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African American Road to Equality

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African American Road to Equality

Racism and inequality are and have been an ongoing issue in American history. Many would say that even in today's society racism is the reason for social inequality among many Americans. However it is important to look at the history of American people to understand the roots of racism and changes this country and its people have gone through. African Americans in particular have gone through years of struggle to finally end racism and segregation, to reach equality and civil rights. From slavery, poverty, segregation and inequality, African Americans have endured many pains and struggles to gain equality and become vital part of American society. Many have lost their lives by starting civil rights movements and fighting the power to allow today's generations to actually elect an African American president. It was Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat on the bus, student sit ins at diners that did not serve "colored people", peaceful protests led my Dr. Martin Luther King and even violent riots on the streets of Los Angeles that led to change in American law to end racism and give everyone equal rights regardless of race or ethnicity. Many other such events took place all over the nation as both black and white people united stood up to racist government regulations to finally reach the freedom and equality that America stands for today.

Emancipation Proclamation

The very first event that contributed to African American equality was the adoption of 13th Amendment by the U.S. Constitution which called for abolition of slavery. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January of 1863 by declaring that "all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free" ( Nonetheless, the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the nation. 'Because the proclamation did not apply to any of the loyal slave states such as Tennessee or parts of Virginia and Louisiana, military victory was the only way for these ideas to take effect throughout the nation" (Bowles, 2011, Section 1.1, para. 2). It was not until April 1865 that four million slaves were freed with Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, of the northern Union, acceptance of a surrender offer from Confederate General Robert E. Lee at the Appomattox Court House. However the end of the Civil War did not bring an end to racism and racial violence. Many of the southern states created a legislation influenced by the Black Codes which restricted and controlled the lives of the freed slaves. In order to counter the increasing strength of the Black Codes, Republicans adopted the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

The Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship rights so that all persons born in the United States (including ex- slaves) became citizens of the state in which they resided...... The Fourteenth Amendment also claimed that all citizens were equal under the law and that any person who had at one time taken an allegiance to the Confederacy could not hold a state or national political office. (Bowles, 2011, Section 1.1, para.13)

The Freedom and Segregation

It was not until the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment which gave the African Americans the right to vote, that they got the experience and the understanding of freedom. To exercise this new feeling of freedom, many African Americans changed their names and their clothing styles. They started educating themselves and participating in politics. However this freedom did not become what many African Americans envisioned it to be. While the Civil Rights Act attempted to make a racial discrimination a crime it did not give Congress authority to prevent discrimination by private individuals. White owned businesses and politicians increasingly restricted the rights and freedoms of African Americans by creating

"White-only" spaces in hotels, railroad cars, theaters, and virtually anywhere people gathered in public. This culminated most dramatically in a Supreme Court case called Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. In this case, the justices legalized racism by stating that separate spaces for different races were allowable by law as long as they were equal. This became the famous "separate but equal" clause, and while separation dramatically increased, the conditions were rarely equal (Fireside and Morial, 2005). (Bowles, 2011, Section 1.4, para 16)

African Americans were denied admission to movie theaters or could only sit in the balconies. Public swimming pools regularly excluded black bathers or relegated them to special "colored" days, often draining and refilling pools that blacks had used. Amusement parks turned away black customers or only admitted them on special occasions or on segregated days, usually when amusement park attendance was low. Public beaches regularly cordoned off blacks into segregated sections. Blacks who ventured onto white turf were beaten by white mobs without getting punished or prosecuted. Restaurants closed their doors to black customers or required them to sit in separate - often curtained off - sections or only let them take out food directly from the kitchen or service entrance (Sugrue, 2012). To bring an end to segregation activists worked to change the hearts and minds of white Americans with educational campaigns, often through mainstream Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish congregations. The civil rights struggle was mostly organized and led by African Americans themselves. To be sure, black activists depended on the support of white allies whether in trade unions, churches, or public office.

World Wars

African Americans have fought in all of U.S. wars, including World War I and World War II. Even though over 370,000 African Americans served in WW I, it did not help them escape racism and segregation in the war battles.

Most of the African Americans who went to war were isolated from their white counterparts and confronted racist policies of the American military. Many were assigned to work in areas of manual labor, and while a minority were put in combat situations, they were poorly trained and underequipped to fight.



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