The linear progression of African American history

Traditionally, American history is presented in linear, progressive form: meaning history begins at one point and constantly progresses toward something better or improved. Whatever imperfections that existed in American society during the colonial and early American periods have been eradicated or improved upon over the course of the last several hundred years. African-American history, when discussed in conjunction with American history in general, confirms this narrative. Slavery was bad. The Civil War and emancipation eradicated that evil. Jim Crow, while bad, was still better than slavery. Finally, the Civil Rights Movement eradicated the evil of racial discrimination in America. Thus, many people argue we live in a post-racial society today.

Over the second half of this semester, we examined African-American history from the end of the Civil War to the present. The culmination of the Civil War represents perhaps the most significant turning point in the history of African American because it marked the end of slavery. However, as slavery ended, the question of how African Americans would be integrated into American political, economic, and social structures remained unanswered. What would freedom look like? What does freedom even mean? These are not easy questions to answer, and you could argue that these questions remain unanswered. Nonetheless, African Americans strove to define or at least push the boundaries of what freedom meant for the 153 years since emancipation. For the take-home portion of your final exam, please respond to the following question:

Based on our examination of African-American history since 1865, do you agree or disagree with the idea that African American history confirms the notion of a linear, progressive history?

When thinking about your essay, you might consider some of the following eras: Reconstruction, post-Reconstruction, early Jim Crow era, 1920s, Great Depression, World War II, the 1950s early Civil Rights struggle, the 1960s Civil Rights struggle, 1970s and 1980s, and from 1990 to today. These are not the only eras to consider, but just something to get you started.

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