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A Comprehensive Analysis of Literature Pieces Regarding Racism in The USA

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Words: 1599 |

Pages: 4|

8 min read

Published: Dec 12, 2018

Words: 1599|Pages: 4|8 min read

Published: Dec 12, 2018

The mid-20th century was a crucial time period for African Americans. They had been freed from slavery but, were still looked down upon by whites as inferior. Everywhere, public places of all kinds had “colored” and “white” sections. Some blacks in the South were even kept from voting through the intimidation tactics of the Ku Klux Klan. The civil rights movement began to emerge as blacks were no longer willing to keep silent about the way they were being treated. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus and sit-ins occurred all over the country in protest of this so-called “separate but equal” segregation. In the midst of this upheaval, it is easy to focus on the outcome of the civil rights movement and forget about the people behind it. I will be looking at three articles that all provide different pieces to the puzzle of the mindset of African Americans during this turbulent time.

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First, Thomas J. Sugrue, in his article Northern Lights: The Black Freedom Struggle Outside the South, explores the world of racial segregation in the northern United States. When talking about the black struggle for equality, most people think of lynching and the Ku Klux Klan in the South. Rarely does segregation in the North come to mind.

Sugrue points out that racial segregation in the North was in fact just as severe as it was in the South, though northern blacks retained the right to vote. “Public” places like swimming pools, movie theaters, and amusement parks were often closed to black people or set restrictions on when they could come. Whereas the South had lynching, the North had race rioting. African Americans were also discriminated against in the workplace, often forced into unskilled jobs if they could find jobs at all. Really, segregation was just as prominent in the North as it was in the South; possibly not as violent but, just as emotionally scarring.

When I was younger, I was taught the opposite of Sugrue’s argument: that the North was a safe haven for blacks, especially towards the end of slavery. Even at the time, northerners “saw the discrimination as distinctly southern and paid little heed to the inequalities in their own communities.” After reading his article, I now know that segregation propagated all over the country and that life was no picnic for African Americans anywhere. The way to apply this article today would be to educate people and make them aware that Northerners were not white knights, shielding blacks from the oppression of the South. In fact, they were just as guilty as Southerners of discriminating against their fellow men, though in a less conspicuous way. I would encourage more people read Sugrue’s article and learn the truth about segregation in the North.

In The Many Meanings of Watts: Black Power, Wattstax, and the Carceral State, Donna Murch discusses two seemingly contradictory outcomes of the activity in Watts, California. First, she analyzes the black rebellion and response to it by law enforcement which she believes led to the formation of a “carceral” state. By “carceral” state, Murch means overarching and over-militarized local and federal law enforcement. She points out how many white policemen likened the rebellion to the Vietnam War, trying to justify their violent treatment of black protestors.

What started out as routine beatings and harassment by police turned into the use of heavy machinery like helicopters and tanks by S.W.A.T. teams. In contrast, Murch also looks at the movie, Wattstax, about the music festival in Watts that commemorated the rebellion seven years later. The movie depicts a sense of community among the African Americans there found during the rebellion that led to the peak of Black Power in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

The black community came together during the festival (called Wattstax after the music company hosting the event) with a sense of pride. They celebrated their African heritage by wearing traditional African garments and listened to music by some of the people who had witnessed the rebellion. Even in the grimmest moments of violent police harassment, the black community did not lose heart.

Before reading Murch’s article, I had never heard of the Watts rebellion or Wattstax, though I knew that rebellions against segregation did occur. The most interesting idea that Murch brings up is that of the rise of a carceral state. If an excessively violent state emerged in response to the civil rights movement as Murch suggests, it would certainly help explain the growing tolerance of violence in current culture. Many television shows and video games that children today grow up with are full of violence and it is only becoming more acceptable.

While Murch tells of the harsh treatment black people faced in Watts, the most important thing to take away from the article is that the heart of the African Americans would not be lost. The interspersed scenes of police brutality in Wattstax, as Murch says, highlight “the power and elegance of Black culture that endured, and even thrived, in the face of oppression and state violence.” The black people of Watts banded together and celebrated their heritage despite the adversity they had faced. In the midst of today’s increasing numbers of murders, rapes, and violent crimes, the United States should, like the African American community in Watts in the 1970’s, return to its beginnings as a country founded on Biblical principles.

Finally, the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” written by the head of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., is a first-hand account of segregation in the South. King writes to address several clergymen who are condemning him for his use of non-violent action in an effort to gain civil rights. King roots his position in God, saying that segregation goes against God’s moral law. If a law goes against God’s, King argues that no one should be forced to comply with it. King tries to make the clergymen understand where the people of Birmingham, Alabama are coming from and what the effects of segregation really are. The most compelling example he gives is that of a father and his young daughter:

“…when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people.”

King refuses to stand aside while African Americans are subjected to this unique form of torture. Whereas violent demonstrations would lead to chaos and no action at all would suggest amenability, King chooses an alternative to combat segregation: non-violent protests. To defend his method of action, he uses several Biblical examples of non-violent protest (like the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) and patriotic ones (like the Boston Tea Party) as well. King closes saying that “One day the South will recognize its real heroes,” those who stood in protest against discrimination. King argues that racial discrimination is wrong because it goes against God’s law and says that the best way to beat it is through non-violent protests.

I believe that, of the three articles, King’s letter is the most impactful and relatable. He makes his movement not about the faceless “black community” but, tells the stories of specific people with human feelings and reactions. He also puts God on his side of the argument at a time when religion was still an integral part of society. I would not say that the letter particularly changed my view of history, as I was taught how serious segregation was.

However, it has given me some profound personal insight into the minds of African Americans during the civil rights movement. With King’s descriptions, I can to some extent know their thoughts and feelings in response suffering the likes of which I have never experienced. I can also get into the mind of King and see his rationales and beliefs behind his decisions. This is a very useful tool in studying history. The “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is not only telling of the feelings of the black community at the time but, also those of King himself.

Murch’s and Sugrue’s articles and King’s letter all discuss the lives of African Americans before and during the civil rights movement. Murch argues that the Watts rebellion had two contradictory outcomes: the emergence of an over-militarized state and the fostering of unity and pride among the black community. Sugrue looks into the reality of segregation in the North.

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He says that while blacks in the North retained the right to vote, life was really no better for them there than in the South. In his letter to the clergymen, King defends his position that segregation is wrong and that non-violent protesting is the best way to combat its evil. By piecing these thoughts together, the conclusion can be made that while blacks were treated harshly all over the country, they did not become discouraged. They banded together, fought for their civil rights, and won, conquering the hateful and oppressive white man. Taken together, these three articles give a fuller picture of the lives of African Americans of the 1960’s and 70’s in the midst of their battle for justice.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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A Comprehensive Analysis of Literature Pieces. (2018, December 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 25, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-comprehensive-analysis-of-literature-pieces-regarding-racism-in-the-usa/
“A Comprehensive Analysis of Literature Pieces.” GradesFixer, 11 Dec. 2018, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-comprehensive-analysis-of-literature-pieces-regarding-racism-in-the-usa/
A Comprehensive Analysis of Literature Pieces. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-comprehensive-analysis-of-literature-pieces-regarding-racism-in-the-usa/> [Accessed 25 May 2024].
A Comprehensive Analysis of Literature Pieces [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Dec 11 [cited 2024 May 25]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-comprehensive-analysis-of-literature-pieces-regarding-racism-in-the-usa/
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