Progress in African American History

Progress in African American history

African Americans are the biggest racial minority group in the United States and their story has been quite tumultuous. The paper will argue that between 1865 to today, African Americans have largely resolved some of their biggest challenges as depicted in the post reconstruction era, economic growth, desegregation, the civil rights movement and eventually election of the first black president.

Unit 1 (1865-1875)

1865 was an eventful year for African Americans because the then President Abraham Lincoln freed salves through the Emancipation proclamation. With the new law, many African Americans thought possibilities were enormous. However, they still had a long road ahead of them in terms of social, economic or political empowerment or equality. In the economic arena, African Americans offered their labor in exchange for payment so as to sustain the cotton economy. Land ownership was still illusive owing to unsustainable arrangements such as sharecropping. The result was that many blacks lived in poverty and remained in debt for the rest of their working days. Thanks to the Southern Homestead Act of 1866, some land was redistributed to former slaves. However, because of lack of money to invest in agricultural resources, minimal success was reported. The overall result was that poverty was rife in the African Community.

In the social realm, this period was marked by very intense confrontations between blacks and whites. Formation of the Ku Klux Klan in 1866 was the epitome of racial hatred in the era with over five hundred thousand members at that time. Their aim was to restrict black access to education, economic and voting opportunities through intimidations. A case in point was the killing of Jack Dupree and dismembering of his head before his family. Furthermore, the Jim Crow laws were enforced where separate but equal doctrines were reinforced. The effect was that while some African Americans did well for themselves, oppression by the state persisted. However, the worst effects of the Jim Crow laws were to be witnessed in the period between 1877 and 1920. In 1875, twenty African Americans were murdered in the Clinton massacres. This substantially undermined freedoms and equality of the latter group. African Americans also grew socially in terms of their education, health and in the religious arena. About four thousand schools were built and one hundred hospitals provided. Thanks to these efforts, there was a twenty percent growth in literacy rates by the end of 1875 (Spiller, 2009).

In the political arena, a lot of issues occurred during this time frame. First in 1868 a black congressman from South Carolina went into office and there were a handful of black diplomats appointed during 1869. The overall result was greater hostility from white supremacists who lynched blacks. In response, the president passed the Ku Klux Klan legislation that outlawed terrorism. This minimized the impact of the latter group by the end of that year and hence enforcing the ability of blacks to vote. It should be noted that the latter right was passed in 1870 through the 15th amendment. Unit 11(1877-1920). (Spiller, 2009).

Economically speaking, many blacks wanted to access opportunities like owning land. The south could not offer them these opportunities so many of them opted to move to other areas like Tennessee. The result of these movements was mixed since some blacks obtained good land while others did not. The latter era was also characterized by greater involvement of blacks in the military. There were over one hundred and sixty thousand African America soldiers in the military and their participation in the Spanish American war was a crucial milestone in their equality story. Overly, this involvement of blacks in the military contributed towards greater equality in the workplace. Towards the end of the nineteenth century some blacks managed to penetrate other non agricultural industries such as medicine (there were black doctors), education (teachers) and literature (writers). A lot of economic advancement took place in this era and towards the end of 1910, statistics indicated that a fifth of the African American population could now boast of land ownership. Several businesses also developed in banking, insurance and general retail. This was in response to the needs of blacks who needed these services but were denied from accessing them by whites. The overall effect was an improvement in their standard of living. (Spiller, 2009).

In the social arena, a series of education improvements had been made. Several black only colleges (seventy five by 1900) had been built and this contributed to greater literacy. A visible sign was the prevalence of one hundred and fifty black owned papers. Nonetheless, civil rights issues were a far cry from the latter developments. In 1880 groups such as Red shirts and other white supremacists carried out several killings of white people. In 1885, about 184 African Americans fell victim to lynching. This number reduced to sixty nine as of 1915. The overall effects were increased racial tensions and diminishing rights for Blacks. On the other hand, the Jim Crow laws began taking their toll on the lives of blacks with the court protecting white people’s rights only. The Plessy versus Ferguson ruling (1896) and the Williams versus Mississippi (1898) rulings were such cases; they contributed towards greater segregation in transport and voting respectively. Another notorious law was the Cunningham versus Education Board case of 1899 where separation of black and white students in schools was prescribed (Davis, 2007).

Politically speaking, black voting and representation continued until the year 1900. Thereafter, several repressing laws were instated to prevent most blacks from voting and they including additional poll tax. The effect of such interventions was that few blacks could barely afford such additional taxes and they eventually chose to forego their voting rights. This was the reason why the last black congressman spoke in 1900 and the nation would have to wait for twenty eight years to see another. The period between 1900 and 1920 was known as the progressivism era which was known for integrating different movements so that they possess one political voice.

Unit III (1921-1945)

There were several economic challenges that arose at this time. During the First World War, the United States awoke to the reality that they needed all the input they could get irrespective of the racial reservations. Consequently, many blacks joined the military and left the country. This meant that gaps existed in the industrial sector especially in Northern states. African Americans from the south moved to the North to take advantage of these economic opportunities. Some of them succeeded in getting employment. However, others did not and appeared to be idle. Several projects were initiated in order to support blacks within the nineteen thirties thus leading to the growth of blacks in unconventional professions especially in the arts. White New Yorkers and other Northern states were alarmed by such an overwhelmingly high number of blacks and this made them resent the issue. To this end, most of them supported the enactment of unequal laws in labor. In fact many whites would be paid much more for the same jobs that blacks in similar positions were doing. It can be said that many blacks grew economically in the nineteen thirties, although more had to be achieved in terms of equality. In fact, it was these issues that caused different developments in the 1940s. At that time, blacks asserted that victory had been attained in wars abroad but was yet to be reflected at home. Consequently, some of them threatened the Roosevelt administration that they would engage in demonstrations. This caused the latter president to pass the executive order of 8802 that prevented discrimination in employment. Although full implementation of this directive was yet to be done by employers; at least this was a step in the right direction.

In the political realm, congressmen had an increasingly hard time trying to deal with issues surrounding African American rights. In fact 1937 was characterized by an intense disagreement between Democrats from southern and northern states. The latter wanted to pass an anti lynching bill following Mississippi lynching. Southerners strongly opposed this issue while Northerners supported it and the latter group happened to win. However, the bill was eventually removed one year later after influences from Roosevelt’s supporters.

Socially speaking, there were still several laws that oppressed the rights of blacks at that time. This caused some of them to resort to the use of literature so that they could articulate their issues. Blacks were not allowed to climb up the ranks. They could not be allowed to freely hence police, fire fighters and bus drivers were only restricted to the African American community. Much was yet to be achieved in terms of equality (Dudziak, 1994).

Unit IV- (1946-1976)

The latter period typified some of the most historic events in black history especially in terms of civil rights. The nineteen fifties reflected several developments in the social arena. First of all, it became clear that direct confrontations could achieve greater results than legislations. Consequently, this period saw the increased used of sit ins and primary boycotts as tactics. Furthermore, court decisions were also employed such as the 1954 Brown vs Education Board decision; desegregation in schools was advocated. This was a landmark decision that minimized discrimination in the education system. In the ensuing year, Rosa Parks used the sit in technique in a bus when a white passenger confronted her. This was followed by other members of the African American community who followed the same trend and boycotted public buses for over three hundred days. This paralyzed the transportation system thus prompting a court order that was passed in 1956 that prohibited segregation in those buses; an instrumental issue in loosening segregation. In 1960, the concept of sit ins became very prevalent and this started with students in North Carolina technical college. Subsequently, other states followed through with the technique. Freedom rides became another activity; civil rights members would ride buses into segregated states so as to test whether segregation was still rife. Although this inspired racial violence, by 1961, it led to passing of an executive order by President Kennedy that required removal of black only or white only posters in public places like diners and parks. In 1962, a student called James Meredith was allowed for the first time into Mississippi University which was previously a white only University. He did this by court actions that decided in his favor. This was a landmark in African American education within the country (Peter & Monteith, 2004).

In the political arena, this period was marked by immense voter registration. Previously though, 1963 witnessed prevalence of literacy tests that would be the only avenue to registration as a voter. Through intense lobbying by black sponsored groups like SNCC the civil rights 1964 Act was passed that was to eliminate barriers to voting. In 1963, Martin Luther King was arrested at Birmingham. However, after his release, they organized a children’s crusade that led to very controversial clashes between white policemen who used water and dogs to send them away. This caused a lot of resentment from the general public that prompted government to propose a Civil rights bill. In a March in Washington, Martin Luther King gave his famous speech where he called for stronger state support on antidiscrimination. This culminated in an intensive legislative agenda which was subsequently continued by President Johnson upon Kennedy’s assassination; he passed the Civil rights Act 1964. Freedom summer was seen as another important event where black civil rights issues attracted the attention of the world which soon realized that something had to be done about the oppression of Blacks in the US. In 1965, poll taxes and other barriers that prevented African Americans from getting the vote such as literacy tests were removed. This led to registration of a quarter of a million black voters at that time. This Act was pivotal to black empowerment because every state that possessed a majority black population was characterized by black people serving in high offices as congressmen, mayors, and ambassadors. Hardly after enjoying this victory, President Martin Luther King was murdered in 1968 thus prompting riots in over one hundred cities throughout the country. All these riots had adverse economic implications upon the African American community that continued to live in poverty. In the early 1970s, prison reforms were advocated for and achieved after getting attention from civil rights lawyer (Townsend, 1998).

Unit IX – 1976-Present

In the late nineteen seventies, most blacks underwent a tumultuous economic period because of the riots in the previous period. Their businesses were affected and so were their health and employment positions. This made their economic performance quite tumultuous (Francis, 2010). In the eighties and nineties, several blacks got opportunities that were previously not accessible to them. Appointments in various civil service jobs contributed to their acceptance in various areas.

In the political realm, the nineties witnessed a great deal of blacks in Congress compared to other decades. Nonetheless, they were still to illustrate how powerful they were since few of them held powerful positions in house committees (Daniels, 2007). However, the most successful political time for African Americans was definitely 2000 to date. This culminated in the election of the First African American President. It illustrated that the people of the United States had the ability to overlook racial discords and consider other critical issues.

In the social arena, many blacks accessed education opportunities that were previously unavailable to them especially in higher institutions. However, although it had been a long journey, poverty rates are still disproportionately lower amongst this group than amongst the white population. Major strides have been made in the civil rights arena as acts of racial violence are not tolerated by the law. In terms of access to opportunities: currently, eighty six percent of African Americans are located in urban areas thus demonstrating that opportunities to education and employment are substantially, boosted (Oscar, 2006).


African Americans definitely have a lot to appreciate in their social, economic and political lives because the intense times of the 1870s all the way to the nineteen seventies were marked by direct acts of hatred and disconnect amongst Americans and the rest of the population. Economic empowerment and advancements in labor laws have been achieved in smaller steps that eventually led to a less discriminatory nation today than in previous decades.


  1. Spiller, John. (2009). African Americans after the civil war. History review, 65, 34.
  2. Francis, David. (2010). How the 1960s Riots hurt African Americans. NBER report, 02138.
  3. Daniels, Bryan. (2007). African Americans in state assemblies. MU New Bureau, MO 65211.
  4. Peter, L. & Monteith, S. (2004). Gender & the civil rights movement. Chicago: Rutgers University press.
  5. Townsend, D. (1998). Weary feet and rested souls- a guide to the civil rights movement. NY: Norton & Company.
  6. Davis, R. (2007). Surviving Jim Crow. NY: Ney York Life insurance Co.
  7. Dudziak, M. (1994). Cold war civil rights. NY: UCP
  8. Oscar, B. (2006). African American families and their characteristics. California: California University press.