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Open Wound

The Long View of Race in America

William McKee Evans

Publication Year: 2009

In this boldly interpretive narrative, William McKee Evans tells the story of America's paradox of democracy entangled with a centuries-old system of racial oppression. This racial system of interacting practices and ideas first justified black slavery, then, after the Civil War, other forms of coerced black labor, and, today, black poverty and unemployment. _x000B__x000B_At three historical moments, a crisis in the larger society opened political space for idealists to challenge the racial system: during the American Revolution, then during the "irrepressible conflict" ending in the Civil War, and, finally, during the Cold War and the colonial liberation movements. Each challenge resulted in a historic advance. But none swept clean. Many African Americans remain segregated in jobless ghettoes with dilapidated schools and dismal prospects in an increasingly polarized class society._x000B__x000B_Evans sees a new crisis looming in a convergence of environmental disaster, endless wars, and economic collapse, which may again open space for a challenge to the racial system. African Americans, with their memory of their centuries-old struggle against oppressors, appear uniquely placed to play a central role.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

Like all books, this book has its own history. As World War II drew to a close in Europe, I was a twenty-one-year-old soldier on the Rhine. A group of us were listening to the radio one night and we heard “Lord Haw Haw,” a Nazi commentator with an elegant British accent. He reported on some race riots in the United States and...

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Interpretive Overview

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pp. 1-6

When Americans think of slavery, they think of black slavery. In other places, at other times, it was not always so. Seville, c. 1626: In Lope de Vega’s play Slave of Her Lover, set in the Seville of the playwright’s day, Alberto is asked if he has a black slave for sale. “By no means would I deal in that business...

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Prologue: Race and the Human Race

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pp. 7-10

When Americans think of slavery, they think of black slavery. In other places, at other times, it was not always so. Seville, c. 1626: In Lope de Vega’s play Slave of Her Lover, set in the Seville of the playwright’s day, Alberto is asked if he has a black slave for sale. “By no means would I deal in that...

PART 1 The Colonial Period

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1. How the American Racial System Began: Atlantic Slavery Becomes Market-Driven and Color-Defined

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pp. 13-23

Omar ibn Saíd was on the run. Taken prisoner in Africa, Omar ibn Saíd was now on the run in America. His African captors had sold him “into the hands of the Christians, who . . . sent me on board a great ship. . . . to a place called Charleston in the Christian...

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2. Anglo Americans Adopt the Atlantic Racial System

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pp. 24-35

Between the Jamestown settlement in 1607 and the War for Independence, the English who settled the mainland plantation colonies created a raceconscious society remarkably different from the class-conscious one they had left behind. In England the...

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3. The Construction of Planter Hegemony, 1676-1776

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pp. 36-49

Mature slave-based societies presented an astounding paradox: People who by their own self-interest might be expected to oppose slavery were in fact the master’s staunch defenders. In the fourth century b.c., Plato wrote, “Suppose some god should...

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4. The Era of the American Revolution: The Challenge to Slavery and the Compromise

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pp. 50-62

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson proclaimed that “all men are created equal . . . [and] are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights.” In Britain, Dr. Samuel Johnson retorted, “How is it that we hear the loudest...

PART 2 The Antebellum Republic

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5. The Old South's Triumph

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pp. 65-74

The War for Independence created the United States. But by 1820 it was apparent that it had actually created the disunited states. A line that two surveyors drew separating Maryland and Pennsylvania, the Mason-Dixon Line, was now looming ever larger...

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6. The Old South's Crisis and the Emergence of the White Solidarity Myth

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pp. 75-92

At first, the worried voices had been infrequent. Many planters were of a pragmatic mind, concerned with personal fortunes and family dynasties. For them the compelling reality was that cotton grew high in the South’s virgin western lands and sold...

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7. Emancipated but Black: Freedom in the Free States

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pp. 93-108

Paradoxically, as slavery disappeared in the North, the expressions of racial animosity there grew more strident. In the North, the southern slaveholders and their northern allies were vulnerable. They more and more needed northern support to maintain...

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8. The Planter and the "Wage Slave": A Reactionary Alliance

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pp. 109-119

In “the South they hunt slaves with dogs—in the North with Democrats,” Thaddeus Stevens exploded in 1860.1 Was Stevens exaggerating? In a democratic republic, could slaveholders have such control over the dominant political party in the North? The...

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9. King Cotton's Jesters: The Minstrel Show Interprets Race for the White Working Class

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pp. 120-129

For white workers the most exciting entertainment by far was the minstrel show. No other type of theater captivated such massive audiences or was more influential. More than from newspapers, books, or sermons, it was from the minstrel show...

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The War of the Cabins: The Struggle for the Soul of the "Common Man"

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pp. 130-144

In the 1850s, no president, no general, no public figure was more controversial than Harriet Beecher Stowe. The southern poet William Gilmore Simms charged that she projected “a malignity so remarkable that the petticoat lifts of itself, and we see...

PART 3 The Racial System Challenged and Revised

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11. The Republican Revolution and the Struggle for a "New Birth of Freedom"

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pp. 147-162

Like a moth to the flame, John Brown was drawn by an ancient Christian vision of liberation. His 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry had rocked the nation.1 This was not because adventures by private armies were unusual in the 1850s. Nor was Brown’s raid bloodier...

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12. Reconstruction: The Radical Challenge, 1865-77

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pp. 163-174

The Confederate surrender left open two intertwined political questions: What kind of society would now prevail in the South? And what rights would the emancipated blacks enjoy? If they returned to work for planters, often the same ones who had...

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13. Between Slavery and Freedom: The Conservative Quest for a Halfway House

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pp. 175-186

The Wormley Bargain was a sort of peace treaty between the Republicans and the former Confederates. Conventionally it has also served as a marker ending Reconstruction. Yet the New South elite would have to struggle until the end of the...

PART 4 The Racial System in a Rising Superpower

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14. The Age of Segregation at Its Zenith: The Racial System in a World of Colonialism

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pp. 189-198

Black history since the defeat of the Radicals, despite hard-fought battles, had been a downward spiral of declining political influence, declining economic opportunity, and increasing violence. The Philadelphia Christian Recorder, on March 24, 1892, reported...

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15. Radical Challenge, Liberal Reform: African Americans Gain New Allies

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pp. 199-209

The solid South was vulnerable to a new wave of radicalism. War prosperity had collapsed soon after the war. The prices of cotton and tobacco had dropped precipitously. More than half of the farmers, whites and blacks, no longer owned their land. The company...

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16. The American Century, the American Dilemma

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pp. 210-220

At the beginning of the 1940s the Great Depression still hung on. Newspapers were full of reports about wars in Europe and Asia, but most people were less concerned about foreign affairs than about the social programs of the New Deal that...

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17. The Black Freedom Movement

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pp. 221-234

After World War II, American leaders positioned themselves not simply as heading a nation, but as the leaders of the “free world.” They contrasted the freedom and the affluence of the United States with the lack of freedom and the misery of the war-devastated...

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18. The Racial System in the Age of Corporate Globalism, Technological Revolution, and Environmental Crisis

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pp. 235-248

The 1960s had marked a turning point in the racial system: For the first time in three hundred years, class had become more important than race to African Americans. Now a black American with money could do virtually anything that a white American could and many things that a white without money could not do. But...


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pp. 249-320


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pp. 321-330

E-ISBN-13: 9780252091148
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252034275

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- History.
  • African Americans -- Southern States -- History.
  • African Americans -- Civil rights -- History.
  • Racism -- United States -- History.
  • United States -- Race relations.
  • Southern States -- Race relations.
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