As a child I was always fascinated by Black History Month. Its lessons taught me that the accomplishments of Black people were vast and wondrous, and that I, as a descendant of those people, could accomplish anything I set out to do.
One story in particular still amazes me.
It is the story of Dred Scott, an enslaved man who was taken from a slave state to a free territory by those who enslaved him. Scott eventually sued to gain freedom for himself and his family.
During a prolonged court battle, Scott was assisted by abolitionists and others. While the law seemed to favor Scott’s argument that he could not be returned to slavery once he was transported to a free territory, the court ruled against him in a 7-2 decision.
The majority opinion was penned by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, who wrote that Black people were “of an inferior order and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
That opinion, based on Taney’s belief that the nation’s founders never intended for Black people to be citizens, is at the very core of Donald Trump’s rise in American politics.
Now, just over a year after leaving office as the only chief executive in the nation’s history to be impeached twice, Trump finds himself under investigation by prosecutors in several states, and at multiple levels.
District Attorney Fani Willis in Fulton County, Ga., is investigating Trump’s attempt to pressure Georgia’s secretary of state into “finding” enough votes for Trump to win a state he lost.
New York Attorney General Letitia James is investigating Trump’s business dealings, as is Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. House Select Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson is leading the congressional investigation of Trump’s alleged involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
All of these prosecutors have one thing in common — they’re Black.
In an America where the Supreme Court is poised to gut affirmative action to make it harder for Black students to get into prominent universities, and where historically Black colleges and universities face bomb threats, it’s hard for Black people to become prosecutors.
I suspect it’s meant to be that way. And for those who still believe that the Black man has no rights the white man is bound to respect, it is no doubt offensive that Black Americans could overcome such barriers to challenge a powerful white man like Trump.
After all, Trump’s rhetorical attacks on the nation’s first Black president were based on the assertion that Barack Obama could not have had a legitimate birth certificate, and therefore was not a citizen.
Now, as Black prosecutors close in on him from numerous jurisdictions, Trump is calling on his mobs to attack, because those prosecutors, and Black people in general, were never meant to be Americans.
“If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or illegal I hope we are going to have in this country the biggest protest we have ever had . . . in Washington D.C., in New York, in Atlanta and elsewhere because our country and our elections are corrupt,” Trump told a cheering crowd in Texas.
As a Black man watching him spout this insidious rhetoric, I was mortified. Not because he was repeating his lies about winning an election that he lost by more than 7 million votes, but because he was explicitly targeting Black Americans who are doing nothing more than their jobs.
When Trump calls these prosecutors racists, that is red meat to his followers. When he then says there should be protests in the cities where they work, it represents a threat that any conscious Black person understands.
That’s why Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis asked for FBI protection after Trump spoke. It’s why numerous news outlets began to sound the alarm. It is why Black America must now be on guard.
Unfortunately, not everyone understands the moment. Among them are the Black people who routinely sit behind Trump at his rallies. I hope they understand, as I do, that if Trump’s mob is unleashed, no one will ask for their political affiliation.
Because, sadly, in America, there are far too many who still believe the Black man has no rights that the white man is bound to respect.
Solomon Jones is an author who wrote this column for the Philadelphia Inquirer.