Surviving Slavery

by Richard Arena


The National Guard on Springfield Avenue in Newark on July 14, 1967. Credit: Don Hogan Charles/The New York Times

As the far-reaching residue of slavery and Jim Crow boiled over during the long hot summers of the ’60s and ’70s, American cities from sea to shining sea were engulfed in flames. In July 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson sent contingents of the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions into Detroit to quell one of the largest uprisings in American history. Known as the 12th Street Riot, 43 were killed, 1,189 injured, more than 7,200 arrested and some 2,000 buildings destroyed. 

In the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April the following year, Congress passed and LBJ signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which prohibited housing discrimination. Still cities burned. 

Sadly, “race riots” have a long inglorious history in the United States. Perhaps the earliest of such riots were the Hard Scrabble and Snow Town Riots in Providence, Rhode Island, during 1824 and 1831 respectively. These riots occurred long before before the hereditary slavery of blacks was abolished in 1868 by the 13th Amendment. Until the 1960s most race riots featured whites attacking blacks for real or feared offenses.

So, here we are 152 years after slavery was abolished only to see that the social and psychological wounds inflected by slavery and racial animus remain. It’s not that whites, Hispanics and Asians aren’t subjected to the abuse of power by police and other agents of government. According to The Washington Post, since 2015, police have shot and killed about twice as many white people as black, some of which were adjudged to be egregiously unjustified. But the long history of societal abuse of blacks leaves a scab on the collective soul of African-Americans that is rubbed raw each time an innocent black is murdered by a government official. 

If the American experiment in self-government is to survive, we must find a way to overcome. I suspect the answer is to be found in the Holy Scriptures, not in the halls of legislatures nor at the end of bayonets. 

Richard Arena is a member of the Franklin Roundtable Board of Directors.