During my early years of school, I remember being taught white accomplishments and wondering if blacks and other people of color had made any significant contributions to today’s world. I noticed that television consist of all white people. Throughout my research paper I hope to cover certain aspects of African American heritage. Aspects such as blacks making up the largest minority group in the United States, although Mexican-Americans are rapidly changing that. The contributions blacks have provided to our country are immeasurable. Unfortunately though rather than recognizing these contributions, white America would rather focus on oppressing and degrading these people. As a consequence American society instinctively associated white with light and all good things; while black is associated with darkness or evil.
The journey to freedom for African Americans all started in 1619 when the first twenty African slaves were brought to Jamestown to serve a land not familiar with, in order to please wealthy white settlers. For the next 150 years, Africans were uprooted from their homeland and shipped across the Atlantic ocean to the United States to be sold as if they were property in America. The majority of these slaves were imported between 1741 and 1810. By 1790 blacks made up over 19% of the U.S. population.
Although slaves had different cultural backgrounds, they all shared a common way of looking at the world. The degradation and brutality of slavery caused these different tribal groups to seek out common cultural ground in order to survive the horrible experience of slavery. The common ground that slaves endured revolved around kinship and the idea of stoicism. The idea of stoicism may be a result of harsh physical conditions in Africa. Kinship was by far the most important element in the African culture. Individuality was not stressed but rather the importance of the extended family. I believe that African Americans suffering through the hardships of slavery strengthened the idea of kinship even further. The unity of the African culture became strong due to a series of trials and tribulations.
The majority of the slaves were employed in agricultural areas in the South. By the mid-19th century, a large number of slaves worked in urban areas as well, and about 5% worked in more industrial occupations. The hours of the slave workers were long. The average life expectancy of African slaves was at least 12% lower than whit Americans in 1850 and the infant mortality rate was 25% higher for slaves. Oftentimes slave marriages and families dissolved due to separation. This concept is horrible when you take under consideration that family was the entire basis of African culture.
Although frequent separation occurred slaves were very careful to pass on the surnames of their black family of origin to their children. Kinship again is an importance in African society.
Although the first steps towards in improvements for African-American culture began in the North, social and economic conditions didn’t improve much at all. The racial attitudes of whites were still obvious among the white society. Laws banning interracial marriage and voting among free blacks accompanied every northern state emancipation. These laws were supposedly designed to prevent mass migration of southern blacks to the North. Race relations did, however, improve in the North after the CivilWar. Even though this was the case Northern blacks had no political nor economic base to begin their struggle for equality and self-actualization. The one aspect of African-Americans lives that were in their hands was religion. This was utilized to unit the blacks in America during the ant-baalim period. There was a great black exodus from white churches that went on for thirty years. Blacks to create unity throughout the African-American culture created churches. The style of sermon within these churches reflected the call-response patterns
of traditional African-American music. These churches were responses of alienation segregation from white churches.
It was leaders of these churches who provided the majority of leadership in the South after the Civil War. The organization of campaigns and boycotts against segregated public schools and public facilities began. The laws passed were very easy to evade. In 1896, Plessy vs. Ferguson fully legalized segregation using the phrase “separate but equal” for justification. However separate was never equal in this case. Thus American apartheid continued.
The Civil War gave a glimmer of hope for economic equality. Thousands of freedmen were to receive 40-acre plots of land to farm themselves. Up to now blacks in agriculture were forced to sharecrop for wealthy for wealthy white landowners that paid them barely enough to survive and never enough to get ahead. The land for these freedmen was supposed to come from confiscated lands of Confederate planters.The entire plan was aborted when Andrew Johnson pardoned these planters.
Although freed blacks made enormous contributions during the Civil War, their economic standing steadily declined. Although there was some geographical and market based reasons for the decline, the primary reason was racial attitudes. Whites began to seek white workers and craftsmen. Unions began to exclude black members and new manufacturing plants would not hire blacks. Despite this economic situation, blacks continued their battle for equality through politics. In the 1880’s southern blacks continued to vote in large numbers despite intimidation and violence. Through this perseverance blacks were sent as representatives to Congress and state legislatures.
Despite this black representation, there was still the implementation of Jim Crow laws in the state of Mississippi further reinforced segregation. This was a big step but not enough to make an impact on the political level. Thus the only thing left to do was to migrate out of the South and from farm to city.
The great migration caused a dramatic shift in African-American culture. It was at this point that urbanization occurred. The general migration trend was southern rural to southern urban to northern urban. This mass urban migration led to overcrowding and serious health problems in the northern cities. Blacks paid excessive rents in the North and segregation, despite Civil Rights laws, was still very much a part of blacks and their way of life. And remember this was less than 100 years ago. The urban migration did create a demand for black services and institutions denied throughout the white society. There was the development of black hospitals and social service organization. There was also an explosion of black cultural experience in theatres, music, and literature. This newfound culture of African-Americans technically was called “black metropolis,” with all kinds of hope and prosperity. Black education expanded tremendously. The black illiteracy rate was cut almost in half and the number of college graduates more than doubled. There was definitely a New Hope for Black America.
The Great Depression caused a tremendous decline in cultural activity and employment. Racial violence flourished as many people competed for scarce jobs. However, the newfound black cultural awareness of the 1920’s continued throughout the depression and World War II. After WWII, blacks found themselves in a much stronger position than before the war.Blacks came out of WWII in a much stronger position and progress continued during the postwar period. Nonwhite income rose from 41percent in 1939 to 54 percent in 1947. The number of blacks employed by the federal government alone increased from 50,000 in 1933 to 200,000 in 1946. This was no accomplishment considering that in 1930 the average southern black youth had a school 20 days shorter than his white counterpart.
Although conditions were improving for blacks, it is imperative to realize that the improved black statistics were still substantially lower than whites. The people of this era were absolutely clueless about the rights of an African-American.
Occurrences in 1948 were critical for the advancement of blacks in the U.S. President Truman issued an executive order that desegregated the armed forces. The Supreme Court decision in Shelley vs. Ferguson made residential segregation more difficult by preventing the enforcement of covenants that prevented residents from living in certain areas based on their race. These events were a part of the gradual progress of blacks beginning in the 1930’s. In 1954 and 55 the Sup0reme Court reversed the 58-year old “separate but equal” doctrine in Brown vs. the Board of Education. Some intellectuals at the time realized, throughout history, it had been shown that contact with different groups tended to bring about mutual respect and appreciation for other groups. Thus Brown decision brought about New Hope for equality in America. “Separate but equal” was inherently unequal because it drew such a distinction between white and black. Perhaps it was the horror of WWII or maybe or maybe Black Americans became fed up with their oppressed well being. Whatever the case, in the mid-1950’s social protest brought social change throughout African-American history.
Six months after the Brown decision, on December1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a black seamstress, exhausted after along workday, refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man. Her arrest sparked the year long Montgomery buses boycott. The next decade involved an increased violent protest. This era became known as the Civil Rights Movement.
The early 1960’s involve sit-in demonstrations, freedom rides, and mass street demonstrations. White society as well as traditional black leaders realized it was a time for change. The leaders of the movement broke away from the traditional leadership tactics. The masses of people involved showed that changes needed to come that effected Black America as a whole.
In 1957, less than 40 years ago, under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was organized. Dr. King encouraged non-violent direct action. However, these non-violent protests often ended in violence behind the hands of white police officers. Anything from tear gas or water hoses were used on African-Americans. These people who were not only black but also whites were treated like animals. Believe it or not this occurred 40 years ago.
In 1947 President Eisenhower reluctantly federalized the National Guard to enforce desegregation in the schools. White Southerners did everything in their power to prevent desegregation. By 1964 a decade after the Brown decision, less than 2% of southern blacks attended integrated schools, which was only 30 years ago.
Throughout The Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s, individuals repeatedly disobeyed laws that violated the civil rights of blacks. Civil disobedience peaked during the summer of 1963. Protesters filled southern jails. A nonviolent march to our nation’s capitol involved approximately 200,000 whites and blacks protesting the violation of civil rights of blacks. The next two summers President Johnson legalized two more civil rights bills. These bills opened up public facilities and voting booths to blacks for the first time since the 1890’s. Along with these achievements came increased violence. On June 12, 1963 the leader of the NAACP, Midgar Evers, was assassinated outside his home. Riots in Harlem in 1964, Watts in 1965, Cleveland in 1967, and Detroit in 1968 were all reactions to frustrations of oppressed black people. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4, 1968 caused an eruption of violence in a number of cities. The majority of all the riots took place in northern cities. In the South the movement was easier accepted because the gain of southern blacks overshadowed the deaths. These were sacrifices that blacks unwillfully gave. The conditions in the North weren’t as bad so they viewed the martyrs as needless deaths for African-Americans, which further heightened frustration.
Although the mid-1960’s brought about extreme violence and tragedy, it also brought about steep progress as a whole. Between 1964 and 1968 there was an 85% increase in black college enrollment. In 1974 a survey showed that the majority of black children (50% in the South, 66% in the North), still attend predominantly black schools. This segregation in school also caused residential segregation. There has definitely been progress being made but there was, and still is a very long way to go before equality can be achieved. The ignorance is still on the back burner; we need to completely get rid of it.
White society has a difficulty accepting African-American culture. It’s difficult for many whites to see the beauty of African-American culture because they are too busy trying to fabricate justifications for inferiority of blacks. Mutual respect is without a doubt essential before equality can be achieved. The white ideas that have so long haunted Black America hopefully will completely disappear in the near future. But after seeing movies like the one you showed on the Ku Klux Klan it is going to be hard to completely throw prejudice away. There are far too many ignorant people in today’s society, I just pray that our next generations will understand equality.
Lefton, Lester A. (1994). Sociology. Needham Heights, MA
Allyn and Bacon. 96-150