In the course of American history, Blacks had been the subject of injustice and social degradation. Much of it came from the notion that blacks are only good as a slave, which is evident from 18th to 20th century America. However, the "American Dream" lives on for the black Americans, they fought for their rights and certain key events in history shows several social movements to change society regarding racism and equal rights. Throughout the years, the country is forced to face the impact of racism and its social implications. People have realized that the reality of slavery back in history and the emancipation of disenfranchisement of black led to the foundation of a society built on the grounds of racial inequality (Kwabena Nsiah, 2010, p. 4). The "American Dream" as elusively chased by black Americans and some immigrants is articulated in the media as an image of a happy couple with a kid of two living in a house with white picket fences. This image depicts a middle class society that blacks tirelessly sought after for years and yet hindered by a social mind-set that class status is dictated by skin color.
The amount of frustration that black Americans have because of the history of slavery and racial inequality accumulated to the point that social movements and political activism have to be employed in advocating social change. Much has been said about the worst experiences of African-Americans from the time they entered America and how their migration have changed their social theory. The Bourgeois theory of class is an example of African-American social theory that focuses on the principles of underclass along with political and social exclusion. Industrialization in America was also an inviting opportunity for many African-Americans to chase their “American Dreams”. The need for workers in steel mills is a passport for African-Americans to enter the country and live as promised by the land. However, it had a great impact to the superior society and racial mind-set became a challenge for the African-Americans.
Key Events in African-American History
African-Americans made several bold moves to change society and many of them are recorded in history, but there were key events that made significant change to the American society and some of them are presented below according to year.
1619 – Here is when the first settlers populate the land and brought along their slaves consists of Africans and white overseers and basically the arrival of the first African slaves.
1787 – The Northern territory declared slavery as illegal although according to the constitution the congress is not allowed to stop slave trade.
1800- The first anti-slavery revolt was organized by African-American blacksmith Gabriel Prosser that plans to march on Richmond, Virginia. However, the revolt plan was uncovered compromising Prosser and the number of rebels and eventually hanged.
!831 – An African-American preacher Nat Turner, led the most important and bloodiest slave uprising in American history. He and his band of followers marched for rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia.
1863 – Emancipation Proclamation was declared by President Lincoln stating that all people of slave status within the confederate states shall be set free.
1865 – The Freedmen's Bureau was established to look after the rights of the newly emancipated African-American slaves and by the 6th of December slavery, was officially ended. The constitution was ratified prohibiting any individual in any state of slavery. However, in the same year the Southern states passed the Black Codes law limiting the rights of the freed slaves.
1920's – This year marked the beginning of an era called Harlem Renaissance. This is where the intellectual, artistic and literary movement have flourished for the blacks and helped establish their cultural identity.
1954 – This is the year when racial segregation in schools was declared unconstitutional
1955 – Emmett Till, a young black boy was murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman. The two white male perpetrators was acquitted by an all white jury and the murderers boasted for what they did, which sparked the beginning of civil rights movement.
1963 – August 28 of that year, a mob of 250,000 people marched for jobs and freedom at Washington which helped build the momentum for civil rights law movement. This is when Martin Luther King delivered his famous speech “I Have a Dream”. That same year, King was imprisoned in an anti-segregation protest in Birmingham. He wrote a letter while in jail advocating nonviolent civil disobedience.
The following year (July 2, 1964) President Johson signed the civil rights act which totally prohibits any kind of discrimination based on religion, color, race and country of origin. Several other events happened from 1964 including the assassination of martin Luther King in 1968 and most recently, Barack Obama was elected to take the seat in the White House becoming the first black president of the United States.
(Timeline information taken from (Brunner, 2012)).
African-American Organizational Structure
BBased from the timeline of African-American history, the effort to fight back was evident although the earlier attempts were not successful in any way. The historical events to promote social change from planned revolts to civil rights movements has been hard and difficult for the black society. The failures of the early campaigns has something to do with how they structured their efforts and organization in relation to style and tactics of execution. Remember that the first attempt to revolt in 1800 led by Gabriel Prosser was a complete failure. The reason that it did not work out as intended is because their plan was revealed while still in conception. Another reason is that their tactic is to march in the county, which is not yet as effective during the less democratic era. The revolt organization is consist of all slaves and none of the influential figures involved, which a normal mass movement organization should have to have in order to protect the organization from political and social attacks.
The same problem is faced by social movements such as Nat Turner's, which also used marching tactics to express their concern of social injustice and slavery. However, that is the same tactic that failed in the early attempt and the fact that they do not have an influential figure to back them up during the rebellion made it more difficult for them to achieve their objectives. The main problem with the early social movement is that their organization lacks the most important characteristic, which is the behavior of an institutionalized political body. This is the focus of American social studies on politics that mass movements are typically the less effective approach in social movements unless there is a political institution that supports the cause (Carson, 2010, p. 19). Historians also portrayed social movements and sees it an important force to advocate social reform, but the problem is that such kind of movement is only feasible in a democratic political setting.
Social movements as exercised by many African-American organizations aiming for social reforms are proven to be a less decisive shaper of reforms themselves (Carson, 2010, p. 20). However, among the many social movements done by African-American organizations, Martin Luther King's social movement has been the most successful. One of the possible reason is that during the time of the movement, the constitution have already provided African-Americans with equal rights in the society and the source of racial problem is no longer coming from the political perspectives, but from the white dominated society itself.
Civil Rights Movement and their Impacts
Mentioning one of the most successful social movement in African-American history, the Civil Rights Movement has achieved what slaves from centuries ago have failed to obtain. The movement spans 25 years in the making, but it was known to be one of the biggest in U.S history and the largest African-American mobilization that happened in the country. In such a way the movement have influenced the lives of the African-American population. Its influence spans all the way to Africa, Caribbean and to Europe. The preparaiton entailed 400,000 black soldiers returning home from the war and agreed that they no longer want to live in a condition where racism in America is pushing them at the bottom of the American society. Slavery may have long been abolished in a century ago, but the American society is plagued by race hatred oppression (Freie Universität Berlin, 2009, p. 58).
The Civil Rights Movement also made an impact to other oppressed groups such as the labor groups particularly the labor unions where African-Americans are parts of. The leaders of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which is a union of railway porters. It inspired them to stage a similar movement against discrimination in defence industry's hiring practices. However, the union's march does not need to take place because the government gave in to the demand and passed a law prohibiting employment discrimination in war and defense production companies. The movement made a significant impact to the US history in terms of remembering white policemen beating African-American intellects in suits. The American people have related largely because of the media covering the historic event. The movement came as an inspiration to the 21st century American society in terms of following its example in advocating change. Occupy Wall Street for example was a mass movement that supposedly a silent protest against injustice towards the working class. The point of such mass movement is to persuade the political leaders by means of legislative intervention. The Occupy Wall Street has similarities and references to the Civil Rights Movement because of the role of media in sending the message to the public and gain sympathy (Nikki, 2012).
The Role of Religion in African-American Lives
African-Americans were not only persuaded to take actions because of what their people are experiencing in the hands of the white Americans. Blacks are generally inspired because of their devotion to the christian faith. During the time of the slaves, their living condition is basically far beyond the acceptable human standards. Laboring for free with no apparent rights and no place in the society. When the African-Americans had a realization that their lives are not going to change anytime, they had to seek comfort and salvation and the only way they can get that is through faith. Nat Turner for example was a black preacher that were hanged for leading a revolt during the height of the African-American slavery.
One of the influential factors that influenced the blacks to embrace Christianity is because their white masters introduced it to them. Protestant Christians mostly Anglicans and Baptists were observed by the slaves as they lay their hands in the Bible and studied its teachings (Osuji, 2012). Overtime, the blacks used the teachings and principles of the Bible stories to create their own identity, which became the foundation of their community. They understood the need to create a new community for them since their old roots and religious culture was already destroyed. They view Christianity as an alternative to their lost African culture, Christian faith has been their immediate diversion to escape from the misery of enslavement. They used the church as their comfort zone and through the years became an integral part of their identity.
The Role of Media
Going back to the Civil Rights movement initiated by the African-Americans, their bold moves to call for social reform has not been an immense success if the message was not delivered to the greater public. This is when the media played the crucial role of influencing the majority of the society because during the martin Luther King march in Washington, the media broadcasted the event including how the white police force imposed brutality among the protesters. However, the media is also an instrument of racial inequality imposed on African-Americans. America in general is a large media-oriented consumer, the society in which the blacks belongs to rely on media in many ways. At some point media became an important indication of deciding which issues are important based on what the media itself produced and disseminated to the public. Much of what people know is based on the things that they've seen or heard from the media through symbols, images and narratives.
Some contemporary writings critique the mainstream media on how they represent African-Americans in their materials (Brooks and Hebert, 2006, p. 299). For example, blacks are portrayed in the media as helpers, low-level employee, homeless people, thugs and criminals. These symbols and characteristics in which the media are associating the African-Americans with determines how the other groups respond based on the relationship of the constructed images to the black community itself. Stereotyping was a typical treatment that African-Americans experienced from the so-called superior race (whites). The fact that slavery and social equality has long been imposed in the U.S, the racial mind-set still prevails in many white Americans.
The media sometimes highlight the differences of a white and a black individual in most of their materials. TV shows, movies and newspapers highlight a negative issue involving a black individual and puts a great deal on it issues just because an African-American is involved. One instance is me entering a designer brand store and ended up being asked to leave the store because I am black. When I asked just when my color became an issue when it comes to determining who will and will not enter the store. The response of the manager is, "we don't trust the likes of you". At first I thought it was some kind reality show segment that cameras would eventually come out somewhere and tells me that I was just Punked. Apparently it is real, I am in a real situation that I am being suspected as a person with a bad reputation, probably they thought I am a shoplifter or something. These things happen for real because the media feeds this idea to the people who are seriously conscious of racial differences.
The African-American Contribution to the United States of America
No matter what other groups says about African-Americans, there is no denying that this black skin made a huge difference for the country that became beneficial to its citizens. The earliest contribution of African-Americans during the slave period is mainly on agriculture. In 1740's, rice was introduced in South Carolina. The African slave's expertise of rice cultivation helped the State's farming economy (Holloway, n.d.). The American 'Cowboy" culture is not 100% all-American as most people know it. Cattle raising was indigenous to the African culture since grazing animals has been a way of life in the African culture. The Funali people were brought to South Carolina together with the longhorn cattle in 1973 from Senegambia. After which the cattle colonial herds have gone from 500 to 6,784 in just 30 years. This is also an example of how the media has been very selective of their materials in portraying the American culture. The first cowboys of the West are the black descendants of the earlier slaves in contrary to what the media and the movies portrayed them. Cosmo grams, Jazz, funeral practices, grave designs, Hip-hop, Rap and several cultural legacies have been passed on to the American culture as a heritage and reminder of the African-American contribution to America.
Brooks, D. E., & Heber, L. P. (2006). Gender, Race and Media Representation. Gender and Communication in Mediated Contexts, 299.
Brunner, B. (n.d.). African-American History Timeline. Info Please. Retrieved July 4, 2012, from http://www.infoplease.com/spot/bhmtimeline.html/
Carson, C. (2010). Civil Rights Reform and the Black Freedom Struggle. Commentary, 19-20.
Freie Universität Berlin (2009). Non-violence in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States of America. Dissertation, 2009.
Holloway, J. E. (2010). African Contribution to American Culture. The Slave Rebellion. Retrieved July 4, 2012, from http://slaverebellion.org/index.php?page=african-contribution-to-american-culture
Kwabena Nsiah, J. M. (2010). Making Sense of The Black/White Middle Class Student Achievement Gap. Wesleyan University_, 4.
Nikki (2012, January 15). The Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement and its Impact on the Occupy Wall Street Movement. HubPages. Retrieved July 4, 2012, from http://journalistnikki.hubpages.com/hub/The-Legacy-of-the-Civil-Rights-Movement-and-its-Impact-on-the-Occupy-Wall-Street-Movement
Osuji, O. (2012, April 27). The Role Of Religion In African American Politics. ChatAfrik. Retrieved July 4, 2012, from http://www.chatafrik.com/component/k2/item/880-the-role-of-religion-in-african-american-politics.html