The First African American March was 103 years ago…#201

After the Civil War, there was a system called Black codes, they limited the freedom of the African Americans.   Though the Union freed some 4 million slaves, the question of freed blacks’ status was still unresolved. In 1865, Lincoln proposed limiting the right to vote for African Americans that shocked many; however, his assassination days later changed the course of history.  His successor Andrew Johnson would be the one to preside over the beginning of Reconstruction.  Johnson’s Reconstruction policies were that the Confederate states were required to uphold the abolition of slavery.

The states and their ruling class that traditionally dominated were white planters and they were given a relatively free hand in rebuilding their own governments.  Former slaves fought to assert their independence and gain economic self-sufficiency during the earliest years of Reconstruction.  White landowners acted to control the labor force through a system similar to the one that had existed during slavery. They were still burdened by the color of their skin.

Mississippi and South Carolina enacted the first Black codes. Mississippi’s law required blacks to have written evidence of employment for the coming year each January; if they left before the end of the contract, they would be forced to forfeit earlier wages and were subject to arrest. In South Carolina, a law prohibited blacks from holding any occupation other than farmer or servant unless they paid an annual tax of $10 to $100.

Under Johnson’s Reconstruction, nearly all the southern states would enact their own Black. While the codes granted certain freedoms to African Americans including the right to buy and own property, marry, make contracts their primary purpose was to restrict African American labor and activity.  Anyone who broke labor contracts were subject to arrest, beating and forced labor. 

After passing the Civil Rights Act (over Johnson’s veto), Republicans in Congress effectively took control of Reconstruction. The Reconstruction Act of 1867 required southern states to ratify the 14th Amendment which granted “equal protection” of the Constitution to former slaves and enact universal male voting before they could rejoin the Union.  Still limits, males only could vote!  

After the Civil War and the Reconstruction era, white supremacy was largely restored across the South in the 1870s, and the segregationist policies known as “Jim Crow” soon became the law of the land. In 1877, when the last federal soldiers left the South and Reconstruction ended, African Americans had seen little improvement in their economic and social status.     Discrimination would continue in America with the rise of Jim Crow laws, but would inspire the Civil Rights Movement to come.

The Great Migration was the relocation of more than 6 million African Americans from the South to the cities of the North, Midwest and West in 1916.  Driven from their homes by unsatisfactory economic opportunities and harsh segregationist laws, many African Americans headed north, where they took advantage of the need for industrial workers that arose during the First World War. During the Great Migration, African Americans began to build a new place for themselves in public life, actively confronting racial prejudice as well as economic, political and social challenges to create a Black urban culture.

The Ku Klux Klan had been officially dissolved in 1869, however, the KKK continued underground after that, and intimidation, and violence even lynching of black southerners were not uncommon practices in the Jim Crow South.  With war production kicking into high gear, recruiters persuade African Americans to come north, to the dismay of white Southerners.

On Saturday, July 28, 1917, a group of between 8,000 and 10,000 African American men, women and children began marching through the streets of Manhattan in what became one of the first civil rights protests in American history 103 years ago. 

In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal provided more federal support to African Americans than at any time since Reconstruction. Even so, New Deal legislation and policies continued to allow considerable discrimination. During the mid-thirties, the NAACP launched a legal campaign against inequalities in public education. By 1936, the majority of black voters had abandoned their historic allegiance to the Republican Party and joined with labor unions, farmers, progressives, and ethnic minorities in assuring President Roosevelt’s landslide re-election. The election played a significant role in shifting the balance of power in the Democratic Party from its Southern block of white conservatives towards this new coalition.

In addition, the fight continues today…

EAJM

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