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  • Michael L Bergonzi

The Historical Study of Racial Violence

The history of violence in America against Blacks goes back to 1619, when the first African slaves were brought to the Americas. Since then, slavery has cast a long shadow on Black American history, constituting more time as slaves in the United States than as citizens. Put another way, Blacks have spent approximately 244 years as slaves vs. roughly 158 years as free. That's from 1619-1864 and 1864-2023. in fact, this past Saturday marked the 158-year anniversary of the 13th amendment began the process for becoming part of the constitution.

On April 8, 1864, the United States Senate passed the thirteenth amendment. After much deliberation following the end of the American Civil War, the amendment was finally proclaimed on December 8, 1865 and slavery became illegal in the United States.

Ryan Cordell

After the other two Reconstruction era amendments (14 and 15) were added to the United States Constitution, life for African Americans never went from legislative battles over the expansion of slavery to the judicial separation in Plessy v Ferguson, Blacks have often gotten the short end of the stick. The Senate has only had 11 African American senators since 1871. From Jim Crow to police brutality, the Black population has seen its fair share of violence against them. Those acts and how they spread are what Ryan Cordell and his team are looking to find out.

While it's still early in Cordell and team's foray into the issue, one aspect in particular Cordell is excited about is tracing how information like the Tulsa race riot where the Black population was violently displaced, spread. Cordell says, "we're interested in how the spread of reporting about racial violence also potentially contributes to racial violence."

Perhaps the most best-known historical example of racial violence came in the form of lynchings. Contrary to popular belief, lynchings aren't synonymous with hangings. Hangings are a form of lynching, but not the only method white southerners to terrorize Blacks and their allies. Perhaps the most influential writer regarding lynchings was Ida B. Wells. Wells was to southern lynchings as Upton Sinclair was to the meat packing industry. Both stirred the pot that many people didn't know existed.

Ida B. Wells portrait from 1891

To use a more modern example, the death Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in 2012 didn't really get national media attention until Huffington Post reporter Trymaine Lee began to dig deeper into a tragedy some considered so common place in 2012 that it didn't warrant further investigation.

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