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How Far Is It Accurate to Describe Black Americans as Second Class Citizens During the Period 1945-1955?

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Essay: How far is it accurate to describe black Americans as second class citizens during the period 1945-1955?

The question concerns whether the main cause of Black people's position in society was their lack of progress socially, economically and politically. During the time period 1945-55, black people were certainly treated as second class citizens. They were subjected to discrimination in almost all aspects of their life, public places, employment, voting rights, education, transport, and housing and were practically diminished of all human rights. Blacks were treated like second class citizens to a large extent. The most important cause of their low status being social factors, because although they did gain advances politically and slightly economically, the people's state of mind hadn't changed and the law did not change people's hearts. Other factors were economic reasons and poor wages meaning second to whites; this classed them as second class citizens. Another factor was political advances. Black people were still struggling to vote and their opinions were not being heard and didn't matter, this meant they were treated as second class to white people who were able to vote freely. However black people did advance during this time period and were able to gain progress in some of these areas. In general, however black people were treated as second class citizens.

After the second world war politics was dominated by the cold war- USSR and USA, communism versus capitalism , the USA were in conflict as they believed communism was wrong and resulted in a lack of freedom, but in contradiction to this, freedom wasn't available for all in America either so there were elements of hypocrisy due to lack of equality. Therefore black people were treated as second class citizens because they had no equality. Harry Truman was a democrat and took office from 1945-53, he was the first president to acknowledge civil rights. He understood and recognised new black civil rights groups such as the NAACP. Black American soldiers were allowed and given the chance to attend college and have an education. They obviously took advantage of this, was also a social progress (education).They had tasted what freedom and equality was like in Europe and also saw the inequality and injustice that was America, which treated them as second class citizens. Truman saw this injustice and was horrified at the racial attacks these people were being subjected to. However, in connection to this some good did come out of this, there was more awareness of southern inequality because motor cars were much more accessible, so campaign were mobile and much more recognised.

His reaction to black people being treated as second class citizens was "the buck stops here", which meant he was absolutely determined to get blacks the rights they deserved. However, the extent to which his motives were questionable as it can be argued he was aware of the importance of the black vote to the democratic group and he knew he needed to gain their support, although it was quite a significant progress because having the president of the USA supporting your cause was a giant leap towards black people becoming 'first' class citizens.

President Truman took government action in trying to help the black community. In 1946, Truman formed the President's Committee on Civil Rights; a report was produced called "To secure these rights", which examined racial minorities (black community) in America, so they could address the issue directly. Such problems in included lynching ( 0ver 300 reported cases), voting rights( in 1944 only 18% of blacks in the south could vote), police methods and violence (beatings, forced confessions), education, employment and health( black people were paid less that whites even if educated, and medical schools refused to take black students and they had less doctors). The report concluded that basically black Americans were second class citizens. It implied that segregation was a huge problem and that "separate but equal" did not exist as blacks did not receive equal treatment, and were inferior to associate with white people.

Truman recognised that it was the government's job to protect and make sure there were advances in civil rights for black Americans, and the civil rights section of department of justice needed to be changed and properly organised to enforce civil rights at local levels and organisations that discriminate should not be funded with racial equality monitored by committees. However the verdict was that recommendations were unrealistic as peoples' opinions cannot drastically be changed easily. But the report did raise awareness.

He recognised that black campaigners such as Asa Philip Randolph were persuading black soldiers not to go to war because of how they were treated (unfairly, abused and generally second class), and he used his power to desegregate armed forces, under an executive Order 9981 which guaranteed, "equality of treatment and opportunity for all", this boosted the confidence and morale of soldiers which encouraged them to fight for America. Also Truman made sure that at his Inauguration speech it was not segregated which showed the immediate effect of his policies all around the world.

Truman also appointed William Hastie as the first black judge in relation to making opportunities fairer in employment and education. He also appointed Ralph Bunche as the American Ambassador of the United Nations; he mediated between the Israelis and Palestinians and won the Nobel peace prize for this in 1950. These government appointments impacted the psychology of the black and white citizens, they could all see that black people were beginning to get high positions of power and authority; this in turn would help secure more democratic black votes, as their fair opportunities were being shown to increase.

He used his government power to ensure defence contracts would not go to companies that discriminated against blacks and signed the fair deal programme where which houses were built in poorer areas to address economic problems, with non segregated housing. Truman also signed the exec order of 9980 which would guarantee fair employment practices in the civil service.

In conclusion Truman was successful to a certain extent as he promoted equality in the armed forces and civil service by methods such as desegregation



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