What does Change Mean in US History?

What is change? Google defines it as “the act or instance of making or becoming different”. But what does that really mean? In layman’s term it means that whatever the subject is, it goes from being an original to becoming new, by creating many differences from the original we are changing it into something new. Every day in our lives, humans are constantly subjected to change. But how do they react? Looking back in history we can see that change has many different reactions depending on what the subject is. But no matter what, there will always be people that are resistant to change. One subject where many people were and still are resistant to change is in the Social Status of African Americans, especially in the United States. The social status of African Americans has significantly changed in the last 200 yrs. But it has not come without its challenges, especially from people that have feared and wanted to resist against this change. Throughout US history we see 2 major movements for the advocation of African Americans in the United States, leading them from not even being considered human beings, to becoming equally entitled citizens. The first major movement was the fight for freedom led by many prominent well-known figures including Fredrick Douglass. The second major movement was the fight for equal rights, most notably led by Martin Luther King Jr. In both movements and even in movements today, they were faced with major opposition that were resistant to change.

In the beginning of US history, Thomas Jefferson wrote in the constitution “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”. But for African Americans in the US, at the time, they were not even viewed as humans. So instead of enjoying their right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, they were instead slaving away for the white man and living in inhumane conditions. As time went on, the common slave dreamt of freedom, but in the end, they realized that this was only a dream. That was until Fredrick Douglass came along. Fredrick Douglass was an abolitionist, social reformer, writer, public speaker, and statesman. Fredrick was born into slavery not even knowing his birthday or his own mother. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, gaining note for his public speeches and incisive antislavery writings. One way he fought in the fight for freedom was by teaching English to his fellow slaves in Sabbath School. This was important in the fight for slavery because the ability read, write and speak English allowed them to become educated, and because they were educated, they were able to think above their own station in life and begin to realize their right to freedom.

Another way he fought in the fight is by writing an autobiography of his life, reminiscing about the hardships him and other slaves endured. This book help bring attention to the inhumane lives of African Americans in this country. The book sold out on its first printing and became a prominent book around the country and the world for decades to come. The most effective action he ever did in the fight for freedom was by convincing President Lincoln to abolish slavery. Fredrick Douglass met with the president many times trying to convince him to abolish slavery and free all African Americans. Initially president Lincoln resisted because he was more concerned about preserving the union and was willing to allow slavery to continue if it meant the country stayed whole. But thanks to Fredrick Douglass the president realized that he had to take firm stance on the issue instead of tiptoeing around the it. And so, after the emancipation proclamation of 1863, president Lincoln took a firm stance against Slavery which forever helped change the course of American history. Even though the fight for freedom from slavery had a strong following including both all African Americans and many white abolitionists, it still faced major opposition,. This opposition was in the form of the Confederacy. Southern leaders felt that their way of life was under attack and susceptible to change.

If slavery was abolished, they would have to pay their workers and it would dramatically decrease their profits (busting their economy), it also counteracts their belief that the black man was less than them. Because of this they resisted this change, going as far as succeeding the union and creating their own rouge state. Even after the civil war they still resisted the change by enacting Jim Crow Laws limiting the average African Americans rights. The fight for freedom in the mid 1800’s was a tense conflict with both sides fighting their hardest. One side fighting for their freedom and the other side resisting it, trying to defend their way of life from change.

Though the abolishment of slavery was a win for African Americans everywhere, they still had a long way to go, to get the chance to be truly free and successful. At this time, African Americans were still extremely limited in their rights, and practices like share cropping didn’t really improve their quality of life compared to before. Since African Americans were now free, they had a better chance of being educated. This allowed them to think above their station in life. And quickly African Americans realized that they should be entitled to the same rights that other US citizens are guaranteed and should not be legally barred from it through Jim Crow laws. The movement for civil rights started to gain momentum across the country, especially in the south. People like Rosa Parks became major figures in this movement in the fight for equal rights. But one man came to be the face of it all, his name was Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King Jr was a Baptist minister and activist who became the face of the fight for equal rights from 1954 until his death in 1968. He was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. Martin Luther King Jr. is best known for advocating for equal rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience (Strategies his Christian beliefs and the nonviolent acts of Mahatma Gandhi helped encourage).

MLK led marches, protest & peaceful gathering in the fight for equal rights. Events like these include the March on Washington in 1963 where his infamous “I have a dream” speech took place. The fight for equal rights helped bring to light the issues African Americans faced every day. Eventually the people fighting for equal rights won and caused the 88th United States Congress to create the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin and prohibits unequal application of voter registration requirements, and racial segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations. But this victory did not come without its opposition, which included many political figures, white segregationists’ groups and society in general. One example of the opposition is in 1957, after the verdict of the U.S. Supreme Court case (1954): Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (which made all laws creating segregated schools to be unconstitutional), nine African American students enrolled in Little Rock Central High School. But the governor of Arkansas (at the time it was Governor Orval Faubus (a staunch segregationist)) called in the National Guard, to prevent the African American students from entering, due to claims that there was “”imminent danger of tumult, riot and breach of peace”” at the integration. But then President Eisenhower nationalized the Guard and ordered them to support the integration instead of helping to oppose it.

Another example is when, Martin Luther King Jr.’s house was bombed by segregationists due to the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. One other example is the feelings in society at the time. After the civil war, those who resisted the change, still believed that whites were still superior the black man and so they enacted Jim Crow laws to keep a leg up . They also passed down these beliefs through the generations which affected the American society as a whole. The fight for equal rights in the mid-20th century was a tense movment with both sides fighting their hardest. One side fighting for their rights and the other side resisting it, trying to defend their way of life from change.

In the last 200yrs African Americans have dramatically changed their status in the American Society, going from mindless slaves to equally entitled citizens. But there is one fight left to win, racism itself. Even though the entirety of racism will never be abolished since it’s really an ideology, there is a lot of work that can be done to dramatically reduce its effects. In today’s age of new and emerging technology, information can be passed around much faster and trends could be created in a matter of days. One movement that has taken advantage of this is Black Lives Matter. Black lives matter is a movement that is fighting to reduce violence and systemic racism towards black people. Starting off as a trend after officer George Zimmerman was acquitted for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, #BlackLivesMatter became a nationwide topic of discussion and led to many marches, protests, demonstrations an even riots. The effects of this movement include more police departments having implicit bias training for their officers in attempt to reduce violence and systemic racism towards African Americans and/or people of color in general. But even this day and age, even these movements face opposition. One major opposition to Black Lives Matter is White Lives Matter.

White Lives Matter is a racist response to Black Lives Matter and is made up by a neo-Nazi group that is growing into a movement with more and more white supremacist groups taking up its slogans and tactics. One instance where the fight between the two groups was at its worst, was at the Unite the Right rally. The Unite the Right rally was a white supremacist rally that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, from August 11 to August 12, 2017. It included groups like the alt-right, neo-Confederates, neo-fascists, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and etc. The rally took place during the controversy created by the removal of multiple of Confederate monuments throughout the country (which was in response to the Charleston church shooting in 2015). The event turned violent after protesters fought with counter-protesters, leaving more than 30 injured. On August 12, the governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency due to the rally, along with the Virginia State Police declaring the assembly to be unlawful. Later that same day, a self-identified white supremacist named James Alex Fields Jr. rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 1 and injuring about 40 other people. The fight to reduce racism today is a tense movement with both sides fighting their hardest. One side fighting to reduce violence and systemic racism towards African Americans and the other side resisting it, trying to defend their beliefs and their way of life from change.

As said before change is defined as “the act or instance of making or becoming different”. But what does this really mean? When looking thorough these historical and current events, we can see that change is something that can affect everyone, challenging beliefs and can replace the very way of life. As humans we are subject to change constantly. Everyone reacts to it differently depending on what the subject is. But no matter what, there will always be people that are resistant to change. But why is that? One reason is some people are just comfortable with the way things are, and allot of the time, people would rather stay comfortable than change it up. Another reason is that it may counter beliefs or traditions that people hold dear to their hearts because it helps make them who they are. And change can be successfully resisted, like when new gun bylaws are introduced into congress but then are shut down with advocacy groups like the NRA. Time and time again, we can see that with every change comes a fight, because in the end no matter what, there will always be people that are resistant to change.


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“Central High School Integrated.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 24 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/central-high-school-integrated.

“Black Lives Matter.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 4 Mar. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Lives_Matter.

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. YouTube, YouTube, 1 Oct. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QIWolLM9i8.

“Unite the Right Rally.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 8 Mar. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unite_the_Right_rally.

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