution provided for the coherence and development of the new country enabled the U.S., as a whole, and in both its slave and non-slave components, to expand dramatically in the decades after independence was won.

The Missouri Compromise

The years after the U.S. Constitution was written and adopted were years of rapid westward expansion, into areas that are now states like Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana in the North, and Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee in the South. Genocidal campaigns against the Native Americans who lived in areas coveted by white Americans made this expansion possible. And agreements made in Congress, under the provisions of this Constitution, established the legal basis for areas south of the Ohio River to be developed as slave territories, soon to be slave states.

Missouri, which lies mostly north of the Ohio River, became a battleground—as both pro- and anti-slavery forces were moving into Missouri in large numbers by 1815. The question of what the character of that state would be was up for grabs. As Van Cleve notes, “the Missouri controversy of 1819-1821 was a titanic economic and political struggle between America’s sections over their westward expansion. The dispute placed slavery in a clash with an emerging free-labor ideology.”4

The resolution of these “disputes” firmly upheld the legal, constitutional basis for slavery as a long-term social institution in the United States. Missouri was admitted to the union as a slave state. In exchange the non-slave state of Maine entered the union so that Congressional “equilibrium” between the two sections of the country would be maintained.

The equilibrium proved to be fragile. For the next 40 years disputes between northern and southern states erupted repeatedly as the country continued to push westward. The key point of ongoing, unsettled contention—whether the territories being opened up to American expansion would be slave or non-slave—was argued and fought over repeatedly. But the outcome of the Missouri Compromise further strengthened and emboldened pro-slavery forces, and led them to push for further expansion of slave territories. It also further solidified the constitutionality of slavery in newly formed states or territories, not just the states that had originally been part of the union.

From the time the Constitution was approved in 1788 to 1821, when the Missouri Compromise had been finalized, the number of slave states and the total number of enslaved people had both more than doubled. A huge proportion of the national wealth—in the North as well as the South—had been amassed from the backbreaking, never-ending labor of slaves—people who had no rights and no legal ability to resist their oppression; who were routinely worked to the point of death, sold away from families and loved ones, cruelly maimed and tortured, and systematically denied any education. The growth and expansion of slavery, as well as the enshrined right of slave masters and overseers to mete out any punishment they desired to their “property,” were built into the U.S. Constitution and were constitutionally protected.

As bargains and compromises were made in the halls of Congress, and as rulings came down in the U.S. Supreme Court, millions of human beings continued to have the legal, constitutional status of “property” without the rights of citizens. The blood of countless slaves was a mortar that bound together the increasingly clashing northern and southern sections of the country.

The Bloodhound Law (Fugitive Slave Act)

“No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.” Constitution of the United States, Article 4, Section 2

Put in plain English, this section of the U.S. Constitution said that a slave would remain the property of his or her “owner” wherever the slave may go, even into areas where slavery was not recognized. It further stipulated that officials in non-slave states who came upon escaped slaves were obliged to deliver the “property” to the “rightful owner.” To make things perfectly clear, Congress in 1793 passed the “Fugitive Slave Law” to require the return of “runaway” slaves.

But by the late 1840s, runaway slaves were becoming a major problem for slave owners, especially in areas on the perimeter of the slave states. A network of safe houses and secret trails called the Underground Railroad was operated by Black people and white abolitionists to help escaped slaves get to non-slave territory in the North and in Canada, and by the 1840s and 1850s thousands of Black people were escaping from slavery through the railroad.

Further, several northern states had enacted measures called “personal liberty laws” which were aimed at nullifying the Fugitive Slave Act and preventing bounty hunters from snatching Black people off the streets in northern cities and sending them to slavery. In several instances crowds of white abolitionists forced the release of slaves who had been arrested. Well-known intellectuals and writers such as John Greenleaf Whittier and Ralph Waldo Emerson condemned the law and called for people to defy it.

Around the same time, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850—called the “Bloodhound Law” by abolitionists because of the bloodhounds used to track slaves—was passed as yet another “compromise.” But it in fact went even further than the original Fugitive Slave Act—it required that citizens of non-slave states capture and return slaves to their “rightful owners,” under severe penalty of law.

Dred Scott, and a Crisis of Legitimacy

A ruling concerning a slave named Dred Scott was a stark and concentrated example of the logic of the constitutionality of slavery. Dred Scott was a Black man who had been born into slavery, and served as a slave to a U.S. Army officer who had been stationed throughout the U.S. After the officer was transferred from Minnesota to the slave state of Missouri, Scott and his wife filed a suit in federal court seeking their freedom, which he said had been established because they had lived in non-slave states.

In 1857, the United States Supreme Court ruled that neither Dred Scott nor any person of “African descent” could file a lawsuit in a U.S. court, since they could not be citizens of the U.S. The Supreme Court further ruled that simply living outside an area where slavery was established did not establish Scott’s freedom, since this would “deprive his owner of his property.”

Roger B. Taney, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, summarized his ruling with these infamous words: saying that the authors of the Constitution—the “founders”—regarded and legally institutionalized Black people 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.”

The Supreme Court’s decision emboldened the southern slave owners, and infuriated many anti-slavery forces throughout the North. The slave owners argued that the Supreme Court’s decision in effect negated the Missouri Compromise, and would restore to them their constitutional right to bring their slaves anywhere in the United States. Many northerners regarded the Dred Scott decision as a culmination of a decades-long drive to expand slavery, and vowed to defy and oppose it. The differences between the two sides could no longer be reconciled.

Four years after the Dred Scott ruling, the U.S. Civil War began.

Part 2: Reconstruction, and the First Great Betrayal, 1867-1896

 “We has a right to the land where we are located. For why? I tell you. Our wives, our children, our husbands, has been sold over and over again to purchase the lands we now locates upon; for that reason we have a divine right to the land.… And then didn’t we clear the land, and raise de crops ob corn, ob cotton, ob tobacco, ob rice, ob sugar, ob everything. And den didn’t dem large cities in de North grow up on de cotton and de sugar and de rice we made? … I say dey has grown rich, and my people is poor.”5

Freedman Bayley Wyat, 1867,
after he and other former slaves were
evicted by the U.S. Army from land
they were farming in Virginia

After northern victory in the Civil War, a key demand and need of Black people was land and the basic means to work on the land. As Bob Avakian wrote, “Land ownership was at that time crucial for Black people to have as some kind of economic ‘anchor’ and basis for them to resist being forced back into conditions of virtual if not literal slavery, of serf-like oppression, on the southern plantations.” In 1865, as the war was reaching its end, U.S. Army General William Sherman issued an order providing 40 acres of land and surplus army mules to newly freed Black people in coastal areas of Georgia and South Carolina. But this order was overturned by President Andrew Johnson soon after he took office that year, and ownership of the land was returned to the white former slave owners who had possessed it before the war. The phrase “40 acres and a mule” became a bitter reminder of the betrayal of Black people by the federal government.

But in the brief period after the Civil War known as Reconstruction, there were major transformations in the lives of Black people. As Avakian wrote, these years witnessed “significant changes and improvements in the lives of Black people in the South. The right to vote and hold office, and some of the other Constitutional rights that are supposed to apply to the citizens of the U.S. were partly, if not fully, realized by former slaves during Reconstruction. …During these ten years of Reconstruction, with all the sharp contradictions involved, there was a real upsurge and sort of flowering of bourgeois-democratic reforms. This was not the proletarian revolution, but at that time it was very significant.”6

Three constitutional amendments—the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth—were passed during the years of Reconstruction, as were some federal laws (the Enforcement Acts and two Civil Rights bills), which were supposed to give substance to these amendments.

The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery—“except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted”; i.e., prisoners. The heart of the Fourteenth Amendment granted U.S. citizenship to “all persons” born in the U.S., and extended the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution to states, saying that “no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of its laws.” The Fifteenth Amendment said that no citizen of the U.S. could be denied the right to vote by the federal or state government because of their “race, color, or condition of previous servitude.”

From the onset, these developments were met with convulsions of mass violence across the entire area of the former Confederacy. The Ku Klux Klan was founded and grew dramatically in these years, carrying out lynchings, night raids, and terroristic assaults upon newly freed Black people across the South. Historian Eric Foner wrote that the KKK and similar racist organizations were “in effect … a military force serving the interests of the Democratic party, the planter class, and all those who desired the restoration of white supremacy.”7

This violence pervaded every aspect of society, and was intended to enforce a culture of white supremacy, and of degradation and fear among Black people. Foner wrote, “More commonly, violence was directed at … ‘impudent negroes’—those who no longer adhered to patterns of behavior demanded under slavery. A North Carolina freedman related how, after he was whipped, the Klan assailants ‘told me the law, that whenever I met a white person, no matter who he was, whether he was poor or rich, I was to take off my hat.’”8

An Inferno of Racist Violence Sanctioned by Court Rulings

Louisiana was a particularly violent inferno of racist mob violence against newly enfranchised Black people. In a book appropriately titled The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction, Charles Lane wrote that, “Over three days in September [1868], [white terrorists] killed some two hundred freedmen in St. Landry Parish. Later that month, in Bossier Parish, just across the Red River from Shreveport … hundreds of armed whites poured into Bossier Parish, scouring the countryside … this soon turned into an all-out ‘nigger hunt,’ complete with bloodhounds. The killing lasted through October and the death toll reached 168.”9

On April 13, 1873, a mass slaughter of Black people occurred in Colfax, Louisiana, a town in the center of the state on the banks of the Red River. Of the almost 200 people involved in carrying out the mass murder in Colfax, only nine were eventually charged with any crime. Only three were convicted,10 not of murder, but of the federal crime of conspiring to prevent two of the murdered Black men from their constitutionally mandated “free exercise and enjoyment of the right to peaceably assemble.”

Such outright murderous, racist terror, when legally challenged, was backed up by the courts which ruled such acts constitutionally legal. Three years after the Colfax Massacre, the case appealing the conviction of these three was heard in an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court unanimously reversed the guilty verdicts on the three racist killers. The essence of the ruling was that “federal law … could not protect Blacks in exercising their right to vote.” And that “Federal law could not protect the ‘lives and liberty’ of Black people from murderous conspiracies. They [the Supreme Court] found this charge in the indictment ‘even more objectionable’ than those based on rights to assemble and vote … because the power to bring prosecution for murder ‘rests alone with the States’ … and the Fourteenth Amendment’s provision that prevents ‘any State’ from depriving ‘any person’ of life or liberty of any person adds nothing to the rights of one citizen against another.’”11

In other words, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution prevented state governments from organizing lynch mobs or preventing Black people from participating in political life. But if a mob of “ordinary citizens” did so, and the local and state officials allowed it to happen—that was no violation of the U.S. Constitution.

This ruling gave a green light to an onslaught of unprecedented racist terror against Black people in every southern state. As Bob Avakian wrote in the article “How this System has Betrayed Black People: Crucial Turning Points”: “…in 1877 something very dramatic happened. The federal army was withdrawn from the South and the masses of Black people were stripped of even the partial economic and political gains they had made and were subjugated in the most brutal ways and once again chained to the plantations, only now essentially in peonage instead of outright slavery.”

In what has become known as its “Cruikshank ruling” (after one of the murder defendants) the Supreme Court put what amounted to the U.S. Constitution’s seal of approval on the Colfax Massacre, and helped put a legal seal on the end to Reconstruction, when it seemed that equality for Black people could possibly be attained within the United States.

In ruling that the federal government would do nothing to prevent the mass murder of Black people by organized racist mobs, the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to decades of night riding KKK terror. In Louisiana an explicitly and overtly white supremacist state constitution was adopted, and became a model for other Southern state constitutions.

Other cases involving lynching came before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1883, 1906 and 1945, but the court’s decision in Cruikshank enshrined in U.S. constitutional law that the federal government would not intervene to end lynching in the South.” Lane wrote that in the Harris ruling—which came to be known as the Ku Klux Klan case—“The Supreme Court had meanwhile interpreted Black people’s other constitutional rights almost out of existence … In 1883, the Court decided United States vs. Harris. The case stemmed from a federal indictment of twenty members of a Tennessee lynch mob for violating section 2 of the Enforcement Act, which outlawed conspiracies to deprive anyone of the ‘equal protection of the laws.’ Invoking Cruikshank, … the Court unanimously struck down section 2. The lynching was not a federal matter, the Court said, because the mob consisted only of private individuals.”12

This ruling is worth repeating: Lynching was found not to be a federal matter, because the mob consisted only of private individuals.

Thus, the Supreme Court, the highest legal authority in the country, gave a legal green light to the lynching of Black people.

Indeed, during the years 1882-1951, the Tuskegee Institute (in figures many historians regard as an underestimation) —determined that 4,730 people were lynched in the United States; the vast majority of them Black, and almost all of them in Southern states.

Also in 1883, the same year as the Harris case, the U.S. Supreme Court heard what became known as “the Civil Rights Cases of 1883.” The Court ruled by an 8-1 vote to, in the words of historian Don E. Fehrenbacher, “void the Civil Rights Act of 1875.” Specifically the court ruled that “invasion of individual rights” by private individuals was not a matter in which the federal government could intervene. The “whites only” signs that had begun to appear throughout the South and in many parts of the North multiplied many times over, and took on the sanction of approval by U.S. law and Supreme Court ruling.  Frederick Douglass, himself a former slave who became a great leader in the fight to abolish slavery, said that in this ruling “the spirit or power of slavery lived on”. Legally sanctioned segregation of Black people began to exert its grip across the South.

Homer Plessy and the Constitutional Consolidation of Jim Crow in 1896

In the last three decades of the 19th century, the United States rapidly developed into a world capitalist power, and transitioned into a monopoly capitalist, or imperialist, country. Large-scale factory and mining industries mushroomed in the cities of the North and West. Slavery was no longer legal in the Southern states which had formed the Confederacy, but the former slave economies transformed into semi-feudal territories integrated into the capitalist-imperialist framework, and were dominated by sharecropping and other extreme forms of exploitation of Black people.

Agriculture—still based on extreme exploitation of Black people—remained the most profitable component of these states, and their most essential contribution to the entire capitalist economy of the U.S. Sharecropping—a harsh form of rural exploitation which differed slightly from place to place but always was founded upon ownership of the land and means to work it by white people, and.intense, year-round work by impoverished and overwhelmingly Black laborers—took root across the South. Millions of Black people were tied to land they worked endlessly but did not own. Under this system the crop harvested by former slaves would be taken by the white landowner to be sold. Out of the proceeds the landowner would deduct the costs of seeds and other supplies—and out of what was left, the Black farmers would get some share. But if the harvest was bad or the price of cotton fell, the Black farmer would end up in debt. And the white landowners typically defrauded the sharecroppers. So the situation was one where Black farmers were locked into debt and brutal poverty.

Also, as mentioned above, the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution had abolished slavery “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” After being arrested and imprisoned, sometimes for something as minor as vagrancy, hundreds of thousands of Black people continued to be forced into slave conditions and what amounted to slave labor. Across the South, and several places, such as Sugarland in Texas and Angola in Louisiana, large slave plantations were transformed into prisons housing huge numbers of Black people who performed the same back-breaking labor for no wages as their ancestors had.

Across the entire South a system of degradation and oppression that became known as Jim Crow was being institutionalized in the laws of every state and municipality. Black people were systematically, legally, and violently purged from voting rolls, prevented from riding in public transportation, living where they wanted, entering public buildings or using public facilities, and a thousand other humiliations that were woven deep into the fabric of everyday life. The so-called “color line” became a barrier Black people could not cross.

On June 7, 1892, a man in New Orleans named Homer Plessy decided to challenge this line. Plessy bought a ticket for a train ride from New Orleans to Covington, Louisiana—on a “whites only” car. Homer Plessy, as the Supreme Court wrote in its final decision, “‘entered a passenger train, and took possession of a vacant seat in a coach where passengers of the white race (sic) were accommodated.’ The conductor then ordered him to ‘vacate said coach, and move to one of persons not of the white race.’ When Plessy refused to move, ‘he was, with the aid of a police officer, forcibly ejected from said coach and hurried off to and imprisoned in the parish jail of New Orleans.’”13

Four years later, in the case known as Plessy v. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Plessy’s eviction and arrest, taking the infamous “separate but equal” doctrine of Louisiana’s white supremacist state constitution and making it federal case law. The ruling issued by Supreme Court Justice Henry B. Brown’s final words were “If one race be inferior to another socially, the Constitution of the United States can not put them upon the same plane.”

In response to this ruling, the New Orleans Comité des Citoyens (Committee of Citizens), which brought the suit to challenge the segregation law in Louisiana, replied, “We, as freemen, still believe that we were right and our cause is sacred.”14

A Constitution to Maintain Oppression

The Cruikshank and Plessy rulings put in place the legal, constitutional basis of the savage oppression, discrimination, and outright murder perpetrated on Black people for decades. In these instances, the Supreme Court did not “misinterpret” the U.S. Constitution. It did not, in an argument echoed by many defenders of this constitution, “turn the clear intent of Congress into legislative impotence.”15

These rulings were not “aberrations”; they were consistent with the U.S. Constitution, and concentrated in important ways the changing needs of the capitalist ruling class, at a time when the U.S. had developed from a largely agrarian society to an industrializing imperialist power contending on a world stage. They were intended to provide a legal basis for maintaining, and actually intensifying, the subordinate, deeply oppressed condition of Black people, and in particular their status as sharecroppers providing cheap labor and enormous profits to the plantation economy of the South, and to the capitalist system as a whole

Lynch mob terror was a continual presence in the rural and urban areas of the U.S. South in the seven decades following Reconstruction, always threatening to inflame spasms of horrific violence against Black people. State and county officials often participated in or even organized and publicized such violence. The constant, inescapable degradation of Jim Crow was woven into every aspect of life in the South, and many parts of the North.

Federal policy remained (officially) “hands off,” while in fact, legally aiding and abetting these lynchings and allowing them to continue, and letting their perpetrators remain unpunished. Ida B. Wells, a Black woman from Mississippi who was active in the Civil Rights and women’s movements until her death in 1931, wrote in January 1900, “The silence and seeming condoning [of lynching by the government] grow more marked as the years go by.”

Anti-lynching bills were put forward in the U.S. Congress several times in the early 1900s, but never came close to being passed. Not until 2005—yes, 2005—did the U.S. Senate pass a resolution expressing its “remorse” for never having passed an anti-lynching bill.

Part 3: Battleground Over Segregated Education in the 1950s and 1960s

The betrayal of Reconstruction in 1877 began an era of lynching, segregation, and constant humiliation of Black people in the U.S., upheld and reinforced by constitutional law. But the economic and social conditions that had characterized the U.S. in the years prior to the Civil War were undergoing rapid and dramatic transformations.

By the beginning of the 1900s, the U.S. developed into a major imperialist power on the world stage, and then on the basis of the outcome of World War 2, had become the dominant imperialist power in the world. Domestically, by 1950, the U.S. transformed from a country whose population and economy were dominated by agriculture to an industrialized, urban society. Agriculture became increasingly mechanized, and the sharecropping that had characterized southern farming became less and less profitable. These changes had profound effects on the masses of Black people in the United States.

Jim Crow: From the End of Reconstruction to the End of World War 2

Lynch mob terror was a brutal fact of life in the rural and urban areas of the U.S. South following the federal government's abandoment of Reconstruction in 1877, always threatening horrific violence against Black people. In 1898, Ida B. Wells, a courageous African-American journalist and civil rights advocate, wrote an appeal to President McKinley to act against lynching, saying that "nowhere in the civilized world save the United States of America do men, possessing all civil and political power, go out in bands of 50 to 5,000 to hunt down, shoot, hang or burn to death an individual, unarmed and absolutely powerless." But McKinley didn't respond to Ida Wells, and widespread lynching continued well into the middle of the 1900s.

State and county officials often participated in and sometimes organized and publicized the lynchings. They routinely allowed them to happen. Federal policy, in every body of government and under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, in effect gave a green light to the lynchings by doing nothing to prevent them. U.S. constitutional law and Supreme Court decisions reinforced and gave these organized murders a stamp of legitimacy (see Part 2 above).

In these years a set of restrictions, rules, and deeply embedded cultural, social, and economic norms called Jim Crow reinforced the outlook and practice of white supremacy at every turn. This was America under the "rule of constitutional law"—a nightmare of blatant and ever present white supremacy, and the continual, unchecked use of the most savage mob violence against Black people.

William S. McFeeley, a professor of history whose book discussed slavery, lynching and the death penalty as a tool of social control, wrote that "by the close of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, lynching, disenfranchisement, and the formal categorization of Negroes as separate of the Jim Crow laws caused African Americans to be as powerless in America as they had ever been. Such humiliations as separate drinking fountains were part of the wall deliberately erected between Americans. Not even under slavery had African Americans been so excluded from any recourse to those in authority."16

Most Black people in the U.S. still lived in the South during the first half of the 20th century. The sharecropping economy of the South, integrated into the overall capitalist-imperialist system, provided great profits to both plantation owners and capitalists generally. But as the 1900s went on, changes in the international and domestic economy, including the increasing use of more advanced machinery to plant and harvest crops, began to transform the nature of southern plantation agriculture—requiring less labor than before. These changes in the economic foundation of southern society, and the continuing racist violence and degradation across the South, forced growing numbers of Black people in the South off the land their ancestors had worked for centuries.

In the first few decades of the 20th century, more than a million Black people left the rural areas of the South, moving into cities both northern and southern. This was the first wave of what became known as the Great Migration, and it transformed the face of the U.S. forever.

Migration of Black people out of rural southern areas subsided in the years of economic depression in the 1930s. But beginning with the onset of World War 2 in 1939 and continuing for three decades, millions more Black people moved out of the South, seeking jobs in the industrial areas of northern and western cities, and seeking to get away from the lynching and Jim Crow of the South.

Large numbers of Black people became a major and growing part of the population and workforce of cities like Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and New York. The blatant Jim Crow of the South didn't exist in the same way in most northern cities. But Black people in these northern cities faced discrimination and humiliation at every turn. They were crowded into overpriced ghettos and overwhelmingly forced to work in the lowest paying, most dangerous industrial jobs.

In these changing conditions, new expectations and demands arose from among Black people. A Black soldier returning from World War 2 expressed the anger many people felt at that time: "The Army Jim-Crows us. The Navy lets us serve only as messmen. The Red Cross refuses our blood. Employers and unions shut us out. Lynchings continue. We are disenfranchised, jim-crowed, spat upon. What more could Hitler do than that?"17

Beginning in the late 1940s, in cities and towns across the country—not just in the South—Black people fought to overcome the deeply engrained and legally enforced oppression that confronted them at every turn. Some of the initial, and most intense, battles focused on public education.

Brown vs. Board of Education

In 1951, Oliver L. Brown, a Black man living in Topeka, Kansas, attempted to enroll his daughter Linda in an all-white elementary school seven blocks from their home. He was denied by the Topeka Board of Education, and Linda was forced to attend an all-Black school a mile from home. Oliver Brown and others in Topeka filed a lawsuit to end the Board of Education's policy of maintaining segregated public schools, using the pretext of the "separate but equal" standard established in the Supreme Court's Plessy ruling. (See Part 2 for discussion of Plessy v. Ferguson case.)

Three years later, this lawsuit was combined with four others and argued before the Supreme Court in a case that became known as Brown vs. Board of Education. The Court held two hearings over a five-month span. Earl Warren, who had recently been appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, spent the months between court sessions working to assure that the vote on Brown was unanimous to overturn Plessy. Warren and fellow Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter were concerned about what kind of message the Supreme Court would send to the world and the people in the U.S. if it didn't unanimously reject legal segregation. Warren thought it would take "all the wisdom of this Court to dispose of the matter with a minimum of emotion and strife. How we do it is important."18 As we shall see, this "wisdom" was driven by larger political and international concerns.

Warren pressured, cajoled, and argued with wavering judges until all agreed to mandate an end to legal segregation in public schools. In the spring of 1954, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling that overturned the segregationist precedent established in the Plessy ruling. The Court stated that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."

The Supreme Court's Brown ruling is regarded by many lawyers and scholars as "in many ways, the watershed constitutional case of the 20th century," and is often held up as an example of how the U.S. Constitution provides the framework and foundation to put all citizens on an equal footing. Judge Stanley Reed, who was on the Supreme Court when Brown was decided, said "if it was not the most important case in the history of the Court, it was very close."19

But in reality the decision in this case was not an example of the highest court in the land standing up for and enforcing equality. Rather, the Brown ruling came about mainly in response to great necessity faced by the U.S. ruling class—to dramatic economic and social changes in the U.S. and to international and domestic challenges, and the need to deal with this in a way that would result in the least amount of social disruption, upheaval, and confrontation.

Within the U.S., Black people—especially youth—and some whites had begun to challenge the deeply engrained practices of Jim Crow and lynch law. And the migration of millions of Black people out of the South into cities in the North resulted in profound social changes and expectations.

Internationally, the U.S. faced mounting difficulties as it tried to secure its position as the leading imperialist power in the world. In particular, national liberation struggles in oppressed countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin Ameria were beginning to challenge U.S. domination, foreshadowing much more profound upsurges that would come in the late 1950s and 1960s. At the same time, and very much related, the communist movement worldwide, which stood for the abolition of exploitation and inequality, had enormous influence across the planet. In the face of all this, for the U.S. to continue to maintain a legal system of flagrant discrimination, oppression, and brutality against Black people within its own borders tarnished the image it was projecting of itself.

But still, even with these larger concerns influencing the Supreme Court's ruling, significant limitations were built into the Brown decision. The ruling applied only to public education. Other areas of society could legally maintain their "whites only" status. The Court left open the question of who was responsible for enforcing the decision, and put off to the indefinite future when it had to be applied and enforced. The way Judge Reed put it was that enforcement should not be "a rush job. The time they give, the opportunities to adjust, these are the greatest palliative [soothing influence] to an awful thing."20 To be clear, the "awful thing" Reed referred to was the end of constitutionally enforced segregation of Black school children in dramatically inferior schools.

The Brown decision was immediately met with vehement opposition from leading political figures in the U.S., especially in the South. Senator James Eastland of Mississippi, who was a leading white supremacist and a leading figure in the Democratic Party, said the South "will not abide by or obey this legislative decision by a political court."21

Little Rock

The first major test of the Brown decision came three years later. On September 4, 1957, in Little Rock, Arkansas, nine Black students tried to enter Central High, regarded as the premier public high school in the state. A white mob carrying Confederate flags had started gathering at the school the day before, when a federal court in St. Louis legally cleared the way for Black students to enter the long segregated school.

In response, Arkansas governor Orval Faubus—who in mainstream politics was widely regarded as a "racial moderate" by the standards of the time—announced on statewide television that "blood will flow in the streets" if the Black students entered Central High."22 Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to surround the school and prevent Black students from entering.

Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Black students who tried to enter Central High, was turned away by soldiers with bayonets and confronted by an angry crowd that surrounded her and began yelling, "Get her! Lynch her!" Someone said, "Get a rope and drag her over to this tree!" Eckford was protected by a white NAACP member and was able to escape the mob and get on a city bus.23

For the next several weeks, both the racist mobs and the National Guard prevented the nine students from entering Central High. The country, and the entire world, read and saw televised stories daily about the nine youths prevented from getting an education, and besieged by hate filled racist mobs while the federal government stood aside.

This was a big problem for the rulers of the U.S. They were trying to solidify and expand their global empire, and everywhere claimed that the U.S. was "the greatest country in the world," the land of "freedom and democracy," the place where the rights of the individual were cherished. Yet here were scenes broadcast worldwide of young Black students being viciously assaulted, having their lives threatened not just by racist lynch mobs but by the forces of the government itself.

Dwight Eisenhower, then president of the U.S., was on a golf vacation at the time the confrontations in Little Rock began, and didn't want to be interrupted. Then, on September 20, an Arkansas judge ordered Governor Faubus to remove the National Guardsmen from Little Rock. But the racist mob remained at the school, and the terrifying specter of a public, possibly televised lynching of the nine youths loomed into focus.

Eisenhower, and the ruling class of capitalist-imperialists he represented, felt compelled to act. He called in U.S. Army Airborne troops, federalized the Arkansas National Guard (taking them out of the control of Governor Faubus), and ordered the Army to escort the youths into the school. They remained there until the end of August.

To be clear, Eisenhower was not particularly concerned with protecting Black students under assault by a mob of howling racists. In fact, in private conversations Eisenhower said to companions that he had sympathies for white parents who didn't want their children to be educated in the same school as Black children. Publicly, he said he acted to "prevent mob rule and anarchy," and most of all because the white mobs in Little Rock had harmed "the prestige and influence of our nation...,"24 not because of the injustice and cruelty that was segregation.

The nine students finally entered Central High in late September 1954, under military escort. They endured a year of constant assault, insult, and abuse.

Little Rock was the first major test of the Brown decision. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and into the 1970s, ugly, racist opposition to different forms of integrating public school education arose in different parts of the country, and battles that reverberated across the planet were fought to integrate major state universities in Alabama, Mississippi, and elsewhere.

But again, Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka only applied to public education, not to the open, legal segregation that permeated every aspect of life in the southern U.S. And it took massive and courageous boycotts, sit-ins, voter registration drives, freedom rides, rebellions, and other forms of protest to begin to batter down other barriers to legal segregation across the South, until finally in 1964 the U.S. Congress passed a civil rights law that outlawed many open forms of discrimination against Black people and women.

The Supreme Court rulings on Little Rock and Plessy illustrate the link between legal rulings and ruling class interests. And they also show how laws not only reflect prevailing property and fundamentally production relations but how the interpretation of these laws does as well, at various stages. Here, Bob Avakian has pointed out:

 "A prime example is the contrast between Plessy vs. Ferguson at the end of the 19th century (1896), which upheld segregation as Constitutional, and the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in the middle of the 20th century (1954) which overturned it. Nothing fundamental affecting this had changed in the Constitution: the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, which codified the end of slavery and important related changes, had been passed well before Plessy vs. Ferguson—and between Plessy vs. Ferguson and Brown vs. Board of Education there were no changes in the Constitution which clearly prohibited segregation—but the ruling class, and its prevailing representatives, in the Supreme Court specifically, saw its interests one way in one historical period and another way in another historical period."25

Education in the "Color Blind Society"

The historic and ongoing oppression of Black people is built deeply into the foundation of U.S. society, and is manifested economically, politically, socially, and culturally. Establishing one formal expression of "equality" was not intended to, nor could it change this basic reality, even in the one realm of public education. And more recent Supreme Court rulings in the years after the Brown ruling have in fact served to undercut the actual impact in any ongoing way of Brown's end to the "separate but equal" doctrine.

Today, schools in the U.S. are more racially segregated than they were 40 years ago. The average white child in America attends a school that is 77 percent white, while the average Black child attends a school that is only 29 percent white. Overall, a third of all Black and Latino children sit every day in classrooms that are 90 to 100 percent Black and Latino.26

A phenomenon of the last half of the 20th century, continuing to today, has been the growth of suburban and "exurban" areas. This development has been promoted and encouraged by various government policies, including conscious decisions to allow subsidized growth in the suburbs through tax policies, development of freeways and other mass transit, etc. In most metropolitan areas of the U.S., a great divide has arisen between what are usually relatively better off, and largely white, suburban areas, and inner cities populated by Black and Latino people.

Public schools are primarily funded through property and other forms of local taxation, and one outcome of suburban growth has been the vastly different resources allotted to schools in the inner cities and schools in more affluent suburbs. Two lawsuits in the 1970s, one in Texas and one in Michigan, sought to overcome the effects of the impoverishment of many urban school districts, the conscious neglect towards the education of Black and Latino youth, and the enormous inequalities of public education that remain a glaring, conspicuous feature of life in the U.S. after the Brown ruling.

The suit in Texas, Rodriguez v. San Antonio, argued that tremendous differences in tax-based funding for urban and suburban school districts had reinforced long-standing practices of seriously underfunding education for Black and Latino children, keeping them in dilapidated buildings, overcrowded classrooms, and with limited or no extracurricular activities available.

The Supreme Court emphatically rejected any attempt to overcome this enormous inequality that masquerades as equality. "The [Supreme] Court recognized that disparities in state funding of schools based on property taxes lead to Black schools and white schools, good schools and bad schools; nevertheless, they said, the Court should not intervene, for poor students were not a protected class, education was not a federally protected constitutional right, and thus, the Court should do nothing."27

In the Michigan case, Milliken v Bradley, the Supreme Court ruled that integration of schooling in the Detroit metropolitan area could not take place across school district lines, despite the undisputed fact that any "leveling of the playing field" in the Detroit area would have to involve both the overwhelmingly Black Detroit schools and the overwhelmingly white suburban schools.

With these rulings, the era of even pretending to allow meaningful attempts to provide a quality education to all Black children, under the constitutional sanction of the Brown decision, had ended. As researchers at UCLA concluded in a 2009 report: "Millions of non-white students are locked into 'dropout factory' high schools, where huge percentages do not graduate, and few are well prepared for college or a future in the US economy."28

The U.S. Constitution, and the way it has been interpreted and upheld for almost two-and-a-half centuries, has consistently sustained, deepened, and enforced the oppression of Black people. It is, as Bob Avakian has written, an "exploiters' vision of freedom," and it has been adapted not only to continue old forms of oppression, but to enforce new ones under changed economic and social conditions. This continuity of oppression is expressed vividly in the realm of public education.


To be continued


1. Cited in The U.S. Constitution: An Exploiters' Vision of Freedom, by Bob Avakian [back]

2. Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction, by Eric Foner and Joshua Brown [back]

3. A Slaveholders' Union: Slavery Politics, and the Constitution in the Early American Republic, by George William Van Cleve, p 6 [back]

4. Van Cleve, p. 225 [back]

5. Reconstruction 1863-1877: America’s Unfinished Revolution, by Eric Foner, p. 105. [back]

6. “How This System Has Betrayed Black People: Crucial Turning Points,” by Bob Avakian, Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution) #894, February 16, 1997. [back]

7. Foner, p. 425. [back]

8. Foner, p. 430. [back]

9. The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction, by Charles Lane,pp. 18-19. [back]

10. A People’s History of the Supreme Court, by Peter Irons, p. 205. [back]

11. Ibid., p. 294. [back]

12. Lane, p. 253. [back]

13. Irons,p. 222. [back]

14. We As Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson: The Fight Against Legal Segregation, by Keith Weldon Medley. [back]

15. Irons,p. 197. [back]

16. A Legacy of Slavery and Lynching: The Death Penalty as a Tool of Social Control, by William S. McFeeley, Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia. [back]

17. A People's History of the Supreme Court, by Peter Irons, p. 368. [back]

18. A History of the Supreme Court, by Bernard Schwarz, p. 293. [back]

19. Ibid., p. 286. [back]

20. Ibid., p. 296. [back]

21. Irons, p. 399. [back]

22. Ibid., p. 405. [back]

23. Ibid. [back]

24. New York Times, September 25, 1957. [back]

25. Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon, by Bob Avakian, available online at [back]

26. Gary Orfield, Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge (Los Angeles: The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA, 2009), p. 13. [back]

27. Courting Disaster: The Supreme Court and the Unmaking of American Law, by Martin Garbus,p. 212. [back]

28. Orfield, p. 3. [back]


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