African Americans play significant roles in American politics and government. African American officials are now involved in politics from the International to the local level. The slave system and a lack of organization among free African Americans limited political and governmental activity before the Civil War, and even after the emancipation, black people had to struggle to obtain political rights. The African American fight for Civil Rights help to inspired other groups, including women and native Americans, to seek social equality and to use tactics similar to those of the Civil Rights Movement.
In 1865, Congress passed and the states ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, officially abolishing slavery. With the end of slavery, African Americans could believe more fully in the Declaration of Independence, which declared that all men are created equal. African Americans took a leading role in Reconstruction politics of the South. The Southern states, however, immediately began enacting legislation, called Black Codes aimed at restricting the freedom of African Americans and curtailing their geographical mobility. Congress, in response to the South’s actions, passed the Fortieth Amendment to the Constitution in 1866 and ratified it in 1868. This Amendment extended citizenship and protection of Civil Rights to African Americans. In
1867, Congress instituted the Reconstruction Act, which was designed to rebuild the South and prepare it for a reintroduction in United Stated politics. The principal consequences of the act on the South and on African Americans were the military occupation by the United States Army and a demand that Southern states revise their state constitutions to ensure equal opportunity for African Americans before applying for re-admittance to the union.
During Reconstruction Africans participated in politics and government at levels that are surprising, given the fact that slavery existed less than a decade earlier. More than a thousand African Americans served in local and state offices during the 1870’s.
Elected African American officials represented a broad spectrum of post-emancipation African Americans. Several were freedmen before the Civil War, were literate, and owned property. The first twenty African Americans to serve in the United States House of Representatives were seated beginning in 1869. There were eight from South Carolina, four from North Carolina, three from Alabama and one from Georgia, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, and Virginia.
African Americans were more numerous in state legislatures. For example, in the early 1870’s there were eighty-seven African Americans in the South Carolina legislature as opposed to forty whites. The state had two African American lieutenant governors, Alonza Ransier (1870) and Richard Gleaves (1872), and Robert Elliott ((1874). Francis Cardozo was secretary of state from 1868 to 1872 and treasurer from 1872 to 1876. Between 1868 and 1896, Louisian had 133 African American members in its legislature. Oscar Dunn, C. C. Antoine, and P.B.S. Pinchback served as lieutenant governors, with Pinchback serving as acting governor for forty-three days in 1873. African Americans received nearly as much representation in some other states.
At the same time, the movement in the South to prevent African Americans from voting and participating in most areas of society continued to gain momentum. The 1890’s had erected a complete system of legal segregation erected in the South. In 1896, the United Stated Supreme Court ruling in Plessy V. Ferguson established the doctrine of separated but equal.
African American protests against the Jim Crow Laws were suppressed. Political participation and activity within the government fell to African American organizations that sprang up around the turn of the Century. One notable organization was the Niagara Movement. Many Africans Americans in the Early 1900’s favored using political rights to end racial segregation in the South. African American leaders met and formed the Niagara Movement in 1905 to assist in advancing this position. The Niagara Movement, with the help of several prominent whites, evolved into the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1910.
Presidential appointments continued to be the primary route to service in the federal government. Some of the African American appointees were T. Thomas Fortune, appointed to a special commission to investigate conditions in the United States insular possessions, and William Henry Lewis, as assistant United States attorney for Massachusetts both were appointed by Theodore Roosevelt.
Part of the African American response to restrictive Southern politics was to move to the North. A substantial number of African Americans chose emigration as a way to participate more fully in the American system. The move North presented another type of problem: How to get involved in political processes that had come to be dominated by European immigrant groups. Much of the success or failure had to do with the degree to which a political machine existed. Chicago, for example, had a political machine in which deals with the local political boss could result in political favors. Since African American was concentrated in one area, one such boss could be relied upon to deliver the bloc vote. The Republican machine in Chicago eventually backed African American Oscar Depriest, who was elected to the city council 1915. African Americans in Chicago were able to secure jobs and other amenities through Depriest and the Chicago machine however, their power was very limited.
Depriest was elected to Congress in 1928, making him the first African American elected to Congress since George White of North Carolina left in 1901. William Dawson, another African American from Chicago, began building and African American political machine in Chicago during the 1930’s that made possible the election of Arthur Mitchell to Congress in 1934. African Americans elected Edward Johnson in 1917 to the state assembly. He was the only black elected official to come out of the New York political machine.
By the 1920’s, African Americans were growing disenchanted with the direction of politics. The most vocal criticism was directed at the Republican Party, which continued to be the party of choice for most African Americans A. Phillip Randolph was one of the most vocal critics of political allegiance to the Republican Party; another was DuBois
Their basic position was that if African American were going to give their vote to a party they should get something in return. The Democratic candidate for president, John Davis, promised that if elected he would make no distinctions on the basis of race, creed, or color. In addition, African American Republican leaders in the South were becoming dissatisfied with the Republican Party because of party efforts to shift conservative voters. These efforts had the effect of undermining African American influence on the Republicans. By 1936, the majority of African Americans had switched to the Democratic Party mostly due to the New Deal.
The New Deal Era to the End of World War II
Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the Presidency in 1932 running on a reform platform. African Americans were major beneficiaries of his New Deal programs. In addition, the African American political strategy after 1930 began paying off, and an increasing number of African Americans secured seats in state legislatures in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Dubois and other African American leaders had urged that African Americans focus on local and state elections because of the difficulty of winning at the federal level. By 1946, thirty African Americans were in the legislatures of ten states.
By 1936, the Republican Party had ceased to be viewed by African Americans as the sole party that could assist in advancing their interests. Roosevelt, the Democratic president, showed sympathy to the African American situation. By the second term, Roosevelt had appointed more than forty African American federal officials. President Roosevelt had what was considered to be an unelected African American cabinet makes up of nonpolitical advisers.
Despite Roosevelt’s appointments, there was continued dissatisfaction among many segments of the African American population.
In 1936, the Democratic National Convention had its first African American delegates. Arthur Mitchell, the first African American Democratic Congressman, gave the welcoming address to the convention. African Americans were emerging as important voting blocs in major northern industrial cities. There was a growing militancy in the African American community in the 1930’s and 1940’s that stimulated leaders of Civil Rights organizations to rethink their strategies and tactics. Some of the best-known African American attorneys, such as William Hastie, the first African American federal judge, and Thurgood Marshall, the first African Supreme Court Justice, gained much of their experience through these cases.
The NAACP also was winning a large number of cases related to education, voting, and housing discrimination. These victories, combined with the experiences of World War II, encouraged participation in government and politics. In addition, returning servicemen, having fought for the United States were more aggressive in their demands for equal rights.
The Post-World War II period ushered in major changes not he American political scene for African Americans. President Harry S. Truman formed a committee in 1946 to look into the status of Civil Rights in American and make recommendations for dealing with problems related to this area. In 1948, the year of these decisions, there were six African American City councilmen in the United States. There also were thirty-three
black members of state legislatures. There were two African American Congressmen and numerous African American judges and magistrates.
Truman named W.E.B. Dubois, Walter White, Mordecai Johnson, and Mary Mcleod Bethune as delegates to the United Nations, thus linking African Americans with international politics. Ralph Bunche went to the United Nations as a delegate from the State Department and became director of the United Nations Trusteeship Council. Bunche went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for serving as the United Nations mediator in the dispute over Palestine.
African American entered the 1950’s with confidence and strength in their belief in the ability to use the political system to better the plight of all people being denied basic Civil and political rights, particularly African Americans. This optimism was buoyed by events such as a trend toward appointing African Americans to a wider range of political positions and the Supreme Court’s 1954 landmark decision on School Desegregation in Brown V. Board of Education.
By the time John F. Kennedy assumed the presidency in 1960, African Americans were in the process of launching an all-out assault on injustices in the American political system, especially in the South. African American political demands on Kennedy were effective because African Americans overwhelmingly had supported and voted for Kennedy in what turned out to be a narrow victory for the president. Kennedy rewarded that Black support by appointing several African Americans to high government positions. Thurgood Marshall was appointed as judge of the Second Circuit, Wade McCree was named to the District Court for Eastern Michigan, Clifton Wharton, Sr., was appointed as ambassador to Norway, Mercer Cook was tapped to be ambassador to Niger, and Carl Rowan was named deputy assistant secretary of state.
A crucial and critical part of African American political participation in the early 1960’s war protest, in the form of demonstrations, sit-ins, and marches.
Part of African American political strategy in the early 1960’s was massive voter registration of previously disfranchised African Americans in the South. This strategy played a large role in the future election of numerous African American officials. A coalition of African American groups that included the NAACP, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the National Urban League formed the Voter Education Project in 1962 in a Coordinate Voter Registration.
The mid-1960 saw the rise of black power as a political cry and tactic. One of the most outspoken proponents of black power was Stokeley Carmichael, who found the old partisan and coalition politics to be bankrupt. Carmichael called for African Americans to control their own economic and political destinies by focusing all their attention on developing their own communities.
1970’s To the Present
The 1970’s were a period of gains for African American elected officials. In 1966, there were no African American mayors of major cities. It was not until 1969 that the first African American since Reconstruction, Howard Lee in Chapel Hill, N.C., was elected mayor of a Southern city. In Cleveland, Ohio in 1967 the African American community, along with a significant portion of white voters, succeeded in making Carl Stokes the first African American to be elected mayor of a major city. By the mid-1970’s African Americans were mayors in several large cities, including Los Angeles, Newark, and Cleveland, and in several small southern cities.
The 1980’s were electing African Americans elected to public office at a record pace. African American presidential appointments continued, and more African Americans were elected in districts with white majorities and in races with nonracial campaign issues. For example, Douglass Wilder was elected in 1989 as the governor of Virginia, making him the first elected African American governor in the history of the United Stated. Wilder could not have won without the support of white voters.
The 1980’s showed signs of a new move by African Americans into the Republican Party and into conservative politics in general. This seemed to signal a new sophistication among African American voters and political participants. Not only were African American voters and politicians being elected at the state and local level on nonracial platform, but they also were running as both Democrats and Republicans.
African Americans made great strides in political representation in the 1980’s and 1990’s. When the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, it was estimated that there were fewer than five hundred African American elected officials in the United States. In 1970, there were 1,469 African American officials, by July 1980, there were 4,912. In 1970, there were ten African Americans in the United Stated Congress, although one senator, republican Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, lost his seat. By 1990 the proportion had risen to more than 50 percent. These statistics illustrate the growing participation by African Americans in politics and government of the United States.
The 1992 elections showed great gains for African Americans as well as for other minorities. The number of black members of Congress rose to thirty -eight from twenty-five as a reset of those elections, and Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois became the first black woman elected to the Senate. The voter support shown for minority candidates played a role in encouraging his choices for cabinet positions.
The History of African American relationships with politics and government is weighed toward the fight for social, economic, and political equality. The concerns of African Americans are similar to those expressed by women, the disabled, and other minority groups, and all these groups are sharing the victories of the Civil Rights Movement. African Americans have served the United States government well despite setbacks. Their contributions are interwoven into the fabric of politics and government of the United States.
Famous political figures will be discussed with a view to wards the context. Throughout these readings, we will attempt to focus upon the author’s life and works, individual strengths, the role each played and the struggle each individual had to overcome. Although this unit will be most responsive to the African American students, all students will have something to gain from the context.
This unit will give students an opportunity to gain a more personal understanding and appreciation of the African American political figures that help to shaped the History of America.
This unit will be taught over a 12-week period two to three 48-minute classes per week. This unit will be divided into three general areas: One will have a Historical Approach, and Secondly, a personal profile of government, state and local officials, in the third, students will read, identify, research and evaluate novels written by famous individuals.
The cognitive component of this unit, is designed to increase the students ability to conceptualize and generalize about political and governmental related events. The affective component is designed to help students analyze and clarify their attitudes and feelings related to race.
In the following section, students will have the opportunity to read, write and research information on American political figures that made a difference in United States History.
The African American Historical experience was forged in the crucible of struggle but it is more, than merely the recorded History of that struggle. It is also the story of the transcendence and triumph of the human spirit, of remarkable men and women who challenged myths and misconceptions, hurdled barriers, blazed trails, invented, created, transformed, and reinvigorated our common culture and, in the process, refashioned our common American heritage.