Let’s relive the Black history

Musings from Chicago

The unprecedented development shown by the U.S. in all spheres over the last couple of centuries has failed to cover up for the evident divide in its society between the blacks and the non-black community. As the nation moves forward donning the hat of the world leader, it must also pay attention to the racial disparity at its home turf.

Celebrated predominantly in USA, Canada and the UK, the ‘African American History Month’ is an annual month long period in February that spreads across a number of events, with each one celebrating the rich heritage of blacks. African slaves were brought to North America for the first time in the beginning of the 17th century by English colonists. The past four centuries have witnessed a number of hard fought battles between the Blacks and non-Blacks which also saw the emergence of some of the greatest American leaders of all times, including Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. The year 1863 saw the first major step towards abolition of slavery when Abraham Lincoln, the erstwhile U.S. president, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Passed in the form of a Presidential order, the proclamation declared that all the slaves belonging to the ten states, which had seceded from the Union and were a part of the rebellion, were free with immediate effect. Although it was aimed to abolish slavery, it fell short of granting basic rights such as citizenship to the now-freed slaves.

Soon after the proclamation, the Reconstruction Era followed. With the economy and social life of the Southern states entirely ruined after the Civil War, Lincoln was presented with an enormous task of getting the Southern United States back to its feet. Post the completion of the Civil War, the next decade brought a number of positive changes to the life of African Americans as a part of the Reconstruction phase. Among the most significant contributions of the Reconstruction Era was the right to vote, given to the black males for the first time. It also recognized them as ‘equals’ under the constitution. Just when things started to go upside, a number of racial discriminatory laws started to spur out in the United States in the 1890s. Amidst the growing discontent, the Supreme Court, in 1896, came up with a verdict that changed the course of history forever. The apex court gave a ‘separate but equal’ doctrine which paved way for ‘racial segregation’ at public places and facilities across the country. This decision of the Supreme Court gave propulsion to a number of segregated laws for the blacks and whites along with the establishment of separate public infrastructure for the blacks, including schools.

With the discontent growing among the African American youth against ongoing racial discrimination, and a huge migration of blacks from the undeveloped Southern part of the U.S. towards the urban developed northern part of the country, a face off became inevitable. This gradually led to the famous Civil Right Movement in the 1950s which sought to end racial segregation in the country. The movement paved the way for some of the most dynamic leaders of their times, including Martin Luther King Jr., to take the centre stage. Known as one of the greatest orators in the history of the world, Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech was heard and cheered by over 250,000 people present at the Lincoln Memorial. A staunch believer in the principle of non-violence, he was able to bring the teachings and tactics of Mahatma Gandhi into the Civil Rights Movement.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 came as a breather to the black population in the United States. The provisions of this act prohibited discrimination in employment, public accommodations and labour unions. With the Civil Rights Movement officially coming to an end in 1968, the blacks found themselves in a much better state as compared to the whites, socially and economically.

Although a lot has changed since then, the US still has a long way to go if it aims to bring the blacks to an equal footing. African American communities in the USA continue to face some unique challenges: lower levels of educational attainment, higher rates of unemployment, violence and high levels of incarcerations, drug abuse and broken families. Consequently, social and health indices for the blacks are also poor (for example, higher number of cases of obesity, diabetes and hypertension). Prejudice and bias against blacks is prevalent. It is common to see blacks living in segregated residential areas. On the outside, USA has turned the page on its history of racial discrimination. The world’s oldest democracy currently has its first ever African American President in Barack Obama. But the ground reality is far from rosy. With incidents such as the shooting of Michael Brown making news every now and then, USA’s claims of a ‘just’ society would always be questioned.

The author is a Chicago-based columnist. Email ID: Pedia333$gmail.com Twitter@drMunishRaizada

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