From slavery to equality - the development of black people in the USA


Pre-University Paper 2012 21 Pages

English - Applied Geography


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. History of the Afro-American slavery
2.1 Its beginning and the situation of the African slaves
2.2 The abolishment of slavery

3.Literary example of the situation of black people in the 20th century - "Beale Street Blues"
3.1 Description of the main characters
3.2 The political and social situation of the characters
3.3 Their way out of the problems

4. Political measures against discrimination
4.1 Civil-rights activists and their political speeches
a) Martin Luther King
b) Malcolm X
4.2 Political events

5. Today's situation
5.1 Obama's view of today's situation
5.2 Is there still discrimination in the USA?

6. Concluding remark

7. List of literature

8. Attachment

1. Introduction

20th January 2009 - The whole world was looking at the USA. For the Americans, especially for the black minority of them, this day was supposed to be a special one, a kind of turning point in the American history. After the presidential elections in 2008, Barack Obama has been sworn to the president of the United States of America. The specialty about him is that he is the first Afro-American president of the USA. As it was an "event" that has astonished people all over the world1, it is one of the reasons why I would like to write a theory paper about it. It also makes me ask myself the following question: "How is it possible that someone, whose minority has been used as slaves or has been discriminated by white people in the past, becomes the mightiest man of that country?". From this it follows another question: "Who or what has led to it?". These central questions shall attend the entire paper. As you can grasp from the title, I am going to point out the development from slavery to equality in America. This development should be reflected chapter by chapter. Because of the complexity of my topic, it is difficult to write just a 10-page-paper about it and that means I have to limit my work. Therefore, in order to answer the central questions, I subdivide my theory paper into four chapters:

The first chapter deals with the history of the Afro-American slavery in order to give you a short insight into its beginning and into the situation of the slaves. It is also an important topic because Afro-Americans have their origins in Africa.

In the second chapter I will tell you about the situation of black people in the 20th century with the help of a literary example, including their social and political situation. It is clear to me that it is not possible to consider every life of black people in the USA. Because of that, I intend to read and analyze the novel "Beale Street Blues" by James Baldwin where the lives of black people are authentically described. In this chapter I present you the main characters. After that, I will show you how they cope with their given situation and how they try to get out of it.

In the third chapter I will examine how much politicians have contributed to the assimilation of black people in the USA. For that, I will make use of methods like analyzing speeches of civil-rights activists. Furthermore, I will also focus on important political events and their influence on today.

In the fourth and last chapter I will show how the situation is in the present. Especially, I am going to answer the question whether there is still discrimination of black people in the USA.

2. History of the Afro-American slavery

2.1 Its beginning and the situation of the African slaves

The ancestors of the Afro-American people who are now living in the USA have their origins on the African continent. They had been brought to America in the course of the Afro-American slavery. This slavery started after the discovery of America in the 16th century. At that time, the first African slaves had been brought by Spanish discoverers to the USA2 whereas the British colonies (13 colonies) had started earlier and they had also contributed to the American slavery. The reasons for bringing and using slaves were, among other things, a huge request of cotton, tobacco, rice, wheat, corn etc. in the USA. Especially there were many workers for cotton because it was one of the main export products of the USA at that time3. African slaves had been also employed for the production of their own clothing and nutriment4. For today's people, this period is characterized by brutal and inhuman behavior of white people towards black slaves. The following aspects will prove this statement: The whites employed slaves of every age even if they were a child which was usual in the time of slavery5. For example, 8-year-old children had to work on plantations6. Beyond that, the African slaves had lived in simple cottages without ground floor, without windows and in the rare cases they had a bed7. In addition, their workplace were plantations where the slaves worked the whole day until the dawn. Furthermore, they were not able to sleep calmly because they had to get ready for the next working day. In addition, the Afro-American slaves had a lord8 and a controller who observed them during their work. While doing their job, it was normal for the slaves to be tortured when they did not do their work well.

That means they had been whipped9 and beaten. Another aspect is that the slaves had been used as if they were products. For instance, they had been sold and hired by slave traders because the white population were in need of them on account of the "cotton empire"10. Moreover, many slaves had been fed in a cruel way in order to be more rentable for the acquirer of the slaves. This is an example how brutal the whites had been to the black slaves. During the transportation to the centre of slave exchange, blacks also had to undergo inhuman conditions. For example, they had been tied with chains or handcuffs when they were walking11. The last point is that they did not have the possibility to see their family because the family members were separated from each other all the time in most cases.

All in all, one can say that the Afro-American slaves had been treated very inhuman and that they had a difficult time as slaves. For the white population, black people were not more worth than animals in the course of slavery. It is also obviously that their economical profit was more important than the respect towards them.

2.2 The abolishment of slavery

The abolishment of the Afro-American slavery had not been very successful. In spite of the Declaration of Independence from 1776 which should make sure that all men are created equal, I cannot notice any progress concerning the humanity and equality as you can see in chapter 2.1. Especially Frederic Douglass' autobiography shows that there had been still slavery in the 19th century, even after the Declaration of Independence. Nevertheless, slavery has been officially ended. For instance, the Emancipation Proclamation "published" by the American president Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War (1861-1865) was one of the reasons why Afro-American slavery had been brought to its end. Another point is that slavery had been also abolished in 1865 after Union (the North American states) won the American Civil War against the southern American states. But according to Dietlinde Haug12, this has not led to the reconciliation between white and black people. Therefore, problems between whites and blacks are also "programmed" for the next years and even for the next century unless there would be a change.

3. Literary example of the situation of black people in the 20th century - "Beale Street Blues"

As you can grasp from chapter 2.2, problems between whites and blacks were not completely solved after Afro-American slavery in the 19th century. That is the reason why this chapter deals with a literary example that is about the situation of black people in the 20th century. The problems which are focused on in the novel "Beale Street Blues" published in 1974 and written by James Baldwin13 are presented in this chapter.

3.1 Description of the main characters

This novel deals with a relationship between an unmarried black couple.

Clementine (Tish), a nineteen-year-old girl and Alonzo (Fonny), a twenty-two- year-old man are in love with each other. At the beginning of the novel, the reader gets to know that Alonzo who is accused of a rape to a Puerto Rican woman in spite of not having done anything is in prison. Meanwhile she longs for her boyfriend Fonny (page 12, "... ich hätte ihn gerne angefasst") and she is proud of him because he can undergo the time in prison. During a visiting time in prison, Clementine has to reveal to Alonzo that she is pregnant whereas Fonny does not seem to be happy (page 11). She can only communicate with him through a glass wall14. They know each other since their childhood and they met for the first time when they had an argument (page 18). Clementine and Fonny have lived in the same neighborhood. Before Alonzo had to go to prison, they had had a good time. For example, the couple went out for dinner. Their dreams are among other things to get married and live together (page 63). All in all, Clementine tries her best in order to bring Fonny out of prison.

3.2 The political and social situation of the characters

Chapter 3.1 implies some problems which are caused by the bad situation of the characters. Due to the fact that Fonny is in prison, Clementine will have to care for her child on her own. This makes her very overstressed. In addition, Clementine does not have an apprenticeship (page 71) and she does not have a well-paid job she can sufficiently nourish her family with (page 153). That means she is in a very desperate and bad situation (page 11) and she has to undergo a bad time without Fonny. Moreover, Fonny's job as a sculptor won't help his family. At the beginning of the novel, the reader can also find out that Clementine is very thoughtful about her situation and that she needs some help. Another problem of hers is that she also has to reveal her pregnancy to her parents and to Fonny's parents which is not so easy for her. Particularly, both parents are quite different from each other. Whereas Clementine's parents accept that she is pregnant, Fonny's parents are very upset and curse her baby (page 74) after Clementine has revealed her pregnancy. The reason for this kind of reaction could be that Fonny's parents are very religious and therefore, they cannot accept the baby of unmarried parents. Clementine and Fonny have grown up and also still live in a block in New York which is mostly inhabited by black people (page 16-17). This shows that they prefer to live among blacks instead of getting integrated or even assimilated into the white American society. In addition, they do not fully trust Fonny's lawyer Mr. Hayward because he is white (page 66). Beyond that, Clementine mentions that they have lived or still live in poor conditions. Even her mother Sharon compares their house with a garbage dump in a favela (page 176). Fonny's father Frank has his own establishment and works as a tailor (page 16) and Clementine's father Joseph works at a harbor. Fonny's and Clementine's families do not have enough money, for example they cannot pay Fonny's lawyer or the caution money for his discharge. Before Fonny went to prison, the unmarried couple had looked for a small and simple flat on account of their low salary (page 98). In the course of the novel, the reader learns that Fonny has been a victim of an intrigue. The person who says that he has seen Fonny running after the criminal act and who arrested him, is a racist policeman who has killed a child in the street. Furthermore, the Puerto Rican woman who has been ostensibly raped by Fonny cannot exactly tell whether he has really raped her (page 173). These are proofs which indicate that there had been inequality towards blacks in the 20th century. Another aspect is that Clementine has been attacked by a white man (page 132) which also shows that there were problems between whites and blacks. In the last part of the novel, the reader gets to know that Fonny has to cope with miserable conditions in prison. On the one hand, he is in a stinking cell and even he stinks (page 170).


1.cf. http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-worldreax6-2008nov06,0,6037603.story (11.02.2012)

2.cf. Hubert Feichter, Afroamerikanische Sklaverei - Soziale und wirtschaftliche Aspekte der Sklaverei in den amerikanischen Südstaaten, p. 5,1. Auflage 2007

3.cf. Hubert Feichter, see above., p.12, see above

4.cf. Hubert Feichter, see above., p.11, see above

5.cf. Frederick Douglass, Mein Leben als Sklave in Amerika, Verlag Lamuv, p. 28

6.cf. Hubert Feichter, see above, p.10, see above

7.cf. Hubert Feichter, see above, p.16, see above

8.cf. Frederick Douglass, Mein Leben als Sklave in Amerika, Verlag Lamuv, p. 24

9.see 9

10.Hubert Feichter, see above, p.7, see above

11.see 11

12.cf. Frederick Douglass, Mein Leben als Sklave in Amerika, Verlag Lamuv, p. 192

13.Beale Street Blues, James Baldwin, translated by Nils Thomas Lindquist, Verlag Rowohlt

14.see blurb


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ISBN (Book)
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facharbeit Culture Slavery Sklaverei USA Politik politics English martin luther king obama




Title: From slavery to equality - the development of black people in the USA