“This country was founded on the idea of concentrating wealth in the hands of a few white men,” Mychal Denzel Smith asserts in “We Built This Country on Inequality,” adding, “That that persists today isn’t a flaw in the design. Everything is working as the founders intended.”
Smith’s claim has two parts that challenge the Great American Myth of meritocracy: those two parts being then and now.
At the turn of the twentieth century, from 1899 until 1908, the buildings that constitute Clemson University in South Carolina were built by convict labor, as explained in Lyn Riddle’s report detailing the research of Clemson assistant professor of English Rhondda Thomas:
So far, [Thomas] has documented the names of 572 men, all but 29 of them African Americans.
They made a million bricks to build Tillman Hall. They built Hardin Hall, the oldest classroom building, and Trustee House, home to the first chemistry professor…
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