Categories
African American

African Americans Face Discrimination

African Americans, especially women have been discriminated against for decades. For many years even after receiving legal rights things like segregation held African Americans back. In Margot Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures she highlights the true struggle of Black women in the times around WWII. Shetterly make the point that Black women contributed greatly to the war effort and not just, that they were a great part of our society and yet were still discriminated against.
Shetterly begins the book with an opening prologue connecting her life and her families experiences to the story that the book tells. She then dives into the 1940’s, Explaining that around this time how as many men were enlisted and there were not many highly educated people in the field of math places like Langley needed many more people she writes “.
This establishment has urgent need for approximately 100 Junior Physicists and Mathematicians, 100 Assistant Computers, 75 Minor Laboratory Apprentices, 125 Helper Trainees, 50 Stenographers and Typists,” (1) this is a primary source of a newspaper ad that shows the need for people to help, she then goes on to write about how women had been filling these rolls and were discriminated by men even if they were white. “First female computing pool, stated in 1935 had caused a uproar among the men” (4).

As the book continues she introduces Dorothy Vaughan a 32 year old African American woman who decided to work at Camp Picket for some extra money, she says how though it may be a menial task it was a great contributor as many of those jobs were. In the summer of 1943, Dorothy jumped at the chance to head to Camp Pickett and earn extra money during the school break” (10) Dorothy worked as a teacher, it was one of the few jobs that African American women could get that paid well enough and still it wasn’t much.
Dorothy didn’t have to take the job at camp picket but she did, she wanted to earn more money for her children and she wanted to contribute. The perspective is of a intelligent woman in the era of WWII that just wanted what was best for her family, she uses pathos here appealing to emotion and we see through her eyes as a woman and African American in this time.
Dorothy got her chance in May of 1943 to work at Howard Institute, it was a job that would pay her more than double of what she was earning and her intelligence and her preparation would allow her to get the job and succeed as seen when shetterly wrote about her applying ” How soon could you be ready to start work? She knew the answer before her fingers carved it into the blank: 48 hours, she wrote. I can be ready to go within forty-eight hours.” (17)
Shetterly then introduces Katherine, another Black teacher and though Katherine was younger than Dorothy, the two women’s families knew one another from the close knit communities that there were in black neighborhoods and, though they didn’t know it yet, their paths would cross many times in the future. This shows the ties among middle-class black families.
Shetterly also puts the lives of these women in perspective, she gives a quote from African American people on the front and those helping out country “What are we fighting for? they asked themselves and each other. The question echoed” () and although they were risking their lives for their country at the front and on the battlefield, at home, they weren’t granted the same rights as white citizens. She shows the social issue of discrimination still very prevalent.
Shetterly goes on and talks about langley and their involvement in the war. “The NACA sought nothing less than to crush Germany by air, destroying its production machine and interrupting the technological developments that could hand it a military advantage.” (52) She uses this to explain the background of langley and how The Langley laboratory gains prominence among important cultural figures, indicating its status in the fight against the Axis forces. The lab saved the city of Hampton from economic collapse after Prohibition. The American Aircraft industry had grown predominantly in the years from 1938-1943.
Though Langley was progressive in hiring black computer’s woman especially it still had rampant segregation that Shetterly highlights “Most groups sat together, for the west computers it was mandatory a white cardboard sign on a table in the back beckoned them” (43) reading COLORED COMPUTERS marks the west computers table so even though Langley allows the women to work for white engineers, the facility keeps them separate under Virginia’s “separate but equal” statutes. She here supports her argument, even though they worked so hard and were a very valuable member of the Langley team they were separated from their white counterparts.
Introducing a woman named Mary Jackson into the scene with learning of her past and what lead her here such as her dedication to community service, her parents, and her husband and son. setting up the idea that her accomplishments belong not just to her, but also to the community she’s a part of and that helped shape her. “Mary Jackson managed the USO’s modest financial accounts and welcomed guests at the club’s front door.
Her daily schedule, however, usually overflowed well beyond the job’s narrow duties, since the club quickly became a center for the city’s black community.” (95) Shetterly introduces another one of the amazing women into the story explaining more about her background and we see how the women connect.
Then as Mary begins to work at Langley and proves herself “Dorothy Vaughan sent Mary to the East Side, staffing her on a project alongside several white computers.” () Mary, will face opposition in the form of racism, segregation, and prejudice in her quest to build a career for herself at Langley. Technology has changed but policies surrounding race have not. Thus proving her argument.
A black man named James Williams cme to work at Langley around the same time as Mary, whe wished to be a engineer after falling in love with planes when he was younger. However “Williams had had to convince the guards at the Langley security gate that he wasn’t a groundskeeper or cafeteria worker ” (113) this shows how institutional racism impacts both men and women ways. black male engineers, have to endure daily embarrassment simply to do their jobs.
However, the black men at Langley don’t quite benefit from the support of others as many of the computers do, while still we see the fact that black women don’t have as many chances to prove themselves that men may have. This proves more about the social stigma but also supports how she keeps saying about the segregation almost 100 years after gaining rights.
As we move from the events placed such as ww2, its aftermath and the cold war the new technology it places how these things affected computers and really the whole of the american people. She brings this history into context saying “With the complexity that attended the relentless advance of aeronautical research came the need for a new machine.
In 1947, the laboratory bought an ‘electronic calculator’ “and as the space industry continues to grow and thrive and many technological advances are opening path for innovations at Langley still the end of WWII threatened the jobs of women and African Americans, the accelerating technology of the Cold War threatens to put many female computers out of work.
Shetterly explains Katherine and her determination but also how things like The Flight Research Division is doing some of the most innovative work of its time and the fact that Kathrine as a Black woman in this time got to attend things like the Editorial Meeting is a huge step, as the civil rights movement was gaining speed, there was still a long way to go. When she says ” “Why can’t I go to the editorial meetings?” she asked the engineers. A postgame recap of the analysis wasn’t nearly as thrilling as being there for the main event. How could she not want to be a part of the discussion? They were her numbers, after all.”
Then shetterly puts things like what happened in brown v. board and little rock nine in the context of the book “So far as the future histories of this state can be anticipated now, the year 1958 will be best known as the year Virginia closed the public schools,” () The very same goals NASA tries to pursue are undermined by the state’s refusal to provide an equal education to all children, regardless of race.
By shutting children of color out of white schools that offer more resources and better opportunities, the state reduces its own potential and not only that just proves how rampant the discrimination is. Shetterly also takes the context of history, as during the cold war when the U.S and the Soviet Union were fighting over technology and who was more advanced, though she brings civil right movement into this with the quote “All that money—and for what? …Negro women and men could barely go to the next state without worrying about predatory police, restaurants that refused to serve them, and service stations that wouldn’t let them buy gas or use the bathroom.
Now they wanted to talk about a white man on the Moon?” () she compares this time to previous times throughout american history, these events are important because black activists see it as further evidence that the US government doesn’t care about the lives of its black citizens.
Shetterly ends the book with this ” Dorothy played it close to the vest, she had expected to serve out her last few years as a section head, What a triumph it would have been to return to management, but as the head of a section that employed both men and women, black and white. The section head position was given to Roger Butler, a white man.
In 1971, there were still no female directors at Langley” It’s upsetting that Dorothy’s story ends in this way, but Shetterly notes that it doesn’t really end here instead it continues through the women who work at Langley in the years during and after she leaves, and who are only able to be there because of the opportunities she helped make possible. As she focused on Dorothy the most, to see how it ended and how Dorothy felt you can really feel it from her perspective
In conclusion i thought this book did a amazing job on taking the perspectives of women and african americans during this time period, and i believe Shetterly had good context in her book. One criticism i have of the book personally is that i believe it moved a little slowly. So overall i would give the book 4.5 stars, this is because of its good writing style, use of historical sources, connecting to the modern audience of african american women, those who still to this day face the discrimination that was prevalent throughout the book, and good use of the social history frequent through this time.

Categories
African American

The Lack of African American TV Shows

The norms of American television during its early years have always been focused on the so-called “social whiteness” owing to the fact that shows have always been dominated by the whites.

This theory of racial subjugation was eventually refuted since white and black characters after the 1980s do get the same amount exposure on TV shows. Considering the height of racial discrimination in the United States, the lack of African American TV shows is not surprising though African American celebrities have the same acting skills as non-African Americans.

The shows allotted for African-Americans, predisposed or not, have been limited to situation comedies (sitcoms) and stand-up comics to exemplify that these marginalized sector indeed does get the equality of quantity of said TV acts.
To cite in history, there was the “Amos N’ Andy Show” which commenced in 1928 as a thirty-year radio show and broadcasted on television in 1951 which only lasted for two years because of the massive protests by the black community. It was the lone TV show with an all-black cast during the period. There was also “The Beulah Show,” “The Nat King Cole,” “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” “Good Times,” “What’s Happening,” “That’s My Mama,” and “Sanford and Son.”
The era of “The Roots,” “The Cosby Show,” “Different Strokes,” “Webster,” “Gimme A Break,” and the “A-Team” also came. Many contemporary TV shows featuring African Americans followed thereafter including NBC’s “Hidden Hills,” FOX’s “The Bernie Mac Show” and “Cedric the Entertainer Presents…,” ABC’s “My Wife and Kids,” CBS’s “Robbery Homicide Division” and “Hack.”
The former network WB also aired black-oriented shows as “The Hughleys,” “The Steve Harvey Show” and “The Jamie Foxx Show.” To enhance racial diversity, WB also featured “ER,” “Smallville,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Friends” and “The West Wing.” Meanwhile, UPN introduced “The Parkers,” “One on One,” “Girlfriends,” and “Half and Half.” Even the popular reality TV shows “Survivor” and “Big Brother” even incorporated black contestants in them.
According to Screen Actors Guild (SAG) in 1991, schedules for prime time shows are still segregated in that African American dominated shows were isolated still and in some networks like FOX and NBC, the blacks were still underrepresented, such the term “ghettoization” of African American TV shows.
Studies by SAG further revealed that there are two types of programming: first, “resourceful” programming wherein some shows included a racially diverse cast and “missed “opportunity” in which no effort is made at all to broaden their horizons in terms of casting.
An example of the first type is “The Practice” where it gave importance to African American casts, placing them in major roles with long screen times. As have been mentioned earlier, African Americans did not have much opportunity in drama and more serious roles.
Shows like “Sex and the City” and HBO’s “Six Feet Under” put blacks in very minor, insignificant characters. Oftentimes, blacks are associated with being criminals, villains, gangs, troublemakers, street people, mobs, sidekicks or subordinates in TV performances. These racial stereotyping is not helpful in terms of reconciling the diversified cultures of blacks and whites living in one nation.
It cannot be denied that television is one of the most influential media of information dissemination in the world today. Amidst globalization, television plays a great role in shaping the minds and perspectives of people about things happening in their immediate environment. The squaring off of cultural, racial and sexual distinctions should be given priority if indeed the goal of unification and eliminating discrimination is to be realized.
The lack of African American TV shows is an illustration as to the inequality of racial representation in media. Even if African Americans constitute only a marginalized portion of the population, they should be given equal TV exposure to indicate that racial chauvinism has been resolved and eliminated. If whites are shown to overshadow the blacks on TV, the audience will get the idea that impartiality still exists even in the entertainment industry.
It should be emphasized that television serves as an important cultural medium. Through this instrument, people learn about cultures of the different races.
Whether genuine or not, what is shown on TV will be the image that the audience will grasp regarding that particular culture. This is the reason why extra care and caution must be considered when depicting cultures on TV shows since they shape the representation of that ethnicity.
As mentioned earlier, African Americans often have negative persona in many TV shows. Because of this, the audience will tend to generalize that African Americans are indeed those kinds of people. This brings about a complex societal problem with regards to people’s attitudes towards African Americans.
In conclusion, the lack of African American TV shows is not merely a question of the quantity of shows broadcasted on television but it is also a question of the quality of shows that are being aired globally.
Cultural sensitivity is an important factor in that African American characters should not be limited to being slapstick comedians and humorists, but their roles must exemplify what the true black culture is in order to educate people about their beliefs and ideologies. It is only through a wider and deeper understanding of other ethnicities can we solve the problem of racial prejudice.
Therefore, it is quantity coupled with quality of African American TV shows that will make the imparting of the black society more meaningful and constructive to be able to correct the mistaken identities of African Americans. By increasing the number of quality African American TV shows, deliverance is within reach.
References
“Amos N’ Andy Show.” (n.d.). The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved February 18, 2008, from http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/A/htmlA/amosnandy/amosnandy.htm
Easton, B. M. (n.d.). “African-Americans on TV: A Retrogressive Renaissance.” Retrieved February 18, 2008, from http://www.purrmag.com/Purr12/blacksontv.html
Kumbier, A. (n.d.). “The TV Ghetto.” Retrieved February 18, 2008, from http://www.poppolitics.com/articles/2002/09/09/The-TV-Ghetto
“Racism, Ethnicity and Television.” (n.d.). The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved February 18, 2008, from http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/R/htmlR/racismethni/racismethni.htm
“The African-American Television Audience.” (n.d.). Nielsen Media Research, Inc. Retrieved February 18, 2008, from http://www.nielsenmedia.com/ethnicmeasure/african-american/indexAA.html
 

Categories
African American

African Americans in the Civil War

Roman Robinson Kristen Anderson HIST 3060 February 25, 13 African Americans and the Civil War The role African Americans played in the outcome, and the road to the outcome of the Civil War was immense. The fact that the south had slaves and the north did not played an enormous role in the issues. The north wanted to abolish slavery, and the south did not and after the war started this became one of the main reasons for the Civil War. Since most African Americans could not read or write, this made them an easy target, for slavery, against the dominant white man.
Once the slaves got to America they started to realize how much trouble they were actually in. The north and the south had a problem brewing, and that was due to the slave uprisings and the run a ways. African Americans played an enormous role in the outcome of the Civil War because of the part they took in it. The civil war, which took place from 1861 to the 1920s, the African American community made tremendous strides toward them becoming apart of America and equals in America. Since they had been controlled by the power of the whites for so long, their independence was extremely unfamiliar to them, with their new emancipation.
Since they were so uncertain, they debated about the most effect way to go about actually receiving the rights they deserved. They did not just want to be inferior Negros. Some African Americans thought the actual approach would be to go along with the submissive status the whites held them to, so they could earn their respect until fairness pervaded. Others were more wishful with their thinking and thought the military would make whites surrender and give blacks their basic rights. Those who were still they are thought that no progress would ever come.

These blacks decided that it was essential to escape the shackles and cruel attitudes toward blacks. The civil war initially began to save the Union. At the start of the war slave masters were terribly scared that the slaves would run to join the Union and help the war efforts. To subsidize the problem, most owner enforced harsh restrictions on their slaves. Some owners even moved their whole plantations inland to avoid any contact with the outside northerners. This did not stop the slaves one bit though, this just caused more slave to flee to the north. The slaves that did decide to stay just demanded more freedom from their masters.
Some would say the ones that stayed even gained more power; this forced their masters to give them offerings in exchange for work. The issues of emancipation and military service were intertwined from almost the beginning of the war. News from Fort Sumter made African Americans rush to enlist in military units. They were all turned away since there was a law dating from 1792 that kept African Americans from joining the U. S. army. In Boston disappointed African Americans met and passed a resolution that requested the Government to modify its laws to permit them to enlist. Then Lincoln’s Second Confiscation Act was passed.
The act stated that, Confederates who did not surrender with in sixty days of the acts passage were to be punished by having their slaves freed. The Militia Act was also passed. This act stated African Americans were allowed to fight in the war. These two acts together thoroughly punished rebel slaveholders. The African Americans that enlisted both fought in the front lines and worked behind the scenes labor jobs. All these rights that the African Americans were receiving inspired them to return home and free their families and friends. Some of them even started living in the plantations that they used to be slaves of.
They took them over and began their own cropping. Some of the other plantations had been left to older disabled white woman, when the men had left for the Confederate army. All of this led to the separation of slave labor in the south After trying terribly hard to keep the issue of slavery out of the war, the North decided to start enlisting African Americans to help them fight in the war. The Fifty-Fourth regiment was created by the Union Army, and was the only all black unit. This Union in particular contributed to the war efforts of the North and showed a new found power among blacks.
The regiment started when John Andrew sent a request to the secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, to create a volunteer regiment of African Americans (3). African Americans from all over the country joined. To help recruit even further they called for help from African American leaders like, Frederick Douglas and William Wells Brown. In just two months over one thousand African Americans, one from at least every state, had enlisted in the regiment. The leader of the regiment would not be black though, they wanted the superior officer to have some certain credentials.
The job description posted read: “Young Man of Military Experience Of firm antislavery principles, ambitious, Superior to the vulgar contempt of color Having Faith in the capacity of colored men for military purpose” (2) The man picked for the job was Robert Shaw. The African American regiment and their captain set off for Beaufort, South Carolina on May 28, 1863 (1). They were to attack Fort Wagner, which was a vital key to Charleston. They only way to storm the fort was to go through loads and loads of Confederates. The sheer size of the Confederates to the Fifty- Fourth regiment was an obstacle in itself.
The regiment knew the amount of obstacles they would have to overcome to achieve a victory and yet they kept marching. Shaw and a few men marched to the top of the parapet, and there Shaw was shot and killed. Though this was almost a complete disaster for the regiment they had set a path for future African American soldiers. Frederick Douglas said, “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U. S. , let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship. One thousand seventy-nine African Americans had served in the Civil War. They served in both the U. S. Army and about two thousand served in the Navy. By the time the war was over, forty thousand had died in battle and thirty thousand had died of disease and infection. African American soldiers performed all the jobs needed to run an army. They also served as carpenters, chaplains, cooks, guards, laborers, nurses, scouts, spies, steamboat pilots, surgeons, and teamsters (4). There were nearly 80 black commissioned officers (4). Harriet Tubman was the most famous spy; she served for the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers.
Tubman decided to help the Union Army because she wanted freedom for all of the people who were forced into slavery, not just the few she could help by herself. And she convinced many other brave African Americans to join her as spies, even at the risk of being hanged if they were caught (4). Among Harriet Tubman were many other African American women who served as nurses, spies and scouts. Although, no women were allowed to formally join the army. When black troops were captured by the confederate soldiers, they faced harsher punishments than the white troops.
In 1863 the Confederate Congress threatened to punish officers of African American troops and enslave the African Americans, if they were captured. As a result of this, President Lincoln issued General Order 233, which threatened payback on Confederate prisoners of war, if they mistreated African American troops. This order did scare the Confederates a little, but African American soldiers were still treated harsher than whites. In one of the worst examples of this abuse, Confederate soldiers shot to death black Union soldiers, captures at Fort Pillow, TN, in 1864().
Confederate General Nathan B. Forrest witnessed it all and did nothing to stop it. The President, Abraham Lincoln, issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. This proclamation eventually led to the freedom of all slaves. The document officially made free all bondsmen in the areas of the Confederacy that were still in rebellion. Slavery although was not abolished in the Border States, Tennessee, or the Union occupied areas of Louisiana and Virginia. The proclamation only affected the states in rebellion, so after the efforts it didn’t actually free any slaves.
On the other hand, it did strengthen the Northern war efforts, because they knew they were fighting for a cause. Over five hundred thousand slaves had escaped to the North by the end of the civil war. Many of the escapees joined the Union Army, which tremendously increased its power. As a result of the Emancipation Proclamation, the thirteenth Amendment was created. The Amendment created on December 18, 1865, legally freed all slaves still in bondage. The final step the Emancipation Proclamation was to depress England and France from arriving to the war on the side of the South.
England and France wanted to enter the war on the South side, because the South had supplied them both with cotton and tobacco. England and Frances stance changed when they heard that the war had changed to a fight over slavery. Both nations were opposed to slavery, so ended up giving their support to the Union. That led to the winning of the fight for freedom. Juneteenth was the day created to celebrate the emancipation, when the slaves heard about it that midsummer. The holiday is still celebrated today. Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.
I believe this government cannot endure permanently half-slave and half-free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved. I do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. “(3) African Americans along with the rest of the Union were fighting for this freedom and equality that Abraham Lincoln, was talking about. African American contributions were not limited to the role of working the fields in the south or supplying labor for industry in the north.
Many African Americans in both south and north participated in either direct or supporting roles in the military. The War Between the States proved to be a war fought for democracy. The liberation that the slaves had been waiting for, recovered the ideas that founded the United States of America. All men were equal under the law. Since, the African Americans made such a persistent effort the changes were made more quickly. Africans pushed for their own emancipation by resisting their masters and other labor tasks.
Although a formal Emancipation Proclamation and Thirteenth Amendment freed blacks in America, it would be a long time before they received all the rights they deserved. The minds of Americans had been so engrained with racism only decades of hard work would lessen this. Works Cited 1) Freeman, Elsie, Wynell Burroughs Schamel, and Jean West. “The Fight for Equal Rights: A Recruiting Poster for Black Soldiers in the Civil War. ” Social Education 56, 2 (February 1992): 118-120. 2) “Blacks in the Civil War. ”. Colorado College. Web. 3 Mar 2013. <http://www2. coloradocollege. edu/Dept/HY/Hy243Ruiz/Research/civilwar. h

Categories
African American

Anti African American Racism

The end of the civil war with the surrender of the Confederate forces in 1965 brought an end to the institution of slavery. However the white majority of the South was unwilling to grant African-Americans the full rights of citizenship. Many African-Americans decided to move from the rural areas of the South, to the urban areas, especially those of the North, where they expected to find a more egalitarian social order. However a sudden increase in the African American population of cities exacerbated racial tensions.

Riots, lynching and racist legislation by local and state governments became commonplace. From the 1890’s to the 1920’s, the United States underwent a dark period of racist violence and hatred in what has been termed the “nadir of race relations in America”. Disenfranchisement of Blacks Many of the influential whites of the South believed that denying all political power from African-Americans was crucial in order to maintain their economic superiority. Southern states and local governments continually aimed to undermine federal laws that guaranteed voting rights to African-Americans.

A Mississippian writing to the Chicago Inter Ocean newspaper said: “It is a question of political economy which the people of the North can not realize nor understand and which they have no right to discuss as they have no power to determine. If the Negro is permitted to engage in politics his usefulness as a laborer is at an end. He can no longer be controlled or utilized. The South has to deal with him as an industrial and economic factor and is forced to assert its control over him in sheer self-defense. ” (Love, 2009)
African-Americans were in the majority in the Southern states of Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina, in several other states they formed a sizeable minority. The dominant white minority in those states fought the hardest to deny African-Americans their right to vote under one pretext or another. The mechanisms for denying African-Americans their voting rights were many, some were legal and others extra-legal. Legal artifices for denying African-Americans the vote included the levying of taxes and the requirements of passing certain tests (Klarman, 2004).
Poll Taxes Several Southern states made payment of a poll tax; a fixed amount of money levied upon each person, a requirement for voting. State laws often required the payment of the tax, month before the election. Voters who fell behind in payment of the tax were denied the vote unless they paid all the cumulative tax they owed at once. As a result thousands of African-Americans, who were largely poor and lower class whites were disenfranchised (Love, 2009). English Literacy/Comprehension Requirements
Several states passed legislation requiring voters to be able to read and write in English, most African-Americans, poor whites and recent immigrants were disenfranchised through these laws. Other tests included oral comprehension tests, one such test, enacted by the state of Mississippi, required voters to be able to understand parts of the state’s constitution. These tests were often administered in an unfair and arbitrary manner by local voting registrars who had absolute power to declare whoever they wished competent or incompetent to vote in the elections (Love, 2009).
In order to prevent the disenfranchisement of their white supporters, white people were often exempted from the requirement of passing literacy/comprehension tests or paying poll taxes, this was done through the use of ‘Grandfather Clauses’ which automatically granted voting rights to a person whose grandfather had the right to vote. The enactment of the ‘grandfather clauses’ allowed poor whites to vote but blocked first or second generation freedmen (Logan, 1957). Residency Requirements
Many urbanized states, frightened by the appearance of large numbers of African-American immigrants from the rural South, enacted legislation requiring voters to establish their residence in the state for an extended period of time before they were allowed to vote in the elections (Love, 2009). In order to prove an extended period of residency, voters had to show their tax records or other documents which necessitated at least some literacy, so the residency requirements worked much the same way as literacy tests (Logan, 1957).
Printed Ballots The introduction of the modern printed ‘Australian’ ballot proved to be an impediment to the enfranchisement of African-Americans. Prior to its introduction, each political party printed its own ballots. Party workers would enter the polling stations with their own ballot papers which they would hand to their supporters. The handing out of the new ballots to voters was put in the hands of government officials, mostly linked to the Democratic Party and hostile to African-Americans.
The ballot itself presented great difficulty to illiterate people, who were unable to correctly select the party of their choice and made mistakes which led to their votes being rejected (Love, 2009). White Primaries The voting rights laws were aimed primarily toward the national and local government elections. It was argued that political parties, not being government agencies were not required to extend the right to vote in their primary elections to African-Americans. The state of Texas, for example, passed legislation in 1923, forbidding blacks from voting in Democratic primaries.
Since the Democratic Party had a virtual monopoly on the government in many Southern states, blocking African-Americans from the primary had, in real terms, the same effect as blocking them from national elections (Love, 2009). Bullying and Violence In addition to the legal artifices, several extra-legal methods were adopted in order to prevent African-Americans from voting. These included physical violence and threats of physical violence to induce African-Americans to stay away from the polling booths. Several white militias existed which had their roots in the former Confederate army.
These militias often engaged in violence during election days. Republicans sought to counter the threat of violence by extending the voting time to several days and by seeking to allow voters to vote at any polling station within a precinct, while Southern Democrats would often seek to restrict the window of time available for voting and the location for casting a vote in order to increase the threat of violence in the minds of the African-American voters (Logan, 1957). The end result of all these legal and illegal tactics to prevent African-Americans from voting was that African-American voting numbers dropped sharply.
In the state of Arkansas, for example, the voting participation rate for African-American voters dropped from over two-thirds to around one-third (Klarman, 2004). Segregation of Housing Several states and counties passed legislation preventing African-Americans from residing in certain localities which were deemed to be the exclusive preserve of Whites. In the famous Buchanan v. Warley (1917) case, the United States Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a city ordinance in Louisville Kentucky which enforced racial zoning of residential areas (Klarman, 2004).
Even after residential segregation was deemed unconstitutional, the use of restrictive covenants prevented African-Americans from residing in several areas, the property owners of a location would simply refuse to sell or rent out their properties to African Americans (Logan, 1957). In other areas the threat of violence and harassment from the public and the police kept African-Americans out. Many small towns had unwritten rules, commonly termed the “Sunset Laws” which required all African-Americans to leave the town before sunset (Mann, 1993).
Segregation of Schools Traditionally, it was common for there to be separate school facilities for African-American children, these schools were frequently underfunded and lacking in the facilities given to schools for white children. Educationally ambitious African-American parents would often seek to enroll their children in normal schools and not school built especially for African-American children, sometimes they would encounter sympathetic school administrators who would agree to enroll their children (Klarman, 2004).
Many white parents did not want their children to interact with African-American children. In many localities laws were passed to prevent white and black children from studying in the same schools. The Kentucky legislature passed such a law in 1904, titled “An Act to prohibit white and colored persons from attending the same school. ” Kentucky Democrat Carl Day, who introduced the legislation, justified it on the grounds that it would prevent the white children of Kentucky from being ‘contaminated’ (Klarman, 2004).
Segregation of the Means of Transport African-Americans were often prevented from travelling in the better compartments of railway cars, in many localities segregation of White and Black passengers was made compulsory under law. Louisiana’s Act 111 passed in 1890 mandated separate accommodation for Blacks on railway cars. In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the constitutionality of this law encouraging other states to enact similar laws (Klarman, 2004). Anti Miscegenation Legislation
A large number of White people, feared the wished to ‘preserve the purity of the White race’ by putting an end to racial mixing between Whites and all other races. Several localities instituted laws forbidding marriage. In the 1883 Pace v. Alabama case, the US Supreme Court upheld the Alabama laws against racial mixing as constitutionally valid (Spiro, 2008). In 1924, Virginia passed a comprehensive anti-miscegenation law called the Virginia Racial Integrity Act which defined a person as non-White even if a single great-grandparent was non-White and classified intermarriage between Whites and non-Whites as a felony (Hashaw, 2007).
A Maryland law imposed a sentence ranging from 18 months to 5 years in prison on a White woman who got pregnant as a result of ‘fornication with a negro’ (Hashaw, 2007). Anti-miscegenation laws were enacted in most states at one time or another (Spiro, 2008). Anti-Black Rioting With the arrival of large numbers of unskilled African-American workers from the rural south, the supply of laborers often greatly exceeded the demand. Lower class urban Whites faced a new challenge in the form of the newly arrived African-Americans and other immigrants, who were often willing to work for smaller wages (Takaki, 1993).
This conflict produced a number of violent, destructive and deadly riots throughout the cities of the United States. The White rioters would target not only the Black workers but also attack the white businesses and homes where Blacks found employment. In the 1908 riots in Springfield Illinois, the Mayor received threatening letters demanding that he fire all Black policemen, firemen and janitors, several local businesses reported receiving letters threatening that their properties would be set on fire if they did not fire all Black employees or stop doing business with Blacks (De la Roche, 2008).
Racism and White Identity During the years following the reconstruction, many European immigrant communities formerly rejected due to their religion or national origins were accepted into the fold of the White majority as a result of their joining the anti-Black cause. One such community were the Catholic German Immigrants to the South. Many German Catholics had volunteered to join the Union out of a disgust at the institution of slavery (Strickland, 2008). The Germans also had considerably less prejudice against intermarrying with Blacks and several such marriages have been recorded (Strickland, 2008).
Prior to the Civil War, one of the reasons the German immigrants were regarded with distrust by the majority community was due to their practice of trading with Black slaves and selling them alcohol. However in the aftermath of the Reconstruction, the German Immigrant found that the best way to get accepted into the White majority was to adopt White supremacist and anti-Black rhetoric (Strickland, 2008). Lynching Despite their emancipation from slavery, the White majority expected Blacks to behave in subservient and deferential manner toward them.
Any perceived lack of respect on the part of African-Americans would be met with violence. Often White mobs would attack Blacks who dared to try to vote or to own and farm their own land (Klarman, 2004). About a third of the lynchings were carried out against Black men accused of being insufficiently respectful or sexually expressive toward White woman or were alleged to have raped a White woman. The fear of Black males sexually assaulting White females reached had assumed the form of mass hysteria (Dorr, 2004). Racist Militias and the Klu Klux Klan
The withdrawal of most of the troops from the South at the end of the reconstruction era allowed confederate veterans to form terrorist militias and engage in anti-Black violent activities. The most famous of these militias was the Klu Klux Klan which was aggressively prosecuted and suppressed by the Federal government in the 1870’s, other militias included the White League and the Redshirts. In the mid 1910’s a new surge in militia violence occurred, the Klu Klux Klan was reformed in 1915 and at the height of its popularity in the 1920’s claimed nearly 5 million members (Turner & Williams, 1982).
The 1890’s – 1920’s era was a horrible period in American History. Anti-Black sentiment faded as anti-Nazi sentiment grew, and much of the ‘scientific racism’ that was used to justify anti African-American policies came to be associated with Hitler and Nazism. The full-fledged participation of African Americans in the two world wars led to the desegregation of the military in 1948 which paved the way for the later general desegregation of society. References De la Roche, R. S. (2008). In Lincoln’s Shadow: The 1908 Race Riot in Springfield, Illinois (2nd ed. ). Carbondale, IL: SIU Press. Dorr, L. L. (2004).
White women, rape, and the power of race in Virginia, 1900-1960 (2nd Edition ed. ). Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press. Hashaw, T. (2007). Children of Perdition: Melungeons and the Struggle of Mixed America. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press. Klarman, M. J. (2004). From Jim Crow to civil rights: the Supreme Court and the struggle for racial equality. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, US. Logan, R. W. (1957). The Negro in the United States: a brief history. Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand Co. Love, L. J. (2009). The Disfranchisement of the Negro. Charleston, SC: BiblioLife. Mann, C. R. (1993).
Unequal justice: a question of color (2nd Edition ed. ). Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. Spiro, J. P. (2008). Defending the master race: conservation, eugenics, and the legacy of Madison Grant. Lebanon, NH: UPNE. Strickland, J. (2008). How the Germans Became White Southerners: German Immigrants and African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina, 1860-1880. Journal of American Ethnic History , 52-69. Takaki, R. (1993). A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. Turner, J. J. , & Williams, R. (1982). The Ku Klux Klan, a history of racism and violence. Allentown, PA: Klanwatch.

Categories
African American

Queer Theories African American Homosexual

Trapped: The Dilemma of the African American Homosexual Colin Chastain April 1, 2013 Dr. Wayne Brekhus Sociology 3300: Queer Theories Introduction When someone hears the word “gay” or “queer”, they most often think of the middle class, Caucasian gay male. For my research proposal, I plan on studying what is very often overlooked in queer identity: the struggle of queer identity in the African American gay male. I am interested in studying this because I grew up knowing I was gay in a small, middle class town in rural America.
I wish to argue how gay African Americans are restricted by Black stereotypes, gay stereotypes, acceptance with stipulations in the gay community and black community, racism in the gay community, homophobia in the Black community, perceptions of blackness and masculinity attitudes toward homosexuality and their effect on gay Black men living openly, homosexuality and religion (the black church), and media perceptions of Black homosexuality. The majority of the black community stated they wished to live restriction free lives. They are not able to fully be themselves in their daily lives and often have to assimilate to be accepted.
While much research has been conducted on white gay males, there is very little study on African Americans who identify with the queer identity. African Americans already have to struggle with the racism and stereotypes of being “black” as an extremely masculinized and heterosexual environment while struggling with the internal conflict of being gay, which makes their experience unique. “Because African? Americans have already encountered a very traumatic experience with oppression, one could safely assume that African? Americans would be more sensitive to socially oppressive practices such as being gay so most decide to conceal it.

Sadly, African? American homosexual males are largely viewed by Black heterosexuals as: not really Black, deviant, a disgrace, an embarrassment and, worse yet, an agent of genocide aimed against their own race” (Alexander, 2004: 76, 78). Racism within the Gay Community It is sad to see that racism is still prevalent even within the gay community; a community that is oppressed almost as much as African Americans. The relationship between the gay community and Black community has been one of association and disassociation. The gay community throughout history has likened their struggle to that of Blacks in America.
The Black community has had little interaction with the gay community and has attempted to distance itself from being compared to the gay community. Keith Boykin, author of One More River to Cross, often speaks to the dissensions between the Gay community and the Black community. He analyzes both the gay community and Black community’s relationship to each other and gay Black men. Boykin states, “The dirty little secret about the homosexual population is that white gay people are just as racist as white straight people” (Boykin, 1996: 234). To be “gay” has taken on a white face as well as white experiences” (Boykin, 1996: 235).
Homophobia within the Black Community One thing I never realized is how many African Americans feel they have to choose between “being Black” or “being gay” based on homophobic pressures within the Black community. In her book, The Truth that Never Hurts, Smith dedicates a chapter specifically to this issue. . Smith states, “The underlying assumption is that I should prioritize one of my identities because one of them is actually more important than the rest or that I must arbitrarily choose one of them over the others for the sake of acceptance in one particular community” (Smith, 1998; 125-132).
This is an issue gay Black men face as they have “loyalties” to each of their respective communities. Smith acknowledges the double consciousness that many gay Black men face in choosing between the gay community and the Black community. In my experience, being a Caucasian gay male, I never had to go through this since being gay, like Boykin states, has taken on a white face as the most researched and highlighted community of gay men. Gay Black Men and Issues of Masculinity and Homosexuality Afrocentricity: a mode of thought and action in which the centrality of African interests, values, and perspectives predominant.
In terms of action and behavior, it is a devotion to the idea that what is in the best interest of African consciousness is at the heart of ethical behavior (Asante, 1998; 2). It seeks to highlight the idea that to be black is to be against all forms of oppression, racism, classism, homophobia, patriarchy, child abuse, pedophilia, and white racial domination. According to Asante, one cannot be afrocentric and gay. With this being said, afrocentrism recognizes homophobia’s existence, but cannot condone homosexuality to be accepted as good to further the national development of a strong people.
This is what most Black men struggle with yet again. To choose to embrace their black heritage and furthering an oppressed race over embracing their sexuality. It’s almost as if Black men are “trapped” between conflicting interests of different communities. Perceptions of Homosexuality leading to Risky, Dangerous, and Rash Behaviors Studies have also been conducted which look at the Black gay community and riskier sexual behavior leading to AIDS. Previous research has shown a link between riskier sexual behavior and beliefs regarding homosexuality in the Black community (Peterson, 1992).
This link this creates an added barrier for Black gays when compared to white gays. Previous research has also shown that gay Blacks do not seek refuge primarily within the LGBT community and tend to be less involved than gay whites (Stokes, 1996). In fact, as Lewis points out in his study, gay Blacks experience racism in interactions with white gays (Battle, 2002). Attitudinal differences are important to understand as we attempt to uncover those obstacles gay Black men view as restricting their life chances. Self? estructive behaviors directly related to a negative self-concept are also the result of internalizing heterosexual ideology. High incidence of substance abuse, increasing rates of suicide, and risky sexual behaviors are the most common self? destructive behaviors exhibited by homosexuals. This is even more prevalent among Black gay men because the way they perceive themselves correlates to W. E. B. DuBois double consciousness. Gay Black men research often feel torn between the gay community, the Black community, and being a man in society.
Having to combat stereotypes makes it difficult for these gay Black men to find a home in either community (Alexander, 2004). Acceptance with Stipulations in the Gay Community and Black Community While gay Black men did feel accepted at times within the gay community and the Black community… that acceptance often came with a stipulation. Stipulations in the gay community were assimilation and/or sexual interest. The participants stated that if they demonstrated traits that were similar to the white community, they were often accepted into the community without any problems.
Some participants even stated that they felt more accepted in the gay community when they muted their “Blackness. ” The participants also stated that if the whites had an interest in gay Black men, then they also were accepted into the community. Stipulations in the Black community were usually silence (vocally and visibly) and explanations of what it means to be homosexual. Black gays often felt that they were accepted into the Black community as long as they did not speak about their lifestyle or demonstrate their lifestyle (i. e. holding hands with another man, kissing another man, being flamboyant or effeminate, etc. . Many Black gays claim to feel accepted in the Black community once they get a chance to talk to a Black individual one on one to show them that not all gay people are what the media has portrayed. Ultimately, Black gays, like many gays, have to act “straight” and not reveal any inclination that they were homosexual. Homosexuality and Religion (The Black Church) The understanding of homosexuality within the realm of religion is also important to consider because religion has been a primary aspect of Black liberation for centuries.
Homosexuality remains a major taboo in religious talk which has prompted many researchers to analyze why homophobic attitudes exist. In Delroy Constantine-Simms text, The Greatest Taboo: Homosexuality in Black Communities, the question is asked whether or not homosexuality is the greatest taboo? Constantine-Simms, E. Patrick Johnson, and Horace Griffin all provide articles that analyze the relationship between homosexuality and religion (specifically the Black church). All authors agree that the bible has been co-opted by the religious right wings placing a greater emphasis on separation rather than integration.
The authors all compare the homophobia that revolves around religion to the racism and sexism that still today clouds religion. Constantine-Simms states, “With the interpretive grid provided by a critique of domination, we are able to filter out the sexism, patriarchalism, violence, and homophobia that are very much a part of the Bible, thus liberating it to reveal to us in fresh ways the in breaking, in our time, of God’s domination-free order” (Constantine-Simms, 2000: 87).
In Keith Boykin’s book One More River to Cross, he speaks of several ministers he’s interviewed regarding homosexuality and religion. The majority of reverends interviewed agreed that homosexuality is a sin often quoting the Bible to reinforce their opinion. Boykin highlights one reverend in particular who has targeted the gay community as sinners. Boykin cites the Reverend James Sykes as one of best known opponents of homosexuality in the Black church. Boykin quotes Sykes defending a Klu Klux Klan meeting, “If I like pork chops and the Klan likes pork chops, nobody has nothing to say.
But because the Klan agrees that homosexuality is wrong, and I agree that homosexuality is wrong, then all the sudden I’m sleeping with the Klan” (Boykin, 1996: 127-128). This attitude toward homosexuality is appalling considering Sykes is the pastor of a four hundred plus member church. Boykin, along with several other scholars, assert that the language of religion has been corrupted by right wing moralists who want nothing more than to eradicate homosexuality from the church. Media Perceptions of Black Homosexuality Images of Black homosexuality have been predominately negative in popular culture today.
Across the board all individuals who have researched this topic agree that gay Black men are represented negatively in popular culture. Gay Black men have been portrayed as void of masculinity, hyper-sexual, sassy, and flamboyant. Marlon T. Riggs, author of Black Macho Revisited: Reflections of a Snap! Queen, discusses his anger towards the straight men of the Black community. Riggs states that he expected the obstacles in life from the White community because of his race, but never expected obstacles from his own brothers regarding his sexuality.
Riggs believes that they should understand what it is like to be oppressed, and therefore should reject any notion of oppression since they have to face a form of it every day as well. Riggs cites several Black men who have done nothing but participate in the degradation of the gay Black male. His best example lies in a comedy show that used to air entitled In Living Color, in which two straight Black men portrayed gay Black men to review movies from a “man’s point of view. ” Riggs also brings the discussion up again regarding the ‘trap” of being gay and Black. I am a Negro Faggot, if I believe what movies, TV, and rap music say of me. Because of my sexuality, I cannot be Black. A strong, proud, “Afrocentric” Black man is resolutely heterosexual, not even bisexual. ” (Riggs, 1991: 389-394) Various video productions have been produced that attempt to acknowledge the difficulties of being both gay and Black. Films such as Tongues Untied intimately deconstruct the experience of the gay Black male. Tongues Untied is directed and produced by Marlon Riggs.
The film addresses the struggle gay Black men face silenced and torn between both the gay and Black communities. Riggs video encapsulates the pain, fear, and hatred gay Black men deal with negotiating their identities within a community that does not recognize their race and a community that rejects their sexuality. The film presents a positive message for gay Black men to love not only themselves but their Black brethren. Tongues Untied presents the best visual representation of what it means to be Black and gay in America.
Current media is attempting to expand cultural stereotypes. While some of those negative stereotypes that have been reinforced by popular media still exist, these new forms are seeking to eliminate those past stereotypes and show the world that there isn’t just one image of the African American gay man. Attitudes toward Homosexuality and their effect on Gay Black Men Living Openly White and Black attitudes toward homosexuality have directly affected gay Black men to a greater degree than gay White men. Previous studies have yielded an array of mixed results.
Levitt and Klassen (1974) found in their research that whites significantly maintain more negative attitudes toward homosexuality than Blacks. Years later Hudson and Ricketts (1980) and Schneider and Lewis (1984) found the opposite. The most common results regarding Blacks and whites and their attitudes toward homosexuality displayed that Blacks were more likely to support anti-discrimination laws but Whites were typically more accepting of the homosexual lifestyle. Gregory Lewis (2003) conducted research that measures Black-white differences in attitudes toward homosexuality and gay rights.
His article uses responses from almost seven thousand Blacks and forty-three thousand whites in 31 surveys conducted since 1973 to give more definitive answers on Black-white attitudinal differences and their demographic roots. Lewis’s findings correlate with the research of the past displaying Blacks as “percentage points more likely than whites to condemn homosexual relations as “always wrong” and percentage points more likely to see them warranting “God’s punishment” in the form of AIDS, but no more like to favor criminalizing gay sex” (Lewis, 2003: 63).
Lewis also found that while Black’s attitudes regarding homosexuality were predominantly negative; Blacks are percentage points more likely than whites to support laws prohibiting antigay job discrimination. Difference in attitudes matter because as Lewis states, “First, Black lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals (LGBs) may rely on same-race heterosexuals for acceptance even more than white LGBs do (Icard, 1986)” (Lewis, 2003: 61). Those same researchers concluded that Blacks attracted to their own gender often experience more pressure than whites to hide their homosexual behavior, have children, or marry (Icard, 1986).
This fear of “coming out” represents a problem within the gay Black community and they become trapped which prevents them from living the lives they feel they ought to be living. Conclusion The Black gay male struggle certainly is a rough one. Compared to my experiences with homosexuality, it seems that Black gay males have much more pressure on them to conform to the heterosexual social sanctions of society, their own black community, and racism. I can definitely relate to the substance abuse and acting straight (such as pushing the thoughts out of my mind).
The way society views all homosexuality needs to change, and is slowly changing. Black gay males should be paid a little more attention to in the media, research, and other forms of communication so that the weight of these pressures may be lifted off of their shoulder. Even other minorities such as Hipic, Asian, or Indian should be more looked upon to open the nation’s eyes to the diversity and struggle of all homosexuals, not just the white gay male. With this being said, I feel we are taking great strides with the LGBTQ community to further the goal to include all who are struggling.
We just need to find a way to eliminate any prejudices that make it even harder for Black gay males or any ethnicity/orientation to find happiness and acceptance. Works Cited Alexander, William H. (2004) “Homosexual and Racial Identity Conflicts and Depression Among African? American Gay Males,” Trotter Review: Vol. 16: Iss. 1, Article 8. Available at: http://scholarworks. umb. edu/trotter_review/vol16/iss1/8 Bailey, Robert W. (1999) Gay Politics, Urban Politics: Identity and Economics in the Urban Setting. Chichester – West Sussex, New York: Columbia University Press.
Boykin, Keith (1996). One More River to Cross. Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. Anchor Books. Constantine-Simms, Delroy. , ed. The Greatest Taboo: Homosexuality in Black Communities. Alyson Publications. 2000. Hudson, Walter W. , and Wendell A. Ricketts. 1980. “A Strategy for the Measurement of Homophobia. ” Journal of Homosexuality 5(4):357-72 Icard, L. (1986). Black gay men and conflicting social identities: Sexual orientation versus racial identity. Journal of Social Work and Human Sexuality, 4, 83-93. Levitt, Eugene E. , and Albert D.
Klassen. 1974. “Public Attitudes toward Homosexuality: Part of the 1970 Nation Survey by the Institute for Sex Research. ” Journal of Homosexuality. 1(1):29-43. Lewis, Gregory B. Black-white differences in attitudes toward homosexuality and gay rights. Public Opinion Quarterly. Chicago: Spring 2003. Vol. 67, Iss. 1; pg. 59, 20 pgs. Peterson, J. L. (1992). “Black Men and Their Same-Sex Desires and Behaviors. ” In Gay Culture in America, edited by Gilbert Herdt. Boston: Beacon Press Riggs, Marlon T. Black Macho Revisited: Reflections of a Snap! Queen.
Black American Literature Forum, Vol. 25, No. 2, Black Film Issue. (Summer, 1991), pp. 389- 394. Riggs, M. (director). Tongues Untied. 55 min. Frameline, Inc. , 1989. Available at: http://www. dailymotion. com/video/xe80ww_tvxs-gr-tongues-untied_people#. UWRkFE7n9Ms Smith, Barbara. The Truth that Never Hurts. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, and London. 1998. Pgs 125-132. Stokes, Joseph P. , and John L. Peterson. 1998. “Homophobia, Self-Esteem, and Risk for HIV among African American Men Who Have Sex with Men. ” AIDS Education and Prevention 10(3):278-92

Categories
African American

Toni Morrison: First African American Female Author

Toni Morrison is not only a devoted humanitarian and one of the most respected contemporary black American female novelists, she is also known for her political activism. In her works, Morrison often emphasizes cultural awareness and an appreciation for ethnic diversity. She tackles hard subjects that explore identity and painful life experiences that can be uncomfortable for the reader, but they reflect historical events that are often ignored.
Morrison’s novel, Beloved, portrays the dehumanizing effects of slavery and sexual assault that many women silently endured. Morrison dedicated her literary career to ensure that the black experience of slavery would not be told only in history books written by white people. Her characters demonstrate the physical and psychological damage inflicted on African Americans during and after the Civil War and even through the Civil Rights Movement.
Morrison once said in an interview, “I am writing for black people . . . . I don’t have to apologize” (Hoby 1). The edgy style and controversial subject matter that Morrison used opened the doors for future black authors to boldly discuss the pain and prejudice that most Americans would like to forget; however, if we don’t acknowledge the past, we are bound to repeat it. Her novel Beloved is an excellent example of this.

The 1950s and ’60s were climactic decades for black Americans in general, socially and politically. As underrepresented groups began to get exposure, the black women’s movement gained visibility, leading up to “the black women’s literary renaissance” of the 1970s (Donaghy 1). Morrison was probably the leading black female writer of this time and was an inspiration to countless others to follow, including Toni Cade Bambara, Gloria Naylor, Roxane Gay, Jesmyn Ward, bell hooks, and Nikki Giovanni (“Renaissance” 1).
Some of these authors followed Morrison’s style of blending her characters’ physical and spiritual realities, making characters multidimensional and relatable to the reader, even if they suffer from mental illness. The main character and narrator of Beloved, Sethe, is a terrorized Kentucky slave at the beginning of the novel, and even after she gains her freedom, she is still mentally enslaved by what happened in her past.
Her character is based on a real runaway slave woman named Margaret Garner who escaped from a plantation in 1856 and murdered her child when she was caught by the owner (Zhigang 54). Morrison took Garner’s real story and added the description of the psychological effects of abuse.
One of the most traumatic scenes of the novel, Beloved, is when Sethe and her daughters have run away from the plantation and been caught and told they will have to return. Out of sacrificial love, Sethe decides to kill her daughters rather than allow them to endure the brutality she experienced.
She actually only kills the two-year-old, and she has “Beloved” inscribed on the child’s tombstone. Later, after Sethe gains freedom and is living in Ohio, she meets a young woman who introduces herself as Beloved, and Sethe believes this is her daughter reincarnated. Sethe is unable to rationalize or explain anything that happens at this point.
Morrison beautifully and painfully describes Sethe’s confusion and mental anguish, as she tries to find peace and forgiveness. Paul D, another main character, is also haunted by his past experiences on the same plantation, and these memories create tension and anxiety in most of their interactions. Rather than bringing them together, these shared experiences keep Sethe and Paul D silent and separated.
Morrison’s shocking descriptions in Beloved (as well as some of her other books, particularly The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Song of Solomon) introduced readers of mainstream fiction to horrors that they had probably never heard about. Some people have said these conversations were also part of the Black Power Movement that led to the development of Black Studies programs in universities across the United States (Als 1). From them came the development of additional programs like Gender Studies, Women’s Studies, Asian Studies, Chicano Studies, and other studies of underrepresented minority groups.
Morrison is also known for using biblical allusions throughout her novels. In Beloved, Paul D has been compared to the story of Noah, as there are scenes with heavy rain when Paul D escapes, and he ultimately was the only male who survived to obtain freedom from the plantation (Zhigang 54). Another important character is Baby Suggs, who is Sethe’s mother-in-law. She is described as “an unchurched preacher” (Morrison 87) who gives sermons in the Clearing and is described to be like Jesus during his ministry. These references to the Bible bring in a religious and spiritual element that is also something many American readers can relate to.
Works Cited

Als, Hilton. “Ghosts in the House.” The New Yorker, 27 Oct. 2003. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/10/27/ghosts-in-the-house
Donaghy, Daniel. “Women & Literature: Toni Morrison.” Oxford University Press Blog, 5 Sept. 2006. https://blog.oup.com/2006/09/women_literatur
Hoby, Hermoine. “Interview: Toni Morrison.” The Guardian, 25 Apr. 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/apr/25/toni-morrison-books-interview-god-help-the-child
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Penguin Group, 1987. “Renaissance in the 1970s.” Encyclopedia Brittanica, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/art/African-American-literature/Renaissance-in-the-1970s#ref232371
Zhigang, Li. “Studies on Toni Morrison’s Beloved From the Cultural Perspective.” Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 14, no. 4, 2017, pp. 53-56. doi:10.3968/9568