African Americans: Free at Last? Equal at Last?
- 17th century – beginning of the transatlantic slave trade (between Europe, Africa, British colonial land in America → exchange of goods for slaves and vice versa)
- Chattel slavery (slaves as personal property → mostly working on plantations)
- Exploitation, abuse, whipped, denial of education
- Declaration of Independence after the War of Independence declares “all men are created equal” → but slaves are not considered men or people
- Critics exist → for instance Harriet Beecher Stowe
Civil War (1861-1865) and Reconstruction Period (1865-1877)
- Result for African Americans: Emancipation Proclamation + 13th, 14th, 15th Amendment → slavery abolished, US citizenship for all former slaves, right to vote – at least theoretically by law → the reality is shaped by segregation and barriers
- Black Codes restrict blacks
- Jim Crow Laws → Segregation (in busses, schools etc.)
- Court declares “separate but equal” as constitutional
- Poll taxes + literacy tests for voting → many African Americans are hindered from voting
- Jury members in court are picked from voting lists → all-white juries
Civil Rights Movement
- After WW2 → “separate but equal” declared as unconstitutional → did not immediately change the actual situation
- Bus boycott organized by Martin Luther King → no more segregation in busses
- Triumphs of the Civil Rights Movement: Civil Rights Act, Civil Voting Act
Black Power Movement
- Black Panther Party, Malcom X → violent protest
African Americans today
- A racial divide still exists
- Wealth gap
- Educational gap
- à cycle of poverty (negative influence caused by the social environment)
- Higher incarceration rate of blacks
A lesson before dying by Ernest j Gaines
“A lesson before dying”, set in the 1940s, thematizes injustice against African Americans in the American South. The narrator Grant Wiggins (a teacher at a plantation school) is obliged by his relatives to restore the dignity of the wrongfully to death sentenced Jefferson. In spite of the adverse circumstances, Grant is able to persuade Jefferson of his dignity and becomes friend with Paul a white deputy.
The movie “The Butler” narrates the story of Cecil Gaines, who grows up on a plantation, experiences the murder of his father by the white owner of the plantation but eventually becomes a butler in the white house. Through Cecil´s and his family´s story the film depicts the development of the situation for blacks in the US. Cecil´s oldest son Louis for instance takes part in the civil rights movement creating tension in the family.
Vocabulary & phrases
- Chattel slavery
- Black Codes / Jim Crow Laws
- separate but equal
- Ku Klux Klan
- White supremacism
Lynching is the informal public execution by a mob in order to punish an alleged transgressor, or to intimidate a group. Lynchings took place in the United States both before and after the American Civil War, most commonly in Southern states and most frequently in the late 19th century. Most lynchings were on African-American men in the South. Poems of the time like “Strange fruit” by Lewis Allan try to capture the savageness and cruelty of lynching.
- Tulsa´s Black Wall Street massacre → Red summer of 1919
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