An African American and Latinx History of the United States Professor Paul Ortiz RCNV seminar, Spring 2020

The first online seminar in the history of RCNV was led by Professor Paul Ortiz on his groundbreaking book, An African American and Latinx History of the United States.

Dr. Ortiz’s seminar examined how Eurocentric narratives crowded out stories of African American and Latinx resilience, survival and resistance in the early decades of the republic. This university-level seminar served community members who cannot access University of California courses, and activists who learned white-centric histories from American schooling.

Dr. Paul Ortiz is the director of the award-winning Samuel Proctor Oral History Program and professor of history at the University of Florida. Dr. Ortiz is a former steering committee member of the Resource Center for Nonviolence.

Spanning more than two hundred years, An African American and Latinx History of the United States is a revolutionary, politically charged narrative history, arguing that the “Global South” was crucial to the development of America as we know it. Scholar and activist Paul Ortiz challenges the notion of westward progress as exalted by widely taught formulations like “manifest destiny” and “Jacksonian democracy,” and shows how placing African American, Latinx, and Indigenous voices unapologetically front and center transforms U.S. history into one of the working class organizing against imperialism.

Drawing on rich narratives and primary source documents, Ortiz links racial segregation in the Southwest and the rise and violent fall of a powerful tradition of Mexican labor organizing in the twentieth century, to May 1, 2006, known as International Workers’ Day, when migrant laborers—Chicana/os, Afrocubanos, and immigrants from every continent on earth—united in resistance on the first “Day Without Immigrants.” As African American civil rights activists fought Jim Crow laws and Mexican labor organizers warred against the suffocating grip of capitalism, Black and Spanish-language newspapers, abolitionists, and Latin American revolutionaries coalesced around movements built between people from the United States and people from Central America and the Caribbean. In stark contrast to the resurgence of “America First” rhetoric, Black and Latinx intellectuals and organizers today have historically urged the United States to build bridges of solidarity with the nations of the Americas.

Dr. Ortiz was one of the guest speakers for the RCNV 2020 Annual Community Celebration. You can watch here:

Table of Contents for:  An African American and Latinx History of the United States

Changing the Narrative: Placing the Black Freedom Struggle along with Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa at the Center of United States History, 1776-Present.

Author’s note: growing up Chicano, experiences in US Special Forces, Latin America, 1980s

Introduction: “Killed Helping Workers to Organize”: Re-Envisioning American History 

Chapter 1: The Haitian Revolution and the Birth of Emancipatory Internationalism, 1770s to 1820s

Chapter 2: The Mexican War of Independence and US History: Anti-Imperialism As a Way of Life, 1820s to 1850s

Chapter 3: “To Break the Fetters of Slaves All Over the World”: The Internationalization of the Civil War, 1850s to 1865

Chapter 4:  Global Visions of Reconstruction: The Cuban Solidarity Movement, 1860s to 1880s

Chapter 5:  Waging War on the Government of American Banks in the Global South, 1890s to 1920s

Chapter 6:  Forgotten Workers of America: Racial Capitalism and the Working Class, 1890s to 1940s

Chapter 7:  Emancipatory Internationalism vs. The American Century, 1945 to 1960s

Chapter 8: El Gran Paro Estadounidense: The Rebirth of the American Working Class, 1970s to present. 

Epilogue: A New Origin Narrative of American History

A Note on Sources, Acknowledgements, Index

Paul Ortiz, Professor of History, University of Florida,

Seeing History Differently: Five Key Terms from: An African American and Latinx History of the United States

American Exceptionalism: Is the belief that the United States has a special, God-given mission to play in the world—regardless of what the rest of the world thinks of this. American Exceptionalism compliments the idea of American Innocence, the belief that the nation does not intentionally do ill in the world. Accordingly, military invasions of weaker nations that inevitably punish civilian populations are seen as the result of “good intentions gone badly.”  In contrast, José Martí, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Frederick Douglass toiled to make Americans understand that they should be judged by their actions—and not on their (our) flowery rhetoric.

Emancipatory Internationalism: African Americans developed the idea of emancipatory internationalism as a movement ideology to emphasize solidarity between freedom struggles in the United States and those elsewhere in the years following the American Revolution.  Black abolitionists and their supporters in the antebellum era articulated the idea that their individual rights depended on supporting the emancipation of oppressed people in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and other parts of the world. It was a worldview rooted in the experience of seeing slavery and racial imperialism extinguishing liberty across the hemisphere. It would blossom repeatedly again in the philosophies of the Civil Rights Movement, the Chicano & Puerto Rican movements in the 1960s as well as in El Gran Paro Estadounidense, the Great General Strike of 2006. 

Racial Capitalism: The early capitalists rooted their new system in the violent expropriation of others. This included warfare, colonialism, racial slavery and the theft of indigenous lands in Ireland, Africa, the Americas and elsewhere. Capital creates “racial differences” between people in order to generate profits and to limit the power of laborers. “Jim Crow capitalism” is a term used by historian Jordan Camp to describe the system of legal segregation used to disenfranchise African American workers for generations. Today, some white employers in Florida pay Mexican American workers lower wages compared to their white counterparts. (Employers call this “opportunity.” Immigrants call it the “Brown Wage.”) These differences make it difficult for the working class to defend its economic interests. Cedric Robinson drew from the work of W.E.B. Du Bois, C.L.R. James and sociologist Oliver Cromwell Cox to sketch out the origins of racial capitalism.

Global South: In this book, “Global South” refers primarily to the nations located in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. (Scholars generally use this term to encompass much of Asia and the Middle East as well.) During the post-World War II era, it was common to refer to these regions as “The Third World.” In this book however, the term Global South takes on a broader, philosophical meaning. The book argues that ideas about freedom, anti-imperialism, and autonomy in the Global South had a decisive impact on US American politics. For example, Augusto Sandino’s insurgency against the US Marines in Nicaragua in the 1920s inspired African American writers and organizers to imagine a hemispheric liberation movement. 

Hemispheric Liberation Movement: Generations of revolutionaries and anti-slavery activists in the Americas dreamed of a hemispheric liberation movement. This manifests itself in key events such as the Mexican War of Independence when José Maria Morelos and other Mexican revolutionaries reached out to the United States for support against European colonialism.

Towards the end of World War II, the Haitian and Mexican delegations at the Inter-American Conference on Problems of War and Peace held in Chapultepec Mexico, re-introduced the idea of a hemispheric conception of democracy. They argued that post-war peace in the Americas hinged on not only equality between nations of the Americas but also equality within the nations. This analysis hinged on understanding Nazi Germany as a nation that waged global war based on ideas of white racial supremacy. Eager to defend legal segregation, the United States tried to undermine the Haitian and Mexican diplomatic positions.

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