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Reconstructing America: Freedom, Justice & Democracy

Robyn H. Jimenez | 3/3/2013, 3:55 p.m.

“As the Congress became more Democratic with each election, the Republicans lost votes to pass their legislative agenda. The Democrats, made of Southerners, were able to implement their agenda,” Tarrant-Reid explained.

Southern states began to pass Jim Crow laws that stripped African Americans of their civil liberties and erase the progress made during Reconstruction. By 1958, Texas had passed 77 Jim Crow laws segregating people of color, including those of Mexican desent, from the White majority.

In 1883, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Civil Rights Act of 1875. In 1896, during the hearing of Plessy v. Ferguson, the courts ruled to uphold segregation, requiring racial segregation in all public facilities, calling for a ruling of “separate but equal.”

As the Jim Crow laws took effect, White supremacist groups, including the Ku Klux Klan – which formed immediately after the Civil War – began to terrorize and torture African Americans into submission. The KKK was known for their late night rides while wearing white sheets and pointed hoods. Many were White lawmen and businessmen. The group would burn down houses and places of business, whip and hang men in front of their families, and burn crosses in front of their homes to intimidate and control African Americans.

The lives of Blacks who dared to demand civil liberties were often threatened. Those that persisted were often killed. Between the late 1880s and 1930, approximately 3,700 African Americans had been lynched, burned alive, beaten to death, shot, etc. There were several instances of mass murders and massacres that took the lives of hundreds of African Americans. Most of the violence took place in Southern states and many Blacks began to migrate to Western states in search of a better life. However, some Northern and Midwestern states were still touched by these tortures and murders.

It wasn’t until generations of blood, sweat and tears through marches led by Black leaders and sit-ins held by Black students that laws began to be changed. There were incidents in which White citizens spoke out and participated in the fight for civil rights. In many cases, those that stood their ground often suffered the same wrath as African Americans.

Finally, almost 10 years shy of a century later, the laws began to change and America began to restructure its government.

In 1954, as a result of the Brown v. Board of Education landmark trial, the U.S. Supreme Court declared segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional. Ten years later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed all forms of discrimination, regardless of a person’s race, ethnicity, nationality, sex and religion.

One year later, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed, making it illegal to block or use discriminatory tactics to prevent any United States citizen from voting.

Today, even with a man of African descent as president of the United States for the past four years, many argue that race is still a dividing factor in America, while others argue that the division lies among party lines. Either way, many have vocalized that Congress is a clear reflection, if the origin not of that division.

“There is still a great divide in Congress,” Tarrant-Reid stated. “The Republicans, which is a different party from the Republican Party of the 1860s, control the House – and the Democrats, which are different from the 1860s Democrats, have the majority in the Senate.  The divisiveness that plagues Congress today creates a logjam in the legislative process and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to pass laws.”

Yet, history has proven repeatedly on simple fact, according to Tarrant-Reid.

“When African Americans and all citizens are afforded a level playing field ‒ the right to vote, due process for all citizens and no barriers to the voting process ‒ change can happen.”

Other sources: Blacks in Congress at http://www.history.house.gov, Library of Congress at http://www.loc.gov, Texas State Library and Achieves Commission at http:www.tsll.state.tx.us and the Encyclopedia Britanica.