Race relations are getting worse around the world

Black America

Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson

Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson

To person

is professor for the history of the European-Transatlantic cultural area at the Philological-Historical Faculty Augsburg. Her main research interests are transatlantic relations, African American history and the history of religion. [email protected]

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his world-famous "I Have a Dream" speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The then 34-year-old leader of the black civil rights movement expressed his hope that the USA will one day grant its black citizens [1] full equality and that people of all races will live together peacefully and respectfully in the USA. King's resolute advocacy of racial equality, social justice and peace earned him a great deal of respect around the world. In the USA, however, he became more and more a figure of hatred by the political right and white supremacists. A white racist finally ambushed King 50 years ago, on April 4, 1968. But King's dream lived on and is still seen today as an incentive for many to work for a better, more tolerant and fairer society. [2] When Barack Obama was elected as the first African American President of the United States in 2008, many believed it was the beginning of a new era that heralded the imminent fulfillment of King's dream. [3] Has this hope come true?

The article provides an overview of developments since the 1960s and discusses the most important advances and deficits in relation to the political, social and economic situation of African Americans up to the present day. In order to be able to adequately appreciate the achievement of King and the black civil rights movement, it makes sense to remember in advance the situation of black Americans in the period before the Second World War.

Era of segregation

After the end of the American Civil War (1861–1865), constitutional amendments banned slavery throughout the United States and freed African Americans were granted full civil rights and the right to vote. Hardly, however, had the last northern troops reached the south at the end of the period reconstruction Abandoned in 1877, the southern white elite began to re-establish their rule over the black population through a sophisticated system of new laws. [4] These laws were known as the Jim Crow Laws [5] and were basically aimed at three things: first on the political incapacitation of the black population (for example through the targeted exclusion from the electoral roll), Secondly on the control of black workers (for example through laws that forbade any professional activity outside of agriculture or the servant sector) and third finally, segregation, that is, racial segregation, in all areas of public life.

The Jim Crow system was based on the fact that African-Americans were not viewed as equal citizens but as second-class people who had to keep their distance from the white "master race". Blacks had to sit in their own compartments in the back of the bus and on the train; Restaurants, cinemas, swimming pools and even drinking fountains were segregated, as were hospitals and schools. The facilities for whites were always better equipped than those for blacks. African Americans in the south were completely excluded from attending state universities, not only because most whites did not think they were intelligent enough to complete a university degree, but mainly because it was in the interests of the white rulers to encourage the black population as much as possible to maintain a low level of education.

The Jim Crow laws proved to be extremely effective for almost a century, especially since attempts by black people to resist were punished not only through criminal law but also through brutal terrorist measures by the Ku Klux Klan and other racist white organizations. Between 1877 and 1950, more than 3,900 African Americans were lynched by white mobs in the southern United States. [6]

Afro-Americans tried again and again to rebel against their oppression, but with relatively little success until the middle of the 20th century. With the Second World War, however, some important parameters changed: First increased through the participation of over a million African-American soldiers in the war who fought against Nazi racism in Europe and learned a life without legal segregation, their self-esteem and reluctance to continue to obey the Jim Crow laws. That is why many became involved in the civil rights movement after they returned home. Secondly the legal discrimination of black citizens in the south of the USA became an increasingly embarrassing and internationally known problem for the US government during the Cold War. Third In May 1954, the US Supreme Court declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional. As a result, a new era of black freedom struggle began in 1955.

The 382 day long successful bus boycott of Montgomery, Alabama, catapulted the young, charismatic Baptist pastor Martin Luther King Jr. to the top of the civil rights movement. He and other activists motivated hundreds of thousands to take part in demonstrations, boycotts, protest marches and many other actions. The high ideals, the willingness to make sacrifices, the courage and the steadfastness of these civil rights activists, of whom thousands of white racists were brutally mistreated and many were killed, finally moved the American government to give in. In the mid-1960s, a new era of legal equality for the Afro-American population finally began, which brought about many other positive changes.