Sample Essay on African American studies

African American studies

After 1865, with the victory of the Civil War, the African Americans were very hopeful that this would be an end to their slavery. The freeing of over four million slaves in U.S.A was viewed as just a beginning. However, was the U.S ready for such great changes? The reconstruction period was meant to introduce changes into the society to allow the black to lead normal lives. The period between1890 to 1920 came to be known as the nadir of African American history. While the white people were determined to put an end to what they called the ‘Negro Problem’ the African Americans were still hopeful that they would win their fight for equality class citizenship.

African Americans went through many problems during the reconstruction period. The major cause of these problems was the fact that the whites, who were a majority in the U.S.A, were not willing to transition from the era of white supremacy and slavery to adopt equality. After the Civil war, there was a need for changes to be made. The reconstruction occurred in different stages, first was the presidential reconstruction, then emancipation and reconstruction, and the radical reconstruction. The adoption of laws supporting freedom of the African Americans by Abraham Lincoln, the president of the U.S, was also not readily accepted. The presidential reconstruction came a few days after his death. During this period, restrictive legislations also known as black codes were passed in the Southern states. The Northern States would have none of it, and the laws were never to be implemented. This led to the rise of radical reconstruction, which saw to a number of changes including the African Americans being elected to the Southern State Legislatures and to the U.S congress. With the rise of the radical reconstruction came violent responses mostly by the Southern whites who were dedicated to restoring white supremacy in the south. Many deaths were recorded with a number of African Americans being lynched. The Reconstruction era came to an end with the granting of a certificate of election to the Republican Presidential candidate, Rutherford B Hayes, and the acknowledgement of the certificate by the Democrats in Congress. Hayes traded the acknowledgment of this certificate with the Republicans acknowledgement that the Democrats solely controlled the South. Since the Democrats were largely against the reconstruction era, the era ended. This did not mark the end of the fight against racism and for equality.

The importance of African American leadership arose after the Civil war. With the different groups of reconstruction activists, it was necessary that strong leaders come up and guide the African Americans through the period and out of slavery into development. The reconstruction was meant to make life easier for the African Americans but since this did not work out, the problems faced by the African Americans stretched long into the 20th Century. Their leaders were needed even after legislations were enacted to protect them from racism. Some of these leaders included Booker T Washington and W.E.B Dubois. Through their leadership, the African Americans were able to take into considerations principles that would enhance their fight for liberation and equality. After the reconstruction, the conditions of life for the African Americans changed greatly. They found themselves poorer and constantly oppressed by the whites who believed that they could never be equals with the blacks. They were constantly treated as second-class citizens and s the main objective of the African American leaders was to make them first class citizens. The means of attaining this was however not clear. While others held that for the blacks to get the justice they wanted, they should go back to Africa. Others told them to use less violent and more democratic means of fighting for their rights. With the force that the whites were using however and with the acknowledgement that the South was a Democrats controlled area, they seemed to be meeting dead ends at every turn.

W.E.B Dubois approach to the problems faced by the African Americans from the reconstruction period even up to the twentieth century is quite simple. Dubois based his theories on a concept her called the color line. This was the role of race and racism in history and the society. In his work, Dubois constantly argued that the problem faced by the African Americans was majorly due to the color line. He tries to thoroughly study the question that “what part is the color line destined to play in the 20th Century.” As he states, “the secret of social progress is wide and thorough understanding of the social forces which move and modify your age.” Dubois goes farther ahead to examine the problems of the world and comes up with a conclusion that his critical research on the problem confirms the proposition with which I started-the world problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line-the question of the relation of the advanced races of men who happened to be white to the great majority of the undeveloped or half-developed nations of mankind who happen to be yellow, brown or black…” He goes on farther ahead to establish that the relationship portrayed is one of domination, narrow opportunity and exploitation. Through this analysis, Dubois rightfully proposes that the lower you are in the color line he more likely you are to faces the injustices visited upon the African Americans and as such, it is understood that these African Americans are at the very bottom. In his research, Dubois tries to find out how long the problems they face will last and if they would spill over into the 20th century. These problems, which Dubois as well as a number of other African Americans tried so hard to solve, turned out to be a little difficult to solve and as such even in the 20th century, the African Americans had to find a way of dealing with them.

The problems between the African Americans were deeper than Dubois imagined and they were not about to be solved anytime soon. Du Bois also supported political action and was one of the founders of NAACP. Being a civil rights activist, he proposed the talented tenth idea, which was simply that social modification could be realized only by raising a little group of university, educated African Americans. As he said, “The Negro Race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education then, among Negroes, must first deal with the “Talented Tenth”. It is the problem of developing the best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the worst.”

Booker T Washington, started out his activism career working side by side with Du Bois, this was however not to last long as they later developed many ideological differences. He became especially prominent in 1895 after his speech the Atlanta Compromise. Washington was not as much a radical as Du Bois was. In his speech he seemed to be of the idea that though the African Americans deserved full first class citizenship rights, they should agree to the political and social status quo. The status quo at that time advocated for separation and prejudice. Washington was of the opinion that instead of concentrating all energy on fighting for equality, the African Americans should spend more time and energy on “self help and building economic and material success within the black community”. This way the African Americans could prove to the whites that they deserved these rights. According to his autobiography, Up From Slavery, Washington emphasized that it was possible even for the poorest of people to rise up the social ladder if only they could work hard enough and diligently. Through his work, he candidly pushed for reconciliation with the whites. The fear Washington had for the violence that civil rights campaigns were bound to bring did not stop him however from bankrolling civil rights and anti lynching cases. He advocated more towards having the Africans Americans prepared for real life situations and job education. His main focus therefore was economic equality. This marked the major difference between Washington and Du Bois and was responsible for their parting ways.

Marcus Garvey, another African American leader came up just about the same time as Washington and Du Bois. Though most of his ideologies were different from those held by Du Bois, he seemed to agree a lot with him. His ideologies were however completely different from those held by Washington. His opinions were based solely on the gaining of liberation for all the African Americans. He concentrated his work against imperialism and colonization especially in African and Central America. He also actively fought against the intolerance shown against the African Americans in USA. Garvey was a strong believer in segregation. He though that all Africans Americans should have a self-sustaining society.

Ida B. Wells- Barnett, was one of the few women leaders in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Being a woman, she faced more difficulties than her male counterparts did. This is because she did not only have to fight for equality, suffrage and support anti lynching crusades, she was also faced with the struggle of being a women’s rights advocate in an age where women’s rights were hardly recognized anywhere. Ida’s active activism life began in 1884 when a railroad company’s conductor demanded that she give up her seat to a white man. In the paper The Free Speech, after the lynching of three of her friends, she wrote that the African Americans could not fight against lynching as they were greatly outnumbered and unlike the whites who could easily afford firearms and weapons, the African Americans were restricted from gaining arms. She was therefore of the opinion that the only way out for the African Americans was to save the little money that had and use it to move to other cities where they would be accepted and protected. She then took up a career in investigative journalism and since the whites could not stand being exposed, her newspaper office was destroyed. She moved to Chicago but continued investigating and exposing the injustices happening in the South. She joined Du Bois and strongly believed in his ideologies that the political and social equality was of paramount importance to the African Americans and she helped in forming the NAACP.

The solutions proposed by the African American leaders especially Du Bois, Washington, Garvey and Ida bore many similarities as much as there were some differences. All the leaders were keen towards gaining equality for all African Americans though their ways of gaining it were different. At time when African Americans were in dire need of guidance to overcome the injustices that were occasioned against them, any idea that seemed to work well was adopted. This led to different people standing for and believing in different ideas but all towards one end, that of equality.

The collective outcomes of the ideas and the solutions put forward by the African American leaders in the fight for equality can be seen up to today. These outcomes were not easy to come by and for a long time, even up to the 20th century, African Americans still went through a lot of injustices. Slavery ceased to be their main worry and in its place came worry for their lives, economic stability and political and social freedom. The whites were not willing to give them these easily and the period just after the reconstruction era was as difficult and as bad as when they were in slavery. For example though they were allowed to go to school, laws were passed to establish segregation and the maxim, separate but equal adopted. Penal laws were made stricter targeting the African Americans and it was not strange to find African Americans laboring in private fields and companies even after the abolition of slavery.

With time, however, African Americans were able to gain more freedom. Many of them were able to go to school as advocated by Washington and to gain education that was critical for equality and for economic stability. The laws establishing separation of African American schools were abolished due to the collective efforts of the African Americans through their leaders and though there was a lot of negative expectation from their teachers, the Africans Americans were able to get equal education in the same classrooms as the whites.

Economic equality did not take long to be achieved. Through hard work and good education, a number of the African Americans quickly rose up the social ladder. Political equality was however not as easy to achieve. This was majorly because the African Americans could not achieve political equality through fighting. They were allowed to vote and therefore they could form part of the jury, they could also be voted into political positions. This however did not mean that they would gain political stability. For a long time, they were still looked down upon in political situations and since the majority of people were whites; their votes did not have as much effect as it would have without discrimination. With time however, this was leveled out and the African Americans were able to gain political as well as social equality.