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African Americans Case

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Brooke Williams

April 5, 2010

Hist 426

African Americans struggled with various hardships in the late 19th century, also known as the Gilded Age, for its rapid growth in technology and economy. African Americans suffered through obvious racism that often led to violence and uproar. The misuse of political power led to laws that took away rights of both groups.

With the conclusion of the Civil War much of the White South was left with ruined land, loss of family, and most importantly the, the loss of slaves. Monetarily, the South lost over 2.5 billion dollars in investments with the abolishment of slavery and the South believed that the Civil War was the mission of Northern manufacturers to wipe out Southern agriculture. The Southerners loss their way of life when left without slaves the Whites did not know how to take care of their home, their children, and tend to normal domestic tasks. The freed slaves were not seeking to enact revenge on their previous slaveholders but instead were testing their freedom by the ability and freedom to just walk away without supervision. Over two million Africans were forced from their loved ones during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade leading up the Civil War. Many former slaves sought out their lost family but it was very difficult to find where they were and if they were even alive.

In the late 19th century, once Reconstruction ended, the state governments in the South and other various states began passing laws that would restrict the rights of freed slaves in order to keep African Americans as second-class citizens. These restrictions led to the Jim Crow Laws in the South and from that point on everything was segregated. A legal challenge to the Jim Crow laws resulted in the ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, which stated that racially segregated facilities were constitutional as long as they were equal in quality. The Court stated that the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment applied to political, not social, equality. The "separate, but equal" doctrine dominated the social and economic life of African Americans in the South for more than half a century.

The Jim Crow laws controlled an African American's life in the South in various ways. One of the most unjust was the effect on education. The Jim Crow laws required African American children to be segregated from whites in school. In Du Bois' essay, "Of the Meaning of Progress", Du Bois reminiscences about his first teaching experience, when the Jim Crow laws were extremely apparent in the two summers of which he taught the children of the local black sharecroppers in a small, rundown shack (Du Bois, 38). As well as being segregated by color while learning, African Americans were openly segregated in railroad cars, drinking fountains, restaurants, and inhibited African Americans from doing their day-to-day tasks.

These laws were continually supported by not only the Southern states but the so-called progressive Northern states as well and were only fueled by the paranoia that Whites carried for African Americans. There is no better example of this than the D.W. Griffiths movie, Birth of a Nation. In this now controversial silent film, Birth of a Nation depicts the story of the Civil War and the aftermath as seen through the eyes of two families, one from the North and one from the South. When the Union gets control of the South, the Southern family, the Cameron's, organize a so-called vigilante group, the Ku Klux Klan. The Ku Klux Klan takes action after finding Flora Cameron dead trying to escape the "lustful advances" of a renegade slave and fights for the restoration of the South. Birth of a Nation was one of the most popular films at the time, which only means that the public watched this movie and became even more engulfed in the hype of the "perverted Black man", thus the necessity of maintaining the segregation between Blacks and Whites (Birth of a Nation, 1915).

Creating the illusion that African American men endangered White females in the South commenced massive lynchings of innocent Black men. The "heroes" in Birth of a Nation are the KKK and they were appealing



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