The Atlantic

The Lesson of the Jussie Smollett Case

Allegedly fraudulent reports support a narrative that many wish to believe.
Source: Joshua Lott / Reuters

In 1880, Johnson Chesnut Whittaker, one of the earliest black cadets at West Point, was found bound, gagged, and unconscious in his room. He had been slashed with a knife; pages of his Bible were found torn and strewn around the room. Whittaker had been ostracized by white students, who now insisted that he had made the whole thing up. The school decided that a threatening letter Whittaker had received matched his own handwriting, and that he had fabricated the entire incident to make West Point look bad.

Black papers such as called the West Point report “partisan, unjust and flagrantly prejudiced,” and stood by Whittaker. But as the historian Heather Cox Richardson wrote in , white newspapers, Democratic and Republican alike, attacked

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