The Lowdown Hub

History and Resources on how to understand Africa America’s long history of injustice and inequality



The video of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in Minneapolis triggered protests around the world. It brought renewed attention to the high-profile deaths of black Americans during the past decade and ongoing concerns about systemic racism in the criminal justice system.

Floyd’s killing, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately infected and killed black people, has exposed long-standing racial inequities in every aspect of American life and forced a deep reckoning across society. Corporations are pledging to combat systemic racism in their companies. Some cities are considering proposals to reduce funds to police departments. And activists have renewed calls to remove Confederate monuments, with some even toppling the statues themselves.


As former vice president Joe Biden prepared to announce his running mate, Black leaders pushed for him select a Black woman. Biden named Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) on Aug. 11, making her the first woman of color on a major-party presidential ticket. Harris has since been working to galvanize Black communities and progressive voters.

To help provide context to the issues driving the debate among people attending marches and rallies or those having more quiet conversations with their families and friends, we’ve compiled deeply reported stories, videos, photo essays, audio and graphics on black history, progress, inequality and injustice.


George Floyd’s America

A series examining how systemic racism shaped Floyd’s life

History


(Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

When did slavery begin in America? Historians are trying to find out as much as possible about Angela, the first African woman documented in Virginia. Her arrival in Jamestown in 1619 marked the beginning of subjugation that left millions in chains.

2019 | By DeNeen L. Brown


The University of Virginia confronts its Jeffersonian roots in a memorial to enslaved laborers. Thomas Jefferson founded the university in 1819, designed the campus, and laid out an ambitious academic agenda. The Memorial to Enslaved Laborers acknowledges the estimated 4,000 enslaved people who lived and worked at the university from 1817 to 1865.

2020 | By Philip Kennicott


What does it mean to Daniel Smith to be the living son of an enslaved person in the 21st century? Looking back, he can now see his parents as followers of the “twice as good” philosophy — the futile belief that black people must perform twice as well as whites just to be considered equal. And beneath the sunny message of how extraordinary the Smith children were lay Abram Smith’s stories of slavery with their frightening symbols of brutality.

2020 | By Sydney Trent


“Jim Crow” first appeared in the North. An early civil rights struggle in Massachusetts featuring a young Frederick Douglass shows the forgotten northern origins of racial separation.

2019 | By Steve Luxenberg


Historians believe that as many as 300 black people were killed, and 40 square blocks of what was known as Black Wall Street were destroyed by fire. A century after a race massacre, Tulsa finally digs for suspected mass graves. The work comes nearly seven months after a team of forensic anthropologists and archaeologists, led by the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey at the University of Oklahoma, announced that they had found “possible common graves” at two sites in Tulsa.

2020 | By DeNeen L. Brown


The four days in 1968 that reshaped D.C.: On April 4, 1968, shortly after 8 p.m., word reached the District that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had been slain in Memphis. His assassination ignited an explosion of rioting, looting, and burning that stunned Washington and would leave many neighborhoods in ruins for 30 years.

2018 | By Ann Gerhart, Armand Emamdjomeh, Lauren Tierney, Danielle Rindler and Michael E. Ruane

What Juneteenth can tell us about the value of Black life in America

Juneteenth celebrates “a moment of indescribable joy”: It has its roots in the long-awaited moment of emancipation in Texas, where more than 250,000 enslaved black people received news on June 19, 1865 — more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — that they were free.

2020 | By DeNeen L. Brown, Video by Nicole Ellis

The slave ship that wasn’t meant to be found

The quest to identify black Americans’ roots: From exploring sunken vessels of the Middle Passage to reconstructing museum exhibits that chronicle slavery, African Americans are breaking down the barriers that separate them from their ancestors and are reconnecting with a lineage once lost.

2020 | Video series by Nicole Ellis


‘Historically Black’: An eight-episode audio miniseries that brings black history to life through personal heirlooms and their stories.

2016 | Podcast hosted by Keegan-Michael Key, Roxane Gay, Issa Rae, and “Another Round” hosts Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton


Education


(Joan Wong for The Washington Post/Images from New York Public Library)


“The textbooks were pretty whitewashed. We never talked about the conditions of slavery or why it persisted.” A range of critics — historians, educators, civil rights activists — want to change how schools teach the subject. The evidence of slavery’s legacy is all around us, they say, pointing to the persistence of segregation in schools, the gaping racial disparities in income and wealth, and the damage done to black families by the U.S. criminal justice system.

2019 | By Joe Heim


25 million students are in school districts that aren’t integrated or are too homogenous to integrate. Over the past couple of decades, integration took hold across the country in smaller school districts whose student bodies had been predominantly white. But in many big cities and across the South, students remain in districts that are deeply segregated.

2019 | By Kate Rabinowitz, Armand Emamdjomeh and Laura Meckler

Coming of age in a city coming apart

Coming of age in a city coming apart: Renaissance Academy had seen too many of Baltimore’s black boys derailed or destroyed by the mayhem around them. If they could help it, Khalil Bridges would not be one of them. In him, they saw promise, a young man who could graduate in June and go on to find success. Can he make it when others are dying?

2016 | By Theresa Vargas, Video by Whitney Shefte


Protest and activism


(Philip Cheung for The Washington Post)


How the Black Lives Matter movement went mainstream: As consensus grows about the existence of systemic racism in American policing and other facets of American life, longtime organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement are trying to extend its momentum beyond the popularization of a phrase. Activists sense a once-in-a-generation opportunity to demand policy changes that once seemed far-fetched, including sharp cuts to police budgets in favor of social programs, and greater accountability for officers who kill residents.

2020 | By Jose A. Del Real, Robert Samuels, and Tim Craig


“The moment I was first placed under arrest at a sit-in, I felt free.” Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) was a student leader in the civil rights movement, organizing sit-ins and serving as one of the original 13 Freedom Riders. From 1963 to 1966, Lewis was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He has served in Congress from 1987 until his death in July. Photos: Remembering John Lewis

2017 | By KK Ottesen


“We have the responsibility to bring some level of concrete change to this moment.” Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III hope to re-create the power of the 1963 March on Washington. After months of spontaneous local protests, will a national march speak to a new generation?

2020 | By David Montgomery


Perspective: “Sixty years ago, I participated in the civil rights movement to bring about the same kind of changes being sought by Black Lives Matter activists today.” Joyce Ladner says racist violence in the South was the catalyst for her generation, and she’s angry that 60 years later black men and boys are still being killed by police and vigilantes.

2020 | By Joyce Ladner


Minorities make up nearly half of the under-30 population nationwide. The number of young people of color living in the Midwest has surged over the past decade, as the older white population has nearly stalled. Forty percent of the nation’s counties are experiencing such demographic transformations — a phenomenon fueling the Black Lives Matter protests that have swept the country.

2020 | By Tim Craig and Aaron Williams



Opinions: Voices of the Movement: This audio series from the “Cape Up” podcast brings you the stories and reflections of some of the leaders of the civil rights movement, and their lessons on where we go from here.

2019 | Podcast hosted by Jonathan Capehart


Perspective: This is why Colin Kaepernick took a knee: Two knees. One protesting in the grass, one pressing on the back of a man’s neck. Choose. You have to choose which knee you will defend. There are no half choices; there is no room for indifference. There is only the knee of protest or the knee on the neck.

2020 | By Sally Jenkins


Voices of Protest: From veterans of the civil rights movement to college students protesting for the first time, many say they were moved to take part because this moment feels different. The Washington Post reached out to readers to ask them why they participated in the protests and what they hope will come out of it.

2020 | By Kanyakrit Vongkiatkajorn, Marian Liu, Rachel Hatzipanagos and Linah Mohammad


Income inequality


The Chicago metropolitan area has remained one of the most segregated regions in the United States since 1990. Some 50 years ago, policies like the Fair Housing Act and the Voting Rights Act were enacted to increase integration, promote equity, combat discrimination, and dismantle the lingering legacy of Jim Crow laws. But a Washington Post analysis shows that some cities remain deeply segregated — even as the country itself becomes more diverse.

2018 | By Aaron Williams and Armand Emamdjomeh


“The only way African American businesses are going to survive is we have to own our own stuff.” The coronavirus recession could wipe out minority-owned businesses, fueling displacement from historic ethnic neighborhoods.

2020 | By Tracy Jan


In the first quarter of 2020, 44 percent of black families owned their homes, compared with 73.7 percent of white families. Mary Pherribo’s decision to buy a home in 1936 changed the trajectory of her family’s finances for generations. Today, that pattern of homeownership and generational wealth building is broken for many black families.

2020 | By Michele Lerner


An abrupt change to the census deadline could result in an undercount of Latino and Black communities. The decennial census is not just about the count, but also allocating federal resources and apportioning congressional seats. “As Covid continues to rip through those communities, it is a very challenging thing to see communities that absolutely need resources that could be left out.”

2020 | By Jose A. Del Real and Fredrick Kunkle


3 out of 4 neighborhoods “redlined” on government maps 80 years ago continue to struggle economically. In the 1930s, government surveyors graded neighborhoods in 239 cities, color-coding them green for “best,” blue for “still desirable,” yellow for “definitely declining” and red for “hazardous.” The “redlined” areas were the ones local lenders discounted as credit risks, in large part because of the residents’ racial and ethnic demographics.

2018 | By Tracy Jan



The black-white economic divide is as wide as it was in 1968. The wealth gap is even more pronounced among less-educated Americans. A white household whose head has only a high school diploma has almost 10 times the wealth of a black family with the same education.

2020 | By Heather Long and Andrew Van Dam


Only 1 percent of venture capital money goes to companies founded by black entrepreneurs. Black entrepreneurs said complaining about race discrimination, let alone hiring a lawyer and taking action, would amount to a career death sentence.

2020 | By Reed Albergotti


Nationwide, home values in predominantly African American neighborhoods were the least likely to recover from the Great Recession. Across the country, blacks are less likely to own homes; those who did were more likely during the housing bust to slip underwater; and as a result, a larger share of black wealth has been destroyed in the years since then.

2016 | By Emily Badger


Perspective: The rate of black unemployment is consistently about twice that of both the white rate and the overall rate. The Federal Reserve could help make the job market fairer for black workers.

2020 | By Jared Bernstein and Janelle Jones


Health

(Jahi Chikwendiu)


The dangers of internalizing racism: Racism hurts. A growing body of research shows it negatively affects the mental and physical health of its victims. Like any burden, it wears the bearer down. Sometimes it makes you feel like lashing out. Sometimes it makes you feel as if you are drowning.

2019 | Photo essay with an introduction by Eugene Robinson


Black and Latinx Americans are two to three times more likely than white Americans to be uninsured. The coronavirus has laid bare the staggering costs of decades of disinvestment and inadequate care of minority communities across the country and the desperate need to collect and measure the impact of the disease as it pertains to race. Explore chronic health rates in your community.

2020 | Graphic by Aaron Williams and Adrian Blanco


Black Americans die younger than white Americans. The protests over the deaths of black men and women at the hands of police have turned attention to other American institutions, including health care, where some members of the profession are calling for the transformation of a system they say results in poorer health for black Americans because of deep-rooted racism.

2020 | By Tonya Russell

“I had to read an article about black motherhood that wasn’t a horror story.” Women of color have the highest rates of maternal death. Black mothers are among the most at risk no matter their socioeconomic or educational status. How were pregnant black women navigating the dreaded numbers? How were they experiencing joy? How were they scrolling past the scary headlines and instead of sharing stories of uplift?

2019 | By Helena Andrews-Dyer

How to balance activism with your mental health: George Floyd’s death is a traumatic experience for black people all across America and the world. But it’s retraumatizing, too, because black people deal with racism every day. We asked community organizers how that manifests itself in their daily lives and in the work that they do.

2020 | Video by Maya Sugarman and Nicole Ellis


Politics

(Zack Wittman for The Washington Post)


What can a scholarship do to address a historic injustice? For Morgan Carter and her family, reparations changed the frame of a tortured past. The Florida legislature passed a law in 1994 allowing descendants of the Rosewood massacre to go to college in the state tuition-free. The law is regarded as the first instance of a legislative body in the United States giving reparations to African Americans.

2020 | By Robert Samuels


The Deltas helped pave the way for African American women in politics. Women at Howard University formed the Delta Sigma Theta sorority in 1913 and faced racism in the suffrage movement but refused to walk away.

2020 | By Sydney Trent


More Black women are running for Congress in the 2020 cycle than ever before. One hundred years after women gained the right to vote, they remain underrepresented in the halls of power. Women of color make up about one-fifth of the U.S. population but a far smaller share of major elective offices.

2020 | By Kevin Uhrmacher, Chris Alcantara and Daniela Santamariña


3 in 4 black adults say they are certain to vote in November. Black Americans say racism and police conduct are the most important issues in their choice of candidates for president, are sharply critical of President Trump on both matters and see increasingly high stakes in the outcome of November’s election.

2020 | By Scott Clement, Dan Balz and Emily Guskin


“Wading into racial politics energizes Democrats.” American politics has arrived at this moment of racial reckoning deeply polarized and with a party structure shaped profoundly by the politics of race. From calls to defund the police to the issue of reparations to ideas for more race-conscious policies, the possible agenda to address racial issues is expansive and challenging — and potentially still more wrenching — than the country is prepared to address.

2020 | By Dan Balz


Opinions: “To be white in America ... means to have to block the advances of other groups.” Jonathan Metzl talks to Opinion writer Jonathan Capehart about how people are “dying of whiteness” rather than support policies they view as also helping minorities.


At Howard, the story of black Americans was not relegated to a single African American Studies department. It was central to everything. Sen. Kamala D. Harris made history becoming the first woman of color to be on a major-party presidential ticket. When anyone challenges her racial identity, Harris points to her four years at Howard University. See her career in photos.

2019 | By Robin Givhan

Policing and criminal justice


Black Americans are disproportionately killed by police. Black Americans account for just 13 percent of the U.S. population, but more than a quarter of police shooting victims. The disparity is even more pronounced among unarmed victims, of whom more than a third are black. Search The Post’s police shooting database.

2019 | By Joe Fox, Adrian Blanco, Jennifer Jenkins, Julie Tate, and Wesley Lowery


In urban areas, police are consistently much whiter than the people they serve. A University of Maryland criminologist found that crime rates in minority neighborhoods are lower when local police and government diversity matches the community.

2020 | By Dan Keating and Kevin Uhrmacher


“His greatest fear was that I would become a traitor.” This is the struggle of black police officers, then and now. They sign up for a job that offers a path to middle-class life and a chance to honor their communities by pledging to protect them, but they can face questions of loyalty from neighbors who are skeptical of law enforcement.

2020 | By Dan Zak and Ellen McCarthy