On January 6, 1874, Robert Browne Elliott, a representative from South Carolina, delivered a speech in favor of the civil rights bill in Congress. He was one of the first black men to speak on behalf of the newly-freed slaves who were in search of their freedom. And it was the very first time in our nation’s history that North Americans considered the rights of blacks. In the speech, in arguing forcefully on behalf of blacks, Elliott invoked the fifteenth amendment and the Slaughter House Cases. He observed, the purpose of the fifteenth amendment is to “secure the perfect equality before the law of all citizens of the United States . . . All discrimination, all denial of equality before the law, all denial of equal protection of the laws whether state or national laws, is forbidden.” In this manner, Elliott spoke to what it means to be a citizen, the nature and rights of citizens, and by extension, implications for 21st century blacks.
Using major theorists and scholarly works that have shaped the conceptual and practical foundations of black citizenship and the state, do the following:
1. Summarize how representative theorists have helped scholars and practitioners understand what it means for blacks to have equal access to the law—in a word, citizenship.
2. Then, identify three to four “big” thematic ideas that are far and away the most influential ones for shaping our thoughts about citizenship for diasporic blacks in North America. What’s most useful? Be sure to consider African American history, as well as the ideas of democratic freedom, individual liberty, and equality.
3. Finally, in light of contestations over what citizenship means today, comment on what remains to be done. Why, how, and with what effect?
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