The Long Road Still Traveled: The African American Struggle Toward Equality Cecil Cousins
HIS204: American History Since 1865
Professor Gregory Lawson
September 24, 2012
United States history was made on January 20, 2009 when Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the 44th resident of the United States of America. It was a very chilly day in Washington D.C., but a day that many would travel from around the world to witness. Some estimates say that there were over a million people in attendance and countless millions watched on television from around the globe. Regardless of your race, creed, color or political affiliation, it was likely hard not to feel somewhat moved watching American swear in its first black president. However, there were some that felt this was the worst day in our country’s history. There were those who, because of President Obama’s race felt that we had hit rock bottom. It is this deep rooted prejudice that has made the African American struggle for equality just that, a struggle. Black people in America have done everything from demand their rights peacefully and politically to proving themselves on the battlefield. This is a journey without a real ending. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, millions of Africans were brought out of Africa and sold into slavery. In what is now America, there were approximately 4 million slaves according to the 1860 United States Census (Behrendt, 1999). Africans tended to be proud people and now they had been stripped from their culture and their way of life. Treated more like property than human beings, families were forcibly separated. They were sold just like animals or other possessions. Men were sold as “bucks” and women as “wenches”. Wives were separated from husbands and minor aged children were separated from their parents. On plantations, many slaves were whipped or tortured for standing up or just to be made an example of. It was one hell of an introduction to this new world. Fast forward a couple hundred years, primarily in the northern states, people finally began to see the wrong in slavery. The southern states however, benefitted the most from slavery and didn’t want to part with the free labor. These differences were the topic of hot debate between the federal government and the proslavery states of the south. In a series of letters written in the 1790’s, our first president, George Washington and a close confidant, David Stuart spoke about the fact that the federal government would even debate on the slave issue and how Virginia slaveholders were “much enraged”. These differences came to a head in 1861 with the start of the American Civil War. This is perhaps the first real debate over “big government” with the south viewing the issues as a threat to their “freedom”. President Abraham Lincoln removed that freedom with the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. The American Civil War ended in 1865 with the defeat of the south and the abolition of slavery. With the war over, and the country still divisive, now there were over 4 million “free” slaves who need to find homes and establish themselves. The “Reconstruction” period from 1865-1867 was an important time for reunifying the country even though it did little to help the plight of the black family in America (Bowles, 2011). In American History 1865 to Present End of isolation, Mark D. Bowles writes:
It was a time, after the divisiveness and devastation of the Civil War, when the nation searched for order economically, politically, geographically, and racially. The country began to wrestle with the meanings of emancipation in the wake of the Civil War, while nearly 4 million freed slaves struggled to make a home for themselves as citizens during a period known as Reconstruction, which lasted from 1865 to 1877. Though Reconstruction was unable to end the social,...
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