A southern city has now become synonymous with the ongoing scourge of racism in the United States.

A year ago, white supremacists rallied to “Unite the Right” in Charlottesville, protesting the removal of a Confederate statute.

In the days that followed, two of them, Christopher C. Cantwell and James A. Fields Jr., became quite prominent.

The HBO show “Vice News Tonight” profiled Cantwell in an episode and showed him spouting racist and anti-Semitic slurs and violent fantasies. Fields gained notoriety after he plowed a car into a group of unarmed counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

Today this tragedy defines the nature of modern racism primarily as Southern, embodied in tiki torches, Confederate flags and violent outbursts.

As historians of race in America, we believe that such a one-sided view misses how entrenched, widespread and multi-various racism is and has been across the country.

Jim Crow born in the North

Racism has deep historic roots in the North, making the chaos and violence of Charlottesville part of a national historic phenomenon.

Cantwell was born and raised in Stony Brook, Long Island, and was living in New Hampshire at the time of the march. Fields was born in Boone County, Kentucky, a stone’s throw from Cincinnati, Ohio, and was living in Ohio when he plowed through a crowd.

Jim Crow, the system of laws that advanced segregation and black disenfranchisement, began in the North, not the South, as most Americans believe. Long before the Civil War, northern states like New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, New Jersey and Pennsylvania had legal codes that promoted black people’s racial segregation and political disenfranchisement.

If racism is only pictured in spitting and screaming, in torches and vigilante justice and an allegiance to the Confederacy, many Americans can rest easy, believing they share little responsibility in its perpetuation. But the truth is, Americans all over the country do bear responsibility for racial segregation and inequality.

Studying the long history of the Jim Crow North makes clear to us that there was nothing regional about white supremacy and its upholders. There is a larger landscape of segregation and struggle in the “liberal” North that brings into sharp relief the national character of American apartheid.

More from Brian J Purnell/Jeanne Theoharis/TheConversation

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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