I have spent decades reading, teaching and writing about American History. I have grappled with the systemic racism that has fouled our nation from its colonial beginnings. In my classes, I strove to make sure that my students understood and remembered the significance of these names and events among many others. Nat Turner. The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1918. The Scottsboro Boys. Emmett Till. The Four Little Girls of Birmingham. I integrated their stories into my lectures. This was not Black history, I insisted. It was our American history. George Floyd takes his place on a list whose name encompasses tens of thousands of victims of our past and present racism.
I do not exaggerate when I say I have never feared more for my country. The outcome of our elections may well determine whether the possibility of a multiracial democratic America still exists. I will do everything in my power to remove a racist president whose actions and words defile all of us.
I also know how much our regional and state elections matter. Last November, I rejoiced when New Yorkers elected Letitia James, an accomplished African American woman as our attorney general. That she has oversight over our vast prison system gives me hope for true reform in our criminal and justice system.
Whom we elect to represent us in the 125th Assembly seat also matters more than ever. We cannot restore our state’s economy unless we build a New York truly committed to racial and economic justice. That why I already cast my absentee vote for Seph Murtagh. Actions matter. We know how well Seph represents all voices in the racially and diverse Ithaca Second Ward. Seph’s work teaching incarcerated men at Auburn Prison is less well known. His essay about this experience and the insights he took from it, A Hive of Mysterious Danger, reveals compassion, empathy and a deep appreciation of the scars inflicted by our mass incarceration system and the systemic racism that it fosters.
In these terrible and challenging times, we need to send our toughest and our most compassionate, an individual best prepared by experience and temperament candidate. Seph Murtagh is that person.
Neufeld Founders Professor Emeritus
ILR School, Cornell University.