Example Of Essay On The Evolution Of African Americans’ Social And Civil Rights
Type of paper: Essay
Topic: America, United States, Politics, People, Government, Race, Slavery, War
The slavery institution defined Antebellum America and was the determining factor for the social, economic, and political spheres of the country. The more slaves a person owned, the richer they were, blacks were inferior to the whites, and the government had laws to govern slave property and ensure white supremacy. However, the American Civil War of between 1861 and 1865 marked a new era on American soil as abolitionists won the war in order to liberate the black race. Winning the war did not necessarily mean that the Caucasian Americans will readily integrate blacks into their societies as equals. On the contrary, the war did not change the history of the people because the ideologies of white supremacy were still rampant, and the whites did not hesitate to remind the blacks of the same. For this reason, in the southern states where the people were pro-slavery, blatant segregation was present to put the blacks in their inferior class on the social hierarchy. From the use of public utilities to that of available education facilities for the two races, segregation laws reigned in the southern states and were legal as per their government. Thus said, this paper analyzes the development of the fight for social and civil rights by African Americans based on the initiators of the activists, their goals, and the response their protests garnered.
Throughout American history, the government held considerable power over its people and was at the forefront of drafting and implementing laws. From the Declaration of Independence to end British rule to the Fourteenth Amendment, the legislation influenced societies and determined the peoples’ interactions. Consequently, after the American Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery in 1865. That action successfully ended the slavery institution but did not necessarily instruct the people on what was to happen next or how they were to integrate the ex-slaves as free community members. For this reason, there were no laws to dictate the position of the African Americans or one to protect them from their brutal history where the Caucasians terrorized and even killed them. It would be a century before the government revisited the plight of the black race in the country because, after the American Civil War, attention turned towards thoughts of expansion and reviving the country’s economy. In concurrence, Dubois in his excerpt “The Talented Tenth” reckons that the government “passed into forgetfulness” because of the “Curse of Gold” that took over (17). Gold and silver rapidly caught all of America’s attention and with equal speed, the discovery of gold and silver in the lands occupied by Red Indians warranted the possession of the same. While the United States was planning on how to use the precious metals for their benefit, the Red Indians were not ready to give up their homes; marking the beginning of another feud in the country.
As mentioned above, the interest of the American government in the West revolved around the area’s gold and silver deposits in which the Red Indians were apparently uninterested. By 1879, the United States was involved with “other gold standard countries by fixed exchange rates” that encouraged the use of “gold and silver moneys” (Rockoff 741). Consequently, the American government found itself in the middle of yet another debate over the utilization of the metals as currency of trade, with debaters arguing over their worth. Otherwise dubbed the Free Silver Movement, the period marked a “battle between those favoring the gold standard and those favoring a bimetallic standard” (Rockoff 744). The bimetallic standard supported the use of both silver and gold, where sixteen ounces of silver sufficed one ounce of gold, a condition that businesspersons outrightly rejected. Poor farmers and miners advocated bimetallic standards in America, but because that would increase chances of inflation, the rich stood against such views. Eventually, in 1900 the government passed the Gold Standard Act, which committed the United States to the gold standard (Rockoff 756).
One ought to note that the debates among the Caucasian Americans lasted an estimated forty-five years after the American Civil War ended. In addition, as they were going on, the government evicted the Red Indian tribes from their homes in order to access the gold and other minerals available in their land. Neihardt’s “Black Elk Speaks” gives a detailed account of the invasion and evacuation of the Indian lands where the whites sought yellow metal, which was the natives’ name for gold. In one incident, Black Elk talks of the wiping out of the Pahuska tribe after the whites found “much of the yellow metal”, which makes them crazy on their land (Neihardt 27). Thus, the expansion to the West influenced America’s economy, and after the war, any boost towards the financial system of the country was a welcomed respite. With the efforts of survival, methods of repairing the damaged social norms after the abolition of slavery were not of priority to the government. After all, without money, there would be no America, and in such a situation, the rights for black will not be of any importance because the United States will be non-existent. Nonetheless, the African Americans realized the need for them to fight for their freedom instead of waiting for the nonresponsive government. Such ideologies birthed the struggle for social and civil rights by the African American race and at the same time, instigated a development in their demeanor; the courage to fight segregation. Hence, social and civil rights progressed to mean a struggle by the people, instead of the responsibility of the ruling powers.
The desire to fight against racism in the United States existed even during the years of slavery, where abolitionists refuted notions of whites being superior to blacks as the only cause of bondage. In other words, the slavery institution revolved around racial prejudice and was the sole reason black people were mere property and beasts of burden for the Caucasians. Expectedly, some black people stood up against their masters and sought freedom alone, such as Frederick Douglass, who became an abolitionist after making a daring escape to the Free States. However, the conditions changed with the end of the second world war of between 1939 and 1945, where African Americans joined the ranks to fight for the United States. Their experiences introduced “disruptive forces in the current social order” of America’s mid-twentieth-century societies (Wells 3). For instance, Britain at the time was a victim to “equalitarian propaganda” that distorted class orders and reduced their affairs into “a disturbed ant-hill than an organized civilized country” (Wells 13). Consequently, Britain was no longer a supporter of social hierarchies or racism because its people actively fought against such ideologies. Britons fighting in World War II were aware of the changes in their home country and did not hesitate to inform other soldiers from different countries of the same. The information planted rebellious seeds in the minds of the blacks and eventually, American blacks started “awakening to the realities of racial discrimination and oppression” (Wells 27). In addition, fighting for one’s country is the epitome of citizenship making the government continued refusal to consider the rights of the black people illogical among its masses. Consequently, one can argue that the cold attitude of the American government was already pushing the people to self-liberation, but the news from the battlefronts and other sources motivated the lot. The 1950s and 1960s were two decades of blacks peacefully protesting all forms of racial bigotry in the nation, particularly the south.
The depictions of racism in the United States took different forms after the abolition of slavery. The most prominent appearance was segregation in the Southern States where the local government passed the Jim Crow laws that ensured blacks’ continued inferiority. Accordingly, African Americans in the twentieth century faced “the segregation decreed by law and public opinion” because the administration approved Jim Crow regulations to appease the white populace (Fortune 93). In the North, whites practiced Jim Crowism because of customs and did not deny blacks basic needs and access to goods and services for their well-being. Their racism was merely a continuation of the American tradition of white supremacy, where even the blacks were afraid to contend with the whites. The situation in the North was understandable if one takes into account the abolition stand the Northerners took during the American Civil War and their reputation as Free States. In contrast, the situation in the south depicted rigid segregation, from available housing to the employment vacancies; the Caucasians did not spare the black race or hide their racial prejudice. Consequently, black people wallowed in abject poverty while the black children had sub-standard education compared to white children. In his excerpt “Industrial Education for the Negro”, Booker T. Washington argues that his people needed “practical education, professional education and positions of public responsibility” (9). Consequently, when the African Americans began protests in the 1950s, proper education, employment, and good housing were the key aims of their demands from the government.
With that in mind, black people protested the conditions in which they were living and sought to direct the government's attention to their problems with the hopes of ending racial segregation in the United States. The Southern States responded with massive resistance where they closed some schools to avoid desegregation and even harmed activists. Nonetheless, the American government finally passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination in the country after realizing emancipation alone was not enough. As per the passed legislation, racial prejudice on government and public property or even on privately owned public places such as restaurants became illegal and answered the demands of the people. Problems emerged when it became clear that outlawing segregation did not necessarily mean equality because politics still influenced all sectors of the country, particularly the economic and social spheres. In concurrence, Dubois reckons that unless a black person has “political rights and righteously guarded civic status; he will remain the poverty-stricken and ignorant plaything of rascals” (19). According to the man, unless the black people could vote and decide whom they want in Congress and other government offices, there was no guarantee that they will exercise any of their newly acquired rights. One needs to imagine the people electing a racist person to understand Dubois' qualms. Racism at the community level is already a problem; having such an attitude at the state level will be a disaster. In addition, by the time the citizens and other government officials discover the misdeeds of a racist person holding a prominent position, they would have inflicted damages already. In some cases, such damages will be irreversible, making the rights of black men redundant. Consequently, the fight that was initially for civil and social rights based on the economy and society became one against black peoples’ disenfranchisement. After all, for genuine equality, all persons need to influence the leadership under which they live, failure to do so will allow a fraction of the population to determine the future of all individuals. The State countered the demands made by the black nation with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, allowing black people to participate in the American voting processes.
Initially, the people blamed the problems of the blacks on their numbers and to an extent, their supposed incompetence. Supposedly, if they were not as many as they were, African Americans would not have the necessary crowds to stand against white supremacy. Simultaneously, the increasing number of the black population meant that the government had an obligation to listen to their grievances and do something about them lest they wanted revolts. Margaret Sanger’s “The Pivot of Civilization” presents the original ideologies on how to handle the blacks and other races the whites deemed inferior. According to the writer, the people were “to limit and discourage the over fertility of the mentally and physically defective” in order to gain true civilization (Sanger 9). In extension, the woman argues that it is “insidiously injurious” to avail “medical and nursing facilities to slum mothers” (Sanger 29). All the given quotes revolve around the author’s insistence that the inferior ethnic groups on American soil take up birth control methods in order to cleanse the nation of their existence. As mentioned before, all decent housings and employment vacancies were unavailable to the African Americans and such conditions forced them into abject poverty. Thus, when Sanger talks of slum dwellers, African Americans are in the equation and if one critically considers her views, the woman encouraged the total annihilation of black people. Foremost, she advocates that they use birth control to manage their numbers after which, she insists that they do not get any medical care, which should only be for the white people. In that context, blacks will expectedly die from diseases or maternal complications for the women, and they will not have children to counteract their dwindling population. Such were the Caucasians' views towards the African Americans in the years leading to the civil and social rights movements, making the idea of aiding them ridiculous.
However, just as in the Civil War where white people pitied blacks and took to abolishing slavery, the same changes were evident after the efforts of the activists. At this point, one needs to note that the government wrote both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act after much pressure from the white population. If Wilson Woodrow’s views are anything to go by, then the television played a significant role in garnering white masses to compel the government into giving the acknowledgment. It seems that, the American culture was changing with the invention of “moving pictures” and one can assume that white peoples' homes had at least one television set (Wilson 79). Hence, people did not have to be in the Southern States to witness their massive resistance as they responded to peaceful protestors with brutal force. In addition, just as the American Civil War had President Abraham Lincoln to advocate its validity, the Civil Rights Act had President Woodrow Wilson’s ideologies propelling their goals. Although the man died in 1924, Wilson’s “The New Freedom” had long insisted that the United States be “concerned about human rights than about property rights” (82). Consequently, although the laws to ban segregation and those giving blacks the right to vote took place under other presidents, Woodrow Wilson had the initial idea for peace and equality. The other two presidents only acted after their citizens insisted that they do otherwise black people would have never gained the rights they were after. Based on the response, the peoples’ views evolved from wanting the black race annihilated to wanting the government to meet their demands and give them their rights. Evidently, concrete proof and detailed information about the African Americans’ problems swayed the masses, just as in the Civil War with Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Conclusively, three main features of the African Americans’ social and civil rights evolved from the point of their convening to that at which they achieved their goals. When the government failed them, the black race became proprietors of change and instigated two developments in that decision. Fist, they evolved from a fearful nation to one that is capable of fighting their tormentors. Secondly, the people owned their changes and disrupted the norms of government holding the powers to bring about amends to the people. The goals of the population also developed from seeking privileges in the society and government offices, to wanting a say in the formation of the government through voting. Through their actions, blacks earned actual rights because their claims to liberty were baseless if the white population had a right the blacks could not exercise. Finally, yet importantly, the response to the presence and demands of the black nation also evolved, marking the success of all activists’ efforts. Change cannot occur if the people are not for it, and once Caucasians joined the call for black liberty, they completed the equation of American people and successfully propelled the changes.
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave. Boston: The Anti-Slavery Office, 1845. Print.
Dubois, W.E. Burghardt. "The Talented Tenth." The Negro Problem. Ed. Jim Manis. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Electronic Classics, 2007. 15-34. Print.
Fortune, T. Thomas. "The Negro's Place in American Life at the Present Day." The Negro Problem. Ed. Jim Manis. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Classics Series Publication, 2007. 92-101. Print.
Neihardt, John G. Black Elk Speaks. 1932. Print.
Sanger, Margaret. "The Pivot of Civilization." La Trêve de Dieu (2001): 1-67. Print.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Baym, Nina. The Norton Anthology of American Gen. ed. 8th. Vol. A. New York: Norton, 2012. 779-813. Print.
Washington, Booker T. "Industrial Education for the Negro." The Negro Problem. Ed. Jim Manis. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Electronic Classics, 2007. 5-14. Print.
Wells, H.G. "The New World Order." Vers. Pdf. 1940. Prison Planet. Web. 26 2 2015. <http://www.prisonplanet.com/hg_wells_the_new_world_order.html>.
Wilson, Woodrow. The New Freedom: A Call For The Emancipation Of The Generous Energies Of A People. New York: Page & Company, 1913. Print.