African-American History Thesis

Pages: 9 (3383 words)  ·  Style: APA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Black Studies

¶ … workings of the sharecropping system, and explain why many African-Americans preferred it to wage labor; explain why so many sharecroppers ended up destitute and tied to a plantation.

The sharecropping system was set up for former African-American slaves to be able to lay economic claim to their own work through the sharing of harvest of a plot of land or property. It would eventually become its own version of slavery, and since so many people were draw into this form of land lease, it would have a profoundly negative effect on the plight of African-Americans in the post Civil War era (Billingsley, 1992). The blacks were most often not owners of land on their own, and often worked portions of the land in order to keep a certain portion of the profits for themselves. White landowners saw sharecropping as an excellent way to obtain extremely cheap labor, almost identical to the type that was found during the time of slavery (Billingsley, 1992). Blacks became dependent on the property to sustain themselves and their families, and were often vulnerable to the demands and desires of the white landowners. Sharecropping turned out to be a new form of slavery, where officially the African-American workers were not held in bondage, but they were financially and emotionally tied and obligated to work the land that they had (Billingsley, 1992). Society at large was either unable or unwilling to see that the sharecropping system was turning into a new form of slavery for African-Americans until tens of thousands had bought into the system.

Many African-Americans preferred sharecropping to wage labor because they saw themselves as being independent, or free from the structuralized, biased economic and social systems of the south. Even though the Civil War was over, and slavery was abolished, African-Americans had an extremely difficult time working their way up the ranks in southern society (Billingsley, 1992). They were still regarded as second class, and while they could no longer be enslaved legally, white land and plantation owners were reluctant to pay African-Americans a fair wage if they were to be hired at all. Sharecropping was seem, quite idealistically, as a way for African-Americans to take control of their own destiny through hard work. They believed that they would be rewarded by working hard in the fields for themselves, but often found that they were in a sense, a type of non-wage slave to their landowners. They also often found themselves further indebted to the landowners, especially if the season hadn't yielded a profitable crop. This form of financial slavery affected thousands of African-Americans across the southern U.S. immediately after the Civil War and well into the 20th century (Billingsley, 1992). To make matters worse, the few African-Americans that owned land after the Civil War often created similar sharecropping systems, where other African-Americans were eager to trust them to help build a manageable future through sharecropping. Many of the African-American landowners took advantage of the sharecropping system to find cheap laborers that would become financially invested in and tied to the land they were leasing from the landowners. Certainly sharecropping contributed to the slowing of the economic recovery of African-Americans affected by slavery earlier in the 19th century.

Cited: Billingsley, Andrew. (1992). Climbing Jacob's Ladder: The Enduring Legacy of African-American Families. Simon and Schuster: New York, NY.

2. Analyze the main factors that impelled black people to leave the South, and the main factors that drew them North between 1914 and 1929. Explain why the Great Migration is considered a "watershed" (a turning point) in African-American history.

There was a large African-American population migration that occurred between 1914 and the Great Depression (Sernett, 1997). This migration saw million of people move from southern states, traditionally the home of African-American Slaves, to northern states where working, social, and cultural conditions were more favorable. There were a couple of important draws for African-Americans, namely the creation of manufacturing unions and the promise of better treatment by their neighbors. The urban areas of cities also helped give African-Americans the opportunity to build a community, whereas before they were limited by the fact that the southern cities and states were often hostile to the creation of African-American communities and organizations (Sernett, 1997).

Labor unions, which promised to desegregate working conditions and offer fair pay and benefits were a major factor in the Great Migration. Northern industrial states like Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois saw the majority of the migration, which was made up of over 4 million African-Americans over the course of nearly two decades (Sernett, 1997). Since African-Americans were often the victims of wage fraud or had found themselves bound to white landowners through the sharecropping system, the promise of Labor unions and the steady, stable jobs they provided was appealing to many African-Americans.

The cultural environment was different in the northern states as well. Since these places were not steeped in the slavery culture and traditions, and therefore held a bias toward African-Americans on a cultural level, they found it much easier to navigate socially and the opportunities for class mobility were far greater in these places than in the south (Sernett, 1997). This desire for upward mobility, following nearly fifty years of stagnation during the recovery ear immediately following the Civil War created an environment were African-Americans were eager to have a fair chance at success and the American Dream. African-Americans were also drawn to large urban centers not only because of the promise of new jobs, but because they could come together and form inclusive, supportive communities and ties with other people in similar plights (Sernett, 1997). The combination of opportunities both socially and economically drew millions of African-Americans to cities like Detroit, Chicago, and Dayton, where technological and industrial developments were being made and jobs in these sectors were plentiful.

But the Great Migration was not completely devoid of negative consequences for African-Americans. Since there were millions migrating to northern cities and urban areas especially, the whites and other immigrants that had established themselves there were often hostile to the new and very large African-American presence (Sernett, 1997). Violent behavior like riots, lynchings, and beatings took place in northern cities, and African-Americans were often caught in the cultural crosshairs, unable to gain acceptance anywhere they moved. The racial backlash was far less profound in the northern states, when compared to the racial tension suffered by African-Americans in southern states, but it was certainly something to consider when African-Americans were thinking of moving northward, and had a profound impact on race relations for decades to come.

Cited: Sernett, Milton C. (1997) Bound for the Promised Land: African-American Religion and the Great Migration. Duke University Press: Durham, NC.

3. Compare and contrast each of the following in light of the historical period in which they appeared: the "New Negro" movement, Marcus Garvey and the UNIA, and the Harlem Renaissance. Analyze the relationships among them and explain why they appeared almost simultaneously, and why New York was so important to all of them.

The New Negro movement surfaced when African-Americans collectively decided to fight against racial segregation and bias by creating their own media and social networks (Locke, 1997). The Harlem Renaissance was a time period that directly followed such landmark court decisions as Plessy v. Ferguson as well as the compromise of 1877 (Locke, 1997). Both of these court decisions effectively wiped out the gains that African-Americans had during and after the reconstruction period. This Renaissance included the founding of the first African-American newspaper, the Voice as well as the first advocacy organization for African-Americans called "The Liberty League" (Locke, 1997). Hubert Harrison founded this league as a militant reaction to the anti-African-American sentiment that was widely felt during that time period. Many of the accomplishments of this movement took pace around or after World War One, when the nation was beginning to redefine itself both domestically and internationally (Locke, 1997). This movement took place at the beginning of the Great Migration period, and likely helped give support to African-Americans who found themselves lost in the culture of the north, especially those in the Harlem area. The Renaissance was a rebirth of African-American pride and culture, and one of the most famous forms of music; "jazz" was also a result (Locke, 1997).

The possibility and hope created by the New Negro movement, which was started in the late 1800's, lingered throughout the Harlem Renaissance and well into the race and class issues that many African-Americans found themselves entangled in during the 1920's (Locke, 1997). Marcus Garvey was an outspoken cultural advocate during the New Negro movement and the Harlem Renaissance. He helped father a refocusing on Africa, also known as Garveyism. This shift in focus to the motherland gave African-Americans a sense of pride and helped them understand their common beginnings on another continent. It also served to unite African-Americans by giving them a common characteristic they could all be proud of and identify with. Garvey went on to found the Universal Negro Improvement… [END OF PREVIEW]

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