Watch this excellent TED talk on living under arguably the most effective surveillance orientated secret police in the Eastern bloc. Did you know that 20% of all East Germans were informers in the Cold War period?
The status of black Americans (BBC ‘Bitesize’ History)
After the end of the American Civil War in 1865, legislation was passed to end slavery. For the first time since their transportation to the nation, black Americans were legally free. Further legislation followed soon after to make it illegal for people to be denied the vote or discriminated against because of the colour of their skin.
Despite these good intentions, black Americans still faced hostility, bigotry and persecution.
Most whites believed that blacks were inferior in every way. Politically, socially, and economically, black Americans were second-class citizens. They had to be kept in their place. For most white Americans, the question of equal rights for black Americans simply did not arise. The ‘negro’ was inferior – that was just the way things were.
Segregation in the South
Although migration to the North and the West began soon after the Civil War ended, the great majority of black Americans still lived in the Southern states where white superiority was enforced and where the slavery culture was still warmly remembered and embraced.
In many of these states discrimination was not just commonplace – it was legal. States such as Alabama introduced a series of laws to keep the races separated and the black population under control. These measures were nicknamed the ‘Jim Crow’ laws, after a fictional character in the popular minstrel shows that made fun of black people. These laws enforced the strict segregation of the races and rigidly maintained the inferior status of black citizens. Typical laws included:
- Public transport waiting rooms were strictly segregated.
- Places open to the public such as shops, hotels, cinemas, theatres and libraries had to provide separate rooms and facilities for the different races.
- Education. Legally, black children could be educated in separate schools, so long as the schooling was of an equal educational standard. In reality, schools for black Americans were far from equal, and the quality of education provided was inferior. In 1896, the Supreme Court upheld that this policy was legal and fair.
- In most of the Southern states, inter-marriage between blacks and whites was illegal.
- In employment, blacks received lower pay than whites and they were restricted to work of lower status, such as janitors, cleaners, and porters.
- Southern towns were strictly segregated into black and white residential areas.
Violence and intimidation
It was virtually impossible for black Americans to challenge segregation in the South. To do so ran the risk of serious violence at the hands of white racists, particularly the Ku Klux Klan.
To unite native-born white Americans in the preservation of American institutions, and the supremacy of white race.
From a KKK newsletter
In the years after World War I, there had been a major revival in the strength of the Ku Klux Klan, the most well known of the racist organisations. By the mid-1920s, the Klan had over 100,000 members across the South and had begun to extend its influence into Northern and Western states. Its campaigns of hate and violence intensified and Klan violence, beatings, burnings, brandings, attacks with acid and lynching increased rapidly.
- In 1919, 70 black Americans were lynched, 10 of them former soldiers.
- A major race riot was sparked in Chicago, when a black youth accidentally entered a ‘whites only’ beach. Race hatred was not simply confined to the South.
- In 1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a serious race riot took place and 25 blacks and 9 whites were killed.
The result of this was inevitable. Blacks were intimidated and terrified by these frightening levels of violence, and were afraid to challenge white racism.
As the political power of the Klan grew, Southern politicians often depended on its support, and were reluctant to challenge its power. The Klan even held a huge demonstration in the centre of Washington – the seat of American Government.
Why didn’t the Government do something?
Throughout the nation and especially in the Southern states there were millions of black Americans. The USA was a democracy. So why didn’t black citizens vote for change or petition the Government to intervene and defend them? Why didn’t the Government step in regardless?
The Southern states were very effective at limiting the political power of the black populations in their boundaries by making it difficult for them to register as voters. Quite often they demanded residential or educational qualifications that had to be met before black people were eligible to vote.
In addition, the Klan would intimidate blacks attempting to register as voters. Even though they formed the majority of the population in the states of Mississippi and Louisiana, they were not able to develop any effective political power of their own.
Also, in the 1920s the federal government was not particularly powerful or active. The general policy during the 1920s was to intervene as little as possible in the affairs of the individual states, which were largely left to get on with running things in their own way. The Republican administrations of the 1920s turned a blind eye towards racism and segregation in the South.
In the 1930s there was a major change in policy with the Roosevelt administrations. Under President Roosevelt the federal government intervened very actively indeed to attempt to deal with the social and economic problems of the Depression.
However, Roosevelt was a Democrat and so were most of the political leaders of the South. Roosevelt needed their support at elections so, although he was sympathetic to the problems facing black Americans, Roosevelt did not attempt to challenge segregation.
Political movements for black Americans
At this time there were some attempts by black Americans to work to try to improve their status in American society. However, there was no single, united movement or leader. Black political movements remained relatively weak and divided and were incapable of mounting an effective challenge to racism and segregation.
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
The first leader of the NAACP was W.E.B. Du Bois, who campaigned actively to improve the conditions of black Americans. Working strictly within the law, Du Bois and the NAACP drew attention to the difficulties facing black Americans in many areas, such as housing, education, jobs and voting rights. However, the NAACP’s campaigns had little success in bringing about real change.
Universal Negro Improvement Association
The UNIA was led by Marcus Garvey who delivered scathing criticisms of white racism and urged black Americans to assert themselves and their own identity. At one point Garvey urged black Americans to return to Africa. Garvey was convicted of fraud and deported from the USA in 1925.
Recognition of the injustices faced by black Americans during this period was almost as hard to come by as changes to the legislation.
The first significant laws to be passed to try and address the inequality of black Americans came in 1941 – some 76 years after slavery had been abolished. President Roosevelt established the Fair employment Practises Committee (F.E.P.C.)
American involvement in World War II from 1942 until 1945 focused attention away from the plight of the black population as Americans, both black and white, became involved in the war effort.
The fight for equality and an end to discrimination would continue afresh after the war ended.
Film: ‘The birth of a nation’ (DW Griffiths 1915)
Documentary on USA & Birth of a Nation
Lynching in USA
Better late than never! You would be stunned at the names of successful global corporations who used Nazi-Axis pows and other prisoners to work like ‘slaves’ during WW2? These businesses were treated very lightly by the victorious allies at the end of the war. Did you know that it was the British military who restored and got the VW complex in Wolfsberg working again at the end of the war!
Should the Royal Family restrospectively apologise for Nazi salutes?
Take a look at @GroupNHMG’s Tweet: https://twitter.com/GroupNHMG/status/620580109465071616?s=09
Take a look at @NarrativeEye’s Tweet: https://twitter.com/NarrativeEye/status/620517902245076992?s=09
Take a look at @MrAllsopHistory’s Tweet: https://twitter.com/MrAllsopHistory/status/620521633988546560?s=09