ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The History of Civil Rights Movement since the Reconstruction Era

Updated on May 29, 2017

The Struggle for equality since the Reconstruction Era

A History of African-American’s struggles toward Equality

By Michael Mikio Nakade, MA

(An Imaginary interview of a civil rights historian by NY Times)


NY Times: Thank you, Prof. Smith for agreeing to today’s interview. You’re one of the leading scholars on the topic of Civil Rights Movement. First of all, tell us about the failures of the Reconstruction.

Smith: The Reconstruction was another civil war between the radical Northerners and the Southerners who desperately wanted to preserve their way of life. One key piece of information about the post war South is available for us today. Gen. Carl Schurz produced a detailed report about the defeated South in 1865, and the report was chilling. In a nutshell, Gen. Schurz said that the South was not at all ready to grant freed blacks equal rights and that the South would resort to terroristic violence to maintain white supremacy. Under this circumstance, any Northern Republican government’s attempt to make blacks equal to whites in the South would fail.

NYT: But, on the surface, the Federal government passed the 14th and the 15th Amendments. Freedmen enjoyed a brief moment in the sun. So, what happened?

Smith: The 14th Amendment basically stated that the Federal government would be a guarantor of equality before the law for all citizens of the United States. Citizenships were given to anyone who was born in the United States. The 15th Amendment was the right for freed black men age 21 and older to vote. These Amendments were ratified not because the defeated former Confederate states supported them but only because the Radical Republican congress coerced the defeated southern states. As you probably know from the Prohibition fiasco, the laws are meaningless when there is no enforcement. The Radical Northern Republicans could not enforce the 14th and the 15th Amendments after the federal troops left the South as a result of the Compromise of 1876.

NYT: I see. Then, we all know that the entire South became segregated. It was exactly like the apartheid ear of South Africa. How did that come about?

Smith: The Southerners were very bitter about the outcome of the Radical Reconstruction. Once the federal troops left their backyard, they began chipping away the rights of black people. In 1896, there was a Supreme Court case called Plessy v. Ferguson, stemming from a railway car incident in Louisiana. In the end, the Court sanctioned the power of the Southern states to create two “separate but equal” societies. The white majority in the South did everything they could in their power to preserve their so-called way of life and felt vindicated in treating the blacks as outcasts. Since the whites were the majority, they had the mandate to create laws that suited them. There were “Whites Only” signs everywhere in the South, and they were perfectly legal.

NYT: Were there any black movement against such discriminating and humiliating laws in the South at the time?

Smith: The irony is that the 14th Amendment specifically states that No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” But, the reality was that the federal government was not at all interested in protecting the rights of black citizens. The entire Southern Society was operating under the assumption that the blacks were inferior and that they would need to be subservient to the white majority. The best the black Americans could do in the South was to have someone like Booker T. Washington. Booker declared that blacks should focus on vocational education and be given more opportunities to succeed economically outside of farming. It was known as the Atlanta Compromise.

NYT: I see. Booker T. Washington’s position sounded like a tacit acceptance of the status quo. I imagine that there was someone in the black community who voiced the opposition. Was there, not?

Smith: Yes, there was. There was the Niagara Movement led by W.E.B. DuBois. He is a Harvard educated northern black man. He was instrumental in founding the NAACP. He and his supporters demanded an immediate end to all forms of discrimination. In a nutshell, DuBois wanted to make sure that every black person would have a chance to learn anything that white people were learning. He believed that the future black leaders would need much more than just vocational training.

NYT: I can certainly see DuBois’ point. He was not embracing the assumption that the blacks would be better off being carpenters, construction workers, and plumbers, etc. Now, let’s shift the focus to the North. At dawn of the 20th century, many Southern blacks moved to the North. What impact did that have?

Smith: In history, the migration of Southern blacks to the North is known as the Great Migration. One byproduct was the Harlem Renaissance. Many black Americans resided in the Harlem district of NYC and celebrated their cultural heritage. The African American urban literature was born. Jazz became widely popular. Harlem’s Cotton Club boasted the talents of Duke Ellington. Louis Armstrong became a household name in the music industry. However, as more and more black Americans moved into the major cities in the North, the more and more oppositions by the whites rose. By the 1930s, there were an estimated 5 million KKK members throughout the whole nation. We must remember that white prejudice against the Blacks was not an exclusive Southern thing. The Northern whites were just as racists as anybody else. Unfortunately.

NYT: Gee. I’m getting depressed. Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery. But, things were not getting better. What would be the next big event that changed the sad state of race relations in this country?

Smith: World War II, no doubt. The Great Migration continued during the war because there were factory jobs available in the North and in the West. Not only that, one million African-American fought in the war, even though they were segregated. The most famous unit was Tuskegee Airman. Those brave men proved that they could fly airplanes just as well as white pilots. This is like ‘history repeating itself.’ Abe Lincoln was impressed with the 54th Massachusetts Unit and later suggested that the Black veterans should be able to vote after the war. Harry S Truman was impressed with the heroics of one million black soldiers and abolished segregation in the armed forced in 1948. World War II was a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s.

NYT: Alright! Things are improving for the African-Americans. Please tell me more.

Smith: In the world of sports, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball. He proved that the black baseball players could play with the white players. He made the idea of integration more plausible. Politically, it was the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954.

NYT: Oh, sure. Everyone knows that the Supreme Court decision that said: “separate facilities were inherently unequal.” It seems like the federal government began honoring the promise of the 14th amendment. Correct?

Smith: Not so fast. It’s one thing to have the Supreme Court ruling but it is quite another to enforce it. We must remember that the Southerners had been immersed in the system of apartheid for all these years. They were not about to change their cherished way of life overnight. They fought tooth and nail.

NYT: That’s right. Against collective bigotry of the Southern whites, black Americans countered with boycotts and mass protests. Rosa Parks and the Little Rock Nine come to my mind to inspire the protests. Please tell me more about the African-American efforts.

Smith: The Rosa Parks arrest took place in 1955. Just a year removed from the Brown v. Board of Education case. We must also remember that it was at the height of the Cold War, and the United States was the “good guy” in this global struggle. But, in reality, the United States was denying the freedom of Black Americans. The world opinion was pressuring the U.S. to change its racist way. The tide of history was on the side of the Black Americans. Against this socio-political background, the Civil Rights movement took off. It had its charismatic leader in Martin Luther King, Jr. His nonviolent protests were both effective and appreciated by many in the North.

NYT: It always baffles me as to why the South remained so stubborn about maintain their so-called way of life. That institutionalized racism is both wrong and backward. How do you explain this?

Smith: Way back in 1830s, Alexis du Tocqueville noticed that slavery was color based and that the black racial inferiority was assumed due to their dark complexion. He predicted that people in the United States would have a hard time getting past this association. He said only God would know when the black people would achieve equality with the whites. Well, du Tocqueville was right. The mindset is one of the hardest things to change. We must also remember that the majority of the people in the South were white, and they did not wish to have their so-called way of life forcibly change by some do-gooders in the North. The southern governors and congressmen were elected after promising to their voters that they would work hard to maintain apartheid in their respective home state.

NYT: I see. Then, will you explain why things changed so quickly by the mid 1960s? Under Lyndon B. Johnson, the Civil Rights Act passed, ending discrimination based on race and gender in employment and banning segregation in all public facilities. Furthermore, the Voting Rights Act expanded black suffrage by removing literacy tests and poll tax. That’s like the 14th and the 15th amendments finally enforced throughout the land.

Smith: Looking back, I am convinced that the assassination of JFK in November 1963 helped the cause. LBJ used the phrase, “Fitting tribute to our slay president,” many times when he was pushing for those aforementioned legislations. It literally took the death of JFK in Dallas to persuade the Southerners to agree with the implementation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I must also add that LBJ’s Texas background helped immensely. The Southerners were much more willing to listen to their fellow Southerner. The Southerners absolutely hate being told what to do by those preppy Ivy League educated Eastern established socially liberal men.

NYT: That’s interesting. I had never thought of that. Thank you for sharing your insight today. I appreciate your candid comments about the struggle for African-Americans’ quest for equality in this country.

Smith: You’re welcome. The struggle is still continuing. We’re not quite there, yet.

I was convinced back in 2008 that we had arrived at a color-blind society with the election of Barak Obama. But no, I was wrong. As a society, we still have some work to do.

Source

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)