First World War Key Turning Point In Civil Rights In The Us? History Essay

899 words - 4 pages

How far can the first world war be regarded as the key turning point in the changing geography of civil rights issues in the USA in the period 1850-2009?
I agree that the first world war was a key turning point in the changing Geography of civil rights issues. Throughout the period 1850-2009, there was a significant change in the Black American demographic. Around 1850, many Black Americans lived as slaves in the Southern States of America. In 2009, Black Americans lived all across the USA. Also, in 2009, the first Black American president, Barack Obama, was inaugurated, which shows the extent to which civil rights have changed the role of Black Americans in society. However, this essay will assess the extent to which the first world war played a key role in the changing geography of civil rights issues.
Before the first world war, civil rights involving black Americans were further strained by the introduction of Jim Crow laws in the South. After the civil war, the 14th amendment was passed, essentially allowing all Black Americans equality under the law. However, in the 1880s, Jim crow laws were imposed on Black Americans, legalizing racial segregation, depriving Blacks of the right to vote and leaving them in a similar situation as they were before 1863. Migration before the first world war was slow and only involved a small number of Black Americans to the North, the only major Black community residing in Harlem, New York.
With the first world war, a major impact on the changing geography of civil rights issues was the beginning of the great migration in 1915 that continued into the second world war, being the biggest US migration to take place. Between the years 1916-18, around 400,000 Black Americans left the Old South partly to escape the harsh rules imposed on Black Americans by Jim Crow Laws but mostly to take advantage of job opportunities created by the war. In 1914, the outbreak of war in Europe led to a drop in European migration, combined with the demand of weapons produced by the US. By 1916, war production was booming. Many Black Americans moved from a life of poverty in the South to Northern Industrial cities. Recruiting agents from Northern Industrial companies went to the South to entice Black Americans with promises of a better lifestyle, higher wages and to end poverty. However, moving to the North did not mean the end of discrimination towards Black Americans. Although not as harsh as the South, many faced de facto segregation in housing and employment. Therefore, the first world war did have a major impact on the location of Black Americans and a change in the Black community and the stance towards civil rights issues affecting Black Americans. Race riot occurred in the North and the West due to increased racial tensions between Blacks and Whites, due to the Great Migration. For example, Black Americans faced violence from white racist mobs in Chicago, Illinois, 1919, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1921.
However, was the first world war a key turning point in the changing geography of the civil rights issues? Years after the first world war, there was another major wave of migration, fuelled by the rise of job opportunities in war-related industries. Around 10 percent of the Black population ha migrated to cities in the North, such as Los Angeles and Chicago. In the 1940s, Chicago’s black population doubled to 500,000. This is significant because between 1940 and 1950, another 1.5 Black Americans had left the South. But this les to social and economic issues between Blacks and White Americans. For example, in 1942, intense race riots took place in Detroit.
The Migration of Black Americans to the North and West did not end with the second world war and racial tensions were still very much present. Although, there was an end to legal racial segregation in the South by 1965, there were serious civil rights issues as a result of racial discrimination. This led to riots in the Watts district in 1965 and in Newark, 1967. Following this, many radical civil rights groups formed such as the Black Panther party, who were centered in the North and the West, rather than in the South, where Martin Luther King had his civil rights organisation.
During the 1970s to 2009, after the end of legal segregation in the South, the industry in the North and the West began to decline and de facto segregation was an ongoing issue. This led to Black Americans migrating back to the South. This was widely due to the fact that the South presented better job opportunities associated with the ‘Sun Belt’ areas of the South and the desire of Black Americans to leave behind high crime rates, poor housing and limited job opportunities in the North and the West.
In conclusion, the first world war was a turning point in the changing geography of civil rights issues. There was a major shift in the Black American population and led to new civil rights issues associated wit de facto segregation and discrimination. I think it was a key turning point as it was the first sign of a major shift in the Black American population and progressed through the second world war and until the 1970s. Only from the 1970s, Black Americans began migrating back to the south following the end of legal segregation.


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