Writing at USA Today, NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous uses the 350th anniversary of the Gloucester County Conspiracy — a revolt organized by black slaves and European indentured servants in Virginia — to describe the “original state of race relations” before race was introduced as a tactic to separate the disenfranchised. He also connects those 17th-century events to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Though the plot failed, the landowners recognized the power that the Gloucester rebels possessed when banded together. Over the next several decades, they sought to breed racial contempt between the white and black members of the underclass. On the plantation level, they gave whites nominal control in the field. On the colony level, they allowed whites to join the militia and carry firearms. As historian Edmund Morgan writes, the landowners used racism as a device for control.
On this 350th anniversary, the Gloucester rebellion can teach us as much about our character as the March on Washington.
The rebels in Gloucester recognized what King memorialized in his famous remarks: we are, by our nature, capable of great things when we judge one another solely on the content of our character, not by the color of our skin.
The original state of race relations in America is one of shared struggle, not mutually assured destruction. It is ultimately the introduction of an outside variable — money, power, or the desire for control — that tends to alter that natural state.
Read Benjamin Todd Jealous’ entire piece at USA Today.
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