The essay studies the problem of disempowerment of the Black men in the South since the times of slavery. The paper shows the historical aspect of this problem.
Keywords: disempowerment, Black men, historical aspect.
Disempowerment of Black Men in the South
Between 1650 and 1850, around 10 -12 million slaves from Africa were transported to the New World. The process continued slowly, until the early seventeenth century. Almost 300,000 slaves were brought to the American continent during these years. Later on, in the eighteenth century, when the slave trade was at its peak, more than six million of Africans were brought to America. These estimates do not include the number of the Blacks who died during their brutal relocation to the New World. The slave trade was a lucrative business: the more slaves were brought to the New World on the ships, the more money slave traders made. Hundreds of ships that sailed to America were filled with the chained in pairs Blacks. Slaves were lying in rows: they had no place to move, and it was barely enough air for them. Their travel usually finished in North and South America or on the Caribbean islands. Many of them died from diseases. During transportation, there were numerous cases of forced harassment over the Black girls, who committed suicide by jumping overboard. In the mid-1700s, the majority of Africans in the English colonies on the American Continent were living in its southern states. There were numerous plantations, work in which required a lot of manual labor. The state of Virginia has been a leader in slavery. In 1756, the Blacks constituted about half of its population; their number exceeded 120,000. At this time in South Carolina, the number of the Black slaves outnumbered white people. On the other hand, the north of New England was inhabited by a relatively small number of slaves.
The continued growth of the Black population made the white community more and more afraid of a riot of their slaves. Police units, which consisted only of the Whites, were formed. In addition, strict legislation was passed in the colonies; they restricted the activities of the Blacks. The slave owners had the right to punish their slaves even for the smallest misconduct. The punishment for the same offense for the Blacks was much worse than the one for the Whites. The same example is illustrated in the Light in August. Christmas, the main character was accused of being a nigger who ruined the life of a white woman (Faulkner, 2008).
The fight against the British during the War of Independence highlights the hypocrisy of the American history: the colonists from England were looking for religious, economic, and political freedom in the New World. At the same time, they denied the Blacks even the most basic human rights. The victory of the American Revolution caused the release of only a few thousand slaves in the North. The Declaration of Independence also did not manage to solve the issue of slavery in America.
In 1790, the number of the Black people in the United States reached 760,000, and less than eight percent of them were free. The ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788 guaranteed the equality and "certain inalienable rights" to the White people, but not to the Blacks. At that time, the so-called free Blacks, often referred to as “quasi-free” in government documents, faced problems in employment, and restrictions of movement, voting and carrying weapons. Being "liberated," they were subjected to racial hatred, legalized discrimination, political and economic injustice in the white world. There were a considerable number of such cases. In The Lesson before Dying, Ernest Gaines tells a story of a dark-skinned American boy, who was condemned to death because of false charges. He was accused of murdering a white owner of a grocery store. Local schoolteacher helped him protect his human dignity and hold up under misfortunes of his future (Gaines, 1993).
The political and economic crises in the United States during the Civil War tensioned racial intolerance in America. Liberation of slaves in the North during the Civil War was considered a military necessity, and not a human rights issue. In eight months after the end of the Civil War, in December 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was passed and slavery was abolished. Nevertheless, even in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Negroes did not witness real change in social, political, and economic conditions.
The era of prosperity and reconstruction of the political structure began right after the American Civil War. The Black population received significant improvements of their legislative rights. The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1866, was designed to promote the status of the former slaves to the status of citizens with all necessary privileges and rights. The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution that was ratified in 1870 provided the Black American males with the voting right. On the other hand, part of the white population, who wished to preserve the status quo, forced the adoption of the "Jim Crow Laws" - segregation legislation, legally allowing discrimination based on ethnicity and race. The document was passed in the 1870's. Human rights violations in the United States continued, and violence against the Blacks became a common oppression tool. In the U.S., almost 3,500 cases of lynching were reported during the period of 1889-1922. Majority of cases took place in the South: in the states of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, as well as in several cities in the North of the United States. At the turn of the 20th century, Booker Taliafello Washington as the main representative of the Black Americans and advocate for the problems of racial reunion became famous. In the U.S., he was recognized as a prominent Black leader. The man acted as a mediator between the White and Black in fighting for the Constitutional rights for the African Americans. Du Bois, a well-known Black historian, was his main opponent concerning the questions of the black population. He proclaimed the necessity to make resolute and aggressive steps and decisions in the war for equality. In 1905, Dubois led the Niagara Movement (a club of radical Black intellectuals). The group cooperated with the progressive White intellectuals and founded the NAACP, in 1910. After the death of Booker in 1915, NAACP became a leading force that struggled for racial reforms (Jewkes, 2009).
Massive migration of the Black American population in 1920 to the northern states proved that racial tension was more than just a problem of the rural areas. It was the burning question for all American South. Abrasive relationships between Blacks and Whites, combined with a desperate economic situation in the U.S. caused by the economic crisis (Great Depression), had a profound influence on the American political life. In 1930, President Franklin D. Roosevelt accepted the "New Deal," a plan of the economic recovery. Consequently, unemployment in the U.S. went down, employment among the Blacks increased. In the 1930-1940s, Negroes entered some legislative authorities of the United States. For the next 70 years, the Black population of America had remained faithful to the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln.
The World War II opened the new era of fighting for the civil rights. President Harry Truman, who became the U.S. President after Roosevelt's death in 1945, helped in the desegregation of the Blacks, their involvement in the U.S. Army and creation of job opportunities for them in the Federal service. Integration of the African Americans into all sectors of social life and their relocation from ghettos to other areas (where the white population lived) started. The President’s ideas of the civil rights were implemented ten years later by the administration of President Eisenhower. Civil Rights Act of 1957 was the first legislative document on Civil Rights, passed by the U.S. Congress in almost 80 years. Special commission was created to monitor the civil rights of the Black people and the participation of the federal government in civil matters. Soon afterwards, the Commission found that the South tolerated violation of electoral rights. In some southern states, Negroes were dispossessed of their voting rights. As a result, after three years, the second act of legislation was passed. It offered additional protection to the Black population of the U.S. in terms of elections. In 1965, the Congress passed one more Voting Rights Act. It defended the rights of the African Americans in the voter registration process.
After the War, fighting for the rights of the Black population has led to the elimination of discrimination at schools. The progress, however, has met strong opposition from certain representatives of the white population. In the late 1950s, Negroes made significant progress in their fight, but the resistance of the white population was also rising. During this period, Martin L. King through non-violent resistance was leading the movement of young Black people fighting for the U.S. civil rights, desegregation, and equality. A boycott of buses in Alabama signified the beginning of this movement. In 1960, the ideas of King spread all over the country; the movement became a national march for the rights of the Black people. Over the next 10 years, a wide economic boycott was organized, articles about Human Rights appeared on the front pages of major American newspapers, numerous marches, sit-ins, and demonstrations against segregation were organized. In the 60's of the last century, the movement for equal rights for the African Americans attracted international attention and received support.
At the same time, the number of the new organizations of the white racists increased. The activity of the Ku Klux Klan in the South, racial tension, and violence reached alarming levels. Discrimination was witnessed in all spheres of the American life. In addition, the resistance and aggression against the movement for civil rights also increased (Jewkes, 2009). By the end of 1950, once again, racial hatred turned into acts of bloodshed: the Blacks were killed and their white murderers escaped punishment. Negroes were falsely accused of small wrongdoings. Very few supported them. This state of affairs illustrated the simple fact just as in the history of Alcee Gropé: truth is subjective.
At the heights of the escalating racial confrontation in America of the 1960’s, John F. Kennedy managed to receive the votes of the Black people in the presidential elections and won the presidential race. In his domestic policy, he focused on expanding the role of federal agencies in the civil rights issues, particularly by empowering the Department of Justice on regulating the electoral law. He also founded EEOC (the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).
The movement of the Black protestors reached its peak in 1961-1963 when different organizations, such as the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), and CORE (the U.S. Congress of Racial Equality), were challenging the policy of segregation in the public transport system. In April, the demonstrations started in Birmingham. They were led by Martin L. King and caused the brutal actions of police against the crowd of the Black people. Soon afterwards, Medgar Evers, the NAACP leader was killed in Mississippi. As a result, demonstrations started on the territory of the whole country. Kennedy was forced to make the next step in the fight for the rights of the Black population. On 28 August 1963, over 200,000 demonstrators (both Blacks and Whites) came to the Lincoln Memorial, in order to push the adoption of the civil rights legislation. During this historic "March on Washington," Martin L. King said his legendary words - "I have a dream." The speech had a greater impact on the American life than the legislation of the President. After the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November of the same year, President Lyndon B. Johnson went on with the civil rights program designed by its predecessor. In 1964, the new Civil Rights Act was adopted and again it caused the violence across the United States. The country witnessed the crisis in major American cities such as New Jersey, New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. The Ku Klux Klan intensified intimidation, burning crosses and killing the Blacks. Appeals to racial reforms in the Southern states began to sound louder. At the beginning of 1965, for the fight for civil rights and an exceptional role in the Freedom March, Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. On the other hand, the Black population of the U.S. was disappointed with the absence of visible progress in ensuring their rights. Despite legislative steps made in 1949 - 1964, the American economists had noted that the participation of the African Americans in business declined. Dissatisfaction of the Blacks with economy, employment, housing, and discrimination had intensified. In 1965, riots broke out in Los Angeles. They signified a crucial turn in the civil rights movement. For almost 10 years of peaceful resistance, the Blacks had not managed to change the racial situation in the United States. More ideas of militant reformation began to appear in their movement (Nduna, 2009). In the mid and late 1960s, the slogan of the black movement was "Black Power." The murder of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 worsened racial situation in America. For the Blacks, this murder meant a failure of their peaceful strategy in fighting for equality. The Black community was overwhelmed with a strong feeling of despair and loss. The Black revolution was coming. Consequently, the young generation of the Black talented leaders rejected the non-violent path of integration into the society of the white Americans. Fear, at the end of the 1960s, urged many white Americans to change their political allegiance to the Republicans. Except for President Jimmy Carter, the Republicans had been the Presidents of the United States since 1970 and until the end of the 1980s.
With the election of President Bill Clinton in 1992, a new era of the Black movement began. After ten years of conservative policies of the previous Presidents, Democrat Clinton was seen as the national hero. Demonstrating his commitment to the economic policies without considering gender or race, he offered a brand-new vision on social reforms and renewal of the United States. After coming to power, Clinton appointed the Blacks to key positions in the Cabinet. Moreover, the African American population received an unprecedented influence in the U.S. government. 25 African-American members were included in the 102th Congress; elections of 1993 increased the Black representation to 38 people. Despite the achievements of Blacks in business and politics, violence, and unemployment continued to flourish in the African American community during the last decade of the previous century.
On 16 October 1995, nearly one million Blacks gathered in Washington D.C. to listen to presentations and communicate with their Black brothers. Famous African Americans spoke at this meeting. In the autumn of 1997, the Black women gathered their own mass march. Millions of females in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania came together to experience a sense of true community and strong solidarity. Participants listened to presentations and discussed different national problems such as the growth of the African-American prisoners, the possibility of creating an independent school for their children, the effects of alternative medicine, and the role of the African American women in modern economic and political life.
The U.S. Census Bureau projects that, in 2050, minorities (including people of African, Asian, and Hispanic origin) will constitute a majority of the population. In 1991, there were over 32 million of African Americans; they made over 12 percent of the U.S. population. In the next six decades, the Blacks are expected to constitute about 15 percent of the U.S. population.