African Americans (Multicultural America:)
In 1843, Henry Highland Garnet attended the National Convention of Negro Citizens in Buffalo, New York, and on August 16 he delivered a militant oration calling for slave rebellions as the most assured means of ending slavery. It was perhaps the most radical speech by an African American during the period prior to the Civil War. The proposal moved the delegates and failed by a single vote of being adopted. After reading the speech, anti-slavery advocate John Brown had it published at his own expense in 1848.
Garnet's speech is, for all intents and purposes, addressed to an audience not present to receive it. He speaks to the enslaved on behalf of the assembled conventioneers. Apologizing for the softness and ineffectiveness of abolitionist efforts, Garnet encourages slaves to "Arise! Strike for your lives and liberties." For Garnet's immediate audience, his message is one of anger and exasperation, as well as a summons for heightened militancy.
HENRY HIGHLAND GARNET'S ADDRESS TO THE SLAVES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (EXCERPT)
Brethren and fellow citizens: Your brethren of the North, East and West have been accustomed to meet together in national conventions, to sympathize with each other, and to weep over your unhappy condition. In these meetings we have addressed all...
(The entire section is 9267 words.)
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African Americans (Encyclopedia of Public Health)
The use of the taxonomic category African American, either in public or health or other disciplines, fundamentally reflects the historic and contemporary systems of racial stratification in American society. The term "African American," as a categorical descriptor, includes many different segments of the American population referred to as "black" or Americans of sub-Saharan African ancestry. It is also a product of the group self-definition process in which African Americans have historically engaged as an expression of identity, power, defiance, pride, and the struggle for human rights. These designations were often in contradistinction to official government classifications and popular characterizations, which frequently reflected prevailing ideas about white supremacy intended to denigrate African Americans.
The historical roots of the nominal identity of African Americans date back to the early nineteenth century, when there were intense debates and political movements, mostly among free blacks in the North, to reunite with their African heritage. Part of the discussion and designation also involved classification of "mixed-race" populations, whose identity raised serious questions about the relevance of racial classification based on pigmentation. According to Collier-Thomas and Turner,
From the 1830s to the middle of the 1890s, Colored American and the more commonly used derivation Colored were the most popular terms. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Negro gained considerable support as a generic term, becoming by 1920 the most commonly used expression of race. Increasing dissatisfaction with the term Negro, most noted in the late 1930s, culminated with the Black power movement of the 1960s.
During the latter period of heightened cultural nationalism, "Black" and "Afro-American" emerged as key terms for race designation and were frequently used interchangeably. More recently, in the late 1980s, "African American" was posited as the most appropriate and comprehensive race designation. This current designation not only reflects a historical lineage, but it also establishes an identity that is rooted in cultural and ethnogeographic origins, rather than skin pigmentation as defined by United States politics and policy.
One reason for the attention African Americans have given to group designations is that group classifications by the white majority were highly instrumental in attempting to justify slavery, deny basic human rights, and restrain social opportunities. These oppressive practices had the effect of subordinating African Americans. Richard B. Moore in a book entitled The Name "Negro": Its Origin and Evil Use described how the skin color and other physical features of Africans who were brought into slavery "were identified in the mind of the people generally with ugliness, repulsion, and baseness." During earlier periods of the twentieth century, white media, publishers, and the scientific community largely refused to capitalize group designations such as Black, Colored, Negro, or African. This practice was in clear contrast to references in print to whites or the Caucasian "race." Moreover, scientific research and theories about so-called racial group differences (e.g., eugenics) were highly influential in promoting white supremacy.
Public health and medicine have historically reflected the racial inequities of American society as manifested in discrimination in medical care, research ethics and applications, professional education, and ideas about the disease etiology. Physicians in the antebellum period gave different treatment to blacks because of the belief that the black physiology was inferior to whites and thus differed with regard to intelligence, sexuality, and sensitivity to pain. These racist beliefs in the subhuman qualities of the "Black race" were responsible for blacks being used as subjects in excruciating medical experiments. For example, between 1845 and 1849, Dr. J. Marion Sims, the father of modern gynecology, subjected three African-American women in Alabama to 30 operations without anesthesia to perfect a surgical technique to repair vesicovaginal fistulas. During the same period, another physician in Georgia, Dr. Thomas Hamilton, subjected black bodies to high temperatures by burying them with their heads above ground in his quest to test the remedy for heatstroke so that slaves could work longer hours in the field. This tragic legacy of unethical race biology research was evident in the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study, in which 399 black men in Alabama unknowingly participated in a study (from 1932 to 1972) to determine the health consequences of untreated syphilis, even though there were known treatments for the disease during this period.
Some scholars have asserted that a lasting effect of this type of institutional racism has been the reluctance of many African Americans to seek medical care. The apprehension of being given different and inferior treatment or being used as guinea pigs in unethical medical research is also believed to have led to the present distrust by African Americans of prevention and treatment in HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Indeed, the persistence in the disparity of health outcomes between African Americans and the white population was the subject of a governmental report in 1985 documenting 60,000 excess deaths among African Americans.
Implicit in most discussions of race and health is the suggestion of a direct "racial" or genetic lineage between African Americans and Africans, advancing the notion of a defective gene pool in these populations. Ancestors of most African Americans were primarily from West Africa, and therefore the imputed genetic heritage may not necessarily be applicable to Africans from other parts of the continent. Additionally, sickle cell anemia, which has been conventionally viewed as an African-American or "Black" genetic disease, actually evolved from a biologic adaptation among persons residing in tropical climates as a protection against malaria. However, many nonWest Africans, for example, people of the Mediterranean region or descent, also have a high incidence of this disease or carry the trait but would not be considered "Black" or African American. Also, some diseases such as stomach, lung, and esophageal cancers, as well as hypertension, are higher in African Americans than many Africans and, according to a study in Chicago, low birthweight is higher among African Americans compared to Africans. These examples suggest the strong role of environmental influences rather than genetic factors. Thus putative associations with "black" skin color or other phenotypic similarities are more complex and will continue to be the subject of more public health debate with regard to the human genome project, gene therapy applications, and sociobiologic research.
Within the field of public health, there has been extensive discussion of what the term "race" actually means and its overall value. One problem is that it is seldom defined by researchers. References are frequently made to biologic, cultural, and socioeconomic factors, as well as racism and political differences, without explicitly stating their meaning or relevance. For example, although the term "African American" is generally used inter-changeably with "Black" or "Negro," this is not the case with the descriptor of "non-white," which was widely used prior to 1960. This "racial" category included mostly African Americans but also Hispanic populations, Asian Americans, and Native Americans.
About 30 million persons were identified as African American in the U.S. Census of 1990. From the perspective of public health research, practice, and policy, it is not possible to view them as a monolithic or single group. While they have many commonalities, especially in terms of political opinions and interests, geographic concentrations, and some cultural patterns, it is crucial that public health professionals recognize within-group differences. Social heterogeneity among African Americans regarding health practices or risk factors and outcomes must be carefully examined in terms of age, gender, geographic location, migratory status, social class or socioeconomic status (e.g., education and income), and nativity.
The history of social designations applied to African Americans suggests that the nominal identity of this group may change in the future to reflect the evolution of internal group consciousness, political interests, and social heterogeneity or diversity. Some groups such as "biracial" persons or foreign-born immigrants from African or Caribbean countries may choose in increasing numbers not to be viewed strictly as African American. These issues point to the dynamic nature and significance of racial classificationt has changed and will continue to change. It is also important to note that African American as a racial classification in the United States reflects the unique historical experience and journey of identity in ways that render international comparisons problematic.
In summary, being classified as African American is quite significant because it reflects an important social group transformation and reality in terms of group identity, political orientation, life chances or social opportunity, normative standards and lifestyles, and discriminatory behavior. These are some of the factors that strongly relate to disease susceptibility, quality of life, morbidity and mortality, and longevity. It is only when the reality of racial classification carries little social impact that the term will become obsolete. At the present time, it is unlikely that serious consideration can be given to eliminating the use of racial designations such as "African American" in public health.
COLLINS O. AIRHIHENBUWA
(SEE ALSO: Ethnicity and Health; Ethnocentrism; Immigrants, Immigration)
Airhihenbuwa, C. O. (1989). "Health Education for African Americans: A Neglected Task." Health Education 20(5):94.
Charatz-Litt, C. (1992). "A Chronicle of Racism: The Effects of the White Medical Community on Black Health." The Journal of the National Medical Association 84:71725.
Collier-Thomas, B., and Turner, J. (1994). "Race, Class and Color: The African American Discourse on Identity." Journal of American Ethnic History 14:51.
Cooper, R. S. (1998). "A Note of the Biological Concept of Race and Its Application in Epidemiologic Research." American Heart Journal 108:71523.
David, R. J., and Collins, J. W., Jr. (1997). "Differing Birth Weight Among Infants of U.S.-Born Blacks, African-Born Blacks, and U.S.-Born Whites." New England Journal of Medicine 337:1209214.
Gamble, V. N. (1997). "Under the Shadow of Tuskegee: African Americans and Health Care." The American Journal of Public Health 87:1773778.
Gould, S. J. (1996). The Mismeasure of Man. New York: Norton Press.
Jones, J. (1981). Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment: A Tragedy of Race and Medicine. New York: The Free Press.
King, G. (1997). "The 'Race' Concept in Smoking: A Review of the Research on African Americans." Social Science and Medicine 45:1075087.
King, G., and Williams, D. R. (1995). "Race and Health: A Multidimensional Approach to African-American Health." In Society and Health, ed. by Amick, Levine, Tarlov, and Walsh. New York: Oxford University Press.
Moore, R. B. (1992). The Name "Negro": Its Origin and Evil Use, 2nd edition. Baltimore, MD: Black Classic Press.
Polednak, A. (1989). Racial and Ethnic Differences in Disease. New York: Oxford University Press.
Stanton, J. (1960). The Leopard Spots. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Thomas, S. B., and Quinn, S. C. (1991). "The Tuskegee Syphilis Study, 1932972: Implications for HIV Education and AIDS Risk Education Programs in the Black Community." The American Journal of Public Health 81:1498504.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1985). U.S. Department of Human Services. Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Black and Minority Health. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
African Americans (Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity)
Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) enumerates two crimes against humanitynslavement and apartheidhose delineation as crimes against humanity could have applied to the treatment of African Americans by the United States government, state governments within the United States, and the states' colonial predecessor regimes. Article 7 defines enslavement as "the exercise of any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership over a person and includes the exercise of such powers in the course of trafficking in persons, in particular women and children." The crime of apartheid refers to "inhumane acts . . . committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime." As set forth in Article 7, other crimes against humanity (e.g., murder, imprisonment, and torture) that have been committed against African Americans within the context of enslavement and/or apartheid are ancillary to the crimes of enslavement and apartheid.
Enslavement and apartheid (as well as other crimes against humanity) have long histories within the United States and North America. Slavery's tenure in the United States extended across roughly 225 years (c. 1640865), beginning in the colonial period and ending with the Civil War. Although some African Americans living in the South experienced a measure of racial equality during the brief period known as Reconstruction (1867877), most lived under an oppressive system of apartheid that defined racial relations for the next one hundred years (1877972). The duration of the two crimes against humanity suggests that they were not episodic in character, but, instead, were systemic. They were part of the "normal" way in which American society functioned, and were operative almost from the beginning of the colonial regime.
The exercise of ownership and control over a human being by another human beingn other words, chattel slaveryas deep roots in Western civilization. Virtually every Western society has condoned slavery, and most have practiced it. Slavery, however, took on a unique form when it became established in the New World (the Americas and West Indies) by the Portuguese in the fifteenth century.
Most important, the element of "race" (i.e., skin color) was introduced into the master/slave relationship as slavery was practiced in the New World. For the first time in the history of slavery, dark skin became the marker that gave the slave his or her cultural status and identity. To rationalize the new face of slavery, the enslavers and their supporters created a race-specific ideology of white superiority and of black inferiority. It was argued that chattel slavery and, more generally, white hegemony were part of the natural order of things, that the white race was innately superior to all other races. It was further argued that this racial hierarchy was not the design of human beings but, rather, was ordained by God and/or nature. Similarly, it was part of the human conditionnd something that mere mortals ought not to disturb. This racist rhetoric was not only devoid of empirical support or logic, but it also had an unprecedented effect on chattel slavery. Because skin color had become the sine qua non of bondage, the condition of the slave of the ancient Mediterranean world whereby a slave could become a senator, a teacher of the slaveholding class, or even his master's master was annulled. Nor was it possible for a slave to become related to his master by way of marriage or adoptionvents unremarkable in the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations.
But what is perhaps most pernicious about the rhetoric that was used to justify chattel slavery in the New World is that it has outlasted slavery itself. Racism continued to make life perilous for African Americans long after 1865. In the early twenty-first century, components of U.S. culture (specifically, the belief that African Americans have a pathological values system) are often used as a proxy for racism. Whether it is oldfashioned racism (white supremacy) or the new form of racism (culture), the rhetoric has the same ring: it subordinates and stigmatizes African Americans, maintaining the system of race-based advantages (for whites) and disadvantages (for blacks) that began during slavery. To the extent that the ideas and concepts used to justify slavery have outlived slavery, it can be argued that slavery's rhetoric is in the final analysis more productive of harm than slavery itself.
Although reinforced by racist ideology, the enslavement of African Americans was initiated and sustained by quite a different motivationrofit. Indeed, if chattel slavery had been less profitable, it could not have endured nor would even have come into existence. But in fact slavery was enormously profitable; the demand for cheap labor needed to harvest the riches of the New World grew each decade. Chattel slavery, then, was part of an international economic network. That network, called the Atlantic Slave Trade, consisted of a triangular trade route that involved Africa, the New World, and Europe. The first leg of a typical trade routeommonly referred to as the Middle Passageonsisted of the passage from Africa to the New World; the second leg, from the New World to Europe; and the third, from Europe to Africa. Slaves were transported from the west coast of Africa to the Americas and West Indies, where they were auctioned off to the owners of plantations and small farms and other individuals. Sugar, tobacco, cotton, and other goods harvested and/or produced by slave labor were sent to Europe in exchange for cash and such items as textiles and hardware. Ships full of rum and iron would then set sail for Africa, where these goods would be used in the bartering for slaves.
Viewed from the perspective of the slave, the Atlantic slave trade was nothing less than a brutal, even diabolic process of human bondage that consisted of capture, the Middle Passage, the auction block, and plantation life (or the peculiar institution). Together, the four stages bring to light the contradictory nature of chattel slavery within a (putatively) free society.
Kindnapping and the taking of prisoners by the victors of intertribal wars were the primary methods used in the procurement of Africans for the Atlantic slave trade. Victorious African tribal chiefs used defeated enemies, traditionally regarded as the spoils of war, as currency for the acquisition of iron products (e.g., guns and ammunition), rum, and other goods. A tribal leader sometimes waged war for the sole purpose of taking possession of persons, who could then be commodified and sold for profit. Wars were sometimes waged against distant tribes even in instances in which the tribes posed no reasonable threat to the aggressors' security. As Charles Ball, the author of a slave narrative, recounted of his experience while still in Africa: "It was not the object of our enemies to kill; they wished to take us alive and sell us as slaves" (1854, p. 158).
There is some question as to whether the African chieftains understood that they were participating in a system of slavery very different from the one to which they were accustomed. Did they understand that their transactions with proprietors of the Atlantic slave trade were not "business as usual"? Did they have knowledge of the likely fates of their captives? Had they known what lay ahead for the Africans being put on ships, might they have banded together to resist the white slave traders? Could the system have operated for as long as it did without African complicity? These are perhaps unanswerable questions.
Captives were sometimes force-marched across interior regions of Africa to the villages of victorious tribes or armies. From there, they would continue on to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Some offered resistance by fleeing from slave forts on the West African coast. But most were less fortunate, and were forced to board ships to begin the infamous Middle Passage.
The Middle Passage was, without a doubt, the most arduous part of the slave experience. Once on board sailing vessels, individual slaves were allotted spaces no larger than coffins. Some captives mutinied. It is estimated that as many as one-third of all slaves transported to the Americas and the West Indies died en route. Some died by suffocation; others from sickness that had been brought on by conditions on board ship and mistreatment by the slave traders. Babies who were thought to be incapable of surviving the passage were sometimes thrown overboard by ship captains. Mothers often leapt overboard in futile attempts to rescue their babies. It was not uncommon for a mother to hold her child to her bosom and cast herself into the ocean, choosing death over enslavement for herself and her child. It is estimated that from 14 to 21 million Africans endured the Middle Passage during the nearly four centuries of slavery in the New World.
At the conclusion of the Middle Passage, slaves faced the auction block. Before being put on display, slaves were cleaned up. These grooming gestures were not acts of kindness, but acts guided by self-interest, calculated toward the reaping of profit. The healthier a slave looked, the higher his or her selling price. Once spruced up, slaves were marched into a public square, put on display, inspected by prospective buyers as though they were livestock, and sold to the highest bidder. Families were often broken up on the auction block. Children were ripped from the arms of their parents, wives were taken away from husbands, and siblings were separated from each otherever to be rejoined.
From the auction block, slaves were taken to the properties of their new masterssually the plantations and farms of the American South. There they became slave laborers, forced to toil for the rest of their lives and for the aggrandizement of others. A child born into slavery remained a slave for life.
Southern states had precise laws that governed the freeing of slaves for fear of creating a large free black population. Free blacks in slaveholding states were regarded by whites living in those states as threats to the security of the white population. It was thought that the mere presence of free blacks would be an incitement to slave revolts. Some slaves did, however, succeed in gaining their freedomn a variety of ways, such as reward for having provided "exceptional service" to their masters and, for those slaves who were allowed to hold assets, self-purchase. Slaves were sometimes freed upon the deaths of their masters, usually via provisions in their masters' wills. For example, George Washington, who predeceased his wife, stipulated in his will that his slaves were to be freed upon his wife's death.
Slaveholders would often give accounts of the peculiar institution that tended toward the purely fictional. They strove to portray themselves as benevolent slave masters in pursuit of the noble goal of bringing civilization and Christianity to the lives of savages. Southern historians, in their accounts, frequently added to this falsification during the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century. In so doing they ignored concrete evidence of slave accomplishments, as well as of slave resistancencluding evidence that showed that many slaves ran away to live among Native Americans and to live in free states or in Canada, as well as evidence that it was not uncommon for slaves to revolt openly, to feign sickness (in order to evade degradation), and to participate in work slowdowns.
In the second half of the twentieth century scholars were providing far more accurate accounts of the peculiar institution. Much of the new historiography was based on primary source materials that scholars had previously ignoredhe slave narratives, which are autobiographical accounts of the slave experience. Slave narratives provide a vivid panorama of the horrors of human bondage. Although many slave narratives were committed to writing after slavery had ended in the United States, a good many of them came into existence during the period of slavery, often with the help of the abolitionists who wished to use the documents in their fight against slavery. Frederick Douglass's narrative, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape from Bondage, and His Complete History, is perhaps the best known of this genre.
The enslavement of Africans in America in all its cruel dimensionsapture, Middle Passage, auction block, and the peculiar institutionould not have been possible were it not for the imprimaturs given to
Once slavery had taken hold in colonial America, African Americans had no legal rights with which to protect themselves from enslavement. The U.S. Supreme Court made clear this vulnerability when, in 1857, it summarized (in the famous Dred Scott decision) the legal status of slaves and free blacks alike under colonial laws and the laws that existed at that time. Writing for the court, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney observed that African Americans were ". . . regarded as beings of an inferior order . . . unfit to associate with the white race" and, as such, ". . . they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." Accordingly, "[T]he negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit" (Dred Scott v. Sandford ).
This grim assessment of the U.S. Supreme Court has antecedents in the U.S. Constitution of 1787. No less than five provisions of the Constitution unambiguously sanction and protect slavery. Article I, Section 2, Paragraph 3 (the "three-fifths clause") ruled that a slave counted as three-fifths of a person in the calculation of a state's population for purposes of congressional representation and any "direct taxes." Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 1 (the "slave-trade clause") prohibited Congress from ending the slave trade before the year 1808, but did not require Congress to ban it after that date. Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 4, somewhat redundant of the three-fifths clause, ensured that a slave would be counted as three-fifths of a person if a head tax were to be levied. Article V, Section 2, Paragraph 3 (the "fugitive-slave clause") required the return of fugitive slaves to their owners "on demand, " and, finally, Article V prohibited Congress from amending the slave-trade clause before 1808.
These constitutional directiveslus about a dozen others that indirectly support slaveryade the Constitution of 1787 a slaveholder's constitution. William Lloyd Garrison, the nineteenth-century abolitionist, was not exaggerating when he referred to the Constitution as "a covenant with death," "an agreement with Hell," and "a pro-slavery" Constitution (Finkelman, 1996, p. 3). Modern historians, overwhelmingly, are in agreement with this view. Civil war scholar Don Fehrenbacher, for example, asserted, "prior to 1860, the United States was a slaveholding republic" (2001, p. 5). Similarly, historian David Brion Davis argues: "The U.S. Constitution was designed to protect the rights and security of slaveholders, and between 1792 and 1845 the American political system encouraged and rewarded the expansion of slavery into nine new states" (2001, p. 134).
Slavery ended on the battlefield rather than in the statehouse or the courthouse. The Union's defeat of the Confederate States of America in the Civil War brought down the peculiar institution. The U.S. Congress and the individual states then codified that victory with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, signed on January 1, 1863, did not and could not free all slaves. It stated that "all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free." Thus, the Proclamation did not purport to free slaves in states that were not in rebellion against the United States, nor did it have the power to free the great majority of slaves who were under subjugation by the Confederacy. But the Emancipation Proclamation did have the effect of transforming the Civil War from a war to save the Union, which is how Lincoln and the North initially characterized the war, to a crusade to free the slaves, with Lincoln as the commander-in-chief of the liberation force.
Following the Civil War, Congress passed a great many laws intended to reshape the South into a more democratic, racially inclusive society. These laws included the Reconstruction Acts, a series of acts that began with the Reconstruction Act of March 2, 1867. The purpose of these acts was to "provide for the more efficient government of the rebel states"n other words, to facilitate restoration of the war-torn South. Congress also enacted legislation establishing the Freedmen's Bureau, a U.S. government bureau that helped the freed slaves adjust to a new life.
Early Civil Rights Gains and Losses
The Party of Lincoln spearheaded ratification of the Thirteenth (1865), Fourteenth (1868), and Fifteenth (1870) Amendments to the Constitution. These amendments abolished slavery and involuntary servitude; established citizenship for the freed slaves, plus guaranteed them due process and equal protection of the laws; and granted them the right to vote, respectively. Federal troops were sent into the South to enforce these rights. A number of civil rights laws that protected the rights of the freed slaves were also passed by the Republican Congress. These laws were mainly a response to the "Black Codes" that had been enacted in most Southern statesaws that, like the Jim Crow laws that would come later, sought to return the newly freed slaves to a slavelike existence. The most important of the laws that were a response to the Black Codes were the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Civil Rights Act of 1871, the latter of which was enacted in response to the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan in 1868 (and thus is also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871). Congress also passed the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which the Supreme Court effectively overturned in a series of decisions it made in 1883 (the cases collectively known as the Civil Rights Cases).
As a result of this action, African Americans enjoyed degrees of freedom that were unprecedented, which they used to garner economic prosperity, not only for themselves but for the region as a whole. For the first time in U.S. history, African Americans were elected to Congress and state legislatures. But this era of racial progress turned out to be short-lived, and abruptly ended with the Compromise of 1877.
The Compromise of 1877 decided the outcome of the disputed U.S. presidential election of 1876, which had been a contest between the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, and the Democratic candidate, Samuel L. Tilden. The popular vote favored Tilden, but twenty Electoral College votes, representing four states, were in dispute. An ad hoc electoral commission, composed of Republican and Democratic leaders, decided, as a way of ending the stalemate, that the Republicans would be given the presidency and Southern Democrats would gain control of the South. In other words, it was agreed that the new president would remove all federal troops from the South. With the removal of federal troops, Southern whites were given free reign to reestablish white hegemonyarking the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of Jim Crow.
Lasting for approximately one hundred years, Jim Crow was America's age of apartheid. It was a time of legalized racial discrimination and segregation time in which African Americans lived under the yoke of white supremacy and were accorded second-class citizenship under the law. During the years of Jim Crow African Americans inhabited a world of limited opportunities and fear. They were vulnerable to beatings, maimings, lynchings, murders, and a constant stream of indignities.
To lend legitimacy to this regime of racial repression, whites in positions of power devised stratagems to wrest from African Americans rights they had already been given, including the right to vote. Without this right, without political power, without access to the power of government, African Americans would then be powerless to prevent the erosion of other basic rights. To fulfill their agenda, Southern whites found ways to circumvent the Fifteenth Amendment (which had given African Americans the right to vote).
With African Americans constituting a majority of its population, Mississippi became the first state to move toward this disfranchisement. A state constitutional convention was convened in 1890. The delegates to the convention made their intentions clear: they had come together for the express purpose of disfranchising all African-American residents who had attained any measure of socioeconomic status. In the words of a delegate to the convention:
"I am just as opposed to Booker Washington [the leading African American figure of the day] as a voter, with all his Anglo-Saxon re-enforcements, as I am to the coconut-headed, chocolate-colored, typical little coon, Andy Dotson, who blacks my shoes every morning. Neither is fit to perform the supreme function of citizenship" (Brooks, 1999, p. 395).
Accordingly, the Mississippi constitution was amended to include the establishment of a $2 poll tax and a literacy test as preconditions to exercising the right to vote. The latter required the prospective voter to read a section of the state constitution selected by an election official (who was invariably white) and/or to answer questions in such a way as to prove to the official that he had understood what had been read. As a result of these constitutional amendments, scores of African Americans who had been eligible to vote during Reconstruction were suddenly ineligible.
Other states followed the lead of Mississippi. South Carolina disfranchised African Americans in 1895, by adopting amendments to its constitution that called for a two-year residence test, a $1 poll tax, a literacy test, and a property-ownership test. The property-ownership test established ownership of property in the state valued at $3000 (or greater) as another prerequisite to voting. Similarly, Louisiana amended its constitution in 1898 by adopting a new stratagem of disfranchisement called the grandfather clause. Under this clause, any male citizen whose father and grandfather had been qualified to vote on January 1, 1867 (just before the start of Reconstruction), was automatically eligible to vote, regardless of his ability to pass any of the new eligibility tests or to pay the poll tax. Prior to January 1, 1867, African Americans had not been eligible to vote in Louisiana. Thus, it was established that African Americans would be required to comply with the various eligibility tests and pay the poll tax in order to exercise their Fifteenth Amendment right to vote in Louisiana.
By 1910 African Americans were effectively disfranchised by constitutional amendments in North Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, Georgia, and Oklahoma, and other Southern states. The campaigns to reestablish white hegemony were often buttressed by violence. Race riots flared upn Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1898; in Atlanta, Georgia, after an election in 1906; and in other cities. Dozens of African Americans died in their attempts to exercise their Fifteenth Amendment rights.
Effectiveness of Disfranchisement
The disfranchisement of African Americans yielded the sought-after results. For example, 130,344 African Americans were registered to vote in Louisiana in 1896 and constituted voting majorities in twenty-six parishes. But in 1900, just two years after the adoption of the new state constitution, only 5,320 African Americans were registered to vote. Similarly, of 181,471 African Americans of voting age in Alabama in 1900, only 3,000 were eligible to vote under that state's new constitution.
The disfranchisement of African Americans was hailed throughout the South as a furtherance of progressive statesmanship. African Americans were viewed as too ignorant, too poor, and/or too inferior to participate in their own self-governance. Those who were in basic agreement with this credo would have taken comfort in the 1910 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which provided "scientific" justification for the systematic, government-sanctioned exclusion of African Americans from mainstream society. According to its editors: "[T]he negro would appear to stand on a lower evolutionary plane than the white man, and to be more closely related to the highest anthropoids." In response to such charges, African Americans pointed to the exemplary record of African-American achievement during Reconstruction, which included innovative achievements in public finance, building construction, and public education. Indeed, African Americans had been responsible for the establishment of the first public school systems in many Southern states. But no quantity of truth or logic was going to persuade white Southerners to abandon their designs.
Jim Crow Appears
The major push for the installment of Jim Crow laws in the South came after Reconstruction; especially after the state constitutions had been amended so as to remove the only obstruction to the creation of Jim Crow laws that had remained (the authority of politically powerful African Americans). These laws were established throughout the South. They mandated racial segregation in all public facilities, including hotels, restaurants, theaters, schools, vehicles of public transportation, and other places of public accommodation. Jim Crow laws denied African Americans employment and housing opportunities. Worse, African Americans were often arrested under local vagrancy and peonage laws, and subsequently hired out by sheriffs, who made tidy profits in the ventures. Thus, having enshrined white supremacy in new constitutionshe fundamental laws of the statesouthern states securely established the color line as the point at which African Americans and whites would be segregated.
The federal government was more than complicit in the apartheid system that became established in the South. In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the Supreme Court upheld the separate-but-equal doctrine as the federal constitutional underpinning of the Jim Crow laws. Despite passage of federal civil rights legislation, Congress continued to segregate Washington, D.C., and refused to pass an anti-lynching lawomething that African-American activist Ida B. Wells had fought for so courageously. Wells had been galvanized into action by the ritualized lynching of African Americans (mostly male African Americans).
Lynchings began in the South shortly after the Civil War. They were an effort to terrorize the newly freed slavesn attempt "to keep them in their place"nd continued well into the twentieth century. Indeed, at the start of the twentieth century, there were in the public record 214 lynchings from the first two years alone. Before the end of Jim Crow thousands of African-American males and females would die by lynching. So rampant and targeted were the lynchings (often taking place in carnival-like atmospheres) that a white poet and songwriter, Abel Meeropol (also known as Lewis Allan), was motivated to write a musical protest song entitled "Strange Fruit." Made famous in 1939 by Billie Holiday, an African-American blues singer, the ballad gives a mock-lyrical description of black bodies left hanging from trees for all to see. The lyrics include: "Southern trees bear a strange fruit / Blood on the leaves and blood on the root / Black body swinging in the Southern breeze / Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees."
Although the Jim Crow ethos manifested itself in the form of rigid, racially repressive laws in the South, it reared its head in the North mainly in the form of social norms. Though the norms in many ways required less segregation than the laws, they were rigorously enforced and often just as racially repressive. Both the laws and the social customs denied opportunities to African Americans. As one white Southerner observed of his first visit to the North in the 1930s: "Proudly cosmopolitan New York was in most respects more thoroughly segregated than any Southern city: with the exception of a small coterie of intellectuals, musicians, and entertainers there was little traffic between the white world and the black enclave in upper Manhattan called Harlem" (Brooks, 1999, p. 396).
Death of Jim Crow
Jim Crow began its death march in 1954, when the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education (actually four similar cases that the court decided to hear simultaneously). This decision, quite simply, changed forever the course of race relations in the United States. In the Brown decision, Chief Justice Earl Warren, writing for a unanimous court, held that "in the field of public education the doctrine of separate but equal has no place." With
In banning racial segregation in public schools, the Supreme Court sought nothing less than to use society's most basic outpost of acculturation as the setting in which African Americans and whites (indeed all races, ethnic groups, and cultures) could be brought together for a lateral transmission of values. Hence, much more than school segregation was at stake in Brown. The court had been called upon to pass judgment on a morally corrupted way of life that the nation had known in one form or another since its inceptionndeed a regime of racial domination and subjugation that predated the republic itself. The Supreme Court, thereby, placed itself in the vanguard of a third American revolutionhe revolution that followed behind the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.
This third revolution was engineered by a team of lawyers from the National Association for the Advancement of Color People (NAACP). The lawyers included Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall (who would later become the first African American to sit on the Supreme Court), Constance Baker Motley, and Robert Carter. Carter, who along with Motley would later become a federal judge, summarized the significance of Brown when he observed that the case had transformed the legal status of African Americans from that of "mere supplicants seeking, pleading, [and] begging to be treated as full-fledged members of the human race" to persons entitled to equal treatment under the law.
Although Brown did not put an end to Jim Crow in 1954, it was a stimulus to the burgeoning civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Martin Luther King's famous "I Have A Dream" speech, which so galvanized the supporters of the civil rights movement who had gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, was a stab in the heart of Jim Crowts norm of white supremacyo less than was Brown. Both struck strong blows for racial equality. Certainly, the civil rights legislation enacted by Congress in the 1960s and early 1970seginning with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and ending with the Equal Opportunity Act of 1972ould not have been possible without Brown. It is doubtful that, in the absence of the Brown decision, a racially skittish Congress would have passed civil rights statutes in contravention of the constitutional principle of separate but equal.
In the South and the North, African Americans were a subordinated people in the Jim Crow era. As during the period of slavery, African Americans during Jim Crow were targets for ill treatment and exploitation, singled out for invidious discrimination. They were abused physically and psychologically. They were the victims of a "crime against humanity." Neither Brown, the civil rights movement, nor the civil rights legislation of the 1960s and 1970s has fully repaired the damaged visited upon African Americans by three and a half centuries of criminal treatment.
SEE ALSORacism; Rosewood; Slavery, Historical; Slavery, Legal Aspects of
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Roy L. Brooks