The Plight of the African Americans to Achieve those freedoms Promised
Published 26 Dec 2016
The African American population in the United States of America suffered racial prejudices during their formative years as slaves. This was seen as an affront to the rights and freedoms of the ordinary human beings as they were not granted most of their basic rights and freedoms. This, during those times, was a way of establishing dominance over them so that they could be used as slaves instead of the usual workers and farm helps. This caused a stir amongst human rights movements that viewed the whole scenario as a way of denying them their rights and freedoms.
Initially, there were no bodies that came out strongly to oppose the happenings as this was viewed as anti-establishment and against development. The Western world had at this time been experiencing several revolutions in their industries and agricultural sectors. The Agrarian and Industrial Revolution had caused a need for cheaper labor and natural resources.
As a reaction to this, America and many other western countries had ventured into Africa and Asia so as to source for cheap labor in the form of slaves.
After capturing and enslaving several Africans, they were taken to farms and industries in America where they were used as slaves for labor. The original slave immigrants gave rise to a generation of children who were now referred to as the African Americans. Some of them were not accorded equal rights like every other American as they were viewed as descendants of slaves. Slaves had been for a long time considered as second rate inferior citizens as they were not originally Americans. Amongst the rights of the African Americans that were abused were the rights to paid employment, rights to medical care and forced labor.
Others included child labor, restriction of movement and trafficking of slaves. To clamp on these vices, the American government decided to introduce an amendment to the rule of law in the year 1865. This was called the 13th Amendment of 1865 (Colbert 1) (Challenging the Challenge: Thirteenth Amendment as a Prohibition Against the Racial use of Peremptory Challenges 12). It basically placed all human beings within the boundaries of America as equal and hence all were to be governed under the same law. This implied that such vices as child labor and human trafficking would cease instantly. The amendment introduced restrictions on the age at which children could be used as laborers. It also freed all the adults and the general African American population against abuses aimed at them.
The Thirteenth Amendment, though necessary, did not bring about many changes as it was not all-encompassing and as such needed further amendment so as to align it further to include more rights. Before this amendment, the African American population was not viewed as citizens of America. This, to a few legislators, seemed to be against the laws and they viewed this as a selective application of the law. Though skeptical, they went ahead to vote for an amendment that would see African Americans granted the status of citizenship. It had been unimaginable to consider the African Americans as citizens as all along they had been seen as inferior to the native American population (Berger 1) (The Fourteenth Amendment: Light from the Fifteenth 34). This amendment was supposed to encourage mingling of all the races without prejudice.
Despite all the efforts at integrating all the African Americans into the system so that they could be viewed as equals, the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments still appeared to be laws which couldn’t be enforced. For instance, African Americans could not access legal representation easily when they faced charges in the courts of law. The Supreme Court did not however use the amended laws then wisely. Firstly, the US Supreme Court used the clauses that advocated for equality and privileges to raid areas where African Americans and other Americans existed. These raids could be lethal as they would affect many innocent African Americans. Therefore, in essence, the Thirteenth and the Fourteenth Amendments did not fully accomplish what they were set up for as they had loopholes in some clauses that could be exploited and interpreted differently.
These amendments faced stiff challenges so much so that organizations came up to oppose their infringement and abuse. These organizations constituted mainly employers and workers who wanted the commercial laws to favor them. On the other hand, some Representatives who had fronted for these amendments included James Ashley and James Wilson who had similar ideas on abolition of slavery. Ohio Representative James Ashley was responsible for the introduction of the thirteenth amendment. Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Cady are examples of other significant personalities who fought for the rights of women regardless of race.
The African American Civil Rights Movement (established between 1896 and 1954) was a major movement that used many ways to ensure that the rights and freedoms as expressed in the amendments were observed. The Fifteenth Amendment was a consequence of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. It allowed the African American man to vote in the country’s election.
Although it had been made earlier, it was passed in the year 1870 after much negotiation. Section one of the amendment allowed all the citizens of America to vote regardless of their color, race or state of servitude. Therefore, whereas the Thirteenth Amendment had set centre-stage for the abolition of slavery, the Fourteenth had ensured that African Americans were recognized as legitimate Americans. The Fifteenth Amendment then accorded the African American male citizens the right to vote. This was a major step towards the realization of rights and freedoms like never before.
Like all the other amendments, the Fifteenth Amendment faced barriers that were drastic to voting by African Americans. For one, the Fourteenth Amendment had failed to allow former slaves the right to vote. Implementation of the particular section that allowed African Americans to vote became hard as Congressmen were still rigid on their stand not to allow them the right to vote. However, after the Fifteenth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment did not pose much threat as it had been repealed. The problem, however, stood in the manner in which implementation was difficult. Therefore, the Fifteenth Amendment faced a technical problem of lack of political and general good will.
This was headed by groups such as Ku Klux Klan which used violent confrontations as a means to prevent the voting by African American men (Civil Rights pision 1) (Introduction to Federal Voting Rights Laws 1). Other ways through which the African Americans were barred from voting included the use of fraudulent means through which their votes could be watered down. This included the use of premeditated violence so as to scare them away from voting districts when it was time to cast votes. Other agreements by responsible authorities were brought to force but this did not do much to help the situation.
For instance, the Enforcement Act and the Force Act which were supposed to pacify the situation only provided the white supremacists with loopholes to use against the African Americans. An example is when these acts allowed for the withdrawal of forces which were active in protecting reserved areas. The removal of these forces paved way for raids by other supremacist groups that could still use violence to scare the African Americans.
The twentieth century saw the growing of the number of civil rights groups and personalities. Malcolm X. and Martin Luther King Jr. are the two most recognizable faces behind the fight for freedom and rights of the African American population. The general American population treated their arrival into the scene differently. Whereas Martin Luther King Jr. was recognized as a rights activist who used acceptable means to agitate for freedoms of the African American populace, Malcolm X. used violence and hatred.
This was a big challenge as even the whites who recognized the rights of African Americans were disgusted by Malcolm X.’s way of fighting for freedom. This was an affront to most of the people who had set some pace in realizing the dreams of a free African American Society. Both Malcolm and Martin were felled by the bullet of an assassin. They were also both affected by the forces of the KKK. The KKK was an amorphous supremacist group established by whites who wanted America to belong exclusively to the white population that had all along been natives (Wade 1) (The Fiery Cross: The Ku Klux Klan in America 6).
They detested other immigrant populations including the Mexican Americans but they were mostly against the African Americans. They not only used unorthodox and violent means to scare away African Americans back to reserves and areas allocated to them but also went ahead and eliminated them by use of death. At times, they could use symbolism to scare away African Americans. This included the use of burning crosses that they erected at the compounds of their targets during the night. At other times, they petrol-bombed homes that were deserted so as to pass threats. These actions in effect succeeded especially during elections so much so that the black populations avoided polling stations as much as they could.
These actions were meant to curtail African American Population from coming together and protesting. They were timely plans to always keep the population scattered. The law enforcers like police did little to help since they had developed an attitude towards the black population. Mississippi burning, a movie based on a true story, reveals the manner in which police treated African Americans. It shows how three rights activists were murdered in 1964 and the way in which the case was handled by the authorities. One of the policemen who was assigned to the case and is from the North takes an active role in ensuring that the culprits are brought to justice. On the other hand, his partner who is from the South seems to downplay everything so much so that it is seen as if the case is not very serious. This reveals the attitude with which most of the Southern white population and police enforcement had towards the African Americans.
Freedom Summer was a movement which had membership across racial boundaries. It was mainly made up of students who had come together to fight for the rights of the African Americans in the South to be able to express their freedom to vote. So as to get more people to vote, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman opened up what were called ‘Freedom Schools’ where they registered African Americans to vote (Montaldo 1) (The ‘Mississippi Burning’ Case 1). This move had taken the KKK movement by surprise as they had not expected such a bold and open move since the launch of their activities to scare African Americans.
The KKK put constant surveillance on the movement and its leaders who were predominantly blacks. The three were thus constantly tracked and their activities noted. It is on the fateful evening of June 21st, 1964 when the three were reported missing. They were later found murdered. The FBI and other law enforcers who were by then tracking the activities of the rights movement and the responses of the KKK were forced to act. It is only that their action was a case of too little, too late. This is due to the fact that the murders brought about civil strife in Mississippi and other areas that had substantive African American populations.
In conclusion, the general American government has struggled to create equal rights for all the American citizens regardless of race and color. This is seen in the way representatives introduced amendments to the law so as to allow more rights and freedoms to the African American population. The Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments granted perpetually better rights and freedoms to African Americans. It does not go without saying that the amendments faced resistances from white supremacists.
These resistances presented the blacks with barriers that seemed to prevent them from achieving their rights and freedoms. Notable inpiduals were pitted against the tide in wanting to accord the African Americans their rights. These figures included people from across the racial pide. James Mitchell Ashley and James Wilson were responsible for the introduction of the Thirteenth Amendment. The US Supreme Court had also exploited some loopholes in the clauses in these amendments to harass the African Americans living in restricted areas.
Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Cady were other notable figures behind the emancipation of the woman. This did not discriminate whichever race the woman came from. Organizations that resisted the according of African Americans rights included the Ku Klux Klan who used violent means to resist the Fifteenth Amendment which had accorded the African American Rights to vote. The Mississippi Burning shows how rights activists in the Freedom Summer movement were murdered by the KKK due to the influence that they had on the black population.
- Berger, R. The Fourteenth Amendment: Light from the Fifteenth. 1979. Vol. 74, No. 3.
- Civil Rights pision. Introduction to Federal Voting Rights Laws. (2010). United States Department of Justice. Web.
- Colbert, D.L. Challenging the Challenge: Thirteenth Amendment as a Prohibition Against the Racial Use of Peremptory Challenges. 1990. Print.
- Montaldo, C. The ‘Mississippi Burning’ Case. 2000. Web.
- Wade, W.C. The Fiery Cross: The Ku Klux Klan in America. 1997. Print.