The Roots of American Segregation

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Historian Nicholas Guyatt argues in a new book that segregation originated from the ideas of well-meaning whites in the early republic.

Half a century ago, the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education ruling declared segregated schools unconstitutional in America. That decision set off a wave of interest to identify the origins of segregation in America, tracing the Civil Rights movement back to the Civil War and the abolition of slavery.

British historian Nicholas Guyatt has a new interpretation of how we became the divided America we are today. Segregation and its ideological justification “separate but equal,” he argues, originated in the early Republic in the efforts of individuals then considered to be “enlightened Americans” to uplift and protect Indians and African-Americans. His theory disrupts the notions of the morally "good" North and the racially reprehensible South and makes the case that a solution to racial justice in America was thought to be found in segregation, an idea that had roots in northern liberals and set the country up for decades of failed race relations.

In his new book, "Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation," Guyatt works to uncover the part of history that upends our understanding of good guys and bad guys, revealing stark analogies between the very first attempt to solve America's racial problems and our continued efforts to fix things today.