Putting the American Civil War into perspective

The continued struggle for equal rights for African Americans

The Civil War and the Reconstruction period officially ended slavery in the United States, but this did not also lead to equal rights for African Americans right away.

For example, after the Reconstruction period ended and the Democratic Party regained political control over the South, various laws were passed that created a system of racial segregation (separation) between whites and blacks – a system that favoured the whites. These laws came to be known as Jim Crow laws. Jim Crow was a derogatory nickname for African Americans based on a popular caricature.

Jim Crow laws initially established the separation between white and black people in schools and public transportation. What this meant was that anyone who was suspected to have African-American origins could not sit next to a white person in the bus or go to a white school. Gradually, more laws were passed to implement segregation in a number of areas including parks, diners, hotels, and hospitals. The laws became the norm and were widely practiced after an 1896 US Supreme Court Decision in the Plessy v. Ferguson trial. The Court decided that segregation was acceptable – that people could be “separate but equal”. In practice, things were very different, as segregation had a negative impact on African Americans who were treated as second-class citizens.

This prolonged discrimination fuelled African Americans’ frustrations, eventually leading to the start of the civil rights movement in the 1950s. The movement was comprised of a series of actions and peaceful protests to gain equal rights and end segregation. One of the leading figures of the movement was African-American pastor Martin Luther King Jr. who constantly spo...

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