How does slavery affect African Americans today?

Racism in the United States : The US is still struggling with the original sin of slavery

Some injustices have a dimension that has persecuted a society for generations. Or longer. Under the "original sin", interpreted theologically, mankind still suffers today. Adam and Eve and their descendants were driven out of Paradise.

Historians interpret the First World War as the “primal catastrophe” that shaped the 20th century in Europe. Now the race riots in the USA are interpreted as a consequence of the "original sin slavery". Some speak of the "birth defect" of the USA. Can the United States ever escape this burden?

Obama and the moral arc of the universe

Barack Obama, their first black president, often used a quote from the black civil rights activist Martin Luther King in his speeches: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” King, on the other hand, had this encouraging message from one Borrowed sermon from theologian Theodore Parker, who campaigned for the abolition of slavery in the mid-19th century. For a long time, longer than a human life, the trend is towards justice.

Everyone can contribute "to form a more perfect Union", formulated Obama in his speech on the race question 2008 - politics as a permanent repair of history. Setbacks cannot be ruled out. For example now under President Donald Trump.

Europeans dominated the slave trade

Slavery predates the United States, which was founded in 1776. It was already widespread in ancient times. Americans didn't invent it. They were only a small part of the slave traders who brought Africans to the "New World" as forced laborers. The Museum of African American History in Washington is a good place to learn.

The slave trade for the plantations - first in the Caribbean and in South America, then in North America - was dominated by the Portuguese, British, Spanish, French and Dutch from the 16th to 18th centuries. These in turn did not catch the slaves in Africa; Mostly Africans did that. Some 12 to 13 million Africans were brought across the Atlantic as slaves over the course of 400 years.

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The plantation owners' economic model was based on slavery

Slavery was a central point of contention in the founding of the United States and in the constitutional debate. The Christian religion and its image of man forbade declaring people to be possessions. Constitutional fathers like Thomas Jefferson knew that. But many were also plantation owners. Their economic model was based on slavery, admittedly more in the agricultural states in the south than in the north, where manufacturing was the focus and, from the 19th century, industrialization.

In 1794 the US banned supplies for the slave trade such as ships and equipment and in 1808 the importation of slaves. Officially, only slaves who were in the country or their children were allowed to be sold. Great Britain also banned the slave trade in 1808.

The persecution pressure was of course limited. Between 1810 and 1860, 3.5 million slaves crossed the Atlantic. The civil war (1861 to 1865) ended slavery in the south as well.

Together with industrialization in the north, this led to the “Great Migration”. The liberation had changed little in the everyday life of African Americans in the south. They were no longer slaves. But there was only starvation wages for their labor.

Michelle Obama's great-grandfather was still a slave

The economy of the south had collapsed as a result of the war and the end of the traditional way of doing business. Millions of African Americans migrated north, including the ancestors of former First Lady Michelle Obama. Her great-great-grandfather Jim Robinson, born around 1850, was a slave on the Friendfield plantation in South Carolina. Her grandfather Fraser Robinson, born in 1912, worked in a sawmill, joined the northbound train in the Great Depression and found a job with the Post Office in Chicago.

The Negro Motorist Green Book: Film and Reality

The south held on to racial segregation in schools, restaurants, and public transport. The Oscar-winning film “Green Book” describes what that meant for the blacks there, but also for black visitors from the north. The title refers to the travel guide “The Negro Motorist Green Book” with information on where blacks can refuel, eat and sleep; it was published annually from 1936 to 1966 and is also an important exhibit in the Museum of African American History.
The north officially knew no apartheid. In practice, yes. African Americans had lower levels of education and income. Walls of money and prejudice separated residential areas, schools and clubs according to skin color.

Walls of money and prejudice

The walls were only slowly cracking. During World War II, many troops fought separately by skin color, even though President Roosevelt had opened jobs in the military and government to all citizens in 1941. The achievements of black units such as the Tuskegee Airmen with the first black fighter pilots or the 761st Tank Battalion, however, questioned the image of the superior white soldier.

In civil life too, progress remained an arduous struggle. First about legal emancipation, then about the application of the law. The 15th Amendment to the Constitution, passed in 1870, which gave blacks the right to vote, was long on paper.

Sometimes the constitutional judges confirmed questionable conditions, around 1896 with the ruling that a separate school system did not violate the principle of equality. Schools could be “separate but equal”.

Rosa Parks, Freedom Riders and other heroes

The civil rights movement produced icons in the 1950s and 1960s: Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery in 1955. She was arrested. Blacks reacted by boycotting the transport companies. In 1956 the Supreme Court declared segregation on buses unconstitutional.

In 1954 he corrected his “Separate but equal” judgment. However, President Eisenhower had to send military in 1957 to force nine brave black students into school in Little Rock, Arkansas, against a hateful mob. Shortly thereafter, the Civil Rights Act came into force, which made attempts to prevent black citizens from voting a criminal offense.

After black student protests in Greensborough, eateries ended racial segregation at the bar. “Freedom Riders” from the north helped to end the segregation in long-distance coaches. In 1964, 1965 and 1968, laws on the equality of electoral, labor, housing and tenancy law followed.

Martin Luther King prophecy before his assassination

Yes, the arc of history curves towards justice. In 1968 the United States is a different country than it was before the abolition of slavery. In 2020, African Americans have significantly more rights and opportunities than in 1968. A black middle class has emerged that is better off than many whites. A black man has been elected president twice.

However, the majority of African Americans continue to be disadvantaged in many ways. The greatest hurdle is economic and social equality of opportunity. Martin Luther King had predicted this shortly before he was assassinated.

The practical consequences of the "original sin slavery" are getting a little smaller with each generation. They are still a long way from being overcome.

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