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FREE SPEECH 39: The Recurring Debate Over Birthright Citizenship and the Fight for Equal Rights

With Professor Martha Jones, Johns Hopkins University

Who’s in, and who’s out? Who belongs rightfully in America, and who can be excluded from the rights and responsibilities of citizenship? Who can stay, and who must go? Martha Jones explains the history of birthright citizenship, how Black Americans claimed the rights of citizenship long before the courts and Congress granted them such legal rights, and why this prehistory matters to understand today’s debates. Is it outrageous that senior officials question the right of birthright citizenship? You may think so, but you’d also be wrong to think that this right has not been contested from the very dawn of our Republic, and you’d be wrong if you think that birthright citizenship will disappear as a political and ideological or a legal and constitutional matter for all time. Martha Jones  is the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor and Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University, and the author of Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America and All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture 1830 -1900. In our conversation, recorded on election day 2018, when one of the fundamental rights granted to all citizens was put to the test yet again, she explains how Black Americans insisted on their rights as citizens for decades before the country caught up, with the 14th Amendment in 1868.