African Americans constitute a substantial minority group in the population of the United States. This group has passed a long and complicated way of development to reach its current level in America. Black people were transported to the continent as slaves to satisfy the labor needs of the European colonists and lived in extremely harsh conditions. Fortunately, the institution of slavery was recognized inhuman and was abolished. Lincoln’s Emancipation Act was the beginning of the process of making blacks and whites equal. African Americans underwent a complicated period of segregation or Jim Crow laws enforcement, actively migrated to the north, experiencing economic and housing challenges and had to initiate a civil rights movement. As a result of their efforts, the notion of “Harlem renaissance” appeared as a symbol of the development of the original black culture. Moreover, black power or New Negro Movement ceased any racial prejudices or discrimination, which existed in regard to African Americans in the United States.
Slavery and the United States
Nowadays the phenomenon of “slavery” is understood as a barbarian inhuman institution. However, some time ago, it was considered normal, namely “Slavery flourished in ancient Greece and Rome and was recognized by the Bible, Koran and other sacred texts” (A Guide to the History of Slavery in Maryland, 2007, p.1). Slavery came to the United States because European settlers wanted to satisfy their growing labor needs. It is indicated in “Black History Milestones” (n. d.) that “though it is impossible to give accurate figures, some historians have estimated that 6 to 7 million slaves were imported to the New World during the 18th century alone” (para. 1). More Africans were sent to the United States during the 19th century. Even when the northern states tried to limit slavery in their territories after the American Revolution, southerners used the American Constitution, which was still imperfect in the aspect of slavery and tripled the number of the slaves, making it total up to 4 million (“Black History Milestones,” n. d.). Therefore, slaveholders of the United States did everything possible to actively use slaves in their plantations and considered slavery to be an integral element of their business.
When the number of slaves in the United States was significant and cheap labor force definitely brought financial benefits to their owners, many contradictions existed between southern and northern states about the slavery institution and some territorial issues. This fact caused the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, with eleven northern states becoming a confederation (“Black History Milestones,” n. d.). However, Lincoln saw that slaves, who lived in the conditions of constant violence and isolation, became depressed and self-destructed and their labor was not so productive (A Guide to the History, 2007). The president decided to solve the issue of slavery, and in 1862, he prepared a preliminary emancipation act, which freed over 3 million slaves in the rebel States (“Black History Milestones,” n. d.). Thus, this was the official start of the slavery abolishment.
Though the majority of slaves were freed, it was necessary to finalize the process for southern states. In 1865, the government issued the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave freedom to all slaves (“Black History Milestones,” n. d.). The problem is that the amendment did not clarify any important issues of the status of freed blacks and did not indicate any exact rights, which they received. However, the constitution of that period is considered to be the most progressive in American history. The 14th Amendment (1868) guaranteed equal constitutional protection to all black and white citizens, and the 15th Amendment (1870) gave them an equal right to vote (“Black History Milestones,” n. d.). Therefore, the position of black Americans was gradually improving.
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Jim Crow Segregation
Emancipation was not the end of slavery for the southern states of the United States. “The struggle for equal rights and opportunity would continue long after emancipation” (A Guide to the History, 2007, p. 17). Slaves still worked there and harvested tobacco or raised the children of their owners. As the Reconstruction period after slavery drew to a close, southern politicians issued the first segregation laws known as Jim Crow laws (Black History Milestones,” n. d.). Following these laws, by 1885 black and white children attended different schools. “By 1900, “persons of color” were required to be separated from whites in railroad cars and depots, hotels, theaters, restaurants, barbershops and other establishments” (Black History Milestones,” n. d., para. 18). The doctrine accepted by the courts, which became valid for all cases with blacks and whites involved, was “separate, but equal” (“Black History Milestones,” n. d.). Thus, though the American Constitution was significantly modified to protect the rights of the freed slaves, southern states did everything possible to preserve the superiority of whites.
The slaves decided to leave southern lands at the beginning of the 20th century. Their movement was called “the great migration or the relocation of more than 6 million African Americans from the rural South to the cities of the North, Midwest and West” (“Great Migration,” n. d., para. 1). There were three main reasons for their inner migration. First of all, blacks did not want to continue their work of harvesting crops, which did not give them an opportunity to feel safe financially or develop and provide for their families. Secondly, the racist organization of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was created in the south. It used the most violent methods and tortures to express their support of inequality killed many African Americans and burned their churches and houses. Former slaves avoided any meetings with them and felt insecure in the south. Lastly, after the First World War, industrialized cities of the north badly needed workers and blacks saw this fact as a chance to change their life for the better (“Great Migration,” n. d.). Therefore, the migration of slaves from the south after the Civil War was inevitable.
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The life of black Americans in northern regions of the United States was hard. They worked at the factories with hazardous working conditions, while experiencing economic difficulties. Due to the housing tensions, when white owners of accommodations were not allowed to sell them to blacks, African Americans started living in their own communities within the limits of big cities (“Great Migration,” n. d.). Due to the experiences of overcoming the enumerated challenges, African American culture started to form.
The mentioned development of African American culture was most active in New York. The phenomenon was named after Harlem a district of New York City, but it quickly spread in the northern and western parts of the country. This period in African American history was also called “Black renaissance” or “New Negro Movement” (“Black History Milestones,” n. d.). For the first time in the history of the presence of African Americans in the United States, mainstream white critics and publishers paid attention to novels, poems, songs, dances, theatre and other elements of black culture. Thereafter, Lois Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Roll Morton, and other famous singers and musicians were commonly recognized (“Black History Milestones,” n. d.). Many performances were staged by African Americans for white citizens. However, blacks were still heavily reliant on white publishers, editors and directors, but their cooperation was profitable for both parties. It was an important period in the history of the formation of the African American community. Nevertheless, it finished with the beginning of the Great Depression, when all newly formed organizations of black members had to solve economic and social problems (“Black History Milestones,” n. d.). Thus, the Harlem Renaissance demonstrated that African Americans have original traditions and culture.
As it was stated earlier, the constitutional changes in the United States were aimed at making black Americans and white Americans equal. However, the rules of equality were not fully practiced by American society, which led to a number of race riots (“Black History Milestones,” n. d.). Moreover, the case of a black boy named Emmett Till (1955) who tried to start a conversation with a white lady in a shop and made some flirtatious remarks to her and was shot by a lady’s husband, in consequence, was the beginning of the civil right movement of black people. This movement expressed their dissatisfaction and indignation about the existing regime in the form of strikes, official petitions and the creation of a specific organization to protect the rights of black Americans. Martin Luther King, a pastor of the Baptist church, became a leader of this movement (“Black History Milestones,” n. d.). With his peaceful methods of protection of African Americans, King made the civil rights movement an important element of United States history, which finalized with the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1946. Importantly, the Act denied all forms of racial discrimination (“Black History Milestones,” n. d.). Therefore, the signing of this document was a victory for black Americans.
The last step to make black Americans feel fully equal with whites was the achievement of the goals, which the civil rights movement pursued. Carmichael, a chairman of the student nonviolent coordinating committee, introduced the term “black power” and offered to renovate civil rights movement because the previous activists did not properly address the economic, housing and social challenges which African Americans had to face (“Black History Milestones,” n. d.). Moreover, two black students organized a party named “Black Panther,” which had an aim to fight any violent attitude to Black Americans and patrolled black community districts to prevent any crimes (“Black History Milestones,” n. d.). Therefore, African Americans felt that they had enough power and control to form and reach their goals as a population group.
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It is important to state that African Americans have passed a lengthy and difficult way of forming their national identity. They started as slaves and finished as an ethnic group, who felt enough potential to independently fight with segregation and inequality. White citizens of the United States initially created many obstacles for black people to become equal because the memory of slavery was still strong. Fortunately, this institution was reasonably recognized as a remnant of ancient civilizations, leading to its abolition. Some segregation laws and the principle of “separate, but equal” did not allow African Americans to peacefully coexist with white citizens. However, important constitutional changes and the civil rights movement of African Americans headed by King brought positive results and made blacks and whites equal. Hopefully, the phenomenon of “racial discrimination” will cease to exist for all states.