To What Extent Had African Americans Achieved Equal Civil Rights by 1940?
The civil rights of black Americans have improved greatly since the first pioneers
of the civil rights movement began their quest for equality. Though most people associate
black civil rights with the radical movements of the 1950's and 60's, the African American
fight for equal human rights had actually begun almost two hundred years earlier.
In 1776, the white American colonists demanded freedom from the rule of the
British Empire with their Declaration of Independence. However, few slave owners
recognized the contradiction between their ideals about freedom and the fact of slavery.
The Americas soon began to establish their own form of government - and their own laws
regarding the issue of African slaves and slave labour.
From 1776 until the final signing of the American Constitution in 1787, the
Committee for Constitution debated the issue of black slaves.
The southern states wanted
their black slaves to count as human beings for the purposes of representation, so that
even though slaves could not vote, the South would still have the maximum number of
representatives in Congress. However, southerners were not prepared to pay more taxes
for their slaves to have the right of being human. The dilemma resulted in the "three-fifths"
compromise (A History of the Modern World, 8th Ed. 145), which stated that five slaves
were equal to three free persons for the purposes of taxation and legislative representation
in Congress. This new American Constitution first enforced the inferiority of black slaves,
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20th January, 2003
and ensured the continuation of the slave trade. This would change, however, with the
onset of the Civil War.
The American Civil War was a major turning point for black slaves. Many slaves