Jamala Rogers

“American holds onto an undemocratic assumption from its founding: that some people deserve more power than others.”

The above quote is from one of the 1619 Project’s essays by Jamelle Bouie, an introspective thinker and columnist for the New York Times. Bouie’s essay is entitled “What the Reactionary Politics of 2019 Owe to the Politics of Slavery.” The pull quote shook my soul when I first read it because it speaks to what’s happening in St. Louis in the enduring struggle for black political and economic power.

The 1619 Project is the brainchild of another Times journalist, Nikole Hannah-Jones, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first captured Africans to these shores. The Time’s essays are powerful explorations into the racialized dehumanization of a people and its consequences for a nation.  

Missouri fits prominently in the institution of slavery. This year marks the 300th anniversary of the first enslaved people arriving in the state. St. Louis was the biggest slave market in Missouri. The so-called discoverer of the city, Pierre Laclede, was a slave owner. The city was home to the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857.

The St. Louis white power structure constantly reminds us that blacks have no rights whites are bound to respect, as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney said in the Dred and Harriet Scott opinion. Many are still fighting to suppress the rights of black people in 2019.

St. Louis holds onto an undemocratic assumption from its founding that some people deserve more power than others. When Bouie writes about using “every available tool to weaken” black influence, we see that happening daily in the Gateway City. Consider the drive to nullify democratically elected officials like prosecutors Kimberly Gardner and Wesley Bell.

As the 400th anniversary of the momentous historical marker comes to an end, St. Louis needs to do a deeper examination of its relationship to slavery and the impact of its unique implementation. We could spend all of 2020 delving into the racial inequities in employment, housing, health care and education, come up with some real solutions, even seriously discuss reparations.

Last in the series of the local commemoration of 400 Years of Blacks in America will occur on November 10. Washington University is bringing  MSNBC political analyst Karine Jean-Pierre to keynote the event. The series is what the 400 Years of African American Commission would be proud to promote.

The African American Commission was created by federal law to plan and coordinate events that acknowledge the destructive impact of slavery. The commission seeks to highlight the resilience and accomplishments of Black people despite the oppressive, legal system of chattel slavery.

Slavery is real. The legacy of slavery exists. Ultimately, America must pay for its crimes to humanity. St. Louis could lead the way to racial redemption.

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