Nikole Hannah-Jones for the NYT 1619 Project

Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.

My dad always flew an American flag in our front yard. The blue paint on our two-story house was perennially chipping; the fence, or the rail by the stairs, or the front door, existed in a perpetual state of disrepair, but that flag always flew pristine. Our corner lot, which had been redlined by the federal government, was along the river that divided the black side from the white side of our Iowa town. At the edge of our lawn, high on an aluminum pole, soared the flag, which my dad would replace as soon as it showed the slightest tatter.

My dad was born into a family of sharecroppers on a white plantation in Greenwood, Miss., where black people bent over cotton from can’t-see-in-the-morning to can’t-see-at-night, just as their enslaved ancestors had done not long before. The Mississippi of my dad’s youth was an apartheid state that subjugated its near-majority black population through breathtaking acts of violence. White residents in Mississippi lynched more black people than those in any other state in the country, and the white people in my dad’s home county lynched more black residents than those in any other county in Mississippi, often for such “crimes” as entering a room occupied by white women, bumping into a white girl or trying to start a sharecroppers union. My dad’s mother, like all the black people in Greenwood, could not vote, use the public library or find work other than toiling in the cotton fields or toiling in white people’s houses. So in the 1940s, she packed up her few belongings and her three small children and joined the flood of black Southerners fleeing North. She got off the Illinois Central Railroad in Waterloo, Iowa, only to have her hopes of the mythical Promised Land shattered when she learned that Jim Crow did not end at the Mason-Dixon line.

Grandmama, as we called her, found a house in a segregated black neighborhood on the city’s east side and then found the work that was considered black women’s work no matter where black women lived — cleaning white people’s houses. Dad, too, struggled to find promise in this land. In 1962, at age 17, he signed up for the Army. Like many young men, he joined in hopes of escaping poverty. But he went into the military for another reason as well, a reason common to black men: Dad hoped that if he served his country, his country might finally treat him as an American.

The Army did not end up being his way out. He was passed over for opportunities, his ambition stunted. He would be discharged under murky circumstances and then labor in a series of service jobs for the rest of his life. Like all the black men and women in my family, he believed in hard work, but like all the black men and women in my family, no matter how hard he worked, he never got ahead.

So when I was young, that flag outside our home never made sense to me. How could this black man, having seen firsthand the way his country abused black Americans, how it refused to treat us as full citizens, proudly fly its banner? I didn’t understand his patriotism. It deeply embarrassed me.

I had been taught, in school, through cultural osmosis, that the flag wasn’t really ours, that our history as a people began with enslavement and that we had contributed little to this great nation. It seemed that the closest thing black Americans could have to cultural pride was to be found in our vague connection to Africa, a place we had never been. That my dad felt so much honor in being an American felt like a marker of his degradation, his acceptance of our subordination.

Like most young people, I thought I understood so much, when in fact I understood so little. My father knew exactly what he was doing when he raised that flag. He knew that our people’s contributions to building the richest and most powerful nation in the world were indelible, that the United States simply would not exist without us.

In August 1619, just 12 years after the English settled Jamestown, Va., one year before the Puritans landed at Plymouth Rock and some 157 years before the English colonists even decided they wanted to form their own country, the Jamestown colonists bought 20 to 30 enslaved Africans from English pirates. The pirates had stolen them from a Portuguese slave ship that had forcibly taken them from what is now the country of Angola. Those men and women who came ashore on that August day were the beginning of American slavery. They were among the 12.5 million Africans who would be kidnapped from their homes and brought in chains across the Atlantic Ocean in the largest forced migration in human history until the Second World War. Almost two million did not survive the grueling journey, known as the Middle Passage.

Before the abolishment of the international slave trade, 400,000 enslaved Africans would be sold into America. Those individuals and their descendants transformed the lands to which they’d been brought into some of the most successful colonies in the British Empire. Through backbreaking labor, they cleared the land across the Southeast. They taught the colonists to grow rice. They grew and picked the cotton that at the height of slavery was the nation’s most valuable commodity, accounting for half of all American exports and 66 percent of the world’s supply. They built the plantations of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, sprawling properties that today attract thousands of visitors from across the globe captivated by the history of the world’s greatest democracy. They laid the foundations of the White House and the Capitol, even placing with their unfree hands the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol dome. They lugged the heavy wooden tracks of the railroads that crisscrossed the South and that helped take the cotton they picked to the Northern textile mills, fueling the Industrial Revolution. They built vast fortunes for white people North and South — at one time, the second-richest man in the nation was a Rhode Island “slave trader.” Profits from black people’s stolen labor helped the young nation pay off its war debts and financed some of our most prestigious universities. It was the relentless buying, selling, insuring and financing of their bodies and the products of their labor that made Wall Street a thriving banking, insurance and trading sector and New York City the financial capital of the world.

But it would be historically inaccurate to reduce the contributions of black people to the vast material wealth created by our bondage. Black Americans have also been, and continue to be, foundational to the idea of American freedom. More than any other group in this country’s history, we have served, generation after generation, in an overlooked but vital role: It is we who have been the perfecters of this democracy.

A demonstrator at the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to fight for black suffrage. Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

The United States is a nation founded on both an ideal and a lie. Our Declaration of Independence, approved on July 4, 1776, proclaims that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” But the white men who drafted those words did not believe them to be true for the hundreds of thousands of black people in their midst. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” did not apply to fully one-fifth of the country. Yet despite being violently denied the freedom and justice promised to all, black Americans believed fervently in the American creed. Through centuries of black resistance and protest, we have helped the country live up to its founding ideals. And not only for ourselves — black rights struggles paved the way for every other rights struggle, including women’s and gay rights, immigrant and disability rights.

Without the idealistic, strenuous and patriotic efforts of black Americans, our democracy today would most likely look very different — it might not be a democracy at all.

The very first person to die for this country in the American Revolution was a black man who himself was not free. Crispus Attucks was a fugitive from slavery, yet he gave his life for a new nation in which his own people would not enjoy the liberties laid out in the Declaration for another century. In every war this nation has waged since that first one, black Americans have fought — today we are the most likely of all racial groups to serve in the United States military.

My father, one of those many black Americans who answered the call, knew what it would take me years to understand: that the year 1619 is as important to the American story as 1776. That black Americans, as much as those men cast in alabaster in the nation’s capital, are this nation’s true “founding fathers.” And that no people has a greater claim to that flag than us.

In June 1776, Thomas Jefferson sat at his portable writing desk in a rented room in Philadelphia and penned these words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” For the last 243 years, this fierce assertion of the fundamental and natural rights of humankind to freedom and self-governance has defined our global reputation as a land of liberty. As Jefferson composed his inspiring words, however, a teenage boy who would enjoy none of those rights and liberties waited nearby to serve at his master’s beck and call. His name was Robert Hemings, and he was the half brother of Jefferson’s wife, born to Martha Jefferson’s father and a woman he owned. It was common for white enslavers to keep their half-black children in slavery. Jefferson had chosen Hemings, from among about 130 enslaved people that worked on the forced-labor camp he called Monticello, to accompany him to Philadelphia and ensure his every comfort as he drafted the text making the case for a new democratic republic based on the individual rights of men.

At the time, one-fifth of the population within the 13 colonies struggled under a brutal system of slavery unlike anything that had existed in the world before. Chattel slavery was not conditional but racial. It was heritable and permanent, not temporary, meaning generations of black people were born into it and passed their enslaved status onto their children. Enslaved people were not recognized as human beings but as property that could be mortgaged, traded, bought, sold, used as collateral, given as a gift and disposed of violently. Jefferson’s fellow white colonists knew that black people were human beings, but they created a network of laws and customs, astounding for both their precision and cruelty, that ensured that enslaved people would never be treated as such. As the abolitionist William Goodell wrote in 1853, “If any thing founded on falsehood might be called a science, we might add the system of American slavery to the list of the strict sciences.”

Enslaved people could not legally marry. They were barred from learning to read and restricted from meeting privately in groups. They had no claim to their own children, who could be bought, sold and traded away from them on auction blocks alongside furniture and cattle or behind storefronts that advertised “Negroes for Sale.” Enslavers and the courts did not honor kinship ties to mothers, siblings, cousins. In most courts, they had no legal standing. Enslavers could rape or murder their property without legal consequence. Enslaved people could own nothing, will nothing and inherit nothing. They were legally tortured, including by those working for Jefferson himself. They could be worked to death, and often were, in order to produce the highest profits for the white people who owned them.

Yet in making the argument against Britain’s tyranny, one of the colonists’ favorite rhetorical devices was to claim that they were the slaves — to Britain. For this duplicity, they faced burning criticism both at home and abroad. As Samuel Johnson, an English writer and Tory opposed to American independence, quipped, “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?”

Conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact that one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery. By 1776, Britain had grown deeply conflicted over its role in the barbaric institution that had reshaped the Western Hemisphere. In London, there were growing calls to abolish the slave trade. This would have upended the economy of the colonies, in both the North and the South. The wealth and prominence that allowed Jefferson, at just 33, and the other founding fathers to believe they could successfully break off from one of the mightiest empires in the world came from the dizzying profits generated by chattel slavery. In other words, we may never have revolted against Britain if the founders had not understood that slavery empowered them to do so; nor if they had not believed that independence was required in order to ensure that slavery would continue. It is not incidental that 10 of this nation’s first 12 presidents were enslavers, and some might argue that this nation was founded not as a democracy but as a slavocracy.

Jefferson and the other founders were keenly aware of this hypocrisy. And so in Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence, he tried to argue that it wasn’t the colonists’ fault. Instead, he blamed the king of England for forcing the institution of slavery on the unwilling colonists and called the trafficking in human beings a crime. Yet neither Jefferson nor most of the founders intended to abolish slavery, and in the end, they struck the passage.

There is no mention of slavery in the final Declaration of Independence. Similarly, 11 years later, when it came time to draft the Constitution, the framers carefully constructed a document that preserved and protected slavery without ever using the word. In the texts in which they were making the case for freedom to the world, they did not want to explicitly enshrine their hypocrisy, so they sought to hide it. The Constitution contains 84 clauses. Six deal directly with the enslaved and their enslavement, as the historian David Waldstreicher has written, and five more hold implications for slavery. The Constitution protected the “property” of those who enslaved black people, prohibited the federal government from intervening to end the importation of enslaved Africans for a term of 20 years, allowed Congress to mobilize the militia to put down insurrections by the enslaved and forced states that had outlawed slavery to turn over enslaved people who had run away seeking refuge. Like many others, the writer and abolitionist Samuel Bryan called out the deceit, saying of the Constitution, “The words are dark and ambiguous; such as no plain man of common sense would have used, [and] are evidently chosen to conceal from Europe, that in this enlightened country, the practice of slavery has its advocates among men in the highest stations.”

With independence, the founding fathers could no longer blame slavery on Britain. The sin became this nation’s own, and so, too, the need to cleanse it. The shameful paradox of continuing chattel slavery in a nation founded on individual freedom, scholars today assert, led to a hardening of the racial caste system. This ideology, reinforced not just by laws but by racist science and literature, maintained that black people were subhuman, a belief that allowed white Americans to live with their betrayal. By the early 1800s, according to the legal historians Leland B. Ware, Robert J. Cottrol and Raymond T. Diamond, white Americans, whether they engaged in slavery or not, “had a considerable psychological as well as economic investment in the doctrine of black inferiority.” While liberty was the inalienable right of the people who would be considered white, enslavement and subjugation became the natural station of people who had any discernible drop of “black” blood.

The Supreme Court enshrined this thinking in the law in its 1857 Dred Scott decision, ruling that black people, whether enslaved or free, came from a “slave” race. This made them inferior to white people and, therefore, incompatible with American democracy. Democracy was for citizens, and the “Negro race,” the court ruled, was “a separate class of persons,” which the founders had “not regarded as a portion of the people or citizens of the Government” and had “no rights which a white man was bound to respect.” This belief, that black people were not merely enslaved but were a slave race, became the root of the endemic racism that we still cannot purge from this nation to this day. If black people could not ever be citizens, if they were a caste apart from all other humans, then they did not require the rights bestowed by the Constitution, and the “we” in the “We the People” was not a lie.

On Aug. 14, 1862, a mere five years after the nation’s highest courts declared that no black person could be an American citizen, President Abraham Lincoln called a group of five esteemed free black men to the White House for a meeting. It was one of the few times that black people had ever been invited to the White House as guests. The Civil War had been raging for more than a year, and black abolitionists, who had been increasingly pressuring Lincoln to end slavery, must have felt a sense of great anticipation and pride.

The war was not going well for Lincoln. Britain was contemplating whether to intervene on the Confederacy’s behalf, and Lincoln, unable to draw enough new white volunteers for the war, was forced to reconsider his opposition to allowing black Americans to fight for their own liberation. The president was weighing a proclamation that threatened to emancipate all enslaved people in the states that had seceded from the Union if the states did not end the rebellion. The proclamation would also allow the formerly enslaved to join the Union army and fight against their former “masters.” But Lincoln worried about what the consequences of this radical step would be. Like many white Americans, he opposed slavery as a cruel system at odds with American ideals, but he also opposed black equality. He believed that free black people were a “troublesome presence” incompatible with a democracy intended only for white people. “Free them, and make them politically and socially our equals?” he had said four years earlier. “My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not.”

That August day, as the men arrived at the White House, they were greeted by the towering Lincoln and a man named James Mitchell, who eight days before had been given the title of a newly created position called the commissioner of emigration. This was to be his first assignment. After exchanging a few niceties, Lincoln got right to it. He informed his guests that he had gotten Congress to appropriate funds to ship black people, once freed, to another country.

 “Why should they leave this country? This is, perhaps, the first question for proper consideration,” Lincoln told them. “You and we are different races. … Your race suffer very greatly, many of them, by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word, we suffer on each side.”

You can imagine the heavy silence in that room, as the weight of what the president said momentarily stole the breath of these five black men. It was 243 years to the month since the first of their ancestors had arrived on these shores, before Lincoln’s family, long before most of the white people insisting that this was not their country. The Union had not entered the war to end slavery but to keep the South from splitting off, yet black men had signed up to fight. Enslaved people were fleeing their forced-labor camps, which we like to call plantations, trying to join the effort, serving as spies, sabotaging confederates, taking up arms for his cause as well as their own. And now Lincoln was blaming them for the war. “Although many men engaged on either side do not care for you one way or the other … without the institution of slavery and the colored race as a basis, the war could not have an existence,” the president told them. “It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated.”

As Lincoln closed the remarks, Edward Thomas, the delegation’s chairman, informed the president, perhaps curtly, that they would consult on his proposition. “Take your full time,” Lincoln said. “No hurry at all.”

Nearly three years after that White House meeting, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox. By summer, the Civil War was over, and four million black Americans were suddenly free. Contrary to Lincoln’s view, most were not inclined to leave, agreeing with the sentiment of a resolution against black colonization put forward at a convention of black leaders in New York some decades before: “This is our home, and this our country. Beneath its sod lie the bones of our fathers. … Here we were born, and here we will die.”

That the formerly enslaved did not take up Lincoln’s offer to abandon these lands is an astounding testament to their belief in this nation’s founding ideals. As W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, “Few men ever worshiped Freedom with half such unquestioning faith as did the American Negro for two centuries.” Black Americans had long called for universal equality and believed, as the abolitionist Martin Delany said, “that God has made of one blood all the nations that dwell on the face of the earth.” Liberated by war, then, they did not seek vengeance on their oppressors as Lincoln and so many other white Americans feared. They did the opposite. During this nation’s brief period of Reconstruction, from 1865 to 1877, formerly enslaved people zealously engaged with the democratic process. With federal troops tempering widespread white violence, black Southerners started branches of the Equal Rights League — one of the nation’s first human rights organizations — to fight discrimination and organize voters; they headed in droves to the polls, where they placed other formerly enslaved people into seats that their enslavers had once held. The South, for the first time in the history of this country, began to resemble a democracy, with black Americans elected to local, state and federal offices. Some 16 black men served in Congress — including Hiram Revels of Mississippi, who became the first black man elected to the Senate. (Demonstrating just how brief this period would be, Revels, along with Blanche Bruce, would go from being the first black man elected to the last for nearly a hundred years, until Edward Brooke of Massachusetts took office in 1967.) More than 600 black men served in Southern state legislatures and hundreds more in local positions.

These black officials joined with white Republicans, some of whom came down from the North, to write the most egalitarian state constitutions the South had ever seen. They helped pass more equitable tax legislation and laws that prohibited discrimination in public transportation, accommodation and housing. Perhaps their biggest achievement was the establishment of that most democratic of American institutions: the public school. Public education effectively did not exist in the South before Reconstruction. The white elite sent their children to private schools, while poor white children went without an education. But newly freed black people, who had been prohibited from learning to read and write during slavery, were desperate for an education. So black legislators successfully pushed for a universal, state-funded system of schools — not just for their own children but for white children, too. Black legislators also helped pass the first compulsory education laws in the region. Southern children, black and white, were now required to attend schools like their Northern counterparts. Just five years into Reconstruction, every Southern state had enshrined the right to a public education for all children into its constitution. In some states, like Louisiana and South Carolina, small numbers of black and white children, briefly, attended schools together.

Led by black activists and a Republican Party pushed left by the blatant recalcitrance of white Southerners, the years directly after slavery saw the greatest expansion of human and civil rights this nation would ever see. In 1865, Congress passed the 13th Amendment, making the United States one of the last nations in the Americas to outlaw slavery. The following year, black Americans, exerting their new political power, pushed white legislators to pass the Civil Rights Act, the nation’s first such law and one of the most expansive pieces of civil rights legislation Congress has ever passed. It codified black American citizenship for the first time, prohibited housing discrimination and gave all Americans the right to buy and inherit property, make and enforce contracts and seek redress from courts. In 1868, Congress ratified the 14th Amendment, ensuring citizenship to any person born in the United States. Today, thanks to this amendment, every child born here to a European, Asian, African, Latin American or Middle Eastern immigrant gains automatic citizenship. The 14th Amendment also, for the first time, constitutionally guaranteed equal protection under the law. Ever since, nearly all other marginalized groups have used the 14th Amendment in their fights for equality (including the recent successful arguments before the Supreme Court on behalf of same-sex marriage). Finally, in 1870, Congress passed the 15th Amendment, guaranteeing the most critical aspect of democracy and citizenship — the right to vote — to all men regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

For this fleeting moment known as Reconstruction, the majority in Congress seemed to embrace the idea that out of the ashes of the Civil War, we could create the multiracial democracy that black Americans envisioned even if our founding fathers did not.

But it would not last.

Anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country, as does the belief, so well articulated by Lincoln, that black people are the obstacle to national unity. The many gains of Reconstruction were met with fierce white resistance throughout the South, including unthinkable violence against the formerly enslaved, wide-scale voter suppression, electoral fraud and even, in some extreme cases, the overthrow of democratically elected biracial governments. Faced with this unrest, the federal government decided that black people were the cause of the problem and that for unity’s sake, it would leave the white South to its own devices. In 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes, in order to secure a compromise with Southern Democrats that would grant him the presidency in a contested election, agreed to pull federal troops from the South. With the troops gone, white Southerners quickly went about eradicating the gains of Reconstruction. The systemic white suppression of black life was so severe that this period between the 1880s and the 1920 and ’30s became known as the Great Nadir, or the second slavery. Democracy would not return to the South for nearly a century.

White Southerners of all economic classes, on the other hand, thanks in significant part to the progressive policies and laws black people had championed, experienced substantial improvement in their lives even as they forced black people back into a quasi slavery. As Waters McIntosh, who had been enslaved in South Carolina, lamented, “It was the poor white man who was freed by the war, not the Negroes.”

Georgia pines flew past the windows of the Greyhound bus carrying Isaac Woodard home to Winnsboro, S.C. After serving four years in the Army in World War II, where Woodard had earned a battle star, he was given an honorable discharge earlier that day at Camp Gordon and was headed home to meet his wife. When the bus stopped at a small drugstore an hour outside Atlanta, Woodard got into a brief argument with the white driver after asking if he could use the restroom. About half an hour later, the driver stopped again and told Woodard to get off the bus. Crisp in his uniform, Woodard stepped from the stairs and saw the police waiting for him. Before he could speak, one of the officers struck him in his head with a billy club, beating him so badly that he fell unconscious. The blows to Woodard’s head were so severe that when he woke in a jail cell the next day, he could not see. The beating occurred just 4½ hours after his military discharge. At 26, Woodard would never see again.

There was nothing unusual about Woodard’s horrific maiming. It was part of a wave of systemic violence deployed against black Americans after Reconstruction, in both the North and the South. As the egalitarian spirit of post-Civil War America evaporated under the desire for national reunification, black Americans, simply by existing, served as a problematic reminder of this nation’s failings. White America dealt with this inconvenience by constructing a savagely enforced system of racial apartheid that excluded black people almost entirely from mainstream American life — a system so grotesque that Nazi Germany would later take inspiration from it for its own racist policies.

Despite the guarantees of equality in the 14th Amendment, the Supreme Court’s landmark Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896 declared that the racial segregation of black Americans was constitutional. With the blessing of the nation’s highest court and no federal will to vindicate black rights, starting in the late 1800s, Southern states passed a series of laws and codes meant to make slavery’s racial caste system permanent by denying black people political power, social equality and basic dignity. They passed literacy tests to keep black people from voting and created all-white primaries for elections. Black people were prohibited from serving on juries or testifying in court against a white person. South Carolina prohibited white and black textile workers from using the same doors. Oklahoma forced phone companies to segregate phone booths. Memphis had separate parking spaces for black and white drivers. Baltimore passed an ordinance outlawing black people from moving onto a block more than half white and white people from moving onto a block more than half black. Georgia made it illegal for black and white people to be buried next to one another in the same cemetery. Alabama barred black people from using public libraries that their own tax dollars were paying for. Black people were expected to jump off the sidewalk to let white people pass and call all white people by an honorific, though they received none no matter how old they were. In the North, white politicians implemented policies that segregated black people into slum neighborhoods and into inferior all-black schools, operated whites-only public pools and held white and “colored” days at the country fair, and white businesses regularly denied black people service, placing “Whites Only” signs in their windows. States like California joined Southern states in barring black people from marrying white people, while local school boards in Illinois and New Jersey mandated segregated schools for black and white children.

This caste system was maintained through wanton racial terrorism. And black veterans like Woodard, especially those with the audacity to wear their uniform, had since the Civil War been the target of a particular violence. This intensified during the two world wars because white people understood that once black men had gone abroad and experienced life outside the suffocating racial oppression of America, they were unlikely to quietly return to their subjugation at home. As Senator James K. Vardaman of Mississippi said on the Senate floor during World War I, black servicemen returning to the South would “inevitably lead to disaster.” Giving a black man “military airs” and sending him to defend the flag would bring him “to the conclusion that his political rights must be respected.”

Many white Americans saw black men in the uniforms of America’s armed services not as patriotic but as exhibiting a dangerous pride. Hundreds of black veterans were beaten, maimed, shot and lynched. We like to call those who lived during World War II the Greatest Generation, but that allows us to ignore the fact that many of this generation fought for democracy abroad while brutally suppressing democracy for millions of American citizens. During the height of racial terror in this country, black Americans were not merely killed but castrated, burned alive and dismembered with their body parts displayed in storefronts. This violence was meant to terrify and control black people, but perhaps just as important, it served as a psychological balm for white supremacy: You would not treat human beings this way. The extremity of the violence was a symptom of the psychological mechanism necessary to absolve white Americans of their country’s original sin. To answer the question of how they could prize liberty abroad while simultaneously denying liberty to an entire race back home, white Americans resorted to the same racist ideology that Jefferson and the framers had used at the nation’s founding.

This ideology — that black people belonged to an inferior, subhuman race — did not simply disappear once slavery ended. If the formerly enslaved and their descendants became educated, if we thrived in the jobs white people did, if we excelled in the sciences and arts, then the entire justification for how this nation allowed slavery would collapse. Free black people posed a danger to the country’s idea of itself as exceptional; we held up the mirror in which the nation preferred not to peer. And so the inhumanity visited on black people by every generation of white America justified the inhumanity of the past.

Just as white Americans feared, World War II ignited what became black Americans’ second sustained effort to make democracy real. As the editorial board of the black newspaper The Pittsburgh Courier wrote, “We wage a two-pronged attack against our enslavers at home and those abroad who will enslave us.” Woodard’s blinding is largely seen as one of the catalysts for the decades-long rebellion we have come to call the civil rights movement. But it is useful to pause and remember that this was the second mass movement for black civil rights, the first being Reconstruction. As the centennial of slavery’s end neared, black people were still seeking the rights they had fought for and won after the Civil War: the right to be treated equally by public institutions, which was guaranteed in 1866 with the Civil Rights Act; the right to be treated as full citizens before the law, which was guaranteed in 1868 by the 14th Amendment; and the right to vote, which was guaranteed in 1870 by the 15th Amendment. In response to black demands for these rights, white Americans strung them from trees, beat them and dumped their bodies in muddy rivers, assassinated them in their front yards, firebombed them on buses, mauled them with dogs, peeled back their skin with fire hoses and murdered their children with explosives set off inside a church.

For the most part, black Americans fought back alone. Yet we never fought only for ourselves. The bloody freedom struggles of the civil rights movement laid the foundation for every other modern rights struggle. This nation’s white founders set up a decidedly undemocratic Constitution that excluded women, Native Americans and black people, and did not provide the vote or equality for most Americans. But the laws born out of black resistance guarantee the franchise for all and ban discrimination based not just on race but on gender, nationality, religion and ability. It was the civil rights movement that led to the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which upended the racist immigration quota system intended to keep this country white. Because of black Americans, black and brown immigrants from across the globe are able to come to the United States and live in a country in which legal discrimination is no longer allowed. It is a truly American irony that some Asian-Americans, among the groups able to immigrate to the United States because of the black civil rights struggle, are now suing universities to end programs designed to help the descendants of the enslaved.

No one cherishes freedom more than those who have not had it. And to this day, black Americans, more than any other group, embrace the democratic ideals of a common good. We are the most likely to support programs like universal health care and a higher minimum wage, and to oppose programs that harm the most vulnerable. For instance, black Americans suffer the most from violent crime, yet we are the most opposed to capital punishment. Our unemployment rate is nearly twice that of white Americans, yet we are still the most likely of all groups to say this nation should take in refugees.

The truth is that as much democracy as this nation has today, it has been borne on the backs of black resistance. Our founding fathers may not have actually believed in the ideals they espoused, but black people did. As one scholar, Joe R. Feagin, put it, “Enslaved African-Americans have been among the foremost freedom-fighters this country has produced.” For generations, we have believed in this country with a faith it did not deserve. Black people have seen the worst of America, yet, somehow, we still believe in its best.

They say our people were born on the water.

When it occurred, no one can say for certain. Perhaps it was in the second week, or the third, but surely by the fourth, when they had not seen their land or any land for so many days that they lost count. It was after fear had turned to despair, and despair to resignation, and resignation to an abiding understanding. The teal eternity of the Atlantic Ocean had severed them so completely from what had once been their home that it was as if nothing had ever existed before, as if everything and everyone they cherished had simply vanished from the earth. They were no longer Mbundu or Akan or Fulani. These men and women from many different nations, all shackled together in the suffocating hull of the ship, they were one people now.

Just a few months earlier, they had families, and farms, and lives and dreams. They were free. They had names, of course, but their enslavers did not bother to record them. They had been made black by those people who believed that they were white, and where they were heading, black equaled “slave,” and slavery in America required turning human beings into property by stripping them of every element that made them individuals. This process was called seasoning, in which people stolen from western and central Africa were forced, often through torture, to stop speaking their native tongues and practicing their native religions.

But as the sociologist Glenn Bracey wrote, “Out of the ashes of white denigration, we gave birth to ourselves.” For as much as white people tried to pretend, black people were not chattel. And so the process of seasoning, instead of erasing identity, served an opposite purpose: In the void, we forged a new culture all our own.

Today, our very manner of speaking recalls the Creole languages that enslaved people innovated in order to communicate both with Africans speaking various dialects and the English-speaking people who enslaved them. Our style of dress, the extra flair, stems back to the desires of enslaved people — shorn of all individuality — to exert their own identity. Enslaved people would wear their hat in a jaunty manner or knot their head scarves intricately. Today’s avant-garde nature of black hairstyles and fashion displays a vibrant reflection of enslaved people’s determination to feel fully human through self-expression. The improvisational quality of black art and music comes from a culture that because of constant disruption could not cling to convention. Black naming practices, so often impugned by mainstream society, are themselves an act of resistance. Our last names belong to the white people who once owned us. That is why the insistence of many black Americans, particularly those most marginalized, to give our children names that we create, that are neither European nor from Africa, a place we have never been, is an act of self-determination. When the world listens to quintessential American music, it is our voice they hear. The sorrow songs we sang in the fields to soothe our physical pain and find hope in a freedom we did not expect to know until we died became American gospel. Amid the devastating violence and poverty of the Mississippi Delta, we birthed jazz and blues. And it was in the deeply impoverished and segregated neighborhoods where white Americans forced the descendants of the enslaved to live that teenagers too poor to buy instruments used old records to create a new music known as hip-hop.

Our speech and fashion and the drum of our music echoes Africa but is not African. Out of our unique isolation, both from our native cultures and from white America, we forged this nation’s most significant original culture. In turn, “mainstream” society has coveted our style, our slang and our song, seeking to appropriate the one truly American culture as its own. As Langston Hughes wrote in 1926, “They’ll see how beautiful I am/And be ashamed —/I, too, am America.”

For centuries, white Americans have been trying to solve the “Negro problem.” They have dedicated thousands of pages to this endeavor. It is common, still, to point to rates of black poverty, out-of-wedlock births, crime and college attendance, as if these conditions in a country built on a racial caste system are not utterly predictable. But crucially, you cannot view those statistics while ignoring another: that black people were enslaved here longer than we have been free.

At 43, I am part of the first generation of black Americans in the history of the United States to be born into a society in which black people had full rights of citizenship. Black people suffered under slavery for 250 years; we have been legally “free” for just 50. Yet in that briefest of spans, despite continuing to face rampant discrimination, and despite there never having been a genuine effort to redress the wrongs of slavery and the century of racial apartheid that followed, black Americans have made astounding progress, not only for ourselves but also for all Americans.

What if America understood, finally, in this 400th year, that we have never been the problem but the solution?

When I was a child — I must have been in fifth or sixth grade — a teacher gave our class an assignment intended to celebrate the diversity of the great American melting pot. She instructed each of us to write a short report on our ancestral land and then draw that nation’s flag. As she turned to write the assignment on the board, the other black girl in class locked eyes with me. Slavery had erased any connection we had to an African country, and even if we tried to claim the whole continent, there was no “African” flag. It was hard enough being one of two black kids in the class, and this assignment would just be another reminder of the distance between the white kids and us. In the end, I walked over to the globe near my teacher’s desk, picked a random African country and claimed it as my own.

I wish, now, that I could go back to the younger me and tell her that her people’s ancestry started here, on these lands, and to boldly, proudly, draw the stars and those stripes of the American flag.We were told once, by virtue of our bondage, that we could never be American. But it was by virtue of our bondage that we became the most American of all.[
Listen to a new podcast with Nikole Hannah-Jones that tells the story of slavery and its legacy like you’ve never heard it before.]

Is this HIStORY or PROPAGANDA? Michael E. Ruane April 30, 2019

I’m serious about the question, because those on the extreme right, our president for one, whom we have to listen to, the white supremacists, the reactionary conservatives, and their ilk, have all called the 1619 Project propaganda. The histories of African Americans, recounted below by Michael Ruane, strikes me as the truth, even if not the whole truth (which will probably never be told), but at least illustrative of the lives of the African Americans, who during 400 years have undergone slavery in the South, the Jim Crow lynchings in the South, and although less in the North, and finally discrimination and segregation in all parts and regions of the country.


In October 1705, Virginia passed a law stating that if a master happened to kill a slave who was undergoing “correction,” it was not a crime. Indeed, the act would be viewed as if it had never  occurred. Furthermore, the legislation said, when slaves were declared runaways, it was “lawful for any person . . . to kill and destroy [them] by such ways and means as he . . . shall think fit.” Short of killing, the law added, “dismembering” was approved. In practice, toes were usually cut off.


It had been 86 years since a British ship landed in Virginia with the first documented captive Africans to reach the mainland of English North America. And it had been 86 years since the colony’s governor and council had convened the first continuous representative assembly of Europeans in what would become the United States. Those two events, weeks apart in the summer of 1619, would become pillars of the national edifice, as the founders erected a structure of freedom alongside a brutal system of slavery.


It is the “central paradox of American history,” wrote the late historian Edmund S. Morgan. Legislation and the rule of law would be tied to slavery and its legacy for 400 years — from bondage, through emancipation, segregation and civil rights.


This summer the country will mark both milestones. In July, ceremonies marking the first assembly were held in Jamestown, where it happened, and commemorations of the arrival of the enslaved are scheduled for later this month at Fort Monroe, Va., where they first anchored.


For all the benefits of free representative government, it was legislation that helped define American slavery: Who was a slave? What rights, if any, did he or she have? And what rules, if any, governed the institution? The answers were often poisoned by legislators’ views on race, slavery and white dominance. And they had catastrophic impacts that the country continues to deal with today.


A system codified by laws


By 1700, about 30,000 enslaved people lived in British North America, according to historian Sally E. Hadden. By 1776 that number had grown to 450,000. As slavery grew, so did slave law, and as the enslaved rebelled, ran away, conspired and sometimes murdered their owners, more severe legislation was enacted.


Virginia’s code of 1705 defined slaves as “servants imported . . . into this country, by sea or land, who were not Christians in their native country.” As such they could be “bought and sold,” according to the authoritative history of Virginia’s early laws compiled by William Waller Hening. “Slavery is really a creature of local law,” said Eric Foner, professor emeritus of history at Columbia University. “Slavery is created by colonial law and then state law.”

In 1680, the Virginia assembly, fearful of the enslaved meeting “under pretense of feasts and burials,” prohibited them from having weapons or leaving the plantation without an owner’s written permission. In 1696, South Carolina law would hold that slaves’ “barbarous, wild, savage natures,” had to be restrained.


Later it became illegal for the enslaved to beat drums, blow horns or own livestock. They could not possess liquor or be taught to read or write. In Charleston, they could not “swear, smoke, walk with a cane . . . or make joyful demonstrations,” historian Kenneth M. Stampp wrote in his classic study “The Peculiar Institution.”


In 1748, the Virginia burgesses passed a law mandating the death penalty for any enslaved person who poisoned his or her master. This came three years after an enslaved woman named Eve was accused of poisoning her owner, historian Philip J. Schwarz wrote. She was sentenced to be carried “to the place of execution and there to be burnt.”


A deal arranged


On July 30, 1619, in the heat of a tidewater summer, Virginia’s governor, George Yeardley, convened an assembly of VIPs from the outlying settlements inside Jamestown’s new wooden church. The aim of the meeting was the creation of a new government, and a basic judicial system to go with it. The assembly met for only six days — during which one representative died — but it would become the first meeting of what Jamestown Rediscovery, the group supporting the archaeological study of the historic site, calls “the oldest continuous lawmaking body in the Western Hemisphere.”


Yeardley, who had just been knighted by King James I, had returned to Jamestown after visiting Britain. He carried new instructions from the Virginia Company, which controlled the colony. Yeardley was to organize the colony into “one body corporate, and live under Equal and like Law . . . [for] the happy guiding and governing of the people there inhabiting.”

But about three weeks later, a battered British privateer, fresh from a shootout with a Portuguese slave ship, anchored off Point Comfort, southeast of Jamestown, with a cargo of people Yeardley’s assembly had probably not considered. A lighthouse marks Virginia’s Fort Monroe National Monument, in the area once known as Point Comfort. The first documented captive Africans to reach the mainland of English North America and landed here in 1619.

 
The White Lion, often misidentified as a Dutch ship, had, in company with another British vessel, just ambushed the St. John the Baptist in the Gulf of Mexico. The latter ship was bound from the West African port of Luanda for Vera Cruz, now in Mexico, with a cargo of 350 captives. After a bitter fight, the two British raiders seized scores of the enslaved, according to Jamestown historian James Horn. .Afterward, the two ships became separated, and the White Lion found refuge at Point Comfort, now in Hampton, Va.


The captain, John Horn, needed food for the crew but didn’t have much to trade. “He brought not anything but 20. and odd Negroes,” tobacco planter John Rolfe wrote. Horn says it is more likely that there were 29 Africans, and there is “little doubt” that they were slaves, not indentured servants. A deal was arranged “at the best and easiest rates,” a planter reported later. Thus, on a summer day in 1619, were the first enslaved Africans brought to the mainland, starting an agonizing journey across the landscape of American history.

A different set of laws


In 1908, a young black man named Green Cottenham was sold to the Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Co. and sent to work in Slope No. 12 of the Pratt coal mines, near Birmingham, Ala. There he labored with 1,000 other men, facing the whip if he didn’t dig the required eight tons of coal a day. At night, he slept chained in barracks. Generations removed from 1619, Cottenham, 22, wound up at the mine for violating an Alabama vagrancy law that essentially made it a crime to be unemployed. It was one of a tangle of oppressive laws that grew in the wake of slavery, which trapped African Americans in lives of penury and semi-bondage well into the 20th century. When he was arrested and couldn’t pay his court fees, Cottenham was conveyed, by prior arrangement, to the company, which paid the money while he served his time at hard labor.


Cottenham’s real crime was his “blackness,” author Douglas A. Blackmon, wrote in his 2008 book, “Slavery by Another Name.” “Forty five years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freeing American slaves, Green Cottenham . . . toiled under the lash at Slope 12,” he wrote. When the Civil War ended in the Union’s victory, the federal government outlawed slavery with the Constitution’s 13th Amendment in 1865. (Many northern state legislatures had made it illegal decades before.)

Three years later, the 14th Amendment asserted among other things that black people were U.S. citizens — something the Supreme Court had previously denied — and deserved “equal protection of the law. ”In 1870, the 15th Amendment guaranteed them the right to vote. And there was a temporary flowering of freedom during postwar “Reconstruction.”


In 1875 a federal civil rights law held that “citizens of every race and color” were entitled to full enjoyment of hotels, theaters and public transportation. But reality for thousands of the formerly enslaved was governed by a different set of laws. The notorious Black Codes came after the war, followed by Jim Crow laws, named for a racist 19th-century minstrel character who wore blackface. (More than a century later, Virginia’s current governor, Ralph Northam (D), would admit to wearing blackface for a Michael Jackson costume and apologize for a photograph in his medical school yearbook page in which someone appeared in blackface.)


“Almost every law and method . . . was employed by the legislatures to reduce the Negroes to serfdom,” W.E.B. Du Bois, the African American historian and civil rights activist, wrote in 1903. South Carolina barred black people from any occupation other than servant or farmer, unless they paid an annual tax, according to Foner, the historian. The flimsy vagrancy laws led to a vast system of arrests and slave labor across the South, Blackmon wrote.


Thousands of poor men and women, often the children of the enslaved, were beaten, abused and killed in mines and on farms after being sold into service by law enforcement officials. In 1883, the Supreme Court declared the 1875 civil rights law unconstitutional.
It was time, Justice Joseph Bradley wrote, for black people to cease being “the special favorite of the laws.”


On June 7, 1892, a mixed-race shoemaker named Homer Plessy boarded an East Louisiana Railroad train in New Orleans and entered the whites-only car. Plessy, 29, planned to be arrested to test an 1890 Louisiana law that mandated segregated rail cars. But his case proved to be a disaster. It resulted in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision enshrining “separate but equal” racial segregation in much of the United States well into the next century.


[Plessy and Ferguson: Descendants of a divisive Supreme Court decision unite]

Water fountains, public transportation, hotels, movie theaters and their ticket windows, schools, vending machines, prostitutes, telephone booths, elevators, among other things, were legally segregated. Enforcement could be pursued by legal and extralegal means. “You have a legal structure, but around it is this terrorist system,” Foner said.


Between 1880 and 1968, almost 5,000 black people were killed by lynch mobs and the like, historian Leon F. Litwack has written. Often the killings were a “ritual of torture, mutilation and death, a voyeuristic spectacle . . . for the benefit of the crowd,” he wrote. In 1899, excursion trains brought spectators to rural Georgia for the lynch mob execution of a black farmhand named Sam Hose for killing a white man in what was probably a case of self-defense. Hose was stripped and chained to a tree. He had his ears, toes and fingers cut off and passed out as souvenirs, Litwack wrote. He was then burned on a pyre of kerosene-soaked wood.“


Years of violence and upheaval


George W. McLaurin’s wooden desk in the University of Oklahoma’s ornate Carnegie Building sat just outside the classroom. He could see his classmates and teachers but, by state law, he couldn’t be in the room with them. In the library, he was required to sit at a desk outside the main reading room. In the cafeteria, he had to sit at a designated table and eat at a different time from other students. McLaurin was 56 and a distinguished teacher seeking a doctorate in education. He had been a professor of foreign languages at Langston University and had taught at Arkansas Baptist College. But he was black, and Oklahoma law required that his education be provided “upon a segregated basis.” McLaurin initially had to sue to enter the university, where state law had at first made it illegal to operate an integrated school. He had won that case and been admitted in 1948. In 1950, his suit over his segregation had reached the Supreme Court. On June 5, 1950, the court ruled in his favor.


McLaurin’s case was one of several that hammered at the separate but equal doctrine, and culminated in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case that killed Plessy v. Ferguson. The Brown plaintiffs argued that segregation in public schools was fundamentally unequal. The court agreed.


It had been 60 years since Homer Plessy tested Louisiana’s separate rail car law. But six decades of legal segregation, and two and a half centuries of subjugation, would take painful years of violence, racial upheaval and new legislation to undo. On March 16, 1995, Mississippi, the site of some of the most infamous racist murders, finally ratified the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. State Sen. Hillman T. Frazier, who is black, told the Clarion-Ledger newspaper: “One of the roles of the legislature is to correct wrongs.” In this case, it had taken 130 years.


In 2017, a mob of white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, to protest the removal of a statue of southern Civil War general Robert E. Lee. Lee had led the killings of tens of thousands of Union soldiers in defense of a separatist Confederacy whose constitution called for the legal maintenance and protection of slavery. On Aug. 12, 2017, after fighting broke out between the white supremacists and counterprotesters, self-professed neo-Nazi James Alex Fields Jr. rammed his car into counterprotesters and killed Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal. Last year, Fields was convicted of first-degree murder. Three days after the killing, President Trump claimed that not all of those protesting with Fields “were white supremacists by any stretch.” “I think there’s blame on both sides,” he said. He added: “You had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people.’’


’Michael E. Ruane Michael E. Ruane is a general assignment reporter who also covers Washington institutions and historical topics. He has been a general assignment reporter at the Philadelphia Bulletin, an urban affairs and state feature writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer, and a Pentagon correspondent at Knight Ridder newspapers.

Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

U.S. Population in 1776 and 1790

January 16, 2011 by Norbert Haupt

The first census was done in 1790. The population of the U.S. was found to be 3,929,214 people. In 1776, at the time of the Declaration of Independence, historians estimate the population to have been about 2.5 million people. That is less than the population of San Diego County today.

It’s also interesting to compare population and population growth of the white versus African-American population, including the percentage of black slaves:

The Times 1619 Project, NPR

Four hundred years ago this month, the first enslaved people from Africa arrived in the Virginia colony. To observe the anniversary of American slavery, The New York Times Magazine launched The 1619 Project to reframe America’s history through the lens of slavery. The project lead, reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

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The Full Transcript

Hari Sreenivasan: Today, the New York Times published the print edition of the 1619 Project. The name marks this month’s 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved people brought from Africa to the then-Virginia colony. The Times says the project aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are. The project is led by New York Times magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, who is the author of the opening essay. She joins me now.You have been working on this for a number of years, but you put this together very quickly. First of all, why? Why this topic? Why this issue?

Nikole Hannah-Jones: Well, you don’t have very many opportunities to ever celebrate the 400th anniversary of anything, and it seemed to me that this was a great opportunity to really, as you said in your opening, reframe the way that we have thought about an institution that has impacted almost everything in modern American society, but that we’re taught very little about, that we’re often taught is marginal to the American story. And we wanted to do something different. We wanted to use the platform of The Times to force us to confront the reality of what slavery has meant for our development as a nation.

Hari Sreenivasan: And this isn’t just about sort of the kind of textbook ideas of what happened to slaves. You’ve got essays in here about health care, about geography, about sugar, about music, all of these different ripple effects that happened throughout the economy and really life here. You said — in a sentence, you said, you know we would not be the United States were it not for slavery. This is kind of one of the original fibers that made this country.

Nikole Hannah-Jones: Absolutely. The conceit of the magazine is that one of things we hear all the time is, well that was in the past; why do you have to keep talking about the past? Well, one, I think the past is clearly instructive for the future, for how we are right now, but also the conceit of the magazine is that you can look at all of these modern phenomenon that you think are unrelated to slavery at all and we are going to show you how they are. And so we have a story in there about traffic patterns. We have a story about why we’re the only Western industrial country without universal health care, about why Americans consume so much sugar, about capitalism, about democracy. We’re really trying to change the way that Americans are thinking that this was just a problem of the past that we’ve resolved and show that it isn’t. What many people don’t know, and I point this out in my essay, is that one of the reasons we even decide to become a nation in the first place is over the issue of slavery and had we not had slavery we might be Canada. That one of the reasons that the founders wanted to break off from Britain is they were afraid that Britain was going to begin regulating slavery and maybe even moving towards abolishment. And we were making so much money off of slavery that the founders wanted to be able to continue it.

Hari Sreenivasan: We’re not taught that when we’re taught about our origin stories, and not knowing that then it really does not allow us to grapple with a nation that we really are and not just the nation that we’re taught in kind of American mythology.And that money ends up fueling so much more of what made this country.

Nikole Hannah-Jones: Of course. It’s not incidental that 10 of the first 12 presidents of the United States were slaveowners. This is where, at that time, this kind of very burgeoning nation was getting so much of its wealth and its power. It’s what allows this kind of ragged group of colonists to believe that they could defeat the most powerful empire in the world at that time. And it went everywhere. It was north and south. We talk about the industrial revolution — where do Americans believe that the cotton that was being spun in those textile mills was coming from, was coming from enslaved people who are growing that cotton in the south. The rum industry, which was really the currency of the slave trade, that rum was being processed and sold in the United States. The banking industry that rises in New York City is rising largely to provide the mortgages and insurance policies and to finance the slave trade. The shipbuilders are northern shipbuilders. The people who are sending voyages to Africa to bring enslaved people here are all in the north. So this is a truly national enterprise but we prefer to think that it was just some backward Southerners, because that is the way that we can kind of deal with our fundamental paradox that at our beginning that we were a nation built on both the inalienable rights of man and also a nation built on bondage.

Hari Sreenivasan: And you even talked about Wall Street’s name comes from something that most of us don’t recognize.

Nikole Hannah-Jones: Absolutely. So Wall Street is called Wall Street because it was on that wall that enslaved people were bought and sold. That’s been completely erased from our national memory and completely erased from the way that we think about the North. At the time of the Civil War, New York City’s mayor actually threatened to secede from the union with the South because so much money was being made off of slave-produced cotton that was being exported out of New York City. It is that erasure I think that has prevented us from really grappling with our history and so much in modern society that we see that is still related to that.

Hari Sreenivasan: You know, one of the essays in here about health care, which is fascinating, is that some of the myths that started then are still perpetuated today in modern health care and that there are still gross misunderstandings that could actually have very serious health consequences.

Nikole Hannah-Jones: Absolutely. So Linda Villarosa has this compelling essay that talks about how during slavery enslavers were using enslaved people to do these medical experiments, but also we were using medical technology to justify slavery by saying enslaved people don’t feel pain the way, or people of African descent don’t feel pain the way that white people do, that they have thicker skin. And so you can beat them or torture them and it’s not going to hurt as bad. Well, these are all justifications for slavery, but if you look at modern medical science, in our understanding they’re still using these calculations that say, for instance, lung capacity was one of the things that Linda writes about, that black people have worse lung capacity. And the reason enslavers said that was they said that working in the fields and doing this hard labor was good for black people because it helped them increase their lung capacity. Well, what Linda points out is today doctors and medical science are still accounting for what they think is a lessened lung capacity of black Americans and it’s simply not true. But we’ve never purged ourselves of that false science that was used to justify racism.

Hari Sreenivasan: You talked about how basically that the black American or there’s the black experience has been inconvenient to the narrative of this nation in all of these different categories, that it’s been something that we have struggled to deal with but oftentimes just not dealt with it as a result that it was thorny.
Nikole Hannah-Jones: Absolutely. So when you think about the story of who we are, that we are this country built on individual rights. We are the country where, if you are coming from a place where you are not free, you can come to our shores and you can get freedom. Well then you have black people. And every time you look at black Americans, you have to be reminded that there was one-fifth of our population who, we had no rights, no liberties, no freedom whatsoever. We are the constant reminder of really the lie at our origins that while Thomas Jefferson was writing the Declaration of Independence his enslaved brother-in-law was there to serve him and make sure that he’s comfortable. So I think this explains a lot the continued perception that black people are a problem, that black people are as Abraham Lincoln said “a troublesome presence” in American democracy because every time you see us you have to be reminded of our original sin, and no one wants to be reminded of sin. We’re ashamed of sin.

Hari Sreenivasan: You know, one of the things that you mentioned a couple of nights ago when this project launched is the story of your grandmother who grew up a sharecropper. And here you are today. She didn’t live to be able to see this magazine, but I’m assuming she’d be proud.

Nikole Hannah-Jones: Yeah, I think she would. My grandmother died when I was still in college, and she would be astounded to see what I became. And I think that that’s an important part of this story. We hear all the time what people consider the problems of the quote-unquote “black community” and people like to point out statistics that they think are indicative of black failure. But when we think that, as I point out in the magazine, I’m part of the first generation of black Americans in the history of this country who was born into a country where it was not legal to discriminate against me just because I descended from people from Africa. We’ve made tremendous progress in a very short period of time. Really just one or two generations out of legal Jim Crow, you could have someone like me at the New York Times producing this work. And it really is a story of black ascension once the legal barriers have been removed.

Hari Sreenivasan: You talk in eloquent terms about how black people really are the perfecters of this democracy, that we had these original documents but really it took this all the way almost to the civil rights struggle for us to start seeing what those words actually meant.

Nikole Hannah-Jones: Absolutely. What I argue is that no one values freedom more than those who never had it. And so while the founders were writing these lofty and aspirational words, even as they knew that they were going to continue a system of slavery, black people had no choice but to believe in the literal interpretation of those words, that all men are created equal and are born with inalienable rights. And so black people really from the moment we landed on these shores have been resisting and trying to push this society toward a more equal society of universal rights. And that has really been our role. You can look at the fact that black people have fought in every single war this country has ever fought, but we’ve also engaged in a 250-year internal war against our own country to try to force our country to also bring full democracy here and not just abroad.

Hari Sreenivasan: This magazine is also showing up in 2019 in a climate where at this point all you have to do is just look at your Twitter feed, look at the hashtag, and you see people who have an incredibly different narrative that they believe very strongly, that they’d look at this magazine, The Times, everything else as part of a larger propaganda campaign, this is part of a conspiracy, etc. How do you deal with that?

Nikole Hannah-Jones: There’s two things that I would say to that. Every piece in here is deeply researched. It is backed up by historical evidence. Our fact checkers went back to panels of historians and had them go through every single argument and every single fact that is in here. So it’s really not something that you can dispute with facts. But the other thing is if we truly understand that black people are fully American and so the struggle of black people to make our union actually reflect its values is not a negative thing against the country, because we are citizens who are working to make this country better for all Americans. That is something that white Americans, if they really believe as they say that race doesn’t matter, we’re all Americans, should also be proud of and embrace that story. We cannot deny our past. And if you believe that 1776 matters, if you believe that our Constitution still matters, then you also have to understand that the legacy of slavery still matters and you can’t pick and choose what parts of history we think are important and which ones aren’t. They all are important. And that narrative that is inclusive and honest even if it’s painful is the only way that we can understand our times now and the only way we can move forward. I think what, if people read for instance a story on why we don’t have universal health care, what it shows is that racism doesn’t just hurt black people but there are a lot — there are millions of white people in this country who are dying, who are sick, who are unable to pay their medical bills because we can’t get past the legacy of slavery. This affects all Americans no matter if you just got here yesterday, if your family’s been here 200 years, no matter what your race. Our inability to deal with this original sin is hurting all of us and this entire country is not the country that it could be because of it.

Hari Sreenivasan: So just connect that dot. What is the connection between universal health care and slavery?

Nikole Hannah-Jones: Well, what we know is that white support for universal programs declines if they think that large numbers of black people are going to benefit from it. And this is a sentiment that goes all the way back to right after the end of the Civil War when the Freedmen’s Bureau starts to offer universal health care for people who had literally just come out of bondage, had not a dollar to their name, had no way to live, had nothing. And white people immediately pushed back against that believing that even people who had just come out of slavery should not get anything quote-unquote “for free,” even though their labor clearly had built the entire, most of the economy of the country. And so that sentiment continues to this day. And if you look at across western industrialized nations, European nations, we have the stingiest social safety net of all of those nations. And it’s because we are the only one on whose land we practiced slavery. So our inability to get past that is hurting. It’s not just in terms of universal health care, but you can look at why we don’t have universal child care, why we have the stingiest parental leave, why we have the lowest ability to have people represented by unions. All of this goes back to the sentiment that if black people are going to benefit, white Americans would not support it, large numbers of white Americans.

Hari Sreenivasan: So this is the actual physical edition that a lot of people in the country might not be able to get if they don’t have a newsstand that sells the New York Times. But it’s also all of it is online, right?

Nikole Hannah-Jones: Yes.

Hari Sreenivasan: All the essays are online and this was a special section. This was in partnership with the Smithsonian, right?

Nikole Hannah-Jones: Yes.

Hari Sreenivasan: And so you’ve got curriculum that’s online, you’ve got all of the New York Times Magazine that’s online. You’re doing a lot of different kinds of outreach projects. Right after this you’re going to a 1619 brunch and this is happening in different parts of the country as well?

Nikole Hannah-Jones: Yes. So people all across the country are holding brunches to really sit and discuss this, which is more than my wildest dreams for this project. I think just because of what’s happening in the country right now, people are really searching for answers. We raised money so that we could print more than 200,000 additional copies that we are distributing in various places across the country for free because we really want not just Times subscribers to get access to this but communities where it’s difficult to get the Times, where people can’t afford to get the Times. We truly think that this is a public service project that is important for all Americans, not just our subscribers to get access to.

EPITAPH TO A DOG

by George Gordon Byron – 1788-1824

Maria Popova made me aware of Lord Byron’s poem.
Thank you Maria
Click here to read her recent Brain Pickings.

Near this spot
Are deposited the Remains
Of one
Who possessed Beauty
Without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferocity,
And all the Virtues of Man
Without his Vices.

The Price, which would be unmeaning flattery
If inscribed over Human Ashes,
Is but a just tribute to the Memory of
“Boatswain,” a Dog
Who was born at Newfoundland,
May, 1803,
And died in Newstead Abbey,
Nov. 18th, 1808.

When some proud son of man returns to earth,
Unknown by glory, but upheld by birth,
The sculptor’s art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And stories urns record that rests below.
When all is done, upon the tomb is seen,
Not what he was, but what he should have been.
But the poor dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his master’s own,
Who labors, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonored falls, unnoticed all his worth,
Denied in heaven the soul he held on earth —
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.

Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debased by slavery, or corrupt by power —
Who knows thee well must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy smiles hypocrisy, thy words deceit!
By nature vile, ennoble but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye, who perchance behold this simple urn,
Pass on — it honors none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one — and here he lies.

Trump’s Bully Pulpit

In this picture doesn’t the President look as though his eyes wanted to stay closed? For to open them is to see the truly terrible things he has said and done.

President Trump at the White House on Monday. (Jabin Botsford

Trump speaks to the country in two opposing manners, by tweets and by telepromting. The tweets are his own, reflecting his own bigoted if not downright racist views. The words of the teleprompter are those of the people around him in the White House, his cronies, the few that are left and are still in his corner and trying to keep him standing, from going down for the full count.


From the editors of the Washington Post

PRESIDENT TRUMP controls the greatest loudspeaker in the world. On Monday, he said from the White House that “our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy.” He added, “Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.” Well put. Unfortunately, Mr. Trump has recklessly used racism, bigotry and hatred for many years, in coded formulas and direct speech. To truly honor the victims of El Paso and Dayton, Mr. Trump should vow never again to spew his loathing from the bully pulpit.

Trump’s past loathings from the bully pulpit

Mr. Trump has stigmatized Mexicans since the day he announced his candidacy for president, and has spoken as though all Muslims are dangerous. He denounced Latino migration as “an invasion of our country,” demonizing undocumented immigrants as “thugs” and “animals.” At a rally in May in Panama City Beach, Fla., he asked, “How do you stop these people? You can’t.” Someone in the crowd yelled back one idea: “Shoot them.” The audience of thousands cheered — Trump smiled. Shrugging off the suggestion, he quipped, “Only in the Panhandle can you get away with that statement.” When avowed white supremacists marched in Charlottesville in August 2017 and one of them drove his car into a crowd, killing a peaceful protester, Heather Heyer, Mr. Trump condemned “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides,” as though others besides the white supremacists were to blame.

Mr. Trump wrote in January on Twitter, “More troops being sent to the Southern Border to stop the attempted invasion of illegals through large Caravans into our country.” Mr. Trump also wrote last November that “the U.S. is ill-prepared for this invasion, and will not stand for it.” Before opening fire in El Paso and killing 22 innocent people, the 21-year-old alleged shooter wrote, “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Mr. Trump said in July, “Allowing the immigration to take place in Europe is a shame. I think it changed the fabric of Europe and, unless you act very quickly, it’s never going to be what it was, and I don’t mean that in a positive way.” The shooter wrote, “The natives didn’t take the invasion of Europeans seriously, and now what’s left is just a shadow of what was.”

The president’s words have wide and deep consequences. When he smears all Latinos or Muslims, announcing walls or visa bans to keep them out; when he denounces the news media as “enemies of the people,” using Stalinist terms; when he says four congresswomen of color should “go back” to the countries they came from — all these spread fear, exclusion and hatred.

By the Editorial Board of the Washington Post, August 5, 2019

my life is fuller because I realize that I don’t know what I’m doing. me too, and I can laugh about it

I’m delighted with the width of the world.
Richard Feynman

The excerpt below is from the book, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard Feynman, from Chapter 9, The Smartest Mann in the World, which was published as a 1979 interview with with Omni Magazine.

Now Richard Feynman may very well have been, during his lifetime, the smartest man in the world, and to understand his achievement in science demands a knowledge of mathematics ad physics that I, for one, am mostly without. But Feynman has a lot to say in this work, and elsewhere, that I can understand and with which I can identify. Here is a short section from the Omni Interview, no mathematics needed.

Omni: But you can trace influences the other way, say, the influence on you of Hans Bethe or John Wheeler . . .?

Feynman: Sure. But I don’t know the effect I’m having. Maybe it’s just my character: I don’t know. I’m not a psychologist or sociologist, I don’t know how to understand people, including myself.

You ask, how can this guy teach, how can he be motivated if he doesn’t know what he’s doing? As a matter of fact, I love to teach.

I like to think of new ways of looking at things as I explain them, to make them clearer–but maybe I’m not making them clearer. Probably what I’m doing is entertaining myself. I’ve learned how to live without knowing. I don’t have to be sure I’m succeeding, and as I said before about science, I think my life is fuller because I realize that I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m delighted with the width of the world!


The Big Question Guy

Perhaps the very best thing that one can say about Donald Trump is that he does ask the big questions.

Big questions, but questions that most of us, and for good reasons, would not ask. For we like our Constitution with its 27 Amendments, and would not question it or try to re-interpret them for our own purposes. For another we like our allies and would do nothing to withdraw from our treaties and drive them away. For a third we like the message on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” and would not want to add, as Trump has proposed, “the tired and poor who can stand on their own two feet.”

These questions, and others like them draw attention to Trump himself, and that alone seems to be his principal reason for asking them. For he is most of all a liar, braggart and narcissist

Now it’s true that the Constitution is an ancient document, written during a time where there was little, almost nothing in fact, of our modern world. And because of this there is some question whether the Constitution needs to be changed accordingly, as the world has changed. It’s ironic that Trump’s appointees to the Supreme Court are both originalists, followers of Justice Scalia, who believe that the judges have only to identify what’s at stake and then rely on determining the original meaning of the Constitution, the meaning it would have at the time of its writing, to resolve the present issue. One cannot imagine how one can be an originalist. At the time the Constitution was written there was slavery (the Founding Fathers were slave owners themselves) and that by itself puts the entire document in question.

Now there has always been agreement that within the Constitution there are “checks and balances.” Agreement that the naked power of each of the three branches, the legislative, the executive, and the judicial, is somehow tempered by the powers of other two. By a veto in case of the executive over the legislative, by impeachment in the case of the legislative over the executive. And it’s this last check that Trump would question and thereby obstruct. For in order to correctly and properly oversee the words and actions of the executive the legislative has to be allowed free access to the individuals and documents involved in whatever may have been the questionalble executive action.

Now it’s likely that Trump assumes, like most of us, that the three branches are equal, that one branch does not have sway over another. But he asks a big question in this regard, why should he, the executive, almost like a king, obey the wishes of the legislative? For Trump, he shouldn’t, and that question by itself puts the legitimacy of the entire Constitution in doubt. Fore this reason now, in Trump time, we are saying we have a constitutional crisis. And it may very well be that, in spades, especially if Trump goes on to win in 2020.

Of our relationships with our allies Trump questions what is the reason for NATO, that which came into being when the Soviet Union was a threat. Now Russia has taken the place of the Soviet Union and is no longer a threat. Not only that but Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, respective leaders of the two countries, are bosom pals.

About immigration Trump is asking the simple but big question why should we accept into our country immigrants that will once here become a heavy charge on our more and more costly welfare services. Why not, he asks, accept only those who can pay their own way? That is a big question. But there are answers.

The three questions: Why should the legislative power have access to the relative documents that are for whatever reason in the hands of the executive? There’s nothing explicitly stated in the Constitution that gives the legislative that power. Then, why should the United States go on paying for the defense of European countries, no longer threatened and well able to pay their own way? And finally, why should the United States go on accepting immigrants who will end up being heavy charges on our welfare services?

On the other hand perhaps the very worst thing one can say about Donald Trump is that his questions, and others like them, are undoing our democracy. And I haven’t even mentioned his questioning the reality of global warming (what’s wrong with beautiful coal and the jobs it provides for our people?), his questioning of the use of chemicals in our agriculture (why not allow them since we all profit from the resulting increased production numbers?), and his questioning of the worth of the thousands of the world’s insect and animal species that will become extinct, much like the earlier carrier pigeon and the now not yet extinct but seriously threatened grisly and polar bears. Trump asks the reasonable to many Trumpists, why prevent our citizens from enjoying open access to the world’s remaining but rapidly diminshing wildness areas? In comparison what’s the value of the life of, say an elephant, a giraffe, or tiger?

Donald Trump, Time to resign!

Last Straw. Israel Said to Deny Entry to Omar and Tlaib After Trump’s Call to Block Them.



Trump tweeted: “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!”

Then, from Jerusalem:


JERUSALEM — Israel on Thursday barred the entry of two American Democratic congresswomen who had planned to visit the West Bank, the deputy foreign minister on Israeli radio said, hours after President Trump had urged the country to ban them.

Mr. Trump’s intervention was an extraordinary step to influence an allied nation and punish his political opponents at home.

Trump is a disgrace!

after the ball

While reading old journals, this one from 7/1/98 while I was flying over Nova Scotia, on my way home from Paris, I stumbled on Tolstoy’s story After the Ball. So this afternoon I found a copy, in Russian and English, on the internet and read it once again, and once again marveled at what Tolstoy’s literary genius, at what he once again had done this time in a short story of just a few pages. If you read it, and I would encourage you to take the time and do so, think about it, and try to say in a few words what Tolstoy’s story is all about. I give you the Russian and the English because at that time I was learning Russian and reading the story in that language, with the help of an accompanying English translation.

Leo Tolstoy After the Ball

And you say that a man cannot, of himself, understand what is good and evil; that it is all environment, that the environment swamps the man. But I believe it is all chance. Take my own case . . . ”

Thus spoke our excellent friend, Ivan Vasilievich, after a conversation between us on the impossibility of improving individual character without a change of the conditions under which men live. Nobody had actually said that one could not of oneself understand good and evil; but it was a habit of Ivan Vasilievich to answer in this way the thoughts aroused in his own mind by conversation, and to illustrate those thoughts by relating incidents in his own life. He often quite forgot the reason for his story in telling it; but he always told it with great sincerity and feeling.






He did so now.

“Take my own case. My whole life was moulded, not by environment, but by something quite different.”

“By what, then?” we asked.

“Oh, that is a long story. I should have to tell you about a great many things to make you understand.”

“Well, tell us then.”

Ivan Vasilievich thought a little, and shook his head.

“My whole life,” he said, “was changed in one night, or, rather, morning.”

“Why, what happened?” one of us asked.

“What happened was that I was very much in love. I have been in love many times, but this was the most serious of all. It is a thing of the past; she has married daughters now. It was Varinka B——.” Ivan Vasilievich mentioned her surname. “Even at fifty she is remarkably handsome; but in her youth, at eighteen, she was exquisite — tall, slender, graceful, and stately. Yes, stately is the word; she held herself very erect, by instinct as it were; and carried her head high, and that together with her beauty and height gave her a queenly air in spite of being thin, even bony one might say. It might indeed have been deterring had it not been for her smile, which was always gay and cordial, and for the charming light in her eyes and for her youthful sweetness.”






“What an entrancing description you give, Ivan Vasilievich!”

“Description, indeed! I could not possibly describe her so that you could appreciate her. But that does not matter; what I am going to tell you happened in the forties. I was at that time a student in a provincial university. I don’t know whether it was a good thing or no, but we had no political clubs, no theories in our universities then. We were simply young and spent our time as young men do, studying and amusing ourselves. I was a very gay, lively, careless fellow, and had plenty of money too. I had a fine horse, and used to go tobogganing with the young ladies. Skating had not yet come into fashion. I went to drinking parties with my comrades — in those days we drank nothing but champagne — if we had no champagne we drank nothing at all. We never drank vodka, as they do now. Evening parties and balls were my favourite amusements. I danced well, and was not an ugly fellow.”

“Come, there is no need to be modest,” interrupted a lady near him. “We have seen your photograph. Not ugly, indeed! You were a handsome fellow.”

Handsome, if you like. That does not matter. When my love for her was at its strongest, on the last day of the carnival, I was at a ball at the provincial marshal’s, a good-natured old man, rich and hospitable, and a court chamberlain. The guests were welcomed by his wife, who was as good-natured as himself. She was dressed in puce-coloured velvet, and had a diamond diadem on her forehead, and her plump, old white shoulders and bosom were bare like the portraits of Empress Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great.

“It was a delightful ball. It was a splendid room, with a gallery for the orchestra, which was famous at the time, and consisted of serfs belonging to a musical landowner. The refreshments were magnificent, and the champagne flowed in rivers. Though I was fond of champagne I did not drink that night, because without it I was drunk with love. But I made up for it by dancing waltzes and polkas till I was ready to drop — of course, whenever possible, with Varinka. She wore a white dress with a pink sash, white shoes, and white kid gloves, which did not quite reach to her thin pointed elbows. A disgusting engineer named Anisimov robbed me of the mazurka with her — to this day I cannot forgive him. He asked her for the dance the minute she arrived, while I had driven to the hair-dresser’s to get a pair of gloves, and was late. So I did not dance the mazurka with her, but with a German girl to whom I had previously paid a little attention; but I am afraid I did not behave very politely to her that evening. I hardly spoke or looked at her, and saw nothing but the tall, slender figure in a white dress, with a pink sash, a flushed, beaming, dimpled face, and sweet, kind eyes. I was not alone; they were all looking at her with admiration, the men and women alike, although she outshone all of them. They could not help admiring her.





“Although I was not nominally her partner for the mazurka, I did as a matter of fact dance nearly the whole time with her. She always came forward boldly the whole length of the room to pick me out. I flew to meet her without waiting to be chosen, and she thanked me with a smile for my intuition. When I was brought up to her with somebody else, and she guessed wrongly, she took the other man’s hand with a shrug of her slim shoulders, and smiled at me regretfully.

“Whenever there was a waltz figure in the mazurka, I waltzed with her for a long time, and breathing fast and smiling, she would say, ‘Encore’; and I went on waltzing and waltzing, as though unconscious of any bodily existence.”


“Come now, how could you be unconscious of it with your arm round her waist? You must have been conscious, not only of your own existence, but of hers,” said one of the party.

Ivan Vasilievich cried out, almost shouting in anger: “There you are, moderns all over! Nowadays you think of nothing but the body. It was different in our day. The more I was in love the less corporeal was she in my eyes. Nowadays you think of nothing but the body. It was different in our day. The more I was in love the less corporeal was she in my eyes. Nowadays you set legs, ankles, and I don’t know what. You undress the women you are in love with. In my eyes, as Alphonse Karr said — and he was a good writer —’ the one I loved was always draped in robes of bronze.’ We never thought of doing so; we tried to veil her nakedness, like Noah’s good-natured son. Oh, well, you can’t understand.”

“Don’t pay any attention to him. Go on,” said one of them.

“Well, I danced for the most part with her, and did not notice how time was passing. The musicians kept playing the same mazurka tunes over and over again in desperate exhaustion — you know what it is towards the end of a ball. Papas and mammas were already getting up from the card-tables in the drawing-room in expectation of supper, the men-servants were running to and fro bringing in things. It was nearly three o’clock. I had to make the most of the last minutes. I chose her again for the mazurka, and for the hundredth time we danced across the room.

“‘The quadrille after supper is mine,’ I said, taking her to her place.

“‘Of course, if I am not carried off home,’ she said, with a smile.

“‘I won’t give you up,’ I said.

“‘Give me my fan, anyhow,’ she answered.

“‘I am so sorry to part with it,’ I said, handing her a cheap white fan.

“‘Well, here’s something to console you,’ she said, plucking a feather out of the fan, and giving it to me.

“I took the feather, and could only express my rapture and gratitude with my eyes. I was not only pleased and gay, I was happy, delighted; I was good, I was not myself but some being not of this earth, knowing nothing of evil. I hid the feather in my glove, and stood there unable to tear myself away from her.


“Look, they are urging father to dance,’ she said to me, pointing to the tall, stately figure of her father, a colonel with silver epaulettes, who was standing in the doorway with some ladies.


“‘Varinka, come here!’ exclaimed our hostess, the lady with the diamond ferronniere and with shoulders like Elizabeth, in a loud voice.

“‘Varinka went to the door, and I followed her.

“‘Persuade your father to dance the mazurka with you, ma chere. — Do, please, Peter Valdislavovich,’ she said, turning to the colonel.

“Varinka’s father was a very handsome, well-preserved old man. He had a good colour, moustaches curled in the style of Nicolas I., and white whiskers which met the moustaches. His hair was combed on to his forehead, and a bright smile, like his daughter’s, was on his lips and in his eyes. He was splendidly set up, with a broad military chest, on which he wore some decorations, and he had powerful shoulders and long slim legs. He was that ultra-military type produced by the discipline of Emperor Nicolas I.







“When we approached the door the colonel was just refusing to dance, saying that he had quite forgotten how; but at that instant he smiled, swung his arm gracefully around to the left, drew his sword from its sheath, handed it to an obliging young man who stood near, and smoothed his suede glove on his right hand. ‘Everything must be done according to rule,’ he said with a smile. He took the hand of his daughter, and stood one-quarter turned, waiting for the music.
“At the first sound of the mazurka, he stamped one foot smartly, threw the other forward, and, at first slowly and smoothly, then buoyantly and impetuously, with stamping of feet and clicking of boots, his tall, imposing figure moved the length of the room. Varinka swayed gracefully beside him, rhythmically and easily, making her steps short or long, with her little feet in their white satin slippers. “All the people in the room followed every movement of the couple. As for me I not only admired, I regarded them with enraptured sympathy. I was particularly impressed with the old gentleman’s boots. They were not the modern pointed affairs, but were made of cheap leather, squared-toed, and evidently built by the regimental cobbler. In order that his daughter might dress and go out in society, he did not buy fashionable boots, but wore home-made ones, I thought, and his square toes seemed to me most touching. It was obvious that in his time he had been a good dancer; but now he was too heavy, and his legs had not spring enough for all the beautiful steps he tried to take. Still, he contrived to go twice round the room. When at the end, standing with legs apart, he suddenly clicked his feet together and fell on one knee, a bit heavily, and she danced gracefully around him, smiling and adjusting her skirt, the whole room applauded. “Rising with an effort, he tenderly took his daughter’s face between his hands. He kissed her on the forehead, and brought her to me, under the impression that I was her partner for the mazurka. I said I was not. ‘Well, never mind, just go around the room once with her,’ he said, smiling kindly, as he replaced his sword in the sheath.







“As the contents of a bottle flow readily when the first drop has been poured, so my love for Varinka seemed to set free the whole force of loving within me. In surrounding her it embraced the world. I loved the hostess with her diadem and her shoulders like Elizabeth, and her husband and her guests and her footmen, and even the engineer Anisimov who felt peevish towards me.



As for Varinka’s father, with his home-made boots and his kind smile, so like her own, I felt a sort of tenderness for him that was almost rapture.












“After supper I danced the promised quadrille with her, and though I had been infinitely happy before, I grew still happier every moment.
“We did not speak of love. I neither asked myself nor her whether she loved me. It was quite enough to know that I loved her. And I had only one fear — that something might come to interfere with my great joy.


“When I went home, and began to undress for the night, I found it quite out of the question. I held the little feather out of her fan in my hand, and one of her gloves which she gave me when I helped her into the carriage after her mother. Looking at these things, and without closing my eyes I could see her before me as she was for an instant when she had to choose between two partners. She tried to guess what kind of person was represented in me, and I could hear her sweet voice as she said, ‘Pride — am I right?’ and merrily gave me her hand. At supper she took the first sip from my glass of champagne, looking at me over the rim with her caressing glance. But, plainest of all, I could see her as she danced with her father, gliding along beside him, and looking at the admiring observers with pride and happiness.


“He and she were united in my mind in one rush of pathetic tenderness.

“I was living then with my brother, who has since died. He disliked going out, and never went to dances; and besides, he was busy preparing for his last university examinations, and was leading a very regular life. He was asleep. I looked at him, his head buried in the pillow and half covered with the quilt; and I affectionately pitied him, pitied him for his ignorance of the bliss I was experiencing. Our serf Petrusha had met me with a candle, ready to undress me, but I sent him away. His sleepy face and tousled hair seemed to me so touching. Trying not to make a noise, I went to my room on tiptoe and sat down on my bed. No, I was too happy; I could not sleep. Besides, it was too hot in the rooms. Without taking off my uniform, I went quietly into the hall, put on my overcoat, opened the front door and stepped out into the street.








“It was after four when I had left the ball; going home and stopping there a while had occupied two hours, so by the time I went out it was dawn. It was regular carnival weather — foggy, and the road full of water-soaked snow just melting, and water dripping from the eaves. Varinka’s family lived on the edge of town near a large field, one end of which was a parade ground: at the other end was a boarding-school for young ladies. I passed through our empty little street and came to the main thoroughfare, where I met pedestrians and sledges laden with wood, the runners grating the road. The horses swung with regular paces beneath their shining yokes, their backs covered with straw mats and their heads wet with rain; while the drivers, in enormous boots, splashed through the mud beside the sledges. All this, the very horses themselves, seemed to me stimulating and fascinating, full of suggestion.


“When I approached the field near their house, I saw at one end of it, in the direction of the parade ground, something very huge and black, and I heard sounds of fife and drum proceeding from it. My heart had been full of song, and I had heard in imagination the tune of the mazurka, but this was very harsh music. It was not pleasant.
“‘What can that be?’ I thought, and went towards the sound by a slippery path through the centre of the field. Walking about a hundred paces, I began to distinguish many black objects through the mist. They were evidently soldiers. ‘It is probably a drill,’ I thought.

“So I went along in that direction in company with a blacksmith, who wore a dirty coat and an apron, and was carrying something. He walked ahead of me as we approached the place. The soldiers in black uniforms stood in two rows, facing each other motionless, their guns at rest. Behind them stood the fifes and drums, incessantly repeating the same unpleasant tune.

“‘What are they doing?’ I asked the blacksmith, who halted at my side.


“‘A Tartar is being beaten through the ranks for his attempt to desert,’ said the blacksmith in an angry tone, as he looked intently at the far end of the line.
“I looked in the same direction, and saw between the files something horrid approaching me. The thing that approached was a man, stripped to the waist, fastened with cords to the guns of two soldiers who were leading him. At his side an officer in overcoat and cap was walking, whose figure had a familiar look. The victim advanced under the blows that rained upon him from both sides, his whole body plunging, his feet dragging through the snow. Now he threw himself backward, and the subalterns who led him thrust him forward. Now he fell forward, and they pulled him up short; while ever at his side marched the tall officer, with firm and nervous pace. It was Varinka’s father, with his rosy face and white moustache.







“At each stroke the man, as if amazed, turned his face, grimacing with pain, towards the side whence the blow came, and showing his white teeth repeated the same words over and over. But I could only hear what the words were when he came quite near. He did not speak them, he sobbed them out — ”‘Brothers, have mercy on me! Brothers, have mercy on me!’ But the brothers had, no mercy, and when the procession came close to me, I saw how a soldier who stood opposite me took a firm step forward and lifting his stick with a whirr, brought it down upon the man’s back. The man plunged forward, but the subalterns pulled him back, and another blow came down from the other side, then from this side and then from the other. The colonel marched beside him, and looking now at his feet and now at the man, inhaled the air, puffed out his cheeks, and breathed it out between his protruded lips. When they passed the place where I stood, I caught a glimpse between the two files of the back of the man that was being punished. It was something so many-coloured, wet, red, unnatural, that I could hardly believe it was a human body.





‘‘My God!”’ muttered the blacksmith.

The procession moved farther away. The blows continued to rain upon the writhing, falling creature; the fifes shrilled and the drums beat, and the tall imposing figure of the colonel moved along-side the man, just as before. Then, suddenly, the colonel stopped, and rapidly approached a man in the ranks.





“‘I’ll teach you to hit him gently,’ I heard his furious voice say. ‘Will you pat him like that? Will you?’ and I saw how his strong hand in the suede glove struck the weak, bloodless, terrified soldier for not bringing down his stick with sufficient strength on the red neck of the Tartar.

“‘Bring new sticks!’ he cried, and looking round, he saw me. Assuming an air of not knowing me, and with a ferocious, angry frown, he hastily turned away. I felt so utterly ashamed that I didn’t know where to look. It was as if I had been detected in a disgraceful act. I dropped my eyes, and quickly hurried home. All the way I had the drums beating and the fifes whistling in my ears. And I heard the words, ‘Brothers, have mercy on me!’ or ‘Will you pat him? Will you?’ My heart was full of physical disgust that was almost sickness. So much so that I halted several times on my way, for I had the feeling that I was going to be really sick from all the horrors that possessed me at that sight. I do not remember how I got home and got to bed. But the moment I was about to fall asleep I heard and saw again all that had happened, and I sprang up.







Evidently he knows something I do not know,’ I thought about the colonel. ‘If I knew what he knows I should certainly grasp — understand — what I have just seen, and it would not cause me such suffering.’

But however much I thought about it, I could not understand the thing that the colonel knew. It was evening before I could get to sleep, and then only after calling on a friend and drinking till I; was quite drunk.




Do you think I had come to the conclusion that the deed I had witnessed was wicked? Oh, no. Since it was done with such assurance, and was recognised by every one as indispensable, they doubtless knew something which I did not know. So I thought, and tried to understand.

But no matter, I could never understand it, then or afterwards. And not being able to grasp it, I could not enter the service as I had intended. I don’t mean only the military service: I did not enter the Civil Service either. And so I have been of no use whatever, as you can see.”

Yes, we know how useless you’ve been,” said one of us. “Tell us, rather, how many people would be of any use at all if it hadn’t been for you.”

“Oh, that’s utter nonsense,” said Ivan Vasilievich, with genuine annoyance.


“Well; and what about the love affair?

My love? It decreased from that day. When, as often happened, she looked dreamy and meditative, I instantly recollected the colonel on the parade ground, and I felt so awkward and uncomfortable that I began to see her less frequently. So my love came to naught. Yes; such chances arise, and they alter and direct a man’s whole life,” he said in summing up. “And you say . . . ”


Л. Н. Толстой. После бала

Вот вы говорите, что человек не может сам по себе понять, что хорошо, что дурно, что все дело в среде, что среда заедает. А я думаю, что все дело в случае. Я вот про себя скажу.

Так заговорил всеми уважаемый Иван Васильевич после разговора, шедшего между нами, о том, что для личного совершенствования необходимо прежде изменить условия, среди которых живут люди. Никто, собственно, не говорил, что нельзя самому понять, что хорошо, что дурно, но у Ивана Васильевича была такая манера отвечать на свои собственные, возникающие вследствие разговора мысли и по случаю этих мыслей рассказывать эпизоды из своей жизни. Часто он совершенно забывал повод, по которому он рассказывал, увлекаясь рассказом, тем более что рассказывал он очень искренно и правдиво.

Так он сделал и теперь.

— Я про себя скажу. Вся моя жизнь сложилась так, а не иначе, не от среды, а совсем от другого.

— От чего же? — спросили мы.

— Да это длинная история. Чтобы понять, надо много рассказывать.

— Вот вы и расскажите.

Иван Васильевич задумался, покачал головой.

— Да, — сказал он. — Вся жизнь переменилась от одной ночи, или скорее утра.

— Да что же было?7


— А было то, что был я сильно влюблен. Влюблялся я много раз, но это была самая моя сильная любовь. Дело прошлое; у нее уже дочери замужем. Это была Б…, да, Варенька Б…, — Иван Васильевич назвал фамилию. — Она и в пятьдесят лет была замечательная красавица. Но в молодости, восемнадцати лет, была прелестна: высокая, стройная, грациозная и величественная, именно величественная. Держалась она всегда необыкновенно прямо, как будто не могла иначе, откинув немного назад голову, и это давало ей, с ее красотой и высоким ростом, несмотря на ее худобу, даже костлявость, какой-то царственный вид, который отпугивал бы от нее, если бы не ласковая, всегда веселая улыбка и рта, и прелестных блестящих глаз, и всего ее милого, молодого существа.

— Каково Иван Васильевич расписывает.


— Да как ни расписывай, расписать нельзя так, чтобы вы поняли, какая она была. Но не в том дело: то, что я хочу рассказать, было в сороковых годах. Был я в то время студентом в провинциальном университете. Не знаю, хорошо ли это, или дурно, но не было у нас в то время в нашем университете никаких кружков, никаких теорий, а были мы просто молоды и жили, как свойственно молодости: учились и веселились. Был я очень веселый и бойкий малый, да еще и богатый. Был у меня иноходец лихой, катался с гор с барышнями (коньки еще не были в моде), кутил с товарищами (в то время мы ничего, кроме шампанского, не пили; не было денег — ничего не пили, но не пили, как теперь, водку). Главное же мое удовольствие составляли вечера и балы. Танцевал я хорошо и был не безобразен.

— Ну, нечего скромничать, — перебила его одна из собеседниц. — Мы ведь знаем ваш еще дагерротипный портрет. Не то, что не безобразен, а вы были красавец.

— Красавец так красавец, да не в том дело. А дело в том, что во время этой моей самой сильной любви к ней был я в последний день масленицы на бале у губернского предводителя, добродушного старичка, богача-хлебосола и камергера. Принимала такая же добродушная, как и он, жена его в бархатном пюсовом платье, в брильянтовой фероньерке на голове и с открытыми старыми, пухлыми, белыми плечами и грудью, как портреты Елизаветы Петровны.

Бал был чудесный: зала прекрасная, с хорами, музыканты — знаменитые в то время крепостные помещика-любителя, буфет великолепный и разливанное море шампанского. Хоть я и охотник был до шампанского, но не пил, потому что без вина был пьян любовью, но зато танцевал до упаду, танцевал и кадрили, и вальсы, и польки, разумеется, насколько возможно было, всё с Варенькой. Она была в белом платье с розовым поясом и в белых лайковых перчатках, немного не доходивших до худых, острых локтей, и в белых атласных башмачках. Мазурку отбили у меня: препротивный инженер Анисимов — я до сих пор не могу простить это ему — пригласил ее, только что она вошла, а я заезжал к парикмахеру и за перчатками и опоздал. Так что мазурку я танцевал не с ней, а с одной немочкой, за которой я немножко ухаживал прежде. Но, боюсь, в этот вечер был очень неучтив с ней, не говорил с ней, не смотрел на нее, а видел только высокую, стройную фигуру в белом платье с розовым поясом, ее сияющее, зарумянившееся с ямочками лицо и ласковые, милые глаза. Не я один, все смотрели на нее и любовались ею, любовались и мужчины и женщины, несмотря на то, что она затмила их всех. Нельзя было не любоваться.

По закону, так сказать, мазурку я танцевал не с нею, но в действительности танцевал я почти все время с ней. Она, не смущаясь, через всю залу шла прямо ко мне, и я вскакивал, не дожидаясь приглашения, и она улыбкой благодарила меня за мою догадливость. Когда нас подводили к ней и она не угадывала моего качества, она, подавая руку не мне, пожимала худыми плечами, и, в знак сожаления и утешения, улыбалась мне.

Когда делали фигуры мазурки вальсом, я подолгу вальсировал с нею, и она, часто дыша, улыбалась и говорила мне: «Encore».И я вальсировал еще и еще и не чувствовал своего тела.


— Ну, как же не чувствовали, я думаю, очень чувствовали, когда обнимали ее за талию, не только свое, но и ее тело, — сказал один из гостей.


Иван Васильевич вдруг покраснел и сердито закричал почти:
— Да, вот это вы, нынешняя молодежь. Вы, кроме тела, ничего не видите. В наше время было не так. Чем сильнее я был влюблен, тем бестелеснее становилась для меня она. Вы теперь видите ноги, щиколки и еще что-то, вы раздеваете женщин, в которых влюблены, для меня же, как говорил Alphonse Karr, — хороший был писатель, — на предмете моей любви были всегда бронзовые одежды. Мы не то что раздевали, а старались прикрыть наготу, как добрый сын Ноя. Ну, да вы не поймете…



— Не слушайте его. Дальше что? — сказал один из нас.

— Да. Так вот танцевал я больше с нею и не видал, как прошло время. Музыканты уж с каким-то отчаянием усталости, знаете, как бывает в конце бала, подхватывали всё тот же мотив мазурки, из гостиных поднялись уже от карточных столов папаши и мамаши, ожидая ужина, лакеи чаще забегали, пронося что-то. Был третий час. Надо было пользоваться последними минутами. Я еще раз выбрал ее, и мы в сотый раз прошли вдоль залы.




— Так после ужина кадриль моя? — сказал я ей, отводя ее к ее месту.

— Разумеется, если меня не увезут, — сказала она, улыбаясь.
— Я не дам, — сказал я.

— Дайте же веер, — сказала она.

— Жалко отдавать, — сказал я, подавая ей белый дешевенький веер.

— Так вот вам, чтоб вы не жалели, — сказала она, оторвала перышко от веера и дала мне.

Я взял перышко и только взглядом мог выразить весь свой восторг и благодарность. Я был не только весел и доволен, я был счастлив, блажен, я был добр, я был не я, а какое-то неземное существо, не знающее зла и способное на одно добро. Я спрятал перышко в перчатку и стоял, не в силах отойти от нее.

— Смотрите, папа просят танцевать, — сказала она мне, указывая на высокую статную фигуру ее отца, полковника с серебряными эполетами, стоявшего в дверях с хозяйкой и другими дамами.

— Варенька, подите сюда, — услышали мы громкий голос хозяйки в брильянтовой фероньерке и с елисаветинскими плечами.

Варенька подошла к двери, и я за ней.

— Уговорите, ma chère, отца пройтись с вами. Ну, пожалуйста, Петр Владиславич, — обратилась хозяйка к полковнику.

Отец Вареньки был очень красивый, статный, высокий и свежий старик. Лицо у него было очень румяное, с белыми à la Nicolas I подвитыми усами, белыми же, подведенными к усам бакенбардами и с зачесанными вперед височками, и та же ласковая, радостная улыбка, как и у дочери, была в его блестящих глазах и губах. Сложен он был прекрасно, с широкой, небогато украшенной орденами, выпячивающейся по-военному грудью, с сильными плечами и длинными, стройными ногами. Он был воинский начальник типа старого служаки николаевской выправки.

Когда мы подошли к дверям, полковник отказывался, говоря, что он разучился танцевать, но все-таки, улыбаясь, закинув на левую сторону руку, вынул шпагу из портупеи, отдал ее услужливому молодому человеку и, натянув замшевую перчатку на правую руку, — «надо всё по закону», — улыбаясь, сказал он, взял руку дочери и стал в четверть оборота, выжидая такт.


Дождавшись начала мазурочного мотива, он бойко топнул одной ногой, выкинул другую, и высокая, грузная фигура его то тихо и плавно, то шумно и бурно, с топотом подошв и ноги об ногу, задвигалась вокруг залы. Грациозная фигура Вареньки плыла около него, незаметно, вовремя укорачивая или удлиняя шаги своих маленьких белых атласных ножек. Вся зала следила за каждым движением пары. Я же не только любовался, но с восторженным умилением смотрел на них. Особенно умилили меня его сапоги, обтянутые штрипками, — хорошие опойковые сапоги, но не модные, с острыми, а старинные, с четвероугольными носками и без каблуков. Очевидно, сапоги были построены батальонным сапожником. «Чтобы вывозить и одевать любимую дочь, он не покупает модных сапог, а носит домодельные», — думал я, и эти четвероугольные носки сапог особенно умиляли меня. Видно было, что он когда-то танцевал прекрасно, но теперь был грузен, и ноги уже не были достаточно упруги для всех тех красивых и быстрых па, которые он старался выделывать. Но он все-таки ловко прошел два круга. Когда же он, быстро расставив ноги, опять соединил их и, хотя и несколько тяжело, упал на одно колено, а она, улыбаясь и поправляя юбку, которую он зацепил, плавно прошла вокруг него, все громко зааплодировали. С некоторым усилием приподнявшись, он нежно, мило обхватил дочь руками за уши и, поцеловав в лоб, подвел ее ко мне, думая, что я танцую с ней. Я сказал, что не я ее кавалер.
— Ну, все равно, пройдитесь теперь вы с ней, — сказал он, ласково улыбаясь и вдевая шпагу в портупею.

Как бывает, что вслед за одной вылившейся из бутылки каплей содержимое ее выливается большими струями, так и в моей душе любовь к Вареньке освободила всю скрытую в моей душе способность любви. Я обнимал в то время весь мир своей любовью. Я любил и хозяйку в фероньерке, с ее елисаветинским бюстом, и ее мужа, и ее гостей, и ее лакеев, и даже дувшегося на меня инженера Анисимова. К отцу же ее, с его домашними сапогами и ласковой, похожей на нее, улыбкой, я испытывал в то время какое-то восторженно-нежное чувство.

Мазурка кончилась, хозяева просили гостей к ужину, но полковник Б. отказался, сказав, что ему надо завтра рано вставать, и простился с хозяевами. Я было испугался, что и ее увезут, но она осталась с матерью.

После ужина я танцевал с нею обещанную кадриль, и, несмотря на то, что был, казалось, бесконечно счастлив, счастье мое все росло и росло. Мы ничего не говорили о любви. Я не спрашивал ни ее, ни себя даже о том, любит ли она меня. Мне достаточно было того, что я любил ее. И я боялся только одного, чтобы что-нибудь не испортило моего счастья.

Когда я приехал домой, разделся и подумал о сне, я увидал, что это совершенно невозможно. У меня в руке было перышко от ее веера и целая ее перчатка, которую она дала мне, уезжая, когда садилась в карету и я подсаживал ее мать и потом ее. Я смотрел на эти вещи и, не закрывая глаз, видел ее перед собой то в ту минуту, когда она, выбирая из двух кавалеров, угадывает мое качество, и слышу ее милый голос, когда она говорит: «Гордость? да?» — и радостно подает мне руку, или когда за ужином пригубливает бокал шампанского и исподлобья смотрит на меня ласкающими глазами. Но больше всего я вижу ее в паре с отцом, когда она плавно двигается около него и с гордостью и радостью и за себя и за него взглядывает на любующихся зрителей.
И я невольно соединяю его и ее в одном нежном, умиленном чувстве.

Жили мы тогда одни с покойным братом. Брат и вообще не любил света и не ездил на балы, теперь же готовился к кандидатскому экзамену и вел самую правильную жизнь. Он спал. Я посмотрел на его уткнутую в подушку и закрытую до половины фланелевым одеялом голову, и мне стало любовно жалко его, жалко за то, что он не знал и не разделял того счастья, которое я испытывал. Крепостной наш лакей Петруша встретил меня со свечой и хотел помочь мне раздеваться, но я отпустил его. Вид его заспанного лица с спутанными волосами показался мне умилительно трогательным. Стараясь не шуметь, я на цыпочках прошел в свою комнату и сел на постель. Нет, я был слишком счастлив, я не мог спать. Притом мне жарко было в натопленных комнатах, и я, не снимая мундира, потихоньку вышел в переднюю, надел шинель, отворил наружную дверь и вышел на улицу.

С бала я уехал в пятом часу, пока доехал домой, посидел дома, прошло еще часа два, так что, когда я вышел, уже было светло. Была самая масленичная погода, был туман, насыщенный водою снег таял на дорогах, и со всех крыш капало. Жили Б. тогда на конце города, подле большого поля, на одном конце которого было гулянье, а на другом — девический институт. Я прошел наш пустынный переулок и вышел на большую улицу, где стали встречаться и пешеходы и ломовые с дровами на санях, достававших полозьями до мостовой. И лошади, равномерно покачивающие под глянцевитыми дугами мокрыми головами, и покрытые рогожками извозчики, шлепавшие в огромных сапогах подле возов, и дома улицы, казавшиеся в тумане очень высокими, все было мне особенно мило и значительно.

Когда я вышел на поле, где был их дом, я увидал в конце его, по направлению гулянья, что-то большое, черное и услыхал доносившиеся оттуда звуки флейты и барабана. В душе у меня все время пело и изредка слышался мотив мазурки. Но это была какая-то, другая, жесткая, нехорошая музыка.

«Что это такое?» — подумал я и по проезженной посередине поля, скользкой дороге пошел по направлению звуков. Пройдя шагов сто, я из-за тумана стал различать много черных людей. Очевидно, солдаты. “Верно ученье”— подумал я и вместе с кузнецом в засаленном полушубке и фартуке, несшим что-то и шедшим передо мной, подошел ближе. Солдаты в черных мундирах стояли двумя рядами друг против друга, держа ружья к ноге, и не двигались. Позади их стояли барабанщик и флейтщик и не переставая повторяли всё ту же неприятную, визгливую мелодию.
— Что это они делают? — спросил я у кузнеца, остановившегося рядом со мною.

— Татарина гоняют за побег, — сердито сказал кузнец, взглядывая в дальний конец рядов.


Я стал смотреть туда же и увидал посреди рядов что-то страшное, приближающееся ко мне. Приближающееся ко мне был оголенный по пояс человек, привязанный к ружьям двух солдат, которые вели его. Рядом с ним шел высокий военный в шинели и фуражке, фигура которого показалась мне знакомой. Дергаясь всем телом, шлепая ногами по талому снегу, наказываемый, под сыпавшимися с обеих сторон на него ударами, подвигался ко мне, то опрокидываясь назад — и тогда унтер-офицеры, ведшие его за ружья, толкали его вперед, то падая наперед — и тогда унтер-офицеры, удерживая его от падения, тянули его назад. И не отставая от него, шел твердой, подрагивающей походкой высокий военный. Это был ее отец, с своим румяным лицом и белыми усами и бакенбардами.

При каждом ударе наказываемый, как бы удивляясь, поворачивал сморщенное от страдания лицо в ту сторону, с которой падал удар, и, оскаливая белые зубы, повторял какие-то одни и те же слова. Только когда он был совсем близко, я расслышал эти слова. Он не говорил, а всхлипывал: «Братцы, помилосердуйте. Братцы, помилосердуйте». Но братцы не милосердовали, и, когда шествие совсем поравнялось со мною, я видел, как стоявший против меня солдат решительно выступил шаг вперед и, со свистом взмахнув палкой, сильно шлепнул ею по спине татарина. Татарин дернулся вперед, но унтер-офицеры удержали его, и такой же удар упал на него с другой стороны, и опять с этой, и опять с той. Полковник шел подле и, поглядывая то себе под ноги, то на наказываемого, втягивал в себя воздух, раздувая щеки, и медленно выпускал его через оттопыренную губу. Когда шествие миновало то место, где я стоял, я мельком увидал между рядов спину наказываемого.
Это было что-то такое пестрое, мокрое, красное, неестественное, что я не поверил, чтобы это было тело человека.

— О господи, — проговорил подле меня кузнец.

Шествие стало удаляться, все так же падали с двух сторон удары на спотыкающегося, корчившегося человека, и все так же били барабаны и свистела флейта, и все так же твердым шагом двигалась высокая, статная фигура полковника рядом с наказываемым. Вдруг полковник остановился и быстро приблизился к одному из солдат.

— Я тебе помажу, — услыхал я его гневный голос, — Будешь мазать? Будешь?
И я видел, как он своей сильной рукой в замшевой перчатке бил по лицу испуганного малорослого, слабосильного солдата за то, что он недостаточно сильно опустил свою палку на красную спину татарина.
— Подать свежих шпицрутенов! — крикнул он, оглядываясь, и увидал меня. Делая вид, что он не знает меня, он, грозно и злобно нахмурившись, поспешно отвернулся. Мне было до такой степени стыдно, что, не зная, куда смотреть, как будто я был уличен в самом постыдном поступке, я опустил глаза и поторопился уйти домой. Всю дорогу в ушах у меня то била барабанная дробь и свистела флейта, то слышались слова: «Братцы, помилосердуйте», то я слышал самоуверенный, гневный голос полковника, кричащего: «Будешь мазать? Будешь?» А между тем на сердце была почти физическая, доходившая до тошноты, тоска, такая, что я несколько раз останавливался, и мне казалось, что вот-вот меня вырвет всем тем ужасом, который вошел в меня от этого зрелища. Не помню, как я добрался домой и лег. Но только стал засыпать, услыхал и увидал опять все и вскочил.
Очевидно, он что-то знает такое, чего я не знаю, — думал я про полковника. —





Если бы я знал то, что он знает, я бы понимал и то, что я видел, и это не мучило бы меня». Но сколько я ни думал, я не мог понять того, что знает полковник, и заснул только к вечеру, и то после того, как пошел к приятелю и напился с ним совсем пьян.

Что ж, вы думаете, что я тогда решил, что то, что я видел, было — дурное дело? Ничуть. «Если это делалось с такой уверенностью и признавалось всеми необходимым, то, стало быть, они знали что-то такое, чего я не знал», — думал я и старался узнать это.
Но сколько ни старался — и потом не мог узнать этого. А не узнав, не мог поступить в военную службу, как хотел прежде, и не только не служил в военной, но нигде не служил и никуда, как видите, не годился.



— Ну, это мы знаем, как вы никуда не годились, — сказал один из нас. — Скажите лучше: сколько бы людей никуда не годились, кабы вас не было.
— Ну, это уж совсем глупости, — с искренней досадой сказал Иван Васильевич.

— Ну, а любовь что? — спросили мы.

— Любовь? Любовь с этого дня пошла на убыль. Когда она, как это часто бывало с ней, с улыбкой на лице, задумывалась, я сейчас же вспоминал полковника на площади, и мне становилось как-то неловко и неприятно, и я стал реже видаться с ней. И любовь так и сошла на нет. Так вот какие бывают дела и от чего переменяется и направляется вся жизнь человека. А вы говорите… — закончил он.

Liberté, Égalité, et Fraternité