Edna Greene Medford: Historian warns of return to overt racism

Historians in the News

Racism is alive in the United States, and fighting it is as hard as battling terrorism, said a scholar who spoke Thursday on slavery, its role in Illinois and its aftermath.

“The latest challenge we face as a nation … is the return of overt bigotry and racial hatred,” said Edna Greene Medford, an associate professor at Howard University. “But as a nation we have comforted ourselves by dismissing it as an individual indiscretion, not a national fault.”

The noted historian spoke to about 80 people Thursday evening at Wayman A.M.E. Church, 803 W. Olive St., Bloomington. In a speech titled “We Ask Only Even-Handed Justice: Race In Lincoln’s Time And Our Own,” she discussed how the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments ended the legal institution of slavery but not the continuing pain of racism.

“African-Americans are the only people whose freedom had to be proclaimed by decree and then secured by legislation, whose humanity was denied by the Constitution and whose citizenship was repealed by the highest court in the land,” she said. “As such, black people have occupied a post unlike any other group in the country.”

The latest examples of overt racism are the displays of nooses, reminders of how many blacks who sought civil rights or otherwise violated white social norms have been lynched.

“Many displays of nooses in recent weeks are an example of something more than just copycatting,” she said. “They are indicative of a continuum of sentiments that extend deeply in our past.”

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