Progress of African-Americans Historical Progress essay

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e. The lack of a collective intellectual voice. In response to this and in part as a result of new affluence gained by some as well as a growing exposure to education, albeit mostly segregated, many began to develop what is known as the Harlem Renaissance.

The 1920s in American history were marked by a sociocultural awakening among Afro-Americans. More blacks participated in the arts than ever before, and their number increased steadily throughout the decade. This florescence of creative activity extended to many areas -- music, poetry, drama, fiction. In literature, the few Negro novels published between 1905 and 1923 were presented mainly by small firms unable to give their authors a national hearing. However, in the succeeding decade, over two dozen novels by blacks appeared, and most of them were issued by major American publishers. (Singh, 1976, p. 1)

The Harlem Renaissance came about for many reasons not the least of which was the fact that blacks many for the first time were given the opportunity to speak, write, communicate and be heard in ways they had never had the opportunity before. Though this is not to say that all the impetus for the movement was positive, it was to some degree a result of the fact that many had limited opportunity in areas other than entertainment or independent authorship. So, given the opportunity they had they collectively created a cohesive black voice that was for the first time heard by the mainstream.

The popularity of African-American productions was fundamental to the development of an ideology of change. Though the period was also marked by continued segregation, that challenged especially traveling entertainers as they were shown the service entrance to enter into grand white society to perform and could not stay in any of the hotels where they played or eat in the restaurants in these hotels. The experience likely changed many and again made them aware of the disparities in the culture while at the same time it exposed the majority to the intellectual abilities of African-Americans. It is generally thought that the Harlem Renaissance endured through WWI but ended on the eve of WWII when many blacks entered the armed forces or even began to hold greater influence in industry as a result of the war effort.

Unit IV 1946-1976

During the period just following WWII, in which many African-Americans had served, and domestic African-Americans had supported by taking on greater roles in industry and production, life for African-Americans was decidedly full of obvious contradictions. One economic issue they faced was a lack of allowed continuation in new, higher roles in industry and stark contradictions between the way they were treated overseas and how they were treated here. In response to that issue they chose to begin the long process of assertion of their own civil rights, beginning with the end to segregation. The outcome of that was a legal desegregation that slowly resulted over the whole period to be realized as real de facto desegregation.

The development of Jim Crow segregation laws, that serve as a marked backlash from fears generated by emancipation, as well as African-American families and others seeking resolution for past wrongs marks a period of history that challenges most historians. McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents (1950) demonstrates that the challenges for African-American individuals and families to attempt to make a better life for themselves, through education was significant. White collar education was available, in a sort of second rate state and those who chose to seek education with whites faced legal and social alienation. Yet, without an advanced education, which was inclusive of intellectual as well as trade education many blacks were barred from higher positions of service, and many were let go from the higher positions they held, with higher wages in the war years. Additionally, returning soldiers experienced real segregation, again, where during the war though the armed forces were still segregated they were exposed to real respect, from both inside and outside the military and made considerable personal sacrifices to serve their country only to return to find themselves again on the back of the bus. The period of the 1950s is when the legal changes that disbanded the thousands of national and local segregation laws, which were particularly difficult to overturn because there were so very many and on so many levels.

The importance of this court case is to show that specifically the legal state may have changed but it was expected that the social climate would not, and that this social climate change was not the question but the fact that the state was giving authority to institutions and individuals to segregate and therefore offer unequal opportunity, where it was offered at all. One absolutely crucial quote from the work, describing this phenomena follows; "(b) That appellant may still be set apart by his fellow students and may be in no better position when these restrictions are removed is irrelevant, for there is a constitutional difference between restrictions imposed by the State which prohibit the intellectual commingling of students and the refusal of students to commingle where the State presents no such bar. P. 641." ("McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents," 1950, NP) The case is of an African-American grad student in Oklahoma that challenges the segregation in his experiences at the University of Oklahoma, on the grounds that it is barring him from the discussion and interaction that are the basis of his career education. In other words real segregation existed still in the minds of people, which shows that there was still a way to go with regard to the civil rights movement. The above court case is just one early example of one way in which the civil rights movement began to play out.

Unit V 1976-Present

The civil rights movement and the many changes it brought have become much more evident during the period from 1976 to the present. Yet, one social/cultural issue was continued disparity in opportunity as a result of both overt and covert discrimination. In response to this some individuals chose to develop a system of what is now known as affirmative action, where overt and covert discrimination and especially institutional discrimination is leveled. The outcome of this was record numbers of African-Americans in education at every level as well as climbing up the ladder to fulfill high powered roles in nearly every area of life.

Affirmative action was developed in an attempt to further the real and unforeseen effects of racial discrimination that have existed in both subtle and overt ways in this nation since its inception. Racial division, overt segregation and subtle racially driven policies and practices have been oppressive to minorities and have created object disenfranchisement, especially with regard to education and employment opportunities. Affirmative action attempts to ensure the proportionate placement of racial minorities and in some cases women in positions of opportunity by allowing racial and gender information to be used as a criterion for enrollment in education programs and in government jobs or government contracts. The programs were set in place to advance minorities to a place where the programs were not needed, and while some argue that they are still very much needed others argue that they are antiquated and create opportunity for discrimination of other sorts. (Kivel, 1995)

John Shimkus, R. Ill., acknowledged the history of inequality that supporters of affirmative action say makes the programs necessary. "Unfortunately, not every person starts at the same place in our society in our educational institutions. Many times those barriers to advancement are based on race." Shimkus said. (Lewis, 2005, NP)

The arguments in favor of affirmative action are that it will be a long-term stop gap attempt to redistribute opportunity more fairly in the nation and it is a temporary situation that will not be needed in the future if it is successful now.


The African-American experience often defines American identity as racial divide and periods of racial progress are evident nearly throughout American history. The periods described in the units of this course help one better understand the progress that was made from one period to the next. This work has attempted to illuminate this progress by going through each unit of time and discussing one theme, associated with each period. The process has created not a comprehensive textbook like representation but a brief overview of how things have changed from one period of time to the next and more importantly how African-Americans have progressed through time.


Golay, M. (1999). A Ruined Land: The End of the Civil War. New York: Wiley

Jonas, G. (2005). Freedom's Sword: The NAACP and the Struggle against Racism in America, 1909-1969. New York: Routledge.

Jim Crow Laws. (2004). In The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th ed.). New York: Columbia

Kivel, Paul. (1995) Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice.

(New York: New Society Publishers).

Klarman, M.J. (2004). From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the…[continue]

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