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The History of African American's- Segregation in the 20th century

Updated on January 22, 2014

Second Class Citizens?

A second class citizen is a term used to describe a group of people who are at the receiving end of systemic discrimination in a multitude of ways. One example of this being through the limitation of civil rights which is especially demonstrated throughout America towards the African Americans although at greater extents in certain parts of the country. Moreover there are many changes which are being undergone during the period 1945-1955 which had an impact on attitudes to African Americans and affected legislation and their economic opportunities.

Economic Opportunities

Justice in economic opportunities are pivotal to equality of a population. Throughout this 10 year period economic opportunities were very limited for African Americans. On the whole African Americans were discriminated against in economic terms as well, in employment and housing especially. The economic set backs certainly limited African Americans in many ways in the times immediately after the war. They were discriminated against in employment as demobilization took place causing blacks to remain largely in ghettos where crime thrived, and jobs were scarce. In addition to this a “restrictive covenant” meant that blacks were not legally able to purchase housing in certain areas as a result of their race, this is an impediment putting them below other citizens of the country. Despite this as the years progressed, although results weren’t achieved immediately, the fair employment practices, benefiting further from the prosperity of the war and the opening of a black middle class portrayed a different outlook on the situation. The breakthrough case which began the movement for further economic opportunities was the 1948 Shelley v Kraemer case where the Supreme Court ruled against “restrictive covenant”. Despite the fact that change was beginning to take place, in the north less so than the south, there was a lingering sense that the law was used to limit their economic opportunities in this timescale.


Education is one of the most important strands of society and if a population is to advance it is solely through education. Between 1945 through 1955, concerning education, America was seemingly moving forwards and opportunities for African Americans were certainly greater in number than in previous years. As shown in Topeka, Kansas with the Brown vs Board of Education case legally African Americans were gaining more support. It was a landmark victory for the civil rights movement, outside the deep south many towns and cities were beginning to integrate as a result and the Brown 2 left with the statement “with all deliberate speed” showing that towards the end of this 10 year period there was movement in a positive direction and towards better legislation in favor of equal rights for blacks and education. Moreover it also legally outlawed the principal of “separate but equal” which was the resolution of the 1896 Plessy v.s Ferguson case, therefore a change had been made in the way people had been living for over half a century. Despite the Supreme Court rulings however concerning schooling not only was there segregation in the system prior to the case but also inequality. In 1949 South Carolina had spent $179 per white pupil however only $43 on blacks, this alone displays the discrimination African Americans faced, demonstrating an evidence of African Americans as 2nd class citizens in certain areas. Furthermore throughout much of this decade there were also inequalities in graduate education which manifested itself in the need for the Sweatt v.s Painter case. The Supreme Court overturned the earlier decision once again challenging the “separate but equal doctrine”, therefore change was beginning to occur in different strands of education. Overall it would be a fair statement to make that in education for the first part of the period African Americans were 2nd class citizens but legislation was pushing for integrated and equal education in the deep south especially.

Voting Rights

One of the major rights of an American citizen is their right to vote as stated in the fourteenth amendment. However this was certainly not the case for the majority of African Americans in much of the country showing an infringement on their human rights. By 1947 a mere 12% of the African American population in the south could vote, shows slow speed of any sort of change. Laws were imposed to limit their voting rights further as they had to pay a poll tax which made it impossible to vote for many. Although in the north largely blacks were able to vote in late 1945. Although the political representation of blacks was small there was still a sense of their political representation. During this time two black members of Congress were appointed indicating certain presidents willingness to appeal for change. Federal support for the civil rights movement was shown as Truman revealed his “Secure these rights” in 1947 which did in fact have a large impact and was a breakthrough as nothing of its kind had been undertaken in the past. It was said to have been the most courageous move to have been taken since the emancipation of slaves by Abraham Lincoln. This not only moved towards further advancement in legislations but it gave the African Americans confidence and hope in the American government and was possibly encouragement to become more involved in movements. On the other hand Eisenhower's methods did not appear to be as sympathetic to the African Americans and the civil rights movement, he even refused to meet with the two black member of Congress showing that even though they had such high political status the president himself disregarded them which ultimately lowered the race as a whole in status. This certainly shows a restriction placed on the political rights of African Americans. It appears to me that political rights stands out as a factor which vastly varied in treatment from the confederate states to the northern states and therefore second class citizenship in this instance would very much so depend on the geography in which the South certainly they were below the other citizens.

Social Conditions

Social conditions and attitudes also contribute and are aspects of the systemic discrimination. Attitudes to blacks in the south are manifest in the thriving and active membership of the KKK and the specific example of the lynching of Emmett Till, Jim crow Laws in the south restricted freedom for blacks and these attitudes are indicative of those shown toward and as a consequence of second class citizenship. Although in the north after the war black people enjoyed integrating during the war and wanted the same in America, as a result NAACP membership quadrupled. White Americans were, largely in northern states , as result of WW2 and the Cold War were also changing their attitudes during this period arguably blacks were becoming accepted in different avenues as equal members of society. Modest progress was being made in all areas of the country in economic opportunities, legal and political rights most notably in education but, in place, was still legislation depriving blacks of freedom. Although second class citizenship cannot be measured objectively the situation African Americans, living in the old confederate states (particularly the deep south) during 1945-1955 could never be considered as 1st class citizens and although progress is made the segregation and discrimination can only be described as second rate.


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    • S Leretseh profile image

      S Leretseh 

      3 years ago

      One distinct people living separate from another distinct people... was the norm throughout human history. It boggles my mind that we in America have come to the point in history where this is now considered a GREAT wrong - and, at least it seems to me, ONLY when it involves the African American.

      --American Indian tribes ...ALL lived separate from each other. I don't see any condemnation of THAT. Indeed(!), imagine the reaction of an Indian tribe confronting another Indian tribe who was demanding their "right" to integrate?! Additionally, there was also no condemnation of American Indians (past & present) because they all demanded their right to live autonomously from white Americans. Hmm... Racism?

      -- All Asians and non-English speaking ethnic groups who came to America were expected to live separate and provide for themselves within the structure and confines of their "group." Never a single complaint from them.

      Hmm... Racism?

      ---In the history of Sub Saharan Africa...there is not ONE example of one African tribe demanding the "right" to "group nullification" and the god given right to invade another male groups status environment. Hmm...Racism?

      --Never was there one case in American history...where blacks had an economic advantage and they took the initiative to request, protest or demand that they be diversified with white people, or any other race Hmm...Racism?

      Of course, I could go on and on here. People who don't think...and just lop up liberalism i.e. black victimization...never ceases to amaze me.

      AGAIN, there was no template in human history on how to integrate one race into another. Or, more specifically, how to integrate one male group into the status environment of another male group. Throughout ALL of human history, male groups were required to create their OWN status environments. African America are the only people in human history to be given a pass on this apparent construct of human nature. hmmm

    • justateacher profile image

      LaDena Campbell 

      6 years ago from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz...

      Another great article! I remember growing up in the early seventies in Kansas and being told I couldn't play with "those"kids...and seeing how things have improved since then...we have a long way to go but we have come far...

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 

      6 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      this was just a few of my experiences in the south

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 

      6 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      wow another awesome write. I lived in the Carolinas in the 60's I even wrote a hub on it called the year was 1967. these years were the first of the segregation in the south.

      It was a very hard time. I felt very sorry for people being abused verbally and physically..

      I will give you the link

      Excellent hub

      I am sharing'



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