HIST215 American History

HIST215 American History

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HIST215 American History

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HIST215 American History

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Course Code: HIST215
University: American University

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Country: United States


Makes a specific argument that can be supported with the specific historical evidence of these two primary documents, as well as lecture notes and the textbook assigned to your class;Analyzes the historical significance of these two primary documents; and connect them with issues facing our country today; 
What is the significance of the Mississippi Black Code of 1865 and Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail of 1963? How do these two documents relate to the issues of racial injustice in America today?


Racial injustice has been an integral and unfortunate aspect of American history right from the pre-revolutionary era. As argued by Ira Berlin, it began at a time when African laborers were shipped in large numbers from their homeland, to serve white colonial masters in the New World, being stripped off all their rights immediately upon their arrival. Since then the black people in America or African Americans as they are commonly known have always been a subjugated lot, enslaved cruelly by the white Majoritarian population, and having little or no say in social and political matters (Berlin 124).  While efforts were made during and following the period of the American Revolution to incorporate black voices in political affairs as stated by Heideking, the hatred against the racially inferior that started at the outset of American history continues until today (Heideking 219). This essay will analyze two primary documents, namely the Mississippi Black Code of 1865 and Martin Luther King Jr’s letter on black injustice in Birmingham, to highlight the unequal status that blacks have been always relegated to in American social and political life. The essay concludes with the argument that America has always been a racially biased country and that empathy, compassion and understanding are needed above political and social representation to give the black community in America the respect and recognition it deserves.
The Mississippi Black Code of 1865 is a landmark piece of judgment, which accorded certain basic rights to the African American population but denied them of many fundamental rights as well. The Black Code of 1865 gave African Americans the right to enter into contractual agreements and to get married. It also granted them land ownership rights, something that previously had been completely unheard of. However, the vagrant law of Mississippi, which was seemingly liberating as far as black rights were concerned, contained the crucial clause that all could be taken away from the blacks, that they could be fined, arrested or even enslaved once again to a former owner if they failed to provide proof of the fact that they were gainfully employed. Whitehouse argues that some of the white privileges that had been so rampant in the old order, or the period before the American Revolution, were thus re-established once again by the southern legislators upon the introduction of the Mississippi Black Code (Whitehouse 89).  Esposito and Romano also argue that black rights suffered a serious beating upon the passage of the Black Code. While it appeared that, the revolution had brought them some emancipation, in actuality, they continued to remain a shackled lot (Esposito and Romano 69).
According to Ferguson, the Birmingham Letter written by Martin Luther King from Birmingham Jail in 1963 in response to criticisms leveled by various clergymen that his civil disobedience activities were irresponsible and unnecessary also highlights the oppressive situation of the black people in America (Ferguson 18).  Dyer and Sturat point out how King reiterates time and again in his letter, that the terrible subjugation of the African Americans over years and years was a matter worth fighting for,  how the injustice carried out against black people was unacceptable and not something to be tolerated and how imperative it was to not limit the civil rights movements for black people to the courtroom but to take it out on the streets where the voice of agitation could truly be heard (Dyer and Stuart 145). When arguing how his actions and those of his followers, in the form of marches and sit-ins but were not really irresponsible but necessary, King uses the word the injustice repeatedly so that the cruelties committed against the black people by the whites in America did not remain a matter of doubt for the clergy who were so skeptical and critical of his non violent actions. The need to urgently engage in civil unrest to secure their rights and liberties was well articulated by Martin Luther King and he even argued how this non-violence was so markedly different from the atrocities committed against the Negroes by their white counterparts.
Both the Mississippi Black Code of 1865 and Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Jail in Birmingham clearly portray that the racial history of the United States of America has always been one marked by a strong degree of inequality. Black rights have never existed so to say and it has always been standard for white Americans to subjugate and oppress their black counterparts, never give them the opportunity to voice their opinions and express their beliefs and to participate in social and political life in the way that they truly deserve to. Black rights continued to be violated even after the landmark election of the African American politician Barrack Obama to the post of President of the USA in on the 20th of January 2009. According to Peters and Besley, the black people still remained targets, with several racist shootouts taking place in black American churches by white extremists leading to severe violent agitation  and extreme reactions from the black community (Peters and Besley 1309). This is evident from the Baltimore unrest in 2015, as pointed out by Bylander. There is therefore an urgent need for empathy and compassion to be cultivated amongst white Americans in addition to being educated about the oppressive history of the blacks in America, if the racial injustice against the African American community is ever to come to an end (Bylander 1264). 
Works Cited
Berlin , Ira. “From Creole to African: Atlantic Creoles and the Origins of African-American Society in Mainland North America .” Origins of the Black Atlantic , Routledge , 2013, pp. 124–166.
Bylander, Jessica. “Civil Unrest, Police Use Of Force, And The Public’s Health”. Health Affairs, 34. 8, 2015, pp. 1264 – 1268.
Dyer, Justin Buckley, and Kevin E. Stuart. “Rawlsian Public Reason and the Theological Framework of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail”.” Politics and Religion, 6, 1, 2013, pp. 145-163.
Esposito, Luigi, and Victor Romano. “Benevolent racism: Upholding racial inequality in the name of black empowerment.” Western Journal of Black Studies, 38, 2, 2014, pp 69.
Ferguson, Daniel E. “Martin Luther King Jr. and the Common Core.” Rethinking Schools, 28, 2, 2013, pp. 18-21.
Heideking, Jürgen. “The pattern of American modernity from the revolution to the civil war.” Multiple Modernities, Routledge, 2017, pp 219-248.
Novak, Daniel A. The wheel of servitude: Black forced labor after slavery. University Press of Kentucky, 2015.
Peters, Michael A., and Tina Besley. “White Supremacism: The tragedy of Charlottesville.” 2017, pp 1309-1312.
Whitehouse, Mary Rose. “Modern Prison Labor: A Reemergence of Convict Leasing under the Guide of Rehabilitation and Private Enterprises.” Loy. J. Pub. Int. L, 18, 2017, pp 89.

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