The history of African Americans in the United States tells a story of both immense sufferings, as well as unending hope. Americans of African descent endured many years of slavery and segregation, which prohibited black people from enjoying the rights of citizenship. The black people in America suffered oppression, denied citizenship, and those, who tried to fight, endured beatings or were just killed. In most of the country, blacks were prohibited from sharing spaces with the white community, such as schools, public transport, and even recreational amenities, while stiff measures were enforced to ensure that they did not live near whites. However, despite this suffering, black people persevered and rose up to fight for their rights even in situations, where it appeared useless. In the face of racism, the African American community rose up to educate themselves, study literature, compose songs and made a huge contribution to the development of American society. This paper explores black discrimination, segregation, and the way black movements rose to fight for freedom that they enjoy today, as well as their contribution to the development of American society.
The Reconstruction Era 1865-1877
The reconstruction era emerged in the period between 1865 and 1877, which followed the American Civil War. This period tried to address the inequalities that had been created by slavery in order to better the lives of black people. Practically, in 1866, slavery died after the Civil War as the Thirteenth Amendment formally eradicated slavery in all states and regions. Additionally, the African American males attained the right to be protected and the right to vote through the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments, respectively. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 ensured that blacks gained the power to vote, sue, serve in public offices, and other legal rights. In 1867, the South, which had strict slave measures, divided into five conquered districts, and each remained under the control of the military.
However, despite the changes in the United States (US) Constitution, the white people’s attitude towards the black people did not change. The black community had only faced bondage before the war, and after the war, they faced the problem of building their lives in a community that saw them as second class citizens. The Southern whites ensured that freed slaves received minimal rights by passing a series of black codes. The black codes denied the black people rights to create contracts, testify against whites, intermarry with whites, gain employment, as well as loitering in the public areas. Additionally, a white supremacy band called Ku Klux Klan came into being and committed acts of aggression, such as beatings and murder towards blacks. In 1871, Congress had to pass the Ku Klux Klan Act, which forced the military to provide protection to the black community.
In 1877, the US military withdrew its hold on the South, and this means that the white had rapidly returned to power. Many black people returned to a state of bondage and discrimination called sharecropping. In sharecropping, the blacks leased pieces of land from former masters and in return, they received a small percentage of the crop yield. By the end of 1880, approximately 80% of the black people from the south turned to sharecroppers as a means of survival. Sharecropping became a problem for the blacks because of demeaning renting and the high cost of seeds, which left many black people in debt to the white farmers.
Jim Crow 1878-1920
After the reconstruction era, when the military withdrew from the South, the black people did not have protection from the white supremacy. This led to the rise of the Jim Crow system, which came into place from 1878 towards the end of the 1950s. The Jim Crow laws allowed segregation of white from black in a situation, where whites tried to ensure their supremacy over the black community. The laws ensured that whites and blacks remained separated in public schools, restaurants, transport systems, cinemas, public bathrooms, and hotels among others. There are states that declared that marriage between black and white would not be permitted in any instance. The Jim Crow laws got to be tested initially in 1896 when Homer Plessy got convicted for riding in a railway car only allowed to whites. The segregation of races became legalized under the Constitution as long as the amenities remained “separate but equal”.
By the 1890s, racism against the blacks had reached new heights, as a law created in Mississippi prohibited blacks from voting, managed to pass. Most southern states only allowed voting to the blacks who owned property, could read, those, whose ancestors had voted before, and those, who they believed had “good character”. The entire country experienced Jim Crows, as it spread to ensure that blacks remain inferiors to the white power. In South Carolina, black and white textile employees could not use the same room, while in Richmond black and white could not share the same street. By 1914, Texas had six major towns where blacks were not allowed to stay or live.