advanced course lesson 3
CIVIL RIGHTS – LATE 19TH CENTURY AND EARLY 20TH CENTURY
By the dawn of the 20th century the situation of African-Americans in the southern states was grim. They had very few rights. Their situation was only a little better than it had been under slavery.
Some African-Americans in the South were sharecroppers. They worked on plantations for a share of the crop and not for cash. They needed cash to buy essentials. They borrowed money from the plantation owner. This was lent at a high rate of interest. The sharecroppers became bonded labourers.
A person who was of mixed black-white ancestry was classified as black. This was known as the one drop rule. A person with a single drop of African blood was classified as black. A person who was half and half was called a mulatto. Someone who was a quarter black was called a quadroon. A person who was one-eighth black was an octroon. If someone was less black than that he or she was indistinguishable from a fully white person but according to racist theory was still black.
Many states passed Jim Crow laws. Jim Crow meant a black person since a crow is black. These laws segregated the two races in parks, cinemas, restaurants, buses, trains, theatres and even graveyards.
The US had two main political parties. These were the Republicans and the Democrats. The Democrats were much more dominant in the South. In some presidential elections there was the Solid South as in all 11 southern states voting for the Democrat. The Democrats won a few states in the North. The Republicans were stronger in the North which had most of the population.
President U S Grant had made some effort against the KKK in the 1870s. The Enforcement Acts had been passed. But his efforts had been unavailing. The US Army had been patrolling the South in an effort to prevent KKK intimidation of the black community. The US Army was much too small for the task. The KKK had the support of most southern whites.
In 1876 US troops were withdrawn from the southern states all apart from a few army bases.
In the late 19th century black people were disenfranchised in much of the south. Impecunious whites also found themselves off the electoral roll.
Jim Crow laws mandated that black and white children be educated at separate schools. Far less money was allocated per pupil to the black schools. Their teachers were paid less. They often only got second hand textbooks after whites had used them for years.
Black people made progress in education. In the North schools were integrated. Colleges were opened for black people. Some Ivy League universities accepted black applicants. However, black tertiary education participation was much, much lower than that of whites.
Southern newspapers often refused to use Mr, Mrs or Miss in relation to a black person. Whites were wont to refer to a black person as ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ regardless of age.
In 1896 a black man named Homer Plessy boarded a train and sat in the whites only carriage. Mr Ferguson demanded that Mr Plessy move. The dispute went to court. The matter was appealed all the way to the US Supreme Court. The Supreme Court handed down its ruling in the Plessy v Ferguson case. The judgment was that organisations were permitted to segregate races in public accommodation. However, the standard of accommodation offered to each race had to be of an equal standard. This is known as the separate but equal doctrine.
In 1912 Woodrow Wilson was elected president. President Wilson was from Virginia and believed racism was good. He ordered that black and white be kept apart in government service.
Black people sent to prison were often leased out as cheap labour. Free black people were discriminated in employment. This also happened to Hispanics.
The president invited Booker T Washington to dinner. Some white supremacists made the foulest accusations against Mr Washington.
In 1909 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded. NAACP wanted to abolish discrimination against non whites and stop the crimes committed against black people. NAACP started to use lawsuits in furtherance of its cause.
In the First World War hundreds of thousands of African-Americans served overseas in the US military. They served in Europe. They spent time in white countries and saw whites who were in poverty and homeless. They realised that whites were not always better off than black people. African-Americans also defeated white Germans. The myth of white invincibility was shattered.
After the First World War there was an outbreak of racist violence. Black people were murdered by the dozen in Chicago, Tulsa and other cities. In the North African-Americans sometimes voted Democrat. Democrats in the North tended not to be racists like in the South.
In the 1920s the KKK had millions of members. KKK police officers sometimes directed traffic in Klan robes. KKK was able to swing elections. It was anti Catholic. Al Smith was the Democratic candidate for president. He lost largely due to KKK opposition.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century several million black people left the southern states. They moved north and west. Outside the former CSA there were no Jim Crow laws. Discrimination was less severe.
In 1929 the Great Depression broke out. African-Americans were so poor in many cases that this depression did not make things worse.
The New Deal was intended to solve mass unemployment in the 1930s. It was semi-effective. African-Americans benefited. President Roosevelt banned discrimination by the Federal Government.
In 1941 the United States entered the Second World War. The US military needed every man it could get. Millions of African Americans joined the military. Many volunteered but some were drafted.
The US was fighting against the racist system in Germany and Japan. Some Americans wondered why the US tolerated frank racism on its own soil.
Some Germans were taken prisoner by the US Army. The German Prisoners of War were shipped to the US and held there. The POWs were transported across the United States by train. The Germans were escorted by African-American soldiers. On a train the white crew served meals to the German POWs but refused to serve American soldiers because the soldiers were black!
After the Second World War some people seriously reflected on the scandal of outright racism in the United States. African-American veterans demanded respect.
The GI Bill was passed. This funded higher education for military veterans. For many people third level education was unattainable before this. African-Americans started attending college in significant numbers.
In Smith v Alwight a white primary was banned. That was in 1944. On the edges of the South black people started to gain some traction in politics.
In 1945 Harry Truman became president. Truman issued executive order 9981. This desegregated the armed forces. Until that time military units were white or black.
Real estate agents were open in trying to keep black people and whites apart even in the North.
In 1954 Mr Brown wanted to send his daughter to the nearest school. It was a white school and she was black. The black school was several miles away. Brown pursued his case against the Board of Education. They struck down the Plessy v Ferguson ruling. The Supreme Court said that schools had to be integrated.
The civil rights movement gathered pace in the 1950s. They used peaceful protest and non violent direct action.
- Who took out a legal case against the Board of Education?
2. Which president desegregated the military?
3. What was this executive order called?
4. What was the GI Bill?
5. What is a sharecropper?
6. What is an octroon?
7. What were Jim Crow Laws?
8. What was the KKK?
9. What is the Solid South?
10. Tell the tale of Plessy v Ferguson?
11. What does NAACP stand for?
12. Were African-Americans mistreated? Five marks.