In my history lessons, I’ve been learning about your story and I think you are a role model. After the Supreme Court ruled that there should no longer be segregation in schools, you were one of the first African Americans to join an integrated school. On your first day of school some of the American people were really cruel to you, which I think is truly unacceptable. For example, when you arrived at William Franz Elementary school there was such a riot about you coming to the school that it prevented you from moving into the classroom until the second day. Also, after I read that every morning a woman would threaten to poison you, I felt really enraged! As well as this, I found out that, once, another woman put a black baby doll in a wooden coffin and protested with it outside the school. This revolted me! I think that it was terrible that your father lost his job and your grandparents were turned off their own land due to this. I feel so sorry for you since you had to go through all of this.
Jesse Owens was an American track and Field athlete and he also experienced horrible racism. He was incredibly talented and took part in the Olympics in Germany. This was in 1936 where Hitler’s Nazi Party used the event to publicise the theory of “Aryan” racial superiority. By the end of the Olympics Jesse Owens became the first American in the history of track and field to win four gold medals in a single Olympics, although Hitler didn’t even shake his hand or congratulate him! I feel that this was extremely ill-mannered and chauvinistic. However, Jesse Owens carried on going even though there was a lot of prejudice.
Another example, I noticed, was that he wasn’t allowed on the front of the bus and had to go through the back door or he couldn’t go to certain restaurants along with toilets and he couldn’t even live where he wanted. I think that because of Jesse Owens determination for sport, it helped prove that racist Americans were wrong. His triumph in sports has, in my opinion, reduced racism, as his victory shows that African-Americans are equally as talented as the Americans. I found that it wasn’t just Hitler, who had a huge problem with African-Americans after such a victory, years after this event the KKK made an oppressing appearance. This is when things started taking an even bigger downfall.
The KKK stands for the Ku Klux Klan. They were secret domestic militant organizations in the United States, generally in the southern states. They had a record of violence, terrorism and lynching to intimidate African Americans. The Ku Klux Klan was also formed to prevent freedom. White people in the south used to carry out lynching on black Americans not only to intimidate them but for dominance over them. Lynching is a hanging carried out by a mob, usually racially motivated. In my opinion, I think that lynching was such a cruel punishment and should have never been invented. An immeasurable amount of people also felt this way. In fact, we listened to a song by Billie Holiday called ‘strange fruit’. This was really fascinating because the lyrics were about lynching.
I think the actual strange fruit are the bodies of the African Americans who were hung during a lynching. The lyrics are very alarming. For example, ‘the sudden smell of burning flesh’ shows how the African American people were not only hung, but their flesh was burning, in my opinion, with blood. The lyrics, ‘Here is fruit for the crows to pluck, for the rain to gather, for the wind to suck, for the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,’ shows how the people are the fruit and how they are treated with a lack of respect and how they can rot away.
I felt really disheartened once I had analyzed these lyrics, not just because of the hatred towards them but that they had experienced such pain and grief. The KKK carried on with these violent methods. The increase in murders finally resulted in a repercussion among Southern leaders. The organization weakened from 1868 to 1870 and was destroyed by President Ulysses S. Grant’s prosecution and enforcement under the Civil Rights Act. The Act was originally passed a few years after the American Civil War, which was too, a huge event which we study in history currently.
The Civil rights act was intended to give African Americans the chance for a new and better life. Some people say that since the end of the Civil War in America black people have never really been ‘free’, and I agree with them because after the Civil war, some other laws were passed preventing the freedom of African Americans. It all started with the ‘Black codes’ which were laws approved of to reduce the civil rights of African Americans. After I found out about ‘Black codes’, I researched and found that during this period, there were signs posted in towns to keep blacks from mixing with the whites. These signs read “if black, stay black!” This really surprised me, especially as the civil rights act had been enforced. This is another reason why I think that the African Americans weren’t ever free after the Civil war.
A few years later, another set of laws, known as the ‘Jim Crow’ laws directly damaged the status of blacks by placing unfair boundaries on everything. Some examples were, voting rights to the segregation of public schools, public places and public transportation, the segregation of restrooms and restaurants for whites and blacks and even the segregation of water fountains. There were many changes concerning civil rights and black suffrage. Unfortunately, many laws were also passed, like the ‘Jim Crow’ laws which were passed between 1876 and 1965 and ‘Black Codes’ which were in progress between 1800 -1866, by the state legislation. African Americans carried on bearing this until there came a point where this was to aggravating to tolerate; that is when something needed to be done.
From the 1950’s onwards black people started to protest against the way they were treated. They did this through a number of ways. Some protests were done by songs called protest songs. For example Bob Dylan was one of the key figures of the 1960’s protest movement. Many soul singers of the time wrote and performed many protest songs which addressed the increasing demand for equal rights for African Americans during the American civil rights movement. Then there were other protests as well. The first protest started when Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up a seat on the bus to a white passenger.
This triggered the Montgomery bus boycott and protested, led by Martin Luther King (MLK); he had a large part to do with the power of blacks. He fought for their rights as citizens, like the right to education, voting and the right to travel through the country, without fear. He used a non-violent direct action protest. He was a very influential person and is noted as a human rights icon today. His efforts led to the March on Washington (1963) for Jobs and Freedom, where he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. He is most remembered for this speech. His speech was about his desire for a future where blacks and whites would exist pleasantly as equals. During Martin Luther’s time many individual blacks were very courageous and usually stood in groups rebelling against the racist laws. I think he is a great and well-respected person and the country is proud of him.
As you must have heard, fortunately someone has followed up Martin Luther King’s speech ‘I have a dream’, and his name is Barack Obama; the first African American president of the United States of America. In Martin Luther King’s speech he said : “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” He wanted everyone in USA to be equal, no matter their race, gender or age. Something that made Barack Obama follow up his speech was that he helped Martin Luther King’s dream come to life. After the election, most of the Americans were more drawn together and they allowed an African American man to be the president of the USA since they voted for him. This shows that America has turned more open-minded than before.
I believe that if it hadn’t been for you and all the people I’ve mentioned in my letter America would truly not be the same. It’s unbelievable what you had to put up through and therefore I think you are a hero. Some day, you may even look back on this time in your life and realize that you are a stronger, more confident person because of this.
Thank you for reading my letter and I hope that you have enjoyed it. I would love it if you were to reply with your opinions in relation to the things I’ve mentioned.