African American History: from Slavery to Freedom

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African American civil rights movements have elevated the style and functionality of recent protests and rights movements by defying the odds through each time period as oppositions towards African-Americans grew with the hatred towards them and actions taken to suppress them.

In the dawn of Colonial period, 20% of the population in the colonies was of African origin. The legalized knowledge of enslaving Africans happened in every colony, but the economic realities of the Southern colonies perpetuated this organization first legalized in Massachusetts in 1641. Within this radical period, more than half of all African Americans worked on plantations in Virginia and Maryland. Most Africans were in the Chesapeake area, where they made up to 60% of the total population. The first official United States Census had in 1790 showed that eight percent of the colored people were free. Whether free or enslaved, Africans in the Chesapeake established families, networks for distributing knowledge, life techniques, and different kinds of resistance to their status. The black community was not only able to survive in the new world, but also found ways of escaping the oppressive rule of slavery. The most important thing about this period is that it was a time when slavery was at an all time high. The slave trade began in 1619, and by 1800 there were nearly one million slaves in the Americas. During this time, many blacks were forced into labor on white owned plantations for little to no pay and to be treated as property. This led to the formation of the Black codes, which made it illegal for blacks to own land or vote. These codes were passed by Congress and enforced through the courts, which made it evident that whites were trying to keep slaves in a state of “involuntary servitude”. Blacks were being suppressed with this “involuntary servitude’ because they were forced to an annual labor contract which stated that they had to work from sunup to sundown, six days a week. In addition, the abolitionist movement was gaining momentum.

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Abolitionism is the ideal to abolish slavery, and it is one of the main factors in the ending of slavery and black oppression. The abolitionists wanted to end slavery and make sure that equality is a societal norm. This lead to the foundation for most protests and revolutions, because the ideal of equality benefited the masses, which overpowered those with wrong ideals. The civil rights movement was also beginning to gain momentum with it's attempts to break down segregation laws and create equal opportunities for all peoples, beginning with slaves. Another example of how African-Americans changed the standard for rights movements was the American revolution. slaves were granted freedom by the British if they ran from their patriot masters and joined the British. This led 20,000 slaves to liberate themselves and join the British thinking that they would gain freedom at the end of the war if the British won. This could be seen as one of the biggest slave revolts because all these slaves defied their masters and fought for their freedom in a way that seemed impossible before the civil war. The civil war gave way to a new ideal for slaves which was equality.

In 1865, the thirteenth amendment was passed. This amendment abolished slavery. This is where the black codes came into play and created a new era where slavery was made illegal in the United States but it also ended the civil war and freed blacks from slavery. The civil war had many effects on African Americans history and how they were treated and how they felt about themselves. The civil war changed everything for African Americans and helped them become more independent and helped them realize their self worth. During the early 1800’s northern states ratified laws to slowly decrease the significance and use of slavery. This caused a major divide between the northerners and southerners. Since the north did not depend on slavery, the south saw these laws as a threat to their way of life and so they took it personally. The south, feeling justified with their actions, led way to new ideals that could back up malicious ideas or lifestyles in this case. The idea that wrongful actions against humans can be outright opposed to is an effect on modern day movements by the African-Americans. There will always be an equal or opposite reaction to everything, which means that protests against equality between races or other topics will only be fueled but those who are doing the right thing.

Anti-slavery characters like Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B Du Bois gave new meaning to what the free black man could do, and that mainly was help their people get out of this time of tribulation. The standard that Douglass set was that to make a change against the white mans or the oppressor was that you had to elevate to and above their level, because Douglass was able to work on freeing his people through the education he received allowing him to communicate with the whites and not feel left behind. People like Douglass led more free and enslaved Blacks to become more knowledgeable about their situation causing many to be able to speak for themselves. This also changed the way modern protest leaders function, because they are mostly well versed on their topic of interest.

The revolutionary process of the civil rights movements has evolved through time, starting out with Blacks having little to no voice, then being able to fight in the military, following this is the ideal of abolitionism which started to gain traction as slaves started to have hope in one another, then comes the full on abolitionist movement giving way to change in societal norms and the way society saw protests and movements. Slavery, known as the “original sin”, left an imprint throughout history of what not to do and a reason to fight for equality so that we may never revert to what America used to be like and how it treated the less fortunate and humble African-Americans. Slavery is what separated the North and the South causing a rift between them which fueled another reason for people to fight for equality so that everyone can be happy and have a chance to live their life as a true American citizen. Un alienable rights were not given to slaves, it was only given to the white man to be able to have the basic rights of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This was another factor to have revolutionized modern protests because many people believed that all peoples should have these rights because it is a necessity to be able to be free. The gradual process of giving Blacks these rights and assimilating them into society with basic rights and giving them a voice to speak for their equality was slow but meaningful process that set an example for others on how to proceed with change in a society that is against it. These advancements in civil rights led the way for activists like Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King Jr. To expand on the platform previously set for them to free their people.                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Works cited

  1. McAdam, D., McCarthy, J. D., & Zald, M. N. (Eds.). (1996). Comparative Perspectives on Social Movements: Political Opportunities, Mobilizing Structures, and Cultural Framings. Cambridge University Press.
  2. Du Bois, W. E. B. (1903). The Souls of Black Folk. Oxford University Press.
  3. Foner, E. (2011). The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. W. W. Norton & Company.
  4. Garrow, D. J. (1986). Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. William Morrow & Company.
  5. Horton, J. O., & Horton, L. L. (2005). Hard Road to Freedom: The Story of African America. Rutgers University Press.
  6. Levine, B. (2010). The Black Panthers: Portraits from an Unfinished Revolution. University of Texas Press.
  7. McWhorter, D. (2000). Frederick Douglass: The Narrative and Selected Writings. Bedford/St. Martin's.
  8. Osofsky, G. (1997). Puttin' On Ole Massa: The Slave Narratives of Henry Bibb, William Wells Brown, and Solomon Northup. HarperCollins.
  9. Perry, T. D. (2009). A-Whichness: Martin Luther King Jr. for the 21st Century.
  10. Washington, B. T. (1901). Up from Slavery: An Autobiography. Doubleday, Page & Company.

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