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Antisemitism in US History  

Britt P. Tevis

Antisemitism in the United States—whether acts of violence, social exclusion, cultural vilification, or political and legal discrimination—has resulted from antidemocratic currents refracted through bigoted beliefs about Jews. Prejudiced conceptualizations of Jews positioned them as outsiders to the nation, emphasizing Jews’ refusal to accept the supremacy of Christ; depicting Jews to be racially distinct (i.e., inferior or dangerous); and imagining Jews as greedy, dirty, untrustworthy, scheming, manipulative, powerful, and dangerous. Antisemitism has consistently been (and continues to be) connected with anti-Black racism, xenophobia, and misogyny. Throughout US history, non-Jews deployed bigoted ideas about Jews for personal, professional, social, and/or political gain. As a result, with degrees of variation, Jews in the United States endured personal hardships, faced collective discrimination, and confronted political intolerance.

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The Black Freedom Struggle in the Urban North  

Thomas J. Sugrue

Racism in the United States has long been a national problem, not a regional phenomenon. The long and well-documented history of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and racial violence in the South overshadows the persistent reality of racial discrimination, systemic segregation, and entrenched inequality north of the Mason-Dixon line. From the mid-19th century forward, African Americans and their allies mounted a series of challenges to racially separate schools, segregated public accommodations, racially divided workplaces, endemic housing segregation, and discriminatory policing. The northern civil rights movement expanded dramatically in the aftermath of the Great Migration of blacks northward and the intensification of segregation in northern hotels, restaurants, and theaters, workplaces, housing markets, and schools in the early 20th century. During the Great Depression and World War II, emboldened civil rights organizations engaged in protest, litigation, and lobbying efforts to undermine persistent racial discrimination and segregation. Their efforts resulted in legal and legislative victories against racially separate and unequal institutions, particularly workplaces and stores. But segregated housing and schools remained more impervious to change. By the 1960s, many black activists in the North grew frustrated with the pace of change, even as they succeeded in increasing black representation in elected office, in higher education, and in certain sectors of the economy. In the late 20th century, civil rights activists launched efforts to fight the ongoing problem of police brutality and the rise of the prison-industrial complex. And they pushed, mostly through the courts, for the protection of the fragile gains of the civil rights era. The black freedom struggle in the North remained incomplete in the face of ongoing segregation, persistent racism, and ongoing racial inequality in employment, education, income, and wealth.

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Brown v. Board of Education  

Christopher W. Schmidt

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down as unconstitutional state-mandated racial segregation in public schools, which at the time was policy in seventeen states. Brown v. Board of Education marked the culmination of a decades-long litigation campaign by the NAACP. White-controlled states across the South responded by launching a “massive resistance” campaign of defiance against Brown, which was followed by decades of struggles, inside and outside the courts, to desegregate the nation’s schools. Brown also signaled the new and often controversial direction the Supreme Court would take under leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren—one that read the rights protections of the Constitution more broadly than its predecessors and was more aggressive in using these rights to protect vulnerable minorities. Brown is nearly universally celebrated today, yet the terms of its celebration remain contested. Some see the case as a call for ambitious litigation strategies and judicial boldness, whereas others use it to demonstrate the limited power of the courts to effect social change. Some find in Brown a commitment to a principle of a “colorblind” Constitution, others a commitment to expunging practices that oppress racial minorities (often requiring race-conscious policies). Brown thus remains what it was in 1954: a bold statement of the principle of racial equality whose meaning the nation is still struggling to work out.