LISA R. BROWN
HIS303: THE AMERICAN CONSTITUTION
THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT
INSTRUCTOR: TAMMI CLEARFIELD
June 7, 2010
Thesis: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. However, during the civil rights movement, Dr. King’s dream moved us a little closer to that reality. But in today’s society we still strive for our civil rights. By exploring the civil rights movement this essay will show that Dr. King’s dream still has a long way to go before mankind no matter race, creed, or color can live in the same world with the same civil and equal rights. And only then will the civil rights movement, will have accomplished it’s goal. From the beginning, race has been at the heart of the deepest divisions in the United States and the greatest challenges to its democratic vision. Africans were brought to the continent in slavery. Taken from their own country unwillingly to serve man in the ruthless, unbearable, and harden conditions, People of color stripped from their way of living, to be brought to a country to be ruled by an unjust and cruel stiff hand. During the course of the slave trade, millions of Africans became involuntary immigrants to the New World. Some African captives resisted enslavement by fleeing from slave forts on the West African coast. Others mutinied on board slave trading vessels, or cast themselves into the ocean. In the New World there were those who ran away from their owners, ran away among the Indians, formed maroon societies, revolted, feigned sickness, or participated in work slow downs. Some sought and succeeded in gaining liberty through various legal means such as “good service” to their masters, self-purchase, or military service. Still others seemingly acquiesced and learned to survive in servitude. The European, American, and African slave traders engaged in the lucrative trade in humans, and the politicians and businessmen who supported them, did not intend to put into motion a chain of events that would motivate the captives and their descendants to fight for full citizenship in the United States of America. But they did. When Thomas Jefferson penned the words, “All men are created equal,” he could not possibly have envisioned hoe literally his own slaves and others would take his words. African Americans repeatedly questioned how their owners could consider themselves noble in their own fight for independence from England while simultaneously believing that it was wrong for slaves to do the same. Africans and their American-born descendants used every method to resist enslavement, as well as demand emancipation and full participation in American society. Their strategies varied, but the goal remained unchanged: freedom and equality. Black and white abolitionists in the first half of the nineteenth century waged a biracial assault against slavery. Their efforts proved to be extremely effective. Abolitionists focused attention on slavery and made it difficult to ignore. They heightened the rift that had threatened to destroy the unity of the nation even as early as the Constitutional Convention. Although some Quakers were slaveholders, members of that religious group were among the earliest to protest the African slave trade, the perpetual bondage of its captives, and the practice of separating enslaved family members by sale to different masters. As the nineteenth century progressed, many abolitionists united to form numerous antislavery societies. These groups sent petitions with thousands of signatures to Congress, held abolition meetings and conferences, boycotted products made with slave labor, printed mountains of literature, and gave innumerable speeches for their cause. Individual abolitionists sometimes advocated violent means for bringing slavery to an end. Although black and white abolitionists often worked together, by the...
References: Perspective on Race and Ethnicity: Michael Omni and Howard Winant offer a new synthesis of racial and ethnic theories in Racial Formation in the United States (Routledge, 1986). For the ethnicity paradigm, see Nathan Glazer and Daniel P. Moynihan, Ethnicity: Theory and Experience (Harvard Univ. Press. 1975); and the thematic essays in Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups (Harvard Univ. Press, 1980).
African Americans: For an overview of the African American Freedom movement, see Vincent Harding, There is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981) Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution. 1863-1877 (Harper & Row, 1988) is the definitive study to date on this crucial period. The gradual introduction of segregation following the Compromise of 1877 is traced by C.Vann Woodward in The Strange Career of Jim Crow, 3rd revised edition (1955; Oxford Univ. Press, 1987)
The special role of women’s leadership is analyzed by Belinda Robnett, How Long? How Long? African-American Women in the Struggle for Civil Rights (Oxford Univ. Press. 1997). The long tradition of black women activist is traced in Deborah Gray White, Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves, 1894-1994 (W.W. Norton, 1999), and Lynne Olson, Freedom’s Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 10 1970 (Scribner, 2001).
The movement in Mississippi is the subject of several studies. On the 1964 summer project, see Doug McAdam, Freedom Summer (Oxford Univ. Press, 1988). See also Freedom is a Constant Struggle: An Anthology of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, Ed. By Susie Erenrich (Cultural Center for Social Change, 1999)
African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship, The exhibition The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship showcases the incomparable African American collection of the Library of Congress. Explore black America’s quest for equality from the early national period through the twentieth century. www.http://memory.1oc.gov/ammem/aaohtml/exhibit/aointro,html retrieved on June 7, 2010
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