What is America? This is the question that my dad asked me to think about as part of a new series of blog posts. For this first one, I chose to write about “Change” and to connect the topic to some of the places we have visited and things we have learned so far. As we continue our trip, I plan to write more posts that describe the country in different ways. Here is my first “America Is” essay:
Over the past few weeks we have been traveling throughout the Deep South learning about the history of Africans in America. We learned about slavery, the abolition of slavery, reconstruction, segregation, and the civil rights movement. Something that I have realized about America is that it is always changing and trying to make itself better.
In 1865, slavery was ended and for a while life was better for African Americans. This time was called reconstruction. Reconstruction was lead by a group of Radical Republicans and during this time many African Americans were elected to office where they could help other blacks gain their rights. New schools were created to give the new free blacks an education and to teach them how to do different types of work. One of these school was called the Penn School, which we visited in South Carolina and saw old pictures of black children learning new skills and trades. Reconstruction was a great time for the former slaves, but soon would come a time that was almost as cruel as slavery itself.
Reconstruction was stopped when President Johnson pulled the troops overseeing the rebuilding of the South. Without the army there, the former Confederate commanders attacked blacks and terrorized them. Groups like the Ku Klux Klan attacked and prevented blacks from voting. Soon without blacks voting against them, the former Confederate leaders were elected to various offices in the government and passed laws to make it harder for blacks to vote. The new leaders also made it OK to segregate buses, schools, and most other aspects of life. During segregation many African Americans were beaten, jailed, harassed, and even hung for things such as talking back to a white person. At the Civil Rights Museum, I saw exhibits that showed politicians and even a police chief talking about how the blacks didn’t deserve to be near them. For nearly a century after the Civil War, life in the South remained separate, but unequal.
In the 1950’s and 60’s, people started to protest the treatment of blacks in southern society. After Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat to a white man, people started the Montgomery Bus Boycott. One movie that we watched, called the Long Walk Home, takes place during this time and is about a white woman who starts driving her black maid to and from her house. Later she drives for the carpool that is helping the bus boycott. During the boycott, black people refused to ride the buses and, almost a year later, the Supreme Court ruled that Montgomery segregated buses were illegal. At the Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta, we also read about how protesters would stage sit-ins at white-only restaurants and would refuse to get up. White people got so mad at this they would go and beat up the protesters while they sat there peacefully and would not fight back. Later, in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his I Have a Dream speech in Washington DC. The next year, the Civil Rights Act was passed and the year after that the Voting Rights Act was signed. All of these events were changes that came about from people, blacks and whites, standing up and doing what they felt was fair and right.
America is always changing and trying to make itself better. Because of these changes, African Americans have gained rights such as the right to be free, the right to vote, and the right to equality under the law. Even today, as seen in the news, people still sometimes think of blacks differently and treat them with prejudice. Hopefully in the future all people will be considered the same, both by laws and in peoples’ minds.