Rags of Light

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Samuel Johnson, anti-racist pioneer

His life (1709-1784) was more or less bookended by the beginning and end of the British transatlantic slave trade, of which he was an inveterate and uncompromising opponent. He dismissed Jamaica, the most profitable of the British colonies at the time, as “a place of great wealth and dreadful wickedness, a den of tyrants, and a dungeon of slaves.” He once offered a toast at a dinner in Oxford to “the next insurrection of the negroes in the West Indies.” His verdict on the American Founding (“How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?”) is in some ways the first and last word on the subject. Nor was his belief in the wickedness of slavery a mere abstract commitment of the kind so familiar to scribblers then as now…

– Matthew Walther, “The statues of Samuel Johnson can stay “