Historical background

Slavery in the US

The US has a long history of discrimination against African Americans. It can be traced back to the beginning of the 17th century, with the arrival of the first African slaves to the British colonies of North America. By the time of the United States’ Declaration of Independence on 4th of July, 1776, when the US was officially founded, slavery was practiced legally in all thirteen colonies.

Slaves, seen as an economical solution to the growing need for workers, often worked in the production of tobacco and cotton, often on large farms.

Being a slave meant being regarded as an inferior being. Slaves did not have access to education, and, in some states, were forbidden from practicing religion in the absence of white people for fear that they could plot an escape. Slaves were often physically abused and given harsh punishments from which neither pregnant women nor children were protected. Sexual abuse from white masters was also frequent.

Through slavery, the American South became economically prosperous, but in the North, questions began to arise about the moral and constitutional issues surrounding slavery. By the start of the American Civil War (1861-1965), several Northern states had abolished slavery. In turn, Southerners began to defend slavery, claiming it was a benevolent institution that kept otherwise incapable and defenseless slaves occupied and protected.

In reality, slaves were seen as property and had no rights or possibility to legally fight against the way they were treated. However, they found other ways to protest their condition – they would sometimes harass plantation owners, fake illness, sabotage farm machinery, and later organize rebellions which involved arson and murders, after which most slaves involved were caught and executed.

In the North, African Americans were able to start advocating for their rights. This led to the American Anti-Slavery Society to be formed in 1833. However, their efforts to gain civil rights were hindered through an 1857 US Supreme Court decision ruling that slaves had no rights of citizenship.

This decision also contributed to Abraham Lincoln being elected US President, as it generated a strong anti-slavery reaction in society and Lincoln was known for his anti-slavery views. The American Civil War soon started as a result of the disagreement between the Southern and Northern states regarding slavery. Eleven states (which supported slavery) wanted to separate from the rest of the US, so they formed the Confederate States of America. Aiming to end slavery across the US, anti-slavery states formed the Union.

The Northern states were victorious in the war, leading to the freeing of slaves through the Emancipation Proclamation passed by Lincoln in 1863. Slavery was formally abolis...

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