Defining the Major Periods in African American History
Defining the Major Periods in African American History
â€śWe Must Learn and Knowâ€ť
This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book entitled In All Our Glory: A Comprehensive Overview of African American History.
Central to grasping and appreciating the unfolding of the African American experience in America is knowing the chronology of the master periods which shaped the lives of both blacks and America. These periods witness the glorious ages in which Africans controlled their own destiny and contributed fundamentally to the development of Europe as well as the decline of Africa, resulting in the human trafficking of Africans and the underdevelopment of Africa.
Fundamentally there are xx periods which have defined and shaped the lives of African Americans. These master periods, listed below, have profoundly fashioned social landscape of America and underpinned its political economy.
Ancient Egypt: The Dawning of Human Civilization
The origin of African American History begins in ancient Egypt.Â In ancient Egypt, an African civilization, we witness the dawning of human civilization with the development of the major human disciplines- religion, philosophy, science and technology, governance, agricultural development art and music, and writing- of human civilization.Â The construction of the pyramids, the introduction of medicine, the study of the cosmos, the ethical teaching of right and wrong all occur over 2000 years before the common ear began, well before rise of Greek civilization.
The Emergence of African Empires
The Western Sudanic trading empires of Ghana (5th century), the Moors (8th century) Mali (13th and 14th century), and Songhai (15th and 16th century) illustrate the profound achievements of Africa- production of cooper and gold mines and long-distant trade routes. The camel caravans, which entered on either side of the Sahara desert or commonly known as ports, were called the â€śships of the Saharaâ€ť. Walter Rodney asserts, â€śIn practice trans-Saharan trade was as great an achievement as crossing an ocean.â€ť
Another empire in the long pantheon of African civilizations was the Moorish empire which invaded and conquered Spain. Â It is noteworthy that the Moors were in Europe as conquerors and served as a “civilizing force,” as opposed to being enslaved by the Europeans. The Moors had a tremendously positive impact on European cultural, socio-economic and political institutions. Under Moorish rule and conquest, the cities of the south, Toledo, CĂłrdoba, and Seville, speedily became centers of the new culture and were famed for their universities and architectural treasures. In short, the Moorsâ€™s contributions to Western Europe and especially to Spain were almost incalculableâ€”in art and architecture, medicine and science, and learning.
European Human Trafficking and African Enslavement in America
The 16thcentury begins the period of the human trafficking of Africans, a process called by historian Walter Rodney, kidnapping, violence, and terror. Rodney states: â€śWhen one tries to measure the effect of European slave trading on the African continent, it is essential to realize that one is measuring the effect of social violence rather than trade in any normal sense of the word.â€ť The brutal and inhumane treatment of Africans continued through the infamous â€śMiddle Passageâ€ť with: whips, shackles, neck rings, hot irons (to mark their captive in the most personal way) and thumbscrews and rape.
The study of African enslavement in America is the most potent and useful interpretive framework for understanding the historical as well as the current condition and predicament of African Americans. To be sure, there was fierce resistance to slavery by blacks: armed revolts, runaways and escapes (most notably the Underground Railroad), sabotage, organized protest, and of course, participation in the Civil War.
Nevertheless, slavery had a devastating impact on blacks, in particular the family formation and the roles of father and husband for black males. American slavery, which defined Africans as property, not persons made no allowance for their humanity and dignity. Â What study of American slavery reveals is that the black male could not perform, legally or socially, the minimum roles of husband and father. Thus, cohabitation, rather than marriage, producing children out-of- wedlock became a permanent, but adverse feature of black life, all of which can traced back to enslavement.
The Civil War and Reconstruction Freedom Struggle
The Civil War the final phase to end African American enslavement.Â African Americans, Benjamin Quarles states, were â€śboth a symbol and a participant.â€ť The War would eventual be seen as a â€śnew birth of freedomâ€ť and blacks would play a decisive role in bringing the war to a close with the defeat of the South. And, after the war, blacks were active agents in charting the course of their lives. The period in American history known as Reconstruction was for blacks a time of reconstructing their lives, from slavery to freedom, from slave to citizen. Moreover, Reconstruction ushered in a social revolution of mammoth proportions, giving birth to Americaâ€™s first interracial democratic experience, and as W.E.B. Bois observed Reconstruction was a period of promise and disappointment: â€śThe [African American] went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.â€ť The Hayes-Tillman Compromise reversed the gains of Reconstruction and imposed Jim Crow laws, a racial caste system, reproducingÂ practices which dehumanized and subordinated blacks to whites and promoting white supremacy. The violence and brutality which grew out of the white supremacy system gave impetus and rise to the next master period-The Great Black Migration.
The Great Black Migration
One of the great untold stories of American history is the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Indeed, the mass migration of blacks to the North and West changed the cultural and social landscape of American cities. The cultural capital which blacks amassed in Americaâ€™s cities fueled the first Black Awakening
The Black Awakening
Coinciding with the Great Black Migration 1920s, fifty years after the official end of African American enslavement, blacks in America began theÂ to come of age. This coming of age was expressed in the works of the Harlem Renaissance and the Marcus Garvey Movement. Black intellectuals and artist came together in the black capital of Black America, Harlem, to signal the emergence of a â€śNew Negroâ€ť. The New Negro told the world of the new self-concept of the race, proclaiming that African Americans were a people deserving of respect, not a ward of society, not a creature to be helped, pitied or explained away. The New Negro could no longer be dismissed by contempt or terror. Instead, black people were insisting on their rights and would, as W.A. Domingo intimated-return violence blow by blow. This, to be sure, was the dawning of a people coming into being, jetting the docile and personality, the â€śminstrel manâ€ť who wore the mask which white people demanded.
The Second Black Awakening
The Second Black Awakening, 1956 through 1975, produced two of greatest social movements in the 20th century, Civil Rights and Black Power. The Civil Rights movement expanded citizenship for all Americans, employing multiple tactics to overcome and knock down the political and social apparatus of segregation in the South- legal challenges, boycotts, protest marches, sit-in demonstrations, freedom rides, and institutional building. The Civil Rights Movement served as a model subsequent social change movement in the United States and abroad. The Black Power movement touched every aspect of American culture, and, like the â€śNew Negroâ€ť Movement of the 1920s, signaled cultural and politicalÂ transformation of African Americans. Black people- sharecroppers, unionists, welfare and tenants rights organizers, students, intellectuals, poets, musicians and singers and politicians-grounded in the ideology of Black Power, began to organize around controlling their own lives and institutions. Its unflinching call for the promotion of black history and black studies; its Pan African impulse; its far-reaching criticism of racism at home and imperialism abroad, expanded the dialogue and parameters of the black freedom struggle, and helped pave the way for a wave of black elected officials, black studies and numerous periodicals and businesses, and
the African American holiday Kwanzaa.
The Age of Obama
The election of Barack Obama stands as a watershed event in African American and American history. Unquestionably, President Obama was the beneficiary 1960â€™s Civil Rights and Black Power movements which opened up the American society and the political system to people of color and women. The Age of Obama portends promise and possibility as well as confrontation and contrariness; Tea Party reactionaries and Wall Street Occupiers; obscene wealth and inequality and cascading poverty and a democratic impulse and anti-democratic push. To be sure, this will be a contested age and age which determines whether America has truly turned over a new leaf on race.