How Racism Has Changed Throughout History, Starting from the Emancipation Proclamation to Today


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Slavery: a word that should never be forgotten or downplayed, as it is apart of the past and present. Throughout history, there has been an immense amount of prejudice & racism, which even went as far as owning someone. Blacks were taken from their homes and forced to work for people for no amount of money or precious items. Blacks were separated from their families with no explanation for what was to come. As for a slave owner is white and rich, the black is poor and a slave, this would be a reality for African Americans for years to come even following the Emancipation Proclamation.

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The Emancipation Proclamation

The freeing of slaves was put into place with The Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which came after the Civil War. As a result of the Civil War, the South was hostile with African Americans being free, so much to the point where they slaved blacks again through their police force. The South, however, was not the only one to blame, “The radical issue that we confront in America is not a sectional but a national problem.” This quote sums up, that through the end of slavery, the whole nation is to blame for what happened next, thorough, Americanization, racial riots, what continued to happen though segregation, and even what happens in today’s world.

The 14th Amendment

The South at the time was in a deep depression and frankly did not enjoy having their neighbors not only be blacks but free blacks. As the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868 and gave people who were once considered slaves the right to citizenship. On top of that, the “training and treating of ex-slaves became a central problem for reconstruction.” The solutions according to Bois; get rid of what blacks owned, like churches and schools. However, the South could simply not write that in fine print because a war was fought over that exact problem. The South thought that starting with diminishing black voting rights would then eventually lead to blacks having no rights. To avoid blacks voting, they put a tax on the polls, and because blacks did not have high paying jobs, the chances of being able to afford to vote would be lost. Second, the white South made everyone take literacy tests. This was extremely unfair to blacks, considering whites had control over what they could read and write for centuries. After the Civil War, blacks either had schools in shacks or they did not go to school at all. Third, they stated you have to know your constitutional rights, which gave whites the power to say blacks did not know better. Lastly, was the grandfather clause, which did not go through considering it was way too obvious. It was too obvious because it stated that if you were the grandson of a slave, you were not allowed to vote. The South found a way around slavery by prison labor which then eventually led to the rebuilding of their economy.

Ku Klux Klan

In the South, not only people discriminated, but they formed large hate groups. A better-known hate group was the KKK, also known as the Ku Klux Klan, which was formed in Tennessee as a social club for veterans. The members wore white masks and white robes with a pointed hat. These veterans had no desire to be violent at the start of the clan, however, the clan spread and picked up the notion of lynching, this goes for many other hate groups. This lead to blacks having the feeling of no safe place, almost like they were back in slavery. If blacks were present in the South they would get killed on the streets, if they were present in the North they had to work jobs that were so brutal, it would almost kill them.

Plessy vs Ferguson

A known case that proved the racial divide and showed the South still having control post Civil War was Plessy v. Ferguson. When a black man named Homer Plessy was jailed for sitting in a white car in Louisiana. He was a light-skinned man, however in the South, if you had a drop of African American in you, you had no voting rights. This led Lousianna to pass the Separate Car Act, which then led to not only separate busses but separate everything. Stated that people of color, including immigrants, were “separate but equal”. This statement, in particular, led to the mass separation between colored v. white. Whites were encouraged to own privately so they could be in charge of who comes in and out essentially. Being managed privately led to colored people having to use separate toilets, cemeteries, restaurants, schools, movie theaters, etc.

The Harlem Renaissance

As many leaders took their stand, things started to pick up for African Americans through the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. This was the blossoming of the social and artistic explosion in Harlem, NY through African American culture. It was also called the “New Negro Movement”, which was the golden age in African American Culture. This was a period in time where African Americans could practice their own culture, not forced by white Americans. In a sense, blacks were, “winning” for once, which was the turning point for African Americans and the start of the civil rights movement. “The social foundations of this movement included the Great Migration of African Americans from rural to urban spaces and from South to North; dramatically rising levels of literacy; the creation of national organizations dedicated to pressing African American civil rights, “uplifting” the race, and opening socioeconomic opportunities; and developing race pride, including pan-African sensibilities and programs.”

The Great Migration was a chance for African Americans to get a chance at a free “equal” life. Millions of African Americans relocated, being a factor to the Harlem Renaissance, and getting away from harsh segregation laws the South imposed. Many moved either westward or to the North to seek better treatment and build a life of their own. Related to Tulsa, African Americans would build towns and have primarily black communities that lived and flourished together. One great example of towns flourishing is the Harlem Renaissance, wherein that town African Americans were able to flourish freely. The Great Migration period was definitely not the end of racial prejudice but it was the start of something new for African Americans living in the United States.

Police Violence toward African Americans and Black Lives Matter

That is until police force and mass incarceration took a turn for the worst. Really taking a turn in 2012 when the shooting of Trayvon Martin took place. Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old black American boy, who was walking in a primarily white neighborhood. George Zimmerman, who shot Martin, called about a suspicious person in their neighborhood, later on, found not guilty with second-degree murder. Then two years later, Michael Brown, an unarmed African American was shot, and his shooter who was a policeman was found not guilty. According to Leonard Moore, “In response to Brown’s death, activists launched a powerful social movement, Black Lives Matter. Two years later the movement led protests in more than 15 major U.S. cities following the killings by police of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota. In acts of retaliation against police violence toward African Americans, five white members of the Dallas police department were shot and killed during a Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas in July 2016, and three police officers in Baton Rouge were killed by a gunman about 10 days later.” These two examples of shootings and police not being punished are just a small window of hundreds of cases.


Taking a step back, as we look at post-war racial mass incarceration and police brutality, we can see that the past is merely getting repeated in this day and age. We have to ask ourselves if these actions are getting repeated or if they never truly went away? Right after World War II, an abundant number of men and women of color. They, “became subject to a grow- ing number of laws that not only regulated bodies and communities in thoroughly new ways but also subjected violators to unprecedented time behind bars. In the same way that rural African American spaces were criminalized at the end of the Civil War, resulting in the record imprisonment of black men that undermine.”

Racism, unfortunately, does goes hand in hand with the mass incarnation and policing within black communities, especially with drugs. Instead of rehabilitating people who use drugs they are putting them away for punishment for non-violent crimes. According to Heather Ann Thompson, “law enforcement not only disproportionately targeted cities in its new war on drugs but it also particularly policed the communities of color within them.” This goes to show that the fight against racist people is still not yet over because this is very relevant today, however, people are starting to take some kind of action.

Through the many stages of racism throughout histroy we as Americans can learn to not repeat the past. People are people who should be treated the same no matter what color of the skin they are or the specific race they are. America has been getting better with racism, but not good enough. African Americans have struggled enough through slavery and they way they were treated after slavery. As people become more aware, whether its through immense police training or hearing other peoples sides we will get better.

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