Discrimination is the “intended or accomplished differential treatment of persons or social groups for reasons of certain generalized traits” (Discrimination, 2018). The purpose of discrimination is to “discriminate results in some form of harm or disadvantage to the targeted persons or group” (Discrimination 2018). This type of oppression has been used throughout the United States history against many minority groups especially African Americans. This method hurt African American extremely because discrimination prohibited African Americans to experience freedoms after being freed at the ending of slavery. Despite the rights that African American gained from 1877 to the present, discrimination had hindered the timely results of “equality” for African Americans. This digital museum exhibition on African American Discrimination in the United States will show how this discrimination changed from openly and aggressively discriminatory to more “hidden” forms of discrimination.
After African Americans gained their independence from slavery after the end of the Civil War, their roles in society changed from slaves to freedmen. These former slaves understood what freedom was looked like and wished for similar freedoms to that of the white population. An important aspect of their freedom, as the African Americans saw it, was land. They saw the connection between freedom and land since with land, one could provide for themselves and family while earning a living by selling crops from the harvest. In March 1865, the Freedmen’s Bureau established by Congress, under the direction of O.O. Howard was supposed to “establish a free labor system” with the intention of helping the newly freed slaves to adjust to life as a freed man in the current society. (Foner, 571). The white famers wished to keep the ideas of slavery alive while also giving African Americans “freedom”. Under the Bureau, it had the “authority to divide abandoned and confiscated land into forty-acre plots for rental and eventual sale to…former slaves” (Foner, 573). However, President Andrew Johnson quickly retracted this idea by giving all lands back to former slaveowners which would keep former slaves poor and without property. Without both a job and a place to live, blacks were once again forced to work on white plantations in order to survive. This form of job discrimination deeply hurt African Americans because it forced Africans Americans back into ‘slaves” without the official title since they were extremely underpaid and forced to withstand horrible living conditions once again called sharecropping. Sharecropping was a “system that allowed blacks to rent a portion of the plantation, with the crop divided between the workers and owner at the end of the year” (Foner, 574). This was also another form of job discrimination because sharecropping stopped black from making profit off crop’s harvest which could help them better their lives financially keeping them locked in cycle of poverty.
In 1866, Senator of Illinois Lyman Tomball proposed two bills which would extend the Freedmen’s Bureau longer since it was being shut down. The second bill was called the Civil Rights bill of 1866 which “invalidate the “Black Codes” and nullify the Supreme Court’s controversial Dred Scott decision of 1857, which had denied the possibility of citizenship for blacks. The civil rights bill guaranteed the right of national citizens, defined as those born in the United States, to make contracts, bring lawsuits, hold property, and claim the “full and equal benefit” of the laws protecting persons and property” (Varon). This was vetoed by Johnson since this bill since blacks didn’t deserve the right to citizenship and it would give take power from states to regulate their own rights. Congress, however, overrode the veto from Johnson against the Civil Rights Bill of 1866 which later lead to the passing of the Reconstruction Acts which encompasses the 13th, 14th and the 15th amendments. These amendments “abolished slavery, prohibited the states from denying the equal protection of the laws or due process of law to any person and prohibiting the denial of the right to vote on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (LaCroix). These advancements for African Americans did create and establish rights for African Americans, however it was just the beginning of discrimination become a societal accepted issue. Rights still weren’t protected and federally enforced which led to the widespread discrimination.
Since African Americans under federal law were citizens, in order to keep them oppressed societal laws were placed to discriminate and oppress the African American population called Jim Crow laws. These laws enforced separation of the race from the late 19th century till mid-1960s. There were 2 types of discrimination seen at this time; de jure and de facto racism. De jure was the law discrimination which came into effect after the 1896 Plessy v Ferguson which concluded that separate was equal solidified the South’s justification behind Jim Crow laws which clearly rejects the Reconstruction Acts. Discrimination was widely seen in the voting aspect during the Jim Crow era. Disfranchisement against “African Americans was a tricky business because the Fifteenth Amendment, a product of Reconstruction, guarantees that the “right of citizens to vote shall not be denied … on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Southern states made a mockery of the Constitution by requiring poll taxes and literacy tests as conditions for voting” (Black). These acts of discrimination show how the government by allowing for discrimination federally, greatly affected the lives of African Americans because this hindered their rights to reach equality. Discrimination changed into the social atmosphere in this era.
From the 1910s to 1970s, the United States underwent a change from an agricultural society to an industrial one. This change in job availability led to the Great Migration in which “over six million African Americans left from the South” in the hopes for a better life (Wilkerson, 9). However, African Americans left to escape discrimination to only go to the North where they experienced in similar ways. For example, housing discrimination plagued the African American population because housing discrimination stopped many African Americans from buying homes. Restrictive Covenants was a concept in which homeowner made clauses in which stopped certain people from purchasing their homes. These policies “excluded African Americans and sometimes Jews and Catholics” (Schulyer). “Zoning and planning strategies” led to segregated neighborhoods (Goldfield). These neighborhoods were then subjected to red-lining which was a housing regulation that did not allow African American and immigrant families from receive mortgage by agencies such as the Home Owners Loan Corporation. These accelerated housing discrimination policies such as these made it possible to keep African Americans in racially homogeneous neighborhoods.