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Category: Jena Bair

African American Discrimination in the United States


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.


Reconstruction Era

Diary of Nathan W.  Daniels

In this diary of Nathan W. Daniels, he discusses the issues of the time after former slaves became free after the Civil War. Nathan W. Daniels was a Union army officer and Freedmen’s Bureau advocate. He discusses in the diary how the Freedmen’s Bureau will help former slaves become equal in society. He pushed for government officials to strongly implement these policies for the betterment of society.  This diary is important because the diary accounts the white perspective on the effects of the Freedmen’s Bureau during this time when many white believed that the Freedmen’s Bureau would give rights to those who they believed, did not deserve them.  This dairy compared to the petition, shows how not all whites during this time were against former slaves’ progression in society and some even advocated for equal rights in all aspects of life.


William Wilson’s Petition

This a petition written on August 22, 1869 by a black man named William Wilson. Wilson wrote this petition to Rufus Bollock who was the Governor of Georgia. Wilson wrote to Governor Bollock to persuade him to have the government intervene and protect the African Americans in this town because they are being killed frequently by the Klu Klux Klan. He begged for protection and other black signed this to hopefully gain protection. This petition offers the black prospective of how dangerous it was to live as a “freed” black person. These violent forms of discrimination placed on African Americans help show that mentality of whites during this time, being frustrated about the new freedom that African Americans now possessed. The petition offers the other perspective of white during the Reconstruction Era and the beginnings of discrimination in the slowly progressive society.

Black Family during Reconstruction

This is a photo of an African American family in this era. After President Johnson vetoed the 1866 Civil Rights Bill, 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.

Jim Crow Era

Bob Gilgor Interview with Rebecca Clark

In an interview of Rebecca Clark who recalls working in segregated North Carolina. It covers the Jim Crow discrimination in regards to money against African Americans. It talked about the job discrimination that many African Americans had to face since they were only allowed to work was in the domestic setting as “help” or as university help by janitorial work. They also work very long hours for very little pay which affected them extremely since this stopped them from being able to get better jobs so they could improve their financial situations. This connects to discrimination because even though African Americans were free, they were still oppressed by the systemic discrimination that was set in place to keep them down.

Peggy Van Scoyoc Interviews Mr. and Mrs. Farrer

In this source, both Mr. and Mrs. Farrer are recounting their experiences with school segregation. Mrs. Farrer had to walk ten miles to go to school when they were in elementary school. Their school was one room and all ages of the children were there so there wasn’t a clear education curriculum. All their books were also hand-me-downs. This shows discrimination because African Americans were not able to go to good schools and receive the same education as whites. This also shows discrimination because there were closer schools to them but they could not attend due to segregation which means they needed to do more to get less.


Jim Crow Advertisement

The caricature shows an airplane with white people, towing a blimp with a platform on which are seated African Americans. It was illustrated in an newspaper named Puck Illustrated in 1913.  The African Americans in this caricature have big lips and dark skin, which was a way of dehumanizing them in order to keep them oppressed. In addition, artwork such as these were used to depict the ideas of Jim Crow to the public because they would persuade the public to think that segregation is justified. Also, that since whites are “superior” than African Americans must be treated in this way. This caricature shows in the simplest way of what was was being discussed in the interviews above.


The Voices of the Great Migration

In this audio documentary, it covers the Great Migration, in which “over six million African Americans left from the South” in the hopes for a better life (Wilkerson, 9). Throughout the film, many different stories of African American experiences during the Great Migration period are told which they experienced discrimination in many areas. When they reached the urban communities, they were unable to find work or if they did, their wages were very low. This caused them to live in very low income areas of the cities.

Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Speech

“These amendments are prohibitions against the federal government violating such fundamental rights as freedom

In this speech, Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander who was the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in economics in the United States, and the first woman to receive a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She was the first African-American woman to practice law in Pennsylvania. Sadie spoke to inform minorities in Pennsylvania that they can no longer stand for these injustices because they have protection under the law. Companies found loopholes in the laws to allow for the justification of discrimination in housing aspect.


HOLC Los Angeles

This source is a map that shows the red-lining issues during the great depression and new deal era. The map shows how the federal government mapped out areas based on racial demographic which was used by mortgage companies to see which areas they wished to give mortgages to. This map depicts the issue of red-lining which discriminated against African Americans and their option when it came to find housing in major cities. This also connects with the job discrimination as well because African American men were offered only factory jobs which meant that they need to live in more urban neighborhoods. Since they could only afford housing in the cities, they could not have the opportunity to leave in better neighborhoods and leave the red-lined areas. This was the hidden systematic discrimination set in place to hurt the African Americans.

The Great Depression and the New Deal

Great Depression

In this documentary, it discussed how the nation was affected during the Great Depression. In this clip, it explicitly describes the struggles of African Americans who were extremely at a disadvantage. The employment rate at the time was twenty-five percent and this number was higher for African Americans. African Americans were “last hired, first hired”. This discrimination in the workplace caused the never ending cycle of poverty.

Sharecropping during the Great Depression

In this source, it can

By this time, the Great Depression had drastically reduced the demand for cotton and the need for those who helped to grow it. And other outside forces were also threatening the sharecroppers’ way of life. Many African Americans were forced out of a job and completely homeless. These problems would’ve been avoided if job discrimination did not hinder African Americans from succeeding in society during the time. Job Discrimination in the Great Depression led to widespread unemployment which was vast among the African American community. 

Civil Rights Era

“We are American, Praise the Lord” Song

The song  was created as a gospel song that African Americans sang about how despite our differences, we are the same and we all want the same things. The song shows how African Americans did not wish to be ahead of the whites and their needs but rather they wanted only equality. They wanted the whites to know that they go to similar struggles to each other for example waiting for their husbands and sons to return from war. They wanted there to be a connect between them so that ultimately, they can understand each other leading to freedom. I included this item because it would give the audience an auditory way to understand the oppression that African Americans faced during the time and its important to know that through song, African Americans were able to reach more people since music was one of the only ways blacks and whites could possibly connect.

1963 March on Washington

This photo was taken during the 1963 March on Washington. It shows an African American woman being stopped from protesting while other watched in horror and disgust. It shows the police brutality at the time in regards to African Americans to suppress them from pushing their message of equality.  It shows how African Americans rights were continuous disregarded and mistreated despite there being laws that should’ve protected them. I would include this photo into the museum because it visually shows how African Americans were having their rights being taken away from them. It also shows how they needed to hold themselves to higher standard and not retaliate and use nonviolence to help them gain more equal rights. It would add a visual importance because it shows the desperation on the faces of African Americans and how they were treated by the police and the government during this time. It would also add value to fact that were violent oppressed by those who are supposed to protect them.

The Color of Justice

In the video, it discusses how supreme court decisions were fundamental part of how African American discrimination in America continued for as long as did. This also depicts why discrimination became a more societal issue. Many laws were put in place that protected African American rights such as the 15 amendment which gave African American men the right to vote. But when voting is discriminatory it stops the African Americans from having a political presence which leads to laws being created to suppress African Americans.



Primary Sources:

  • Alexander, Sadie Tanner Mossell. The Responsibility of Minorities. Sadie T. M. Alexander Papers (FF 91, (UPT 50 A374S, Boxes 2 and 71), University of Pennsylvania Archives, Philadelphia, Penn.), University of Pennsylvania. University Archives and Records Center, 1948.
  • Clark, Rebecca. “Economic discrimination under Jim Crow”. Interview with Bob Gilgor. June 21, 2000. Documenting the American South.
  • Daniels, Nathan W. Nathan W. Daniels Diary: Diary; Vol. II, May-1865, Dec. May, 1864. Manuscript/Mixed Material.
  • Family Picking Cotton in the Fields near Savannah, Georgia. Negative #50482. Collection of the New-York Historical Society.
  • Farrar, Leonia and S.J. “Discrimination in Segregated Schools”. Interview with Peggy Van Scoyoc. May 28, 2003. Documenting the American South
  • Field to Factory – Voices of the Great Migration: Recalling the African American Migration to the Northern Cities. Recorded January 1, 1994. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 1994, Streaming Audio.
  • For the Sunny South. An Airship with a “Jim Crow” trailer. United States, 1913. Photograph.
  • James, Willis, and Bertha Houston. We are Americans, Praise the Lord. Fort Valley, Georgia, June-July, 1943. Audio.
  • Lab, Digital Scholarship. “Mapping Inequality.” Visualizing Emancipation. Accessed December 21, 2018.
  • Oh Freedom After While. Directed by Steven John Ross. California Newsreel, 1999.
  • Petition from William Wilson et al to Rufus Bullock. August 22, 1869. Georgia State Archives.
  • The Color of Justice. Directed by Bill Buckley. Rediscovery Productions, 1970.
  • The Great Depression: Part 4. Directed by Julia Dyer. Produced by Julia Dyer. Dallas County Community College District, 2005.
  • Tuttle, Kate. “March on Washington, 1963.” Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Second Edition, edited by Ed. Kwame Anthony Appiah. , edited by and Henry Louis Gates Jr.. . Oxford African American Studies Center,


Secondary Sources:

Black, Brian. Encyclopedia of American Studies. “Jim Crow”.

Brittannica Academic, “Discrimination”.

Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty! An American History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2016.

Goldfield, David. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. “Urban Exceptionalism in the American South”.

Hayes III, Floyd W. Encyclopedia of American Studies. “African Americans: An Overview”.

LaCroix, Alison L. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. “Federalism”

Lansford, Tom M. Encyclopedia of American Studies. “Land Use”.

Nightingale, Carl. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. “Spatial Segregation and Neighborhoods”.

Schulyer, David. Encyclopedia of American Studies. “Suburbs”.

Varon, Elizabeth. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. “Andrew Johnson and the Legacy of the Civil War”.

Wilkerson, Isabel. The Warmth of Other Suns. New York: Random House, Inc, 2010






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