American History
Segregation and Civil Rights

*What were some ways Southern African-Americans lost their rights in the late 1800s?  (black codes, labour contracts, poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, terrorism, poverty as sharecroppers)

*What did Plessy v. Ferguson declare?  (separate but equal)

*Some African Americans tried to change things.  Booker T. Washington founded the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.  His goal was to educate African-Americans in trades so that they could gain economic independence—only then could they seek political and civil rights.  Read the quote from his Atlanta Exposition Address on page 186.

*W.E.B. Du Bois, an African-American from Massachusetts with a Ph.D. from Harvard (who did not have to face the oppression of blacks in the South, although he did face discrimination in the North) criticised Booker T. Washington for going along with political discrimination.  He said African-Americans should demand full equality immediately and that it was the duty of the nation as a whole to make sure they got it.

*Ida B. Wells was one of those African-Americans who spoke out against discrimination.  She was born in Mississippi but moved to Memphis as an adult.  After friends of hers were attacked by a mob in 1892 she began to write about lynching (killing (usually by hanging)) in the South (although it occurred in many parts of the North as well).  Eventually she was run out of Memphis by people who got tired of her criticism, and lynching continued to be a problem in the United States for decades, and efforts to specifically outlaw lynching (as a crime separate from murder or manslaughter) were not undertaken by Congress until 1918, and then were blocked by Southern senators.  About 5,000 African-Americans were lynched between 1890 and 1960.

*In 1905, W.E.B. Du Bois and other African-Americans who wanted full civil rights right away met at Niagara Falls (on the Canadian side, because no hotel on the New York side would let them stay there). 

*They called themselves the Niagara Movement.  Their primary attitude was that Booker T. Washington’s plan of gradual process was degrading, slow, and essentially a sell-out, as Washington compromised with whites by not asking for too much equality—Du Bois said that Washington’s approach could ‘create workers, but it cannot make men.’  (Washington, though, thought it was easy for Du Bois to take this attitude, as he had not grown up under slavery nor did he have to live with the daily pressures and prejudices of the South).  Furthermore, only a few hundred people joined the Niagara Movement, and on its own it never accomplished much.  However, it was one of the inspirations for one of the most important groups to work for African-American rights.

*In 1908, a white mob in Springfield, Illinois tried to break into a jail to lynch two black men (who were safely removed by the Sherriff with the help of a local white restaurant owner, whose restaurant was soon burnt down in the race riot that followed and killed seven people).  That such a thing could happen in Abraham Lincoln’s home town horrified the Niagara Movement and white reformers, too.

*In 1909, white and black reformers formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, meant to help African-Americans get better jobs, better education, equal rights, and an end to racial insults.  They used the courts to try to get better treatment, and very slowly (over the course of 60 years or more) this approach achieved success.

*The NAACP mostly focused on the middle class, but in 1911 black workers in big cities formed the Urban League to focus on their needs.  It helped poor African-Americans buy clothes, send their children to school, and find jobs.  Both the NAACP and the Urban League are still active.

*Other groups tried to win more rights and better treatment as well.  Jewish Americans formed the Anti-Defamation League in 1913 to protect Jews from violence (which was once a problem—not only blacks, but also Jews, were attacked in the 1908 Springfield Race Riot), discrimination, and racial slurs (some of which are still common).

*Asian-Americans also had little success in protecting their rights in California.  In 1913, California passed a law allowing only American citizens to own land.  Because Asian immigrants could not become citizens, many Chinese and Japanese lost their land, unless they could put it in their children’s names (because having been born in America, their children were American citizens).  Efforts for Asian-Americans to gain the right to become citizens were blocked by the US Supreme Court in 1922.

*Mexican-Americans also tried to form groups to promote their rights, but most of those formed in the early 1900s did not last long.  Their land was sometimes seized in the Southwest and many Mexican-Americans were required to sign long-term labour contracts much like those forced on African-Americans in the South.  In 1911 the Supreme Court outlawed these contracts. 

*Furthermore, Mexican-Americans Octaviano Larrazolo was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, but lived most of his life in New Mexico and served one term as governor there (but was not nominated for a second term because of his support for women’s suffrage).  At the age of 70, was elected to the US Senate—the first Hispanic-American to serve in that body—although he died only 6 months into his term.

*American Indians also formed groups to demand more rights, but the groups they formed in the early 1900s did not last long, either.  By 1924, though, the Indian Citizenship Act finally gave American Indians the right to be considered citizens and vote in national elections (although they were still often prevented from voting in local and state elections).




This page last updated 1 September, 2009.