Response to the Supreme Court Decision and the Killing of Trayvon Martin
by ASALH National President Daryl Michael Scott
For nearly a century, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) has sought to empower people through knowledge, and recent events make it necessary for us to rededicate ourselves to our founding purpose.
From the fog of unfolding events, it appears we have arrived at a new juncture, a new era of civil and voting rights struggles in America. In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court signaled the end of the federal protection of the right to vote. The Court did not make federal laws and intervention unconstitutional, but it unleashed the authority of all states to make voting more difficult. Similar to a century ago, African Americans in the South, as well as the North, must protect their right to vote through organizing locally and building coalitions.
The slaughter of Trayvon Martin calls for the nation to rethink our understanding of civil rights and to recognize the limits of the last Civil Rights era. Black men and boys being killed by armed vigilantes is not a remnant of Jim Crow as some have argued. Since the advent of slavery in America, black males traversing the night have been presumed to be criminals and policed by both the state and armed vigilantes. The solution to this problem is not simply gun control or case-by-case adjudication. We need a new birth of civil rights that protects all Americans from criminalization, vigilante policing, and legalized manslaughter.
As we approach the fiftieth anniversaries of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, ASALH calls for efforts to expand the scope of civil rights and to empower our communities to protect the right to vote. On the winding road of history, knowledge for knowledge’s sake must yield to the empowerment of people through knowledge. When ASALH meets in Jacksonville in October, our Annual Meeting will serve as a venue to bring together scholars, activists, and policy experts to address the challenges of this new era. Please stay tuned for additional conference programming and empowerment projects that you can aid us in creating.
Daryl Michael Scott