How the Past Echoes in the Protests: A Historian’s Recommended Reads

In the weeks since the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and George Floyd, marches against racism and police brutality have swept the United States and cities around the world. To help make sense of this moment, award-winning historian Keisha N. Blain offers this curated collection of articles by black writers on the history of black protest, the legacy of state violence, and why these demonstrations might yet be different.

In 1919, the State Failed to Protect Black Americans. A Century Later, It’s Still Failing

Carol Anderson • The Guardian

There is something so wounded in American society that basic commitment to justice is not part of the operating code.

The Double Standard of the American Riot

Kellie Carter Jackson • The Atlantic

The nationwide protests against police killings have been called un-American by critics, but rebellion has always been used to defend liberty.

Violence in Minneapolis Is Rooted in the History of Racist Policing in America

Keisha N. Blain • The Washington Post

Police violence against African Americans has persisted for centuries.

Why Are Black Women and Girls Still an Afterthought in Our Outrage Over Police Violence?

Brittney Cooper • Time

In a country reeling from being involuntary witnesses to the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, Breonna Taylor’s death does not fit the spectacular forms of police killing that we have come to associate with America’s nefarious lynching past.

We Are Living in a Red Spring

Robert Greene II • Jacobin

In the Red Summer of 1919, racist violence hit America as the Spanish flu ravaged the country. With mass protests against police murders sweeping the pandemic-plagued United States, it appears we might be now living in a Red Spring.

The Minneapolis Uprising in Context

Elizabeth Hinton • Boston Review

A proper understanding of urban rebellion depends on our ability to interpret it not as a wave of criminality, but as political violence.

The American Nightmare

Ibram X. Kendi • The Atlantic

To be black and conscious of anti-black racism is to stare into the mirror of your own extinction.

How Cities Offload the Cost of Police Brutality

Brentin Mock • CityLab

Cities spend tens of millions of dollars on lawsuits over police violence and killings. But municipalities are effectively using residents to mortgage the cost.

We Should Be Afraid, But Not of Protesters

Melvin Rogers • Boston Review

The rage on display in Minneapolis is not only about police violence. It is also about the country’s utter disregard for the pain of black Americans.

Of Course There Are Protests. The State Is Failing Black People.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor • The New York Times

The collapse of politics and governance leaves no other option.

About the curator

Keisha N. Blain is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh and author of the multi-prize-winning book, Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018). Blain is currently a 2019-2020 W.E.B. Du Bois Fellow in the Hutchins Center at Harvard University. Follow her on Twitter @KeishaBlain.

Get fascinating articles like these directly in your inbox.

Join millions and sign up for Pocket’s daily newsletter.