Annette Gordon-Reed is the Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History at Harvard Law School and Professor of History in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard. She is the author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for History, and Most Blessed of the Patriarchs: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination, with Peter S. Onuf. (October 2019)
To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic Justice
by Michael K. Honey
Redemption: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Last 31 Hours
by Joseph Rosenbloom
It might be hard for younger generations of Americans in 2018, fifty years after Martin Luther King’s assassination, to fathom just how controversial a figure he was during his career, and particularly around the time of his death. The strength of the opposition to civil rights for blacks, the antagonizing and discomfiting words King used, and the aggressively disruptive tactics he and his supporters employed have been pushed into the background. King now fits so comfortably into the present-day popular understanding of American history that one might think that nearly all Americans had supported him enthusiastically from the very start, and that his murder was a tragic event unmoored from any wider opposition to his activities.
Even though it was not the only reason she did not become president, it matters greatly to considerations of Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016 that the United States has never elected a woman president, and it is naive to think otherwise. History and culture tell us why no woman has ever occupied this office, and why putting a woman in the country’s ultimate position of power might have been difficult for a good number of men and women voters to do—especially for many whites after the culture-shaking experience of having had a black president.
Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion, and Law from America’s Origins to the Twenty-First Century
by Geoffrey R. Stone
What interest do people living in a supposedly secular and liberal society have in regulating perhaps the most intimate aspect of an adult’s life—consensual sexual behavior with another adult? How do people decide which sexual acts, conducted in private, have a public impact and, therefore, become the public’s business? For our purposes, why do Americans think as we do about sex, and how have we used the Constitution, and the laws of the fifty states, to instantiate those beliefs?
The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution
by Robert Parkinson
It is a commonplace that being an American is a matter neither of blood nor of cultural connections forged over time. It is, instead, a commitment to a set of ideals famously laid down by the country’s founders, and refined over generations with a notion of progress as a guiding principle. Of course, what it means to be an American is not—has never been—so simple a proposition.
I handed him my identification. He did a warrant check. A few minutes passed. Then he let us go. Nothing violent occurred. Unlike Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others whose names are known because of tragic encounters with the police, I walked—or, rather, was driven—away from the event with no visible impairment. This whole episode could be seen as trivial, given that I came to no physical harm. But the moment was deeply instructive.
It was not necessarily Thomas Jefferson himself, but the ideas associated with him that mattered that night in Charlottesville, and warranted forming a protective barrier around his statue on the University of Virginia campus. I have no doubt that the people trying to keep the tiki torchers away from the statue know about the problematic aspects of Jefferson. Because he was at or near the heart of so many aspects of the American founding for such a long time—longer than any other member of the founding generation—we have had many occasions to ponder Jefferson’s complex nature and legacy.