Justice  /  Comparison

10 Experts on Where the George Floyd Protests Fit Into American History

Many are looking to history for clues about how to understand the evolving moment. Here's what to know.

Comparisons to the 1960s, and that era’s fight for racial equality, have been plentiful—but that period was just one chapter in a civil rights movement that’s almost as old as America is. TIME asked ten experts on the history of race in the United States to weigh in on which moments from the American past can help us understand today.

Simon Balto, author of Policing Black Chicago from Red Summer to Black Power and Assistant Professor of History at the University of Iowa:

 I think people need to understand that the destruction of property as a form of political dissent is a practice older than this country. The Boston Tea Party—that was a group of political dissidents destroying property in political protest. Americans have been destroying property in pursuit of various political goals ever since, sometimes in the airing of legitimate grief and grievances such as violent and racist policing systems, sometimes over more nefarious motives. (White people in Chicago rioted and destroyed Black people’s property practically once a year in the late 1940s and 1950s in order to drive out Black families who wanted to move into white neighborhoods.) So when people say that what’s happening right now is “un-American,” they’re categorically wrong. It’s in the nation’s DNA.

Kellie Carter Jackson, author of Force and Freedom: Black Abolitionists and the Politics of Violence and Assistant Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College:

There was a group of black—some might say radical—abolitionists who believed that because slavery was started in violence and slavery is sustained by violence, slavery will only be overthrown by violence. So they [use] a direct, aggressive and, in some cases, forceful and violent, protest to accelerate emancipation. I see a lot of parallels in terms of tactics used, how people have used pretty much every tool in front of them—maybe not cell-phone footage, but the press, the pen, their speeches, their rhetoric, their physical bodies. This contributed to the abolition of slavery, and I see those same tactics playing out today in [hopes of] abolishing police brutality, abolishing mass incarceration, abolishing the gross inequities between white communities and black communities.

Duchess Harris, author of Racially Writing the Republic: Racists, Race Rebels, and Transformations of American Identity and Professor of American Studies at Macalester College:

The parallel I make is to Red Summer. You get the Spanish flu in 1918​, then​ in the summer of 1919 you get en masse race rebellions in the ​N​orth​, ​and it’s for several reasons. There is economic competition—black men have fought in World War I and have migrated from the South to the North partly for job opportunities. They’re not allowed to get jobs, even though they fought for their country. Then the Spanish Flu comes about. Then it’s summer. It’s hot. There are black people in cities who have never been there before, and then there’s white resistance. Part of what’s going on now is a pushback to the eight years of Obama in the White House​. ​With the Red Summer, part of the pushback is​,​ “We’re ​​glad these men fought for us …but don’t come back wearing the military uniform and behaving like you’re American like we are​,​ because you aren’t.”