The George Floyd Uprising

I Overnight mass conversions to the cause of African American rights are a rare phenomenon in America, and, even so, a recurrent phenomenon, and ultimately a world-changing phenomenon. The classic instance took place in 1854 in Boston. An escaped slave from Virginia named Anthony Burns was arrested and held by United States marshals, who prepared to send him back into bondage in Virginia, in accordance with the Fugitive Slave Act and the policies of the Franklin Pierce administration. And a good many white people in Boston and environs were surprised to discover themselves erupting in violent rage, as if in mass reversion to the hot-headed instincts of their ancestors at the glorious Tea Party of 1773. Respectable worthies with three names found themselves storming the courthouse. Amos Adams Lawrence, America’s wealthiest mill owner, famously remarked, “We went to bed one night old-fashioned, conservative, Compromise Whigs & waked up stark mad Abolitionists.” John Greenleaf Whittier experienced a physical revulsion: I felt a sense of bitter loss, — Shame, tearless grief, and stifling wrath, And loathing fear, as if my path A serpent stretched across. Henry David Thoreau delivered a lecture a few weeks later under the scathing title, “Slavery in Massachusetts,” in support of blowing up the law: “The law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free.” And in upstate New York, the businessman John Brown, taking the fateful next step, declared that “Anthony Burns must be released, or I will die in the attempt,” which sounded the note of death. Burns was not released. John Brown went to Bleeding Kansas, where the note of death produced the Pottawatomie Massacre in 1856, and thence to Harper’s Ferry and everything that followed.   A second instance took place in March 1965, this time

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