Racism, in the form of prejudiced attitudes to African Americans, as well as discrimination against them, was a characteristic feature of U.S. society for many decades. During its development, the U.S. society completed the path from promoting racism and segregating the population to focusing on the protection of African Americans’ rights. In this context, ideologies supported in different eras had various effects on the discussion of the problem at the governmental level. Furthermore, there was a trigger that influenced changes in the public’s vision of that controversial issue. The U.S. government went from supporting racism against African Americans in the New Deal era to fight against racism by the 1960s because of World War II.
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In the New Deal era, the U.S. government-supported racism against African Americans. In spite of the fact that the New Deal programs were oriented to overcoming the effects of segregation on society, and whites and blacks were expected to work together, the real situation was different.1 According to Zinn, “most blacks were ignored by the New Deal programs,” and moreover, they “were the last hired, the first fired.”2 Therefore, it is possible to state that the segregation was addressed only on paper, and the initiatives of the U.S. government-supported racism in the society both directly and indirectly.
In the early 1940s, World War II occurred. The critical and problematic situation associated with the war made Americans change their vision of freedoms and rights.3 Foner states that the war made representatives of the U.S. society realize the principle that “Americans of all races, religions, and national origins could enjoy those freedoms equally.”4 It was the first step to reconsidering the ideology of racism that was adopted in the U.S. society and promoted by political leaders. As a result, racism became viewed as “the enemy’s philosophy.”5 The reason was in the fact that Americans began to accentuate the focus on democracy and human rights in contrast to the violation of freedoms and rights demonstrated by the Nazis.
By the 1960s, the U.S. government began to fight against racism. Thus, during World War II, social and political organizations concentrated on developing the civil rights movement.6 As a result, by the 1960s, the main principles of the movement against racism and inequality in the U.S. society were formulated and declared clearly.7 Still, some barriers for African Americans in the country remained to be undestroyed. For instance, suburbanization emphasized the division in the U.S. society, and it was perceived as a variant of segregation.8
While focusing on the public’s interest in the problem, the U.S. government reacted to those tendencies by adopting the Civil Rights Act of 1964.9 The Act was viewed as the main action to address racism in the country.
The U.S. government demonstrated a significant change in reacting to the problem of African Americans in society. It is possible to state that, in the New Deal era, racism was supported because of the negative effects of segregation typical of the society in the early part of the twentieth century. However, much attention should be paid to World War II and its outcomes. The war contributed to changing the perspective, and racism became perceived as immoral in the context of the American democratic ideas. Therefore, by the 1960s, the U.S. government was prepared to start fighting against racism and promote the principles of social equality.
- Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty!: An American History (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010), 828.
- Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1980), 394-395.
- “Rose: Stories of Women on the Home Front,” Top Documentary Films. Web.
- Foner, 926.
- Ibid., 926.
- “Eyes on the Prize: Episode 6 (1965),” Free Documentaries. Web.
- “Berkeley in the Sixties,” Vimeo.com. Web.
- “End of Suburbia (1950-2000),” Free Documentaries. Web.
- Foner, 1001.