Resources to understand America’s long history of injustice and inequality

Illustration by The Washington Post; Photos by Library of Congress, AP, Washington Post
By

The video of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in Minneapolis triggered protests around the world. It brought renewed attention to the high-profile deaths of black Americans during the past decade and ongoing concerns about systemic racism in the criminal justice system. The police response in some cities has further fueled protesters, leading to calls to defund the police.

In Washington, D.C., President Trump’s use of the military and federal police to seize control of parts of the city — including dispersing peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square near the White House — has drawn heavy criticism from the public and top military figures.

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

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

What do you want to know about race and inequality in the United States? Is there a topic you would like us to cover? Let us know and sign up for the About US newsletter for candid conversations about identity in 21st-century America.

History

(Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

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

2019 | By DeNeen L. Brown


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

2020 | By Sydney Trent


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

2019 | By Steve Luxenberg


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

2020 | By DeNeen L. Brown


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

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


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

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


Why Americans don’t learn about Tulsa, or Juneteenth: The legacy of two moments in history that many Americans are just beginning to learn.

2020 | Podcast hosted by Martine Powers


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

2020 | Video series by Nicole Ellis


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

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

Education

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

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

2019 | By Joe Heim


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

2019 | By Kate Rabinowitz, Armand Emamdjomeh and Laura Meckler


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

2016 | By Theresa Vargas, Video by Whitney Shefte

Protest and activism

(Philip Cheung for The Washington Post)

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

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


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

2017 | By KK Ottesen


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

2020 | By Joyce Ladner


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

2020 | By Tim Craig and Aaron Williams


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

2019 | Podcast hosted by Jonathan Capehart


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

2020 | By Sally Jenkins


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

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

Income inequality

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

2018 | By Aaron Williams and Armand Emamdjomeh


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

2020 | By Michele Lerner


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

2018 | By Tracy Jan


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

2020 | By Heather Long and Andrew Van Dam


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

2020 | By Reed Albergotti


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

2016 | By Emily Badger


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

2020 | By Jared Bernstein and Janelle Jones

Health

(Jahi Chikwendiu)

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

2019 | Photo essay with introduction by Eugene Robinson


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

2020 | Graphic by Aaron Williams and Adrian Blanco


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

2020 | By Tonya Russell


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

2019 | By Helena Andrews-Dyer


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

2020 | Video by Maya Sugarman and Nicole Ellis

Politics

(Zack Wittman for The Washington Post)

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

2020 | By Robert Samuels


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

2020 | By Scott Clement, Dan Balz and Emily Guskin


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

2020 | By Dan Balz


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

2020 | Podcast hosted by Jonathan Capehart

Policing and criminal justice

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

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


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

2020 | By Dan Keating and Kevin Uhrmacher


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

2020 | By Dan Zak and Ellen McCarthy


Opinions: Incarceration rates of African Americans in general remain 5.6 times greater than those of white Americans. Black people are about 12 percent of the U.S. population, but one-third of the inmate population.

Arrests of minors aged 10 to 17

Adult incarceration rate

Per 100,000 people

Per 100,000 people

2,500

12,000

Black

Black

10,000

2,000

8,000

1,500

6,000

1,000

4,000

White

White

500

2,000

2008

2018

2000

2018

Source: U.S. Department of Justice

2020 | By Sergio Peçanha


Opinions: “Why I can’t watch the police videos anymore”: A 2017 National Institutes of Health study noted that the psychological impact on black people of the proliferation of videos of us as victims of police lethality is that we see our lives as “disposable, and undeserving of dignity and justice.”

2020 | Column by Kevin B. Blackistone


No arrests were made in the homicides of more than 18,600 black men and women. Black victims, who accounted for the majority of homicides, were the least likely of any racial group to have their killings result in an arrest.

2018 | By Wesley Lowery, Kimbriell Kelly and Steven Rich


“I’m not just the guy in the video.” Former NFL player Desmond Marrow’s arrest was caught on a video that went viral in April 2018. As he revisits the scene of where the incident occurred, he reflects on the ways the encounter had an impact on him.

2019 | Documentary by Rhonda Colvin, Malcolm Cook and Jayne Orenstein

Culture

(Erin K. Robinson for The Washington Post)

The first black president: The Obama victory helped fulfill one of the great ambitions of the civil rights struggle by showcasing the ability of extraordinarily talented black Americans to lead and excel in all facets of American life. Explore a virtual museum of Obama’s presidency.

2016 | By Peniel Joseph


My father taught me about Black food and identity. Now that he’s gone, cookbooks fill the gap. Cookbooks prompted me to consider the legacy of food beyond its role as a survival mechanism. For people who have so often struggled at the margins, food remains an important means for providing care.

2020 | By Anela Malik


Tour through the National Museum of African American History and Culture: Underground, a stark path winds chronologically and unflinchingly from slavery through civil rights and beyond. Aboveground, bold, busy galleries celebrate some of the cultural contributions African Americans have made to the country and the world.

2016 | Interactive graphic by Aaron Steckelberg, Bonnie Berkowitz and Denise Lu


“We don’t often get the layers we need to tell our stories in contemporary ways.” The Washington Post spoke to several black writers about their experiences in the television industry. Most remain cautiously optimistic about whether these companies will eventually look inward. It’s not just the dearth of opportunity the writers say has hurt them — though that is certainly the first hurdle — but also the lack of upward mobility once they’re in the room.

2020 | By Sonia Rao


“Am I going to have the experience that I want, which is to be free of race and to enjoy this moment? Or will race tap me on the shoulder?” Motorists still fear encountering racist police officers or wandering into towns where they’re not welcome. Social media also gives a sense of what domestic travel looks like through the eyes of a person of color, chronicling stories of discriminatory encounters with such hashtags as #AirbnbWhileBlack and #TravelingWhileBlack.

2020 | By Rhonda Colvin


Black chefs say discrimination and restricted upward mobility make it difficult for them to achieve success. Edouardo Jordan went to culinary school to be a chef, he said, not to be a black chef. To avoid being pigeonholed early in his career, he strayed from the Southern fare he found most familiar and instead pursued Italian and French cuisines — two of the most popular in fine dining.

2018 | By Sonia Rao


In ‘Black Panther,’ a superhero who finally looks like me. “Black Panther” brings to life Marvel’s greatest black superhero. For The Post’s David Betancourt, this has been a long time coming.

2018 | Video by David Betancourt and Erin Patrick O’Connor


Perspective: “I know the freedom of moving through a world that magically removes many barriers from my life and shields me from harm — all because of my ability to pass as white.” Even as I continue to reap its benefits, I am ashamed of the white privilege I carry around because I know it comes at the expense of others who have every right to the same opportunities, advantages and freedoms.

2020 | By Steve Majors


“Publishing is still a business that is owned by white men”: Post Reports host Martine Powers talks with N.K. Jemisin, Jasmine Guillory and Lauren Wilkinson about challenging narrow perceptions of race in literary genres.

2019 | Podcast hosted by Martine Powers


“What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what — not who — we are.” Historian Ibram X. Kendi has daring, novel ideas about the nature of racism — and how to fight it.

2019 | By David Montgomery


Redefining the n-word: As the National Football League wrestled with banning the word on the field, a team of Washington Post journalists examined the history of this singular American word, its spread through popular culture and its place in the vernacular today.

2014 | By Dave Sheinin and Krissah Thompson

We noticed you’re blocking ads!

Keep supporting great journalism by turning off your ad blocker. Or purchase a subscription for unlimited access to real news you can count on.
Unblock ads
Questions about why you are seeing this? Contact us