The ancestors of many black Americans came to America not as willing immigrants, but as captured slaves. As such, the promises of the Declaration of Independence for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” were denied them and except for purposes of state representation, they were ignored by the original Constitution. Victims of a vicious system of slavery, they endured, resisted, and made many contributions to the United States, but the struggle for freedom and equality had just begun.
Abolitionists and the Constitution
The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850
How Should We Judge Our Nation's Founders
The legacy of slavery forces us to confront this question: How do we judge the founders of our nation who owned slaves? Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and our third president, owned slaves. George Washington,war hero and first president, was one of the largest slave owners in the nation. James Madison,the prime architect of the Constitution and fourth president, also held slaves. Download the reading and also the Civil Conversation guide.
Harriet Tubman and the End of Slavery
Nicknamed the ‘Moses of her People’ for leading runaway slaves to freedom in the north, Harriet Tubman was the most famous member of the Underground Railroad. She became a celebrity in her lifetime and a hero of the Civil War.
During the Civil War, the future of the Union and African Americans hung in the balance. Blacks made a significant contribution to the eventual Union victory by providing some 180,000 troops out of the approximately 2.2 million men who served the Northern cause. One of the fruits of victory was the passage of the so-called Civil War amendments to the U.S. Constitution, one of which, the 15th Amendment, promised black males the right to vote.
The Era of Legal Segregation
The end of slavery did not bring equality to African Americans. Almost immediately, Southern states began passing laws to oppress black people, and the end of Reconstruction in 1877 spurred even more legislation designed to segregate African Americans and deny them rights enjoyed by white Americans, including voting.
Ida B. Wells and Her Crusade for Racial Justice
The Civil Rights Movement
The modern civil rights movement in the United States took place from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s. This turbulent period transformed the country. This sprawling movement can be divided into three parts.
One is social activism—the protests, demonstrations, and boycotts. Another is the legal struggle that took place in courts. The third occurred in the legislative arena to enact civil rights laws.
Brown v. Board of Education
Building Constituencies: Case Study of The Montgomery Bus Boycott
Martin Luther King and the Philosophy of Nonviolence
Voices of Change
The civil rights movement could trace its roots to a variety of leaders and thinkers from different eras and regions; its successes, in turn, influenced leaders of other movements that would follow it. At the turn of the 20th century, W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and Marcus Garvey outlined different visions for the future of blacks in America. Martin Luther King Jr. found inspiration for the tactics of civil disobedience in the works and actions of Henry David Thoreau and Mahatma Gandhi and in turn influenced Cesar Chavez. Thurgood Marshall, perhaps best known for being the first African-American U.S. Supreme Court justice, was an untiring lawyer who litigated many significant civil rights cases leading up to Brown v. Board of Education.
The Contributions and Experiences of African Americans in the United States
African Americans have enriched every aspect of American society and culture since even before this nation's founding. They have made great contributions to politics, law, business, literature, the arts, entertainment, sports, science, and many other fields.