The Forgotten Century of Black U.S. History - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The Forgotten Century of Black U.S. History

The Forgotten Century of Black U.S. History

By Christina Greer

Vew of the interior of a classroom at the racially segregated Monroe Elementary School, Topeka, Kansas, March 1953.
SourceCarl Iwasaki/Getty

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because a lot of work got done between 1865 and 1965.

Christina Greer

Christina Greer

Christina Greer, Ph.D., an associate professor at Fordham University, is the producer and host of The Aftermath and The Counter on OZY, political editor at The Grio, the author of Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream, and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC. You can find her at @Dr_CMGreer on Twitter.

When discussing the history and contributions of African Americans in the United States, far too often there is a vague understanding of their legacy of in this country. Part of the failing comes from the U.S. education system, which has consistently provided a vague analysis of roughly 300 hundred years of chattel enslavement of Africans on American soil. In addition to a history that consists of “slaves” and “slaveholders,” the education system glosses over a full century of American struggle and progress that followed the end of the Civil War.

For many Americans, their understanding of the era following the end of the Civil War in 1865 often jumps from President Abraham Lincoln “freeing the slaves” and his relationship with African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, to 1960s president Lyndon B. Johnson and his relationship with civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But what occurred in the 100 years in between has had lasting effects on Black American advancement, race relations (or lack their of), issues pertaining to housing, education, public health, segregation and, realistically, almost every policy issue we continue to discuss today.

The process of Reconstruction began at the conclusion of the Civil War. During this period, African Americans were elected to statehouses in the South, historically Black colleges and universities and African American organizations were founded, and Blacks began moving to states throughout the newly reunified nation. The Reconstruction period exhibited great progress for Black Americans and was met with a harsh backlash by white Americans for decades to follow.

Protesters Against Lynching Marching in Parade

More than 3,000 African American protesters marched on the streets of Washington, carrying signs urging control and halting the lynching of Blacks in 1922.

Source Getty

In response to African American advancement, whereby Blacks founded towns, banks, schools, churches, small businesses, organizations and newspapers, whites notoriously burned down these institutions to intimidate and terrorize communities and exert white supremacist ideals. Oftentimes, Black Americans could not rely on local police departments for protection or even white clergy members, as many were part of the vigilante groups perpetuating the violence after-hours with groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

During this time, countless brave African Americans attempted to change their fate and become active participants of the electoral process. The 15th Amendment in 1865 granted Black men the right to vote, and the 19th Amendment in 1920 granted the same to (white) women. However, what was legally on the books was often not followed in practice, especially in the South. At the turn of the 20th century, African American freedoms and integration were rolled back and Jim Crow laws were implemented, making it illegal for Black Americans to attend certain schools, ride public transportation, use public facilities or integrate fully into American life. One of the ways to maintain these segregationist laws was to prevent African Americans from voting by implementing rules like literacy tests, poll taxes and grandfather clauses. These policies required African Americans to take tests with impossible questions (e.g., How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?), pay an extraordinary fee to be able to register to vote or prove that their grandfather had voted, a rule most descendants of enslaved people could not satisfy.

For those who were persistent during this period, whites often used lynching and rape as a tool to control and intimidate Black men and women. Lynchings were often a community affair in which women and children were brought to the public sphere to witness the lynching of a Black man. Souvenirs from the deceased were often collected and sold, pictures were taken, and postcards were made so whites could send them to their friends and family in other parts of the country. Lynchings were often carried out against leaders in the community who attempted to organize others to vote or participate in civil rights. Recent research has shown that economic and business leaders were often targeted in order to decrease the economic viability and strength of Black communities. At other times, random people were lynched for no reason at all.

Croix De Guerre

A group of African American soldiers returning home from Europe after World War I in 1918.

Source Getty

Those who tried to register to vote or mobilize others to do so often faced economic repercussions, such as losing a job or being blackballed from economic opportunities in the community. All of these negative responses and obstacles for Blacks attempting to exercise their constitutional rights worked against African American integration into the electoral space. It was not until 1965, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act, that African Americans were granted the full franchise. (For a little context, I was born just 13 years after the passage of this act.)

There were countless Black Americans during this period who marched, protested, wrote, dared to vote, published newspapers under threat of violence, preached sermons to educate and dared to integrate spaces and schools under the threat of severe violence or worse. The years between 1865 through 1965 were filled with horrific violence toward Black Americans, who, while no longer bound to chattel slavery, were definitely not integrated fully into American society. Thousands of African Americans served their country and fought in wars to liberate others while not being fully liberated themselves at home. Sadly, some were even lynched in their military uniforms upon returning home, while others were denied GI Bill benefits and the opportunities afforded to white veterans to purchase a home or attend a university.

It is imperative we take full stock of what has happened in this country before we can begin to move forward as a nation united. The 100 years of forgotten American history in textbooks erases so many American heroes who loved and fought and died for a nation that did not return a modicum of acknowledgment or acceptance. Every American should know this aspect of the nation’s history, because Black history is American history. There isn’t one without the other.

Christina Greer

Christina Greer

Christina Greer, Ph.D., an associate professor at Fordham University, is the producer and host of The Aftermath and The Counter on OZY, political editor at The Grio, the author of Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream, and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC. You can find her at @Dr_CMGreer on Twitter.

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