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MARX: A HERO FOR OUR TIME? — Suddenly, everyone from the Wall Street Journal to Rolling Stone seems to be talking about Karl Marx. Louis Proyect delves into this mysterious resurgence, giving a vivid assessment of Marx’s relevance in the era of globalized capitalism. THE MEANING OF MANDELA: Longtime civil rights organizer Kevin Alexander Gray gives in intimate portrait of Nelson Mandela and the global struggle of racial justice. FALLOUT OVER FUKUSHIMA: Peter Lee investigates the scandalous exposure of sailors on board the USS Reagan to radioactive fallout from Fukushima. SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT: Kim Nicolini charts the rise of Matthew McConaughey. PLUS: Mike Whitney on the coming crash of the housing market. JoAnn Wypijewski on slavery, torture and revolt. Chris Floyd on the stupidity of US policy in Ukraine. Kristin Kolb on musicians and health care. And Jeffrey St. Clair on life and death on the mean streets of an America in decline
The People Who Really Built Washington, DC

The Education of Paul Ryan

by CARLA BLANK

When Paul Ryan recently insinuated that the poor “in our inner cities,” are lazy, and revealed the source of his code for criticizing a “culture” of “men not working,” by citing Charles Murray’s infamous Bell Curve, where Murray argued that blacks are genetically inferior to whites, many were quick to point out Ryan’s gross and offensive inaccuracies.

We could charitably add that Ryan is likely a victim of a deficient education, as the full story of how our nation’s capital came to be is rarely included in elementary or secondary U. S. history courses. Could Paul Ryan not know that every day he goes to work as a member of Congress, he enters a building built by ancestors of those he targets with these kinds of inaccurate statements and his recent cruel budget offering, because the builders of Washington, D.C. were the poor, immigrants, and enslaved and free blacks?

The newly invented “Federal Territory” that would come to be known as Washington D.C. could not be justified as the nation’s center of finance, commerce, culture, fashion, and learning, as was the case with most European capital cities. Counter to those Northerners who wanted to maintain Philadelphia as the capital, it was chosen to appease slaveholding lawmakers who needed the capital’s location moved to the area south of the Mason-Dixon Line, where slavery was currently legal.

Southern Congressmen were already in a state of alarm because in the current capital city of Philadelphia, “any slave brought into the city could be held for no longer than six months, after which he or she was automatically manumitted.” Both Jefferson and Washington were concerned this ruling could cause them to lose, among other valuable slaves, their prized cooks as the quality of guests’ entertainment was an important asset to any public official.  Washington, a lavish entertainer, jested that his guests were turning his home into a tavern. In Jefferson’s case his cook, James Hemings, who had been trained to prepare fine French cuisine while Jefferson was serving the U.S. in France, was so irreplaceable that he even paid Hemings a salary to keep him content with his position.

Washington, D.C. functioned as a major hub of the domestic slave trade because of its location midway between the upper and lower South. Sightings of Africans in chains being transferred to a holding pen or to board a ship caused President James Madison’s secretary to complain, in 1809, about “the ‘revolting sight’ such ‘gangs of Negroes’ presented in the streets of the capital that prided itself on its democracy and freedom.” In fact, slave labor was widely employed on federal city projects from their beginnings in 1790, from ground breaking and initial construction continuing through replacement and renovations on...

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