Four hundred years

Four hundred years

It may be impossible to overstate the significance of race in defining the basic structure of American society. The structure and content of the original Constitution was based largely on the effort to preserve a racial caste system—slavery—while at the same time affording political and economic rights to whites, especially propertied whites.

The Southern slaveholding colonies would agree to form a union only on the condition that the federal government would not be able to interfere with the right to own slaves. Federalism—the division of power between the states and the federal government—was the device employed to protect the institution of slavery and the political power of slaveholding states. Under the terms of our country’s founding document, slaves were defined as three-fifths of a man, not a real, whole human being.

Upon this racist fiction rests the entire structure of American democracy.

Southern Poverty Law Center