Two issues/topics stand out as being particularly crucial in understanding the experiences of African Americans in contemporary society as I reflect on the African American history, culture, and societal challenges covered in our course this semester. I have developed profound insights into the historical events, situations, laws, and figures who shed light on these urgent issues through my engagement with various readings, discussions, and multimedia materials. Using personal experience and the historical context in the “Freedom Riders” documentary and the “Freedom to Learn” article, I will delve deeper into these two subjects and explain why they are so important for African Americans today.
Racial Inequality in Education
This semester, I have learned a lot about African Americans, and one of the most significant things I have learned is that there is still racial inequality in the educational system. As someone who believes that having access to a high-quality education is the basis for social mobility, personal empowerment, and removing structural barriers, this topic has a special resonance for me. The “Freedom to Learn” article thoroughly analyzed the historical background and ongoing difficulties associated with educational disparities faced by African Americans (Freedom to Learn, n.d.). The article emphasized the persistent achievement gap and underfunding of schools in communities with a high African American population, contributing to unequal educational opportunities. It highlighted the harmful consequences of systemic racism, such as discriminatory disciplinary practices, policies, and insufficient funding, disproportionately affecting African American students (Ware, 2012). My understanding of the intricate factors sustaining educational inequality has grown because of investigating these problems through the lens of the “Freedom to Learn” article.
Additionally, by highlighting the broader struggle for civil rights during the 1960s, the “Freedom Riders” documentary subtly addressed the problem of racial inequality in education. Many activists, including African Americans and whites, went on bus trips through the segregated South as part of the Freedom Riders movement to protest racial segregation (Public Broadcasting Service, 2012). Their bravery and tenacity exposed the pervasive discrimination that affected every aspect of African Americans’ lives, including education. During their fight for equality, the Freedom Riders were exposed to dangers such as violent attacks, arrests, and imprisonment, which were brought to light in the documentary. Because of their activism, segregation in all public spaces, including schools, has become urgently necessary to eliminate. I understood better how racial injustice in education is linked to broader civil rights struggles by looking at their experiences and sacrifices (Arsenault, 2006). It showed how the more significant movement for African Americans’ equal rights and opportunities was entwined with the fight for educational equality.
African American leaders and organizations have been instrumental in tackling the problem of educational inequality throughout history. They include W.E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington and. Washington advocated for better access and resources while drawing attention to educational inequalities (Shor, 2004). When African American students were refused admission to institutions with a predominance of white students, historically Black colleges and universities, like Howard University and Tuskegee Institute, provided them a way to continue their education. Generations of African American scholars, professionals, and leaders were raised in these institutions, which stood as pillars of academic excellence.
Voter Suppression and Civil Rights
Voter suppression and its effects on African Americans’ participation in the democratic process are another crucial issue I have learned about. The systemic obstacles that excluded African American voters and constrained their political power were vividly illustrated in the “Freedom Riders” documentary. In addition to their participation in voter registration drives, the documentary highlighted the Freedom Riders’ efforts to oppose segregation and promote racial equality. It clarified the obstacles African Americans had to overcome to exercise their constitutional right to vote (Public Broadcasting Service, 2012). The barriers included violence, intimidation, and unfair voter registration procedures. The Freedom Riders’ experiences highlighted the importance of voting rights as a cornerstone of democracy and the ongoing fight for equal representation.
The “Freedom to Learn” article also examined the relationship between voter suppression and education. It became clear how frequently efforts to limit African Americans’ access to higher education were combined with voter disenfranchisement strategies. Under existing laws, people of color, especially those of African descent, could not vote and participate in political decision processes. (Freedom to Learn, n.d.). the situation forced prominent leaders to agitate for equality and an end to voter suppression. Fannie Lou Hamer and Medgar Evers devoted their lives to advancing voter registration and fighting for equal voting rights. Their grit and tenacity were the foundation for important legislation, such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was intended to end discriminatory practices and safeguard African Americans’ right to vote.
One cannot talk about the history of America without the place of inequality and the suppression of African Americans’ rights. Our research has looked at significant turning points and court cases that have shaped the contentious landscape of African American citizenship. In this section, we will delve into the background of history and examine the significance of significant incidents and court cases, like Plessy v. Ferguson, the “Road to Brown,” and “Freedom Summer” documentaries. We can develop a thorough understanding of the difficulties that African Americans have to overcome to obtain full citizenship rights and legal equality by looking at these sources.
The 14th Amendment
Congress ratified this amendment in 1868 to provide citizenship to everyone naturalized or born in the US; this included former slaves. A constitutional basis for African Americans’ inclusion as full citizens was established at a crucial juncture in the struggle for civil rights (Pusey, 2016). However, the promise of the Fourteenth Amendment was met with ferocious opposition and a wide range of legal and social issues.
Plessy v. Ferguson
One of the prominent cases in American history was the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson where the Supreme Court use the principle of “separate but equal” to promote racial segregation in 1896. The decision effectively made racial segregation legal and established the “Jim Crow” legal theory, which institutionalized racial discrimination and barred African Americans from equal access to public services, opportunities, and education (Hoffer, 2012). In-depth information about the court battle to end racial segregation in public schools is provided in the documentary “Road to Brown.” It draws attention to the crucial part played by the NAACP and its legal team, led by Thurgood Marshall, in the famous case of Brown v. Board of Education, from 1954 (Ramiro Carbajal, 2017).
Our course materials provide crucial information on the place of racial segregation and the role every African American played in promoting equality. One is the “Road to Brown,” which highlights the fight for equality in education. It also highlights their enormous difficulties, including hostile mobs, bureaucratic obstacles, and political opposition (Ramiro Carbajal, 2017). Brown v. Board of Education challenged the idea that African American students should receive separate and inherently unequal education, and it was a critical turning point in the legal fight for desegregation. The extensive voter registration and education campaign that was carried out in Mississippi during the summer of 1964 is explored in the documentary “Freedom Summer.” The film emphasizes the significant risks taken by civil rights activists, both African Americans and their white allies, as they fought for the rights of African Americans and fought against unfair voter registration laws (Public Broadcasting Service, n.d.). The documentary highlights systemic obstacles, violence, and intimidation that African Americans encounter when exercising their right to vote. It exemplifies the tenacity and bravery of activists who battled against voter suppression and worked to make the democratic process more inclusive and representative. Freedom Summer’s events highlighted the ongoing struggle for African American citizenship and the necessity of more extensive social and political reforms.
The article from “Freedom to Learn” emphasizes the value of African American studies in providing a thorough understanding of American history and society. It highlights the necessity of addressing historical omissions and prejudices that have sustained systemic racism and prevented the full inclusion of African American experiences in the educational curriculum (Freedom to Learn, n.d.). By incorporating African American Studies into the larger educational framework, we can promote social justice and foster a more inclusive and accurate understanding of our country’s history. “Education Vital to Democracy” by Khan 2022) is a recent newspaper article that supports this discussion. This article focuses on how African American Studies dispel stereotypes, foster cultural understanding, and encourages empathy while benefiting African American students and enhancing the education of all students. It emphasizes how crucial it is to teach a diverse curriculum considering African Americans’ experiences, contributions, and struggles throughout history.
Our course materials also offer additional perspectives on the importance of African American Studies. For instance, Freedom to Learn (n.d.) clarifies the crucial part played by African American leaders and organizations in advancing civil rights and social change. By looking at individuals like Martin Luther King Jr., Students gain a deeper understanding of the ongoing struggles and accomplishments of the African American community through the study of Rosa Parks, the NAACP, and other influential figures. Such coursework promotes critical thinking, empathy, eradicating racial biases, and educating people about African American history.
Understanding the difficulties this field of study faces requires an analysis of the “anti-woke” assault on it. The foundational tenets of education and democracy are being undermined by this assault, which is characterized by efforts to silence critical conversations about race, systemic racism, and social injustices. It impedes efforts to create a more inclusive society by continuing to erase African American voices and experiences. By promoting the expansion and preservation of African American Studies within educational institutions, we must fight back against this assault. We can give students the knowledge and skills they need to critically analyze social issues, fight injustice, and contribute to a more democratic and fair society by providing an inclusive and thorough curriculum.
[Ramiro Carbajal]. (2017, February 18). Civil Rights Video Road to Brown 54 Min First 16 Mins for intro to segregation [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Upw5T06T04
Arsenault, R. (2006). Freedom Riders: 1961 and the struggle for racial justice. Oxford University Press.
Freedom to learn. AAPF. (n.d.). https://www.aapf.org/freedomtolearn
Hoffer, W. H. (2012). Plessy v. Ferguson: Race and Inequality in Jim Crow America. University Press of Kansas.
Khan, Z. (2022, May 4). Education is vital to democracy. News24.
Public Broadcasting Service. (2012, February 6). American Experience. PBS. https://www.pbs.org/video/american-experience-freedom-riders/
Public Broadcasting Service. (n.d.). Freedom summer. PBS. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/freedomsummer/#part01
Pusey, A. (2016). The 14th Amendment Is Ratified. ABAJ, 102, 72.
Shor, F. (2004). Utopian Aspirations in the Black Freedom Movement: SNCC and the Struggle for Civil Rights, 1960-1965. Utopian Studies, 15(2), 173-189.
Ware, L. (2012). Civil rights and the 1960s: A decade of unparalleled progress. Md. L. Rev., 72, 1087.