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Historically, African Americans were subjects to severe oppression and discrimination from the part of white Americans, who hold the leading position in the American society and used their power to keep African Americans under their control. The historical development of African American community was accompanied by the permanent struggle of African Americans for civil rights and equal opportunities. At the same time, the development of the African American community led steadily to consistent changes in the attitude of Americans to African Americans because the latter attempted to gain equal rights and liberties compared to white Americans. On the other hand, such a struggle costs many African Americans life, whereas oppression and discrimination of African Americans persists till present days. Nevertheless, on analyzing the development of the African American community in the course of the US history, it is possible to trace consistent improvements that have occurred to the position of African Americans in the US since the Civil War to the present time. The Civil War targeted at the liberation of African Americans, who were enslaved by the dominant white Americans. However, the idealistic struggle of the Civil War did not bring a consistent improvement of the position of African Americans. Instead, African Americans had to spend over a hundred years in the permanent struggle for their rights and equal opportunities with the white population to partially realize ideals of the Civil War both white and African Americans had been fighting for during the war. In fact, the Civil War became the starting point when African Americans have started to change their position and their role in the American society but they had to pass a long road to gain equal rights and liberties, especially due to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960-s, and carry on the struggle for equal rights and opportunities even today, when some elements of racial discrimination persist.
The rise of the social consciousness of African Americans as the community equal to whites and as the community that has its own rights and liberties which are equal to those other Americans have, had started prior to the Civil War, whereas the Civil War marked the attempt of African Americans and abolitionists to change consistently the position of African Americans in the US society. In fact, the abolition of slavery was one of the major driving forces of the Civil War and it was one of the primary causes of the war.
In fact, after the end of the Civil War, African Americans were liberated, but the change of their social status did not bring a considerable relief for them because they still suffered from economic and political oppression. The period from 1865-1876 was probably the most dramatic period in the history of African Americans because it is during this time their dreams of the liberation and new life had reached the apogee and it was by the end of this period their dreams had been totally ruined. At first glance, the progress in the position of African Americans was obvious. After the Civil War African Americans were freed, the 13th amendment of the US Constitution, ratified in 1865, outlawed slavery in the US, while the 14th amendment, ratified in 1868, granted full US citizenship to African Americans Moreover, in 1870, the 15th amendment extended the right to vote to black males (Franklin, 2001).
However, such a progress proved to be illusory and changes were rather formal than real since, the real position of African American population had failed to improve consistently after the end of the Civil War and the decade to follow. In fact, African Americans were constantly oppressed, their election rights were limited, numerous frauds deprived them of an opportunity to influence political life of the country and get their representatives in the legislative, judicial and executive power of the US. In such a situation, â€œin face of mounting violence and intimidation directed at blacks as well as whites sympathetic to their cause, the US government retreated from its pledge to guarantee constitutional protections to freedmen and womenâ€ (Goldenberg, 1999, p.129) Moreover, they faced a problem of physical extinction. For instance, in 1867, the Ku-Klux-Klan, the clandestine organization, was founded which made the racial terrorism its main ideology. This organization simply slaughtered African Americans. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the Colfax and Coushatta massacres in Louisiana in 1873 and 1874 (Weiner and Knopf, 2004). The anti-freedom movement grew stronger and resulted in the appearance of numerous racist organizations, such as the White League, which were similar to the Ku-Klux-Klan, and the formation of white militia, which actually represented a military wing of the racial terrorist organization.
Within the period from 1877 to 1920, the situation has hardly changed for better. The discrimination of African Americans and massacres were ongoing. From 1890 to 1908 many states, namely ten of eleven Southern states, adopted new Constitutions or amendments that affectively disfranchised most African Americans as well as many poor whites (Goldenberg, 1999). As a result, African Americans voter registration and turnouts decreased dramatically and in some cases were equal to zero. Naturally, in such a situation, African American could not have an opportunity to be represented in either branch of power in the US. At the same time, the growing mob violence led to thousands of deaths and millions of African Americans were forced to move from their land and migrate to other states, where they could feel safer, though, even in the North, the socioeconomic position of African Americans was very poor because of the low educational level and low qualification of African Americans, which made them less competitive compared to white Americans. Moreover, the situation was deteriorated in the early 20th century because of the immigration of relatively well-qualified labor force from Europe which decreased economic opportunities of African Americans even more. In response, African Americans developed their civil right movement that resulted in the creation of the Niagara movement and other secret civil rights organizations. For instance, founders of the Niagara movement â€œproduced a manifesto calling for an end to racial discrimination, full civil liberties for African Americans and recognition of human brotherhoodâ€ (Black, 2005, p.135).
However, in 1921-1945, the situation has started to improve and the civil right movement of African Americans had started to grow stronger. The 1920s were the period known as the Harlem Renaissance. In the result of the Great Migration of African Americans from South to North their number in Northern states increased consistently. They got larger opportunities to exercise their rights since oppression in the North was less severe than in the South. As a result, the cultural movement, known as the Harlem Renaissance, spread nationwide and became a powerful movement which proved the power of African American community and their ability to achieve success in the US. Outstanding artists of that epoch, such as Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Jacob Lawrence, and others, supported this movement and African American civil right movement. The economic crisis of the late 1920-s -1930s deteriorated the position of African Americans. Nevertheless, they contributed consistently to the victory of the US and allies in World War II (Goldenberg, 1999).
In the post-World War II period, from 1946 to 1974, the Civil Right movement had reached its highest point of the development. Its leader, Martin Luther King, as well as other prominent leaders, such as Malcolm X, managed to organize the social resistance movement which forced the dominant white group to provide larger opportunities for African Americans to exercise their rights. For instance, one of the achievements of the civil right movement was the elimination of school segregation. The racial discrimination was formally forbidden. The violence against African Americans decreased, though it did not prevent M.L. King from being killed in 1968 (Braude, 2002).
Finally, the late 20th century was marked by the growing representation of African Americans in the political power of the US. In fact, larger opportunities allowed African Americans be elected to the legislative power, get position in the executive and judicial power. For instance, in 1989, Douglas Wilder became the first African American governor in the US and, in 1992, Carol Moseley-Braun became the first African American woman elected to the US Senate (Franklin, 2001). However, even today the position of African Americans is far from perfect and absolutely equal. The ruling elite of the US is still predominantly white, while many African Americans live in poverty stricken neighborhoods. Moreover, even modern public schools return to the epoch of segregation since often the share of non-white students in some public schools exceeds 99% (Braude, 2002). Nevertheless, the civil right movement paved the way to the better life of African Americans.
On the other hand, in spite of a consistent progress of the African American community, its members are still vulnerable to discrimination and their participation in the political life is quite limited, whereas their economic opportunities are even more limited than their political ones. In this respect, the election of the first President of the African American origin, Barak Obama seems to be a tremendous success of the African American community. However, in this respect, it is worth mentioning the failure of the African American candidate, Jesse Jackson, who participated in the Presidential campaign of 1984. Unlike Barak Obama, Jesse Jackson failed but he revealed the readiness of Americans to accept the African American candidate as he took the third place in the primaries. At the same time, his failure was a very symbolic moment in the history of the development of African American community because he revealed clearly the fact that the involvement of representatives of minorities, for instance, women or African Americans, could grant a white candidate for Presidency with certain advantages over his opponents, who could be viewed by minorities as supremacists. In such a way, Jesse Jackson proved the importance of votes of African Americans but he also proved that African Americans remained a minority which had little opportunities to win the Presidential elections.
In this regard, the success of Barak Obama seemed to be sensational but, as the matter of fact, his election was a logical continuation of the PR campaigns launched when Jesse Jackson attempted to take part in the Presidential campaign of 1984. What is meant here is the fact that Barak Obama was above all a representative of the Democratic Party, while his African American origin was rather a successful, strategic step in the presidential campaign of Democrats to gain votes of minorities. At the same time, the African American community did not improve consistently its position after the election of Barak Obama. Nevertheless, it was an important event from the cultural and historical point of view because, eventually, in the 21st century, after centuries of oppression and discrimination, a representative of African Americans got a chance to hold the top position in the political system of the US. Therefore, African Americans get involved in the political life of the US and, what is more important, they can influence decision making process, although the inequality between whites and African Americans persists.
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