The progression of African American history to achieve civil rights and equal opportunities with their white American counterparts was a journey dominated with struggles. The idealistic efforts of the Civil War (1861-1865) did not bring forth any improvement of the status or position of African Americans. The civil war for instance targeted to liberate African Americans who were enslaved by the white Americans. After the civil war, African Americans had to spend more than one hundred years before they attained their rights and equal opportunities with their white population. With regard to this, this paper seeks to discuss social/cultural, economic, literary, political, and religious changes that have occurred in American History for the periods; 1865-1876, 1877-1920, 1921-1945, 1946-1976, and 1976 to present.
At the end of the Civil War in 1865, African Americans attained their liberation, contrary to the change social and cultural status did not come with any relief for them because they continued to suffer from economic and political oppression. In Africa American History, the period from 1865-1876 was the most significant and dramatic period; during this time their dreams and aspirations of liberation and better life had reached its apex. The progress in the position of the African Americans after the civil war improved tremendously; this is because they were freed, the 13th amendment of the US Constitution was ratified in 1865 thus slavery was outlawed. The 14th amendment of the US constitution was ratified in 1868, which granted African Americans full US citizenship, moreover in 1870, the 15th Amendment granted voting rights to male African Americans (Franklin, 2001).
This progress proved to be more illusory as the changes were more formal than real because the real position of African Americans did not improve consistently after the end of the Civil War and the decade that followed. In addition, African Americans were steadily oppressed; in fact their election rights were limited, continued frauds deprived them of an opportunity to participate and influence politics of the US despite of them getting their representatives in the legislature, judiciary and the executive. For instance, in such situation, “in face of mounting violence and intimidation directed at blacks as well as whites sympathetic to their cause, the US government retreated from its pledge to guarantee constitutional protection to freed men and women” (Goldenberg, 1999, p. 129).
The African Americans faced physical extinction problem; in 1867, the Ku-Klux-Klan, a covert organization which was primarily founded on racial basis came into play with racial terrorism as it main agenda. The organization was violent and in fact it slaughtered African Americans. The massacres of Colfax and Coushatta in Louisiana in 1873 and 1874 consecutively eliminated many African Americans (Weiner and Knopf, 2004). Many anti-freedom movements grew stronger, racist organizations like the White league emerged and other white militia were formed to counter African American freedom.
During the period 1877 to 1920, the African American situation had hardly improved; the massacres and African American discrimination prevailed. The period from 1890 to 1908, saw eleven southern states adopt the amended constitution that effectively disfranchised both African Americans and many poor whites (Goldenberg, 1999). This r4esulted into the decrease in African American voter registration and in fact other places recorded zero turnout thus they lacked an opportunity to be represented in either branch of power in the US. Mob violence was allover killing millions of African Americans and forcing them to move to other states where they could feel safe.
Although the Northern states seemed a bit safer, the socioeconomic status of the African Americans remained poor because of their low educational levels and low qualifications which rendered them less competitive to their white counterparts. Consequently, the situation continued to deteriorate especially in the early 20th century due to the immigration of relatively qualified labor force from Europe that reduced the economic opportunities for blacks. In response to this, African Americans initiated civil rights movements like Niagara movement and several other secret civil rights movements. In this case, the founders of the Niagara movement “produced a manifesto calling for end to racial discrimination, full civil liberties for African Americans and recognition of human brotherhood” (Black, 2005, p.135).
The position and status of the African Americans gradually started to improve in the period from 1921-1945 due to the civil rights movement that was now much stronger. This culminated into the Great Migration of African Americans from Southern states to Northern ones in their numbers. They found enough space to exercise their rights because the oppression in northern states was less compared as compared to the southern states. Due to this freedom, the Harlem Renaissance movement spread nationwide, becoming more powerful which eventually proved the power of African Americans to bring change to the US. Many outstanding white artists supported this movement which strengthened the African American movement that eventually liberated them. the economic crisis of late 1920s to 1930s slowed down the status of blacks, nevertheless it contributed to victory of the US and its allies in World War II (Goldenberg, 1999).
After World War II, from 1946 to 1974, the African American Civil Rights movements had reached its peak. Martin Luther King, in conjunction with other prominent leaders like Malcolm X, organized social resistance movement that forced the white population to provide more opportunities for blacks to practice and exercise their rights. School segregation was abolished by the civil rights movement, racial discrimination was also eliminated and eventually violence against blacks decreased but not prevented as Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968 (Braude, 2002).
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The late 20th century marked the beginning of growing representation of African American in politics of the US. Nonetheless, more opportunities allowed blacks to be elected in powerful government organs like the legislature and the judiciary. For instance, Wilder Douglas became the first black to be elected as an African American Governor in 1989, in 1992, Carol Moseley-Braun was the first black woman elected to the US senate (Franklin, 2001).
In conclusion, although the African Americans have come this far in attaining their social/cultural, economic, political and religious rights, they are still far from attaining an ideal or perfect position where they can compete favorably and equally with their white counterparts. For instance, the ruling elites in the US are predominantly dominated by the white majority, while most Africans Americans live in impoverished neighborhoods. Moreover, modern schools in the US still experience segregation, for example in some schools the share of white students in some public schools exceeds 99%. However, the civil rights movements are still pushing for better life for the African Americans.
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