During the 1830’s, slavery in South Carolina and other southern states was the in thing for any well-to-do family of the American origin. The lands were fertile and sugarcane production seemed to be the road to financial prosperity. As a result, intensive labor was required, but slaves were obtained from Africa at a throw away prices. In addition, the farmers knew so well that the blacks could rival stallions at work. Big masculine fellows were in demand. Some were just for work in the farms while the more ruthless settlers used them for breeding purposes (Steed 1998, p. 30). This is because a slave master owned the slave in his entirety together with his family as part of his property. As such, they insisted on having the able bodied in their flock and stressed on sexual activities between only strong men and strong women with qualities that they desired without the slightest regard to their feelings. With this, they were assured of competent laborers in the near future. More often than not, punishment to slaves was corporal, and in extreme cases, lynching them. With time, the African Americans were to challenge such harsh treatment secretly through enlightening one another. As such, the feeling of aggression was quickly spreading among the slaves and they even formed secret movements, which they used as a platform for sharing their experiences. Slaves of common origin, such as those from West Africa who had their own commune, formed these groupings. This paper will thus seek to show the main factors that led to the formation of civil movements since the late 19th century among African Americans, more so in the southern states and other issues related to the same. The paper will also discuss how history impacts the current status of African Americans. In addition to this, the paper will trace the growth in popularity of NAACP and the Peoples Party from these early times into the 1960’s, when black consciousness is most expressed.
The Civil Rights Movement
The civil rights movement is evidenced to have achieved more than the eradication of racial barriers in addition to the overwhelming modification of American cultural, social, and political life (Beito & Beito 2009, pp. 72-89). Modifications to the existing aspects regarding the rights of black citizens, for instance, together with the redefinition of the responsibility of the courts and governments in defending these rights persist to strengthen the human rights of the entire American community in spite of their skin color. The civil movements were characterized by various factors, which offer a clear picture of how the rise of black activists emerged. For example, apparently, one of the most severe set of the characteristics and, indeed, the one that represents the depth of the civil movement encompasses the photographs of the young schoolgirls who died whilst a bomb ripped at their Sunday school (ENotes.com 2012). Amongst other images, this is one of the evidences showing the extreme of the burst of African American activism and the resultant white reaction towards these movements.
Until now, African Americans have constantly fought for their rights. Most individuals perceive the civil rights movement to have initiated when the Africans were initially brought as slaves in chains to the American shores. Specifically, the basis of the current civil rights movement comes from the blacks who struggled for the enslavement and claimed for their basic citizenship rights (Beito & Beito 2009, pp. 72-89).
The Legacy of Slavery
According to studies, the initial slaves were brought in chains to the America in the year 1619. Nevertheless, these blacks only gained their independence after slavery was abolished by the Thirteen Amendment subsequent to the civil wars (ENotes.com 2012). Nonetheless, these newly freed blacks were greatly illiterate in addition to their bereft of property or money; besides, inequality and racism were widespread, especially in the South. In this location, slavery is evidenced to have prevailed for a long time. The state and federal governments, on the other hand, took measure of assimilating the blacks to the white community by implementing various democratic reforms in a period referred to as the Reconstruction Era (1865-1875). In addition to this, the Fourteenth Amendments assured the black Americans federally protected equivalent rights whilst the Fifteenth Amendment gave the blacks the rights of voting (ENotes.com 2012).
In spite of these various measures put in place with an aim of safeguarding, the novel found rights of the former slaves, the benefits of the reconstruction era only lasted for a short time. In an environment that was filled with intense southern white dominion, most applied various means, aiming at preventing the former slaves from benefiting from being a citizen. For example, some intimidated and harassed the blacks, which made them entirely disenfranchised (Beito & Beito 2009, pp. 72-89). In addition to this, some racist groups employed more traumatic techniques, such as the execution amongst other types of violence, with an aim of tarrying and brutalizing blacks who sought to exercise their guaranteed rights.
With the increased guarantees offered by the constitution in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments, the Supreme Court came up with a ruling to the struggle of the blacks to be given their rights. In 1896, the Supreme Court, in a case ruling, declared that the whites and blacks could be lawfully alienated on condition that the facilities offered to every party are the same (Ewers 2004, p.4). However, in spite of the court ruling, the facilities offered to whites and blacks were never at any time equal. Most significantly, ‘the separate although equal’ dogma of the Supreme Court, by lawfully supporting separation, offered the white community a powerful instrument of making certain that the blacks did not enjoy any rights of citizenship, even the basic ones (Ewers 2004, p.4). The fact that the Supreme Court reinforced the separation practices of the South, the setting of the white racism brought about southern laws and customs, which kept drinking fountains, parks, restaurants, streetcars, and theaters amongst other public places strictly separated (Ewers 2004, p.4). In response to these laws, various leaders in the black society started debating on political strategies they would use in order to fight racial inequality and injustice. W.E.B Du Bois, a fiery intellectual, was one of the main figures of the civil rights movements who encouraged the blacks to fight for their equal rights. Besides, Du Bois was one of the figures who led to the establishment of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) (Ewers 2004, p.4). This was an organization aimed at fighting for civil rights and it drew together activists, educators, and lawyers to jointly fight for the civil rights of the black people. Through legal reaction, agitation, and lobbying, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People persisted to hold campaign aimed at ending segregation in education and housing amongst other public areas.
The outbreak of the World War I resulted in most blacks joining the military; however, they were consigned to segregated units. This also caused most blacks travelling to the north with an aim of taking advantage of the rapidly increasing defense industries. Nevertheless, this enormous migration brought with it various negative effects among them and increased unemployment levels amongst other predicaments, which already were evident in the urban centers in the north. In addition to this, racial predicaments persisted unabated. After the outbreak of the World War II, the United States joined the war and as before, the African Americans were subjected to extensive discrimination in military units and in the defense industries in spite of their willingness to take part in the war (ENotes.com 2012). According to studies, the redistribution of African Americans, coupled with the wartime experiences, led to the surge of African American protest that brought various laws under national examination (Beito & Beito 2009, pp. 72-89).
Segregated Economic Life
Apparently, as explained above, African Americans were denied equal participation in various areas, including education and housing amongst other public life areas (Beito & Beito, 2009 pp. 72-89). Moreover, the white society ensured that African Americans were marginalized. This particularly came as a result of extensive losses from land and crops due to financial failures and diseases in the 19th century, which made most African American farmers work in virtual economic bondage as tenant farmers or sharecroppers (Beito & Beito 2009, pp. 72-89). In various places, such as Mississippi, most blacks had turned out to be landowners prior to the 19th century financial failures. Labour unions and employers ensured that the African Americans were restricted to the least desired opportunities and were worst paid.
Rise in Populism
Basically, the Civil Rights Movements by colored people started as early as the slaves from Africa landed in the America. However, their numbers and illiteracy could not enable them to voice their concerns and calls for equal rights and treatment. Thus, this gave rise to social movements that pressed for better working conditions for the slaves. As expected, the white rulers and landowners were against such movements, and as such, their leaders were often executed. This fueled the desire and struggle for a better treatment. As the calls for a better treatment increased, there arose the calls for political representation. The southern states of America with their large plantations, using their slave labor, ignited black political activities and consciousness. Morrison (1987, p. 13) says that the “South has had the political and social diversity at the grass roots throughout the twentieth century”. Therefore, much concern in this paper is dedicated to black political and civil activities in the south before they spread to other parts of America.
The common sharing of poverty and harsh working conditions ignited populism among the poor African American farmers in the Southern states of America. Therefore, they attempted to establish interracial political alliance. The first party by the blacks was called the People’s Party and recruited black slaves, although some of the members had relatively better rights since they could vote (Morrison 1987, p. 134; Steed 1998, p. 45). The party called for political equality while some white liberals like, for instance, Tom Watson from Georgia advocated for the abolition of the poll tax among other discriminatory measures targeting the blacks. Many of the white populists used the blacks as allies in their quest for political seats in the administration. The party’s success was indicated by the amount of anxiety stirred among the high and medium income earning Americans. Its success was recorded through a number of electoral victories. William A. Peffer of the Kansas People's Party won a senate seat in 1890. In the 1892 presidential election, the party presented its candidate, James B. Weaver of Iowa, who led in six states with twenty-two electoral votes. The same year, the party secured two governor positions – Davis Waite of Colorado and Lorenzo D. Lewelling of Kansasn (Morrison 1987, p. 11).
With an increase in black populism, the white farmers were stricter towards their black laborers in order to prevent them from joining such movements. As a result, their suffering increased with 15 black populists being killed during the 1892 state elections in Georgia. Fredrickson (1996, p. 98) considers the People’s Party as the mother of all parties. The party strived to draw attention to other political ideologies from the ones presented by the two mainstream political parties. However, the party’s impact did not last long as the campaigns of the white supremacy movements were too strong. In fact, the Ku Klax Klan directly threatened the blacks and even some of them were denied work positions in the farms. As a change of strategy, the party adopted a fusion ideology. This meant that the party had to align itself with a stronger and more acceptable party by the whites. The party leadership opted for the Democratic Party. This new strategy led to the election of populist-endorsed seven senators and thirty-two congressional representatives.
With the failure of the first party, a different approach had to be used in order to address the problems facing the black people in America. Booker T. Washington introduced a new response to racial discrimination as racial accommodation. Fredrickson, (1996, p. 98) writes that Booker was born into slavery, which strategically made him in the know through first hand experience that advocating for social integration between the whites and the blacks and, also, calling for political rights was doomed to fail. He visualized a situation whereby economic progression of the blacks would place them at a better position to demand for equal treatment and political rights. He, thus, argued that the blacks should acquire skills in different areas as he realized that the blacks were the backbone of the Southern labor force. Sympathizing white farmers were also involved in the call for economic empowerment as they allowed willing blacks to acquire manual skills, such as driving and farming techniques among others. His campaigns culminated in the formation of the Tuskegee Institute, now known as the Tuskegee University, with the assistance of rich sympathizers. His institute was very successful in training blacks in various technical fields.
Unfortunately, Booker did not receive full support from college educated blacks who could not accept the moderate stance taken by Booker and opted for a radical approach by calling for immediate equal treatment and political rights. Among those who opted for this radical approach were W. Dubois, Ida B. Wells, Mary Terrell, and William Trotter. They went ahead and formed strictly blacks’ movements, such as the American and the Niagara Movement in the early 20th century. These movements were involved in organizing various social protests and demonstrations, although they were not as pronounced as the ones organized in the 1960’s, as we will see later in the paper. Therefore, in order to include the support of white sympathizers, a new party was formed called the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). This party used radical measures to resist the Jim Crow rules and, mostly, the segregation (Fredrickson 1996, p. 107).
The contributions and activities of the NAACP were very visible in the 20th century, but the most effective though not overly obvious were the contributions of the Tuskegee Institute. As more and more blacks graduated from the institute, so was the black community economically and intellectually empowered to press for more rights. In fact, Costain and McFarland (1998, p. 8) say that most of the graduates from the Tuskegee Institute and other educational institutes for the blacks found employment in the cities and urban centers. This facilitated a peaceful coexistence with the whites with a significant percentage of the whites joining the blacks in calling for the abolition of the segregation. This interaction and growth in black population fueled cultural and intellectual activity. Breakaway parties from NAACP were formed, though they used the same means to press for the same thing. With the economic empowerment, they were able to publish newspapers and magazines that pressed for their cause.
Art was another avenue that was used in uniting black people and spreading their calls for equal treatment. Musicians combined African and American rhythms in composing their music in order to appeal across the racial divide. The result was the jazz genre. However, the wording on the music sought to create awareness of the plight of the black people. With the migration of the blacks into the western states, the calls against segregation were heightened. In addition to this, the coming of the First World War meant that many white workers were recruited in the army, leaving their positions in factories to be taken up by the blacks. This, again, empowered the black people to press for their demands. With African Americans working together with their white counterparts in the factories, cultural understanding and integration was slowly taking place. This, as a matter of fact, was preparing the nation for the abolition of the Jim Crow rules (Fredrickson 1996, p. 344).
The Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement
Apparently, the American Civil Rights Movements left a lasting mark on the United States society. Moreover, various problems experienced by the former slaves, such as racial discrimination, ended whilst racial violence reduced massively. In the current society, African Americans have equal rights with the whites, such as a right to vote, for example, and what is more, the blacks are also voted for to run public offices. This can be evidenced by the election of President Barrack Obama as the current President of the United States, which proves that racial discrimination has ended in the American society. Furthermore, various economic activities generated by the civil rights movement have lifted out most African Americans out of poverty. Also significant, the Civil Rights Movement acted as a replica for the improvement of various other minority groups, such as the disabled, women, and Hispanics amongst others.
In spite of these benefits, the Civil Rights Movements, however, fell through on most counts and the struggle for equality can be termed as far from over. Nevertheless, the African American struggle for freedom attained something long lasting that greatly modified the attitudes of most persons and, besides, made the promise of the United States a possibility, if not a certainty.
Costain and McFarland (1998, p. 34) say that political institutions shape social and civil movements. This is best demonstrated by the creation of discrimination laws by the early government systems in the late 19th and early 20th century, whose polices triggered the formation of social movements to press for change in the existing political policies. This, therefore, makes it hard to separate civil/social movements from the political ones. These social movements were formed by the African Americans as a result of the various problems they went through, including racial discrimination, segregation in housing, and education amongst other public places. Besides, an increased unemployed amongst African Americans and the denial of their rights also resulted in the formation of these movements. Nevertheless, due to poor political developments, the early movements adopted social, civil, and political approaches in addressing their problems. Therefore, the success of the People’s Party, as discussed above, is both in political, social, and civil measures. Therefore, while these early political movements did not fully achieve their objectives of ending the segregation and ensuring equal rights using the alternative yardstick, as suggested by Costain and McFarland, these early movements achieved a lot and set the stage for later changes, such as the abolition of Jim Crow rules.