Race Relations Topic of Constitution Day Discussion at USC Aiken

September 21, 2017

The keynote speaker for the first event of the University of South Carolina Aiken’s 2017 Constitution Week outlined the history of race relations in the United States.

Dr. David Shi, president emeritus of Furman University, described how the framers of the U.S. Constitution deliberated, discussed and debated highly contested issues, particularly slavery, as they drafted the Constitution.

At the time of the historic revolution which birthed the nation, slavery was legal in every state, Shi explained.  However, by the time, the Constitution was drafted in 1787, at least four states had abolished it. 

Therefore, at the time the document was being written, Shi said some signers agreed to a “concession” not to mention the issue because it embarrassingly contradicted the freedom and liberties outlined in the Constitution.

Not until the 13th Amendment was ratified in 1865 was the word “slavery” even mentioned.

Citing examples in the Bible and up to the present, Shi highlighted several key points in the nation’s history during which relations among different races and ethnicities have been strained. 

“How do we forge a more harmonious nation among such diverse groups?” he asked. 

“The United States has always been a diverse nation.  We were the first nation in world history to welcome all immigrants and refugees.”

All Americans are descendants of foreigners, Shi explained – including races, religions and ethnic groups.

“We are a nation defined by the immigrant experience.”

He reminded attendees that to propel race relations forward in positive manner, they need to remember four key points.

First, racial and ethnic prejudice is a concern for all societies.

Secondly, sadly, people have enslaved others for most of human history. 

Thirdly, people can change.  They can change their attitudes, perspectives, beliefs, values and behavior toward one another.

Finally, Shi anticipates that by 2043, plurality will be more even more prominent, and Caucasians will not be the majority. 

“Over the next 50 years, the United States will shift from being a nation with a few large racial groups into a hybrid America of numerous nationalities, ethnicities and cultures, a transformation unprecedented in human history,” he said.

To improve race relations, the noted author, accomplished educator, and recognized leader suggested that all Americans should focus on the ideas and values they share.

“The thread biding together the American social fabric has been a commitment to democratic values – freedom, tolerance, equality, the rights and responsibilities of citizenship – a commitment not invented simply to serve the interests of a white power structure but as the heritage of all Americans, regardless of color or ethnic background.”

He charged the audience to respect one another.

“With the help of amazing grace, let’s continue cherishing each other, redeeming each other and moving on, so that American will itself become a more perfect place where everyone enjoys the freedom, rights, responsibilities and opportunities for full equality,” Shi said.

USC Aiken, a comprehensive university in the University of South Carolina system, offers undergraduate and master’s degrees to more than 3,500 students in 50 programs of study. USC Aiken is ranked the #1 public regional college in the South by U.S. News & World Report’s guide "America’s Best Colleges." The 2018 distinction marks USC Aiken’s 20th consecutive ranking among the top three in this category and its 13th time in first place.