The struggle for equal rights is one of the widely studied topics in the United States. The struggle for equal rights in the U.S was majorly led by the minority groups because they were the most affected by the inequality. Specifically, the African Americans have been the most pressed by the problem in the U.S, an issue that was strongly connected to their history of slavery (Reece 4). Reece argues that slavery created a negative perception of African Americans, as whites perceived them as inferior (4). In this regard, African Americans suffered a long history of social, economic, and political marginalization. Therefore, this literature review examines the struggle for equal rights among African Americans and the success achieved over the years.
History of the struggle
The struggle for equality among African Americans is stemmed from their history of slavery. When the first ships docked in the New World and discovered a new land in the Americas, the Europeans started settling and engaging in farming on a large scale (Reece 5). The Europeans required intensive labor; therefore, they turned to slave labor from Africa. The Africans were shipped from different countries across Africa as slaves to work on the plantation (Gordon-Reed 5). According to Reece, the dehumanization of African Americans created a disparity between blacks and whites, whereby whites perceived themselves as the superior race (11). In contrast, blacks were perceived as the inferior race (Reece11). Because of slavery, it was difficult to fathom a situation whereby blacks would have equal status to whites in the country.
Even after attaining independence from Great Britain, America did not accommodate the African Americans, as they were perceived as outsiders. However, years after independence, Kleintop states that there was contention among the white elites with regard to dealing with the issue of slavery because it was against the principle of the U.S, which is the land of the free and equal opportunities (389). The slavery institution was preventing the U.S from living according to the ideals delineated by Thomas Jefferson during his declaration for independence speech, where he mentioned the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for every human being (Gordon-Reed 2). Although the industrialized Northern states were ready to abolish slavery, the southern states firmly held on to the institution because it was the only source of cheap labor (Gordon-Reed 3). The contention between the North and the South over the institution of slavery led to the American Civil War to end slavery and save the union. Although abolishing slavery meant that African Americans were free from forced labor, they still did not have equal rights.
Civil Rights Movement
The struggle for equal rights among African Americans started back in the 1950s under the civil rights movement. The movement against racial oppression in the U.S was triggered by the high level of institutionalized and systemic racial marginalization propagated against African Americans. After abolishing slavery, the Federal and state government turned to the ratification of oppressive laws that were strategically meant to disenfranchise the African Americans (Kleintop 385). The Civil Rights Movement ensured that African Americans enjoyed equal rights as whites, such as equal treatment under the law, jobs, and political participation. The southern states were the most adamant about ensuring that African Americans remained in a lower social status than the northern states. For instance, towards the end of the 19th century, states in the south establish oppressive laws regarded as “Jim Crow” laws that promoted segregation and institutionalized marginalization of black people (Mazumder 925). Mazumder asserts that ‘Jim Crow’ laws promoted segregation of schools, homes, and institutions and ratified impediments to make it difficult for African Americans to participate in voting (927). Therefore, the Civil Rights Movement strong force to push for the amendments of laws to ensure that African Americans also enjoyed equal rights.
The Civil Rights Movement was contributed by different players, at both individual and organized levels. The movement was led by Martin Luther King Jr., Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and W.E.B. Du Bois (Mazumder 924). Mazumder argues that the leaders had different approaches and ideologies concerning pushing for equal rights (925). For instance, Martin Luther embraced non-violent approaches and gave speeches, and held non-violent matches across the U.S. On the other hand, leaders such as Malcolm X pushed for a violent approach to compel the government to address the problem of inequality. However, the different approaches and extensive criticism locally and internationally forced the government to ratify the Civil Rights Act in 1964 (Mazumder 926). Mazumder states that the Act help to abolish segregation enhanced protection for voting rights for black people, and illegalized any form of discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or any subjective parameter (927). Although by the end of the movement, various leaders of the movement, such as Martin Luther and Malcolm X, had been assassinated, it was a significant achievement in the struggle for equal rights among African Americans.
Modern struggle of the African Americans
The history of African Americans is characterized by a series of successive stages, such as the abolition of slavery and ratification of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. While much has been achieved over the years, including having the first African American president, Barack Obama, African Americans have continued to struggle to break free from systemic racism completely. In modern America, criminal justice is one of the institutions widely criticized for propagating racial inequality (Mazumder 931). Statistics show that African Americans are overrepresented in criminal justices compared to whites. The records by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) show that African Americans make approximately 34% (2.3 million) of the 6.8 million of the prison population, despite being 12% of the national population (Tucker, p.138). Additionally, NAACP states that African Americans are 6 times more likely to be imprisoned than whites and 2.5 times than Hispanic whites. The problem of discrimination under the criminal law has been a huge problem for African Americans, leading to the establishment of new movements such as Black Lives Matter.
The Black Lives Matter was established as an online movement in 2012 by Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors (Jean 139). According to Jean, the movement was triggered after George Zimmerman was acquitted for killing Trayvon Martin (139). The movement has participated in highlighting the plight of African Americans in America and the rampant murder of unarmed black people. Although the movement takes a different approach than the Civil Rights Movements, such as using online platforms, it has helped reach its message worldwide. For instance, the recent murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in Minnesota sparked worldwide protests lead by Black Live Matter (Cappelli 7). The new approach by Black Lives Matter has helped to attract support and followers from Canada, Australia, and Europe, and other parts of the world.
The African American is one of the most oppressed racial groups in the U.S. Since slavery, African Americans have undergone an extensive struggle to achieve equal rights to their white counterparts. The Civil Rights Movement was a culmination of the years of oppression and disenfranchisement of African Americans, leading to peaceful and violent protests against the oppressive laws termed ‘Jim Crow’ laws. The Civil Rights Movement, spearheaded by leaders such as Martin Luther, Malcolm X, led to the ratification of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Although the Act helped to end segregation and illegalized discrimination based on parameters such as race, color, or religion, the Criminal Justice System remained to be a considerable obstacle. In this regard, modern movements such as Black Lives Matter have continued to campaign against the mistreatment and the frequent murder of unarmed African Americans under the Criminal Justice System. The new movement, which has a robust online presence, has continued to compel both federal and state governments to make reforms to prevent discrimination against black people.