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In What Ways did the Rights and Opportunities of Black Citizens in Different Parts of the USA Vary at the End of the Second World War

After their independence from slavery in 1865 African Americans remained one of the most prominent ethnic minority groups in America. It was the end of the Civil War, however, and the Southern Confederate States had lost. This was the beginning of a growing resentment that caused the continent to be divided almost completely, due only to the colour of the people’s skin. It began after the Civil Rights Act of 1866, where it was declared that all persons born in the US were now citizens, regardless to race, colour or previous condition. Two more amendments were passed that gave equal protection to all persons under the law and also stated that a citizen could not be prevented from voting due to his colour or race. Yet despite these legal changes, not much was actually done to help black people and as they lacked money and resources, many blacks found themselves forced into contracts with their previous masters. This became known as ‘sharecropping’ and by the 1930s, up to 75% of African-Americans were working on cotton plantations, for very little money, in the rural areas of the Southern states. But around this time, the Northern cities, such as Chicago, were expanding and industrialising so many blacks were moving northwards to take advantage of new employment opportunities. This was called the Great Migration, however, due to the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the subsequent plunge into Depression, African-Americans found it difficult to begin a new life under the racial tensions and discrimination. It wasn’t until the Second World War, which began in 1941, that black Americans finally had an opportunity to see a better way of life. And yet, in 1945 when the war was won, black rights were very different all over the country. While some had possibilities of education, employment and happiness others were striving purely to live above poverty and all this occurred with deep racial tensions running the breadth of the nation.A key element to the difference in opportunities and rights for black Americans came in the varying forms of segregation all over the country. (Although normally strictly imposed, during the Second World War, the Government found it necessary to desegregate many parts of the Armed service for more efficient combat, such as the Navy and in the front line. This gave a blacks a real taste of what freedom could be like for them.) Many states passed legislature that discriminated against black people, these were known as Jim Crow Laws and consisted of the separation of blacks from whites in many areas of society such as at the theatre and at schools. The south enforced these rules religiously and firmly punished any Negro who didn’t know their place.And yet although segregation happened in the North, it was much more a mutual agreement and it was respected that blacks had their own communities which cropped up parallel to the whites. There was much more freedom for black people to own their own businesses and go to local pubs and clubs whereas the southern African-American population was far too poor to do much than work several hours a day, often being tricked by their bosses into losing money. Of course living in the North wasn’t instantly an equal life for all. Many African-Americans were still victimized and stuggled to get by on poor wages. But the North still seemed a far better way of life for them and many continued to travel up in search of it.The segregation started after a white-skinned black American sat in a carriage reserved for white passengers only. His name was Plessy and he was arrested after refusing to move. He appealed his conviction to the Louisiana Supreme Court yet failed so attempted again at the Supreme Court of the US. In 1896 it was decided that ‘separate but equal’ was not a breach of the 14th amendment and the Plessy Vs Ferguson case became the starting point of American segregation. Obviously the black facilities were not equal to those reserved for whites which included water fountains, parks, sport facilities, prisons, transport and cemeteries. This racist separation continued right up until almost the end of the 20th century as hatred still brewed amongst white Americans about the rights of blacks. In 1945, however, segregation was still going strong in the South and opportunities for equality were still extremely frail as shown by the average total spent on each child in school, $179 for every white child and $43 for every black child.Black teachers were also paid half as much as white teachers. This led to enforced racism as black and white Americans were exposed to eachother in unequal statuses. It was also significant as it began a growing determination in African Americans to make their lives better which is why membership to the biggest pressure group for their advancement, grew from 50,000 to 450,000 in 1945. The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) was set up in 1909 to improve the lives of black people in America. It funded court cases and set up demonstrations. Another reason for the steep increase in membership may have been because blacks became as determined to stamp out racism in America as much as they had stamped out fascism in Germany.Due to the differences in segregation laws, both the north and South provided opposing job opportunities for blacks which led to a migration northwards. After the war, sharecropping was still a major part of African-American lives in the rural areas of the South. The poor pay limited the conditions of the workers lives and many lived in small wooden shacks on the land they were expected to work on everyday. Often working from an extremely young age, children didn’t tend to get an education which led to many illiterate adults in the years to come. These adults could then be easily tricked by their landowners into paying out more that they should as they couldn’t understand the paperwork. Sharecropping was backbreaking work and even more so in the burning heat of the sun. However, in the north, there was an increasing amount of lawyers, teachers and politicians emerging from the African-American scene. Obviously still a tiny proportion of the black community yet enough to show that their was hope for the them yet.The reason that blacks in the north had better chances for success is not because the north wasn’t racist, unfortunately blacks faced discrimination almost everywhere in America, but because there was a mutual tolerance that suggested as long as Negroes worked hard and behaved well, they could be left alone. Due to black pressure and general modernisation of the country, small employment improvements started to be made. Black people were employed in aircraft industries for the first time and the current President, Roosevelt, set up the Federal Agency to promote employment equality within the defence industries. To have the Government getting involved was a major achievement in the Civil Rights Movement.Employment was not the only thing beginning to flourish for black Americans, their culture and music was breaking barriers and raising morale for the common man. Jazz clubs in the north buzzed with loud music, dancing and happiness. Blacks celebrating their victory against Germany and the victory they knew they could achieve against racism, the double V. Black music was different to anything America had heard before as it had soul. You could hear the suffering that these people had endured in their voices alone as well as the optimism they had for the future. Using mostly saxophones, clarinets and trombones, African-Americans created an art form to be proud of.After the threat of war people had become more laid back, more ready to let their hair down or the music was used to commemorate those lost to war. Yet in the South, blacks found it difficult to get time for music in the same way. Instead they would sing their blues while they worked. Often an almost wailing quality to their voices, workers would sing for hours to pass the day away. They went to secret locations called Duke Joints where they would meet, as far away from white people as possible, sing, dance and drink homemade alcohol. But it was a much more underground affair. However, it was still a great morale boost for blacks even though their chances to sing varied throughout America.The most important variation in black rights after the end of the war, should come however, from the political and legal differences. In 1944 black political rights increased because of the case of Smith and Allright. The exclusion of blacks from primaries (election of candidates for governmental positions) was considered unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and black voters increased in the South from 3% to 12%. Some black people were even elected for state legislature though of course not in the south. Nevertheless as black rights increased, so did opposition. Many white politicians were strongly against black government officials and politics very rarely got involved with any cases of racism from the country. (As proven with the murder of Emmet Till almost 10 years later where the Government never intervened). This is confirmation that black rights were very different to the opportunities that existed in practise as black Americans were supposed to be protected by the Government under the 15th amendment yet not surprisingly, they weren’t. This happened with many supposed ‘rights’ that blacks were given.To see the social, cultural and political diversity in the different parts of America is really to view the rights that blacks were theoretically given. According to passed laws and various evidence, it seems that living in the North was a far better way of life for black Americans and that it would welcome home black soldiers whereas the South was extremely racist and almost Neanderthal in their views. Yet in real life the differences were quite small between the two areas. Racism still brewed, race riots still took place if black people began to be treated fairly and the Ku Klux Klan still occasionally lynched no matter where you were. If an African-American made it to a high position, they would still face stiff opposition and would never receive the respect deserved. Although the standard of living for blacks may have been slightly higher in the north, none were yet receiving the rights or opportunities that every person warrants and it was years afterwards that they finally began making progress.

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