Using the below readings, describe the evolution African-American experiences between 1920 and 1970.
How did notions of identity and inclusion evolve? Think about how the category of who �Americans�
should be, how they should live, and what the role of government changed for African-Americans. You
may want to think about how issues of discrimination, economic justice, and identity evolved. You must
analyze BOTH documents from at least TWO decades (minimum of four documents).
a. 1920�s (Hughes, Thurman)
b. The 30�s? (Katznelson, Herndon)
c. The 40�s? (Seuss, Engelhardt)
d. The 60�s? (King, Beale)
**Note: It is strongly recommended that you read Coates, �The Case for Reparations�
African American Experiences between 1920 and 1970
The African-American population of the United States of America is considered to be a minority
group due to their relatively small numeric contribution to the population compared to the larger
population. Being a unique group extends beyond their population. The experiences that they
have had as a community are also unique and significant. This essay discusses the experiences
that the African-American Community had between 1920 and 1970. It is an essay that entails the
key elements of social, economic and political lives of African American people in the United
States during this 50 year period.
During the 1920s the Jim Crow era had come to an end and African Americans were gradually
making an effort to integrate into American society as citizens with equal rights to participate in
the economy as well as the political process. The community however faced serious hurdles in
this effort and this was especially noted in Mississippi where black families had difficult times as
they engaged in farming through the process of share cropping (Hughes, 36). It was anticipated
that the proceeds from the sale of harvests would be shared equally but this did not happen. The
discrimination against African Americans economically was also being done by the system
which unfairly levied taxes on their properties. The lack of adequate education and inability to
access legal services condemned many families to suffer silently in poverty while some lost their
property which was seized through dubious deals that took place. Towards the end of the 1920s
moving into the 1930s African Americans increasingly moved to urban areas and this led to
settlements such as Harlem being almost exclusively dominated by black families. The church
played a vital role in bringing the community together during this period (Thurman, 1928).
In the 1930s African Americans continued to push for their inclusion in the national economy
and this was seen in them seeking employment in urban areas where industry flourished. This in
turn brought to light more challenges such as discriminatory labor practices and also the political
marginalization of blacks. It is important to note that during this period, the African American
electorate began to shift alliances to liberals as opposed to republicans whom they had initially
supported. The Civil rights movement has its origins in this political involvement of the African
Americans looking for equal rights. The arrests of community leaders who fought for this cause
helped to push the plight of African Americans to the national limelight, specifically with
reference to the discriminatory policies that existed. The civil rights movement was then known
as the Working-Class movement due to its use of labor unions to clamor for equality
(Katznelson, 2005; Herndon, 1937).
During the 1940s, the civil rights movement continued to gain momentum but world attention
had by then shifted to the Second World War. Close to a million African Americans served in the
country’s armed forces and the discriminatory employment policies in play within the country’s
labor system were also manifested in the army and navy (Engelhardt, 4). Race was used in the
determination of the roles that a black man would be given and this translated to their being
assigned tasks that were either subordinate or extremely dangerous. The government’s
recognition of a need to desegregate the forces was an indication of a deliberate step to make the
labor system more accommodating and fair to African Americans. Social and economic
discrimination however continued to rear its head, mainly manifested in unfair treatment of
African-Americans who would be subjected to unfair loans and real estate practices (Seuss
In the 1950s, racism against this community continued but albeit under the guise of the provision
of housing. Government housing projects during this decade almost exclusively took place in
neighborhoods dominated by blacks. Violent riots by whites that started in the late 1940s spilled
over into the 1950s with black families being forcefully ejected from their homes in the event
that they moved into white dominated neighborhoods. The argument that fuelled this antagonism
was that the presence of blacks lowered the value of the property. The growing poverty of the
African American community began to gain government attention and this led to the proposal of
several initiatives that were geared at minimizing its negative impact on the national economy
(Seuss Cartoons, n/d/).
During the 1960s, a combination of increased picketing by civil rights leaders and political will
led to affirmative action. In 1965 segregation of public schools and other social amenities was
banned in the country, the aim being to give blacks equal opportunities. Martin Luther King Jr.
came up as the figurehead of the civil rights movement (Beale, 1970). The main issues that this
movement combated at the time were police brutality and the denial of voting rights to African
Americans by the police force in Montgomery. Demonstrations that were exclusively black were
met by brutal anti-riot state troopers while those attended by pockets of white supporters of the
plight of African Americans received protection albeit with minimal restrictions. The publicizing
of the events in Montgomery compelled the president to deliberately declare the government
position which supported voting rights for all. The Southern States of the country saw racism
persist despite legislation against it (King, 1965).
Beale, Frances. “Double jeopardy: To be black and female.” The black woman: An anthology
Engelhardt, Brian “Fighting for the Double V” 1-9
Herndon Angelo, “You Can’t Kill the Working Class” 1937
Hughes, Langston. “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.” 1926.” The Collected Works of
Langston Hughes 9 (1773): 31-36.
Katznelson, Ira. When affirmative action was white: An untold history of racial inequality in
twentieth-century America. WW Norton & Company, 2005.
King Jr, Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham jail.” UC Davis L. Rev. 26 (1992): 835.
Thurman, Wallace. “Negro Life in New York’s Harlem.” Girard (KS): Haldeman-Julius