top of page
  • Writer's pictureStudentGuiders

African American Studies

African American Studies


African American Studies encompasses the incidents of individuals of African origin in the Black diaspora and America, both in the present and throughout history. African American studies deal with the economic, legal, and social structures of black people, and the fundamental comprehension of concepts like community, belonging, the human, place, and space of African Americans. The African American studies were initiated in 1968 at San Francisco State University (Gordon & Gordon, 2006). The inauguration followed the 1960s protests, rallies, strikes, and sit-ins by Student activists in the US, who wanted the establishment of the study of the culture, history, and lives of black people in America.

Carter G. Woodson was an American journalist, author, historian, and the founder of the Association of the Study of African American Life and History. Woodson is significant in African American studies as he was one of the initial scholars to study African American history and the history of the African Diaspora. In 1926, he founded the celebration of “Negro History Week” while in Chicago, which was the antecedent of the Black History Month (Haskins & Reim, 2000). Woodson's significance is based on the fact that he is regarded as the "father of black history" as he studied numerous facets of African-American history.

Henry Louis Gates is an American public intellectual, filmmaker, historian, professor, and literary critic. He is Harvard’s Director and Professor at the Hutchins Center for African American Research. He is significant in African American Studies as he pioneered theories of African American Literature and African literature in 1984 at Yale (Gates & Wolf, 2012). The 1984 literature does not just apply the modern Western theory to black literature but redefines and challenges the theory to make stimulating, fresh comments, on black literature and criticism, as well as the general state of the current criticism. Gates has pushed for the inclusion of the literature on African American in the Western tenet.

The Middle Passage was one of the routes in the triangular trade route that transferred brass dishes, tools, cotton cloth, ammunition, and knives from Europe to Africa. Africans were forcefully enslaved and transferred from Africa to West Indies and the Americas (Gates & Yacovone, 2013). Africans were ferried through the Atlantic Ocean into the New World. Millions of African children, women, and men from 1518 to 1845 were transported through overcrowded ships that were controlled by crews from France, Portugal, Netherlands, and Great Britain. The Middle Passage is important in the history of African Americans because it illustrates how they ended up in America as slaves.

Frederick Douglass was an American orator, abolitionist, statesman, and social reformer. He eluded from slavery in Maryland. He assumed leadership of the abolitionist movement in New York, Massachusetts. The abolitionist movement started in 1816, and its main purpose was to abolish slavery in the 19thcentury (Gordon & Gordon, 2006). The movement sought to end slave ownership. As an individual who had escaped slavery, he was suited to be the abolitionist leader as he had firsthand experience of the sufferings of the slaves, and why it had to come to an end. He also pushed for equality between whites and blacks and an end to segregation.

William Green was a slave in America, an African-American who eluded slavery. He later narrated his ordeals as a slave, which was then published in 1853. His publication is significant as it illustrates the hardships, the sufferings, and miserable lives of slaves in the 19th century (Gordon & Gordon, 2006). He later escaped to Philadelphia with two other slaves, and later went to New York. Green showed that there was life after slavery for African Americans as thirteen years later after slavery, he had a steady job and had a wife. He was a clear illustration that there was hope for African Americans despite the hardships faced during slavery.

The Reconstruction Amendments are the Fifteenth, Fourteenth, and Thirteenth Amendments to the US Constitution. The reconstruction took place between 1865 and 1870, soon after the Civil War. The Reconstruction Amendments took place in the American South during the Reconstruction period (Asante, 2003). The Amendments were meant to transform America from a nation that was marked half the population being free and the other half being slaves, to a nation where liberty was guaranteed for everyone, including the slaves. The Amendments were important in the history of African Americans as they abolished slavery, pushed for equality and protection of all citizens, and the eradication of discrimination in voting rights based on color and race.

The Freedmen’s Bureau was initially known as Abandoned Lands, Freedmen, and the Bureau of Refugees. It was formed by Congress in 1865, to assist millions of poor whites and former black slaves after the conclusion of the Civil War (Gates & Yacovone, 2013). The Bureau offered medical aid, housing, and food, offered legal assistance, and established schools for former black slaves. Nevertheless, the full potential of the Bureau was not realized because of a shortage of personnel and funds, as well as Reconstruction and politics of race. The Bureau was significant in the history of African Americans because it gave former slaves stability in life after the Civil War.

Ida B. Wells was an early leader in Civil Rights Movements, an American educator, and an investigative journalist. Wells was one of the founders of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). NAACP was formed in 1909 in New York by Ida B. Wells, Moorefield Storey, Mary White, and W.E.B Du Bois (Berry & Gross, 2020). NAACP was tasked with advancing justice for African Americans. Over her years, Wells was dedicated to fighting violence and prejudice. She also pushed for the equality of African Americans, and more so the equality of women. Therefore, Well’s significance in promoting equality for African American women is undeniable.

Booker T. Washington was an American adviser to various presidents, an orator, author, and educator. From 1890 to 1915, Booker was the principal leader of the contemporary black elite and in the African American community. Booker was one of the founders of the National Negro Business League in 1900 (Moore, 2003). He was a significant component of African American businesses. In Atlanta, he advocated for the progression of blacks through entrepreneurship and education, rather than directly challenge the segregation by Jim Crow in the South. Booker was therefore important in the economic empowerment of African Americans through establishing businesses and education.

Jim Crow was the name of a minstrel routine coined by Thomas Dartmouth in 1830. The character of Jim Crow was principally portrayed as a dim-witted buffoon, heightening and building on negative stereotypes of African Americans. The term was used to refer to Black people in a derogatory way in the South (Gates, 2019). It later became the Jim Crow law. Jim Crow was a law that pushed for racial segregation in the South between 1877 and the 1950s. The Jim Crow symbolized the refutation of equal opportunities for African Americans. The segregation was extended to restaurants, theatres, cemeteries, and parks as a way of minimizing the contact between Whites and Blacks. This duration markets the heightened cases of racial segregation which culminated in the uprising of Blacks.

Black codes were restraining laws, formulated to mitigate the African American’s freedom after the abolishment of slavery to facilitate the availability of a cheap workforce. Despite more than 4 million slaves receiving their freedom, their status in the south was still unclear. Thus, through the black codes, blacks were mandated to sign annual labor contracts. Failure to sign, they were prone to arrests, being forced into unpaid work, and fined (Gates, 2019). The laws were enacted in 1866 and 1865 and were meant to replace slavery's social controls that had been removed by the Thirteenth Amendment and the Emancipation Proclamation. Hence, in the history of African Americans, the laws were a major setback after the eradication of slavery.. . Reparations refer to some form of compensation for African Americans for the free labor that slaves provided in the 250 years of slavery. The aspect was coined in South Carolina when the Civil War was about to end by General William Tecumseh after he ordered 40 acres be given to each ex-slave’s family. Nevertheless, the order was not fulfilled (Gates, 2019). The legislation was refuted by President Andrew in 1866. Any subsequent ideas of reparations also failed. However, cases arose in the 1980s, where Indian tribes and Japanese American citizens were compensated for various atrocities. In 1989, $40 billion was used to fund federal education for black trade schools and college students.

Forty acres and Mule was sanctioned in 1895, by William Tecumseh Sherman, when the Civil War was ongoing. Some freed families were to be allotted land, in the form of plots that were no bigger than forty acres, in South Carolina (Gates, 2019). This was part of the repatriation efforts for the years spent by African Americans as slaves. Nevertheless, during the reconstruction era, state and federal policy stressed wage labor rather than land ownership, and hence most of the allocated land was returned to the initial white owners. Only a few blacks maintained ownership of land, which is significant in emplaning why many African Americans did not own land.

W.E.B Dubois was an American Pan-African, civil rights activist, historian, socialist, and sociologist. Du Bois became the leader of the Niagara Movement in 1905. It was a group composed of African-American activists, who advocated for equal rights for African Americans. Du Bois refuted Booker T. Washington’s, Atlanta compromise which purported that the African Americans in the South would submit and work for the whites (Moore, 2003). In return, blacks would receive economic and basic educational opportunities. Du Bois rather advocated for increased political representation and full civil rights, which would be achieved through the black intellectual elite. His major contribution to African American history is his push for equality.

Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 was a major ruling in the US Supreme Court, where the court defended the constitutionality of racial segregation. Plessy had refused to sit in a car for black people indicating that it was his constitutional right to sit in any car he wanted regardless of his race (Luxenberg, 2020). However, the court clarified the distinction between Black people and White people, was constitutional. Therefore, the restrictive Jin Crow law became prevalent in the South, which led to further discrimination against African Americans.

Blanche K. Bruce was a politician and the first elected African-American senator from 1875 t0 1881. He was a Republican who represented Mississippi. In the Senate, he advocated for the just treatment of both Indians and Blacks (Rojas, 2007). He was also active in opposing the guidelines that excluded Chinese immigrants. He pushed for improved relations between races. He also strongly fought corruption and fraud in federal elections, and he served a significant role in showcasing that African Americans could assume elected posts.

Reconstruction was the period after the American Civil War in the period between 1865 and 1877. During this period, there were attempts to address the inequalities of slavery, as well as its economic, social, and political legacy (Gates, 2019). There were attempts to also tackle the predicaments arising from the readmission of 11 states to the Union that had seceded before or at the outbreak of war. The reconstruction period was imperative for the history of African American as it experienced extensive changes in the political life of America. In the South, white allies merged with a politically mobilized African American community to ensure that the Republican Party rose to power.

Mary Church Terrell was a renowned African American Activist, who pushed for women's suffrage and racial equality in the early 20th and late 19th century. Terrell was one of the upper and middle-class rising blacks who used their affluence to battle racial discrimination (Berry & Gross, 2020). She served as the president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) between 1896 and 1901, where she focused on elevating the lives of black women in the US, which a significant aspect of the history of African Americans.

Souls of Black Folk was American literature in 1903 written by Du Bois. It is a pillar of the African American literature and history of sociology. Du Bois focuses on the years after the end of the Civil War, the Reconstruction Period, and the role of the Freedmen's Bureau during that period (Moore, 2003). In his work, Du Bois differs from Booker T. Washington as Bois believes that Booker’s approach to the race issue was counterproductive to the progress of the African Americans in the long-term. In this literature, Du Bois castigates Booker’s approach by purporting that it would lead to loss of civil status, loss of vote, loss of civil equity, and loss of funding for the institution of higher learning, which would affect the progression of African Americans.


Plessey v. Ferguson

Plessey v. Ferguson was a major case in US history and more so for African Americans. The Supreme Court made the decision to uphold the legality of racial segregation under the doctrine of "separate but equal." The case was a result of an occurrence that happened in 1892, where Homer Plessey, a passenger in the African American train declined to sit in a Black people's car. Plessy argued that there was a violation of his constitutional rights (Luxenberg, 2020). However, the Supreme Court ruling refuted Plessy's assertion and indicated that the legislation merely implies a legal disparity between Black people and white people. Therefore, the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling led to the widespread of separate public accommodations and restrictive Jim Crow legislation.

Following the 1877 Compromise, there was the removal of federal troops from the South. The end of the Reconstruction Period was effectively marked by Democrats who merged control of state legislation in the South. Through the 15th, 14th, and 13th Amendments Blacks in the South saw the assurance of equality diminish quickly (Luxenberg, 2020). They witnessed a reverting to disenfranchisement and white supremacy regaining its power and dominance in the South. Until the 1880s, Black and White Southerners mixed relatively freely. However, the state legislatures passed the first laws in the 1880s, which warranted railroads to offer separate cars for "colored" of "Negro" passengers. In 1887, Florida was the foremost state to apply the legislation of segregated railroad cars followed by Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and other states before the 1900s.

Nevertheless, Blacks resisted Segregation. The resistance was mounted by the Black Community, due to the horrors of the Jim Crow era. At the center of the case, was legislation passed in 1890 in Louisiana, which mandated separate railway cars for colored and white races. The cars had to have equal facilities. Plessy bought a train ticket on 7th July 1982 from New Orleans to Louisiana (Anderson, 2003). He sat on an unoccupied seat meant for whites. On the insistence of the conductor, Plessy declined to exit, where he was apprehended and jailed. He was charged with violating the 1890 law. He later filed a petition to the Supreme Court against John H. Ferguson, who was the presiding judge in the New Orleans Court (Anderson, 2003). Plessy asserted that the Segregation law violated the 14th Amendment Clause of Equal Protection

in the years that followed, Black disenfranchisement and segregation accelerated in the South, and increasingly tolerated in the North. Various Reconstruction laws were nullified. The Supreme Court delivered its ruling on 18th May 1896 on the Plessy v. Ferguson case. The Court declared separate-but-equal facilities lawful on railroads connecting different states (Luxenberg, 2020). The Court further asserted that the protections under the 14th Amendment were applicable only in civil and political rights like jury service and voting, but not "social rights" like having a choice on the railroad car to use. When making the ruling, the Court refuted that segregation in railway cars made Blacks inferior, because they had identical facilities (Luxenberg, 2020). If the aspect of colored race inferiority was to hold, then it would not be on grounds found in the act, but just because the colored race purports this to be inferiority treatment.

In the ruling, there was one dissenting judge, John Marshall Harlan, who was from Kentucky and a former slave owner. Harlan had initially opposed the civil rights for ex-slaves and emancipation during the Reconstruction Era. However, he was agitated by the violent actions of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists groups and he later switched his position (Medley, 2012). In his argument, Harlan purported that segregation was contrary to the equality principle in the constitution. The capricious partitioning of citizens on the ground of race while on public transport is an emblem of servitude, totally conflicting with the equality and the civil freedom prior to the law established by the Constitution. Thus, there was no legal ground for segregation.

There were various implications, following the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling. The ruling validated the principle of "separate but equal" to justify segregation. The ruling facilitated the survival of Jim Crow law for more than fifty years (Hoffer, 2012). The verdict sanctioned the segregation in numerous public amenities like interstate railway roads, schools, swimming pools, theaters, hotels, and buses. When Cummings v. Board of Education came into the limelight in 1899, even Harlan accepted that public school segregation was not in violation of the Constitution. The ruling heightened the inequalities encountered by African Americans. The case stimulates civil rights activism within the Black community that went on for decades. The case augmented the unity among the African American community. In segregation, there was no class disparity. Both Desdunes and Plessy were middle-class workers, who had the capability of paying first-class tickets. Nevertheless, the Separate Car Act differentiates by race rather than class (Blackmon, 2012). Hence, it was evident that African Americans were perceived equally, and were not differentiated by class since they were clustered together with not privileged treatment. Consequently, working-class and middle-class African Americans, worked together during the era of Civil Rights to boycott discriminatory organizations and remonstrate against the Jim Crow law.

Plessy v. Ferguson paved way for racial segregation in public areas, mitigating any challenges against progressively more segregated organizations all over the South. Rail cars aside, the African American facilities in these organizations were inferior to white ones. Thus, this culminated in a racial caste society. Nonetheless, the significant ruling in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education suddenly scrapped off the doctrine of "separate but equal" (Medley, 2012). The Supreme Court ruling was a unanimous decision, which ruled that public school segregation by race was "intrinsically unequal." Besides, segregation was a violation of the 14th Amendment. The ruling fueled the civil rights movement, which started in 1955 and ended in 1968, which earned African Americans racial, civil, and political equality (Blackmon, 2012). Harlan’s dissent during Plessy v. Fergusson was now the land of the land.

In conclusion, Plessy v. Ferguson ruling led to the widespread of separate public accommodations and restrictive Jim Crow legislation. The ruling harmed the strides made during the Deconstruction era of facilitating racial equality in the US. The court upheld the constitutionality of the "separate but equal" doctrine, which allowed for segregation as the public utilities being offered were similar for Whites and Blacks, though Blacks were not allowed to use railroad cars meant for Whites. Segregation was then applied to schools, theaters, hotels, and buses. Blacks were left without any option but to unite despite their social class to partake in civil rights activism, which went on for decades. The decision was overturned in the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, where the "separate but equal" doctrine was abruptly overturned.

References Top of Form

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Top of Form

Anderson, W. (2003). Plessy v. Ferguson: Legalizing segregation. New York: Rosen Pub. Group.

Asante, M. K. (2003). Afrocentricity - the theory of social change. Chicago: African American Images

Berry, D. R., & Gross, K. N. (2020). A black women's history of the United States. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press

Bottom of Form

Top of Form

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.Bottom of Form

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

Top of Form

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

Top of Form

Gates, H. L., & Wolf, A. (2012). The Henry Louis Gates, Jr. reader. New York: Basic Civitas Books.

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

Haskins, J., & Reim, M. (2000). Carter G. Woodson: The man who put "Black" in American history. Brookfield, Conn: Millbrook.

Hoffer, W. (2012). Plessy v. Ferguson: Race and inequality in Jim Crow America. Lawrence, Kan: University Press of Kansas.

Bottom of Form

Top of Form

Luxenberg, S. (2020). Separate: The story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America's journey from slavery to segregation. Bottom of Form

New York: W. W. Norton & CompanyBottom of Form

Top of Form Top of Form

Rojas, F. (2007). From Black Power to Black studies: How a radical social movement became an academic discipline. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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

Bottom of Form

Top of Form

Moore, J. M. (2003). Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and the struggle for racial uplift. Wilmington, Del: Scholarly Resources.

Recent Posts

See All

When infusing pantoprazole, use a separate IV line, a pump, and an in-line filter. A brown wrapper and frequent vital signs are not needed. A client has gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The pro

Your paragraph text(10).png
bottom of page