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History of Civil Rights | Essay

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Published: Mon, 12 Jun 2017

Racism entails the belief that some races are more superior to others in society. From as early as the colonial era, racism in the United States of America has been a major issue. Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Mexican Americans, American Jews, Irish Americans and some other immigrant groups and their descendants were all considered as the minority groups. Racism has many forms. However, no one is born a racist. This develops from the environment from which our children grow into.

Racism in the United States of America has been a major issue ever since the slave and the colonial era. Legally endorsed racial discrimination imposed a grave burden on African Americans, Native Americans, Mexican Americans, and Asian Americans. European Americans were from the beginning at an advantage since the American law favored them in matters of voting rights, literacy standards, immigration, land acquisition, citizenship, and criminal procedure over periods of time extend from as early as the 17th century to the 1960s. Majority of the European ethnic groups, particularly Eastern Europe, Irish Americans, American Jews, Southern European immigrants, in addition other immigrants, suffered discrimination and other kinds of racism in American society.

The major racially structured institutions at the time included Indian wars, slavery, segregation, Native American reservations, internment camps and residential schools (for Native Americans. In America, official racial bias was largely prohibited in the mid-20th century; moreover, it came to be viewed as socially intolerable. However, racial politics remained a major phenomenon in American territory. Historical racism up to date has continued to be perceived in socio-economic inequality. Nevertheless, racial stratification continued to take place in all avenues in our society including government, housing, employment, housing, lending and education sectors.

As is the case in most countries, many people in the United States of America continue to harbor some discrimination against individuals from other races. Discrimination infiltrates almost all aspects of life in the United States of America, and it further extends to all communities of color.


Slavery in the United States was a kind of forced labor that existed in North America as a legal institution for over a century. This was before the United States was founded in the year 1776. Later on, slavery began to spread to the south. This continued until the thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution was passed in 1865. The first lot of Africans to land in the United States was brought into North America in 1619. The ship docked in Virginia carrying about 20 Africans. This was the beginning of slavery in America. Slavery gradually spread into areas with good fertile soils where large plantations of high value cash crops were being grown. The key crops being grown were sugar, Cotton, coffee and tobacco.

During the 18th century, legislatures and colonial courts had radicalized slavery. Fundamentally this created a caste system in which slavery applied exclusively to Black Africans and other people of African origin. However, Native Americans were also occasionally turned into slaves. Between the 16th — 19th centuries, more than 12 million Africans had been shipped into America to become slaves to the Americans. By the 19th century, majority of the slave holders were located in South Americas where the land was more fertile. The African slaves were managed by overseers who were usually white Americans.

Slavery was a touchy subject in the politics of the United States of America between 1770s-1860s. Thus it became a matter of discussion in the drafting of the American Constitution. Moreover, it became a key issue in Federal legislation and Supreme Court cases. Slaves resisted the legalization of slavery and the whole institution that supported it. To show their dismay, they held rebellions and non-compliance. In addition, they escaped slavery by travelling to non-slave states and Canada. This was made possible by the Underground Railroad. Activists of abolitionism were constantly engaged in political and moral debates in an effort to encourage the creation of Free Soil states as Western expansion proceeded. Slavery was a major subject that led to the start of the American Civil War. Once the Union won the war, slavery became illegal throughout the United States of America. In addition, the country adopted the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

B. Freedom Fighters

Once slavery was abolished, African American people began to rise into positions of power in America. Some of them are discussed below.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr was not only an American clergyman and activist but also a prominent leader in the African American Civil Rights Movement. He is famous for his contribution to the advancement of civil rights in the United States and around the world. He advocated for the use of non violent methods with regards to Mahatma Gandhi. He is also famous for being a Nobel peace laureate in 1964 for his work to end racial segregation and discrimination using non violent means. When he was assassinated in 1968, he was posthumously honored the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This was in 1977 and in 2004; he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. In the year 1986, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was established as a U.S. federal holiday.

2. Autherine Lucy Foster

Autherine Lucy Foster went down in history as the first black student to ever attend the University of Alabama. At the time, university policies prohibited her from attending the university since she was black. She therefore approached the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for assistance. Court proceedings began on July 1953 and on June 29, 1955, the NAACP secured a court order preventing the University from turning down the admission applications of Lucy and her friend based upon their race. Few days later, the court amended the decision to apply to all other African-American students who were seeking admission in the university. The Supreme Court upheld this in Lucy v. Adams on October 10, 1955. The university reluctantly allowed Lucy to register, however, she was excluded from all dormitories and dining halls. On February 3, 1956, Lucy enrolled as a graduate student in library science, becoming the first African American to ever get admitted to a white public school or university in the state. However, things were not smooth sailing for Lucy since on the third day of classes, a hostile mob gathered to keep her from attending her classes. The police intervened however that evening Lucy was suspended from university on grounds that she disrupted the peace in the university. She filed suit against the university and as a result, they expelled her on grounds that she slandered the university reputation after decades of law suits, the University overturned her expulsion. This was in 1980, and in 1992, she finally earned her Masters degree in Elementary Education from the University. The University named a scholarship in her honor as well as unveiled a portrait of her in the student union. The inscription on it reads “Her initiative and courage won the right for students of all races to attend the University.”

3. Ida B. Wells- Barnet

Ida Bell Wells-Barnett (July 16, 1862 – March 25, 1931) was an African American female news paper editor and journalist. Her husband, Ferdinand L. Barnett, was the newspaper owner as well as an early civil rights movement leader. Ida documented the extent of killings that were being executed in the United States. She was also dynamic in the women’s rights movement as well as the women’s suffrage movement in America.

Since she was little, she was aggressive in her demands for equality and justice for African-Americans. She always maintained that the African-American community could only gain justice through its own determination and efforts. Since her death, in March 25, 1931, the significance of her life as well as her legacy has greatly grown. Her life story has been the subject of a extensively performed musical drama, which debuted in 2006, by Tazewell Thompson. In history, she is labeled the woman who was at one time born in slavery yet she grew to overcome all odds and become one of the great pioneer activists of the Civil Rights Movement in America.

III. Civil Rights Movements in the United States

Brown vs. Board of Education

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was a land mark decision made by United States Warren Supreme court on May 17, 1954. The land mark declared the previous state laws that ensured the establishing separate public schools for white and black students were unconstitutional. This court ruling overturned the Ferguson vs. Plessey decision of 1896 which advocated for state-sponsored segregation. The court decision stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” As a result, de jure racial segregation was declared a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States constitution. This ruling paved the way for integration of all people irrespective of their race and civil rights movement.

B. Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance began as a result of changes that had occurred in the African American community since slave was legally abolished. These changes were further hastened by the outcome of World War I. another catalyst to the movement was the great social and cultural changes that occurred in early 20th century in the United States. Industrialization was attracting people to urban areas from the rural areas and as a result, this gave rise to a new mass culture. Some of the contributing factors that lead to the Harlem Renaissance were the First World War, which had produced new industrial employment opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people and the Great Migration of African Americans to northern cities in America. This in turn led to the concentration of ambitious people in areas where they could hearten each other. Thus, the movement emerged stronger and more determined than ever.

Harlem is a section of New York City. In the early 1900s, mostly in the1920s and early 1930s, African American literature started to thrive in Harlem. The New Negro movement, the New Negro Renaissance, and the Negro Renaissance were names referring the African American movement that was aimed at fighting for the blacks rights in America. This movement came forward towards the end of the First World War in 1918. The Harlem Renaissance marked the crucial moment in American history when the mainstream writers and critics took African American literature seriously. This is because; they realized that African American literature and arts was gaining significant attention from the world as a whole. Although it was mainly a fictional movement, it was very much related to progress in African American theater, music, politics and art. The Harlem Renaissance seemed to be the best of times for America to recognize and appreciate the African American people. The Harlem renaissance main objective was to fight for equality. However, once the great depression came about, the Harlem renaissance collapsed.


The election of Barrack Obama as a US president was a major milestone in the history of the United States. Being an African American, it was the people’s way of telling the world that the end of the dark ages of racism in America had come. People like martin Luther King Jr. dreamt of the day all Americans would accept each other and learn to live together in harmony. Finally this dream is slowly becoming a reality. Racism is a global harm on society, yet with persistence equality can be made.

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