Posted: October 23rd, 2013
During present times, it is hard to notice that a big difference between African Americans and white people existed several decades ago. Since slavery ended, it has been a long journey towards the recognition of African Americans as equal citizens of the United States. It has taken efforts of some of the greatest men and women in history and many events in order to get African Americans the same rights and equal treatment from the law (Carrillo, 2012). Events such as segregation, the Harlem Renaissance, Brown v. Board of Directors, The Black Power Movement, The Birmingham Protest and The Civil Rights Act of 1964 have contributed to the status of African Americans as equal citizens of the United States. It is such events in the history of African Americans that have not only seen their recognition as equal citizens with equal roles in the United States, but also the election of Barrack Obama as the current president of the United States of America.
The Civil Rights of 1866
After slavery ended, as was characterized by the end of the civil war, all the African Americans were declared free. However, the Southern states had their way of ensuring that African Americans did not enjoy their freedom. In order to assist the African Americans, the Republicans passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The act was aimed at ensuring that all people born in America enjoyed the same rights. The first section of the act stated that all men born in the United States, not unless subject to a foreign authority, or Indians who are free from tax, are recognized as citizens of the country. It further states that such people, irrespective of their color, race, or previous slavery status, had the same rights to engage in normal activities. “All persons shall have the same rights…to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws…” (pbs.org, 2003).
This meant that all African Americans were free to engage in normal activities just as the white men were, including owning property as well as being recognized by law as equal citizens. This was one milestone towards their recognition today as equal citizens. Although this did not mean that African Americans enjoyed equal rights as the act stated, it gave them power to fight for their rights. This was a significant milestone for African Americans since they could enter into contracts and own property. Further, recognition by law meant that they could use the courts of law to demand justice as well as their rights. The second section went further to state, “a person who shall contribute to the slavery or involuntary servitude of another person irrespective of color except as punishment under the law for crimes committed shall face conviction” (pbs.org, 2003). This further protected the African Americans who were quite vulnerable at the time.
Today, all citizens enjoy equal rights and recognition by law. African Americans can enter into contract just as white people can. They can also sue other people including whites as well for crimes committed against the. Further, African Americans own property that is inherited by the person of their choice especially children. The act laid a basis for ensuring that all citizens in the United States are free. However, this does not mean that this act changed everything to ensure African Americans enjoyed equal rights as the white men. Rather, it was the first step towards a long journey that would take a whole century.
The Great Migration Harlem Renaissance
Between the First World War and the Second World War, more than a million African Americans traveled to the north from the southern states. At the time, most of the African Americans were migrating in search of jobs in the more industrialized part of the country. Additionally, majority were fleeing from the southern side that was oppressive of the African Americans. This came to be known as the Great Migration. It is during this migration that the Harlem neighborhood in New York became the cultural capital of African Americans, having one of the largest African American communities. It had a population of about 200,000 African Americans. This became the central and cultural place for African Americans.
Majority of them were poor. However, a middle class soon emerged from people engaging in poetry, writing, musicians, and other artists. Several artists brought about the ‘New Negro,’ where most of them focused on spreading their cultural heritage. Harlem was the place that allowed them to express their talents as freely. Some of the famous artistes include Langston Hughes and Claude McKay, Zora Neale Hurston and Jean Toomer. Thus, the cultural, artistic and social explosion that happened in Harlem in the 1930s came to be known as the Harlem renaissance (Carrillo, 2012).
With support from one of the top magazine editors, W.E.B. Du Bois, the artistes were encouraged to continue producing more of their work. As the editor of ‘The Crisis magazine, Du Boise published their work in the magazine. Their works such as music and poetry attracted many people including whites who enjoyed jazz and blues music. This renaissance was not only about the works. Rather, it brought about racial pride that was further fueled by ‘New Negro’ militancy. However, this did not have a significant impact to ending the segregated races. The Harlem Renaissance provided many opportunities for the blacks considering it was made of residential houses initially meant for white people. Moreso, the place did not only bring artists together, but also some of the best African American scholars and advocates. Businesses boomed, and employment allowed them to live a better life. The place came to be known as the Black capital or the black Mecca. However, it ended during the depression of the 1930, which hit the African Americans quite hard. Due to conflict over payment of the shops as well as houses, a conflict between the two races erupted ending up in a riot in 1935, which came to be known as the Harlem Riot of 1935. This helped African Americans to realize their capabilities of succeeding economically as well as finding pride in their culture. It was another milestone towards freedom from oppression of the white man.
Brown v. Board of Directors
Although the law initially recognized that all people were equal and ought to have been treated equal, the southern states were so much determined to ensure that African Americans did not enjoy any freedom. In 1896, in the landmark case of Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court ruled that having separate facilities was constitutionally right and did not mean discrimination or segregation as long as the facilities were equal (Smith, 2003). This meant that blacks and whites would not mix in public places as well. In the buses, the whites had their seats while blacks had their own. Although the decision held that the facilities had to be equal, this was not achieved. It was clear that the whites would get better facilities and in plenty (pbs.org, 2006).
However, this was to be reversed in yet another landmark case between Brown vs. Tue Board of Directors. In this case, a father went to the court complaining that a white school had denied admission to his daughter who had to cross rails. People agreed to go to court as witnesses and the segregation decision upheld in the Plessy v. Ferguson – 1896 was overruled. The court held that, the segregated schools were highly unequal, thereby overturning the decision that segregation was right as long as facilities were equal. The court found that segregation was in violation of the ‘Equal Protection Clause.’ Found in the fourteenth amendment. What makes this a landmark case is that it marked the ending of treating of African Americans differently from the white race.
This brought the end of segregation closer where the court declared that segregation within public schools was unequal even with equal facilities. This marks a very important case in African American history, which has contributed to the better development of the relationship between whites and blacks. Without such a case, it is likely that public schools as well as other public facilities would still be practicing segregation. However, this marked yet another historic event that brought the African Americans even closer to attaining their full recognition as equal citizens within the society. This was after psychological studies realized that such segregation had a long-term effect on young children. Additionally, having different races in the same school as well as classes ensures interaction that triggers respect for each other as well as cultural diversity. This would foster positive treatment towards between the two races in order to promote oneness. Without such a case, things would be different from today (Smith, 2003).
The Black Power Movement
Another landmark event in the history of African Americans is the black power movement that fought for the civil rights of the blacks through violence. This was during the 1950 to 60. Many of the young people did not agree with the non-violent method adopted by Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther fought the injustices by responding to them publicly. Its center force was the Black Panther Party that was founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seal amongst others. The party advocated for violence in responding to the injustices inflicted against blacks. However, the movement was later stimulated by number of African Americans who could speak out through various forms such as literal work (Smith, 2003). For instance, Eldridge Cleaver wrote his book, Soul on Ice, while Amira Baraka wrote the poem, Black Fire, which was an anthology of protest and Charles Hamilton wrote one on Black Power that defined the movement in details.
This movement held protests that extended to sports as well. One of the first people to use the movement was Muhammad Ali who refused an army induction on account of his religion as well as political grounds. According to archives.gov (2004), “John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their gloved fists in a black power salute from the victory stand at the Olympic Games in Mexico City.” From this movement, new leaders of African Americans emerged in the 1970s such as congressional representative Shirley Chisholm who ran for president in 1972 and Barbara Jordan who was quite influential in the Watergate hearings.
The Black Power Movement had been a response to the realization that other means took long to make achievements. It gave many people the inspiration that people could come out and fight for their rights by force. It was a way of making their grievances heard to the public in a way that had not been done before. However, their embracing of violence elicited a government crack down that disillusioned the movement to avoid further violence spreading considering it was calling for a revolution that suggested separating the country into two, one for the white and another one for the blacks based on the book, “Black Power.”
The Birmingham Protest
In 1983, the gaining support from North for Freedom of Riders saw Martin Luther King Jr. launch peaceful protests in hope to trigger the anger of segregationists in the South. He organized massive protests in Birmingham, one of the most racially segregated cities. Thousand of African Americans came to participate, including a few high school children who were on their own crusade for children. However, this did not go as expected as the commissioner of the city, Bull Connor sent a crack down on the protest with clubs ferocious police dogs and even water cannons where many were injured, and Martin was arrested together with hundreds of other protestors (Painter, 2005).
In his jail cell, King wrote the famous letter, The Birmingham Letter. He was expressing his thoughts on the issue as well as the campaign. It talked about the social injustices that existed and sought to defend the nonviolent strategy used for resistance to racism. His argument was that people had the moral responsibility of breaking the unjust laws that oppress people. With this landmark protest, people learnt that protest can be effective although likely to end up I violence. However, this went down in history as one of the most famous protests of the African Americans. Many people including the government responded to this protest although not immediately. In order to protect the rights of all races, the civil act of 1964 was passed. It outlawed discrimination of any kind irrespective of gender, race, nationality, religion and other forms of discrimination. This was another landmark in the history of African Americans.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964
This is one of the greatest acts of the United States. It was establish to protect all people from any kind, whether employment, race, gander and even the disabled are realized. Everybody under this is protected under this act. The committee held several hearing on the proposed legislation before enacting it in the summer of 1963 just after the Birmingham protest. Precisely, the act summarized all the previous laws protecting people and put it under several sections in one amendment. Today, it acts as the main civil rights act protecting all people.
The act prohibits discrimination in employment, which states that a person should not be denied a chance to a job as long as they re qualified and have what it takes to do the job. This provides all the Americans with an act that inspires them as well as ensures that everybody is safe from those who want to discriminate others (senate.gov, 2008). The civil act of 1964 is one of the most notable acts ever made in the United States history with an aim of eliminating discrimination.
From all these events, one can realize the journey for African Americans to become free, and fully recognized as equal citizens of United States has been a long journey taking a whole century. Starting from 1865 after the civil war ended, their freedom was given but enjoying it was not close. Very few African Americans enjoyed full recognition as equal citizens from the time slavery ended. Rather, it has been a continuous struggle to earn their rights from the white racists especially in the South who still believed African Americans should not get equal rights. From the first civil act of 1866 to the civil rights act of 1965, African Americans have undergone many events to get to where they are now. With these events, their un-relentless effort to earn their rights has accomplished more than some envisioned.
archives.gov. (2004). In Search of American America. Retrieved from http://www.hoover.archives.gov/exhibits/africanamerican/blackpower/
Carrillo, K.J. (2012). African American History Day by Day: A Reference Guide to Events. New York, N.Y: ABC-CLIO.
pbs.org. (2003). The 1866 Civil Rights Act. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/reconstruction/activism/ps_1866.html
pbs.org. (2006). Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Retrieve from http://www.pbs.org/wnet/supremecourt/rights/landmark_brown.html
Painter, N.I. (2005). Creating Black Americans: African-American History And Its Meanings, 1619 to the Present. New York, N.Y: Oxford University Press
senate.gov. (2008). The Civil Rights Act of 1964. Retrieved from http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/about/history/CivilRightsAct.cfm
Smith, J.C. (2003). Black Firsts: 4,000 Ground-breaking and Pioneering Historical Events. New York, N.Y: Visible Ink Press.
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (n.d). Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Retrieved from http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/titlevii.cfm
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