History of African Americans

Date: Oct 25, 2018

African Americans

In the USA, in the late twentieth century, there were many changes in the mental atmosphere and associated overestimation of traditional moral and cultural values. It is a question of the right of various nations to live in a worthy manner in the contemporary United States which became a mutual native land of the descendants of the African Americans, Indians and other ethnicities and races that formed the unique American multi-ethnic community. African American people had a great influence on the formation of a common American culture. However, for this, they had to take a long and thorny path.

In the history of African American culture, 20s years of the twentieth century are called a period of the Harlem Renaissance. It was a time of heyday in African American culture. Before it, culture of these people and its impact on the vast American culture did not get the conscious recognition. The Harlem Renaissance is a cultural movement in the United States during the period of 1920-1930 led by prominent African American writers, artists and actors. Renaissance is an epoch of mental and cultural prosperity symbolizing the transition from the middle ages to modern times. The cultural movement Harlem Renaissance got its name because the center of this movement was one of the boroughs of New York – Harlem where African Americans lived, therefore, the culture reached its heyday. This period gave the world a lot of truly talented and prominent writers, i.e. Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Zora Neale Hurston as well as the great artists such as Louis Armstrong.

Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance was a consequence of the changes in the lives of African American community, which occurred since the abolition of slavery and up to the mass migration to the North, their participation in the First World War, industrialization and all social and cultural changes that occurred in the U.S. in the early XX century. In turn, the factors that contributed to the decline in activity of the Harlem Renaissance were the Great Depression and the difficult economic situation in the country. The essence of the Harlem Renaissance was performed through art, activities of writers, artists and musicians, African Americans had to get rid of racial prejudice and stereotypes, achieve social and political equality, prove to the white population that they were people standing on the same stage of the development them, capable of work, creativity and education. During the Harlem Renaissance, African American culture has received the wide public recognition and reached its peak. The Harlem Renaissance was not only the time of cultural but also political involvement of African Americans in the life of the country. Moreover, there were several political organizations operating at that time including National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and United Negro Improvement Association.

The development of the Harlem Renaissance led to the recognition of a significant influence of African Americans on American culture. For the first time, America saw not a humiliating stereotype of African Americans implanting in American culture for decades, but the so-called “New Negro” – educated and a highly cultured member of a truly decent society. The Harlem Renaissance was the first step toward such recognition, and paved the way for the further struggle of African Americans for their rights (Worth, 2008).

Black Power Movement

A Black Power Movement is a movement for providing more rights and opportunities to African Americans. In 1960, the slogan “Black Power” was provocative and ambiguous. It was put forward by radical black leaders under the leadership of Stokely Carmichael. At first, it seemed a tactical move. However, Carmichael and Charles Hamilton explained its meaning in the brochure Black Power. Hence, it became clear that those who advocate for the Black Power continue the tradition of Black Nationalism dating back to Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. They both persuaded African Americans in superiority of the black race, and made them be proud of their history and culture and develop a sense of belonging to their racial community. Participants of the movement denounced the vices of white racism and compared the life of blacks in the United States with the position of the oppressed colonial people. In their opinion, the integrationist tactics of moderate Negro leaders (Martin Luther King) were extremely inefficient and hopeless. Contrary to the popular opinion at the time, Black Power did not try to destroy the existing system. It prepared African Americans to the activities within it. This meant training of African Americans of new forms of activities and solidarity. Furthermore, they were called to built their own organizations and strengthen their economic and political resources to participate in the American pluralistic system not on the sidelines, as it was before, but as equal partners. Because the Black Power movement did not have a single leader, most of the organizations that acted during this movement disappeared. The Black Power movement did not achieve a success in getting blacks to create a separate society and come apart from white society. The movement also did not end racism and discrimination. However, it helped provide some of the elements that were necessary for whites and blacks to reach a fuller understanding of each other (Joseph, 2013).

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Civil Rights

African Americans disputed segregation during the country’s history. However, they did not achieve a success, until school integration became a key issue for the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Until the case Brown v. Board of Education, in many states and the District of Columbia, there was segregation in the school system approved by the Supreme Court from 1896 in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson if there were the same conditions for study. In 1951, a resident of Topeka, Kansas, gave a dare the principle of separate education under equal conditions when brought an action against the city school board on behalf of his eight year old daughter. He wanted his daughter to attend the school with the white population located five blocks from the house where Brown and his daughter lived. It was more convenient for Brown than teaching his daughter at school for African Americans, as it was 21 blocks from his home. One of the federal courts establishing that the learning environment at both schools was the same took a negative decision on the Brown’s lawsuit. Meanwhile, parents of other black children in Virginia, Delaware and South Carolina filed the same suits (Anderson, 2003). The Court in Delaware found that schools for African American children were worse than schools for white children, and decided to put black children in the schools for the white population. However, officials of white schools appealed this decision to the Supreme Court. Thus, the Supreme Court simultaneously considered the arguments given in the course of the consideration of all these cases. The brief written statements of cases presented by litigants of African Americans contained data and evidences of psychologists and sociologists, who explained that segregation harmed black children. In 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that in the field of education, the principle of separate but equal education could not take place, and ruled that segregation in schools deprived African American children of equal protection provided by the laws, compliance with which was contained in the Fourteenth Amendment. This case helped African Americans approach to the white population and believe that in the future, they would be equal (Howie, 1973).

Black Panthers

The Black Panther Party is the organization of African Americans aimed to protect and liberate black people in the United States. The party arose in 60-70s in California. The main purpose of the Black Panther was to promote the civil rights of the black population. Its main leaders were considered Bobby Seale and Huey Newton. A significant impact on the formation of the party had a book by Robert Williams Negroes with Guns which promoted a program of armed self-defense as well as sermons of Malcolm X.

Nowadays, it is difficult to judge the party unambiguously. Of course, during its existence, it has become not only a significant political force, but also an important cultural phenomenon. The official history of the Black Panther had an indelible imprint of American bourgeois propaganda, which was not embarrassed to show the Panthers as armed African Americans rebels that were making for a living by racketeering and robberies. There was some truth in this. Even Huey Newton admitted that the Panthers used money obtained through crime to support the party and communities. Finally, in the organization, despite the overall socialist direction, there were many nationalists and racists who openly criticized the leadership of the party and called for a war of the extermination against the white population. Everything that was made by the Panthers during its heyday was largely the result of the activities of Hugh Newton. At the beginning of its existence, the Black Panther Party visited black neighborhoods and spoke with poor African Americans explaining them their rights on the part of carrying weapons and combat illegal actions of the police. Moreover, they began to patrol streets. Panthers began as a social movement aimed at solving one particular problem, however, later, members of the group wrote the program. It included 10 points of political and economic demands, namely mandatory provision of African Americans with work or income, decent housing, payment of reparations for centuries of slavery and liberation of blacks from military service. When the movement became widespread, publication of the newspaper, advocacy and other initiatives such as “survival programs” were added to the program.

Advantages and Disadvantages

There are advantages and disadvantages in the activities of the Black Panther Party. The advantages include the fact that the party was organized as a grassroots movement. They successfully combined radical actions and their legitimacy, which led to a greater success at the early stages of the movement. The main disadvantage is considered that the party failed to go beyond the black ghetto and put more radical goals under the pressure of police terror. First of all, Panthers fall into the trap of American liberty when the government provided a wide autonomy to social movements and local communities, but exactly to the moment when the community started to undermine the foundations of the class state. Moreover, the Panthers believed that they had already achieved autonomy and required to provide them with equal economic and social rights without calling to unite with other movements and the seizure of power. Despite the fact that most of the activists were killed or received a long prison term, it can be talked about the victory of the Black Panthers in the long run. Most all their demands were met because a lath of inequality shifted to a new level. There were no buses with separate seating for blacks and whites. People were ashamed of their poverty and not of the skin color. Negro radical organizations have played an important role in American political life. They took an active part in the antiwar movement. Radical groups have had a great impact on the position of the Confederation of Christian leadership in the South, which has adopted new methods such as common actions with the striking workers (Hilliard, 2008).

Martin Luther King

Despite the criticism of the Black Panthers regarding the actions of Martin Luther King, his contribution to the support of America’s black population was huge. In the 60s, Martin Luther King was very influential fighter for civil rights. He was born in Atlanta in 1929. Martin Luther King received the rank of a priest at the age of eighteen and served as a pastor at the Baptist Church in Atlanta. For the first time, the young pastor attracted a wide attention in connection with the civil rights movement in 1956 when he headed a massive protest marches against the actions of racists in Alabama. Martin Luther King was very educated man, who thought that the acutest social and moral question in America was racial segregation. Kind was the organizer of sit-ins. Also, he was arrested for several times when he violated the laws which he considered discriminating (Cook, 1968).

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In 1958, there was the first attempt on the life of Martin Luther King. He was seriously wounded when a woman lunged at him with a knife in one of the mass demonstrations in New York. After recovery, the pastor organized and held a crowded march toward Washington in support of the new law on civil rights. The movement inspired by King was so powerful that Congress passed the Human Rights Act in 1964. The role of Martin Luther King in a non-violent struggle for the adoption of a law destroyed the remainders of racial discrimination in the United States, and was awarded by the Nobel Peace Prize. At that time, the black priest was only 35 years old. Martin Luther King became the youngest winner of this prestigious award (Cook, 1968).

The document on civil rights became the law. King’s social activities earned universal recognition. However, the struggle against racial prejudice in the minds of people continued. Martin Luther King accomplished a lot. However, his preaching of nonviolent actions seemed insufficiently radical means in the eyes of residents who did not want to bear with the second-class position in the USA. A significant part of the white population was suspicious of the Negro pastor, especially in the Southern states. In that part of the country, it was considered that the dominance of whites over blacks was legitimized by God, and the Negro preacher tried to cancel this superiority. In 1966, Martin Luther King decided to organize a march in support of striking workers of the city of Memphis. On that day, he was killed by a sharpshooter. The killer received 99 years of imprisonment. The death of Martin Luther King became a tragedy to all African Americans and people who believed in freedom and the wholesome effect of the word. He was called the “President of African Americans”. Posthumously awarded by the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Martin Luther King became the idol of the human rights movement. His life and work symbolizes the fight for equality and ending discrimination, which is a cherished dream of America and all mankind (Kirk, 2005).

King directed the movement of African Americans into the mainstream of direct nonviolent actions. This tactic kept America from the civil war. King eventually managed to achieve a brilliant success in the struggle for black freedom. The death of Martin Luther King confirmed the correctness of this direction. The next day it, the black political parties in American cities blew up with riots. Radical people called for a war against all white population. However, in the incomprehensible way, the name of King continued his work even after death. The violence flared up and stopped. Desegregation gained momentum. The Congress adopted another law that banned discrimination in employment housing. After the official policy, there was mass consciousness. Public organizations, schools and private companies voluntarily renounced segregation. All it was the contribution of Martin Luther King (Kirk, 2005).

1968 is a Turning Point in American History

Today, after four decades, 1968 is a turning point in American history of the second half of the XX century. A week after the murder of Martin Luther King, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, which, inter alia, gave African Americans equal property rights with white fellow citizens. Those days, dozens of cities were covered with riots and unrests of the African American population. In the section on housing rights, the Act of 1968 prohibited discrimination on the basis of the national origin or race in the sale or rental of dwellings. Banks and other financial institutions were forbidden to include in the agreements to provide loans any discriminatory conditions related to real estate. The Act applied to 80% of the country’s housing stock. Many black leaders immediately noted the limited nature of the law, which gave nothing to the poor African American population. One of the companions of Martin Luther King stated that Act was an insignificant step toward black America. In New York, a similar law acted for 10 years. However, ghettos still existed there. According to many fighters for justice, terrors against active civil rights of African Americans as well as the belated adoption of legislative reforms were combined with ostentatious gestures calling to testify the serious concern of the ruling circles by clarifying the origin of social unrest in the black ghettos of America (French, 2003).

The Problem of the African American Population

The problem of the African American population traced its roots back in the middle of the XIX century when slavery was abolished in the United States. The movement for the rights of African Americans was not uniform. It was both organized and spontaneous. Ideological heirs of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s supporting the integration were members of the Civil Rights Movement led by the famous preacher Martin Luther King. The nationalist trend was represented by the Black Panthers Party. All movements were united in one thing. They sought urging, encouraging and agitating to rid the black population of America from feelings of inferiority.

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