Many history resources have continuously highlighted the amount of suffering that African Americans have endured from the time when the first record of Africans was recorded in the Jamestown colony. The following years indeed became a testament to their collective struggle as they were subjected to various forms of discriminatory treatment and laws. However, their history should not be exclusively viewed in this dark and seemingly hopeless perspective. Through the lens of black struggle, it can be seen that African American history is characterized by achievement and victory despite the challenges and problems faced by the people during the period of 1620-1915.
Perhaps, one of the defining moments in the African American struggle happened when an abolitionist society was formed in the form of the American Anti-Slavery Society. This society was founded by key figures, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Arthur Tappan. According to Thomson Gale, this society “played a significant role in furthering the cause of abolition during the decades leading up to the Civil War (2008).” Many people became aware of the violence that slavery propagates because of the direct testament of former slaves like Douglass and its other member, William Wells Brown. The organization received so much support that in just a couple of years after its founding, individual membership already multiplied at an exponential rate. Although the society in itself was surrounded with much controversy because of Garrison’s leadership, it still remained a symbol for the strength and unity of African Americans in their plight to end slavery in the country.
As a matter of fact, Douglass who acted as one of the founding members of the society also became prominent as an African American leader. As an abolitionist and social reformer, he was widely recognized because of his eloquence and strength in writing. He was a notable figure in the African American struggle mainly because he was able to relay the actual horrors of slavery from his personal experiences. Douglass was known as the author of the autobiography titled “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an America Slave”. This 1845 memoir and autobiography became a seminal text in African American history because of its actual promotion of abolition as a valid cause. In this book, Douglass detailed how he suffered from the hands of his masters, from the time of his birth until the moment when he managed to escape from the dire conditions in Maryland. Aside from his aforementioned contributions, Douglass used the remainder of his life to pursue the struggle against slavery. As it was argued by Paul Finkelman, “Douglass dedicated his later years to memorializing the antislavery struggle as a redefining event not merely for African Americans but for the American nation as a whole (86).” In other words, Douglass became an important icon in the African American struggle.
Because of the growing presence of abolitionists, many people became inspired to achieve more and totally wipe out the traces of slavery in the country. For instance, Nat Turner became a recognized figure during his August 1831 organized slave rebellion. While the rebellion was eventually suppressed, it was considered as one of the most successful manifestations of collective struggle among African Americans which sparked their interest to move towards freedom and abolition of slavery.
The struggle of African Americans can also be characterized by its achievements and victories such as the one that happened in the Underground Railroad during the early to the mid-19th century. As it was mentioned in one book, “Its agents helped many thousands to live in freedom for the first time in their lives. The Underground Railroad’s successes and even its failures helped rally millions of other Americans against the institution of slavery (Wolny, 2003, p. 4).” Many remarkable figures within the African American resistance movement joined the cause and participated in helping the slaves to escape from their masters. During this time, leaders like Harriet Tubman became known because of their selfless attitude and persistent efforts in helping others despite the odds against their favor.
Through the years, people witnessed the willingness of African Americans to sacrifice their lives for this cause. It eventually built up to the Civil War which was primarily triggered by the controversies over the enslavement of black people. Slavery was eventually abolished and the Confederacy collapsed as a result of the civil war. Many lives were taken by this war but they did not die in vain especially since civil rights were eventually granted to freed black slaves. The country’s constitution was also faced with numerous changes in line with the war’s result.
The struggle for equality and calls to end discriminatory laws continued after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was finally signed which highlighted equal protection and due process. After three years, the Fifteenth Amendment was also passed which granted all male citizens in the country the right to vote regardless of their color.
In the following years, many African Americans were able to establish their own names in their respective areas and fields of studies. W.E.B. Du Bois for instance, gained his Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1895 as the first African American to do so. Other manifestations of achievements and successes were listed throughout the history of African Americans because of their persistence and selfless endeavors.
Finkelamn Gale, Thomson. American Anti-Slavery Society. 2008. Retrieved from https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/american-anti-slavery-society
Wolny, P. The Underground Railroad: A Primary Source History of the Journey to Freedom
(Primary Sources in American History). NY: Primary Sources in American History.