End of Isolation Research Paper

Pages: 8 (2517 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Black Studies

¶ … Isolation

African-American Civil Rights

Historically, Africans and African-American citizens have never encountered social, racial, or civic equality within the United States. Despite a significant amount of progress in these areas, some of these contemporary American citizens contend that there is still a marked inequity in their daily treatment based on these aforementioned grounds. Yet when one traces the beginning of the history of these peoples in this country, which was founded on institutionalized, chattel slavery that was formally renounced with the January 31, 1865 passing of the 13th Amendment (Lincoln, 1865), it becomes apparent that they have taken definite steps to ensure social gains that have resulted in an end of segregation and a reduction in discrimination and social isolation. African-Americans have rendered these achievements largely by working within the political and social system afforded to them, in varying degrees within the U.S., these achievements have had reverberating manifestations for U.S. policy towards the social isolation of other minority groups as well.

The most crucial aspect of this thesis is the degree of access that African-Americans have historically had within U.S. In order to effect social change. There is a large amount of fluctuation in this access to the political and social system that African-Americans have had, which has generally increased since the middle of the 19th century to contemporary times. Prior to the elimination of slavery African-Americans had no rights whatsoever. The lengthy history of their struggle towards full social equality began in earnest during the period of reconstruction, in which the initial boons for African-Americans were disseminated from the Republican party, which urged for the passing of legislation that led to African-Americans citizenship: the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Due to the largess of the Republican party (which had its own ulterior motives for effecting such social change for African-Americans, not all of which were benign), these people had the basic rights to be able to maneuver within the socio-political system in order to achieve equality.

However, despite the idealness of the concept of Reconstruction and the prominent place in which ex-slaves seemingly played in it, it is important to realize that this historical epoch only lasted 12 years, from 1865 to 1877. More significantly, despite the political and social gains that African-Americans attained due to the efforts of the Republican Party, very few people in the U.S. viewed them as equals to Caucasians in any sort of way. The general sentiment that prevailed until the middle of the 20th century was that there was definitely a degree of sympathy elicited towards African-Americans from those of European descent who (in hindsight) now abhorred the evils of slavery but…full racial equality was not yet conceivable, or even desirable. This fact was underscored by the level of resistance that Republican measures for granting African-Americans rights encountered throughout the South and from President Andrew Johnson, in particular (the only U.S. President to be impeached).

Also, Reconstruction gave birth to some of the fiercest secret societies to eliminate the fledgling rights of African-Americans, include the Ku Klux Klan, the Pale Faces, and the Knights of the White Camellia. Reconstruction abruptly ended in 1877 with the election of Rutherford B. Hayes and the Compromise of 1877, in which Hayes' presidency required the removal of federal troops in the South who had been stationed to ensure African-Americans' newly acquired rights via the Reconstruction Acts. At that point, African-Americans were on their own in terms of fending for social equality and civil rights.

Not surprisingly, due to the measures afforded them during Reconstruction, which also included the passing of the 15th Amendment -- which allowed African-Americans the right to vote -- , the initial efforts African-Americans produced towards gaining civic equality began in the political arena. They quickly exercised their newfound ability to vote by championing the measures and causes of Republicans. More significantly, African-Americans became more directly involved in the political process by holding political positions in virtually every state. Their social needs, at this particular time, were simple and in alignment with those during the 20th century and in contemporary society. They desired self-determination, which in the latter portion of the 19th century involved pursuing economic means other than conventional agriculture, possessing property, and utilizing their right to vote.

However, they were undermined nearly every step of the way-- predominantly by stubborn Southern legislation and civilians. The so-called Black Codes reinforced the system of sharecropping; other states employed measures that made it increasingly difficult for African-Americans to vote. Education requirements and reading tests prevented many African-Americans from voting, particularly in the South. Moreover, groups such as the Ku Klux Klan openly intimidated African-Americans to stop them from voting, and displayed a stubborn tendency to murder and destroy the property of those who opposed them. Following the conclusion of Reconstruction, what little rights African-Americans had during that epoch systematically diminished due to the establishment of Jim Crow laws and de jure segregation (Mack, 1999), which widely prevented Blacks from voting via poll taxes. With the political support of the "radical" Republicans effectively diminished, African-Americans endured a situation in which they had established civic rights yet could not exercise them due to the arbitrary cruelty and greed of bigots who had true civic and political power. National legislature, for the most part, was sympathetic towards the plight of African-Americans yet ineffective; segregationist policies that isolated African-Americans became official with the 1896 court decision of Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the constitutional right for African-Americans and Caucasians to have "separate but equal facilities" (Maidment, 1973, p. 126).

Until the middle of the 20th century, the civic rights of African-Americans remained fairly stagnant. Legally they were entitled to the same rights as all other Americans, while in practice they were severely limited in their means of attaining quality education, procuring substantial jobs, and accessing facilities and resources (due to segregation) that other Americans could access. During this period of social isolation -- which largely extended to other non-European ethnic minorities as evinced by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and inequitable treatment to Hispanics and Latinos -- there were a number of prominent African-American leaders who attempted to correct these issues. Booker T. Washington, for example, largely attempted to do so via an accommodationist framework in which he advocated accepting second-class citizenship for African-Americans, providing education so that they could learn trades and enjoy secondary civic rights. Despite the limitations of this philosophy, his Tuskegee Institute educated numerous African-Americans with this same philosophy.

Interestingly enough, Washington's contemporary and ideological opponent at the time, W.E.B. Dubois, also viewed education as a primary means of facilitating equality in social and civil rights for African-Americans (Du Bois, 1903). Dubois, however, voiced the dissent felt by many regarding the accommodationist approach of Washington. Dubois felt that the talented 10% of the African-American population, who were elite in education and in the natural talent which could be socially viable in the U.S., could make strides for the rest of the race (Du Bois, 1903). What was important about the Niagara Movement which Du Bois advocated was the fact that it marked one of the first times that African-Americans denoted a separation of the races as a positive aspect. Although legalized separation was enforced at the turn of the 20th century, Du Bois actually saw a separation of the races as beneficial because it allowed African-Americans the opportunity to own their own banks, businesses, and establishments. Du Bois believed that the true challenge was in making such facilities truly "equal" to those of other Americans. This revelation on the part of Du Bois demonstrates the African-American impulse to attain civic equality by making the most of the means provided by him in America -- which were, at the time of most of Du Bois' influential ideology, based on the separation enforced by segregation (Du Bois, 1903).

Although Du Bois would eventually work towards ending segregation, it is important to note the effect that some of his separationist views inspired in the early part of the 20th century before the formal evolution towards the civil rights movement in the middle of this century. Marcus Garvey was another African-American who sought to ensure full social and civil equality between his race and conventional Americans through their separation. Garvey was most notable for his back to Africa movement, a stance in which he advocated a physical separation of the races between the continents as he implored African-Americans to return to Africa and rid themselves of America's social inequality forever. Although this viewpoint seemed to merely elude the issue at hand by removing African-Americans from the racist treatment endured on the shores of America, it was significant for the fact that it championed a separation of the races and helped to foment the unity and solidarity of an African-American community in the U.S. This sense of community would prove integral (Du Bois 1903) in the coming decades, as African-Americans would drastically change tactics for gaining civil rights based on this sense of community.

The Civil… [END OF PREVIEW]

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