Assess the Importance of the Federal Government in the Advancement of African Civil Rights1865-1918. The Federal Government can be defined as a system of government in which powers and responsibilities are divided into national levels to address national and regional needs. The Federal Government can be split into three branches; President, Congress and Supreme Court and each section had a major role to place in the advancement of African American Civil Rights. However, one believes that the Federal Government weren’t the only factor to advance African American Civil rights, I also consider that World War One and other inspiring African Americans such as Booker T Washington, Marcus Garvey and Du Bois played a role in the advancement of African American Civil Rights. But what exactly are Civil Rights? Well, it can be defined as the personal rights of a citizen categorised into political, social and economical rights. Personally, I think that the Federal Government had a major role in advancing the African American political civil rights from 1865-1918.
This can firstly be demonstrated by the impeachment of President Johnson 1865 after the Republicans in Congress saw that Johnson was not going to advance black civil rights. This led to the ‘Congressional Reconstruction’ which led to the famous signing of the 15th Amendment in 1865. This amendment, guaranteed the right to vote to all male citizens irrespective of race, colour and previous conditions of servitude. However, although the amendment did advance the political civil rights of African Americans, it was very poorly worded and the Supreme Court exploited this through the Reese Decision in 1876. In effect, it opened the way for blacks to be excluded from the vote on grounds other than race for example poll tax, literacy tests and the grandfather clauses. This clearly demonstrates that although the Federal Government did enhance African American political rights, they also hindered them . While the Federal Government were hindering African American Civil Rights for some periods of 1865-1918, African Americans were doing all they could to promote these rights and this included Du Bois who regularly insisted on increased political representation from blacks in the government. He also campaigned for equal voting rights at the National Negro Conference in 1909.
Du Bois also helped setup the National Association for the Advancement of coloured people (NAACP in 1908). This group had a major role in the removal of African American political rights and in fact helped remove the Grandfather clause in 1915 in the state constitutions of Maryland and Oklahoma which the Federal Government had previously setup. This opened up the debate that African American played a greater role in the advancement of African American Civil Rights. However, the Federal Government once again showed their passion for the advancement of African American Civil Rights through the reconstruction act from 1867-77. This led to the south being divided into military districts in order to ensure that former confederates did not take elected offices. Conversely, this was later changed during the presidency of Ulysses Grant who allowed the Amnesty Act to go through in 1872 which meant that all political rights of almost all former confederates was restored. The final thing which the Federal Government to improve African American Political rights was create the enforcement acts (1870-1872). This act was put in place to protect black voters, to use federal troops to suspend habeas corpus and to supervise southern elections so blacks felt they were safe and felt they could vote independently rather than having the whites scaring them away from the voting system.
The Federal Government also had a large role in the economic rights of the African Americans. This advancement can be seen early on (1865) through the creation of the Freedmen’s bureau. It allowed universities and colleges to be built for African Americans, this included the Fisk University and the Howard University. From this, education shot up giving African Americans to gain work which is more skilled after they had received their qualifications. Figures show that in 1865, 95% of ex-slaves were illiterate but by the time of 1890, this figure stood at 64%. However, one can argue that it was African American’s that increased education rights for the African Americans during the period of 1865-1918. This can be demonstrated by Booker T Washington who was head of the Tuskegee University and taught that economic success would take time for African Americans and that they could prove they were worthy of full economic rights. His speech known as the Atlanta Compromise in 1895 also shows his determination to advance African American economic rights as he argues that African Americans should accept social segregation as long as whites allow them economic progress and educational progress. But, Booker wasn’t the only African American to attempt to advance African American Economic rights, Du Bois also had a very important role. Due to Du Bois being a scholar and an educator but also being the first African American to gain a PHD from Harvard, many African Americans took inspiration from him and wanted to achieve just like did. So I believe he also had a major role in the advancement of civil rights. Through the 14th Amendment, put in place in 1866 by the Federal Government, black people were able to reside on small family plots, where they enjoyed a degree of privacy and independence. By 1900, 20% of black farmers owned the land they worked on which of course increased the economic wealth of African Americans. However, they were given the poorest land.
Finally, World War One also had an impact on African American economic rights. Due to the shortage of labour in the North as men went to fight in the World War, jobs were on offer. This lead to huge numbers of Southern African Americans migrating to the North in order to fill up the jobs in the Northern Industrialised cities. This of course led to an increase in African American employment but also African American economic wealth. One believes that the Federal Government had the biggest impact on the social rights of African Americans. The Freedman’s Bureau of 1865 helped the advancement of African American Civil rights as it provided ex slaves with food, shelter, medical aid and land. However, this advancement was slowly diminished by the Black Codes laws passed by southern government established during the presidency of Andrew Johnson. These laws imposed severe restrictions on freed slaves such as prohibiting their right to vote, forbidding them to sit on juries and limiting their right to testify against white men. While the Black Codes laws were passed on, so was the Civil Rights act and also the creation of the 14th Amendment. These acts granted blacks citizenship and also provided equal protection under the law for all citizens. Nevertheless, the 14th Amendment was loosely termed which led to the Enforcement acts being exploited. This was known as the Cruickshank Decision (1876). The 14th Amendment did not protect citizens against individuals, but only against state government. This mean that blacks were not safe and still harassed by the whites. The Jim Crow Laws of 1887-91 further demonstrated the Federal Government hindering the advancement of African American Social Rights. In the Southern states, segregation was introduced on trains.
After 1891, parks, shops, playgrounds, cemeteries, theatres were also subject to segregation. While the Federal Government were hindering American Civil Rights, African Americans were doing all they could to promote them and this included Du Bois. Through the NAACP, he published a monthly magazine called Crisis in 1910. Crisis campaigned against lynching, Jim Crow Laws and sexual inequality. Furthermore, Du Bois helped to organise the Negro exhibition which displayed African Americans positive contribution to society which made some whites believe that they were of some worth. World War One also played a small role in the social right of African Americans. Blacks believed that because they had fought for the USA, they should have more freedom and greater rights, leading to many riots breaking out across the country. Overall, I do believe that the Federal Government were the most important factor in advancing African Civil rights through the Freedman’s Bureau Act, and the Enforcements Acts of 1870s. However, I also believed that the Federal Government did a lot to hinder African American Civil Rights through the Black Codes, The Reese Decision and Cruickshank Decision. Although, I also believe that African Americans did play a very large role in the development of African American Civil rights through Booker T educational speeches and Du Bois NAACP, I think that many people were inspired. The African American also did very little, if nothing to hinder their rights compared to the Federal Government. Overall, one believes that the World War had the smallest role in increasing African American Civil Rights. Although, it did help due to the increasing employment of African Americans leading to greater Economic Wealth.