BILL MOYERS: Welcome. This is once again public television’s pledge time, when we remind you that there’s nowhere else on your TV dial that you can see programs like the one you’re watching now. Please take a moment to contribute to your local station.

Congress is in the midst of its summer recess, escaping the malarial heat of the Washington swampland and the agony of legislative gridlock. Most of the members fled for home but many have run straight into the arms of angry voters questioning whether the incumbents should be returned to office.

The clamor and dissent remind us of another hot and humid summer 236 years ago when the Second Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence and riders on horseback rushed it to the far corners of the thirteen new United States -- where it was read aloud to cheering crowds.

Perhaps, we will remember the Declaration of Independence itself, the product of what John Adams called Thomas Jefferson's "happy talent for composition." Take some time this week to read it -- alone, to yourself, or aloud, with others, and tell me the words aren't still capable of setting the mind ablaze. The founders surely knew that when they let these ideas loose in the world, they could never again be caged.

Yet from the beginning, these sentiments were also a thorn in our side, a reminder of the new nation's divided soul. Opponents, who still sided with Britain, greeted it with sarcasm. How can you declare "All men are created equal," without freeing your slaves?

Jefferson himself was an aristocrat whose inheritance of 5000 acres and the slaves to work it, mocked his eloquent notion of equality. He acknowledged that slavery degraded master and slave alike, but would not give his own slaves their freedom. Their labor kept him financially afloat. Hundreds of slaves, forced like beasts of burden to toil from sunrise to sunset under threat of the lash, enabled him to thrive as a privileged gentleman, to pursue his intellectual interests, and to rise in politics. Even the children born to him by the slave Sally Hemings, remained slaves, as did their mother. Only an obscure provision in his will released his children after his death. All the others -- scores of slaves -- were sold to pay off his debts.

Yes, Thomas Jefferson possessed "a happy talent for composition" -- but he employed it for cross purposes. Whatever he was thinking when he wrote “all men are created equal,” he also believed blacks were inferior to whites. Inferior, he wrote, "to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind." To read his argument today is to enter the pathology of white superiority that attended the birth of our nation.

So forcefully did he state the case, and so great was his standing among the slave-holding class, that after his death the black abolitionist David Walker would claim Jefferson’s argument had "injured us more, and has been as great a barrier to our emancipation as any thing that has ever been advanced against us," for it had "…sunk deep into the hearts of millions of the whites, and never will be removed this side of eternity."

So, the ideal of equality Jefferson proclaimed, he also betrayed. He got it right when he wrote about “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” As the core of our human aspirations. But he lived it wrong, denying to others the rights he claimed for himself. And that's how Jefferson came to embody the oldest and longest war of all -- the war between the self and the truth, between what we know and how we live.

Behind the eloquent words of the Declaration were human beings as flawed and conflicted as they were inspired. If they were to look upon us today they most likely would think as they did then, how much remains to be done.

With those contradictions of American history in mind, this seemed a good time to talk with Khalil Gibran Muhammad. He’s made them his life’s work. Muhammad grew up on Chicago’s South Side, a member of the first generation of African Americans born after the victories of the civil rights movement. He’s the author of this award-winning book, The Condemnation of Blackness, which brings the past to bear on race, crime and the making of urban America, and connects today’s headlines to their deep roots. He was teaching history at Indiana University when the New York Public Library asked him to head the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: I desided right after college that there was nothing more important to me than learning about African American history and culture. Really being able to learn firsthand the experiences and contributions that African Americans have made to this country and to the world.

BILL MOYERS: The Schomburg Center is known the world over for documenting the history of all peoples of African descent with a special emphasis on the story of African Americas. Among its ten million items are classic works crystalizing that experience. I asked Muhammad to talk about how we tell America’s story without whitewashing the past.

Welcome to the show.

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Thank you very much, Bill, for having me.

BILL MOYERS: Why history? I ask the question because Henry Ford famously said, "History is bunk."


BILL MOYERS: And you clearly disagree.

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: I clearly disagree. And I think this is a moment with questions about what the founding fathers intended, when they established our system of government. How large it should be. The debate between Jefferson and Hamilton, about whether there should be central government or small country of farmer republics. This question of what our original history is has shaped almost every aspect of the American experience.

In other words, history is all around us. Whether or not it is an accurate description of what happened in 1776, for example, or what happened in 1865 is secondary to the point that people's ideas about the past, people's sense of memory about the past, shape their own sense of identity and shape how they imagine the world should be. And therefore, in my opinion, history is the building block of all knowledge in our society. And it is the most important part of the most significant tradition that human beings have, which is storytelling.

BILL MOYERS: But how do we know to trust the past or which part of the past to trust? Because as you say, history is storytelling. And we all tend to reach for the facts that confirm our story, confirm our narrative, our interpretation of the past. So how do we learn to trust which part of the past?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Historians, professional historians will be the first to admit that history is about interpretation. It's about taking a fragmentary record and crafting an argument and defending that argument based on evidence. It's very little different than what lawyers do or Supreme Court justices do when they try to argue the merits of a case.

BILL MOYERS: But when you hear someone invoke Thomas Jefferson, what image comes to mind?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: I tend to think of Jefferson's ideas that gave birth to this republic with a whole lot of contradiction. And in that regard, I don't think of Thomas Jefferson as exceptional. The fundamental conundrum that was established in this country in spite of Thomas Jefferson's ideas about independence was that they resolved that slavery would exist after the revolution.

BILL MOYERS: And I, well, I ask that question, because it raises the argument, the story -- which story do you believe of whether this reflected their hypocrisy or their humanity? And therefore is an eternal reality that we want to do good things and we believe certain ideas and ideals, but we also act otherwise.

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: So it does. Contradiction is part of the human experience. We wrestle with it every single day, whether we admit it or not. Thomas Jefferson and half of the other slaveholders who were presidents, all lived daily contradictions.

They could literally look out their windows and see enslaved people in the land of the free and the home of the brave, so on and so forth. But the fact of the matter is that they had a great responsibility for building what would become American democracy. And in that regard, they failed miserably.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, it took me a long time, long past college and even graduate school, to figure out that eight of the first ten of our presidents were enriched by their ownership of capital, land or slaves. We were never taught that these men actually created a government, a constitution designed to protect the further acquisition of property for the privileged classes. Which that just didn't get discussed.

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Well, it's also the difference between an individual living a contradiction in terms of enslaving another as a proponent of freedom. And the ways in which those same individuals helped to build philosophical and ideological justifications for enslavement. And again, that's where things get a little trickier. So of course Thomas Jefferson penned "Notes on the State of Virginia" in 1787, which was effectively one of the first scientific arguments for why black people should be treated differently from whites, by virtue of their racial inferiority.

In other words, the scientific notion that black people were fundamentally different, whether it was in hair texture or in body odor, which is all part of Thomas Jefferson's analysis, gave birth to the enduring justification that even in America, even in a place that represented a tradition of republicanism in the world, the first modern democracy, that you could actually reconcile freedom and slavery, as long as the people who were enslaved were not equal citizens, were not made of the stuff of equal humanity.

BILL MOYERS: Well, then you had to construct a system that made sure they could never be seen to be equal members of society?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Correct. Well, that system was already self-reinforcing by the economic imperatives of enslavement. So you had the system that provided a modus operandi for reproducing inferiority. But you had to explain it still. And it was to that task that theologians, philosophers, scientists, eventually social scientists, journalists and politicians eventually weighed in and said, "This all makes sense. It makes sense because these people-- I mean, from a religious standpoint, these people are not of the same God even. That they represent a different species created by God to serve White men."

BILL MOYERS: If you can remember, when you first heard the words "all men are created equal," do you remember how you reacted to them?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: When I was old enough, and particularly in college, when these kinds of documents, you have time to critically engaged. You're being inspired to pay attention. I can remember having visible, a palpable sense that this wasn't true. That the framers had lied. That the words didn't match the reality.

And that was just a response. I didn't have a sense of history enough then to sort of unpack all of that. Because there was so much rhetoric of equality of opportunity. I mean, I can't overemphasize the point enough. I grew up in the 1980s, right? I mean, so this is, you know, John Wayne is the president as Ronald Reagan. And in all of that rhetoric of opportunity, all of the sanitization of what King's legacy had meant was part of the Zeitgeist of that moment.

And so to all of a sudden encounter those words in a moment of reflection and then to know growing up on the South Side of Chicago that everything wasn't all perfect and equal meant that there was work to be done. There was a reconciliation, a reckoning so to speak, that needed to take place. And for me, that was exciting. It was exciting to have the space and the opportunity when I got to graduate school to study it.

BILL MOYERS: Again, it took me a long time to learn that the man who wrote "all men are created equal," also wrote the words, "money, not morality is the principle of commercial nations." And so I ask you, the historian, is one more true than the other? Is it more true that all men are created equal? Or is it more true that money, not morality, governs our polity?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Well, if we use the benefit of hindsight, I think it's certainly, history has borne out that money not morality is the principle of commercialized nations. At the very moment of course when this country was building its political infrastructure, the set of ideas that would animate three systems of government, with checks and balances, with defined citizenship -- of course property was crucial to who would participate.

And so it took us another 100 years to enfranchise Black male voters. And then another 50 years after that to enfranchise women. So in that regard, history teaches us something about what the relationship between citizenship and property was, which was a contradiction. It wasn't about all men. And in that regard, even the gendered notion of equality--

BILL MOYERS: "We the people" did not include--


BILL MOYERS: --blacks, women, Native Americans, right?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: That's right. Which is, even in this conversation, and let me say this very clearly, the fact of what happened to Native Americans in this country in the 17th century, the fact that it's still not part of the lingua franca of our conversations about this nation's earliest history is evidence of how little it is part of our secondary educational experiences and our colleges.

In other words, I am obviously a proponent of historical literacy that focuses in particular on African Americans. But even as I talk to you, even as we have this conversation about the Declaration of Independence, it's almost an afterthought to think about Native Americans.

It's almost an afterthought to think about how the 19th century the moment of the expansion of the frontiers of this nation, which really was an escape valve for European immigrants, who came here, whether it was from Ireland or whether they came here from Australia as English indentures, was built on the backs of land owned in the Indian sense by many tribes indigenous to this country.

I mean, it's just a moment to reflect upon how just starting with the question of "What happened to black people?" is not sufficient to understanding that at the end of the day, the very notion of settlement in this country was about procuring resources for the purposes of wealth accumulation. That was true for most who came to this country, maybe not true for a small band of Puritans who landed in Massachusetts, who imagined the recreation of a very special, religious community. But even that vision of American society didn't last very long. So it's certainly true, as far as I'm concerned, that over the last 225 years, Thomas Jefferson's second point about money-- has far outlasted and triumphed over the notion of freedom.

BILL MOYERS: The Declaration refers to Native Americans as savages. They were written out, as you say, of the story very early. Do you think it had something to do with the unconscious or even conscious understanding on the part of the white slave-holding property-seeking race that we were practicing genocide, we, the white race, were practicing genocide against these people? Maybe the word wasn't in currency at that time. But they were removed. They were taken to a reservation. They were enclosed. And that's where they spent the last 200 and some-odd years. Why did we write the Native American out of the story?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: So first of all, our experience in the United States was already learning from the experience in South America, where indigenous populations, Taino Indians in various parts of the Caribbean Islands and in South America were first resistant to the encroachments of Europeans, eventually fought against them, and showed such valor in their fighting against European encroachment that there was no sense of incorporation or assimilation.

So their fighting spirit created a kind of contradiction of nobility, which was what eventually gave birth to the notion of the noble savage. That these were a people who were willing to die to protect their way of life. It was disease that wiped them out at the end of the day. That's what got the better of the indigenous populations.

So in that regard, the pure devastation that attended to the original settlement of Europeans in the Americas eventually gave birth to population loss that was akin to genocide by today's standards, but it was done by way of germ warfare. And really in an unintended way.

BILL MOYERS: Did anybody ever teach you, tell you that Chief Justice John Jay said, "Those who own the country should govern it"?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: No, I mean, it reminds me of a quote that George Walker Bush used, which was that this is an ownership society and if you don't own anything, you don't have any say. He didn't actually say the second part. But he did describe America as an ownership society. Effectively meaning that people need to be empowered through the privatization of formerly public services for the purposes of having a stake in it.

And this, of course, was evidenced by his attempt to privatize Social Security, right? But the bottom line is that because of the significance of money in politics, because of the increasing wealth inequality in this country people who don't own anything are often at the whim and caprice of political and business elites.

BILL MOYERS: Why do politicians whitewash history?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Because it helps them get elected. Why else do politicians do what they do?

BILL MOYERS: This is pledge time for public television. Some stations will briefly step away from us to ask for your support. For the rest of you, Moyers & Company will resume in just a moment.

[Pledge Break]

BILL MOYERS: I read just the other day that 76 percent, three quarters of college graduates are unfamiliar with the Bill of Rights. And almost that many could not say who was America's arch-rival during the 40 years of the Cold War. So pretend I'm a freshman in your class at Indiana University, which you left to come to Schomburg. How do you plan to rescue me from my ignorance of the past?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Well, if I get to meet you, then I'm going to encourage you to take a U.S. history course for starters. The problem is that our colleges and our sense of the public sphere are shrinking. Colleges and universities are giving increasing weight to the STEM fields. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

They haven't cut out the humanities. I don't want to overstate or say that there's a crisis, necessarily. But there is a sense that university presidents, particularly in state university systems, have to be responsive to state legislatures. And if those state legislatures happen to be Republican, there's a lot at stake when it comes to what is the appropriate history lesson to be taught to our children.

And I want to point out that in Texas, for example, a couple of years ago, there was a move by the then state regents to remove or to lessen-- the state's own history of civil rights activism, both statewide and nationally.

They simply removed certain individuals. So Cesar Chavez got less attention in the textbook. And Ronald Reagan and others got more. I mean, that, for practical purposes, in terms of number of words on page, for certain acts of history--

BILL MOYERS: And they wanted to diminish Martin Luther King's role and increase, enhance Newt Gingrich's role, right?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Right. So that in my opinion is of a piece. It's of a piece that both looks at the college as a place where history is less important to the fact of making money.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics produced a report just two years ago, in late 2009, where it identified the top ten growing fields for all Americans. Six of them were low-wage, entry-level service work, the preponderance of which were all in health care. Basically taking care of an aging baby boomer population. So what are we going to do about that? And--

BILL MOYERS: You're not going to study history, though, are you?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Well, you are going to study history. Because if you don't recognize what's at stake for wealth distribution and the fact that money has been a motivating principle for shaping our society. Then people don't have a sense of personal responsibility for changing the reality that they live.

They simply accept it that inequality is a naturalized part of the society. And they will imbibe or accept anything that a silver-tongued politician will sell them. I mean, history is sufficient to making the point that you actually have to protect gains that have been made on behalf of something called justice and equality.

BILL MOYERS: Is that why--

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: The challenge is if they are historically illiterate then they cannot have, they don't have access to those -- that store of ideas. And that evidence of experience that will help them shape whatever they need to shape for this particular moment.

BILL MOYERS: So is that what you meant when you said recently that black history for young people is quote "life saving"?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Yes, that's exactly what I meant.

BILL MOYERS: But that black history begins with slavery, with irons, with lynchings, with auctions, with decades after decades of oppression and repression. How can you say it's life saving?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: That's interesting. Because it doesn't begin with all of that. And we could debate the finer points of the character of what black history is, right? 'Cause that's what we're really talking about. What is it that most people conceive of when they hear black history? Well, there is that history of oppression. It is a unifying experience in the United States, in the American context.

But many people will argue that the cultures of Africa, many cultures, many tribes, many nations celebrated tremendous achievements by the standards of the world, of the 15th, 16th, and 17th, even into the 18th century before colonization. So depending on what it is you are trying to convey to a child, you can tell them that before the white man came, if you go to Timbuktu, you will see a thriving civilization.

You will see the invention of languages that preceded the lingua franca of the world today, which of course is English. That's one way of inspiring people. And that's one way of defining black history. But alongside that very trajectory that you just described, the one of struggle, of pain, of repression, is one of survival, of triumph, of creativity. And so part of telling the story of black history is to celebrate that ability to exist in a society that is working against you, is attempting to demonize you, and still be able to triumph over it, still be able to produce original forms of art, such as jazz music.

That's powerful. And that's empowering. But it's because of black people's political tradition, starting with political activism in the context of slavery to this day, that America actually is a more democratic society, is a society that has more equality than it did 200 years ago.

And that is also a powerfully inspiring history. Because were it not for black people, for example, in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, the South might have taken another 50 years to have public education. It was because of black political representatives in state congresses in the late 1860s and 1870s that they passed legislation to establish the first public education systems in the South. That's a major contribution. And it demonstrates how important making real democracy is. And this country has, including many minority groups, including women, have to thank for that tradition of black activism.

BILL MOYERS: So I'm sitting there in the front row of your lecture at Indiana University, where you were teaching before you came to the Schomburg. And I just heard you say there's a thin line separating the past from the present. And I raise my hand. And I say, "All right, Professor Muhammad, if that's the case, what does history have to tell me about stop and frisk?"

I ask that question, because our brethren at WNYC, the public radio station here in New York, recently ran a series in which they reported that one in five people stopped last year by New York City police were teenagers 14 to 18 years old. Eighty-six percent of those teenagers stopped were either black or Latino, most of them boys. Last year, more than 120,000 stops of black and Latino; the total number of black and Latino boys that age in New York City isn't much more than that. 177,000 or so, which suggests that every teenage boy who's black and Latino in this City of New York is likely before he graduates to have been stopped and frisked by the police. So you're a historian. What does history have to tell me about stop and frisk?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: It tells us that it's an old and enduring form of surveillance and racial control. So if we think about the moment immediately following the Civil War, there was the invention of something called the Black Codes in every southern state. And those codes were intended to use the criminal justice system to restrict the freedom and mobility of black people.

And if you crossed any line that they prescribed, you could be sold back to your former slave owner, not as a slave, but as a prisoner to work off your fine after an auction where you were resold to the highest bidder. It tells you something about the invention of the criminal justice system as a repressive tool to keep Black people in their place, from the very moment where 95 percent of the Black population became free. And it's still with us. It's still with us, because ultimately, as a social problem, crime has become like it was in the Jim Crow South, a mechanism to control black people's movement in cities. Just as Douglas Blackmon described in "Slavery By Another Name"--

BILL MOYERS: A great book, by the way.


BILL MOYERS: What happened to blacks after the Civil War, how they were freed.

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Right. The invention of convict leasing as a mechanism to-- I mean, they had many sources, but one was an economic project to rebuild the South on the backs of imprisoned, leased African Americans sold to private industry. And the net simply widened, because there was a lot of money to be made in doing that kind of work.

In Douglas Blackmon's work, we learn how elastic were laws like vagrancy laws, intended effectively to empower any citizen and/or law enforcement official to check the papers of a black person moving freely along the world. And if you couldn't prove that you were currently employed, bound to a tenant farming contract or a sharecropping agreement, then you were by definition a vagrant, by definition a criminal, and subject to, in this case, convict leasing. So if you're a sharecropper and you're being cheated by the white landowner. And you tell him to go to hell and you step away. He can call the police and say, "This person left my property. And they don't have a job. They're a vagrant."

You get picked up, you're done. You're off to a convict lease. The point is that that elasticity, that ability to use the law as an instrument of control, the ability to use discretion is exactly what operates in the context of stop and frisk. It operated in New York. Stop and frisk as a explicit policy is not that old, but as an informal practice, "Condemnation" describes numerous instances.

It's happening in Brooklyn, in Harlem, in the 1910s and '20s and '30s. But here's the point. Today's stop and frisk, if you look at the form that a police officer fills out, the boxes create tremendous opportunity for discretion. So “furtive movements,” “suspicious behavior.” But probably the one that's most indicative of this is one box that says, "Wears clothes-- wearing clothing known to be associated with criminals."

What does that mean for an 18 year old black or Latino boy in New York City? He has sagging pants? Is that sufficient grounds for investigating whether or not he's a criminal or not, or carrying contraband? Does he have a white t-shirt? Is he wearing a backpack that could contain drugs? In other words, it's incredibly elastic. And it--

BILL MOYERS: Does that include a hoody in Florida?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: It could include a hoody in Florida. In other words, it allows law enforcement, in this city, just like it did in the 1870s in Alabama, to have the widest berth of discretion to challenge a person, a black male on the streets, to ask them, "Where are you going? And do you belong here?" And as it turns out, if you don't have I.D., you can be subject to arrest in this city.

There’s a hallways monitoring program that the N.Y.P.D. uses to go into private buildings for the purposes of making sure that there's no drug dealing happening in those buildings. But as "The Village Voice" reported just a few months ago, a young man walked out in his pajamas to empty his trash.

He happened to come across an N.Y.P.D. officer. The officer asked him for his I.D., to prove that he lived in the building and wasn't a drug dealer. He didn't have one. He was fined. That's discretion. That's abuse of authority. That is the racial context. Because -- and here's where race really matters today. And I want everybody to be clear about this.

Why race matters today and defies the logic of Bloomberg, that this is really about saving black people. And this is a colorblind public safety agenda is because no white community in America would tolerate this kind of treatment in the name of public safety in its communities, period. You couldn't go into any East Side apartment or any West Side co-op anywhere in New York City, and start asking 17-year-old white boys for I.D., when they were out in their pajamas.

Why? Because their political power in this city and in other parts of this country is sufficient to get a politician to question whether or not that's the America that we want to live in. But when it comes to black and brown people, today as was true 100 years ago, they are subject to certain criminal justice policies. Those policies in Alabama lasted way into the civil rights era. And stop, question, and frisk, as informal practices, have been going on for over a hundred years.

BILL MOYERS: You have written a biography of an idea here. And the idea you're writing about is how blacks came to be singled out, nationally, as an exceptionally dangerous people.

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Sure. Well, think about it this way, Bill. There's no moment in time, no moment in time exists where race is not a primary factor in the treatment of black people.

And so the crime issue, if we just equate crime or criminalization and racial stigma, there is no moment where race is not an organizing principle for how black people's behavior is defined in American society.

That's the problem. And so policies like stop, question, and frisk evolved not because they were invented in that moment, but because they continued in that moment. And immigrant communities got police reform. And black people got police repression.

BILL MOYERS: The South I understand, but in the North, a hundred years ago, in your home city of Chicago, blacks were only about two percent of the population, maybe four percent of the population. And yet, stop and frisk became very popular there.

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: That's right. And unfortunately, in the aftermath of Reconstruction, there was a meeting of the minds between progressives and white supremacists. And the meeting of the minds wasn’t as we might think it was, because this was also the same moment where people like Jane Addams and William Walling--

BILL MOYERS: Great progressive leaders.

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Great progressive leaders started the NAACP. They were deeply concerned about political disenfranchisement and civil rights. But crime was the great exception. And in this one space, Southerners were far more influential in terms of telling Northerners that black people were not ready for citizenship, that they were not responsible for following the rules of society.

And Northerners took note and essentially developed policies and practices primarily policing of urban space. Policies like stop, question, and frisk helped to create the ghettos of Harlem, of Chicago, of West Philadelphia that were in their infancy at the turn of the 20th century. And it was only on the basis of criminality that progressives and other liberals said to those black communities that, "We're going to let you work out your own salvation. We're going to let you stay in these isolated communities until you exhibit the bourgeois behaviors of respectability and law abidingness."

And all of this may sound appropriate to viewers listening today, except that the same didn't hold true for European immigrants, who gave so much trouble to civic reformers. They didn't speak the language. They brought old world cultural traits. They were loud. They wanted to peddle their wares all over the streets. There were too many of them. They lived in really dense places. They were brewing wine and other liquors in their bathtubs. Some were extortionists going around collecting taxes and duties from small businesses. Well, they didn't say, "We're going to let you work out your own salvation." They said, "We've got to get in here and Americanize these people."

BILL MOYERS: That's what the progressive--

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: That’s what the progressive movement was about.

BILL MOYERS: -movement was about. Social welfare, public parks, job opportunities, social mobility, but not, you say, for blacks. They were penned off?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: They were penned off. And they were penned off in a way that crime became the legitimate reason and rationale for that segregation. In other words, crime among immigrants and even native-born working class whites was understood to be a consequence not of their moral character or of their cultural framework, but in fact of economics and class.

So even Europe's peasants, even Europe's marginalized and dispossessed, who came here in search of opportunity, benefited from a civilizationist discourse, from a way of ranking the world's people that said, "Any European, no matter how dastardly or despicable has the stuff of Europe, has the stuff of civilization, with just a little bit of help, will be on their way to greener pastures." But black people were still understood, even in places like New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia as being fundamentally flawed in their nature.

BILL MOYERS: But you go on to say in the book that blackness was refashioned through statistics. That statistics about black crime were ubiquitous. But statistics about white crime were invisible. Was that deliberate?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: It was over time. So it wasn't that way from the very beginning. The problem is that black people were enslaved. There was no point in tracking them statistically, because they weren't a population problem. They were enslaved. Well, once they were free, the demographers now turned immediately to statistics and said, "We've got to figure out how many babies, how many black babies are born each year? How many black babies die? What are the diseases that they die from?"

And eventually they turned to crime statistics. Their initial point in using statistics was not to celebrate the presence of black people, but to determine how much of a presence, physically, black people would have in the nation. And as it turns out, because enslaved people don't go to prison, they're dealt with summarily as plantation justice. Now as free people they're going to prison.

And in 1890, for the first time, a statistician looked up and said, "Wow, there's a disproportionate prison population of black people. They're 30 percent of the nation's prisoners. And they're only 12 percent of the nation's population. Well, as it turns out, if we just let them be, they will commit enough crimes and go to prison and we won't have to worry about the economic resources that have to be distributed amongst the Italians, amongst the Irish, amongst the Polish Catholic and now amongst the black people."

And so the very notion of refashioning their identity as a criminal identity was intended to be a mechanism to limit social resources on behalf of black communities. To effectively say, "Because they are criminals, they don't deserve even education."

BILL MOYERS: You're not denying that there were crimes.

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: I'm not denying that there were crimes.

BILL MOYERS: Black violence on violence. I mean, the book doesn't deny that. I want to make that clear to the audience. But that somehow the black criminal became a representative of his race.


BILL MOYERS: Right. "To think and talk about African Americans as criminal," you write, "is encoded deeply in our DNA."

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Correct, but the question became, "Are we going to help black people like we help the immigrants?"

BILL MOYERS: And the answer was?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: The answer was, "Because they are criminals, no." And that was a rationale rooted in racial logic. It was a rationale tied to sets of ideas that privileged Europeans as people who could benefit from the help of native white reformers, elites like Jane Addams, and black people could not. It effectively created the circumstances that gave birth to modern segregation in our biggest cities. So as those populations grew, the basic infrastructure remained the same.

BILL MOYERS: It was -- it's amazing to me, astonishing to go through here and find so much of the evidence you've collected. You have even President Roosevelt telling black college graduates in 1904 that, quote, "Criminality is in the ultimate analysis a greater danger to your race than any other thing can be." And one sociologist after another saying, "You blacks are your own worst enemies, because of your criminal--"


BILL MOYERS: "--nature." And that took hold in the ideology of dominant America, did it not?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: And that's the same dominant ideology that we have today. I mean, it's not packaged in the same explicit rhetoric. But it has given birth to policies like stop, question, and frisk that Mayor Bloomberg has --consistently defends, Ray Kelly consistently defends. Policies such as mass incarceration.

We are still living with the same basic ideas and arguments about the relationship between black criminality and social responsibility, between segregation and public safety today as we were in the 1890s in this country.

BILL MOYERS: Here's the testimony of one of the most influential scholars of the time, Nathanial Southgate Shaler, a Harvard scientist and prolific writer on race relations. Here's what he wrote in 1884, quote, "There can be no sort of doubt that judged by the light of all experience, these people,” – blacks – “are a danger to America, greater and more insuperable than any of those that menace the other great civilized states of the world."

He wrote that in the "Atlantic" magazine. Here's Hinton Rowan Helper, arguing that America would self-destruct if it gave blacks the right to vote. He said "Negroes with their crime-stained blackness could not rise to a plane higher than that of base and beastlike savagery. Seeing then that the negro does, indeed, belong to a lower and inferior order of things, why in the name of Heaven, why should we forever degrade and disgrace both ourselves and our posterity by entering of our own volition into more intimate relations with him? May God, in his restraining mercy, forbid that we should ever do this most foul and wicked thing." Now this is not talk radio back in the 1884 or 1904. These are prominent scholars, Harvard, "Atlantic" magazine writing this. And you're saying that in some interior structural way, these sentiments still affect how we deal with each other today?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Absolutely. We've got the biggest prison system the world has ever known, a prison system, by the way, that came of age in this moment right after the end of the Civil Rights Movement. So at precisely the moment that black people have their second shot at equality in America, legally, legislatively, right? I mean, we could -- you know as well as anyone that we didn't need the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the '65 Voting Act if the 13th and 14th and 15th Amendment had really been sufficient to creating equality.

So right after that moment, even under Lyndon Baines Johnson, there is an expansion of federal support for local law enforcement on the basis that black people's crime is a danger to civil society. And again, all of this may make sense to a viewer and to a listener, if they didn't know that those same threats to civil society, posed by European immigrants weren't treated in a fundamentally different way. That's the point. Crime in and of itself was not sufficient to justify a punitive, law and order political response or a set of ideas that exist today as they did then that saw black people's crime as evidence of some moral inferiority, some natural propensity to want to hurt people or to steal things.

For the European immigrant in the hands of a eugenicist, that was all true. "These people can't help themselves. They're a threat to society." But the progressives said, "No." And what's more telling about the progressives is they actually got rid of statistics. They stopped using the language of statistics, "15 percent of all crimes in this city are committed by the Irish, another 45 percent by the Italians."

They stopped talking that way. And saying that "These are the children of immigrants, who are becoming Americans. And we must help them. We must put them on the path to success." That's how they started talking to them. So much so, and this is an important point. By the 1930s, the federal government started collecting arrest data across the nation. And this information is produced quarterly and annually, it's called The Uniform Crime Reports.

So soon you will see in "The New York Times" the latest data, which tells us whether crime is rising or falling overall in our nation's cities. That was invented in 1930.

But here's the point. This is a really important one. Prior to that Uniform Crime Report, which nationalized and standardized arrest statistics, local arrest data was collected in Philadelphia, in New York, et cetera. And if you pull out an annual report, the page would look like this, tracking offenses by category.

Because it would say, "Italian, Irish, German, Scandinavian, Mexican," so on and so forth, all the way across. It'd look like an Excel spreadsheet today. By the 1930s with the federal government systematizing national arrest data and really becoming the most authoritative basis for understanding crime at the local level and national level, guess what it was? "Whites, Blacks, Foreign Born, Other." That was the for the first three years.

But 1933, it was, "White, Black, Other." So effectively, what it did was erase, it simply erased the category of the white ethnic criminal. Black became the single defining measure of deviance from a white norm.

So as long as blacks in that accounting showed disproportionate levels of any activity across those categories, white was always normalized. And in effect, it made invisible white criminality. We don't talk about white criminality. We don't talk about the white prison population. Nobody, no average person on the street can tell you how many white men are in prison or white men between the ages of 18 and 35, who are likely to spend time in prison.

Actually, the truth is the number is greater now today than it was 30 years ago, because the size of the prison system has also increased the number of white men.

BILL MOYERS: So this is how black criminality emerges along with disease and intelligence, the size of the brain?


BILL MOYERS: As a fundamental measure of black inferiority?


BILL MOYERS: With consequences down to the moment.


BILL MOYERS: Khalil Muhammad, thanks for joining us.


Khalil Muhammad on Facing Our Racial Past

Bill and Khalil Gibran Muhammad, head of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and author of The Condemnation of Blackness, discuss the importance of confronting the contradictions of America’s past to better understand the present.

Muhammad describes the New York City Police Department’s “Stop and Frisk” program as “an old and enduring form of surveillance and racial control”:

“If we think about the moment immediately following the Civil War, there was the invention of something called ‘the Black Codes’ in every Southern state. And those codes were intended to use the criminal justice system to restrict the freedom and mobility of black people. And if you crossed any line that they prescribed, you could be sold back to your former slave owner, not as a slave, but as a prisoner to work off your fine after an auction where you were resold to the highest bidder. It tells you something about the invention of the criminal justice system as a repressive tool to keep black people in their place,” Muhammad tells Moyers. “And it’s still with us.  It’s still with us, because ultimately, as a social problem, crime has become like it was in the Jim Crow South, a mechanism to control black people’s movement in cities.”

  • submit to reddit
  • Franksegura8

    great program, right on target with his book. I lived the 60’s and served in the army and could see right through the farce that was on display. and things haven’t changed. continue your good work. god bless

  • Vageiger

    Mr. Moyers, I implore you again to read Richard Slotkins trilogy on American history and also The Crater, and to watch his Itunes U lectures, and to have him on your show to explain to white Americans where their prejudices come from, how they are so culturally embedded in regeneration through regression narratives even though fallacious. 
    To your guest this week.  He is right on all the facts.  He is right on the racism.  But he fails to fully appreciate (how could he?) the narcissistic need of white Americans to tell themselves that they are better than other people (even other white people – bogus but the need is there).  And that all they do to supposedly support civilization is righteous, or we all sink into savagery.  The need of white people to believe drives them to create an antithesis, a cultural enemy, to project themselves against as better than…  White Americans are not going to give up their narcissism.  The tea party is a demonstrable example.  White Americans have striven to benefit from the labor of African Americans and now are seeking to benefit from the supposedly criminality of African Americans through the privatization of prisons.  The corporate control of African Americans, exemplified as clearly as anyone needs in Bloomberg’s NYPD policies.  There is no more corporate entity than Bloomberg.  African Americans have been, and continue to be, a source of corporate profits.  All as a result of White America’s narcissistic need to find a class of people who are less than them.  We will kill the others with our drones and hellfire misslels, we will continue to imprison African Americans at unrepresentative rates in the service of our desperate need to fell that we are better than them…..

  • Russ Conte

    Excellent interview. Many of the points made by Dr. Muhammad were outstanding in their clarity. This is the kind of information that deserves very wide exposure. We are better off learning as much as we can about these issues, and working to provide truly fair and equal treatment in all aspects of society for all its members. Hopefully this interview goes toward accomplishing that goal. I will be sharing these ideas with friends and colleagues, and encourage others to do so as well. Keep up the great work!

  • Edie

    Excellent history lesson by Dr. Muhammad on the history of racism in our country and why it is still with us today in criminalizing black men eg. in NYCity stop and frisk policy. I hope you will continue to have more history lessons that relate to our current problems with racism and disccrimination on your show. Discuss inequality of poor and rich and why poverty continue with Peter Edelman, author of So Rich, So Poor, and why poverty persists on your show.

  • Arizona Eagletarian

    I related a good bit of my childhood experience in Rochester, NY in the 1960s to what Mr. Muhammad set forth of the cultural history of Blacks in pre and post civil war America. Tensions in public schools with Black students as well as Hispanics (primarily Puerto Rican heritage at that time). Things my parents would say about minorities. Then race riots in the mid-1960s in the NorthEast and Mid West.

    High school began for me in Phoenix, Arizona going to school part year from 6am to noon and next semester noon to 6pm (double sessions). Less racial tension. Active in extra-curricullar activities, some sport related, some music and theater related. Within the group participating in common activities there was effective camaraderie. Then a year after HS, enlisted in USAF and spent intense time in team building training and indoctrination into the cultures and customs of the military. There was equal opportunity by race and gender.
    So, the mindset of my parents that blacks and hispanics were somehow genuinely inferior began to fade as I worked with airmen raised in different cultural customs than me. It became, over the years completely reasonable to consider the black and hispanic professional/co-worker as equal but distinguished by the quality of the work performed.

    Now, in my late 50s, the dramatic deficiency in practical application of human rights on MANY levels from the beginning of the great United States of America became clearer, gradually, but steadily.

    Now, in Arizona, it is not so much the Black American being targeted but the Mexican and others from South of our border.

    MANY believe that their concern is ONLY for those who entered the US illegally. But that’s the delusion of the rose colored glasses those folks wear to avoid having to come to grips with their own mindset of white privilege.

  • Bomadaz002

    very interesting …I want his book…

  • Bomadaz002

    oh it also paraells the  documentary “slavery by another name”

  • Esther Berry

    I love Bill Moyers always very informative, and balanced. May God Bless you Mr. Moyers with long life and good health. 

  • Billandjudith

    Thank you, Esther Berry.  Believe me, I’ve had a long and interesting life already.  Don’t make me greedy!

  • Billandjudith

    By Douglas Blackmon.  Get and read it.  And go to to see the documentary made about it.  Bill

  • Oscar Valladares

    A profound conversation of our nation’s legacy of discrimination and subjugation of non-white communities…

  • Rpdbine

    Thank you Mr. Moyers for inviting Mr. Muhammad.  One of the very best guests I heard since I came to America from East Europe more than 30 years ago. This interview is helping to see the “dark side” of American history. We all need to look more often and with greater intensity at this other side of this country.

  • Anna S. Mujahid

    Prof. Khalid Gibran Muhammad, as his name describes his stature, Bill Moyers’ guest is an astounding, astute scholar: a credit to the African-American race;  moreoever, a credit to the human race.

  • marie evans

    Excellent interview.

  • Bonnie Chafe

    Kudo’s to Mr. Muhammad for stepping up to speak on behalf of Native Americans as well as the history of Blacks!  Their story is the most misunderstood and he did an excellent job of giving them credit for their sacrifices in the birth of our country!

  • serendipity

    WE must spread the word,,,buy the book, send out a link to this interview. Thank you Bill Moyers you are amazing to take on this very controversial issue,,,, I love this comment made by someone in this email thread:  “Thank you Mr. Moyers for celebrating the July 4th. holiday by having Mr. Muhammad on to discuss the importance of confronting the contradictions of America’s past in regards to the history of slavery and to help us better understand the present issues of race and equality. This was a very needed discussion.” 

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Bill for this enlightening interview, the perfect bookend to Victoria: The Scramble for Africa. The legacy of the disgusting, immoral plundering of that continent surely still exists today, as does that of slavery in America.

    It’s a truth too ugly, and inconvenient to own in this so-called “post-racial” moment. That’s what it is, a moment in centuries of ungodly behavior perpetrated by whites against non-whites throughout history.

    As if electing a black president cleans our hands, and settles historical karma. Don’t think it works that way. Only truth, and responsibility can set us free from our past. Thank God for you Bill, and PBS for taking the high road.

    Can’t tell you how much I appreciate you and Dr KGM remembering Native Americans, and that legacy. Think we’re still paying for that, never enough. In case your readers missed We Shall Remain, per PBS, it’s a must see.

    Like Victoria, We Shall Remain should be taught in every classroom in America. But since history and our vote is for sale it is a constant struggle to live up to the promise of America, and beacon we could be. 

    Godspeed Mr Moyers, and PBS. This Texan’s behind you 100%. Got to draw a line in the sand on textbooks, and our childrens’ karma. Happy 4th, the dream is still alive, and the spirit of Tecumseh, a genuine American hero.


  • Rhashidah

    simply amazing. thank you for such a scholarly and informative interview. so often the contributions and injustices bestowed upon blacks in this country are told through, understandably, bitter descriptions of history. To have this same story told in a scholarly and objective fashion provides credence and validity to the harsh truths of the black persons’ plight in america.

  • Cass-q

    I agree that whites and especially white Americans seem to need to consider themselves better than other people – and agree it is narcisisstic,  but it is more than that,  and understanding can help more than over simplifying.  Seeing oneself as “better” is natural, seems to me, if people try to do something new, try new ways, and have some success.  The impression should be temporary, and relatively harmless.

    In the case of America, this impression of being bettter than others is maintained by isolation and ignorance of others, allowing prolongued narcisism.  White Americans are isolated by geography and sometimes geography by choice – and also by their perceived leadership position.  In ranked societies,  the groups at the top, are isolated from groups seen as below them (Horowitz, Ethnic  Groups in Conflict).  The groups below, don’t have the luxury or habit of ignoring the values and manners of the higher groups who define the structures of the society where they live and work.  So groups below watch and study and try to understand the reasoning of those above.  

    Being in contact, they often assume that knowledge across groups is mutual, but that is not the case.  For the leading groups “on top” don’t have a similar “need to know”.  In Montreal where I grew up, most French Canadians Montrealers could speak English, but despite bilingual schools, most English could not speak French.   Stereotypes prevailed, leading to inappropriate ladders to advancement for the French, as happens with Africcan Americans.  So the French ultimately rebelled, and threatened to cut off the province of Quebec from Canada.  Fortunately much more conversation ensued, and eventually laws were made that made French language the official language in all official documents.   

    We English were not “only” narcisssistic, seeing selves as “normal” and looking at the results, not realizing the biases – we saw ourselves as apparently better civilized, effective…  But in our isolation of leadership, we felt less “need to know” any French, or much about the culture.  Sometimes we’d try to learn, but most would give up quickly if they tried and failed. English speakers were often more shy in our interpretation of
    individualistic cultures, than were the French who were more group organized.  Our shyness made us  even more afraid and ashamed if we made mistakes, and so we avoided trying to speak French, and avoided settings where we had previously been embarassed. 

    I’ve seen pleny of this self doubt in my near 50 years in this country, as my white friends did not know how to participate in black culture  as I did, when I ended up  driving a school bus in desegregation.

    In Canada, I only learned to speak French informally, when I worked one summer, as the only English  Canadian working in the kitchen, where all the other workers were local townspeople in a rural, all French Canadian town.  I had submitted my application too late, to become a waitress as all the other English college students had done. 

    But I was the one who gained a whole new world.  I found that I loved the group culture in the kitchen,  was awed, grateful and inspired that my curiosity and flexibility were met with friendliness I didn’t expect in those days of language and economic clashes.  I learned gradually to communicate in French, with the company of those locals, and I finally got to know a culture I had lived beside all my  life – and from then on, realized my prior life was pretty ignorant.


  • Lionelboston

    great  show, it was educational, honest, fair, truthful, unbiased, real, inspiring, nonthreatening, and necessary. PBS and Mr. Bill Moyers are to be congratulated and celebrated for their continued educational, honest, and truthful presentations to and about America. For too long, unjustifiably so, for the black minorities of America, “their crime has been their color and their color continues to be their crime.” Thank you Mr. Moyers for having the courage to seek truth regardless of where it may lead as well as the courage to challenge the present school of thought concerning race in America. If only the rest of the white dominant culture could take their collective racial blinders off and become positively actional for the “betterment of all in America.” 
    “Mr. Muhammad, you are a scholar among scholars.”  

  • Shepherd2121

    Mr Moyers:  Thank you for presenting the facts that America demonizes Black America with dishonest statistics.  Thank you for mentioning “Slavery By Another Name”.

    John H Hayes says hello.

  • Seejaxon

    Thank you, Bill, for having Dr. Muhammad on your program.  He speaks a rational historical truth that many have never  been aware of, and many really don’t want to know about, because it’s an ugly history.  His shining a light on the history of Federal and State governments in this country vis-a-vis people of color was quite enlightening. 

    I would encourage every person interested in getting an understanding of the TRUE history of race relations with respect to public and private institutions to not only read his book, but also read “The Assassination of the Black Male Image” by Earl Ofari Hutchinson.  Those seeking the truth should also research The Black Codes, and the demise of Reconstruction.  The best way to combat ignorance is with education knowledge.

  • 00iyok00

    I live in Canada and i have to say that this is one of those great enlightement moments where the lighbulb has got to be turned on those that question the status quo. Thank you Mr. Moyers. I flipped the channel to your show as I was watching the Italy vs Spain game and didn’t go back until the end of your interview.

  • Karen Douglas

    While channel surfing for ‘light’ entertainment, I
    clicked on your show for a second, and immediately went back to your program; I
    was fortunate that I had not missed the entire episode.

    Your interview with Khalil Gibran Muhammad presented a
    wonderfully intelligent, concise, full-bodied and highly understandable
    discussion about race relations from local and global perspectives. This ‘eye
    opener’ conversation is what is sorely missing in our current society.

    Mr. Muhammad has the knowledge, clarity and controlled
    presentation to express what many others have tried (unsuccessfully) to do over
    the years. Yet, he has an ability to make all listeners fully grasp the
    messages being relayed regarding a subject that remains somewhat uncomfortable
    when discussed in mixed company, even in today’s world.

    Everyone, regardless of race, should hear this interview.
    Muhammad’s perspectives provide enlightened moments, while presenting old and
    new ‘race’ connections that I honestly had not thought of previously.

    Best conversation I have had the privilege to hear in
    years–left me wanting more. I will definitely locate, and read his book.

  • Dorchester for Obama

  • Bill Moyers

    Where is John now? BDM

  • Bill Moyers

    Tiger: I saw that BBC/PBS special on Africa. Very powerful.  BDM

  • Research

    What an important reminder that “those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it!” Bravo Bill for once more reminding us what we need to pay attention to!

  • Nicholas920us

    I never stop for interview shows but what an exception. This interview with Khalil Muhammad is outstanding and eye opening. 

  • Ana Lydia O-Monaco

    One of the best interviews about American History – ever.  Thank you for enlightening us Khalil Gibran Muhammad!

  • Ana Lydia O-Monaco

    Karen, you expressed my feelings about this interview beautifully.  Thank you.

  • Richard Muscarello

    I really enjoyed this. I am much better informed.

  • Barry

    I posted this interview on my FB page. I could post every interview conducted by BM but then my ‘friends’ would think I’m shilling for the show :) This interview focuses on the most critical issue facing Americans almost 150 years after the Civil War. Progress is slow but it’s not guaranteed. Thank you for introducing Dr. Muhmmad to your viewers.

  • Thewayofthegunn
  • Deborah Boyd

    If people think racial conflict is over are mostly white. While it is true that many people of color have been successful and well educated, the bulk of people of color are not doing as well as most white families in the USA. It is not far to go to Canada but there we see more progress in accepting diversity.

  • Jean Paul Fils-Aime

    A matter of race in America

  • Ivan Camilli

    And the contradictions about celebrating the 4Th of July do not end there.
    A whole country, Puerto Rico, has been held as a colony for 114 years this month of July, when it was invaded on July 25Th 1898. Sience that day, the 4Th of July has been a mandatory holiday in which the colonial government of Puerto Rico promotes the celebration of the invading power’s independence day but persecutes, with the help of the FBI and the US military intelligence, any advocate of Puerto Rican independence. These persecutions have ended in many cases in murder. But nobody in the US, not even individuals who are supposed to be aware of these things, like Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Michael Parenti, etc., ever mention this fact. By the way, Shomburg’s full name was Arturo Alfonso Shomburg. He was a black Puerto Rican.

  • Ishe

    So informative. Gonna share with friends and family. Def. gonna purchase the book!!

  • Hey_sigrid

    I enjoyed the show last night. I will be buying his book. 

  • MrYee

    The biggest advocates of Stop and Frisk, the policy’s strongest supporters, are the residents of the neighborhoods and housing projects being protected by the police.  I’ll side with them, not the civil liberty scholars in their air-conditioned midtown high-rise offices.

  • Virginiaclee47

    This is an eye opener for all people. We seldom get to ‘the why’ of why we are the way we are. It leaves me with hope for the future with the work  Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad is doing. Thank You, Bill Moyers

  • Adam

     This interview was indeed very informative. Thank You, Mr. Moyers

  • MrYee
  • 3leggeddog

    Perhaps  the imbalance of entitlements is the culprit. Since the Liberian experiment has not worked, the dole is a failure and bussing was a dud we need to adopt the 21st century Moslem slavery system where it is not considered slavery according to the Quran. It is the destiny of the enslaved . Thats all there is to it.


  • 3leggeddog

    PBS is always great. However lets destroy the slavery mystic.  Slavery is common in many societies in the 21st century and Islam is its precursor . . . rather than America . . .which has enough problems without it.  Remember too, as previously mentioned.  The Liberian  experiment failed no matter how many $$$$ were spent on it.

  • Goatince

    Great interview. Dr. Muhammad is a fair and balance scholar. The Condemnation of Blackness should be required reading for all law enforcement agents.

  • Jean Paul Fils-Aime

    America is a nation of Cowards

  • Camillicenturion

    To Jean Paul Fils-Aime.
    First, America is not a nation. It’s a continent of  which the United States took the name as if they are the only Americans. Second, if you think the USAmericans are a contry or nation of cowards, I desagree, you should explain why.

  • Ivan Camilli

    To Jean Paul Fils-Aime.
    First, America is not a nation. It’s a continent of  which the United States took the name as if they are the only Americans. Second, if you think the USAmericans are a contry or nation of cowards, I desagree, you should explain why.

  • Gpagne41

    Lestin and learn!

  • David F., N.A.

    Great interview! Mr. Muhammad gave some enlightening responses, but I still have one question.  So, since our state schools have to answer to our state legislatures, does this mean that we’ll soon be replacing Physics and Astronomy with Ghostology and UFO Recognition Techniques?  Wow, science fiction is really becoming reality.  I wonder what will happen if I click my heels together three times…

  • Smithjr Jurnell

    I would like to purchase the segment of Khalil Gibran Muhammand o  Facing Our Racial Past, could you put me on the right path to how may i obtain a copy: my email address is:, Tele: 337:580-2870, Thanks for your assistance

  • phylis salom

    Khalil Muhammad Very intelligent but  I don’t agree with his conclusions. What he says is true but I think he leaves out the fact that all the europeans groups were helped by the people who came before them. Blacks don’t help each other. They think only the whites should help them. He should spend more time teaching young black men and women that a good education is what will help them the most.  Stop blaming whites and show the whites they can succeed if they stay in school and succeed like Mr. Muhammad did. I was mugged 3 times in the past three years by youmg black men. When my parents came from Eastern Europe there were private groups who helped. The government did nothing to help us, but we succeeded because we went to college. Phylis Salom

  • Anonymous

      I found your historical demonstration of Black Coding and its present use in our nation a bitter truth.   But I am convinced that if we do not learn from history we are doomed to repeat it.  It astonishes me that a Civil War had to tear this nation apart and even then could not find a lasting solution.  What made that even more astonishing is the fact that there was a
    nation Brazil with roughly the same number – but had a completely different institution of Slavery than was found in our American South.  In Brazil you could own a man’s labor but you could not own his person.   Their culture recognized
    that it is not enough to be an individual you are a Person.  An
    animal is an individual a Human is a Person.   This simple
    differ4ence allowed a man to be free to learn to read and write- to marry and raise children and never be separated from family.   To join the military and rise in rank.  To earn on your own time and buy your freedom.  Thru these and many other
    ways Slavery was abolished in Brazil with out violence.   
          Our young Black Men are not mere individuals to be
    branded like animals – they are Persons-each unique and

  • Grosmad

     I am Black and I lived in Eastern Europe, I had several (3)  of my friends killed in the streets at night, one of my closed friends lost his eye forever when one morning he was found in the garbage left for dead. No investigation has ever been conducted to find the perpetrators.  All this misery happened just because they were black, in a sense I consider myself to be a survivor, because for all the years I spent there it could have been me.
    In addition let me put a few words here about Eastern Europeans, they are kind of new white savages, trying to grab everything that was left following slavery, racism and their defeat by the civil rights. They contribute in exacerbating the racial  tension in America because they think that if their history does not record their participation in the slavery trade and its consequences they are free of any kind of responsibility in whatever happened to the blacks as people. I know the Estearn European very well and the truth about them is that the whole Europe regret to have freed them from Communisn, as they brought poverty and lack of civility across Europe. With these people coming to America the rank of the racist mostly got some addition: they get easily enrolled in the Police, the whole system has no resistance to their expansion and development as a group (which is not bad). They do their best to ignore is that they are walking on soil that has the sweat and blood of black people in every seed of sand.
    What I would like people like you to do is to show some dignifying respect for American history and don’t bring your Eastern European mess into the quagmire. Because as a people we are everywhere and we know everybody too. And sorry if you have been attacked by Black men, it’s probably because some country doesn’t care about them. When America care we get Black men like Mohamad, like Barack, like Miles Davis. I hope you love JAZZ!

  • Maryrounds

     Phyllis:  Your unsubstantiated and untrue statement:  “Blacks don’t help each other”  is proof in and of itself that what he says is true.  You think somehow that you know the nature of all black people and that  insufficient nature in your mind is the root of all problems they face.   You do not hear what he is saying.

  • Sabahelilebilal

    Mr Yee,

    I understand your comment, however, you are missing the bigger picture here. we are learning the “why” here. Now we should address the causes and eradicate them.  Just think if the system was working for our youth, our young people would be involved in activities that would lead to a bright future.

    I would round up these thugs and place them in some kind of boot camp with strong male and female leaders for a year or so.  Instead of spending millions on incarceration which leads to a lifetime of crime, I say early proactive intervention.  I would identify the at risk as early as preteen and deal with them.  Especially if they have no strong familial support system.   Single mothers need help. They cant do it all.

    Women are accountable as well. Stop having babies when you are unprepared.  Stop choosing the WRONG men. A teen age girl is not ready to be a parent.

    Sabah Bilal

  • Pwg1217

    I was captivated by the discussion regarding race by Khalil.  At 64 years of age, I relived my growing awareness and understanding of the issue over the years.  As a child growing up in deep south Texas, I never saw a black person until my teens.  But I saw similar treatment of Mexican Americans on a daily basis. 

    My parents were deeply conservative politcally and religiously but they never, never ever said an ill word about blacks, latinos or any other group except Democrats and Catholics.

    All of the schools I attended were predominantly Mexican American.  I played little league baseball with Freddie Campos who later became an SEC Commissioner.  There were so many gifted children of Mexican American descent like Freddie I never saw any reason to see minority groups as inferior in any way.

    When I was very young, I was beaten once or twice by older white boys who thought I was Mexican because of my complexion that turns almost mahogany in color in the Texas summer sun.  I remember a neighbor G.E. Martin who stepped in to defend me telling the other boys that I wasn’t a mexican.

    As the show ended, Khalil made a remark about vagrancy laws that brought back a memory that I had forgotten long ago.  I was a freshman at Texas A&I in Kingsville and took the bus home one weekend.  I got off the bus with suitcase in hand and walked towards my father’s business which was just a few blocks away. 

    I had not gotten more than one city block when a local policeman stopped me and started asking me what I was doing in town, where was I going, what business did I have there.

    I told him I had live in Harlingen for 18 years and that I was home from school for the weekend and was walking to my fathers business a few blocks away.  After a few more questions, he let me go.  It was clear however that I was under suspicion of “vagrancy”.  My complexion was still deep umber in color in September

    I had not thought of that incident for over 40 years until Khalil’s comments threw me back to the future.

  • Matthew Jones

    Isn’t there the possibility of choosing the low road everywhere, that there are low lifes that come out of the woodwork when society allows them to. exactly what happened in Eastern Europe, no freedom, no true justice system, a few rich people at the top skimming off all the mechanical goodies of society, yet propagandizing “communism” …

  • Josh Hampton


  • Rosa

    Dr.Khalil Gibran, Muhammand knows the “richness” of our history and culture. That means not just the expertise of those with the degree and acclaimed but, those who share the bare Truth! of who we are as African-American people!

  • Anonymous

    Excellent interview, I would suggest ProfMohammed check the criminal population of Alaska and those who have been arrested/spent time in Prison to gauge “White Criminality” as a % of population

  • shep

    Mr Moyers: Your friend, John H Hayes, has just completed a new book called “Abanda” , in 1941, about his life as a boy with his sharecropping mother, father, and siblings. It is better than “To Kill A Mocking Bird” in that it describes the Jim Crowe days to a “T” with a trial and all. Send me an address and I’ll see that you get a copy. (I see him just about every day) Would be great discussion for a program. Mr. Muhammad might want a copy too. Lester Shepherd, 1350 CR 249, Roanoke, Alabama 36274.

  • shep

    Just left you another note, above, today . This is the first I have seen ur reply of two months ago. He is at 1333 County Road 227, Lafayette, Alabama 36862. Cattle rancher. Nicest person I have ever known. Says he is going to send you the “Abanda” book mentioned above via the publisher. Watch for it! Short (150 pages) but real strong.

  • Dee Dee

    Thank God for Bill Moyer……who is a good pink person doing his good works for the Lord Jesus Christ!! Now we know which race satan is pimp slapping!! I would rather be on the side of God than on the side of the wicked and evil.

  • Chrehn

    I enjoyed your interview with Khalil Gibran Muhammad, despite the very poor transmission by KCTS. It was very enlightening. I agree fully with what he had to say. Please keep up the good work.

  • Anonymous

    I am so sorry that I unfortunately missed what was undoubtedly a wonderful dialog that has sorely been absent in the American conversation. I do thank you for the clip that I was able to view.

  • Sieglinde Alexander

    GIBRAN MUHAMMAD, repeats what has puzzled me since I read, as a European, the
    American history 40 years ago.

    me to extract some sentences that struck a sensitive nerve long time ago.

    other words, I am obviously a proponent of historical literacy that focuses in
    particular on African Americans. But even as I talk to you, even as we have
    this conversation about the Declaration of Independence, it’s almost an
    afterthought to think about Native Americans.

    MOYERS: The Declaration refers to Native Americans as savages. They were
    written out, as you say, of the story very early.”

    ask the question – where is Justice? – has the Supreme Court never thought of
    correcting the longstanding error and admitting the past action as a human
    rights violation?

    MOYERS: “…Do you think it had something to do with the unconscious or even
    conscious understanding on the part of the white slave-holding property-seeking
    race that we were practicing genocide, we, the white race, were practicing
    genocide against these people?”

    I ask; is there another explanation for such oppressive behavior?

    fundamental oxymoron described here, should wake up the supreme court:

    GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: “No, I mean, it reminds me of a quote that George Walker Bush
    used, which was that this is an ownership society and if you don’t own
    anything, you don’t have any say.”

    is it possible to become rich based on a stealing?

    can anybody own a piece of a land that was stolen, later sold or handed down to
    the next generation? If I understand the US-law correctly, you are
    never the rightful owner of stolen goods.

  • Anonymous

    Not once has Khalil Muhammad mentioned the Jewish role in the transatlantic slave trade. Think about it, Europeans never owned slaves in Europe. The practice was introduced in the Americas by Jewish slave merchants. African-Americans, those who are concerned about this issue, should confront the Jewish community to face their historical past and involvement in slave trade throughout the new world.

  • Anonymous

    What stealing are you talking about? The land? Because it is now generally accepted by anthropologists that Europeans and Asians were the FIRST Americans. And before them were dinosaurs.

  • Karen Edmond

    I found this discussion pivotal. (Thanks Bill you’re a chip
    off the old block! And I mean that in a Reconstructionist, progressive, manner
    ^_^ (lol).) It is important for Black folk to know, where all this self-hatred
    and pettiness comes from. If we as a
    people aren’t given valid, clear truths, of why we treat ourselves in a
    negative petty, manner, and why we are treated a certain way per society in a
    negative hateful, manner, we won’t be able to address the issues that blocks,
    or distracts, us from exercising our full citizenships and rights. (Like making
    a difference in the communities we live in!)

    Otherwise Black folk, will never be able to take a stand what’s
    happening to use, unless we have a clear communications, such as Khalil book
    shares, of why we, (Black folk,) are in the predicament are in today. (Repression, high school dropout rates, blocked
    access to owning a home, first one fired last one hired, segregation, police brutality, murders,
    homelessness, being treated as if our
    issues are to be invisible, etc, etc,.

    His lay out of historical facts gives the reader, an
    equation, that points, out each factor, that leads the answer of why the Negro
    has not progressed as effectively, as we should have in these last 30-40 years
    and why our native American cousins have been erased from our local communities. Books like Mr. Muhammad’s, “The
    Condemnation of Blackness,” “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle, Alexander,”
    Dr. Joy Leary’s “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome,” (and a host of
    others,) brings clarity and understanding in a judicious, manner. These informative writings, can help Black
    folk escapes the self-destructive, strategies, of both self-hating Black folk,
    & ill-informed White folk. BTW…^_^ Hey
    wouldn’t it be cool if these three authors had a
    talk show on prime time TV like they gave Oprah! (Ooooow child that would be a hoot to
    poot!) Never the less I thank Mr.
    Muhammad for being the scholar he is and Mr. Moyer for sharing the book, “The
    Condemnation of Blackness,” with the public!

  • John

    Outstanding interview,,,,,,,,,,,,

  • Dr. Ronald Hill

    As a historian Dr. Muhammad seems to enjoy re-writing past events. In his interview he used the example of immigrants being helped to become Americans through social services. These services helped newly landed citizens learn english and become Americans. What Dr. Muhammad failed to mentioned was that in most cases these were groups organized to help themselves. For instance there were (and still are) Jewish organizations founded and run by Jews to help other Jews. Dr. Muhammad is obviously touting a particular world view. I would challenge him to use the past to improve the future, rather than play that worn out song of the race card. African Americans have been given advantages over European Americans. Isn’t it time that African Americans start acting like Americans like the German, Irish, Jewish and other immigrant groups?

  • Claretha Wells

    Phylis – The fact that Dr. Khalil Muhammad has brought these
    facts forward, is education for our
    African American children…and respectfully your reality is not ours, our
    people were enslaved and brought to this county and many of my foremothers were
    raped mugged and murdered by white slave owners and were not allowed to read
    let along attend college. So our realities are like apples and oranges and
    cannot be compared.

    Claretha Wells, black college educated mother of an college
    educated daughter and 2 grandsons currently in college.

  • Anonymous

    This was great!

  • Katherine van Wormer

    I want to share information about our book on our racial past to see if you might help
    spread the word. This is The Maid Narratives:Black Domestics and White Families in the Jim
    Crow South. Info. at:

  • Uncontainable Spirit

    You’re looking at this in a vacuum. The ENTIRE structure of the society that you and your forefathers/mothers were coming into was not designed with their demise at heart Phylis. When your parents came from Eastern Europe they were accepted into this culture. If there were biases against them they weren’t codified. In short, there were people who ‘could’ assist them. Who is to help the enslaved person who has known nothing but slavery all his/her life? Who ‘comes before him’ but another slave? Furthermore, please do a bit of research on Black Wall Street in Tulsa OK. It is a sterling example of the vitriol and pejorative acts perpetrated against a group of blacks ‘in part by the government no less’ who not only attempted but were highly successful in doing what you suggested. That you were mugged by black men is not NEARLY as important as the fact that you were mugged at all. The race is the Red Herring. The race is the logical fallacy. You diminish yourself Ma’am.

  • Tyrone Harvey


    It is a fact that in America being born black is a strike against you “DAY ONE”! Especially if born black and male! Black males are hated and fear and disrespected and extremely discriminated against! When a police officer (or person with gun) murder an “UNARMED” “NON- CONBATIVE” handcuffed black male. The first thing the police department does is release any criminal record or traffic violation. Or in the case of Trayvon Martin his school grades and how many times he been suspended from school. All these thing are to justify the murder of a “UNARMED” black male! If the murderer can paint a picture of a scary thug black evil uneducated trouble maker totally evil black male! “THE BOOGIE MAN” A jury can relate and justify the murder of a “UNARMED” black male!

    Defense attorneys in the George Zimmerman case released evidence they discovered onTrayvon Martin‘s cell phone, including text messages in which he wrote about taking part in organized fights.The new evidence also includes texts in which he wrote that his mother had just kicked him out of the house and that he was in trouble for cutting class at school. The evidence packet also includes two dozen photos, one that shows him with gold teeth and one of him making an obscene gesture. Some of the photos have been widely circulated online, but today defense attorneys officially notified prosecutors that they intend to use them at Zimmerman’s second-degree murder trial June 10.The Judge in the Trayvon Martin murder was very irresponsible in not ordering a gag ….To allow the defense Atty. to release negative text and picture of Trayvon only help to sway juror ……..!!

    QUESTION: How can any of that stuff be called evidences? I thought evidence was to be about the night “UNARMED” Trayvon Martin was murder! Whether Trayvon Martin’s mother threw him out or sent him to live with his father SO WHAT! How does that justify George Zimmerman killing Trayvon? Or a teenager talking about organizing fights. Which coming from a teenager could be a total LIE! Cutting class at school and walking home from a store should not lead to getting killed. Or rather justify murder! Also none of the so-call evidence was known to Zimmerman before he murdered Trayvon.. There are a selection of photo of Trayvon one showing a gold tooth. This is evidence to what?? So how is it relevant you asked???

    See the relevant is painting Trayvon Martin as scary thug black evil uneducated trouble maker totally evil black male! “THE BOOGIE MAN”!The Defense attorneys in the George Zimmerman case knows the racist negative stereotype of black males. The history of black hatred! He understands that he must paint Trayvon as a black negative stereotype! Because otherwise he would have to explain how George Zimmerman on the night and first site of Trayvon. Stalk and murdered an “UNARMED” Trayvon Martin walking home. With ice tea candy and a cell phone wearing a hoodie! The Defense Attorney would have to explain what criminal act Trayvon Martin was doing. To justify Zimmerman calling 9/11! Then telling the dispatcher that Trayvon looked like he was up to something and on drugs!

    Remember Zimmerman “NEVER” met Trayvon but stated “they always get away”! He also called Trayvon a “fu&ken Punk” and a “asshole”! To-date Zimmerman “HAS NOT” stated anything Trayvon Martin was doing criminal!


    The question of who started the fight that led to Trayvon Martin death! There is also a question of who was screaming that night! Well I have the solution and the answer! First the answer to who started the fight it was George Zimmerman that started the fight. At first sight of Trayvon Martin Zimmerman called 9/11 and stated that Trayvon looked like he was up to something….Zimmerman also stated to the dispatcher that Trayvon looked like he was on drugs or something…..Zimmerman then called Trayvon ( a person he never met) a Fu$ken Punk…..and a asshole ….Zimmerman also stated “they always get away” …WHO? He never met Trayvon …Is the “THEY” black people or black criminals or Trayvon family????

    Now the solution to who was screaming the night Trayvon was murder! Well Trayvon is DEAD! George Zimmerman is alive. Have George Zimmerman go back to the seen at the same time of the incident. And be record by the same recording device screaming the same words……Now in my opinion the screaming came from Trayvon……Zimmerman had the gun …Why would he be screaming? And ones the shot was fire the screaming stop!

  • Tyrone Harvey



    This story would more believable if it involve two year old children but know it involve two grown 210 plus pound police officer . With guns mace and tasers! Miami-Dade Police says two white officers were forced to throw a black beach-going 14-year-old to the ground and forcibly restrain him because of clenched fists and “dehumanizing stares,” as first reported by CBS Miami.

    But Tremaine McMillian says he was merely walking along the beach on Memorial Day, feeding his puppy from a bottle, when police brutalize him. Cell phone video shot by his helpless mother shows the unarmed teen pressed to ground at Haulover Beach as one police officer holds his forearm across McMillian’s throat and another places him in handcuffs. While choking the 14 year old the child urinate on himself! His puppy was also injure and the police officer felt they were justify! OUTRAGEOUS!


    QUESTION: Where is the outrage from every parent of all races?

    Why are these cops not charge with brutality and child abuse?

    Why are these cops not fire discipline or in jail or prison?



    If the residents of Florida do nothing if the parent of the child not file charges and or sued and asked for the immediate dismissal…..They put every American child in danger! If cops are given the right to choke slam to the ground . A child for staring children are going to DIE! Already there are WWB…Walking While Black…….DWB…..Driving While Black” ….NOW….WWS” …Walking While Stares ….Americans around the country should protest this abuse and demand the officers dismissal! Or prepare for the death of their children by police!

  • goodgiant

    What Dr. Khalil Muhammad is saying is absolutely correct. Blacks are still being governed by black codes & Jim Crow laws through a different strategy that can be deemed as “economic oppression.” Until Blacks wake-up and start controlling their own resources matters will get worse before they get better. It’s really that simple…

  • Charles Curly Eason

    Thank you for reminding ME and America of its past and Thank You INTERNET!!!

  • Charles Curly Eason

    You are right on target…TYhank you!!!

  • Charles Curly Eason

    Dr. you need to read more history of the contributions that my people of color or AMERICAN from African DESCENT have made. Even I as a layman continue to learn of those contributions that’s not taught in public schools. I find that most races have a worn out race card to play which is part of their history. Your comment: ‘ “I would challenge him to use the past to improve the future..” ‘ Check this out>>>

  • Diane Isaac

    An excellent interview that elucidates the problem of institutionalized racism in America. What I find most alarming is the fact that Americans, no matter what ethnic origin seem disinterested in having conversations regarding race – which need to be had now more than ever since the races are becoming more mixed. Children of interracial relationships need to properly educated about their heritage, and all that comes with it so that they can continue to fight for change and equality.

  • Anonymous

    Stop and Frisk is an embarrassment. I liked a lot of what Bloomberg had done but this is outrageous. This kind of harassment should not be tolerated. What kind of psychological damage is this doing to these kids?What message are we sending to them?

  • Anonymous

    the conversation is very unnerving because you don’t want to offend a minority,out of ignorance (and we are ALL ignorant about other ethnicities) and you don’t want to seem racist.
    As a hispanic person,I’ll give you all a heads up,I hate to be called “puerto rican” in the north and “mexican” in the south because that says to me that you don’t see me as a person,as a fellow human being,you see me as a “them”. No matter how nice someone may seem to be,the moment I see they’ve made those assumptions I realize they weren’t speaking with ME,they were talking at that “latino woman” and our conversation loses any charm or beauty it might have had.

  • Anonymous

    exactly,this should outrage all parents of all races. This is child abuse. They have no voice at all and it’s up to the adult to act like adults and protect them which is our job.

  • Anonymous

    African American are not viewed or treated as Americans by much of white america,that’s the problem we’re discussing. Isn’t it time America started seeing all their Americans as American?

  • Anonymous

    I don’t understand the catholic hatred in the south. Could you explain to me where that comes from. the thought of one christian hating another christian for their religion seems incredibly ridiculous to me. I also wanted to give you a quick reminder that a vast number of us latinos are not Mexican but rather from the other 20+ counties and territories in Central and South America.

  • Anonymous

    i think he’s trolling

  • Jesse Smith

    Claretha, I agree. But let me add another thought to the discussion. When the founding father of American wrote the founding documents, The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, those documents did not refer or even consider the black man. The definition of “man” never did include us. Blacks were still considered property and considered non human. So the basic building blocks of this society did not include us. That is why every right or privelege obtained by blacks was attained through protest and blood shed. These are some of the same rights that most non blacks take for granted. Our reality is this. We must continually prove that we have a place in this society and that we deserve the same rights that all other citizens have. Some non blacks say we play the race card too much, but those same folk daily remind us of our ethnicity. Being a black person in America and even in other countries is trying and exhausting.

  • Queen Mennon

    white people do not want to acknowledge how they have treated african americans. they did not give us land as they promised. when we did establish separate towns those towns they were destroyed by envious white people. when marcus garvey tried to get us out of here, his efforts were thwarted. yes, being a Black person in america has been exhausting. I am sick and tired of it. racial hostility is all I know. we had a breather for about 25 years while the country was being plundered.

  • Anonymous

    The thought that “no other community in America would put up with these outrages” sticks out to me. We should speak for our own first and foremost. Has the african in america been so conditioned as to be unable to evoke their voice with power and respect? There is a voice, there is a way to be heard, free of negritudes but on the basis of our humanity. In this new world order they are trying to create, what they have done to blacks is what they would like to do to all people, Incite fear, break the will. White privilege only goes as far as the riot cops baton.