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Omar H. Ali

In the decades following Reconstruction, African Americans continued to push for an expansion of their democratic rights, despite facing increasing political marginalization and economic hardship. Growing debt, low commodity prices, and low wages kept most African Americans dependent upon large landowners. By the late 1870s most former slaves had become sharecroppers, indebted to local landlords and merchants on whom they relied for supplies, credit, and land on which to farm. Even though many black men and women had secured land after Emancipation, this usually consisted of small plots—making it difficult for them to compete with cash crops in a global marketplace. Brazil, Egypt, and India for instance, had become major cotton-producing nations, pulling down prices and requiring farmers in the Cotton Belt to grow ever larger harvests in order to make a profit.

The collapse of Reconstruction in the late 1870s came with the reassertion of the Democratic Party in ...


Kate Tuttle

Although residential segregation is often considered one of the more harmful effects of racism in the United States, some African Americans in the nineteenth century chose to form their own racially separate communities. Unlike the ghettos and rural enclaves where many blacks were forced to live at the time, black towns were established to promote economic independence, self-government, and social equality for African Americans. More than eighty such towns were settled in the fifty years following the Civil War.

A few, such as New Philadelphia, Illinois, were formed even before the Civil War, but it was not until after Emancipation in the United States that the population of free blacks was large enough to supply settlers for the new towns. The first great wave of black migration began as Reconstruction ended in 1877 When federal troops withdrew from the South many blacks feared that the civil and political ...


Barbara C. Behan

For three centuries, Americans of African descent have at times sought to establish communities where they could live in partial or complete isolation from the dominant culture. Settlements of formerly enslaved African Americans existed on the East Coast after the Revolutionary War. All-black settlements also developed among the Seminole Nation in Florida as early as the eighteenth century. As the nation industrialized, segregated company towns also were built in various locations.

The phrase “all-black towns” usually refers to the period of self-segregation and town-building that began after Reconstruction and continued into the early twentieth century. Historians estimate that at least seventy-five to one hundred all-black towns were founded during this time, mainly in the South and the West.


Alonford James Robinson

South African human rights activist Bishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu once said, “Politics is the art of the possible.” But for much of U.S. history, blacks were shut out of political life. Before the American Civil War, when most African Americans were enslaved, blacks were legally prohibited from voting and from holding political office, and were punished for participating in public protest. Political participation by blacks did not become legal until the Reconstruction period and passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1870, giving black men the right to vote. Even then, black suffrage was weakened by officially sanctioned racial discrimination.

During Reconstruction, sixteen African Americans were elected to Congress and over 600 to state legislatures. But by 1877 many newly granted political rights were being rescinded by state officials; black political representation declined so sharply that by 1900 only one black member remained in ...


James Sellman

The Democratic Party, formed in the late 1820s, is the world's oldest existing political party. Together with the Republican Party, which appeared during the 1850s, it makes up the American two-party system. In many respects, the two parties have reversed nineteenth-century positions, and African Americans, who strongly identified as Republicans through the 1920s, have become equally firm since the 1940s in their commitment to the Democrats.

During the nineteenth century virtually no African Americans supported the Democratic Party The Democrats were opposed to a strong central government to reform measures and to blacks During the antebellum era the party drew much of its strength from white Southerners who staunchly defended the institution of slavery and feared that free blacks would incite slave rebellions In any case no slaves and few free blacks had the right to vote The main sources of Democratic strength in the North were Midwesterners born ...


Robert Fay

Freedmen's Hospital was founded in 1862 to serve former slaves and Union soldiers in the Civil War (1861–1865). At that time—and, indeed, until the Civil Rights Movement—many hospitals and medical colleges were segregated, leaving black patients with few health care options and aspiring black physicians and nurses with limited choice about where to study and practice medicine. The Freedmen's Hospital, however, not only provided service to poor whites and blacks in Washington, D.C., but through its close association with Howard University's Medical College (the two joined in 1868 to form a teaching hospital), it came to offer medical training to African Americans.

Part of the hospital's mission was to provide medical care to the indigent despite inadequate federal funding—the hospital was prohibited from admitting paying patients until 1912 During its history administrators worked amid a deteriorating physical plant and outdated equipment and the hospital ...


Eric Bennett

The gospel-quartet style developed during Reconstruction when the musical traditions of jubilee singing, shape-note singing, and blackface Minstrelsy conflated. Late-nineteenth-century gospel quartets were primarily a casual, amateur phenomenon, frequently characterized by family groups performing at special events such as picnics, celebrations, and church services. Though repertoires often centered on Spirituals and hymns, secular selections were not uncommon. Early quartets usually performed a cappella (without instrumental accompaniment) and often created original approaches to harmony and counterpoint.

By the turn of the century the form was popular and well established. Soon, hubs of expertise began to develop in the South, particularly around Norfolk, Virginia, and Birmingham, Alabama The best groups gained regional renown and in the 1920s and 1930s quartet singing assumed a commercial side when groups such as the Famous Blue Jay Singers and the Golden Gate Quartet went professional The former sang in the animated style of Pentecostal congregations ...


Samuel Brenner

Between the late nineteenth century and the beginning of the twenty first century African Americans interacted with judges and the judiciary on two major levels first as objects of legal decisionmaking whether as lawyers parties or uninvolved citizens notably in cases involving civil rights and second as members of the judiciary making those decisions The later history of the first level is ironic while the federal courts led the way in the mid twentieth century in dismantling the system of Jim Crow legalized segregation the only reason it was the judiciary rather than the federal legislature that needed to do so was that in the late nineteenth century the U S Supreme Court had acted specifically to thwart Congress s probable attempt to accomplish the same goal decades earlier On the second level while at the beginning of the twenty first century the total number of African American judges remained ...


The original Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was organized in Pulaski, Tennessee, during the winter of 1865–1866, by six former Confederate Army officers. The group's founders gave the group a name adapted from the Greek word kuklos, meaning “circle.” Although the Ku Klux Klan began as a fraternal organization, its activities soon were directed against the Republican Reconstruction governments and their leaders, both black and white, who came to power in the Southern states after the Civil War.


Charles Orson Cook

Little Rock is strategically located near the geographic center of Arkansas, where it serves as the political and commercial capital of the state. The city is also on a geographic dividing line between the agricultural regions of the east and south and the hills and mountains of the west and north. In antebellum Arkansas, Little Rock was the home of a significant population of slaves, many of whom were skilled workers, and after the Civil War, the city continued to attract African American residents as the center of Reconstruction government. The total population of the city increased from barely three thousand in 1860 to near twelve thousand by 1870, and by 1880 there were approximately twenty-five thousand total residents. Railroad expansion in the late nineteenth century and federal government spending during World War I continued to encourage urban and industrial development there.


Eric Bennett

The historian Roy Lubove describes early industrial Pittsburgh as “the ‘Smokey City,’ America's classic coketown … frequently compared to hell … an economic rather than civic entity.” Indeed, by the turn of the twentieth century, belching smokestacks and polluted waterways encroached on Pittsburgh's river-valley beauty. African Americans, however, had little hand in the desecration. From Pittsburgh's settlement, around 1760, until World War II blacks found few opportunities in the town's industries.

Despite the poverty that plagued African Americans in Pittsburgh until the American Civil War, their numbers grew from 1,000 to 20,000 during Reconstruction Flocks of migrants arrived from Virginia to work in Pittsburgh s factories but few newcomers found well paying jobs White employers excluded blacks from Pittsburgh s thriving iron and glass industries and most of the blacks settled for unskilled domestic work Even when World War I occasioned a large demand for industrial labor ...


The African American intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois once wrote that “[t]he slave went free; stood for a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.” Indeed, in the century between emancipation and such Civil Rights Movement victories as the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act of 1965, several factors conspired to keep former slaves in an inferior position in American society. Disfranchisement, discriminatory Jim Crow laws, segregated schools, and Lynching reinforced the political, legal, educational, and social inequality that African Americans faced. But the picture of racial injustice would not be complete without including economic factors—ranging from official and unofficial job discrimination to exclusion from white Labor Unions—that kept African Americans separate and unequal.

Chief among these unequal financial arrangements for rural Southern blacks was sharecropping Although the details varied throughout time and place sharecropping was and is in the ...

Primary Source

As founder of the Martin Luther King Jr Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta Georgia Coretta Scott King 1927 2006 continued working for the cause of human rights for a generation after her husband s death In addition to her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement King was also a supporter of the cause of gay rights In 1983 she publicly supported the Gay and Civil Rights Act which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation That same year while planning the anniversary of the March on Washington King resisted some of the homophobic voices among her civil rights allies and encouraged the active participation of gay speakers at the event Her advocacy work continued throughout the AIDS crisis of the 1980s as well as the political and legal debates that dragged on throughout the rest of her life On 28 June 1996 the Atlanta Gay Pride Festival ...


Douglas Henry Daniels

Black urbanites have played a vital role in the nation's cities since colonial times. As runaway slaves fled the South, they sought refuge in northern as well as southern cities, taking advantage of the anonymity that typified urban settings. After Emancipation in 1865, and increasingly after Reconstruction, this trend continued. The first mass migration of blacks to northern and midwestern cities—New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Saint Louis, and Chicago—took place during World War I. With World War II, thousands of black migrants moved to Pacific Slope cities—Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle—as well as to the older urban areas of the North and the Midwest.

In the second half of the twentieth century black southerners and also some northern urbanites occupied the mushrooming cities of the South Houston Dallas Memphis Atlanta and Richmond Unlike their northern counterparts black urbanites in the South moved into what was largely new construction In ...