Berry and Morgan: #Blacklivesmatter Till They Don’t: Slavery’s Lasting Legacy

“We live in a nation that has yet to grapple with the history of slavery and its afterlife.” – Daina Ramey Berry and Jennifer L. Morgan

In an essay for The American Prospect, slavery scholars Daina Ramey Berry and Jennifer L. Morgan place #blacklivesmatter protests around the world in context with “the historical value of black life and the casual killing of Eric Garner:”

“In less than a month, our nation will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. This should be a time of celebratory reflection, yet Wednesday night, after another grand jury failed to see the value of African-American life, protesters took to the streets chanting, “Black lives matter!…”

A Michigan State University student holds a sign reading "I Hope I Don't Get Killed Because I'm Black Today." On December 6, 2014, MSU students organized a series of marches and die-ins to protest the deaths of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, and others killed by police violence; and in solidarity with activists across the country.  Photo Credit: Jessica Marie Johnson / December 6, 2014
A Michigan State University student holds a sign reading “I Hope I Don’t Get Killed Because I’m Black Today.” On December 6, 2014, MSU students organized a series of marches and die-ins to protest the deaths of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, and others killed by police violence; and in solidarity with activists across the country. Photo Credit: Jessica Marie Johnson / December 6, 2014

The abolition of slavery did not do away with the commodification of black people. Instead, in a nation founded on the idea that black life was only of value when it produced wealth for the elite, free black people became associated with sloth and violence. Slavery meant that black people had no intrinsic human worth, but were only of interest for the monetary value that they could convey. Apparently, freedom could not dislodge the fundamental belief that casual killing could be excused. Free or not, black men and women have remained disposable.

“In 1886, in the heart of the Jim Crow South, Hal Geiger, an African-American attorney and prominent leader of the black community from Texas, was shot five times in court. The prosecuting attorney and confirmed shooter, O.D. Cannon, did not like the way Geiger spoke to him. Taking the law into his own hands, Cannon pulled out a pistol and shot Geiger, who died a month later. It took 10 minutes for a jury to acquit Cannon of this “crime.” Twenty years after slavery, the state exonerated the murder of an African American, killed in full view of a judge and jury in a courtroom. Clearly Geiger’s life, and the lives of the black women he was defending, had no value in the eyes of the jury. Black death was deemed the legitimate and justifiable response to a black man who’d transgressed the boundaries of his proper place….”

Read the rest: #Blacklivesmatter Till They Don’t: Slavery’s Lasting Legacy.

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