The larger historical picture.
We can see 3 periods of American history in the context of racism.
- The 1776 period, the 1st founding. Here, the founders of the USA, breaking away from the English monarchy, asserted their rights to be free of unjust rule. The idea of “human rights” was coming to the fore for the first time in modern history. This is the 1740-1750 period Wilentz mentions. We can understand this as the move away from feudal peasant / lord power relations to the “idea” of rational, responsible human beings with rights. The problem of course is the US founders, in declaring independence, did not extend “all men are created equal” to the enslaved population. We rightly call them out on their hypocrisy, as did people at the time.
- The 1865 period, after the civil war. This was the end of the bloodiest conflict in US history, with 600,000 dead. Only as a result of this war, did the US achieve its “2nd founding,” or 2nd beginning. Here we have the abolition of slavery in the 13th amendment (1865) and the “Rights of Citizenship” in the 14th amendment (1868), which were hotly contested and barely passed. https://www.fortheteachers.org/File%20Cabinet/United%20States%20Constitution%20Outline.pdf This 2nd beginning can also include the Reconstruction period, in which the Union enforced a biracial government on the southern states. https://www.c-span.org/video/?404528-1/150th-anniversary-reconstruction Unfortunately, this was not able to be maintained, as the southern states refused to allow equality to African Americans. This is the period which saw the beginnings of groups like the KKK. At first, the newly created US Justice Department enforced legal rights for African Americans. By 1877, however, end of Reconstruction period, Jim Crow, legal discrimination, lynching, and outright white supremacy was the law of the land.
- The modern civil rights period. Civil rights act of 1968. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Rights_Act_of_1968 This is the third attempt to create the US as a democracy with equal rights. It’s possible that this era ends with the Presidency of Barack Obama and now with the presidency of D. Trump, we are seeing another attempt to justify racism. Once again, the question is, do we make history, or are we the victims of some kind of dread fate and can do nothing about it?