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African American Studies

African American Studies


Harlem Renaissance occurred when the Harlem neighborhood was developed in New York City. It emulated a Black cultural Mecca at the onset of the 20th century, which subsequently exploded artistically and socially. The period lasted from the 1910s to the 1930s and it was marked with great significance for the African American culture golden age in art, stage performance, music, and literature (Wall, 2016). During that period, it was also referred to as New Negro Movement. It was an imperative period as it was a cultural and intellectual revival period of African American politics, theater, literature, fashion, art, dance, and music in Harlem Manhattan.

The Great Migration occurred between 1916 and 1970 where more than 6 million Blacks migrated from the Southern rural to the urban Midwest and Northeast. The neighborhood of Manhattan in Harlem was supposed to be a white upper-class neighborhood in the 1980s (Harrison, 1992). Nevertheless, hasty overdevelopment culminated in desperate landlords seeking to fill the increased number of empty buildings. At the onset of the 1900s, a few black middle-class families from a different neighborhood referred to as Black Bohemia migrated to Harlem, and they were followed by other Black families. There were white residents who at first fought to ensure that African Americans did not reside in that area, but failed. Thus, this led to whites fleeing the Manhattan neighborhood. External factors (WWI and natural disasters) led to an increase in population. Between 1910 and 1920, Blacks migrated in large numbers (more than 300,000) from the South to the North, which was then referred to as the Great Migration with prominent individuals like Du Bois leading the migration (Harrison, 1992). Harlem was their destination, and the great migration is significant because it led to the Harlem Renaissance.

Langston Hughes was an American columnist, playwright, novelist, social activist, and poet. He was one of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance. He is famous for writing about the era that “The Negro was in Vogue”. Between 1942 and 1962, he wrote weekly columns in the Chicago Defender, when the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum. Hughes worked with other famous Black leaders and poets such as Du Bois, Jean Toomer, and Claude McKay to ensure that Blacks attained the credit they merited for cultural areas of life, which was a significant aspect in the history of African Americans (Gates & Yacovone, 2013). Hughes helped in affirming the cultural identity of Blacks in Manhattan, which was dominated by Whites.

NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) was formed in 1909 and is the biggest and the oldest civil rights association. It was established in New York City by Black and White activists, partly in retort to the continuous ferocity against the Blacks in America (Gates & Yacovone, 2013). Its central agenda was the anti-lynching campaign and also championed the elimination of racial prejudice and promoted the interest of Blacks. Between the 1950s and 1960s during the civil rights epoch, NAACP had won major legal battles, a noteworthy example being Brown v. Board of Education. The significance of the NAACP cannot be downplayed since currently; it has more than 2,200 branches and over half a million members globally

The Niagara Movement was formed by Du Bois in 1905 and was a civil rights group composed of intellectuals, labor reformers, journalists, social workers, and suffragists. The movement was initiated neat Niagara Falls in Ontario. The movement was pushing for political and civil rights for African Americans (Gates & Yacovone, 2013). The movement used a more aggressive approach than NAACP, to deal with racial segregation and discrimination. The movement was a forerunner to the Civil Rights Movement and the NAACP. The Niagara Movement refuted Booker T. Washington's assertion that Blacks could end racial discrimination through learning skills such as carpentry and farming instead of pursuing political and legal means.

Marian Anderson was an American contralto. She was famous for performing an array of music, ranging from spirituals to opera. She performed remarkable orchestras in major recital and concert venues between 1925 and 1965 in Europe and the United States (Gates & Yacovone, 2013). She was an imperative figure in championing an end to racial prejudice against African American artists. Anderson paved way for Black artists when she became the first Black person to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in 1955 and the first African American to perform at White House. Over the years, she received various accolades, which inspired other blacks in the entertainment industry.

Louis Armstrong was a jazz singer, bandleader, and trumpeter for songs like "La Vie En Rose", "Star Dust", Hello, Dolly", and "What a Wonderful World". Armstrong was referred to as Satchmo in1932 when he started appearing in movies and he toured England. He faced critics, who gave him some of the harshest and racist reviews of his career. However, he was an icon to the African Americans as he did not let the criticism stall him, and he returned bigger and better in his 1933 Europe tour (Gordon & Gordon, 2006). Even after his career seemed to end after his fight with his manager, he managed to gain his footing again in the mid-1950s when his popularity skyrocketed overseas.

The Civil Rights Movement occurred principally between the 1950s and 1960s and it was a tussle for collective impartiality for African Americans to attain equal rights under US law. The Civil War culminated in the abolishing of slavery. However, it did not obliterate prejudice against Black Americans, as they continued to be exposed to racism, more so in the South. Halfway the 20th century, African Americans were fed up with the violence and prejudice against them (Dierenfield, 2013). Hence, Blacks and many White Americans organized and commenced an unparalleled push for impartiality, which took place for two decades. The movement made remarkable strides in achieving equality for African Americans in the US.

Montgomery Bus Boycott was a civil rights demonstration, which occurred between 1955 and 1956. In the boycott, blacks declined to ride city buses in Alabama, Montgomery, as a way of protesting segregated seating in buses. It was marked as the largest demonstration against segregation (Gordon & Gordon, 2006). The boycott was propelled by Rosa Parks who was fined after an arrest for declining to relinquish her seat to a white man because she was an African American. One of the leaders who led the boycott was Martin Luther King Jr. It was significant as it led to an end of the racially segregated seating in buses as the court ruled that this was a violation of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.

The Civil Rights Acts of 1964 banned employment discrimination and ended segregation in public spaces based on national origin, sex, religion, color, or race. The Act is regarded as one of the topmost legislative milestones in the civil rights movement. John F. Kennedy initially proposed the Civil Rights Act, and it endured great opposition from Congress members in the South. His successor, Lyndon Johnson, signed it into law (Dierenfield, 2013). The Act was a major step in facilitating equality in the US and ending discrimination. It Act was expanded to encompass the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act was intended to trounce legal obstacles at the local and state levels that prohibited Blacks from voting. President Lyndon B. Johnson incorporated the Act into a legislature. This Act is deemed to be one of the epitome pieces of civil rights legislation in the US history (Dierenfield, 2013). Between the 1950s and 1960s, throughout the civil rights movement, Southern activists of voting rights were prone to diverse aspects of violence and mistreatment. The situation escalated in 1965 when peaceful participants in the march for voting rights (Selma to Montgomery march) were attacked by state troopers who had whips, gas, and nightsticks. The 1965 Voting Rights Act brought an end to such violence and mistreatment.

Martin Luther King jr. was an African American activist and church minister. He was a significant figure in the Civil Rights Movement as a leader and spokesman from 1955 until he was assassinated. He pushed for civil rights through civil disobedience and nonviolence, guided by Mahatma Gandhi's nonviolent activism and his Christian beliefs. King led and participated in marches for blacks' right to labor rights, reconciliation, to vote, and other civil rights (Kirk, 2014). He spearheaded the Montgomery bus boycott and became the initial leader of SCLC. His speech "I Have a Dream", in the March on Washington was important in the history of the African Americans realizing equality in the US, without the use of violence.

Rosa Parks was a black activist, and she triggered the US civil rights movement. This occurred when she declined to relinquish her seat to a white man in 1955 on an Alabama, Montgomery bus. Her actions instigated leaders of the African American community to arrange the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott was steered by Martin Luther King Jr. and went on for one year (Kirk, 2014). In the process, Rosa lost her job, but the US Supreme Court ruled that segregation went against the 14th Amendment of the constitution. Therefore, she is significant in African American studies as she was vital in ending racial segregation in the US.

Malcolm X was a human rights activist and a Black Muslim. His popularity was highlighted during the civil rights movement and as an audible Nation of Islam spokesman. He became a public figure in 1952. Malcolm X advocated for the separation of White and Black Americans, black supremacy, and black empowerment (Kirk, 2014). He highly castigated the conventional civil rights movement for pushing for racial integration and nonviolence. Despite being accused of preaching violence and racism, Malcolm X is globally celebrated in African American Studies as a Black Muslim who pursued racial justice.

Little Rock Nine was a collection of 9 scholars who sign up at Central High School, which was formerly for Whites in 1957 in Arkansas, Little Rock. They attended the school after the 1954 Supreme Court momentous ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which affirmed that public school segregation was unconstitutional. The 9 students were to test if the ruling was applicable. However, on the reporting day, Governor Orval Faubus ordered the National Guard from Arkansas to restrict the entry of African American into the Central High School. In the same month, President Dwight Eisenhower marshaled federal troops to accompany the Little Rock Nine into the school (Kirk, 2014). The event was significant because it drew countrywide awareness to the civil rights movement.

Shirley Chisholm was an American educator, author, and politician. She was the first Black woman to win a Congress seat in the 1968 US elections. She represented New York for seven terms between 1969 and 1983. She also made history for being the first African American candidate to receive a major party nomination to run for president. She then became the first African American to be on the ballot for presidency through the Democratic Party (Gates & Yacovone, 2013). During her tenure, she focused on feeding the hungry and poor through the expansion of the food stamp programs. She is significant in African American Studies because she symbolizes how African Americans rose into political power.

Black Panthers were college students who formed the Black Panther Party (BPP), which was a Black Power political group. The group was formed in 1966 in California, Oakland in 1966, by Huey Newton, and Bobby Seale. The Black Panthers were active between 1966 and 1982. The core practice of the Black Panthers was the citizens’ patrol openly carrying firearms to challenge police brutality in Oakland Police Department and monitor the officers’ behavior (Gates & Yacovone, 2013). The group ambushed policemen and wounded them, but they killed Bobby Hutton. The FBI infiltrated the group, and the group suffered internal conflicts leading to the murders of Betty Van Patter. Black Panthers is significant in African American studies they were responsible for the mass incarceration of Black youths.

Angela Davis is an American author, academic, philosopher, and political activist. After completing her education in Germany, she returned to the US and joined the Communist Party, where she was actively involved in various causes such as the campaign against the Vietnam War and the second wave of the feminist movement. She was hired in 1969 to be the acting philosophy professor of UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) (Dierenfield, 2013). She was initially fired for her affiliation with the Communist Party, and even after being reinstated, she was fired for the use of inflammatory language. She is important in African American studies through her push for the abolition of prisons where majorities of the people incarcerated are Blacks.

Huey Newton was a Black revolutionary, and together with Bobby Seale, they formed the Black Panther Party, which survived between 1966 and 1982. Seale and Newton developed a ten-point program, meant to guide the Black community to liberation. Through Newton’s leadership, the party formed more than sixty community support programs’, including housing cooperates, clothing banks, legal advice seminars, and buses for inmates’ families, sickle cell anemia tests, medical clinics, food banks, and their own ambulance service (Dierenfield, 2013). The most prominent program in the early 1970s was the "Free Breakfast for Children" which was responsible for feeding thousands of deprived children daily. Newton also helped in founding the Black Panther newspaper service. The newspaper ended up being the most popular and widely distributed Blacks newspaper. He was responsible for shooting a police officer which led to his incarceration. He is important in African American studies as he represented the violent uprising of blacks against police brutality.

Jesse Jackson is an American politician, Baptist minister, and political activist. He was a Democratic presidential nomination candidate in 1988 and 1984. He also was also a shadow U.S Senator between 1991 and 2000. He was one of the Greenville Eight who were African Americans who sat at the Greenville Public Library in 1960, despite it permitting Whites only. They were arrested for disorderly conduct. He also worked for Martin Luther King and was involved in the Montgomery to Selma marches (Dierenfield, 2013). His significance in African American studies is based on his political activism and for being a spokesperson for civil rights issues. For instance, in 1980 he was the mediator in the firefighters' strike.

How Did the Civil Rights Movement Forever Change?

The civil rights movement was a push for social justice that occurred majorly between the 1950s and 1960s. During this period, African Americans pushed for equal rights. Though the Civil War eradicated slavery, discrimination and segregation of African Americans in the South were still prevalent. Blacks experienced bouts of prejudice, racism, violence, and segregation (Blackmon, 2012). By the 1950s, African Americans had experienced enough discrimination and violence. Therefore, African Americans and numerous White Americans commenced the exceptional fight for equality through the civil rights movement.

During Reconstruction, Black individuals were involved in leadership more than in previous eras. They pursued legislative modifications for the right to vote and for equality as they held public office. The 14th Amendment of the US Constitution in 1868 awarded African Americans equal protection under the law. This was followed by the 15th Amendment in 1870, which awarded African Americans the right to vote. White Americans were not happy with the rights given to Blacks, particularly in the South. Hence, “Jim Crow” laws were created at the end of the 19th century (Gates, 2019). Blacks were not supposed to use the same public amenities as the Whites, attend similar schools or reside in the same city or town. Most Black folks could not vote if they failed in the voter literacy tests and interracial marriage was prohibited. In 1896, segregation gained momentum after Plessy v. Fergusson when the US Supreme Court indicated that amenities for Whites and Blacks could be “separate but equal” (Medley, 2012)

Before WWII, most African Americans worked as servants, domestics, factory workers, or farmers and were all paid meagre wages. In the 1940s, work associated with war was increasing, but most African Americans were not assigned the well paying jobs. They were even disheartened from joining the military (Gates & Yacovone, 2013). Thousands of African Americans threatened that they could undertake a march on Washington as a way of requesting for equal rights of employment. Executive order 8802 was issued by President Franklin, D. Roosevelt on June 25, 1941. The order led to the opening of government jobs and national defense jobs to all Americans without considering national origin, color, creed, or race. A civil rights agenda was initiated by President Harry Truman in Executive Order 9981, in 1948, which abolished discrimination in the military.

Rosa Parks, on December 1, 1955 boarded an Alabama, Montgomery bus and segregation had led to designated seats for Blacks at the back. However, a white man could not find a seat in the Whites-designated area, so the bus driver ordered Park and other African Americans at the back to relinquish their seats. Park declined leading to her arrest which sparked support and outrage from Blacks. Martin Luther King led the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association which staged the Montgomery Bus Boycott that lasted for over one year (Kirk, 2014). Consequent, the Supreme Court on November 14, 1956, ruled segregated seating to be unlawful. Following the ruling, in Brown v. Board of Education the civil rights movement escalated its momentum as segregation in public schools was now unlawful. In Little Rock, Central High School in 1957 requested for volunteers from high schools dominated by blacks to attend the school that was initially an all white’s school. Nine Black students went to Central High School but denied access by the National Guard (Gordon & Gordon, 2006). The intervention of President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered for troop’s involvement to ensure that the students attended classes in that high school. Nevertheless students still faced prejudice and harassment.

The Civil Rights Act of 1957 was passed and signed into law by President Eisenhower on September 9, 1957. Anyone who prevented people from voting was culpable. There were still episodes of blatant prejudice. Four Black college students reacted against segregation on February 1, 1960 in Greensboro, North Carolina when they declined exiting the lunch counter of Woolworth without being served (Dierenfield, 2013). The action gained momentum leading to the Greensboro sit-ins. Massive protects and boycotts of all lunch counters which adopted segregation led to the owners giving in and allowed the service of the original four students. Six white and seven Black activists known as “Freedom Riders” on May 4, 1961 boarded a bus tour from Washington to the South protesting bus terminals segregation. However, they faced great hostility from the whites where a bomb was even thrown in their bus injuring them (Gill, 2016). They resumed their journey and were arrested on reaching Mississippi and received a 30 days jail sentence. NAACP attorneys brought the issue to the U.S Supreme Court and the convictions were reversed. Kennedy’s administration pressured the Interstate Commerce Commission in the fall of 1961 to issue guidelines barring segregation in transit terminals.

One of the utmost prominent events under the civil rights movement was the March on Washington. The march was held on 28th August 1963 and was attended and organized by civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Bayard Rustin and Philip Randolph (Kirk, 2014). More that 20,000 Americans of all races gathered in Washington DC for a nonviolent march, whose main objective was stabling job equality in the US and forcing civil rights legislation. A notable aspect in the march was King’s speech “I Have a Dream,” which became a catchphrase for freedom and equality. The Civil Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson after it was initiated by the assassinated John F. Kennedy. The law advocated for equal employment for all, integration of public facilities and mitigated utilization of voter literacy tests. On March 7, 1965, the bloody Sunday occurred when over 600 peaceful demonstrators in Alabama were sprayed with teargas and viciously beaten by the police (Dierenfield, 2013). The whole incident was broadcasted and while some activists pushed for violent retaliation, King pushed for nonviolent protests. The Civil Rights Act was taken a step further to encapsulate the Voting Rights Act 1965. All literacy tests for voters were abolished and federal examiners were provided in some voting jurisdictions. In 1966, Harper v. Virginia State of Election, poll taxes was declared unlawful.

The civil rights movement has various catastrophic repercussions, because in the late 1960s two great leaders were murdered. Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965 at a rally, while King was assassinated on 4th April, 1968 at his hotel room balcony (Kirk, 2014). The assassinations prompted for more civil rights legislations. On April 11, 1968, the Fair Housing Act became a law after the assassination of Martin Luther. Hence, housing discrimination based on religion, national origin, sex, and race. This was the final law passed during the civil rights movement era.

In conclusion, the civil rights movement came after the conclusion the Civil War that abolished slavery but discrimination, prejudice, segregation, and violence were still perpetrated against Blacks. The movement was initiated to fight the Jim Crow laws that pushed for segregation. The movement led to equal employment opportunities, and allowed blacks to enlist with the military. Segregation in public schools, public amenities and in transport buses and terminals also came to an end. Blacks were given the right to vote without any tests. Housing discrimination also came to an end during the era of the civil rights movement.


Blackmon, D. A. (2012). Slavery by another name: The re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. Duxford: Icon Books

Dierenfield, B. J. (2013). The Civil Rights Movement: Revised Edition. New York: Routledge

Gates, H. L. (2019). Stony the road: Reconstruction, white supremacy, and the rise of Jim Crow. New York: Penguin Press

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Gates, H. L., & Yacovone, D. (2013). The African Americans: Many rivers to cross. Carlsbad, California: SmileyBooks.

Gill, S. K. (2016). Whites Recall the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham: We Didn’t Know it was History until after it Happened. New York: SpringerTop of Form.

Gordon, L. R., & Gordon, J. A. (2006). A companion to African-American studies. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub

Harrison, A. (1992). Black Exodus: The Great Migration from the American South. Mississippi: Univ. Press of Mississippi

Kirk, J. A. (2014). Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. New York: Routledge,

Medley, K. W. (2012). We as freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson. Gretna, La: Pelican Pub. Co.

Wall, C. A. (2016). The Harlem Renaissance: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Top of Form

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