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Racial Segregation in the USA

The struggle for equality between all citizens has been going on in the United States almost from the beginning of the state’s founding. A prime example of this ongoing struggle is prejudices built around white and black people in contemporary America. Fortunately, this movement has made some progress, especially compared to the horrors of segregation observed in the first half of the last century. However, to fight even more effectively, it is necessary to remember the path traveled. This essay aims to explore the primary sources of this era to understand how people felt during a time of severe racial segregation in the United States.

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Racial segregation remained a prominent phenomenon even though slavery was officially abolished in 1865, and black men were granted the right to vote in 1870. Not all whites were satisfied with this state of affairs, which can be confirmed by the release of the Iowa state bystander newspaper from 1900. This issue contains a passage of text dealing with the so-called “Jim Crow” regulations aimed at removing black men’s suffrage (“Iowa state bystander,” 1900). The senator from South Carolina noted that there were too many blacks compared to whites. He declares the exclusion of all people of color possible following the Constitution from voting. Such a campaign infringed on the legal rights of a vast section of the people, allowing the Democrats in the South to gain more power. In this way, they practically returned blacks to a state of slavery, making them unequal to white people.

Such a case is a blatant example of racial segregation, which people had to deal with on an ongoing basis. Ordinary people could not oppose the senator’s words, so they endured humiliating measures. One of the most striking of them is the division of public places into places for whites and people of color. An example of this is a photograph by John Vachon (1938) showing a small boy next to a drinking fountain labeled “Colored.” Such measures were found everywhere and most severely divided society along racial lines. As can be seen from the photograph, the fountain for people of color stands apart from everyone else, and the boy who uses it does not feel very comfortable (Vachon, 1938). Such means of racial segregation deliberately instilled a sense of alienation and inequality in society.

The pinnacle of racial segregation can be considered a massive number of acts of violence against blacks. Attempts to draw attention to this problem have been made repeatedly, but one of the most striking is the song “Strange Fruit”, written by Abel Meerpool in 1937 and performed by Billie Holiday in 1939. The lyric refers to the multiple lynchings in the South, leading to such terrible scenes as “Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze” (Holiday, 1939). This song, vividly describing a horrific picture, responded to the regime of segregation and racism and attempted to rebel against this regime. The bright and penetrating lyrics of this song were supposed to inspire shock in the listeners, forcing them to think about the fears of the black population. Thanks to the excellent performance, this melody was later recognized as the song of the century due to the public outcry it caused and its significance in the fight against the unequal treatment of blacks.

Thus, in the first half of the twentieth century, the United States was closely intertwined with the problem of racial segregation. The politicians of the South continued to defend their interests and tried to suppress the voice of the blacks. Markings and signs physically separated society, filtering the flow of people into “white” and “colored”. Finally, for many, the lynching of blacks was not considered shameful, which only emphasizes the created atmosphere of hatred and alienation. Everyone was exposed to this influence, which partly led to the situation that society has now. If the modern community wants to change the situation and eliminate the last elements of racism, it needs to look into history and learn from its mistakes to avoid repeating them.

References

Iowa state bystander. (1900). Library of Congress. Web.

Holiday, B. (1939). Strange fruit [Song].

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Vachon, J. (1938). Drinking fountain on the county courthouse lawn [Photograph]. Adobe Stock. Web.

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