"The Road to Freedom"

Laynie Brown

Lightning Talk Presented: March 18, 2014
Published: March 18, 2014

If you ask any American where the phrase "land of the free" is found they can hopefully tell you it's a part of our country's national anthem. Thankfully we can now say that, but there was a time when freedom was unknown to a very large group of people, the African Americans. Beginning in the seventeenth century when tobacco was in high demand and labor was hard to find, a Dutch ship filled with African slaves was the solution to the problem. After a while tobacco prices started fluctuating and the need for slaves decreased until Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793. Cotton replaced tobacco as the South's main way of making money and the need for more slaves increased.

The issue of whether or not having slaves was morally wrong was brought up, but many Southerners defended the institution by saying slaves were incapable of taking care of themselves and this was a way for them to be provided for. The institution of slavery was anything but moral. The slaves working the field most likely worked as long as sixteen hours a day during harvest doing backbreaking work. Slaves were organized into gangs of about twenty-five people with a slave driver over seeing them. If a task was incomplete or not done to the slave drivers liking, the slaves would be punished, which usually meant a whipping. Sometimes, they were given less food.

Slaves were allowed by their masters to get married because they thought the slaves would be less likely to run away, but this was not a legal marriage, which meant the slave owners could sell the slave's husband, wife, or children to other plantations.

Religion was thought of in the same way as marriage — as a way to control the slaves. Slaves would assemble together for a service held by their slave masters where they would hear the same sort of sermon time and time again. The sermon was usually about being obedient to your master, not stealing from your master, and not lying to your master. But that wasn't enough for the slaves, they would hold their own services in secret consisting of sermons that were about hope and freedom and never giving up. The sermons were usually based off of Moses and "the promise land" described in the book of Exodus. They would also sing songs, which became known as "Negro spirituals." Many times their religion included African and tribal rituals passed on from their ancestors.

Although it seemed like slavery would never end the people never lost hope, and thankfully in 1865 their hope became a reality. But what did that really mean for the slaves and African Americans for generations to come? It did not mean total freedom and equality as they were promised.

After the Civil War slaves were freed from their bondage but many stayed to work for the plantation owners because they had nowhere else to go. They had a hard time getting jobs, housing, and a good education. In 1909, an organization called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People started the road to civil equality and respect that the African Americans deserved.

During the early 1950s, the NAACP sent two lawyers to help fight the injustice of segregation. Oliver Brown along with some other parents demanded that their schools be integrated and equally treated. Most schools during this time, in the 1950s, were completely segregated with the all white schools getting more funds and better education. In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled — in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education — that segregation was indeed an injustice. The following year, children of all races were to be accepted in any public school classroom. Although many rules were passed giving black Americans equality, change did not come immediately. And many were not treated with equality and respect for many years to come; especially in the South.

Blacks were made to sit in the back of buses, made to use separate bathrooms, drinking fountains, and store entrances. The 1960s was a big time in the civil rights movement, from Martin Luther King Jr. and Bayard Rustin to Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. Although they had different methods, they all wanted the same outcome; rights and respect. Although their protests came with hardship and many times violence, the civil rights movement continued to progress.

By the 1980s black Americans were gaining much more respect and acknowledgment for their intellectual achievements and much more widely accepted in the scholarly realm. African Americans continued down this path to equality, but not without struggle; even in the 90s.

March 3, 1991, marks the day when a black motorist, Rodney King, was pulled over after a high-speed police chase. King was pulled over and beaten repeatedly by the policemen. Video footage was taken of the crime and aired on national television. The case was brought to court and the officers were found not guilty by an all-white jury. Racism and unfair treatment was clearly not in America's past. But even though injustice and inequality is still among us, our nation took a huge step forward in 2008 when Barak Obama was elected for president; making him the first African American president to ever be elected in the United States.

Racism has not ceased to be a part of our culture today, but looking back from where we started it gives us hope that we are going in the right direction.

Works Consulted

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