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10 Worst Moments of American History

Updated on January 22, 2020

Every culture has its dark moments. It could be where the people acted inhumanely or disaster struck the land. The United States has had its fair share.

Below is a list of 10 events in American history that I consider to be the worst moments. They are not listed in any particular order. They cover shameful events and horrific ones.


Trail of Tears

America was founded for freedom.... Mostly for the settlers of British blood. Overall, it was for those of European blood, but even those could be hardpressed for freedom if they were not British. The Native Americans got the worst of it all in the Trail of Tears.

In the winter of 1836, President Andrew Jackson side stepped the law and pushed the Choctaw Indians off their lands in the southeastern part of the US. The land was rich and valuable to the nation that was growing by leaps and bounds. While the Choctaw and four other tribes had embraced the white man's ways, they were treated horribly when greed raised its ugly head.

That winter, the Choctaw were not given a choice to leave their land. They were shackled and forced to walk from the Southeast to the Oklahoma area. Literally, thousands died along the way - the meaning behind the Trail of Tears name.

The Native Americans were treated shamefully and inhumanely all because of the land they and their ancestors had occupied long before Europeans had set foot on the land. A very dark moment in American history.


This is a very obvious dark moment in American history. Okay, it was for more than a moment. It was for many, many decades that this horrible "event" took place. While slavery was nothing new in the history of mankind, the treatment of American slaves took on a whole new picture.

Slave trading mainly involved the buying of slaves from African warlords and selling them in the Americas. Once in the Americas, the slaves were treated worse than animals. They were property that could easily be disposed of though many slaveowners viewed them as valuable assets which not translate to mean humane treatment.

Slaves were beaten, killed, and even raped. Slave families were torn apart. They were kept ignorant for fear that education would cause them to rise up against their owners. The life of a slave was dark and dismal.

Many rose up to protest the institution of slavery, but it took the American Civil War to end it. Even then, the view of the former slaves was not favorable and would take nearly another century before equality truly took a step forward.

Initial Interactions with Native Americans

I could have lumped the Native American treatment in one section, but there are different dark moments when it comes to the native tribes. Here, I talk about the initial interactions with the Native American tribes.

Yes, some Europeans reached out a warm hand to the native tribes they encountered, but too many did not. Some took to killing the natives immediately. Others enslaved them. Some even sought to let disease wipe them out. They were treated as animals. They were seen as uncivilized beings with no hope of peaceful interactions.

The Europeans invaded the lands of the Native Americans and stole from them. The few who tried to live in peace with them were few and far between. The end result was the death of many Native Americans and the loss of their ancestral lands.

Internment Camps During WWII

You would think that America's leaders knew better, but hindsight is 20/20. We think of the Nazi concentration camps and then of America's internment camps and hang our heads in shame.

After Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, Many Japanese Americans were taken from their homes and placed into internment camps across the nation. The thought was that there could be spies among them. And there were spies, but not every Japanese-American was. Many lost their homes and were treated as the enemy for several years.

It took several decades before the government apologized for the treatment of those of Japanese blood during WWII.


After the American Civil War and the freeing of the slaves, the former slaves found themselves not much better off. Some could argue that they were in a worse situation. The laws were against them. Society shunned them. And many sought any excuse to kill them.

Many white men in the deep south took to lynchings to deal with the "black" problem as many saw it. If a black man was accused of any crime, especially that of treating a white woman badly, they were immediately hung. No court of law was included in the judgment. No official was included unless he was part of the lynching party. The descendent of a slave was automatically guilty and killed.

Looking back, we see how dark this moment was for America as ignorance ran amok and killed many innocent people.

Treatment of Disabled

I watched a movie once that was based on a true story. I was moritifed that humans acted like that. Disabled, mentally and physically, individuals were put into institutions and treated like lab rats.

Frontal labotomies were performed on them. Electrical shocks were used to see how the individual would react. The disabled were even sterilized so that none could have children. It wasn't until the mid-late 20th century were the disabled given rights and protected by the law.

Dropping of Atomic Bomb

Many arguments can be made for and against the dropping of the atomic bomb over Nagasaki and Hiroshima to end WWII. No matter if it was justified or not, it was a dark moment as it was an act that killed many over a number of years, and the power and devestation of the bomb was revealed.

Japan wouldn't quit as the battles between the US and Japan intensified. The US had developed the atomic bomb and tested it once to see the power if possessed. The government knew it was powerful. What they didn't know was how deadly it would be for years to come.

Thousands were killed instantly and thousands more died over the next decade with radiation poisoning. The bombs did end the war. It also showed the horrific future of warfare.

The Red Scare

Otherwise known as McCarthiaism, the era after WWII became a scary time for many Americans. The United States had been allies with Russia, but that quickly changed. Nazis had been the enemy. Now it was communism.

Lists were created of people suspected to be communists. They were blackballed from getting work. Many were ostrasized from society. These included many well-known people including famous actors and actresses. If one's name was put on the list, they were followed, stalked, and terrorized.

Neighbors told on neighbors. Anyone with a grudge reported someone as a communist. That person then lost their job and couldn't find another one.


So far, I have discussed the dark moments from the actions of Americans and the government. Now I bring up a dark moment of America as the victim.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, four planes were hijacked. Two were flown into the Trade Towers in New York City. One hit the Pentagon building. The fourth was taken down into an empty field by the passengers once they realized it was headed for Washington D.C. For the first time since Pearl Harbor, America's own land had been attacked by an outside force.

It was a horrific day that will haunt everyone who witnessed it. Many died and the lives of everyone around the world changed in response to the actions of the terrorists.

American Civil War

It is a dark moment when brother fights brother to the death. The American Civil War was a bloody event between the North and the South. Southern states got upset when a President was elected that did not favor Southern ideals which included slavery. Shots were fired and the war began.

Multiple states pulled away from the union. America was at its weakest, split down the middle. Homes were destroyed. Young men were killed. No one was left untouched during this war.

To this day, the country is recovering from the events. Reconstruction after the rebellion was put down left many scars. The war showed that the union was not unified and resulted in many unnecessary deaths.


No society is full of sunshine and rainbows all the time. Each has its own dark time. America is no different. From attacks on their own soil to the moments where the government and society acted shamefully, there are many dark moments in the nation's history.

Again, I will mention that the events listed above are not in any specific order. They reveal the darkest moments in America's history with hopes that they are never repeated.


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    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      18 months ago from Houston, Texas

      As to dark moments in American history, you have mentioned some that stand out. Some of your 10 are really combined such as slavery, lynchings, and the Civil War. One would never have happened without the other. The Trail of Tears is just one horrific incident in how the Native Americans were treated.

      It will be interesting to read comments as they are written. You could add a poll and have "other" as a choice and ask people to put their "other" choice in the comments.


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