The first batch of around 20 enslaved Africans arrived in 1619. By the time President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on April 16, 1862, the number had risen to four million.

Their forced labor in the cotton fields made the United States a world economic power and the South the most prosperous region during their captivity justified by false science and biblical misrepresentations.

The law regarded them as chattel that could be bought or sold. Edward Bell wrote about “Slavery’s Trail of Tears” in Smithsonian Magazine in 2015, the “thousand-mile-long river of people, all of them black, reaching from Virginia to Louisiana. During the 50 years before the Civil War, about a million enslaved people moved from the Upper South – Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky – to the Deep South – Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama. They were made to go, deported, you could say, having been sold.”

Slaveowners included 12 of the first 18 presidents, eight while in office. Women too owned slaves, University of California at Berkeley Prof. Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers wrote in her book “They Were Her Property.” They also included around 1,715 members of Congress, The Washington Post has reported: “From the founding of the United States until long after the Civil War, hundreds of the elected leaders writing the nation’s laws were current or former slaveowners.”

As Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., recently pointed out in a Post interview, those lawmakers helped fashion a racist regime that continues to govern American life. “What’s happening politically has deep roots in our political leaders’ investment in slavery and how they wielded that power for their own personal benefit,” Crystal Feimster, a Yale University historian, told The Post.

Perhaps the most obvious example of the racist regime at work is the criminal justice system. African Americans comprise 13 percent of the U.S. but 40 percent of the prison population of 2.4 million, compared with European Americans, who are 64 percent of the nation but 39 percent of prisoners. The Center for Law and Justice reported that one in eight African American men in their 20s is locked up on any given day and some 75 percent of those in state prison for drug conviction are African American, although African Americans and European Americans use drugs at roughly the same rate.

“The war on drugs has been a primary vehicle for sweeping people into a criminal-justice system, branding them criminals and felons, and then relegating them to a permanent second-class status for life,” Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” told The New Yorker’s David Remnick.

And, as Angela F. Chan pointed out in HuffPost in 2015, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution allows for “slavery” and “involuntary servitude… as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” The amendment merely moved slavery “from the plantation to the prison.” The prisoners “are legally considered slaves under the Constitution. As a result, they can and are forced to work for pennies an hour with the profits going to counties, states and private corporations including Target, Revlon and Whole Foods. In fact, there are more Black people enslaved today than in 1800.”

Forty-acre plots granted each former slave were soon taken away, creating a lack of generational wealth. The net worth of the average European American household is $800,000 more than that of the average African American household.

In terms of atrocities, Equal Justice Initiative research found that 4,400 African Americans were lynched between 1877 and 1950, including at least two dozen women. Lynching was often a public spectacle, with some spectators taking photos of the victims and making them into postcards; others cut off pieces of clothing or body parts for souvenirs.

And, lest it be forgotten, the Indigenous peoples were brutally subjugated. They suffered immeasurably from what Secwepemc and St’at’imc writer and filmmaker Julian Brave Noisecat called in The Nation the “almost constant siege by a society habituated to extraction, displacement and dispossession” and “how settler colonialism uprooted and remade Indigenous lands.”

That uprooting was seen in their “Trail of Tears” when 15,000 Cherokees were driven from their lands, following the discovery of gold, for resettlement 5,000 miles away; 3,000 died on the forced march. It was also seen in the murderous conspiracy against the Osage in Oklahoma after oil was discovered on their land, as David Grann relates in his book “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

At least 10 million Indigenous people – perhaps even as many as 80 million – lived on the continent when European invaders arrived. They comprised 590 Indigenous nations in 1419, according to a map created by part-Cherokee cartographer Aaron Carapella, up to 40 of them in Florida. “By 1900, there were fewer than 300,000 Native Americans,” the Minnesota-based non-profit World Without Genocide reported in 2019. They now number about five million.

Not so well known is the fact that, between 1492 and 1880, up to 5.5 million Indigenous people were enslaved, Linford D. Fisher, associate professor of history at Brown University, reported.

They not only resisted the seizure of their lands but also remained unbowed, as the late country singer Johnny Cash noted in his song “Drums”:

Well you may teach me this land’s hist’ry

But we taught it to you first 

We broke your hearts and bent your journeys

Broken treaties left us cursed Even now you have to cheat us Even though you think us tame In our losing we found proudness In your winning you found shame. 

So, despite its immense achievements and the claims of the "patriots," no, as Paul Rudnick said in The New Yorker about the Sistine Chapel, the United States is not God’s selfie. The grievous wrongs of the past must be acknowledged. Who knows? Perhaps, as the Bible says in John 8:32, "The Truth shall set them free." And, to borrow a line from Daveed Diggs in the television series "Snowpiercer," it is time for this country to work for all its people.