The Black Laws in the Old Northwest: A Documentary History

By Stephen Middleton | Go to book overview
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Foreword

Gunnar Myrdal chose the title An American Dilemma for his classic 1944 study of race relations in the United States. In it he stressed the conflict between American ideals and the nation's treatment of African Americans. He wrote eloquently of the white response:

To the great majority of white Americans the Negro problem has distinctly negative connotations. It suggests something difficult to settle and equally difficult to leave alone. It is embarrassing. It makes for moral uneasiness. The very presence of the Negro in America; his fate in this country through slavery, Civil War and Reconstruction; his recent career and his present status; his accommodation; his protest and his aspiration; in fact his entire biological, historical and social existence as a participant American represent to the ordinary man in the North as well as in the South an anomaly in the very structure of American society. To many, this takes on the proportion of a menace--biological, economic, social, cultural, and, at times, political. This anxiety may be mingled with a feeling of individual and collective guilt. A few see the problem as a challenge to statesmanship. To all it is trouble. Later scholars have questioned whether there was a dilemma. Some

have claimed that few white Americans have ever been tormented by the contradictions. Historian Nathan Huggins has declared that at the time of America's birth, with its midwife of natural rights, "the dilemma should have been numbing, but it did not trouble the Founding Father's enough to confront

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