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Dr. Adam Seagrave ('05)Dr. Adam Seagrave ('05)Reflecting on the newly released Netflix documentary 13, which examines the legacy of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, alumnus Dr. Adam Seagrave (’05) has penned a thoughtful article for The Public Discourse about the broader question of how the U.S. lives up to its founding ideals, particularly with respect to African Americans. Just as the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that “all men are created equal” did not beget immediate racial equality in the newly formed Republic, the Thirteenth Amendment’s eradication of slavery, closely followed by the advent of Jim Crow, failed to usher in real freedom for those it liberated from bondage.

Yet we “shouldn’t blame the Thirteenth Amendment for persistent racial injustice, just as we shouldn’t blame the Constitution for slavery,” writes Dr. Seagrave, the Kinder Institute Associate Professor of Constitutional Democracy at the University of Missouri. “When it comes to nations, it is vastly better to be hypocritical than unabashedly immoral. The former possess a foundation for improvement in a way the latter do not, and this has been clearly evidenced in the real progress that has been made toward racial equality in the U.S.”

More such progress, Dr. Seagrave contends, can best be achieved by continued pursuit of the country’s founding ideals. “Opponents of ongoing racial injustices should build on the solid foundation provided by the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Civil War amendments rather than dismissing these documents and their authors as hypocrites,” he writes. Likewise, he continues, “Protesting American practice does not necessarily denigrate American promise … and the proper response to imperfect practice does not lie in the naïve indignation one hears so often on talk radio and other conservative media outlets, but in renewed attention to progressing ever more closely toward the American promise outlined in our founding (and re-founding) documents.”

A worthwhile read as the nation approaches Martin Luther King Day …