African Americans have played a principal role in developing the American culture. They came to America as slaves to provide labor force. However, they won their liberty in the 19th century, during the Civil War. Most of the black community remained poor and kept moving from one region to another in search of better economic opportunities. The only place they could find consolation was in cities. By the end of the 19th century, religion, cultural and political factors were not the main drivers of the advancement of cities. The whites could not stop discriminating against African Americans even after the conclusion of the Civil War. They identified their own places of settlement, which they modernized while isolating African Americans, who were rapidly pushing for equality (Reader 6). This caused African-Americans to form their own settlements in cities, where they could access industries and other resources to earn a living. They also initiated the civil rights movement to struggle for their rights. This study will focus on the struggles of social movements in handling African Americans’ survival in cities and settlements.
City Challenges and Pleasures
A city is usually a large and lasting settlement of people, who have a common goal, which is to earn a living. The concentration of people in one place attracts several facilities to enhance survival and businesses in the area. In the US, the movement from the east towards the west and from the countryside towards the urban areas came due to economic opportunities. First, more people allowed their farmlands to be utilized for settlement, thus, creating a push towards the western side of the country. The Industrial Revolution offered numerous employment opportunities in the urban areas causing a rapid migration to the metropolitan areas. The black community, who did not own land, found it beneficial to settle in cities, where they were assured of employment opportunities in processing and manufacturing industries.
The Jim Crow structure restricted African Americans from settling in economical viable areas, leading to the establishment of underdeveloped economic living within the segregated area. The black community acquired a disproportionate share in both economic and political fields. The black communities did not own land; hence, their only form of livelihood was through employment. When opportunities in the southern region became limited, many African Americans migrated to the north and settled in cities, where they became an urbanized population. Cities allowed the survival of African Americans, as they were able to establish informal settlements with a few infrastructural facilities. They opted to settle near industries, where they could access casual jobs, as well as educational facilities. However, economic disparities between blacks and whites remained high, leading to a rise in civil rights movements to fight for disenfranchisement, restrictive housing, and segregated public accommodation (Ezra 2).
Many northern states did not tolerate racial discrimination, thus, causing mass movement of the black community to the north. The migration of African Americans to the north transformed the social organization in California, eventually leading to the foundation of the political mobilization in the cities in the years that followed. Although the Northern blacks were immune to Jims Crow Laws, they continued to be second-hand citizens in cities, having an insufficient income, and being forced to settle in poor neighborhoods (Shah 128). City life offered more than what they could get in the countryside. There were good roads, proper communication networks, health facilities, and schools. Cities offered opportunities to gather as a black community to discuss how they could fight for equality through the civil rights movement.
Major Concerns in Cities
When many people gather in one place, they exhaust the available resources, prompting the relevant authority to provide the necessary amenities. Problems such as poor sanitation, inadequate schools, and poor modes of transport are predominant in cities. Racial segregation among the black communities has been most pronounced in housing. Even though people from different races can work in one company, the possibility of living in the same neighborhood is almost zero. Due to racial segregation and persistent poverty in the black neighborhoods, their settlements were labeled “the ghetto”. This term came to be quite common in reference to poor urban areas. The black ghettos usually incorporated decrepit houses, but African Americans felt that their neighborhoods derived the feeling of blackness and struggle for being black in a foreign country.
Most African Americans live near industries, power plants, or waste management sites. Industrial wastes are not disposed of correctly and are usually released into the rivers or the land near these facilities. Due to neglect by the local governments, the community is prone to suffer from the pollution that comes from these facilities. Inappropriate dumping has been found to cause numerous health problems, which include asthma and cancer. Water is a primary human right, but many African American neighborhoods do not have access to safe drinking water. The available water is generally contaminated, and contaminated water is attributed to various body complications, such as kidney failure and other diseases among black communities.
Living in ghettos made many African Americans lack proper education. Few schools existed in the black neighborhoods, with very few black teachers. Black children were not permitted to go to white schools. Schools in black neighborhoods were underfunded, leading to low levels of education (Shah 128). Black Africans continued to be exploited in the cities due to the Jim Crow rules. However, the creation of independent black churches in the neighborhoods played a chief role in organizing education. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Urban League have also played a major role in eradicating problems of discrimination in employment and segregation in education and housing in cities (128).
The struggle for equality in employment opportunities and other government facilities led to the civil rights movement, with an aim of eradicating racial discrimination. According to Reader, the civil rights movement started when the case Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, in 1954 and the Montgomery Bus boycott in 1955 lead to the enactment of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 (10). Everything that occurred before 1965 was a mere struggle and activism. The black community knew that it had to struggle, hence, was quite active in the civil rights movement. Although major industries have enjoyed cheap labor from unskilled and semi-skilled African American workers, the struggle for equality has helped many African Americans to enroll in schools and proceed to higher institutions. The black community is now free to settle anywhere in the country, as long as it is economically viable.
Mainstream and Alternative Media Reporting on Social Movements and Urban Problems
The maintenance of power among the whites was both invasive and innovative, thus, those fighting against it were expected to be unremitting and improvisational in tactics and approaches. What was normally perceived as the Civil Rights struggles was actually a grand fight for freedom expanding far beyond the gallant intention of legal rights and defense against biasness.
The media is usually predisposed to offer access, as well as create social problems for a huge number of audiences all over the globe. However, the media has been faulted for promoting racism, sexism, and other oppressive social influences. When reporting on urban problems and social struggles of the African Americans, no agreement could be made as to who was right and who was wrong, as opinions varied depending on the audience, timing, and objectives. For the whole country at large, the civil rights movement that Martin Luther King, Jr., championed was a transforming force, but for the law and the press, it brought to end attitudes and practices in the country that disgraced both law and journalism (Nelson).
How the media covered the civil rights struggle varied, depending on the region and the owners of the media. For instance, the three main black newspapers in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago provided a historical context for critically interpreting the urban unrests, and the role the police and the public official undertook in handling the unrest (Larson 175). Most black newspapers undeniably opposed extremism and violence in the urban streets, but they offered a valid explanation of why the rioting occurred. While the white newspapers blamed the protestors, the black press expressed why white indifference and racial discrimination should be blamed for the unrest. When three civil rights workers were brutally murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the mainstream could not let the prosecutor bring such cases before a grand jury (Nelson).
Mainstream newspapers often ignored to cover news on the black community unless it was a serious crime involving death. In Mineral County, African Americans enlightened themselves with the national struggles by subscribing to the Chicago Defender, a weekly newspaper that focused extensively on the civil rights movement, as the Mineral County Independence did not cover anything to do with civil rights news (Reader 45). Members of NAACP were also issued with a monthly newsletter that covered progress in the black community. However, what happened in the 1960s pushed both the mainstream and media to act in a way that they can look back on with reasonable pride. The images of police dogs attacking vulnerable black women and children raised a national outrage, prompting for the enactment of the Public Accommodations Act in 1964.
Although the civil rights struggle did not eradicate racial inequality completely in America, it contributed immensely to the lives of most African Americans. The expansion of economic opportunities among African Americans across the US benefited them enormously, although they were discriminated against in schools and businesses in their neighborhoods. City life offered more opportunities to the black community, as blacks were able to get employment in industries. Civil activists fought for fairness in employment, housing and schooling. They wanted African Americans to be treated the same way as whites in both economic and social benefits. Despite social changes that occurred during the expansion of cities, media images have persisted in portraying blacks as second-rate to whites. The civil rights struggle was quite successful, as racial segregation has been reduced significantly in the US.
Ezra, Michael, ed. The Economic Civil Rights Movement: African Americans and the Struggle for Economic Power. Vol. 1. Routledge, 2013.
Larson, Stephanie G. Media & Minorities: The Politics of Race in News and Entertainment. Lanham [u.a.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006. Print.
Nelson, Jack. “The Civil Rights Movement: A Press Perspective.” Human Rights 28.4 (2001): 3-6. ProQuest. Web. 3 Mar. 2014.
Reader, Robert J. A Tale of Two Cities: The African American Struggle for Civil Rights in Babbitt and Hawthorne, Nevada. , 2008. Print.
Shah, Aarushi H. “All Of Africa Will Be Free Before We Can Get A Lousy Cup Of Coffee: The Impact Of The 1943 Lunch Counter Sit-Ins On The Civil Rights Movement.” History Teacher 46.1 (2012): 127-147. Academic Search Premier. Web. 3 Mar. 2014.