Having been discovered by Cristobel Colon and named after one of his comrades, Amerigo Vespucchi, America has become a place to which thoughts of all oppressed turned. Despite being a continent of Indians and exiled criminals, it was still extremely luring to those who dreamed of better life without poverty and need to obey the ways of conservative society of the old Europe. America, and later on – the Unite States, was dreamed of as a place where nor hunger, nor poverty, nor old laws would put obstacles before hard-working and honest men. “Land of opportunity” was the US’s second name and the first opportunity many men left their home for was a promise of liberty, freedom from unfairness of their homeland. Here it metered not whether one had been rich or poor, a catholic or a protestant – everyone was equal. Ratified on July the ninth of 1868, Amendment XIV of the United States Constitution confirmed a long dreamed of equality: “ All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities or citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”* Thus, equality was made into a countrywide law and America gained even more resemblance to the perfect community from Thomas Mohr’s fancies where decency and honesty have been treasured above all. However, being an immaculate dream for whites who sailed over the ocean from the Old World, it turned out to be a prison for blacks, enslaved and brought to work in the place, from which no returning home was possible. After the Great Civil War and the victory of the North, blacks of USA were granted the long expected freedom and, as it is visible from the Amendment XIV of the US Constitution, equal rights with their white former masters. This way the unfairness which ruled the continent for many decades was, as politicians of those days viewed it, abolished. However, blacks did not stop being treated as inferior, second sort people. Whenever the Constitution claimed equal rights for everyone, in fact by majority the black were referred to as those who do not deserve the right to be as important as the white.
In the middle of the twentieth century, when, as it seemed, the modern world had become much wiser being brought up on the ideas of humanism, it became obvious that injustice did not vanish. Moreover, it hid itself under the wing of law, thus remaining seen but tolerated. In “the land of the free”** it bloomed and nourished itself on the ground of racial discrimination. Former slaves, members of black communities who had been made by the law*** equal in rights with their white neighbors, actually continued to be treated as invaluable members of society, as dishonest people who gained by lies something originally being the priority of whites. As a result, segregation was thought of as a proper order of things, blacks lived in tight communities in separate sections of towns and cities and were considered to be second sort people. In “The Graduation” Maya Angelou clearly shows the effects of factual inequality between the black and the white: “awful to be a Negro and have no control over my life” – she wrote.
Still young, she sharply felt the difference between herself and the white teenagers, she saw it everywhere: in transport, where no black could sit down unless there is a white standing, on the street, where she was taught not to look the white in the eyes, and even at school, where “the black principal’s voice fades as he describes ‘the friendship of kindly people to those less fortunate then themselves’ and the white commencement speaker implies that’ the white kids would have a chance to become Galileo’s…. and our boys would try to be Jesse Owenes…’” ***** Having black skin in those days meant one couldn’t make a brilliant career but would be forced to obey a white employer; it implied that higher education was something completely useless for the black, who, undoubtedly would become either a thief or a villain, or at least the one earning his bread by manual labor. A black could be shot for such an imaginary fault as looking improperly at a white girl, even if that same girl had never been a decent member of society.
Thinking of a black as of someone who shouldn’t be there was quite normal, many decades of master-slave relationships did not pass unnoticed and were not forgotten. Let us merely remember Beau Bauton and Sheriff Mapes, characters of John Howard Griffin’s novel “Black Like Me”: “Charlie describes that Beau started hitting him with a stalk of sugar cane because Beau did not like the way Charlie was working. Beau’s use of force for such a minor issue shows that he believed in the outdated technique of using violence to subjugate blacks. Furthermore, after Charlie hits Beau back, Beau prepares to murder him. In Beau’s mind, shooting Charlie with a shotgun is an appropriate response to Charlie hitting him with sugar cane.” The white man, Beau Bauton, could not comprehend that according to the law, the black, Charlie, had as much right to fight back as any other human in the States. He was a typical representative of the white majority denying the blacks due respect as a fellow human. On the other hand, Sheriff Mapes, another white in the novel, at first doesn’t really care about the blacks’ problems. He considers the present state of things to be completely rightful and appropriate. In other words, having been freed from slavery, the blacks were not free from the preconception it created.
Eventually, mistreatment and inadequacy between the claimed and the factual order of things burst out into a mass movement of the black in attempt to protect their lawful rights. “This was a time when large numbers of Americans, barely recognized as such by sanctioned power, dared to dream of what the country could be at its best, in the face of what often was its worst.” Martin Luther King Jr., who undoubtedly has become one of the most prominent and influential figure of his time, being imprisoned in the Birmingham jail, wrote about the state of things in general and in that city particular: “There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case.”
Surely, that couldn’t last any longer. “…in December, 1955, days after Montgomery civil rights activist Rosa Parks refused to obey the city’s rules mandating segregation on buses, a bus boycott was launched and King was elected as president of the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association.” 1956 became the first in the line of long years of blacks’ standing up for their rights. First step to gaining equality, desegregation of Montgomery buses, was successfully finished in December of 1956 “after the United States Supreme Court declared Alabama’s segregation laws unconstitutional” Later on, it took the blacks many long years to gain those rights provided by the Constitution, however they managed to complete their task.
Thus, due to great efforts of many hearts and minds, whose name will not be remembered by history, and those, who will not be forgotten by humanity, justice was reestablished, Amendment XIV of the Constitution of the United States of America gained its actual power, and faith in acting according to the laws of humanism renewed. Despite all the mistreatment the blacks of America had seen even after gaining lawful equality to their white fellow citizens, freedom as a fundamental and inseparable part of a human being was proved to be protected be common sense and good will of all people.
*The Constitution of the United States of America. Amendment XIV, Section 1 – ratified July 9, 1868
**The Anthem of the United States of America
*** The Constitution of the United States of America. Amendment XIV, Section 1 – ratified July 9, 1868
**** Maya Angelou’s The Graduation. http://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=20950 (19 March 2005)
***** Maya Angelou’s The Graduation. http://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=20950 (19 March 2005)
******Griffin, John Howard. “Black Like Me”. http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/blacklikeme (19 March 2005)
*******RyugaCn. “Summary of Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martain Luther King Jr.” http://mb.sparknotes.com/mb.epl?b=94&m=443302&h=luther,martin,letter,king (19 March 2005)
********King, Martin Luther Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. http://www.nobelprizes.com/nobel/peace/MLK-jail.html