african american history

By Alessandro Iaia

The Beginning of Slavery

The United States has always taken pride in its strong pillars of freedom, liberty, and equality. Yet these very principles of emancipation from the royalties of England seemed to have a limited reach as freedom was only limited to those who had power. This very concept of limited freedom creates an interesting narrative about American history, especially in terms of slavery. Through the wrong social practices of the time and the modern (and frankly late) realizations that we carry a tainted past, we ask yourself questions which allow us to reflect on the American principles of freedom, and the American declarations of true independence. The first slave was introduced into North America in 1619 in what is modern-day Mexico; the reasoning behind the forced relocation of slaves was based on the immune response of the native indigenous people who were local to the American (North and South America) lands. Because of their minimal interactions with city dwellers, they lacked the proper antibodies to fight off “modern” infections, meaning that in the eyes of the European colonizers, they were not the best form of forced labour. After virtually killing off the entire continent (some reports claim that 90% of indigenous people were killed directly/indirectly by colonizers), the Europeans looked across the ocean to Africa, then the slave trade slowly began to grow with the diminishing native population. As the British became more involved in their colonies, “American” residents began utilizing long term forced labour. The first reported case of slave labour in the United States was a man by the name of John Casor. His complicated life gives historians a brief window into the earliest stages of one of the darkest practices of modern humanity; his life began as an indentured servant. During the early stages of the American colonization, virtually all individuals of African descent were considered as intended servants, meaning that they were working for zero pay for a prolonged time, but eventually awarded with land at the end of their contract. These practices began falling out of favour with the realization of the economic possibilities of tobacco. This “revolutionary” discovery can actually be attributed to John Rolfe. Meaning that if one were to truly try to connect the historical dots to understand where slavery was born, the path would lead to the moment which tobacco became a cash crop. Through the essential industrialization of crop-based cultivation, the need for farmers, and eventually slaves grew. In addition to the rise of tobacco use, there also was the general southern environment. The soil, as well as the climate, was ideal for the cultivation of two incredibly powerful crops which unfortunately lead to the mass usage of slaves in the United States until 1865. Both indigo and cotton are considered to be the most important cash crops grown in the colonies which were the catalysts to the importation of slaves from Africa. As the southern economy continued to grow off of the work of slaves, the north began to turn into a more industrial powerhouse. The reason we bring this up is that surprisingly you hear to this day people who argue that “only a few people had slaves,” which is not a wrong statement, but it is misleading. The reason we argue that it is misleading is that the profits which were made off of slave labour were not limited to only slave owners, but also in the north, a region which was significantly less slave dependent. An example of this can be found in cotton and textiles; although the cotton was grown in the south generally only by a few plantation houses which had a stronghold on the market, the north would utilize its mills to treat the cheap cotton. Through treating the cotton and turning it into a textile, a northern factory had just made a profit off of slave labour. These principles of following the supply chain of any product are the basis of why it’s misleading to say slavery was a very small percentage of economic growth. Although this period of American history was tainted with terrible social practices and conflicting “American morals,” the period which followed was both more progressive and more racist; we say this as we are clearly alluding to the Civil War. The Civil War was about slavery. Surprisingly this is somehow political and controversial, which is why we are going to explain why the Civil War was about slavery and not about States rights. Although there were general disputes with northern and southern states, almost all of the issues were relating to slavery. In that time period, the United States tried to maintain a balance between slave and free states; perhaps to someone that seemed like a long term solution but apart from being unprofessional, it also set up the perfect disaster which was the Civil War. So to address the “state rights” issue I feel obligated to highlight that the reason which South Carolina actually seceded was because of northern states refusing to amend their fugitive SLAVE laws! This is clearly about slavery, its surprising to me that people are even trying to pretend that the most deadly war in American history was not about slaves or the right to own slaves!

The Beginning of Racism

There are many places to begin with this section, but we decided to begin at the end of the Civil War during the reconstruction period of American history. The reason why we deemed this period as the appropriate point to being the story is that here we have a clear window into how slavery and anti-African American sentiment was not only driven by economic purposes but rather by genuine racism and hatred. These principles are clearly noted in the fact that after freed slaves became US citizens genuine access to all aspects of freedom and liberty, hundreds of laws, politicians, and organizations ensured that African Americans would find these rights inaccessible. An example of these racially charged attacks can be found in two tactics used to limit the abilities of African Americans to vote: Grandfather Clause and Literacy Test. These two tactics were designed to ensure to eliminate the African American vote from southern elections. The reason this was possible was that most slaves were never given the opportunity to learn English when they were held as slaves, meaning that they would not be able to pass the reading test. And in terms of the Grandfather Clause, it was designed as a cycle of white voting power; I say this because after analyzing the logic behind the “test” it becomes evident what were the intentions of the clause. Essentially it was saying you can vote if your grandfather voted, but most slave’s grandfathers were generally slaves as well, meaning that the first generation of freed slaves could not vote, meaning that their grandchildren would also not be able to vote because of the clause. These constant cycles of racism and racial oppression were commonplace throughout the United States, although most of these tactics were applied in the South. Another famous example of racial oppression can be found in the Plessy v. Ferguson case which essentially states that racism and segregation are okay because in the eyes of the aggressor, they were “equal.” The unfortunate idea of separate but equal was the driving force of segregation throughout the first half of the 20th century. The most upsetting and saddening aspects about all of this are found in what the United States promised to be! The constitution’s preamble promises an established justice, but how can justice be established when the nation is plagued by oppression, racism, and genuine hatred. How can we find justice in a nation where having to give up your seat to a white man can be seen as “equal,” or how are we suppose to believe that the unfair lynching of thousands of African American men is protecting domestic tranquillity! These questions are questions which people should have been asking back then, or at least more people should have been asking. The unfortunate disgraceful treatment against all minorities seems to be a common pattern with American history, and throughout remembering its history, we are reminded about the need for progression and true freedom for all.

Federally Approved Racism

Unfortunately, this segment will not be limited to the past; in modern-day America, there still exist various examples of laws which are designed with racial oppression in mind. The most pressing issue, especially with the 2020 presidential election around the corner, is the fear of voter purges. What is a voter purge one might ask? A voter purging is a tactic which is mainly used in southern states with some expectations (Ohio, New York, and Virginia). The reasoning behind why voter purging is such common practice is that it has a “beneficial advantage” for certain politicians, being that through suppressing certain voters, they can win elections. The most spoken case of voting purging occurred recently in the 2018 Georgia Senate election where Stacy Abrams and Brian Kemp ran against each other in a very close race. At the time of the election, Brian Kemp was the Georgia Secretary of State, who indirectly had control over state voting and registration. Before the election, he ordered for an in-state purging of “fraudulent voters.” Interestingly enough, out of 53,000 individuals who were flagged as “fraudulent,” 70% were African Americans (Georgia’s African American Population - 31.5%). Through the racial targeting of minority voters, the US politicians are resorting to practices of the Jim Crow era!! It's truly despicable that as a nation, we are taking steps back into a period of further racial divide; by introducing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, the United States will be able to pave a new path for racial and social justice.

Hate Against the People

The history of hate against African Americans has spanned for centuries as, since the early stages of the American conception, African Americans have been a driving force for change. The most obvious instance of hatred against African Americans is generally always attributed to the idea of slavery. As an institution, it was destructive, disrespectful, and modern society's greatest embarrassment, as the irony of being born free with the dream of pursuing happiness, is thrown to the side on the basis of race. In total, the United States imported around 400,000 slaves between 1525 and 1866, which in 1808 (the year international slave trade was outlawed) made up around 8% of the American population.

Following the period of racism, the United States began a new period of oppression which was based on finding legal ways of oppression African American’s rights. This time period was corrupted by Jim Crow laws, segregation, voter suppression laws, untrialled lynchings, racially charged murders, and hundreds of other social atrocities. Although we realize the huge amount of oppression which was directed against African Americans, we are mainly going to focus on famous examples of it throughout history. The first instance which we are going to talk about is the Lynching of Sam Hose, who was murdered on the acquisition of killing his employer and for the rape of a woman by the name of Mrs. Cranford. Following the accusation, a group of mostly white men went to the train to remove Mr. Hose and bring him by force to the Newnan Jail, where the mob began to argue with the Sheriff. The argument continued until a mob member placed a gun to the Jailer’s head and took Hose away to be “trialled” by the people. Unfortunately, due to a lack of a fair trial, he was convicted on dubious charges, and taken to a pine tree and lynched. Although this crime seemed absolutely diabolical, the worst part of the entire lynching was the disembowelment of his body; his bones were broken and sold 25 cents per piece in addition to his heart and liver which we also sold locally. It is truly disgusting to think that these are parts of American history, but it is important to remind ourselves the struggles which people have had to endure as through it we are inspired to continue to bring change in a nation which demands for the continuous evolution to truly become a more perfect union.

Notable African Americans - Harriet Tubman

Widely revered as one of the most important abolitionists in American history, Harriet Tubman was a true hero as she was responsible for the underground railroad where she led 13 missions which saved the lives of over 70 slaves. By providing a path to freedom through a system of safe houses spread across the eastern regions of the United States, Harriet Tubman paved a way to freedom for so many slaves. Additionally, she was also seen as a hero in terms of her military successes as she was a spy for the Union army as she pretended to not be able to read while she served for a Confederate general. In doing so, the Confederates felt comfortable to leave their documents in the open as they did not imagine that anyone would have been able to read. And finally, she was also a nurse during the Civil War as she tended to the Union soldiers in the battle of Port Royal, where she primarily focused on patients with dysentery and smallpox. Because she never actually contracted the disease herself, many people claimed she was “blessed by God.”

Notable African Americans - Rosa Parks

Perhaps one of the most important civil rights activists, Rosa Parks’ refusal of her bus seat sparked what is known today as the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, which lasted a little over a year which mainly consisted of a mass boycotting against any form of public transport which followed segregated principles. In addition to its direct relationship with local public transit, the boycott had effects around the nation, as it was one of the main catalysts to the Civil Rights Movement. Her refusal of giving up her seat was not only a form of social protest but a metaphor for the tournament and division which African Americans refused to continue to endure. Her strength and courage are reasons why we should always remember one of her most powerful quotes, “No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

Notable African Americans - John Lewis

Although recently we have grieved for the loss of John Lewis, we celebrate his life by remembering his accomplishments and achievements with the Civil Rights Movement, and modern-day reform. John Lewis began his fight for social justice in Nashville, where he led a group of students to do sit-ins which eventually resulted in the desegregation of lunch counters in Nashville. He continued fighting for social reform by being responsible for various boycotts and nonviolent protests, which would land him in jail on multiple occasions. He was also one of the original freedom riders, and in 1963 spoke to President John F. Kennedy. In his brave fight against racism, he was victims of abuse, attacks, and unfair imprisonment. One of the most important moments in Representative Lewis’ career was his valiant leadership in the Selma to Montgomery March, where he was aggressively attacked by the police after refusing to disperse and praying alongside the other 600 peaceful protesters. In the encounter with police, he fractured his head. His career continued in politics where he was responsible for various policies which protected and ensured fair and equal rights for all American regardless of race or religion affiliation.


A message from the author:

Alessandro Iaia

Understanding the history behind us is a key tool in growing and further developing as a society as well as an individual. In understanding the long existence of a cultural struggle, one not only understands what is the value of hope, but also the beauty of progression. If individuals never stood up against the status quo, human and historical progression would remain stagnant in a period where division would continue its reign and hate would presides over unity. These short lessons on the history of minority groups in our country allow us to reflect on the mistakes that we as a society have made, as well as establish the barriers to deepen the understanding of the direction of progress and true equality.