The Body Politic (Civil Rights Institute, Day 1)

Civil Rights

Dr. Maghan Keita

Villanova University

27 June 2011


:: 50 years after the fact?  Civil Rights is not an event.  What is the broader framework when we talk about the event?  It is a process – not limited to the United States – missing the regional and global perspective, reaching back (at least) to the seventeenth century.


[If it is a process, then what were its stages?  How are they related?]


Race is a thing.  Based on 1492, 1619, 1830 … gender and race and sexual preference are political and economic forces that shape social status.  This topic is not ‘a black thing.’


Germantown – perceived as a ‘black space.’  Debate on the Fourteenth Amendment.


Define America – founding fathers; patriotism; freedom; continent; imperialism; immigration; liberty; democracy.  Civil rights are fundamental to American rights – it is the core of the nation’s identity.


“No taxation without representation.”  [Why is it no taxation with representation today?]  Citizen as the foundation for civil rights – kiwis in Latin is from ‘the city’; polis in the Greek.  The rights of the citizen are contingent on the responsibilities to the state.  England has no citizens (derivative system for America) – subject to the protection of the state by the Queen (the only rights-holder).


Slavery.  How does it define who a citizen is?  Read the founding documents to see how slavery defines freedom.  It became a physical relation that compelled a different mindset about the constitution of America and Americans.


Social contract theory is not a modern phenomenon.  Rousseau looks back to the beginnings of human civilization.  When two people enter into a relationship, they create a social contract.  It does not imply equality.  Two unequal partners can define a social contract.  The absence of reciprocity in the way we understand the American social contract.


Jefferson’s adaptation of Locke’s theories on life, liberty, and property (the pursuit of happiness).  Property as the foundation for democratic participation – real property relies on the application of good intent.  Locke on the Carolinas – (political economy) – the control of the distribution of resources.  All colonies are the product of an economic contracts, specifically a charter corporation.  Seizure of property to produce profit is justified, even (especially) through the use of slaves.  Most important property is the self.


Who best represents the real property of self and its seizure at all costs – former slaves.  [Imagine the re-creation of self through the crucible of inequality – Is this the origin of the idea of America?]


[Is, as the Journal of African American History argues, the Southern context unique in the process of generating democracy?  How is democracy defined beyond black freedom and equality?]


  • Crispus Attucks
  • Salem Poor
  • Peter Salem
  • Jupiter Richardson
  • Henri Christophe (Savannah)




Whiteness as a condition of property in 1776.  Europeans and continental Africans frame the intellectual derivation of democracy on American soil before the achievement of freedom and equality after 1870.  When facing injustice, the governed can abolish the relationship with the government.


Marriage as a form of social contract.  Definition of responsibilities in exchange with the surrender of natural rights in pursuit of a more perfect union.  Among slaveholding societies, reciprocity relies on the consent of the worker (or slave).


:: Black Heroes of the American Revolution by Burke Davis ::


Use of John Laurens quote on the contradictions of slavery for the American revolutionaries.


:: Note on the ways the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution imply the question of Africans in America in several ways … 3/5ths Compromise; Missouri Compromise; Kansas-Nebraska; etc. ::


Questions of civil rights among the narrowly defined citizens.  Were there individual rights for Americans under the Constitutional framework present before 1868?


The body politic includes all of those under the auspices of the American state system – whether or not, they possess the formal franchise.  Slavery and labor define the political realities of the legislative, judicial, and executive processes.  Jefferson’s attribution for redesigning the body politic – countering the eastern establishment by enfranchising the yeoman farmer.  Jackson racializes the democratic body politic.


[How does Malcolm X reimagine freedom and equality – democracy – in a Cold War context?]


W.E.B. DuBois … he’s a scary guy … Alan and John Foster Dulles and the anti-communist crusade.  Black Reconstruction (of Democracy) in America.  1935 – slaves are laborers.  (Black history is not exclusively about race.  African Americans redefine every facet of understanding the idea of America, and thus, the freest nature of humanity.)


Who can serve in war?  Who can claim citizenship in peace?


Wilmot Proviso, 1856, limited slavery in expanded American territory.


[reference to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the foundations of racial segregaton]


Citizenship, franchise, public education … as the core debates for freedom and equality.  Dred Scott and the implications of racial restriction.


1896 Homer Plessy.  Public transportation … and the limitations on the body politics inherent in the debate over the Fourteenth Amendment.  The consolidation of American segregation as a national phenomenon.  One perspective on black agency … another on white oppression.1905 Memphis street car protests – purchased the street car system.


Invocation of the Tiananmen Square; Arab Spring; the global model for nonviolence social protest and governmental change.

Author: waltergreason1

Public Figure.

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