Community & Government

Emancipation & The Supreme Court

Constitutional law expert Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw explains the Reconstruction Amendments, and how white supremacists successfully resisted reform through the Supreme Court.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Emancipation & The Supreme Court

Seven preeminent Black thought leaders share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future.

Sign Up


KIMBERLE WILLIAMS CRENSHAW: My name is Kimberle Williams Crenshaw. I'm a professor of law at Columbia University and UCLA. I'm also the founder of the African-American Policy Forum and the Center for Intersectionality in Social Policy Studies at Columbia. I'm known for coining phrases-- intersectionality, critical race theory, say her name. You've heard of those. These are things that I coined. [MUSIC PLAYING] When it came to enslavement, the Supreme Court was expansive in its ability to serve the interests of slaveholders. And the hope was that the Supreme Court would be equally expansive in serving the interests of those who were formerly enslaved. Unfortunately, that didn't turn out to be the case. Let me draw a contrast for you. In the slave cases having to do with the fugitive slave clause, fugitive slave clause allowed Congress to create draconian measures that permitted slave catchers to do anything pretty much they needed to do to recapture escaped slaves. That was the idea. And that meant that they even were able to barge into homes, they were able to grab people, they were able to take them to a magistrate. The magistrate was given more money to agree that the person was an escaped slave than to say that they were free, so they basically even bribed these decision-makers to say that these people were owned by someone else. Every aspect of law that they could imagine would help the slaveholders was deployed. Now, just to give you a modern-day sense of what that might be like, suppose you're sitting in your house and someone barges in and demands the key to your car. They say this car matches the description of someone who's lost their car in Mississippi, and so we're taking this car from you. You say, this is not anyone else's car but mine. They say, oh, no, we have to take it to a magistrate. Magistrate says, what, I get $200 for saying this is someone else's car and $5 for saying it belongs to you? Sorry, your car is gone. Off to Mississippi your car goes. And for you to recover it, you've got to travel to Mississippi. Well, let's add this. You travel to Mississippi, and it turns out you can't testify that it's your car because Mississippi doesn't allow Black people to testify against white people. That's their law. So you've lost your car. Now, imagine that it's not your car, it's your wife and your three children. And slave capturers have come in and they've decided that your three children and your wife belong to someone somewhere else that you've never heard of. And off they go. And you never see them again. This was perfectly legal. This was perfectly constitutional. This is what the Constitution permitted. Why? Because the Supreme Court said we have to allow slave catchers to have every tool at their disposal because there's a constitutional right in the Constitution to recover those who are property of other people. So let's just keep that in the back of our minds. Was the S...

About the Instructor

From critical race theory to the 1619 Project, Black intellectuals are reshaping conversations on race in America. Now seven of those preeminent voices share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future. Gain a foundational understanding of the history of white supremacy and discover a path forward through the limitless capacity and resilience of Black love.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Angela Davis, Cornel West, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Sherrilyn Ifill, Jelani Cobb, and John McWhorter

Seven preeminent Black thought leaders share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future.

Explore the Class
Sign Up