Community & Government

Why You Should Know the 14th Amendment

Civil Rights lawyer and NAACP Legal Defense Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill explains the 14th Amendment and how in making emancipated people full citizens, it also allowed for birthright citizenship and the “nation of immigrants” narrative.

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Topics include: Defining Black Citizenship in the Constitution • Due Process & Equal Protection • Black Visionary Power: Seeing a New America • What We Are Entitled To

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

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SHERRILYN IFILL: My name is Sherrilyn Ifill, and I'm a civil rights lawyer. I lead an amazing civil rights organization, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The work I do focuses on Black communities and the rights of Black people in this country. And all civil rights lawyers are fighting for the full citizenship and dignity of the people they represent. I became a civil rights lawyer because I'm a product of the civil rights movement. We didn't have money, but we had dreams. And we were growing up in a time when new doors were opened for us. And so I wanted to be part of the opportunity to not only, I hope, educate, but also to encourage and inspire you to believe that we can make change. A very small group of people transformed the direction of American democracy in the 20th century and made it possible for me to even be sitting here talking to you, made my life possible. So I know it's possible. [MUSIC PLAYING] One of the reasons I'm on a crusade, if you will, to talk about the 14th Amendment and to help people embrace and understand the 14th Amendment is because I think we tend to talk about our right to be free from racial discrimination in this country in terms that are not constitutional. We talk about it as though it's about feelings, about whether people are fair to us or not, about the hearts of people and whether people are racist in their heart, whether they have a racist bone in their body when, in fact, we ought to be talking about our right to be free of discrimination, our right to full citizenship, our right to full dignity as Americans as constitutionally grounded, as compelled by the language of our foundational document, as intended by the framers of the 14th Amendment. It doesn't matter what the feelings of white people are. It matters what the Constitution says. When we talk about the First Amendment, when we talk about your right to free speech, we don't premise it on the feelings of the person hearing the speech. When we talk about the Second Amendment-- think about people who are swaggering around with giant weapons-- they don't talk about it in terms that are about feelings. They say that the Second Amendment entitles them to carry those weapons. We don't talk about our right to be free of discrimination as a constitutional imperative. We know we should be free of discrimination. We know we're entitled to equality. But we don't ground it in that way. And so it allows the conversation to get loose and amorphous, and it allows emotion to take the place of what should be the clear certainty of our right to be full citizens. [MUSIC PLAYING] I could spend days just breaking down the meaning of the 14th Amendment. It's incredibly rich. And I think when we tend to talk about it, we skim over a lot of it because we have to, and so I'll skim over it too. But let me get to what I think are the most important parts. The first line of the 14th Amendment is among the most powerful provisions in th...

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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.

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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.

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