The Native American and African-American communities in the united states have undergone countless adversities since before the birth of America. The South held a stronghold on the institution of slavery, while American colonists robbed the nous people of their land and culture. After the civil war, however, the conditions of both groups changed dramatically. The residual tribes were driven to reservations and the slaves were freed.
In the years immediately succeeding the war, blacks, due to a powerful Republican influence in the federal and state governments, were far better off economically, politically, and socially than their Native-American equivalents. While blacks gained suffrage and equality under the law, the natives lost their land because of the ever-moving drive westward. Nevertheless, as time went on, the African-American community was raided of its rights due to a union between white supremacists’, ready to keep freed blacks under the foot of society, and Democrats, impatient to gain Southern backing.
Freed people began to suffer the same hardships that their native counterparts had. The years soon following the Civil War were a time of hope for African-Americans on all levels: politically, economically, and socially. The ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment freed them, for the first time ever, from the hands of their Southern masters. Blacks began to gain control of their own future and had a chance to surmount their sordid circumstances. Congress, dictated by anti-slavery Republicans, was unwavering to ratify countless civil rights legislation balancing the rights of both blacks and whites.
Republicans approved the Civil Rights Bill of 1866 over Democratic President Andrew Johnson’s veto. This legislation established citizenship to blacks, an immensely important requirement in gaining other vital rights, such as suffrage. Under the Bill, discrimination due to of race was made illegal. The Fourteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution two years later, to ensure that the rights gained by blacks under the Bill would be protected from repeal by later Democratic Congresses.
In a decisive setback to Southern Democrats, Republicans also assured black male suffrage in the Fifteenth Amendment, bypassing Democratic obstacles in Southern state legislatures. These sweeping pieces of legislation paved the way for blacks to live as equals with whites, making them citizens and theoretically safeguarding their citizenship against discrimination (EAH 453). Unfortunately, the amendments that supposedly gave blacks political and economic power and social protection proved easier to write than to enforce, leaving most blacks in a similar position they had earlier.
The emancipation of the slaves left the southern economy in shambles. A lack of labor to work the plantation and farms put landowners in need of cost efficient labor. The solution to this economic impasse was the sharecropping system. In theory, sharecropping allowed both former slaves and landowners to make money. Sharecropping became problematic because the landowners would charge workers to use the things needed to work. This would lead to workers falling deep in to debt, making it hard to pay back, so they would end up working for free for the rest of their lives.
This became a vicious cycle that many found themselves in, inevitably making them economic slaves (A Georgia Sharecropper’s Story of Forced Labor; A Sharecropping Contract). From the beginning, Southerners despised Northern attempts to “reconstruct” a new, more tolerant South. White supremacists, former slaveowners yearning for a return to “Dixieland,” and Democrats hoping to gain a Southern power-base all worked against the reforms enacted by the Radical Republicans.
In an attempt to keep blacks down, organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan conspired to generate an environment of fear and oppression against the black community. They armed themselves with the implicit involvement of their Democrats in the Southern state governments, whipped blacks, lynched civil rights campaigners, and obstructed black voters. In an 1876 issue of Harper’s Weekly a political cartoon depicting two white men intimidating a black man attempting to vote, suggesting that although blacks were granted suffrage, their rights were often hampered by white Southerners.
The fear that these groups created socially stigmatized the black community and made blacks willing to endure legalized discrimination for fear of their lives (EAH 443). The Southern Democratics pushed to keep blacks in their “rightful place” in society, namely at the bottom with the Indigenous, also pushing back on recent gains. Authorized by Supreme Court decisions in United States v. Cruickshank and Williams v. Mississippi, Democrats established the poll tax and literacy requirements in order to vote. Because these requirements were applied to all races, they were deemed “constitutional” and allowed to go forward.
Nonetheless, poll taxes and literacy criteria had the effect of alienating the lower classes and, because most blacks did not receive reparation nor could they pay the taxes or read, they were essentially distant from the political scene (EAH 450,42). Other Supreme Court decisions, such as Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, which declared segregation constitutional as long as the facilities given to blacks were “equal” with the facilities for whites, led to the complete social severance of blacks from whites (EAH 509).
The AfricanAmerican community was now forbidden to even use the same restrooms as the white community. Segregated schools left many blacks bereaved of a beneficial education and thus, like their native cousins, unable to find a good job and move up the social pyramid. A mentality began to cultivate as a result of these actions, which allowed white supremacists to persuade ordinary white citizens that blacks deserved to be at the bottom, thus delaying further civil rights progress and overturning important gains.
In contrast, the fall of Native-Americans at the same time that African-Americans were gaining vital liberties for the first time. Natives-Americans were not even considered to be American citizens at the time of Reconstruction; the Fourteenth Amendment that gave blacks their citizenship purposely disregarded Native-Americans. Without this most rudimentary acknowledgment, it became difficult for natives to gain any of the freedoms or rights granted to blacks (EAH 39). Westward expansion became the final blow to indigenous life. With the surrender of Robert E.
Lee at Appomattox Courthouse the United States was once again able to continue its relentless march to the Pacific Ocean. Leaving the only thing standing in the way of complete American supremacy being several thousand Native-Americans living in the Great Plains. The United States Army crushed the last opposition to expansion on December 29, 1890, in the Battle of Wounded Knee, and the last free natives were shepherded like animals onto the reservations (EAH 483). Native Americans, with their extensive ancestral lands subjugated by American settlers, had to make due with overcrowded and filthy reservations.
Some tribes lost their only means of sustenance when white settlers hunted the buffalo herds to near extinction. Others were forced to forsake their nomadic lifestyles. In one sweeping blow, the reservations shattered the only means of survival for many natives and completely shattered Native American society while white settlers filled in the void created by “civilizing” natives and encouraging them to adopt white lifestyles, further contributing to the social and cultural degeneration of these once-proud people (EAH 467).
In 1879, an army officer named Richard H. Pratt opened a boarding school for Native-American youth in order to uplift and assimilate natives into mainstream American culture. The students were required to cut their hair, to only speak English, and were prohibited any displays of tribal traditions, such as native clothing, dancing, or religious ceremonies. The Carlisle Indian School became a model for native education. Not only were private boarding schools established, so too were reservation boarding schools.
The ostensible goal of these schools was to teach indigenous children the skills necessary to function effectively in American society. But in the name of uplift, civilization, and assimilation, these schools took Indian children away from their families and tribes and sought to strip them of their cultural heritage. By the late ninetieth century, there was a widespread sense that the removal and reservation policies had failed, leading to the Dawes Act (Kill the Indian, and Save the Man).
The Dawes Act, passed in 1887, broke up the dozens of federal reservations and allotted 160-acre pieces of them to heads of native families, making it easier for white developers to purchase and use the land (Dawes Act). African-American and Native American life from postbellum America to the Twentieth Century have followed different arrays. Though both were exposed to inconceivable brutality at the hands of “civilized” Americans, the conditions of blacks began improving soon after the Civil War, with African-Americans being granted citizenship, protection from discrimination, and male suffrage.
However, these advances turned out to be more fictitious than fact, white supremacists wishing to return to Dixieland, Southern Democrats craving for power, and a prejudiced Supreme Court made many of these victories muffled by “legally” disenfranchising most blacks and segregating the group to a second-class status. In contrast to this pattern, the NativeAmerican situation deteriorated sharply in postbellum America.
Eager for land and free of the threat posed by the Confederacy and dis-Union, settlers aided by the United States Army steered the last tribes onto federal reservations. Reservation life brought with it terrible living conditions and a halt of indigenous social and economic life. Efforts by the government to “Americanize” the group only accomplished in further shredding its social fabric. Though both African-American and NativeAmericans shared the bottom rung of the American social ladder and suffered from prejudice, their lives were slightly different.
Both suffered at the hands of whites, but NativeAmericans suffered more with the almost complete annihilation of their society. On the contrary, it took longer to start improving the African-American condition than it did for the NativeAmerican one. One thing is evident, however, America has to acknowledge the adversities it forced these groups to endure for no other reasons than the greed, hatred, ignorance, and racism that allowed discrimination to prosper.