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Melvin Rogers: How Black Thinkers Remade America's Political Traditions

The nation’s founders embraced republicanism, a political ideology rooted in classical Rome, with its emphasis on liberty, individual rights, civic virtue, and equality. Historians have noted that those ideas still inform much of what most American believe are the nation’s core values and have been at the heart of various national debates, including those involving equity and race.

But that history often overlooks the contributions to American republicanism of Black thinkers in the early 19th century. Some of their ideas, said Brown University professor Melvin Rogers, ran into a roadblock when it came to the idea of racial domination.

“The moment we begin to expand on narratives of the past, the moment we look beyond those figures that typically enjoy philosophical standard, we will find the tradition of republicanism not only alive in the 19th century, but that it is under the conceptual reconfiguration by African Americans,” Rogers said last week during an event, “Race and Domination: An Introduction to Black Republicanism.”

Rogers, who also serves as associate director of the Center for Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Brown, has dedicated his work to contemporary democratic theory and the history of American and African American political thought. During an hourlong talk, Rogers expanded on his research on African American thinkers, their contributions to the theory of republicanism from the 1830s to the 1850s, as well as their commitment to freedom against domination.

“African Americans were very much committed to this tradition of thinking, but they also came to discover very quickly that it wasn’t conceptually ready for the situation that they found themselves in, that of racial domination,” Rogers explained. African American thinkers in the early 19th century, including Martin Delany, David Walker, Maria Stewart, and Frederick Douglass, viewed civic virtue as an important concept and transformed it into an idea of solidarity among Black people to fortify themselves and push back.

While the scholars agreed on racial solidarity, they did not agree on what it would look like. Delaney, for example, saw racial solidarity as a permanent state, Rogers said, and later endorsed the immigration of Black Americans back to Africa.

Read entire article at Harvard Gazette