• Ana Savković

African-American History: History of Opression/The Struggle Continues

Updated: Feb 11


Civil rights march on Washington, D.C.

Source: Unsplash, downloaded https://unsplash.com/photos/WzPxmB_tRlw (07.07.2020.)


"Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice." Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


The history of the black population in the United States is a history of slavery, persecution, shackles, lynching, slums, ghettos, poverty, oppression, and social and racial inequality. Where is the root of the problem and the explanation for this tragic inequality which still exists today? To understand the present one must know the past because often the answers to burning questions lie in the very beginnings.


"Korijen leži duboko u socijalnim i privrednim prilikama koje su vladale u prošlosti ove zemlje...." [The root lies deep in the social and economic circumstances that have prevailed in the past of this country....] (Crna Odiseja, transl. A. Savković)


Four hundred years have passed since the first enslaved Africans were transported to Jamestown, Virginia in August 1619 to be traded. And although slavery officially ended with the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865, after the end of the American Civil War, the struggle for the existence and equality of the black population continued. The legacy of the slave system and the mentality of Southerners combined with the introduction of control through a series of laws known as the Black Codes, adopted after the American Civil War and designed to restrict liberated blacks and ensure their availability as labor, allowed further entrenched practices of violation of basic human rights of the black population in America.


"Jug je veliki križ koji crnci moraju nositi." [The South is a great cross that blacks must carry.] (Crna Odiseja, transl. A. Savković)


In 1865, the Ku Klux Klan was founded, in an effort to prevent liberated blacks from equating themselves with whites and to ensure white supremacy and eradicate the possibility of equal coexistence of black and white populations. Clan members wore distinctive white hoods, burned crosses, intimidated, tortured and lynched blacks and this monstrous practice remained common in the South until the 1930s.


"Uzor rasne diskriminacije preuzet je iz sveopćeg uvjerenja da crnci nemaju ona prava i dostojanstvo, koje bijelci moraju poštovati," [The pattern of racial discrimination is taken from the general belief that blacks do not have the rights and dignity that whites must respect,] (Crna Odiseja, transl. A. Savković)


This was followed by Jim Crow laws that imposed racial segregation in the Southern United States and had their roots in the Black Codes. Separate schools for blacks and whites, separation in railway cars, restaurants, theaters, hotels, barbershops, ban on entering public parks as well as ban on living in white neighborhoods, ban on mixed marriage... The laws were designed to marginalize blacks by denying them the right to vote, education, the ability to keep jobs and other opportunities. The penalty for violating these laws was fines, imprisonment and often resulted in violence and death. Jim Crow laws were enforced until 1965, until the Civil Rights Movement ended institutional early segregation and discrimination.


"Kamen po kamen gradili su bijelci rasnu pregradu, koju su crnci poslije jednog stoljeća počeli rušiti kamen po kamen." [Stone by stone, whites built a racial barrier, which blacks began to tear down stone by stone after a century.] (Crna Odiseja, transl. A. Savković)


In 1909, the human rights organization NAACP or the National Association for Advancement of Colored People was founded, and the goals of the organization included the abolition of segregation, as well as equal education for blacks and whites. One of the founders was a Harvard-educated historian (the first African-American at Harvard to earn a doctorate), a civil rights activist, writer, and sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois, who became a leading voice in the growing black protest movement during the first half of the 20th century. Du Bois emphasized the importance of higher education for African Americans. From 1910 to 1934, he edited NAACP’s official journal The Crisis, publishing many leading voices in African American literature and politics and helping to encourage the spread of the Harlem Renaissance; artistic and cultural movement that emerged in the 1920s and which marked a new literary era in America when writers of African American descent finally got their platform (Read more about Harlem Renaissance: https://www.zvonainari.hr/single-post/2018/10/12/weekly-zingers-harlem-renesansa).


“Call them from their houses, and teach them to dream.” Jean Toomer, Cane

A series of events led to the Civil Rights Movement. The brutal murder of fourteen-year-old boy Emmett Till in 1955 that shook the African-American community was a crucial turning point in the fight for equality. The cruelty of Till’s death, and the fact that his killers were eventually acquitted, served as a catalyst for the American Civil Rights Movement. In 1960, the prominent African-American poet Gwendolyn Brooks (read more about Brooks: https://www.zvonainari.hr/post/2019/06/07/weekly-zingers-she-thinks-of-heaven) wrote a poem from the perspective of Emmett's mother, who, after seeing her son’s mutilated body, demanded that the coffin be opened to let the public know the truth about the horror of his death, but also to point to the countless murders of black men and women who went unnoticed and unpunished. Brooks also wrote the song from the perspective of twenty-one-year-old store owner Carolyn Bryant who accused 14-year-old Emmett Till of trying to seduce her which ultimately resulted in her husband and his half-brother kidnapping Emmett and after days of torture, shooting the boy and throwing his body into the river. Interestingly, Dr. Martin Luther King's guest at the church on Dexter Avenue, one of the leaders of the civil rights movement, T.R.M. Howard, spoke about Till's murder, and Rosa Parks was in the audience at the time and said it was Emmet Till who was in her mind when in 1955 she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. After her arrest, a bus boycott began in Montgomery, and Martin Luther King played a key role in the boycott.


"Spas crnca nalazi se u njegovim vlastitim rukama... Najbolje oružje za borbu protiv segregacije i diskriminacije je uspjeh." [The salvation of the black man is in his own hands... The best weapon to combat segregation and discrimination is success.] (Crna Odiseja, transl. A. Savković)


Martin Luther King Junior (read more about dr. King: https://www.zvonainari.hr/post/2019/12/13/weekly-zingers-the-dream-that-didnt-die-the-yearning-for-freedom) was one of the biggest leaders for the rights of the American black population. Dr. King was a talented orator and civil rights activist best known for promoting civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience. He was one of the leaders and organizers of the March on Washington for Business and Freedom, on August 28, 1963, and at that march he delivered his famous speech “I Have a Dream” in front of 250,000 people. The march was a significant factor in the passage of the 1964 paragraph of the Civil Rights Act prohibiting racial discrimination, and ending racial segregation in schools, workplaces and public places, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibiting racial discrimination. when voting. On April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated on the balcony of a room at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee.


“Hold fast to your dreams, for without them life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.” Langston Hughes, Montage of a Dream Deferred


Another important historical figure during the Civil Rights Movement and human rights activist, Malcolm X (read more about Malcolm X: https://www.zvonainari.hr/single-post/weekly-zingers-trough-the-jungle-of-life---raise-your-voice), advocated a more radical approach to solving the problem of discrimination and oppression and opposed King's peaceful approach. Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965. After his death, the best-selling Autobiography of Malcolm X popularized his ideas and laid the foundation for the Black Power Movement in the late 1960s and 1970s. Malcolm also influenced African-American poet and playwright Amiri Barak (read more about Barak: https://www.zvonainari.hr/post/2019/10/04/weekly-zingers-not-so-tender-arrivals) whose song Black Art, written after the assassination of Malcolm X, became the main poetic manifesto of the Black Arts Movement, which was active during the 1960s and 1970s and sought to convey a message of black pride through art and activism.


"We want a black poem. And a

Black World.

Let the world be a Black Poem

And Let All Black People Speak This Poem

Silently

Or LOUD"


The fight against oppression resumed in the following decades as the black community continued to witness discrimination, oppression and unequal treatment. La Riots in 1992 were fueled by riots and civil unrest sparked by the release of four police officers who were filmed using excessive force in the arrest of unarmed African-American Rodney King. Security footage also recorded the murder of 15-year-old African-American Latasha Harlins, who was fatally shot dead by Soon Ja Du, a 51-year-old store owner, on March 16, 1991, for a $ 1.79 bottle of orange juice. Although the jury recommended a sentence of sixteen years, Judge Joyce Karlin sentenced Du to time served, five years of probation, 400 hours of community service, $ 500 of restitution, and funeral expenses. The death of Latasha Harlins, which occurred thirteen days after the footage of the brutal arrest of Rodney King, and the subsequent verdict and failed appeal, are believed to have contributed to the 1992 riots in Los Angeles.


"Crnci vuku žig ropstva sve do dana današnjeg... Dosad još nije riješen problem, koji je bilo stvorilo ropstvo, a glavni razlog leži u tome što se bijelci sa Sjevera i Juga ne mogu odlučiti da prihvate crnce kao potpune ljude i da ih postave za građane prvoga reda. Zbog toga danas crnci reagiraju na izopćenje i predrasude sviješću skupine. Kod crnaca se razvio nov rasni osjećaj i odanost , koji ruši klasne granice zajednice i često ih povezuju sa svim obojenim ljudima na svijetu." [Blacks bear the mark of slavery to this day... So far, the problem created by slavery has not been solved, and the main reason lies in the fact that whites from the North and South cannot decide to accept blacks as complete people and set them up for first-class citizens. That is why blacks today react to excommunication and prejudice with group consciousness. Blacks have developed a new racial sense and loyalty, which breaks down the class boundaries of the community and often connects them to all colored people in the world.] (Crna Odiseja, transl. A. Savković)


The list only increased with time and 2020 was no different. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, the murder of George Floyd whose "I can’t breath" was identical to those of Eric Garner in 2014 in New York, and both men died due to excessive use of force by police officers who ignored their cries. The protests against racial injustice that followed were reminiscent of La Riots in 1992 and these and similar tragic events showed how deeply rooted racism actually is in the United States. Black Odyssey: The Story of the Negro in America is a book that deals in-depth with the history of blacks in America, and one of the details from the book shows how things have not changed much on the racial issue in America. Soviet writer, journalist and historian Ilya Ehrenburg (1891-1967) toured the United States after the war and was stunned by racism in America, arguing that racism had a legal basis in the United States, a conclusion that became more and more prevalent over time. justified.


"Moglo bi se reći da riječ crnac izražava duševni stav." [It could be said that the word black expresses a mental attitude.] (Crna Odiseja, transl. A. Savković)


From the moment they arrived on that coast until today, it seems as if the blacks have never been stripped of their shackles. Slavery, persecution, oppression, unequal opportunities, abolition of basic human rights, and why? Because of the absurd belief that the world was created solely for the white man, who by birth acquires the right of supremacy over other races. It is a problem that is deeply rooted in society and goes far back in time. It is as if racial equality, and equality in general, is a kind of riddle that humanity can never solve. But despite their suffering and pain, black men and women continue to persevere, from the very beginnings of this painful odyssey until today, their struggle continues and their strength lies in their unbreakable spirit, because like the famous African-American poet Maya Angelou (more about Maya Angelou: https: // www.zvonainari.hr/post/2019/11/01/weekly-zingers-naslje%C4%91e-bola-pjesme-slobode) in her famous song Still I Rise wrote: "Out of the huts of history’s shame / I rise / Up from a past that’s rooted in pain / I rise." A možda će jednog dana napokon moći i prodisati.


"We shall overcome. We shall overcome. Deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome. And I believe it because somehow the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Sources:


1. Crna Odiseja (Ottley,R. (1961.) Crna Odiseja, prev. M. Matišić, B. Kroflin, Zagreb: Novinarsko izdavačko poduzeće).


2. History.com Editors, Black History Milestones: Timeline, HISTORY, URL: https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-history-milestones

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