This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Anthony Russo
Anthony Russo

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From how Muhammad Ali helped globalize Black Power to whether American Samoans are American citizens, a special ‘American Empire’ edition of this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Muhammad Ali helped make black power into a global brand

Peniel Joseph
Not Even Past

Muhammad Ali did not simply choose to be a cultural icon. He was also chosen. Elevated by unsurpassed boxing skills and athletic prowess to become heavyweight champion of the world, Ali transcended sports through radical political activism that has, with the passage of time, been largely smoothed of its rough edges. He broke the mold introducing a new brand of masculinity, more humorous and more vulnerable than anything the world had seen before. Political friendships with Malcolm X and membership in the Nation of Islam announced the newly crowned boxing champ as a provocateur, one whose Cheshire cat smirk hid rivers of simmering anger, pain and barely contained rage. For a time boxing offered an outlet to the rage Ali felt about the unceasing racial humiliations of Jim Crow and the violence meted out against civil rights demonstrators across the country.

Malcolm X & Ali
Malcolm X photographs Ali in February 1964, after his first defeat of Sonny Liston to become world heavyweight champion. Via Wikipedia.

But by 1967 Ali had seen enough. The most visible Nation of Islam member in the aftermath of Malcolm X’s 1965 assassination, Ali’s resistance to the draft and friendship with civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael made him perhaps the most visible Black Power activist of his generation. In doing so, Ali bridged the worlds between sports, popular culture, politics and activism in unimaginably profound ways. While contemporaries such as Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown and Boston Celtics star Bill Russell were outspoken civil rights activists, none matched Ali’s youth, charisma and global appeal. [continue reading]

Setback for Puerto Rico’s independent powers

Lyle Deniston

Amid a lofty discussion of what the Constitution says about “sovereignty,” a divided Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that Puerto Rico does not have independent authority to prosecute someone for the same crime that has been charged in federal court.  The argument appears to diminish the constitutional stature that the Puerto Rican government thought it has had for nearly seven decades.

The Court’s six-to-two ruling in Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle also raised questions about what the commonwealth can do to reduce its massive public debt.  The Court, of course, is explicitly pondering that authority in a separate case (Puerto Rico v. Franklin California Tax-Free Trust), and a decision in that case is expected soon, but the outcome there might be influenced by Thursday’s ruling. [continue reading]

Why Trump Now? It’s the Empire, Stupid

Greg Grandin

Is Donald Trump a fascist? It’s an interesting question that has generated insightful commentary over the past few months, with the best answers situating Trumpian illiberalism within America’s long history of racial oppression, slavery, Jim Crow apartheid, and the ongoing backlash to the loss of white privilege. But a key concept is missing from this discussion: empire. In particular, the way in which the end of the American empire—especially the exhaustion of its two most recent expressions, neoliberal economics and neoconservative militarism—has profoundly transformed its domestic politics.

One of the things that has made America exceptional—compared to other crisis-prone and class-conflicted countries—is that it has long enjoyed a benefit no other modern nation in the world could claim: the ability to engage in ceaseless, endless movement outward. There have been many other empires, formal and informal. And many countries have something approximating a frontier. But in no other nation has the idea and experience of expansion been so integral to its nationalism: America, even before it its constitution as an independent republic, was conceived in expansion, its settlers exhibiting what Thomas Hobbes called an “insatiable appetite, or Bulimia, of enlarging Dominion.”[continue reading]

Citizen Khan

Kathryn Schulz
New Yorker

The first person in Sheridan, Wyoming, to learn that Hot Tamale Louie had been knifed to death was William Henry Harrison, Jr. The news came by telegram, the day after the murder. Harrison was the son of a member of Congress, the great-grandson of one President, the great-great-great-grandson of another President, and the great-great-great-great-grandson of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Hot Tamale Louie was the son of nobody knows who, the grandson of nobody knows who, and the great-great-grandson of nobody knows who. He had been selling tamales in Sheridan since Buffalo Bill rode in the town parade, sold them when President Taft came to visit, was still selling them when the Russians sent Sputnik into space and the British sent the Beatles to America.

By then, Louie was a local legend, and his murder shocked everyone. It was front-page, above-the-fold news in Sheridan, and made headlines throughout Wyoming, Colorado, and South Dakota. It travelled by word of mouth across the state to Yellowstone, and by post to California, where former Sheridan residents opened their mailboxes to find letters from home-town friends mourning Louie’s death. [continue reading]

Are American Samoans American?

Christina Duffy Ponsa
New York Times

THE Supreme Court will soon decide whether to hear an appeal in Tuaua v. United States, which poses the question of whether the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment applies to American Samoa. That this is a question at all is puzzling, and not just because it’s called American Samoa.

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” The United States annexed the eastern half of a group of Pacific islands known as the Samoas at the end of the 19th century. As a result, those islands became American Samoa. Surely, people born in American Samoa are legally speaking born in the United States and therefore citizens by birth. Easy, right? Not so easy. The answer is that no one knows for sure. [continue reading]

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