It would be a mistake to see African Americans as helpless, pliant victims in the recent attack on affirmative action by a far-right majority of the U.S. Supreme Court, a court guided by white Supremacy and white nationalism.
If the lessons of history have messaged anything to Blacks and other people of color, it is that the Supreme Court has often been a purveyor of betrayal, blind injustice, and white privilege. African Americans have been witness to the willingness of the Supreme Court to kill affirmative action, gut voting rights, uphold terrorism, and deny civil and human rights over and over again.
Consequently, Black people, throughout their long tenure in America, have actively resisted and confronted attempts to silence them, take away their vote, “Jim Crow” them, or instill fear in them through violence, lynching, and other acts of terrorism.
African Americans have recognized, instead, their potential to create a society where all people are truly created equal. The Supreme Court’s recent ruling has simply brought into focus Langston Hughes’ plea for America “to be America again” and his stunning indictment of an America that never “was America to me.” In other words, Black people have been acutely aware that it is the ideal of America, the promise of America, the hope of America that we fight for; it is the constant struggle between not what America is, but what we strive for it to become from which we draw inspiration and the will to “keep on keepin’ on.” Ours is a rich legacy that encompasses a people’s struggles and triumphs in the pursuit of justice, equality, and civil and human rights.
The Supreme Court’s first attempt to slaughter affirmative action measures was during the period known as Reconstruction. Spanning 1865-1877, this period for many Southern Blacks—four million of which were former slaves—was almost a dream come true. They would see the ending of slavery; gain citizenship along with all native-born Americans Black or white; realize voting rights for Black men; and by having federal troops sent in to safeguard their new rights, obtain temporary relief from the tyranny most assuredly awaiting them by hostile Southern whites, paramilitary groups like the Ku Klux Klan or White League, and a disgraced and embittered former Confederate States of America.
Nevertheless, in 1877, the dream became a nightmare with the Compromise of 1877, which effectively ended Reconstruction. The Southern Democrats (still holding onto their confederate racist ideals) would accept Rutherford B. Hayes as president, and the Republicans, (who up to then sought to grant legal rights and social equality to Blacks) agreed to withdraw the army from the South and end federal interference in Southern affairs. This act of dirty double-dealing was almost a dream come true for white Southern racists, whose major goal was to return Black Americans to a condition of dependence, servitude, and quasi slavery.
Fully restored to power, white Southerners began building an elaborate system of oppression known as Jim Crow. The first move was to attack the African American male’s right to vote. Though fraud, intimidation and violence proved very effective, they soon discovered that their ends could be achieved through legal means. One can add to this the benefits to be gained from humiliating Blacks by requiring them to use public facilities separate from, and inferior to, those used by whites.
The Southern racist whites found a willing accomplice in the Reconstruction Era Supreme Court. Declaring the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional in 1883, they ruled that Congress lacked the constitutional authority under the 14th Amendment to grant equal protections under the law to Blacks. This ruling would then put African American voting rights in the crosshairs of Southern states and allow them to implement poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and a bevy of legal restrictions on voting.
Moreover, through various other rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court played a further role in turning African American’s dream into a nightmare. One such case was United States v. Cruikshank (1876), which was decided during the Reconstruction Era. It permitted groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and other KKK styled paramilitary forces like the White League to flourish and continue to suppress Black voting through heinous acts of violence. Characterized as one of the Supreme Court’s worse rulings, the Cruikshank decision handicapped the federal government’s ability to protect newly freed slaves for nearly a century.
Following Louisiana’s passage of a law forbidding the mixing of races on public railways, stating that rail cars could be separate but equal, the Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson case upheld that decision in 1896. In 1954, the Court reversed Plessy in the Brown v. Board of Education, declaring that separate schools are inherently unequal.
Aside from various rulings, one way the Supreme Court has managed to kill the effects of affirmative action has been to transform it into a mishmash of contradictory decisions that would face numerous legal challenges and reversals.
More specifically, the decisions go from a 1940s mandate that special consideration be granted to historically excluded groups; to a 1960s use of racial quotas for college admissions; to the striking down of quotas while keeping race-based affirmative action in college admissions; to the June 2023 rejecting of race-based affirmative action in college admissions, except of course for Black military men and Black athletes. Round and round it goes and where it stops nobody knows, except maybe wealthy white parents who can create a legacy spot for their privileged and perhaps unqualified children, or rich Hollywood celebrities caught buying a place for their not so bright sons and daughters.
Through it all, the vast majority of African Americans have refused to gently accept the erosion of our basic civil rights. Our 400-year journey on the American continent has been a journey filled with courage and pain and tragedy and triumph. Nearly 300 years in bondage and much of the rest as second class citizens, these were the civil wrongs that guided our marches and riots and efforts to create a just United States of America.
Even during Jim Crow, African Americans fought a Southern move to re-enslave them. Some Blacks attacked Jim Crow directly by forming civil rights organizations, antilynching crusades, and protest groups. Others decided to defeat Jim Crow by simply walking away from it via two massive emigration movements. The first “Great Migration” (1910-1940) would see millions of African Americans move out of the rural South to Northern industrial centers. During the second “Great Migration,” an estimated 50,000 Southern Blacks left the South and established dozens of all-Black towns in rural Kansas. During the late 1880s and 1890s, another large contingent of Blacks headed west, where they played a vital role in frontier history; indeed, one fourth of the nation’s cowboys were Black.
Along with the rest of the nation, African Americans must face the stark reality that the very court system and its jurists we are supposed to rely on to protect justice and uphold the law are betraying their country in many sinister, corrupt and calculating ways.
For example, some respected investigative reporters have unearthed credible evidence that a secretive donor network built the Supreme Court’s conservative Super majority and brought them the case and arguments to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Another case that comes to mind is the “dark money” decision made in the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. It would yield a ruling that “independent political spending” did not present a substantive threat of corruption. Could it be that Supreme men now suspected of dirty deeds of corruption saw no vested interest in taking the case and making the majority decision?
After all, who is alleged to know more about corruption than the Right Wing Supremes?