Before Brown

Background – USA until 1945

Key question – what was the situation of Black Americans in 1945?

The USA is a land of immigrants founded on ideas of freedom, equality, democracy.

Africans were brought over as slaves   to work on plantations (mainly cotton and tobacco) , mainly in southern states.

USA Gained independence from Britain in the Revolutionary War

The Founding Fathers produced a Codified constitution.  The USA was established as Federal State.  Federal (central) GVMT controls matters such as currency, defence but States make their own laws over matters such education, transport, voting etc.  The Central GVMT is not supposed to over rule the states on such matters.

The Bill of Rights set out Civil Liberties such as Freedom of Speech, habeas corpus etc.  The Supreme Court interprets the constitution and can strike down laws which violate civil rights.

Civil War the South tried to secede from Union because they did not want to abandon slavery (their ‘peculiar institution’).  North refused to let them secede.  The North was more industrialized than the south and won.  A division (and resentment?) between south and north has persisted.

Lincoln abolished slavery

The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments were passed; end of slavery, due process, right to vote.

A period of Reconstruction was followed by the revival of white supremacists such as the KKK

Jim Crow laws were passed in southern states, enforcing segregation in schools, on transport, in public buildings etc.

Supreme Court allowed this in Plessy v Ferguson where it claimed segregation was constitutional as long as facilities were ‘separate but equal’

Restrictions on the right to vote through the imposition of poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses were introduced

Lynching common and violence against Blacks were common.

WWW1 lead to Great Migration to cities in North

Harlem renaissance.  Growth of groups such as the NAACP

1929 – The Wall Street Crash was followed by depression and New Deal

1941-45 – USA entered WW2.  Black Africans fought in army.

Migration to cities – membership of organisations like NAACP grew

1945 -1965

Key question – How much did things change?  How much did things stay the same?

The Cold war had begun.  The USA needed to appear to live up to its claims of freedom and democracy as it was accusing the USSR of being repressive.

1947 – Truman produced ‘To Secure these Rights’

Truman desegregated the army by Executive Order

Introduced Fair Employment Board

Symbolic actions – such as integrated inaugaration celebrations

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