The Long Journey Toward Integration
The Long Journey Toward Integration
Included in this section are the following entries with the primary source documents listed below in italics.
African Americans and the Law
Adapted from essays by Kimberly Goff-Crews
Excerpt from the Denmark Vesey Trial Record
Chief Justice Roger Taney's Majority Decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford
The Ruling in Plessyv. Fergusonand Justice John Marshall Harlan's Dissent
The Education of African Americans
Adapted from essays by Allison Epstein
Miss Prudence Crandall and the Canterbury School
Excerpts from Brownv. Board of Educationand Bollingv. Sharpe
The Ongoing Effort for Inclusion in the Military
Adapted from essays by Barbara Savage, University of Pennsylvania
Executive Order 8802
Desegregation and the Peace-time Draft
Dwight Johnson: "From Dakto to Detroit: Death of a Troubled Hero" by Jon Nordheimer
The beginning of the twentieth century was a particularly harsh period in the history of African Americans in the United States. Between "black codes" and Jim Crow in the South and the absence of legitimate financial opportunity in the northern cities, African Americans were caught in a vise of poverty and illiteracy. To a great extent the first quarter of the twentieth century was the most pronounced and infamous period for public whippings and lynchings, and a sizable portion of the enduring stereotypes and racist imagery that Americans spent the better part of the twentieth century dealing with had their origins in this period.
As the nation moved into the post-Civil War era, the debate over racial equality and discrimination moved into the court of law. If we seek to paint the legal story in broad strokes, there are essentially two cases that formed the legal and by extension the social attitudes toward race at the beginning of the twentieth century. In the decade preceding the Civil War, the courts ruled on the Dred Scott case, stating explicitly that blacks were never intended to be citizens of the United States and that they in effect had no rights that whites were bound to respect; perhaps even more to the point, the courts ruled that persons of African descent might be kept in slavery for their own benefit. While this ruling was undone by the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Constitutional Amendments following the Civil War, the remainder of the century played out under the specter of the black codes and Jim Crow. The next legal blow, however, was even more sweeping in its implications. Homer Plessy, a biracial African American who could pass for white, brought a suit, argued that segregation violated the Fourteenth Amendment and that it treated him as an inferior following ejection from the "whites only" section of a train car and his subsequent arrest. In 1896, in the infamous case ofPlessy v. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the amendment was designed to create "equality" but not to "abolish distinctions based on color. "It was this ruling that perpetuated the norms of racial inequality and gave legal support to local governments—primarily in the South, but in the North as well—as they went about instituting the segregated society that would become the direct target of the peaceful demonstrations of the Civil Rights movement of the late 1950s and 1960s.
Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson, however, indicate more than just the increasing legal machinations of the local and federal establishments in regard to the rights of African Americans. The nation was entering new territory. During the process of modernization and the Industrial Revolution, Americans of European descent were being thrown into contact—and asked to interact—with peoples they had previously expected only to control. The early 1900s were marked with a sort of desperation and fear exhibited by the vicious enforcement of laws and social contructs designed to keep African Americans in positions of educational, social, financial, and even religious inferiority. All these circumstances helped "white America" to maintain a superior self-image that was subsequently challenged by every advance made by African American communities as they worked toward becoming fully involved in American society.ﾀﾀ