The practice of slavery was owning a person or group of people and force them to do manual labor. This practice in America started in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. The first 19 slaves were seized and brought over on Spanish Slave ships by the Dutch. Slaves were physically abused during these times because the government allowed it. Slaves were usually branded by their plantation owners, so if they were to run away, people would recognize the brand on their body and return them to their plantation.
On larger plantations, slave owners employed overseers to manage and control the slaves’ behavior and productivity. The treatment of slaves on these plantations was very brutal and dehumanizing. Large plantations existed mostly in the southern parts of the United States, particularly in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. These plantations were hidden by trees, so slave owners brutal mistreatment of slaves was easily kept from the public eye. . On smaller plantations, located in the northern part of the United States, like in New York, and Philadelphia slave owners worked with their slaves and treated them with a bit more human dignity.
This was greatly due to plantations being more public and out in the open. Northern slave owners were more conscious of how they treated their slaves for fear of backlash from other surrounding citizens.the process of buying and selling slaves was brutal in itself. These African families were taken from their homelands, brought to a foreign country, to then be torn apart from one another with little to no chance to ever see each other again.
Slave owners were from many parts of the country and many times would only purchase individuals from families. For example, for a family brought to America from Nigeria the father may be sold to work on a plantation in Louisiana, the mother sold to work on a plantation in Massachusetts, and if the children were too young to work, they may have been killed because they had no monetary value. This would be the experience of African slaves for 400 years, until the 16th President of the United States changed the law. The Emancipation Proclamation signed by President by Abraham Lincoln in January 1st, 1863, declared all slaves in the states that had seceded from the Union were now free However, black people were still not technically “free”. While they were no longer forced to live and work as slaves on plantations, White people created a social economic system that made it virtually impossible for Blacks to create or live successful lives. This would be the African American experience for more than a hundred years. It will take events such as the heinous killing of Emmett Till, racial segregation, and later the killing of Martin Luther King before blacks would start to be seen and treated as equals to white Americans.
Post slavery, slaves had the opportunity to leave the plantations and Masters behind to start new lives as free people. However, many chose to stay on the plantation due to having no place in mind to venture off to, or fear of being murdered for the thought of running away. The life of African American people was tragic since they were outnumbered by white people who sought out to show their dominance through violence, ostracization, and public humiliation. For example, segregation in schools, jobs, and stores. White people made sure blacks felt inferior and afraid. They achieved this by suppressing the lives of black people in very violent and exaggerated ways, such as forming racial hate groups like the KKK, lynch mobs, and burning all black churches. Rarely were blacks given the opportunity to be an iconic figure, and if one were on their way to become a hero to blacks, that person was executed, giving blacks no hope of succeeding in life. The experience of African-Americans was proof that even though by law slavery had ended and blacks were “free”, white people still controlled and enslaved their lives.
Blacks were limited with opportunity to make money and become educated. Being black in the south made it impossible to hide from who you were because you stood out from white people. This made it very easy to deny black people jobs and access to money. Thus, making money was a struggle for them especially in finding jobs and getting money to start businesses . Blacks had to go back and work on farms to make their income, not overpowered labor, but labor like tending to crops, animals, etc. Once their money was made, houses were able to be bought, and money for the family was brought in more and more. Usually the father of the household was the one doing all of the work while the wife of the family tended to the kids. African American kids during this time period didn’t have the luxury of getting a great education like the white kids did. They were sent to run down all black schools that didn’t have enough money to be able to provide for the kids to get good books, clothing, etc. The life of Frederick Douglass, one of the most well known black historical figures, is a great example of how educational opportunities had always differed for white and black children. Frederick Douglass was born in 1817, during the time of slavery. He was unable to read or write until the age of 12 when his slave master’s wife, decided to teach him. Unfortunately, once his slave master became aware of these lessons, the lessons ended. To continue his passion for reading and writing, Douglass would make daily trips to go digging through trash cans to find newspapers that he can read. Another tactic he used to get books or learn how to read was going in white neighborhoods and playing games and making bets with the kids that lived there. If Frederick won in their game, his prize would be their books that they owned. Frederick won these games every time and was able to increase the number of books he owned and the number of new words he learned. The most important word that he would come to learn was “abolitionist”, which he discovered on a newspaper he found as he was digging through a trash can. He fell in love with this new word and what it meant for his life and other the lives of other slaves. This is what drove Frederick to pursue his dream of becoming a slave-abolitionist, fighting for the freedom of slaves. In Baltimore of 1838, he borrowed the identification papers of an African American sailor, By passing himself off as the sailor, he was able to escape to New York. He adopted the name Douglass and married a free African American woman from the South. Douglass made his living off of doing manual labor, and he quickly became involved in the antislavery movement that helped in gaining strength in the North. In 1841, at an abolitionist meeting in Nantucket, Massachusetts, he gave a speech about his experiences as a slave and was hired by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society to give lectures. Douglass’ speeches were well thought out and inspired those who heard him. His active role in changing the lives of black people is one that President Abraham Lincoln was aware of and impressed by. The influence Frederick Douglass would later have in supporting The Emancipation Proclamation proves the difference that being educated made for the lives of black people. Just as they did during the time that Frederick Douglass lived, ,white people took away the livelihood of blacks.
Because slavery mostly originated in the south and even after slaves were set free, most remained in this part of the country; Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, etc. segregation played a huge part in the lives of black people. Towns were racially divided. Blacks living conditions were worse off than whites. They established what is known as the “Jim Crow” laws that kept black people’s access to resources, at the lowest level. Tactics like these ensured that blacks would have little to no chance of success as a people. Black people couldn’t ride busses, (main source of transportation) so they, despite the weather, had to walk long miles to get to work, and walk those same long miles back to get back home. White people trapped blacks in the position they were in, at the lowest level, ever since slavery was abolished. Therefore, freedom still wasn’t considered “free.” The many restrictions on where blacks could go, what they could do, and who they could be, in their everyday lives became the price they paid for their “freedom.” For instance, during the Jim Crow era, that lasted from c. 1870 until 1965, if a black person was found in an all-white establishment, there were extreme consequences, like going to prison, being beaten, or in some instances even killed. There was, however, one freedom that black people had, and that was the freedom to practice any religion they chose. This was one of a few legal rights that white people allowed. Blacks would gather together, praise the Lord, sing hymns, and eat together. Worshipping God was their way of getting away from the pain and suffering caused by the racist white people in the areas they lived in.
By the early 1900s, blacks had been continually getting more involved with white people, but hate groups still existed, lynchings were still going on, as well as other terrible incidents. However, at this time blacks were able to ride on busses, but were only allowed to sit in the back, while the whites sat in the front. This form of racial inequality would create the environment for one of the most historical turn of events in black history, the Montgomery bus boycott. The Montgomery bus boycott happened after a woman by the name of Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man. When she continued to refuse to move the Police were called and she was arrested. Parks was involved with many Civil Rights organizations and became the first woman to join the Montgomery NAACP . Her arrest gained a lot of attention in the black community and resulted in the Montgomery Alabama bus boycott that lasted a year from December 5, 1955 to December 20, 1956 which cost the city a lot of money. . This event marked the beginning of things shifting and becoming better for black people.
As time continued to move forward and society began to progress, black people were getting closer and closer to having equal rights in society, but there were still many white people who were against blacks having equal rights. The desegregation of schools and public establishments was not a welcomed change and as a result white people would riot, beat, and kill blacks in order to maintain their dominance in society. The story of Emmett Till is a great example of this. Emmett Till was a 14 year old boy born in Chicago, Illinois who went down to Mississippi to visit his uncle over the summer. “One evening, his friends dared Till to enter a store and ask the white woman inside, Carolyn Bryant, for a date. Till entered the store, squeezed Bryant’s hand, grabbed her around the waist, and propositioned her. When she fled and returned with a gun, he wolf-whistled at her before being hurried away by his friends. On August 28, 1955, Carolyn Bryant’s husband, Roy, and his half-brother, J. W. Milam, abducted Till from his uncle’s home, brutally beat him, shot him in the head, lynched him, and then dumped his naked body in the Tallahatchie River. Till’s mangled and decomposed body was found three days later, and his uncle named both men as the assailants. Bryant and Milam were tried for murder.” Till’s death caused a huge uprising in African American communities across the United States and sparked strong Civil Rights movements in Mississippi. Nonetheless, more than 60 years later, Carolyn Bryant confessed to lying about the case of Emmett Till, saying he never assaulted her. This shows how easy it was to kill black people for things they didn’t do. As more incidents like this continued to happen and be publicized, African American voices started to be heard. Slowly but surely, more people in society became open and willing to treat blacks fairly.
Prior to the Civil Rights movement, there was a major racial shift in professional sports. A man by the name of Jackie Robinson has been credited as having the greatest impact on blacks in sports. “Jackie Robinson was born in Georgia, the youngest of five children of sharecropper farmers Jerry and Mallie Robinson. He was raised in Pasadena, California, where the Robinson family confronted the West Coast variety of American racism. White neighbors tried to drive the family out of their home; segregation reigned in public and private facilities” . Robinson became an outstanding athlete at UCLA in 1940 and became known as “Jim Thorpe of his race” . After he was removed from the army in 1944, Robinson signed to play with the Kansas City Monarchs of the NAL (Negro American League). After several months of discontent in the Jim Crow league, Robinson was approached by Branch Rickey, coach of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and offered him the opportunity to become “the first black player in major league baseball since the 1890s.” Over the next 10 years of his career, Robinson was one of the most dominant players in the history of the major leagues. “In 1949 he batted .342 and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award. During his ten years with the Dodgers the team won six pennants and one World Championship. By his retirement in 1956, Robinson had compiled a .311 lifetime batting average. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1961.”
Historically, The Civil Rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is credited with having the most impact on black people obtaining equal rights and their personal freedoms. Martin Luther King, Jr., was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. He attended Atlanta public schools. Following graduation from Morehouse College in 1948, King entered Crozer Theological Seminary, having been ordained the previous year into the ministry of the National Baptist Church. He graduated from Crozer in 1951 and received his doctorate in theology from Boston University in 1955.” Dr. MLK was very active in the NAACP. He was the one who called together a meeting to talk about Rosa Parks being arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man. He was the one who came up with the idea of boycotting all bus systems, and later became a hero overnight. The segregation of busses were prohibited and some black people were allowed as bus drivers. But this isn’t the end of MLK’s journey of turning his dream into a reality. “On January 1957, approximately sixty black ministers assembled in Atlanta to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to continue the civil rights fight. King was elected president. A few months later he met Vice President Richard Nixon at the celebration of Ghanaian independence in Accra. A year Later. King and three other black civil rights leaders were received by President Dwight Eisenhower.” In the end, the meeting still did not work. Racial issues were still occurring in the community. The year 1963 was eventful in the struggle for civil rights. In June, MLK alongside 125,000 people , marched in a ‘Freedom Walk’ in Detroit. On August 27, over 250,000 black and white citizens assembled in Washington, D.C., for a mass civil rights rally, where King delivered his famous ‘Let Freedom Ring’ address. MLK and his group of protested marched to the segregated cities of St. Augustine, Florida and were attacked by white residents that lived there A few weeks later the 1964 Civil Rights Bill was signed by President Lyndon Johnson. MLK and thousands of his followers gathered around the Lincoln Memorial to give his “I have a Dream” speech. His speech was very moving and struck the hearts of many white people who were treating the lives of black people less than their own. In March, MLK went to Memphis, Tennessee to go on another march. The march ended in a riot when blacks began to break windows, loot, and burn stores. Police were quick to the scene and retaliation was bloody. In Memphis on April 3, King addressed a rally, letting people know that he was aware of people speaking of threats on his life, but he urged followers to continue the nonviolent struggle no matter what happened to him.
“The next evening, as King stood on an outside balcony at the Lorraine Hotel, he was struck by a rifle bullet. He was pronounced dead at 7 pm. in a Memphis hospital.” “In December 1999, a four-acre site near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, was approved as the location for a monument to King. The site was near the place where King delivered his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in 1963. The monument would be the first to honor an individual black American in the National Mall area. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was completed in 2011. The stone monument featured King standing resolutely inside the memorial’s base.” MLK had left the biggest impact on black people, but getting what he was willing to die for, liberty and justice for all.
To this day, black people may be experiencing some racial inequalities, but without these historical figures and leaders that changed history forever, they wouldn’t be where they are today. I can say blacks today have the rights to do what generations before could only imagine doing. In conclusion, black people were not “free” until the people we know as major historical black leaders took their opportunity to fight for what they wanted and received it in the end. A freedom that has only been in existence for 54 years.