Roots of the cry for acceptance
The struggle for the African-American case for acceptance in to a society that looks upon them as something of an irritant came way before the time of Dr. King. After the Civil War, the bias against the newly-freed slaves became readily apparent. Ever since they were bought over from their points of origin to serve as slaves in the Americas, this period spanned over a little than 200 hundred years (CRMV). During these years, many slaves escaped from their masters, joining native American tribes in their fight against “white” encroachment on their lands (CRMV).
During the War of Independence, some of them fought on the side of the British on the premise of British promises that they will be granted their freedom (CRMV). Others fought on the side of the Americans in the hope that slavery wil be a thing of the past in the new nation (CRMV). But to their dismay, the practice of slavery was not abolished in the new nation; rather, it was enshrined in the new fundamental law of the land (CRMV). Fearing that Abraham Lincoln, in his tenure as President, would abolish slavery, several states seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America (CRMV). Blacks enlisted in the Union Army, 180,000 of them, serving in units commanded by white officers and receiving lower than the standard pay (CRMV). It should also be noted that during the War, blacks sustained a higher death ratio than whites, owing to the racist policies of their commanders (CRMV).
The Period of Reconstruction (1866-1877) gave the blacks new hope in their bis fro freedom and acceptance in their new country. The promise was that blacks will be able to own forty acres of farm land with the mule thrown in, education opportunities and freedom to the former slaves (CRMV). But sadly, the promises made to the black sector of the society remained just that, promises (CRMV).
Back to the old system… and Abuses
The Compromise of 1877 effectively removed all forms of Federal protection against the blacks (CRMV). The deal concerned the proclamation of President Rutherford Hayes in 1876 (Furman). The main issue was to address the demand for Democrats from the Southern States and some Republicans ending Federal control of some Southern states, in what was called the Reconstruction period (Furman). Hayes won the presidency mainly due to the swing of Democrat votes in the South, after committing Hayes to his promise to end Federal control over the Southern States (Furman). One such event that displayed this act of political survival was the case of Homer Plessy.
Blacks against Uncle Sam
Homer Plessy did nothing more than sit in the “White” car of the East Lousiana Railroad (Cozzens). After being jailed, Plessy argued that the Separate Car Act was in violation of the 13th and 14th amendments of the Constitution (Cozzens). The judge in the case, John Howard Ferguson, found Plessy guilty on the charge of sitting in the “White” car instead of the “Colored” car, though Plessy was more white than black (Cozzens). The case set the tone for the segregation of facilities on the “segregation was constitutional as long as it is equal” premise (Cozzens). Only in 1954 in the Brown vs. Board of Education promulgation, was this doctrine of “separation but equal” be taken down (Cozzens). On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, handed out the decision that segregation in the schools was unconstitutional, ruling that having such institutions are inherently illegal (Cozzens). This ruling effectively overturned the Plessy vs. Ferguson ruling of the Louisina court (Cozzens).
A world power…divided
The lapses and uncertainties during the years of the civil rights era would turn out to be the stage of a major contribution to the freedom and recognition of rights in the years to come. In 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, in an effort to address the growing demand from blacks for equal rights, signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, making it illegal for discrimination in employment and segregation of the use of public facilities (About). The new legislation effectively took out the foundation of discrimination, and gave Federal authorities the needed legal backing to remove segregation (Infoplease). Civil rights groups and personalities, however, continued on the path of confrontation with authorities. The National Association for the Advanacement of Colored People (NAACP) tested the the legality of the Brown (1954) decision with the United States Supreme Court and won the case (McElrath).
The Black Panthers opposed the non-violent stand of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and armed its members against aggression from authorities (McElrath). Earlier, President Truman and the Armed Forces inclined more to a racial equality ploicy in governement and the military, respectively (Infoplease). It can be thus said that the contribution of the civil rights movement was the notion that people should be recognized and afforded legal rights on an equal basis, not on the basis of their color, race or creed.
The Black Consertaive movement
Two prominent black conservatives, Ward Connerly and Shelby Steele, led the movement in recent years (Rubeck). Although Steele was rather hesitant to receive the label of a “black conservative” (Rubeck), Connerly was more accepting of the said label (Rubeck). Connerly, founder of the American Civil Rights Institute, is one of the movements strongest oppositors against affirmative action (Wilayto). His latest endeavor saw him put in the ballot to abolish all affirmative action programs California (Wilayto). Not that Connerly is against the black people. He just wanted a more balanced presentation of history from the perspective of black people (Wilayto).
In the years that preceded the Vietnam War, there was a prevalent “Red scare” in the American political arena (CRMV). The civil rights movement was persecuted as any form of dissent was deemed to be an act of treason to the government (CRMV). Also, the presence of “integrated” groups were viewed as a member of Communist groups in the United States (CRMV). In 1968, The Kermer Commission, in its report (1968), declared that the United States was moving toward a two-society state- a black and white state (Infoplease).
The seeming divide of black and white sectors of society have not died down in recent years. Even though there have been some success for the black people in the areas of business, education, sports and some other fields, the bias against the blacks have remained, mainly due to the stereotypes that have popped up in the media, especially on television (Infoplease). A sad, and very tragic, example of this lingering bias and prejudice against blacks (extending to all colors in recent years), is the recent beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles by police officers due to a traffic incident. These same officers were evetually found not guilty by the court, sparking a massive rally and protest action (Infoplease). The rally eventually degenerated into riots and burnings, turning the city of Los Angeles into a virtual war zone. Until these issues are addressed effectively, the possibility of riots and violence to and from the black community will always be left open.
Cozzens, Liza. “Plessy vs. Ferguson”. 17 September 1999.
“Civil Rights Timeline”. Infoplease. Information Please database.
McElrath, Jessica. “ Civil rights movement timeline; 1954-1968”.
Furman University. “1877: The compromise of 1877”. 17 November 2006.
“Historical context”. Civil Rights movement veterans website.
Rubeck, Tracie. “ Black conservatives and civil rights movement memory”. 14 December 2006.
Wilayto, Phil. “ Ward Connerly & the American Civil Rights Institute”. Briefing Paper for Right Watch, a project of A Job is a Right Campaign.