African Americans During Early 1900 Term Paper

Pages: 6 (2241 words)  ·  Style: Turabian  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Black Studies

African-Americans during Early 1900's

The American society, since its early beginnings, was marked by the phenomenon of segregation. Soon after the birth of the U.S.A. As an independent state, pressures between the white and the black communities began to emerge and become more and more virulent.

The Civil War proved to be peak of the confrontation based on racial differences. This is why, following the North's victory over the southern states, this region became relatively more attractive for those in search of a better life. The beginning of the 20th century is considered to be the start of the black migration from the poorer regions of the South towards the more advanced ones in the North.

In this respect, the main arguments that would justify this reorientation of the black population are related both to the background of the historical period, and to the changing conditions that intervened at the beginning and during the First World War. The consequences of this migration however must be seen form a mixed perspective, with both its positive and negative effects on the black population.

The society at the beginning of the 20th century was largely influenced by the existence of racism, which determined the orientation of the social attitude based on segregation behavior. The Jim Crows laws played a major role in institutionalizing this tendency. The moment of their enactment represented in fact the official and legal recognition of the segregation practice. These laws "enforced racial segregation in the South between the end of the formal Reconstruction period in 1877 and the beginning of a strong civil rights movement in the 1950s." however, until the emergence of the Emancipation movement and the Civil Rights quest, black people were constantly subjected to discriminatory treatment. The main focus was the South part of the country, especially due to its tradition in slave ownership. Despite the improvements in the social status promoted by President Lincoln, little did actually change in everyday practice. Aside from the limitation of their political rights which would have included the right to vote and to be elected, black people soon found themselves isolated from the rest of the community by the white majority. They were denied the same conditions of living, the access to facilities of the same quality. Ultimately, black children were rejected from attending the same schools as white pupils; black people were not allowed to dine in white people' restaurants. These continuous limitations forced a great number of black people to direct their attention towards the northern states of the U.S.

There were also other factors that contributed to the Great Migration that took place at the beginning of the 20th century. One of the most important developments of the time on the international scene was the start of the First World War. In 1914, the U.S. refused to engage in the conflagration. Yet, it was relatively obvious that the global nature of the conflict would ultimately include America as well. Therefore, as time passed, the economy changed its character from a peacetime industry into a wartime one. This included the development of other areas of the industry, such as the armament production, which demanded for powerful working force. In addition, the war also increased the number of job openings as the U.S.'s engagement in the conflagration became obvious. Thus, positions were left vacant and the black population in the South was encouraged to relocate.

Another element that determined the Great Migration was the boll weevil infestation. This unfortunate event proved to be decisive for the shaping of the economic prospects of the African-American population in the South taking into consideration the fact that most of them, as slaves or small manufacturers, were engaged in the cotton business. This mob affected their incomes and thus determined their migration towards places where jobs were either more diverse or where there was need of additional labor force.

Finally, a reason that determined the move of such a large number of people towards the North was the need and desire of the black slaves to change the profile of their activity. Up to that point in history, few Black Americans were engaged in industrial work, most of them being restricted to rural activities that either were underpaid or were no longer needed in a country that was experiencing a flourishing economy based on modern machines and technology. From this perspective, the migration was a means through which black people tried to change the profile of their activities in order to integrate in the modernization of the U.S.

In this context, the North proved to be an attractive sight. After the Civil War, the North side had on the one hand imposed the economic profile of the southern states, and, on the other hand, developed at a more rapid pace. From the very beginning, the North had been more attractive for the investments in the industrial centers such as New York, Philadelphia, and Detroit. They were thus oriented more towards a modern perspective of the society. At the same time, due to the evolving times, businesses enabled people to become prosperous; consequently, for the black population that came from the poorer South, it was considered to be indeed a "promised land."

The term "promised land" was used to define the ideal the black migrants had imagined to be the North as they had set their target the cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia and other industrial cities along the coast. However, history has shown that the effects and outcomes must be seen as being both positive and negative.

Indeed, black people did find a more prosperous atmosphere in the North, as a result of the constant economic development of the area. For instance, Chicago proved to be a prolific destination for both African-American men and women. During the war, there was an increase demand for the manufactured goods coming out of Chicago that at one point could not face up to the requests. Thus, "employers needed a new source of labor for jobs assumed to be 'men's work.' Factories opened the doors to black workers, providing opportunities to black southerners' to stake their claims to full citizenship through their role in the industrial economy. For black women the doors opened only slightly and temporarily, but even domestic work in Chicago offered higher wages and more personal autonomy than in the South." In contrast to the limited rights the black people had in the South, this indeed could be considered a moral and political achievement. This was largely because the North had a historical reluctance to the institution of slavery.

On the other hand, the Great Migration represented the slow movement of more than one million people. This in turn implied a change in the structure of the cities. Thus, "nearly one-fourth of all blacks lived in the North or West by 1940," that influenced the societies and the population equilibrium. Chicago is a representative example in this sense, taking into account the fact that by 1928, the first black Congressman since the Reconstruction was elected. Therefore, the African-American had a more democratic social environment.

At the same time however, the presence of such a numerous black population in areas that had seen little racial conflicts, such as Atlanta, determined the radicalization of movements that would later become common practice, the Ku Klux Klan. They were the result of massive discontent regarding the presence of former slaves that would take on the jobs that traditionally belonged to the white people. This attracted an increase in the tensions between the blacks and the whites that would later manifest in violent manners.

Strictly related to the reorganization of the structure of the societies they slowly became a part of, is the change in the race relation model. On the one hand, their presence offered the society the possibility to cover the needing force labor. On the other hand, however, according to most authors, a large part of the migrants was limited in their knowledge, "ignorant, deficient in practical ability, and almost entirely lacking any training." This caused the delimitation of a certain gap between the white and the black populations. As a result, even today there is the misconception in some part of the U.S. about the inferior intellectual status of the African-Americans as opposed to the whites. From this point-of-view, it can be said that the experience was unfortunate for many of the families that went in search for a better future in the north.

Despite their negative or positive experiences, the black population that underwent the shift from the South up North marked the change in the overall environment of the Northern cities. From the point-of-view of the overall image of the cities, the ghettoes remained a trademark for the life of the black people. Even today, numerous New York areas are predominantly inhabited by black people, as a reminiscence and continuation of the migrants that came in the early 20th century. The establishment of such places was the result of the discrepancies between… [END OF PREVIEW]

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