Tuesday, October 07, 2008

After Freedom: Black Boston’s Fight for Civil Rights 1865-1900

On October 7th, 2008, Kerri Greenidge, a historian from Suffolk University in Boston, came to the Madeline English School in Everett, Massachusetts to deliver a content seminar titled After Freedom: Black Boston’s Fight for Civil Rights 1865-1900.

The presentation focused on the struggles of black Bostonians during and after Reconstruction for the right to be recognized as full citizens in the Commonwealth and the regulations, policies and laws that prevented such recognition.

Ms. Greenidge explained that although the 13th Amendment of the Constitution is recognized as the official prohibition of slavery and "involuntary servitude", it resulted in the weakening of the 14th (granting citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States") and 15th (declaring that the "right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.") Amendments.

The following are some examples of the ways in which African Americans continued to be disenfranchised through the weakening of these Amendments:
  • citizenship was not protected by the federal government; it would be determined by the states
  • segregation is not discrimination
  • 'separate but equal' is valid
  • poll taxes and literacy tests would be allowed
In her presentation, Ms. Greenidge also discussed the many contributions of African Americans to combat the consistent and deliberate attempts to deny them the rights and privileges of citizenship:

Booker Taliaferro Washington's (1856-1915) 1895 speech in Atlanta was highlighted as a major turning point in the struggle. In his speech, Washington said, “Cast down your buckets where you are – cast them down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded . . We shall prosper in proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify common labour, and put brains and skill into the common occupation of life.”

In that same year, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (1842-1924), a black Bostonian and leader in the women's suffrage movement stated, “Our women’s movement is woman’s movement in that it is led and directed by women for the good of women and men, for the benefit of all humanity . . . We are women, American women, as intensely interested in all that pertains to us as such as all other American women. . .”

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963) from Great Barrington, Massachusetts is also noted as an early leader in the 20th century African American protest movement. Receiving his PhD. from Harvard University in 1895, he was an activist for persons of African descent in the United States and abroad.

Ms. Greenidge delivered a riveting and informative presentation that shed light on the many struggles and contributions of African Americans throughout the latter part of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries.

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