The Southern economy before the Civil War (1861 – 1865) was dependent on slave labour, and a great proportion of the population was black. When slavery ended the black people were made citizens and given the right to vote. During the Reconstruction, a period after the war when the Southern states were under military rule, blacks voted and were elected to office. It seemed as though the former slaves might be incorporated into American life on an equal basis with other citizens.
But this didn’t happen. One reason was that there was no real land reform. Plantations were not broken up, and most blacks still owned no property. Many wound up working as sharecroppers – farming land for a landlord, who received a large share of the crops. Another reason was racism. Upset by black freedom, many Southern whites argued for segregation – for the separation of blacks and whites.
Whites used violence against blacks. Lynching, or hanging committed by mobs, became common. Southern states passed laws to keep blacks from voting – for example, by imposing taxes and literacy requirements. By the early twentieth century, every Southern state also had laws enforcing segregation – blacks and whites were separated in schools, parks, trains, hospitals, and other public places.
Although the civil rights movement had long been in existence, it gained strength in the 1950s. Blacks had fought in World War ||, and after the war many blacks had migrated from farms to cities. They were less willing to put up with unequal conditions.
The Montgomery bus boycott, in 1955, was an important event in blacks’ struggle for equal treatment. Buses in Montgomery, Alabama were segregated. Whites sat in the front of the bus; blacks had to sit in the back. One day Rosa Parks, a black woman, refused to give up her seat to a white man and was arrested and fined.
This incident angered Montgomery’s black community. It was time to change the law, community leaders decided. So after a one year boycott of the buses for a whole year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that bus segregation was against the law of the United States.
In the early 1960s there were many sit-ins, in which protestors would, for example sit at segregated lunch counters. There were also voter registration drives, in which volunteers registered people to vote. Although these civil rights efforts were non-violent, they often met with violent responses on the part of mobs and the police. Civil rights workers were jailed, beaten, and sometimes even murdered.
By the mid-1960s the civil rights movement had gotten the attention of the nation and of Congress. Congress had passed laws making segregation and job discrimination illegal, and strengthening voting rights. The movement had achieved many of its goals.
It’s said that the South still consists of two societies, one black and one white. The long tradition of segregation in the South has created very different cultures. One aspect of black culture and music has influenced both white American culture and culture of the world. The Afro – American rhythms of the South have played a major role in the development of both jazz and blues.