Final Exam on African American History

Posted: August 12th, 2013

Final Exam on African American History




Final Exam on African American History

1. Analyze the workings of the sharecropping system and explain why many African Americans preferred it to wage labor. Explain why so many sharecroppers ended up destitute and tied to a farm or plantation

Sharecropping in America began after the abolition of slavery, which left many white landowners with no slaves to work on their farms, and left many African American freed slaves with no means of livelihood. Those who managed to escape and travel to the north were fortunate, but many slaves remained in the south, and they had to look for ways to ensure their survival. Under the system of sharecropping, landowners with huge plantations divided their land into smaller farms, which they rented out to farmers. They often rented to the freed slaves under a pre-arranged agreement, and a family would work on a farm. They would lease the land to the tenants for a specified time, usually one year, for a share of the harvest. Most landowners provided shelter and farm equipment for the sharecroppers. Although the sharecroppers worked on the farm, they only received a small share of the harvest. The landowners provided the land, but the sharecroppers had to look for other farm supplies including seeds and other farm input. If the landowner provided these essential items, then he deducted from the share of the tenants. During harvest time, the landowners took the harvest to the market. Under the contractual agreement, half of the proceeds would go to the sharecropper. However, most of the sharecroppers did not receive their payment, as the owners made sure that they deducted all that the tenant owed them during the year (Kelley & Lewis, 2000).

The system of sharecropping enabled slaves to work as families and provided the slaves with some level of independence, which they had not experienced previously. The system was a form of free labor, which the slaves had never had. Plantation wage labor had been difficult. The slaves had to work in the fields under harsh and terrible conditions. They were often beaten by their owners, denied the right to live together as a family, and suffered other forms of mistreatment under their owners. Many slaves longed to escape this. They longed to have their own families and bring up their own children (Douglass, 2003). They saw sharecropping as a better solution because of these benefits. Moreover, the sharecroppers thought that they had a chance of land ownership through the system of sharecropping. Many slaves who had worked under wage labor had had bad experiences with their owners who had refused to pay them their wages, and some often reduced their wages.

Some few black freed slaves managed to benefit from the system of sharecropping because their landowners were fair and they did not extort them. However, this was an exception rather than the rule. Many of the freed slaves continued to suffer the same misery they had when they were still slaves. In some cases, the sharecroppers only received a third of the harvest, despite having worked on the farm for the whole year. The system of sharecropping left many sharecroppers destitute and tied to plantations because of the debts they had accumulated during their tenure at the farms. The sharecroppers would receive advance payments in form of supplies. They would receive the remaining payment at the end of the year, by which time they had accumulated so much debt in terms of advance payments for them to be able to clear their debts and have some money remaining for their families to use. This system continued to enhance poverty because the most of the sharecroppers could not trust the tenants to give them fair payments. In some cases, the farmers had poor harvest because of the weather, and they were charged high interest rates for the equipments they had used during the year. This made it more difficult for them to find ways of paying their debts to the landowners or the merchants who had loaned them the supplies, meaning that the debts were carried off to the following year (Kelley & Lewis, 2000).

2. Analyze the main factors that impelled black people to leave the south, and the main factors that drew them North between 1914 and 1929. Explain why the Great Migration is considered a “watershed” (a turning point) in African American history

African Americans had suffered in the south, especially because of slavery and segregation. Most of them had spent their lives farming, and they realized that they had to seek better opportunities elsewhere. The north had been relatively free of slavery, and there were several job opportunities there because of industrialization. Many people in the north had fought for the abolition of slavery. African Americans knew that they would get opportunities to have a better life there. Many of them had suffered under the hands of their white slave owners and other white southerners. They had faced lynched mobs, and encountered other groups who harassed them for reason of their skin color. Many African Americans wanted to escape such a system. They wanted a place where they could live in peace and security, and secure a better future for their children. Many northern states were tolerant of blacks, and the people there treated them better than they did in the south. Moreover, African Americans had more freedom of movement and expression in the north. Douglass describes the suffering of the slaves in the north, and the experience of the freedom they encountered, years before the great migration (Douglass, 2003).

Many people see the Great Migration as the watershed for the African Americans because it was a moment of realization for most of them. During this time, many of them realized that they did not have to stay in the rural America and work as farmers. Their decision to move from the south to the north meant that they could work in industries, and it was their first initial step to urbanization. The decision for African Americans to move up north was aided by the catastrophic events that had occurred earlier on in the twentieth century. African Americans participated in farming, and many of them were sharecroppers. During the civil war, and several years after that, the southern states experienced an economic depression, which affected the price of cotton. Many farmers suffered because they had to sell their cotton at very low prices. Many farmers planted, and depended on cotton farming. In 1914, farmers suffered as their farms were attacked by weevils. This was a blow to the farmers, and it devastated them because they could not harvest their cotton. Some time later the farmers had to deal with the flooding in the Mississippi river, which left most of them homeless and their farms a waste. These catastrophic events led the farmers to search for better opportunities elsewhere (Mullane, 1993).

The First World War began in 1914, and this created new opportunities for America. It increased production in factories, as many Americans provided the weapons needed for war. This led to increased demand, propelling the need for American factories to seek more workers. The migrants from the south were assured of getting jobs, and ultimately a better life when they went to the north. America’s decision to enter the war created further opportunities. There was a shortage of labor in the industries, and the employers had to look for people to work in the factories. Many African Americans were encouraged to seek work in various industries, and this propelled most of them to move. Employers in the north decided to recruit people from the south as a way of looking for cheap labor. Because of the labor shortage, many employers had found it increasingly difficult to find affordable labor in the north, and they had to look elsewhere for people to work in the factories. As more people from the south increased, the labor demand decreased and this lowered the wages. For many African Americans, moving to the north was a way for them to escape the slavery that had emerged as a result of sharecropping. They no longer had to depend on annual wages and landowners for them to earn a living. The north appealed to them because of this promise of freedom. Furthermore, some African Americans decided to participate in the war, and this meant moving from the rural south.

4. Explain the various ways that the Great Depression and World War II affected African Americans in the South, North, and West, countryside and the city. Analyze their main responses to this economic disaster

The great depression was particularly hard for people in the urban areas. It was especially difficult for African Americans who faced discrimination, in addition to lacking many job opportunities. The great depression happened as many African Americans had moved from the south to the north to seek for jobs in the industries. Many of them had already established their lives when the great depression took place. There were extreme levels of discrimination in America during the time, and this was the case even in the industries in the north. When the great depression occurred, African Americans were the first to be fired from employment and there were increased levels of unemployment for the African Americans. Some people believed that no black person had the right to hold a job so long as there were white people without employment Some were fortunate enough to hold on to their jobs, although their salaries were reduced. This meant that African Americans formed most lines in the soup kitchens, as they did not have any other means of surviving.

Many African Americans were used to living a life of poverty and misery in the south. They had been used to a harsh life, where they hardly had enough to eat or wear. Many African Americans worked as farmers in the rural south, where they worked for white landowners. They managed to get something little to eat and they had shelter over their heads when they worked as sharecroppers. However, the great depression affected everybody, and this included the white landowners, some of who lost their land and other property during the depression. This worsened the life situation for African Americans. Discrimination and prejudice against African Americans intensified in the south, and the lynching, which had decreased, started increasing. The new deal program had a negative impact on many African Americans in the south, who were sharecroppers. It led to their displacement, because they did not meet some of the conditions stipulated to receive the federal funds.

Many African Americans volunteered to participate in the Second World War. Some had been skeptical because of the harsh treatment that the black people had encountered during the First World War. Their involvement and commitment to the war did not alter the racial prejudice and discrimination of the white Americans, as they continued to be segregated in the army. They did not receive commendation for their efforts, but they were instead giving the lower ranks. Despite this, most of them continued fighting in the war, and some of them, such as the Tuskegee men proved that race was no barrier to their efforts. The efforts of the Tuskegee crew led to the desegregation of the army under a presidential order. Many African Americans who participated in the war were encouraged to do so as they desired to escape from poverty that had engulfed them during the depression. They saw their involvement in the war as a way to end their misery because they could earn an income from the war.

The situation was not so bad for some African Americans, especially those who specialized in music and the arts. Many employers had denied African Americans the chance to work in skillful jobs despite the fact that some of them had the academic qualifications needed. Most blacks ended up working as domestic servants and doing menial and dangerous jobs, which other people avoided. These people continued to earn an income from their endeavors. During this time, some African American jazz musicians emerged. Jazz developed as a form of music, and it appealed to many people. African Americans benefited from the depression because they were able to join labor unions for the first time. It also increased their political participation, especially after the new deal program, which had implemented some measures to benefit the African Americans.

5. Explain the philosophy of nonviolence as articulated by Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders of the civil rights movement in the context of the Cold War and resurgent Southern segregationism. Evaluate how successful it was as a strategy in the many struggles that occurred between 1956 and 1966

Martin Luther King believed that African Americans could achieve their freedom without using violence. There were other activists with the same beliefs, and they encouraged people to resist from participating in violence as a way of trying to solve their problems. They understood the power of numbers, and they sought ways of increasing the number of people who were interested in their cause. They held peaceful demonstrations all around the country, and they went to meeting venues such as churches to encourage the people to join their course. Churches were the essential meeting points, especially for people in the south. Both religious and political leaders understood the importance of being peaceful so that they could achieve their goals. The political leaders understood the importance of having the support of the religious leaders, and they could not do this if they were involved in violence. The people listened to their political leaders, and because of this, they were willing to take part in demonstrations. Many of the religious leaders were involved in spearheading the demonstrations. They could not preach against violence in the church pulpits and at the same time engage in violence on the streets (Mullane, 1993).

The non-violence strategy was powerful and efficient in most cases. African Americans showed that they were capable of receiving their rights as American citizens. Despite the violence and mistreatment they received from law enforcers and other white people, they avoided retaliation as much as they could. Some of the white people agreed to support them because of this. They saw the sense in supporting a group, whose only intention was to receive their rights as Americans citizens, and end discrimination. The African Americans showed their belief in the democratic system by doing this, and they encouraged many northern whites to join their cause. Many African Americans chose to sacrifice themselves for the sake of attaining freedom for future generations. They were imprisoned, and they chose to stay in prison, rather than raise the money required for bail.

In the mid fifties and sixties, many other countries around the world were fighting for their freedom. King emulated the strategies he had seen in places such as India because of their non-violent nature. He saw how the people had managed to attain significant success in their quest for independence. The people had become more united as they were fighting for freedom, and because of this, more people had become interested in their cause, and they had decided to join them. The people used strategies such as freedom rides in different states, sit-ins, boycotts, and marches to demonstrate. Initially, the people were reluctant to participate in the non-violent protests because they thought that these strategies would not be effective. Some people thought that using these methods was showing the other people that they were cowards. The leaders had to educate the people about the civil rights movement and the strategies they would use. This involved talking to them about the purpose of the civil rights movement. The people understood that being non-violent did not mean sitting and talking about the issues, but it meant being actively engaged and involved in the process.

The aim of engaging in non-violent protests was to encourage other people to join in the demonstrations, and this was largely successful in most parts of the country. African Americans could not have won their freedom without the support of other races. By engaging in non-violent protests, the people were seeking friendship and understanding from the white community. They wanted the white people to see that the civil rights movement was not a battle against the black and white people, but it was a way of ensuring that justice prevailed in every sector. They achieved this, since many whites were involved in fighting for the freedom, end of segregation, and realization of rights for the African Americans.

6. Analyze Black Power as a phase of the freedom movement and as a political outlook. Explain why it emerged after 1965, how it differed from the civil rights phase of the movement, and its overall impact on African American life and history in the last four decades of economic stagnation and political crisis.   

The non-violent protests had largely been successful in ending open hostility and mistreatment of the African Americans. However, different forms of discrimination continued to exist in different parts of the country. Many African Americans realized that they were not benefiting from the non-violent protests and this led to the formation of black power. President Lyndon Johnson signed the civil rights act in 1964. To many people, this meant an end to segregation and a beginning of equality. However, for many of the African Americans living in ghettos, the act did not mean much to them. The rise of the black power movement was an indication of the different perceptions and sentimentalities of the black community. While most people preferred, and even participated in the non-violent protests, others were not in favor of the movement, and they felt that the civil rights movement did not address their issues adequately. This was one of the major differences between leaders Martin Luther king Jr. and Malcolm X.

Malcolm X had a different approach to achieving equality of the African Americans than that advocated by Martin lather King. He believed that black people in America were entitled to have their own ideals and they did not need to unite with the whites. This approach was different from that of Martin Luther King, who believed that all people could work together. It did not solve the problem of racism and prejudice in America, and it in fact seemed to worsen it. Black power influenced some groups such as the black panthers to instigate acts of violence and civil disobedience, as a way of resolving the problems facing African Americans. They saw this as an act of self-defense because of the violence they were experiencing from the police and other law enforcers. The movement rose after the civil rights movement of the early sixties, and it managed to steer some people aware from the progressive development achieved by the civil rights act. However, it was not so successful in creating a separate black society, and many African Americans continued interacting with whites in formal and social settings.

The black power movement managed to attract many African Americans because it advocated self-determination and self-reliance. African Americans had suffered economic exploitation. They were some of the most hardworking people in the country, from the farms, to the industries, to the arts and the wars, yet they did not see what they had worked for over the years. They continued to live in poverty despite their hard work, yet the country, and the white people continued to prosper. When the black power movement sprang, the people felt that it was finally time for them to reap for what they had worked for all this time. They felt that they had to use every measure possible for them to succeed, and this included defending themselves from economic exploitation. The leaders of the movement spoke of how the black people in America could prosper if they worked hard, and this appealed to many people. The black power movement was not only influential in politics, but it influenced other areas of African American lives including social, cultural, and educational (Mullane, 1993). The movement encouraged the people to have a sense of pride in their identity. It led to the revision of the school curriculum especially in institutions of higher learning. African Americans changed the way they perceived themselves, and they started forming and developing their own cultural identity.






















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