Racism in America
Segregation in America was intended to create a world that was "separate but equal." However, pre-existing racist sentiment kept African Americans from living lives that were equal to those of white men or women. African Americans were simply considered second class as they were expected to step out of the way of white individuals passing them on the street or, like Rosa Parks in 1955, were expected to give up their seats on the bus to whites, even if the white individual was more capable of standing then they were. For a black man to look a white woman in the eyes would be completely out of line and severely punished it noticed by other white individuals.
Brutal Effects of Racism
Emmett Till was one of many individuals killed for "stepping out of line." Only 14, the young boy whistled at a white woman in a grocery store in Mississippi on August 24, 1955. Four days later two men kidnapped Till, beat him, shot him in the head, attached a metal fan to his neck and pushed him into the Tallahatchie River. His body wasn't found until August 31st completely disfigured and only recognizable by the initials engraved into the ring on his finger. The two men were put on trial for his murder, only to be found not guilty. Till's story is one of many in which African Americans were treated inhumanly.
Birth of Segregation
The Jim Crow laws passed in the late 1800s were intended to enforce segregation in the southern states. The laws seemed to be a reaction the 13th amendment passed in 1865 and the 14th and 15th amendments passed in 1868. These amendments abolished slavery, made all former slaves citizens and gave African American men the right to vote respectfully. These changes were drastic and a shock to many Americans, especially those who believed in the Anglo-Saxon myth, and believed themselves above African Americans. The laws were passed in order to create separation in transportation, schooling, and general public areas mostly in Southern States. These Jim Crow laws resulted in visible segregation all throughout America for nearly a century.
Segregation left visible signs in the American South in the 1960s. This showed that although the nation had come far from its slave trading days, blacks and whites were still not considered equal. The Plessy v. Ferguson court case in 1896 ensured that being "separate but equal" was in fact constitutional. Bathrooms were labeled for women, men, and colored. Movie theaters had specific entrances for blacks who had to sit separately from white audiences. Some restaurants and bars refused to serve African Americans. Parks posted signs saying that "Negroes and dogs" were not allowed to enter inside. In a segregated nation African Americans were placed in separate schools that received nearly half the funding that white schools received. These neglected schools received only second hand books whereas the white schools received the new copies. African Americans were so discriminated against that in some areas they created their own "black business districts." Here they could access all the services they needed in the same general area without being turned away.
The Ku Klux Klan
The Ku Klux Klan, founded in 1865 by an American attorney named Albert Pike was a group that intended to instill white supremacy in America. The group came and went out of popularity several times, until the last time in 1946 creating the group that is still in practice today. The terrorist organization had many different kinds of members including those with great power like mayors and sheriffs and others as low down as criminals. In the 1960s 10,000 to 15,000 people joined the Ku Klux Klan. In their white hooded robes they continued serious attacks on African Americans, especially those fighting for civil rights. The KKK has been known to burn crosses and lynch African Americans. Some cases even report churches being burned down and members being dragged out and beaten. Educated African Americans were lynched and African Americans with land were forced off of it. Attacks on segregation gave rise to the KKK as they attempted to instill fear in others in order to oppose civil rights and prevent desegregation. Many blacks and whites were persecuted, beaten, and killed by the KKK in the attempt to create a more equal America.
A Better World
Not all areas in the United States were segregated or even violently racist. California for instance had very little racist tensions because unlike many other states in the United States, when it joined the Union in 1850, it entered as a free state. Growing up in California, Pelston encountered little to no racial conflicts besides slight uneasiness from his parents when he brought his African American friend home one day. Racism still existed, but it was not as prevalent in common society. Although California seemed like a more accepting area protests still occurred, many peaceful, but not all. In 1965 the Watts riot broke out. This 6-day riot involved many African Americans who wanted to stand up for their rights in Los Angeles. In the end there were 34 deaths, over a thousand injuries and well over three thousand arrests.
The military was another place of acceptance. In 1948 the Executive Order 9981 eliminated racial segregation in the military. This allowed all young men fighting for America to serve along side one another. The acceptance of everyone was enforced, and treating someone else with disrespect, especially because of the color of his or her skin, was not tolerated.