An Overview of the African American

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From their forced entry into this country to so-called freedom, African Americans have been the rigid backbone in building this nation. They have endured many unspeakable hardships, such as being kidnapped from their homes to being inhumanely thrown into a ship, being forced to do work and sold or auctioned off as slaves, being beaten and lynched, and fighting against discrimination. What really hits hard to African Americans is after getting their long-due freedom, they were trapped in a society that claimed to be progressive, but were still barbarically discriminatory. Essentially, they had been eagerly waiting as the Civil War occurred, silently hoping to reach the light to demolish this belief system of being thought of less than, to find out that though they were set free, but really at what cost? They were now struck with realization that they must start from the bottom, providing for their family and finding a place in this reconstructing country where they felt unwanted, yet stuck. Not all African Americans felt this way however, as some gallant leaders not willing to let prejudice and inequality obstruct their newly-given freedom stood up to the White Southerners.

To answer all the African Americans feeling lost in terms of how to find their place of being and in terms of making a living, Booker T. Washington took a stand. In his speech, “The Atlanta Compromise”, he delivered a message of hope and firm support expressing that African Americans could prosper in fields they have long practiced, such as agriculture and domestic service (Course Reader 12). After being granted freedom, many returned to their masters and sharecropped or worked under them for a small pay. Washington encouraged African Americans that they do not need to jump into luxurious positions as that will come in time. He assured them that there is indeed nobility in the myriad of professions that African Americans currently hold and that they must hold their head high for prosperity will come and that “at the bottom of life we must begin, and not at the top” (Course Reader 12).

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Washington further addresses the White people at the Cotton States Exposition inviting and challenging them to coexist with the African American community. He admits this process will not come easily, but openly hopes that the desire of achieving the goal of progress as a nation is powerful enough to facilitate this societal emersion. Washington reminisces about how his people have proven their loyalty to White people through slavery from “nursing your children, watching by the sick-bed of your mothers and fathers…” (Course Reader 14). He promises that helping African Americans, White people can relish when saying “…you will find that they will buy your surplus land…” and ultimately, this will be a situation where both communities can benefit (Course Reader 13).

Washington solidifies how African Americans have been the backbone of Whites and their accomplishments. This implication is analogous to how in the modern day the phrase “behind every strong man there is a strong woman” however, with Washington’s message he is expressing that African Americans have been present and active behind White people and the construction of this country. By casting out these thoughts, Washington hopes to gain some recognition for his people and to nurture some confidence as well.

While Booker T. Washington sought to provide African Americans with comfort in their professions, Henry W. Grady broadcasted to the nation how the South was now in a novel state of mind and in the midst of progression. Recalling how the South depended on slavery, Grady glamorized how this new democratic South was a “social system compact” and a “diversified industry” that is modernized for the late 1880’s (Course Reader 7). He excites his audience by describing this new reconstructing South as being reborn and even goes on to convey to the New England community that through this major change the South’s “honest purpose” was reached, implying that its destiny in the end was relating to freedom of African American people (Course Reader 7). Though Grady’s interpretation of the condition of how the progression of the rights of African Americans was exaggerated, this would have been a great sense of support to the African American community of the South.

Grady also felt that as the African Americans were slaves to White Southerners, the South similarly was a “slave to the system” (Course Reader 6). This bold statement conveys to this upper-echelon audience that the entire arrangement of how the South was built, consisting of agriculture as its major economy and relying on free labor from slavery to carry out cultivations, was a major flaw. He claims that this was a critical issue because having a system like this created the foundation for the ongoing belief system that African Americans are less-than. Grady’s argument is saying that in regards to the “prevention before cure” ideology, that the way the notorious South was created and ran further solidified the ideal of inhumane discrimination in making it a rational viewpoint and was accepted by both White and Black people. In all, it is implied that it seems as if Grady felt that a crucial problem of the discrimination stemmed from the belief system of the entire South as a construct, which can be symbolized as a trunk of a tree and its growing issues, and the branches would be represented by feelings of prejudice expanding over time. Further, political and social policies such as the development of the Jim Crow South are the finishing touches as the leaves on this abstract tree.

Homer Plessy decided to take a different route in solving societal problems by physically protesting. After sitting in a “whites only” section of a train, Plessy was arrested according to the Louisiana Ordinance of 1890 in which railroads were to “provide equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races” (Course Reader 17). This legislation essentially continued discrimination towards the African American community, however the racism was masked in its false pretense of providing resources of alleged equal quality. The nation, incapable of coming to terms with providing dignified equality towards African Americans to follow through the Louisiana Ordinance gave them insufficient facilities. Plessy, hoping to prove this discrepancy of what was the law and actuality, took this step to show the nation change was not happening as was being depicted.

According to the Supreme Court, as far as the law goes, the Fourteenth Amendment was not violated. This reasoning derives from the fact that the amendment’s purpose was to “enforce the absolute equality of the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based on color…” (Course Reader 17). This reveals that, contrary to popular opinion, the Fourteenth Amendment was not made to prevent racial discrimination, but to simply provide equal but different accommodations and that it did not have a focus on unjust treatment to African Americans. In this case, Plessy took a risk, and this action could also be described as an experiment, where he tested the legitimacy of the law and progression of the ideology of equality. Failing miserably, in the moment as he was prosecuted, Plessy’s case set a precedent that would justify the “separate, but equal” doctrine.

Focusing on political and social rights, W.E.B Du Bois spoke of his wishes for the African American people in the Niagara Movement Conference. Located in the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, Du Bois expressed that education, skin color, transportation and economic opportunities are among the many aspects of discrimination African Americans faced. In terms of education, he pointed out that general education is practically a natural right and should be provided to all American youth, especially in the South as African Americans are not getting educated. In an intrepid manner, and without regard to any consequences, Du Bois stated that blatant discrimination based off of physical features should no longer be tolerated. Another issue Du Bois emphasized was in transportation as he claimed that the “Jim Crow car” required that they “pay first-class fare for third-class accommodations” (Course Reader 30).

Du Bois further felt that these disrespectful occurrences hugely damaged the confidence African Americans had. In terms of economic ventures, he assessed that racist beliefs from White people have made it impossible for African Americans to make a life for themselves. Overall, he successfully brought to light the issues African Americans are dealing with on a daily basis whilst crushing under the dominance of White people.

During the time period of 1880 to 1920, various authoritative figures have taken a stand in the face of adversity in multiple ways. Booker T. Washington stated that African Americans should prosper in their current professions and find pride in what they do. With an embellished tone, Henry W. Grady expressed how the South was ready for an industrial economic endeavor and that it is moving on from its past, consisting of slavery and agriculture. Though W.E.B. Du Bois brought attention to many issues, he did not offer solutions. Lastly, the significant figure that offered the most effective solution during this time was Homer Plessy. He demonstrated his voice through the act of protesting, while the other significant individuals did not take concrete actions against the law, and set the grounds for “separate, but equal” legislation. Plessy outright challenged the law, an act that was almost unheard of, which is crucial.

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An Overview of the African American. (2021, Feb 27). Retrieved from