HIS 205 Final Paper

Final Paper

HIS 205: United States History I

Final Paper

The discovery of the New World provided Europeans with the opportunity to create a new life and civilization. For some it was the chance to become wealthy and prosperous, while for others it was to freely practice their own religion. America evolved into a free prosperous society where every settler could start a new life. For African Americans, the experience was quite the contrary. While the American Constitution and Bill of Rights gave the people of America the opportunity to prosper and live freely, African Americans endured a life of slavery and hardships from its inception after the American Revolution well beyond the Civil War.

1607-1781, Colonial to the Revolution War

To understand the role the African Americans played in the earliest parts of the colonial period of America, one should look at how they were first perceived by the Europeans upon exploring Africa. The Europeans were fascinated yet appalled by the African Americans and their culture. To the Europeans, the African people, with their dark skin and lack of clothing except to cover their private areas were seen as uncivilized. As stated by Jordan (2012) “It was important, if incalculably so, that the English discovery of black Africans came at a time when the excepted standard of ideal beauty was a fair complexion of rose and white. Negros not only failed to fit this ideal but seemed the very picture of perverse negation” (p.6). The physical perception of the Africans and the uncivilized nature compared to the European’s created a lasting societal hierarchy.

The second thing to consider is the position the colonists were in upon first settling in America. Many settlers in the southern colonies were given large sections of land, but with no work force to produce crops. For those Englishmen that lacked the financial means to buy passage to the New World, they became indentured servants and they signed labor contracts to work on the plantations. For the plantation owner, this became a costly issue and as soon as the indentured servant’s contract was finished, they became free.

Reflecting upon this it appears purchasing African slaves became a necessity for survival for the plantation owners. They were isolated in the New World without a labor force to help them prosper. Unlike indentured servants who had contracts and were paid wages and land plots, slaves were cheap and because they weren’t under a contract, they could work on the plantations their entire lives. Although the English settlers weren’t accustomed to slavery in the Old World, it became a necessity that ultimately became a dependence (Fields, n.d.).

1865-1877, Reconstruction

The end of the American Civil War, referred to as the Reconstruction period, was supposed be a new era of abolished slavery and equal rights to African Americans. The Thirteenth Amendment was established which ended slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed African Americans the rights of citizenship, and the Fifteenth Amendment gave African Americans the right to vote. Unfortunately, this new vision although now part of the constitution was far from reality. As stated by Amirita (2018) “After the civil war, forces such as governmental policy, the Ku Klux Klan, and threats by employers deprived African Americans of new civil and political rights, while forces such as the new sharecropping labor system, racist hiring habits, the black codes, and the Ku Klux Klan, kept African Americans economically disenfranchised” (p. 66).

The African-American women faced their own hardships after the Civil War as well. Many of them were faced with a lack of protection, food, and shelter for their children, leaving them dependent on their former owners who in many cases ridiculed, beat, and raped them. Although in a limited capacity, the federal government did attempt to provide assistance to the newly freed woman slaves in the south. In 1865 the government created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands to deal with the dangers and challenges former slaves faced after the war. The Bureau provided a small police force, helped build homes and schools, and supplied food (Denkler, 2014).

Reflecting on this it appears the Reconstruction period was supposed to be the time where African Americans could truly be “of the people” – with the same rights and liberties outlined in the constitution as other Americans. The reality is the southern plantation owners found other ways to keep them enslaved and restricted. It was especially hard for African American women who had to find the means to support their children as well.

References

Amrita, J. (2018). The Change in Status of African Americans During Post-Civil War. https://arcabc.ca/islandora/object/lc:4402/datastream/PDF/download

Denkler, A. (2014). African-American Women in Reconstruction in the Shenandoah Valley. Retrieved from http://nuevomundo.revues.org/66627

Fields, B. (n.d.). Slavery, Race and Ideology in the United States of America. Retrieved from http://mobile.www.studythepast.com/4333_spring12/materials/fields%20slavery%20race%20and%20ideology.pdf.

Jordan, W. D., & Omohundro Institute of Early American History &, C. (2012). White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812. Chapel Hill: Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press.

Primary Sources from the Transatlantic Slave Trade (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.lew-port.com/cms/lib/NY19000328/Centricity/Domain/135/Primary%20Sources%20Slave%20Trade.pdf