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The historical progression of African American community was accompanied by the permanent struggle of African Americans for civil rights and equal opportunities. The Civil War targeted at the liberation of African Americans, who were enslaved by the dominant white Americans. However, the idealistic struggle of the Civil War did not bring a consistent improvement of the position of African Americans.
Instead, African Americans had to spend over a hundred years in the permanent struggle for their rights and equal opportunities with the white population to partially realize ideals of the Civil War both white and African Americans had been fighting for during the war. In fact, after the end of the Civil War, African Americans were liberated, but the change of their social status did not bring a considerable relief for them because they still suffered from economic and political oppression.
The period from 1865-1876 was probably the most dramatic period in the history of African Americans because it is during this time their dreams of the liberation and new life had reached the apogee and it was by the end of this period their dreams had been totally ruined. At first glance, the progress in the position of African Americans was obvious.
After the Civil War African Americans were freed, the 13th amendment of the US Constitution, ratified in 1865, outlawed slavery in the US, while the 14th amendment, ratified in 1868, granted full US citizenship to African Americans Moreover, in 1870, the 15th amendment extended the right to vote to black males (Franklin, 2001). However, such a progress proved to be illusory and changes were rather formal than real since, the real position of African American population had failed to improve consistently after the end of the Civil War and the decade to follow.
In fact, African Americans were constantly oppressed, their election rights were limited, numerous frauds deprived them of an opportunity to influence political life of the country and get their representatives in the legislative, judicial and executive power of the US. In such a 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 protections to freedmen and women” (Goldenberg, 1999, p. 129) Moreover, they faced a problem of physical extinction.
For instance, in 1867, the Ku-Klux-Klan, the clandestine organization, was founded which made the racial terrorism its main ideology. This organization simply slaughtered African Americans. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the Colfax and Coushatta massacres in Louisiana in 1873 and 1874 (Weiner and Knopf, 2004). The anti-freedom movement grew stronger and resulted in the appearance of numerous racist organizations, such as the White League, which were similar to the Ku-Klux-Klan, and the formation of white militia, which actually represented a military wing of the racial terrorist organization.
Within the period from 1877 to 1920, the situation has hardly changed for better. The discrimination of African Americans and massacres were ongoing. From 1890 to 1908 many states, namely ten of eleven Southern states, adopted new Constitutions or amendments that affectively disfranchised most African Americans as well as many poor whites (Goldenberg, 1999). As a result, African Americans voter registration and turnouts decreased dramatically and in some cases were equal to zero.
Naturally, in such a situation, African American could not have an opportunity to be represented in either branch of power in the US. At the same time, the growing mob violence led to thousands of deaths and millions of African Americans were forced to move from their land and migrate to other states, where they could feel safer, though, even in the North, the socioeconomic position of African Americans was very poor because of the low educational level and low qualification of African Americans, which made them less competitive compared to white Americans.
Moreover, the situation was deteriorated in the early 20th century because of the immigration of relatively well-qualified labor force from Europe which decreased economic opportunities of African Americans even more. In response, African Americans developed their civil right movement that resulted in the creation of the Niagara movement and other secret civil rights organizations.
For instance, founders of the Niagara movement “produced a manifesto calling for an end to racial discrimination, full civil liberties for African Americans and recognition of human brotherhood” (Black, 2005, p. 35). However, in 1921-1945, the situation has started to improve and the civil right movement of African Americans had started to grow stronger. The 1920s were the period known as the Harlem Renaissance. In the result of the Great Migration of African Americans from South to North their number in Northern states increased consistently.
They got larger opportunities to exercise their rights since oppression in the North was less severe than in the South. As a esult, the cultural movement, known as the Harlem Renaissance, spread nationwide and became a powerful movement which proved the power of African American community and their ability to achieve success in the US. Outstanding artists of that epoch, such as Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Jacob Lawrence, and others, supported this movement and African American civil right movement. The economic crisis of the late 1920-s -1930s deteriorated the position of African Americans. Nevertheless, they contributed consistently to the victory of the US and allies in World War II (Goldenberg, 1999).
In the post-World War II period, from 1946 to 1974, the Civil Right movement had reached its highest point of the development. Its leader, Martin Luther King, as well as other prominent leaders, such as Malcolm X, managed to organize the social resistance movement which forced the dominant white group to provide larger opportunities for African Americans to exercise their rights. For instance, one of the achievements of the civil right movement was the elimination of school segregation. The racial discrimination was formally forbidden.
The violence against African Americans decreased, though it did not prevent M. L. King from being killed in 1968 (Braude, 2002). Finally, the late 20th century was marked by the growing representation of African Americans in the political power of the US. In fact, larger opportunities allowed African Americans be elected to the legislative power, get position in the executive and judicial power. For instance, in 1989, Douglas Wilder became the first African American governor in the US and, in 1992, Carol Moseley-Braun became the first African American woman elected to the US Senate (Franklin, 2001).
However, even today the position of African Americans is far from perfect and absolutely equal. The ruling elite of the US is still predominantly white, while many African Americans live in poverty stricken neighborhoods. Moreover, even modern public schools return to the epoch of segregation since often the share of non-white students in some public schools exceeds 99% (Braude, 2002). Nevertheless, the civil right movement paved the way to the better life of African Americans.
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