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The Black Experience:
A Snapshot Of Black American History
The Declaration of Independence asserts, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Declaration of Independence failed to protect all of it's citizens for slavery was still legal in the 13 colonies, which means 20% of the population was held in brutal bondage without liberty or happiness or a real life. Of the 56 white male property owners who signed that Declaration, 27 were slave-holders, slave-shippers, and/or slave-investors. Thomas Jefferson- who was the primary drafter of the Declaration of Independence- enslaved 175 Black women, men, and children in 1776 and 267 by 1822. -Michael Coard, The Philadelphia Tribune
In August of 1619, a journal entry recorded that “20 and odd” Angolans, kidnapped by the Portuguese, arrived in the British colony of Virginia and were then were bought by English colonists.
The date and the story of the enslaved Africans have become symbolic of slavery’s roots, despite captive Africans likely being present in the Americas in the 1400s and as early as 1526 in the region that would become the United States. To satisfy the labor needs of the rapidly growing North American colonies, white European settlers began enslaving Africans. After 1619, when a Dutch ship brought 20 Africans ashore at the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia, slavery spread quickly through the American colonies. Though it is impossible to give accurate figures, some historians have estimated that 6 to 7 million enslaved people were imported to the New World during the 18th century alone, depriving the African continent of its most valuable resource—its healthiest and ablest men and women. - History.com
In 1770, Crispus Attucks, a black man, became the first casualty of the American Revolution when he was shot and killed in what became known as the Boston Massacre. The Governor of Virginia in 1779, signed a bill to encourage enlistment in the American Revolutionary War by compensating white men by giving them a “healthy sound Negro.” 5,000 brave Black men were instrumental in leading America to victory over Britain by 1783. After Black People helped win the war for America, some were freed but many of them were thrown back into American slavery.
In August 1831, Southampton County Virginia, Nat Turner organized a slave rebellion. Rebel slaves killed from 55 to 65 people, at least 51 being white. The newspapers at the time exaggerated the number of white people killed which caused several states to call a special emergency sessions of the legislature. They used this a a chance to strengthen their rules in order to limit the education, movement and assembly of enslaved people. Racist, supporters of slavery, used the Turner rebellion as ammunition to support their racist beliefs that, "black people were inherently inferior barbarians requiring an institution such as slavery to discipline them".
The government did little to protect ALL Human Rights. In fact, Congress passed The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, on September 18, 1850, which was part of the Compromise of 1850. The act required that slaves be returned to their owners, even if they were in a free state. The act also made the federal government responsible for finding, returning, and trying escaped slaves.
During the 1830s, the owner of an enslaved man named Dred Scott had taken him from the slave state of Missouri to the Wisconsin territory and Illinois, where slavery was outlawed, according to the terms of the Missouri Compromise of 1820. "Scott sued for his freedom on the basis that his temporary removal to free soil had made him legally free. The case went to the Supreme Court, where Chief Justice Roger B. Taney and the majority eventually ruled that Scott was a slave and not a citizen, and thus had no legal rights to sue."
On the night of October 16, 1859, John Brown led a small band of less than 50 men in a raid against the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. They tried to capture enough ammunition to lead a large operation against Virginia’s slaveholders. Brown’s men, including several black people, captured and held the arsenal until federal and state governments sent troops and were able to overpower them. John Brown was hanged on December 2, 1859.
In 1861, issues including slavery caused the North and South into a civil war, with 11 southern states seceding from the Union and forming the Confederate States of America. Five days after the bloody Union victory at Antietam in September, a preliminary emancipation proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863. It was announced that enslaved people within any State, or designated part of a State in rebellion, “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Lincoln did not go so far as to free enslaved people in the border states loyal to the Union, an omission that angered many abolitionists!
The 13th Amendment, adopted late in 1865, officially abolished slavery, however, it was still promoted among The Southern States. As white southerners gradually reestablished civil authority in the former Confederate states in 1865 and 1866, they enacted a series of laws known as the black codes, which were designed to restrict freed black peoples’ activity and ensure their availability as a labor force.
Black codes were restrictive laws designed to limit the freedom of African Americans and ensure their availability as a cheap labor force after slavery was abolished during the Civil War. In South Carolina, a law prohibited blacks from holding any occupation other than farmer or servant unless they paid an annual tax of $10 to $100.
Under Johnson’s Reconstruction policies, nearly all the southern states would enact their own black codes in 1865 and 1866. While the codes granted certain freedoms to African Americans—including the right to buy and own property, marry, make contracts and testify in court (only in cases involving people of their own race)—their primary purpose was to restrict blacks’ labor and activity. Blacks who broke labor contracts were subject to arrest, beating and forced labor, and apprenticeship laws forced many minors (either orphans or those whose parents were deemed unable to support them by a judge) into unpaid labor for white planters.
The 15th Amendment, adopted in 1870, guaranteed that a citizen’s right to vote would not be denied “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Discrimination continued in America with the rise of Jim Crow laws, which originated as early as 1865. Jim Crow laws existed for about 100 years, from the post-Civil War era until 1968. They were meant to marginalize African Americans by denying them the right to vote, hold jobs, get an education, and other opportunities. Those who defied Jim Crow laws often faced arrest, fines, jail sentences, violence and death. - History.com
White protective societies such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) tried to stop black voters by using voter fraud and intimidation as well as terrorism, as a means to intimidate Black Americans from exercising their rights.
By 1877, when the last federal soldiers left the South and Reconstruction drew to a close, black Americans had seen dishearteningly little improvement in their economic and social status, and what political gains they had made had been wiped away by the vigorous efforts of white supremacist forces throughout the region.
By 1885, most southern states had laws requiring separate schools for black and white students, and by 1900, “persons of color” were required to be separated from white people in railroad cars and depots, hotels, theaters, restaurants, barber shops and other establishments.
Booker T. Washington, wrote Up From Slavery (1900), as an inspiration for Black People. Washington urged black Americans to acquire the kind of industrial or vocational training (such as farming, mechanics and domestic service) that would give them the necessary skills to carve out a niche for themselves in the U.S. economy.
In June 1905, a group led by the prominent black educator W.E.B. Du Bois met at Niagara Falls, Canada, sparking a new political protest movement to demand civil rights for black people in the old spirit of abolitionism. A wave of race riots—particularly one in Springfield, Illinois in 1908—lent a sense of urgency to the Niagara Movement and its supporters, who in 1909 joined their agenda with that of a new permanent civil rights organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP, established in Chicago, had the goal of the abolition of all forced segregation, the enforcement of the 14th and 15th Amendments, equal education for black and white students and complete enfranchisement of all black men. Black women had a long long road ahead of them.
The NAACP had expanded to more than 400 locations by 1921. One of its earliest programs was a crusade against lynching and other lawless acts; those efforts—including a nationwide protest of D.W. Griffiths’ silent film Birth of a Nation (1915), which glorified white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan—would continue into the 1920s, playing a crucial role in drastically reducing the number of lynchings carried out in the United States. Du Bois edited the NAACP’s official magazine, The Crisis, from 1910 to 1934, publishing many of the leading voices in African American literature and politics and helping fuel the spread of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s.
In the 1920s, the great migration of black Americans from the rural South to the urban North sparked an African American cultural renaissance that took its name from the New York City neighborhood of Harlem but became a widespread movement in cities throughout the North and West. Also known as the Black Renaissance or the New Negro Movement, the Harlem Renaissance marked the first time that mainstream publishers and critics turned their attention seriously to African American literature, music, art and politics.
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered its verdict in Brown v. Board of Education, ruling unanimously that racial segregation in public schools violated the 14th Amendment’s mandate of equal protection of the laws of the U.S. Constitution to any person within its jurisdiction. Oliver Brown, the lead plaintiff in the case, was one of almost 200 people from five different states who had joined related NAACP cases brought before the Supreme Court.
After years of Civil Rights Movements between 1950s and 1960s. Malcolm X was shot to death, February 1965. Less than a week after the Selma–to–Montgomery marchers were beaten and bloodied by Alabama state troopers in March 1965, President Lyndon Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress, calling for federal legislation to ensure protection of the voting rights of African Americans. The result was the Voting Rights Act, which Congress passed in August 1965. It banned literacy tests as a requirement for voting, mandated federal oversight of voter registration in areas where tests had previously been used and gave the U.S. attorney general the duty of challenging the use of poll taxes for state and local elections.
In the late 1960s and early ’70s, frustration fueled the rise of the Black Power movement. Black Power was a form of both self–definition and self–defense for African Americans. In 1966, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, college students in Oakland, California, founded the Black Panther Party.
The Fair Housing Act of 1968, prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin or sex. Those that tried to exercise this right were often met with resistance, hostility and even violence!
On April 4, 1968, the world was stunned and saddened by the news that the civil rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot and killed on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
In March 1991, officers with the California Highway Patrol attempted to pull over an African American man named Rodney King. Four LAPD officers shot him with a Taser gun and severely beat him! The abuse was caught on videotape by an onlooker and broadcast around the world. The beating inspired widespread outrage among the Black community, who had long condemned the racial profiling and abuse they've suffered at the hands of the police force.
The Black Lives Matter Movement: The term “black lives matter” was first used by organizer Alicia Garza in a July 2013 Facebook post in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a Florida man who shot and killed unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012. Martin’s death set off nationwide protests.
The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter first appeared on Twitter on July 13, 2013 and spread widely as high-profile cases involving the deaths of black civilians provoked renewed outrage. A series of deaths of black Americans at the hands of police officers continued to spark outrage and protests, including Eric Garner in New York City, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Tamir Rice in Cleveland Ohio and Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland.
The Black Lives Matter movement gained renewed attention on September 25, 2016, when San Francisco 49ers players Eric Reid, Eli Harold, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem before the game against the Seattle Seahawks to draw attention to recent acts of police brutality. Dozens of other players in the NFL and beyond followed suit.
Today! On May 25, 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic, 46-year-old George Floyd died after being handcuffed and killed by a police officer (we refuse to use his name!). The officer was filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes with the support of his other 3 officers. Floyd’s killing came on the heels of two other high-profile cases in 2020 where black citizens, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery and 26-year-old EMT Breonna Taylor (to name a few), were killed by police officers.
These events serves as a snapshot of the Black American experience. After reflection, it's evident that American MUST MAKE CHANGES! After generations of Human Rights Violations, it is imperative that victims speak out against the racial injustice among America today.
Let's finish the fight our ancestors started!