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HIS 204: Week 5 - Final Paper: The history of African-Americans from 1865 to present






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The history of African-Americans from 1865 to present
The African-Americans history has been a contradiction of incredible triumph in the face of
tremendous human adversity. This thesis will present a detailed examination of the black
experience in America from 1865 till present times in light of that contradiction to provide an
understanding of the role of black people have played in the history of the nation and an
assessment of why they were excluded from the promise of American democracy until the
relatively recent past. This thesis will trace the African American historical experience starting
from the 1860s until the recent times. This paper analyses the various economic, political, social
and cultural methods African-Americans have employed to survive in an overwhelmingly hostile
environment and describe how the issue of black slavery came to be central to the politics of the
new nation.
The Civil War era
By the end of the 1850s, North feared complete control of the country by slaveholding means,
whites in the South believed that the North was determined to destroy its way of life. While the
White Southerners had been embittered by Northern defiance of the 1850 federal fugitive slave
act and had been alarmed in 1859 by the raid at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, led by the white
abolitionist John Brown. After Lincoln was elected president in 1860 on the antislavery platform
of the new Republican Party the Southern states seceded from the Union and formed the
Confederate States of America.

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The Civil War, that ultimately liberated the country’s slaves, began in 1861. Preservation of the
Union and not the abolition of slavery was the initial objective of President Lincoln. Lincoln
initially believed in gradual emancipation and with the federal government compensating the
slaveholders for the loss of their property. In September 1862 he issued the Emancipation
Proclamation declaring that all slaves residing in states in rebellion against the United States as of
January 1, 1863, were to be free. Thus the Civil War became a war to end slavery with all its
African American leaders such as author William Wells Brown, physician and author Martin R.
Delany, and Douglass vigorously recruited blacks into the Union army. By the end of the Civil
War more than 186,000 African American men were in the Union armed forces. They performed
heroically despite discrimination in pay, rations, equipment, and assignments as well as the
unrelenting hostility of the Confederate troops. Slaves served as a labor force for the Confederacy,
but thousands of them dropped their tools and escaped to the Union lines.
The Reconstruction
As a result of the Union victory in the Civil War and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment
to the Constitution (1865), nearly four million slaves were freed. The Fourteenth Amendment
(1868) granted African Americans citizenship, and the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) guaranteed
their right to vote. Yet the Reconstruction period (1865–77) was one of disappointment and
frustration for African Americans as these new provisions of the Constitution were often ignored,
specifically in the South.
During this period the African Americans wielded political power in the South for the first time.
Their leaders were largely lawyers, clergymen, and teachers who had been educated in the North

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and abroad. During this period black political power was ephemeral. Northern politicians grew
increasingly conciliatory to the white in the Southern part, due to which by 1872 effectually all
leaders of the Confederacy had been pardoned and were again able to vote. After what precedent
economic pressure and the terrorist activities of violent anti-black groups, such as the Ku Klux
Klan, most African Americans were kept away from voting. By 1877 when President Rutherford
Hayes withheld the last federal troops from the South, the whites were again in full control of the
South. The African Americans were disfranchised by the provisions of new state constitutions
such as those adopted by Mississippi in 1890 and by South Carolina and Louisiana in 1895.
Hence no African American was to serve in the United States.
The rebirth of white supremacy in the South was accompanied by the growth of enforced racial
division. Starting with Tennessee in 1870 all Southern states reenacted laws prohibiting marriage
between blacks and whites. By 1885 most Southern states had officially segregated their public
schools. Even after the Reconstruction years, the African Americans received only a small share
of the increasing number of industrial jobs in South. Relatively few rural African Americans in the
South owned their own farms, among most remaining poor sharecroppers heavily in debt to white
property owners. The largely urban Northern African American population fared little better. Jobs
they wanted were given to European immigrants. After a while many African Americans migrated
westward searching for improvement. During and after the Reconstruction period, the African
Americans in cities organized literary, historical, and musical societies. Blacks also began to make
a major impact on American mass culture through the popularity of such groups as the Fisk
Jubilee Singers.

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