After the American Civil War, millions of formerly enslaved African Americans hoped to join the larger society as full and equal citizens. For these formerly enslaved people, the abolition meant freedom. For them, freedom meant an end to whipping, to long hours in the corn or cotton fields, to the sale and separation of family members, and to white masters. The promise of freedom offered a glimmer of hope for achieving acknowledgment, integration to society, self-determination, educational opportunities, and full rights of citizenship. But the road to freedom was not smooth. There are hurdles and obstacles along the way which they needed move beyond in order to experience the freedom they envisioned.
After the abolition of slavery, three Constitutional amendments were passed to grant newly freed African Americans legal status: the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, the Fourteenth provided citizenship, and the Fifteenth guaranteed the right to vote. Although some white Americans welcomed them, others used people’s ignorance, racism, and self-interest to sustain and spread racial divisions. In the 1900s, new laws and old customs in the North and the South had created a segregated society that condemned Americans of color to second-class citizenship. African Americans or blacks were separated from whites by law and by private action in transportation, public accommodations, recreational facilities, prisons, armed forces, and schools in both Northern and Southern states. The Whites Only or the White and Colored signage in establishments and public transportations became a grim reminder of the segregated past of America. In 1896 the Supreme Court authorized legal separation of the races by its ruling in H.A. Plessy v. J.H. Ferguson, which held that separate but equal facilities did not violate the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.
The “separate but equal doctrine” doctrine and way of living stayed for a significant number of years, more than 50 years before it was overturned by the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. But the changes in the lives of African Americans were slow to be realized. Services were still poor and voting right restrictions were still limiting to the lives of African Americans a few years after the major victory of the Brown case. Political and social empowerment was not widely felt by African Americans until ten years later, when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 came into place.
Fast forward to our current year, 2017. Political bodies have declared the United States as entering the “post-racial era” but the problems about race and segregation still remain in different parts of the country. Ferguson, Baltimore and Chicago have come to surface in our recent history due to racial issues and racially-charged events that took place in these cities. The common denominator these three cities have? They, like many other American cities remain very segregated.
Although racial segregation is not as apparent today as in the early 1900s, there are other forms of segregation that still exist in our communities today. One of these is socioeconomic segregation. Socioeconomic segregation is closely linked to racial segregation – if you’re an African American, you’re more likely than a Caucasian American to live in an area of concentrated poverty. This is not a simple matter of choice but mostly a result of the design and machination by the American government’s housing authority in the past decades.
Mr Castro, who sits in the president’s cabinet, said one way his department will ensure areas of poverty aren’t ignored is by giving towns and cities access to demographic data, so they can plan housing better.
There are still key challenges that remain several decades onward from the civil rights movement. Today there are still many black (African Americans) and white (Caucasians) Americans simply don’t mix. Also, the problem of housing and real estate among blacks and whites are part of the issues the US government need to contend with. In our own little ways, we can start by understanding and getting to know each other better in our effort to fix the problems about race and segregation.