The Jim Crow laws prevalent in the South, denied African Americans many legal rights. Excluded from public establishments like hospitals and schools, their lives were ruled by segregation. Desperately wanting to escape the fear and discrimination of racial prejudice, many fled in what was known as the Great Migration. The need for industrial workers created an opportunity to leave behind a life of poverty, and brought hope for economic development. Northern and Mid-western Cities offered African Americans greater freedom, including the right to vote.
African Americans still faced many hardships following urbanization. Challenged by racism and with a lack of formal education, they were forced to seek what ever employment they could gain to make ends met. This was often low paid and unskilled work. Higher living costs resulted in overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, forming slum type areas. White Americans continued to exclude them from their neighborhoods, forming covenants to keep them out. African Americans grouped together forming communities, often finding solace in strong ties to the church. The Jim Crow Laws “separate but equal” meant African-Americans still faced much racially motivated hatred and violence. However this was still an improvement from the South, with greater education prospects for their children holding promise for their futures.
The Harlem Renaissance was a rebirthing of African American culture, in an expression of cultural pride. Following years of oppression, the emergence of a new generation of educated African Americans, thrived in a tumultuous but creative environment. Much of the cultural expressions focused on African-American history and the struggle for equality. Challenging assumptions; artists, musicians, writers and philosophers showcased the contribution African Americans made to society, in an effort to bring about equality. As such, it was also a political movement that sought to unite black communities, while integrating into the wider society.
While the New Deal did not bring an end to the social injustices inflicted upon African Americans, it marked the start of a significant step forward. Shining a spot light on the racism that existed, it gave African Americans hope and support for their civil rights. Historian Havard Sitkoff noted the shift in attitude commenting, “Afro-Americans and their allies could begin to struggle with some expectation of success.” (African Americans and the New Deal: A Look Back in History – Roosevelt Institute 02/05/10) Several organizations were formed with the goal of limiting employment discrimination, thus improving the employment opportunities and working conditions for African Americans. The Roosevelt Administration was unprecedented in its efforts to ensure the federal government had a responsibility to protect the civil rights of all Americans.
The Civil Rights movement called for the end of racial segregation and demanded a stop to discrimination against African Americans. Enraged by ongoing injustices, the Black community rallied together in collective action. Martin Luther King was an advocate for non violent social change, and instrumental in leading this movement. Organizing mass protests, he won a noble peace prize and inspirited Congress to enact the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Malcolm X was also a prominent nationalist leader in the Black Revolution. In contrast, he encouraged African Americans to break free from racism “by any means necessary” including violence. He led the 1963 United Rally in Harlem, one of America’s largest civil right events.
The 44th presidential election marked the first African American president in Barack Obama. Fulfilling the sentiment of Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech, a huge milestone in both social and political progress was achieved. Obama’s unprecedented victory reflects a change in society’s attitude, showing the progress African America’s have made in race relations, since the 1960’s. Significant advancements have been made in education, higher incomes and a decrease in poverty, as segregation was abolished. However racial divides still cause disparities, which often place African Americans in less favorable circumstances.
The 21st Century still brings about its share of challenges for African Americans. Disproportionately high levels of incarceration, gang violence fuelling increased crime rates and drug issues, and high rates of unemployment aiding poverty, to name a few. Systemic racism can also be present, reflected in the alarming rates of police brutality, igniting the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Donald Trumps shameless support of white supremacist views, offer little hope to African Americans. Even more discouraging, is the number of American voters who supported his stance, helping to elect him as President. “The 2016 campaign has regularized racism, standardized anti-Semitism, and mainstreamed misogyny,” (Cornell William Brooks, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People)
- Aiken; Justin. Babs; Samson. The Great Migration of the African America tgmaa.weebly.com/cause.html (accessed 16/12/16)
- The Growing Pains of Urbanization, 1870-1900 (Chapter 19) http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11740/1.3 (accessed 16/12/16)
- Sitkoff; Havard. African Americans and the New Deal: A Look Back in History (Roosevelt Institute) 02/05/10
- Drake; Bruce. The Civil Rights Act at 50: Racial divides persist on how much progress has been made. (Pew Research Centre) 09/04/14