By Sean Dwyer Griffin
As a historian, I’m often wary of making direct connections between the past and the present. To paraphrase Richard Hofstadter, writing history out of one’s engagement with the present can be a risky business -- all the more so when the imperatives of the present demand that we get the history right.
But with the latest in a seemingly-endless string of highly publicized shootings of black men by police, together with the retaliatory killings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this short letter to the editor from 1847. Published in the Subterranean newspaper in January of that year, the letter is one of those rare documents that both challenges our expectations about what we think we know about the past -- in this case, about the salience of race and racism in the United States -— and reminds us of just how much hasn’t changed.
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