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The Harlem Renaissance

(category: Black-History, Word count: 622)
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The quest for equality and freedom for African Americans has been fought on many fronts. But there is no question that in the area of the arts, the contribution of black America has been so profound that it has greatly eased racial tensions and changed the image of black culture profoundly in the eyes of all Americans. Many have criticized the world of such black performers as Richard Prior, Bill Cosby and Eddie Murphy but these artists along with artists in literature, painting, poetry, music and all the arts have brought an acceptance of black culture that has furthered the appreciation of African Americans by all people more than anything else ever could do.

In the history of black culture, the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s was a time when African American culture truly was showcased for the country, indeed the world and people started to realize the rich legacy that was available to all peoples in black culture. The Harlem Renaissance was more than just a greater exposure to black dance, music, comedy or theater even though the chance for all peoples to appreciate the talents of black artists was certainly worthwhile in its own right.

But the Harlem Renaissance also refers to the cultural and social movements of the time in which black pride was beginning to cause big changes in the way African Americans thought about themselves and eventually how all Americans thought of black Americans as well. A lot of factors led to the explosion of black culture during that time frame especially in New York City. The city had been a Mecca for artists of every culture for a long time as it still is today. And during this time frame there was a migration of the African American population to the north and to the urban industrial areas particularly to take advantage of the economic opportunities there.

With the migration of the African American population came the rich black music that had continued to grow and evolve ever since the Civil War. But because of the concentration of cultures in New York and the willingness to experiment, to blend and to discover new cultures that was the norm in that melting pot city, white America too began to discover the jazz, blues, spirituals and gospel music that began to evolve and integrate into many secular musical styles of the time.

The era was in every way a renaissance just as much as the great cultural renaissance in Europe had been many years before it. In every genre, black culture exploded onto the national consciousness. Many outstanding, stand-out names that became household names for literature and the arts came into their own during the Harlem Renaissance including Langston Hughes, Booker T. Washington, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton.

There is no question that the cultural explosion that occurred during that brief time frame created a tidal wave of change that is still being felt today. The blending of blues, gospel and spirituals, when it began to see experimentation by the likes of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard spawned and even bigger cultural event known as rock and roll music that changed the world forever. And to this day many of the mannerisms, the approach to style and speech that came to be known as "being cool" was in reality an attempt, especially by youth, to emulate black culture. And by imitation cultures began to merge and blend to where they could never live separately again. And that blending and enjoyment of black culture has done much to help integrate society and make social change and acceptance of each other's cultures by black and white a possibility today.

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Brown Versus The Board Of Education

(category: Black-History, Word count: 747)
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In 1951, thirteen families in the small community of Topeka, Kansas got together to do something about an unjust situation. The board of education of their community was allowing racial segregation in the school system based on an out of date 1879 law. The leader of this group of concerned parents was Oliver J. Brown and the outcome of what started out as a few parents trying to make life better for their children became one of the most infamous and influential supreme court cases in history known as Brown versus the Board of Education.

The practice of school segregation had become a common and accepted practice in American society despite many movements in the history of civil rights to stop the separation of black society from white. The justification that segregation provided a "separate but equal" setting which benefited education, the truth was it was a thinly veiled attempt to deprive African American children of the quality of education that all people need to excel in the modern world.

The case continued to gather momentum until it came before the Supreme Court in May of 1954. The decision was stunning and decisive when it came back 9-0. The statement of the court was brief, eloquent and to the point stating that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."

Now even such a definitive statement from the Supreme Court did not end the struggle between segregationists and those who would end the practice that deprived African American children of quality education. In 1957 the Arkansas governor tried to block the integration of schools in his state and the only thing that could stop him was the intervention of federal troops sent by President Eisenhower. A similar but much more well publicized event occurred in Alabama where Governor George Wallace physically blocked black students from entering the University of Alabama. It took the intervention of federal marshals to physically remove him to assure that the law of the land, as mandated by The Supreme Court, was carried out. And the law of the land then and forever since then was that segregation was illegal in this country.

Since this landmark decision, there have been other more crafty attempts to resurrect segregation. But over the decades, attitudes have shifted to where such views on how our social institutions are set up are considered old fashioned and uneducated.

The integration of the schools was an important step in the ongoing struggle to create a truly equal society and to improve the chances of black children to grow up with the same opportunities as all other children in this country. As more and more African American children became well educated, the black population has been able to make a strong contribution to the culture and to the advancement of knowledge in every discipline of learning. Further, the growing educated black population brought about the black middle class which equalized society from an economic point of view. As African Americans began to participate in all of the economic opportunities that middle class prosperity afforded them, the chances for whites, blacks and people of all races and cultures to mix has been healthy to heal the scars of racism and slowly erase divisions in the culture.

But maybe the most important outcome of integration of the schools is the opportunity it has given for children of all races to learn, play and grow together. As young black and white students have attended classes, gone to football games and hung out at pep rallies together, they have become friends. They have had chances to work together on teams and socialize under many situations and as that has become the social norm, racism began to evaporate from the hearts of young America.

As a result, youth of modern times look on racism as a strange and primitive viewpoint from long ago and not in step with an up to date view of the world. This kind of true acceptance both by whites toward blacks and by blacks toward whites will go further to finally end racial separation and intolerance more than any riot or protest or march or even ruling from the Supreme Court could ever do. And we have Oliver Brown and that small group of parents from Topeka, Kansas to thank for this. By doing what was best for their kids, they did something wonderful for all of America's children both now and for generations to come.

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The Thirteenth Amendment

(category: Black-History, Word count: 653)
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Looking back on it now, it's almost amazing to any modern American that we ever needed something like The Thirteenth Amendment. The very fact that the United States government had to take this step to outlaw slavery in this country once and for all tells us that the more liberated way we think in modern times was not always the way life was viewed just a few hundred years ago. In light of the long uphill struggle black history in this country represents, it is worthwhile to look back at this simple but powerful amendment which simply states...

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

This amendment to the constitution of the United States, along with the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments represent the most dramatic changes to the fundamental law of this land in regards to civil rights in American history. And it took strong and courageous leadership by Abraham Lincoln to assure that these provisions were so imbedded into the core definition of what America was and is that there would never be a chance that slavery would rise again inside our borders.

The date to remember of the passage of this history Amendment is April 8, 1864. It was the end of the civil war and the south lay in defeat, still separated from the north before reconstruction could begin the long task of making this nation one again. The wisdom President Lincoln had to take action while the sounds of battle were still fresh in the ears of all Americans to set in stone the achievements of this bloody war cannot be overlooked.

Up until the Civil War, slavery was a common part of American life. It is painful for all Americans, black and white, to look back on a time when most Americans considered it normal for one human being to own another. While the many great strides for civil rights and equality in the decades to come would stand tall in black history, this very basic restoration of the right of African Americans to be treated as humans had to be a fundamental start to becoming full citizens of this great land.

And so with the guns of the Civil War just recently silenced by the North's victory, President Lincoln moved swiftly to make slavery a thing of the past forever. First, in 1863, he issued The Emancipation Proclamation stating in no uncertain terms that...

"all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free."

But despite the power of this proclamation, Lincoln knew that The Constitution had to be amended to make the good intent of the Emancipation Proclamation the irrevocable law of the land. And so he championed The Thirteen Amendment through congress to assure that it was made law and that slavery could never again become a common and accepted part of American life.

It was an important start. But we all know that true freedom was still had many more battles ahead of it. When slave owners around the country, released their slaves, African Americans everywhere knew a freedom they had only dreamed of before. But it was just one step in a long uphill struggle for equality and freedom that continues on to this day.

Let us all look back on President Lincoln's vision, forward thinking and courage and let it inspire similar vision and courage in us to find ways to make American society free and equal for all citizens, black, white and for all races, creeds and colors. If we can achieve that, then we have done our part to join President Lincoln in seeking freedom for all men.

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Booker T Washington

(category: Black-History, Word count: 706)
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As you travel this great nation, it is no accident you will see a lot of schools given the name of Booker T. Washington. That is because this great black educator and leader set the standard and carved out a new path in the years right after the fall of slavery to lead his people to a better way. He showed his people a way of education, accomplishment, achievement and the prosperity that naturally comes with those goals.

In 1901, the biography of Booker T. Washington was published with the fitting title Up From Slavery. Washington's struggle to rise up from the limitations of a slave's life to be come one of the most respected black leaders in America is one of the reasons he is revered in black history as one of the greats who really made a difference for his people.

When Booker T. Washington's family was freed from slavery in Virginia, young Booker immediately began pursuing the path where he would make his mark, in education. Achieving success at Hampton University and then at Wayland Seminary, he was soon to pioneer new achievements for African Americans in higher education, becoming one of the first leaders of the Tuskegee University in Alabama.

But it was more than just academic success that marked Washington's career. He became prominent in many areas of leadership becoming a spokesperson for post slavery black America to the powerful and influential in this country. Book T. Washington lived the concept that the pen was mightier than the sword and was an early voice for moderation and learning to excel within the institutions and customs of America rather than deal in violence.

One of Washington's great strengths was finding partnership and coalitions between leaders of many communities to improve the opportunities for education and excellence for the African American community of the time. One of the most influential speeches of black history was given by Washington and became known as the Atlanta Address of 1895 in which Washington, speaking to a largely white audience instigated a profound change in way economic opportunity and hiring was done in America at its time. In that one speech he...

*Called up on the black community to become part of the economy and industry of America thus beginning the healing process that was so necessary at the time.

*Stated without reservation that the south was the region of the country where there were the greatest opportunities for black employment. By bringing together the strong black labor force with an economy in the midst of recovery from the civil war, Washington may have been one of the chief architects for the recovery of the south from the ravages of that war.

*Introduced to the economic institutions predominantly run by the white citizens of the country that it made more sense to take advantage of the large resident black population for reliable workers than to look to immigrants. The outcome was a boom in employment for the black community that was a huge leap forward in the struggle to rise up out of slavery.

The Atlanta Address of 1895 propelled Booker T. Washington into national prominence becoming a healing voice and a powerful catalyst for change in this country. Using his sophisticated network of supporters from every arena of leadership including political, academic and business leaders, Washington worked tirelessly to provide hope and new opportunities for black families trying to make their way in America.

His work ethic was profound and produced change at a rate that was phenomenal by any standard. But it took a toll on Washington who died relatively young, at the age of 59 from exhaustion and overwork. But this too points out the tremendous drive and devotion this important black leader had to use all of his talents, his intellect and his contacts to better the lives of black people and speed the road to acceptance and integration across America. We all owe a Booker T. Washington a great deal of gratitude for being "the man of the hour" to lead all people forward, black and white, to find ways to work together in partnership rather than with distrust or violence to achieve a better America for everyone.

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Jordon And Ali

(category: Black-History, Word count: 644)
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Throughout black history, great black athletes have served as role models to America's youth, in a way that may not have been possible for others leaders. And to be sure, some of these great heroes of athletics have become virtually godlike to all sports fans, not just those in the black community. Michael Jordon's ability on the basketball field during his career at times seems to be virtually superhuman. And the career of Mohammed Ali sent such a powerful message of black pride to black and white America that he virtually transformed social perception of the black man through sheer talent and attitude.

Before Mohammed Ali came along, the idea of a black boxer, even a very good black boxer becoming such a central figure for black pride seemed unlikely. But Ali demonstrated something to the youth of the African American community that was so inspirational that it helped to transform their world view like no other public figure could have done.

With his swagger and braggadocio, Ali stood out as a proud black man in such a way that had never been seen before. His use of rhyme with such phrases as "I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee" to his self promotion maintaining "I'm pretty", that sent a message to black and white admirer alike. And that message was loud and clear. Ali was black and he was proud and other black men and women in America have just as much reason to be proud as he was.

This was an important message because coming out of years of oppression, it was sometimes difficult for black youth to gain a sense of pride and the self assurance needed to get out there and be a success. It took the work of great black role models such as Mohammed Ali to let them know that it is allowable for you to be proud and to be great as well. For Ali didn't back up his claims with just boasts. He was truly a great black athlete as well. So when Ali bragged that he was "pretty", he showed that the way he fought truly was a thing of beauty.

That same excellence and how it has been used to inspire the black community can be found in the phenomenal career of Michael Jordon. In the same way that Ali's talent seemed to eclipse even the genre of boxing, Jordon was so phenomenal at basketball that he became an icon of excellence and skill and a role model for black youth across the country. Both of these men recognized that God had given them this tremendous talent and the opportunities to reach their potential. And they worked hard to be a role model to their community so others would be inspired to be their best as well.

Moreover, great black sports heroes also provided healing by setting a high standard of excellence for sports fans of all races to admire. It wasn't just black sports fans who adored the work of Mohammed Ali and Michael Jordon. They became true heroes to anyone to whom sports was an important part of life.

Sports is an arena where men and woman can come to socialize and find common ground. Like entertainment, there is a world of sports that makes comrades of all who enjoy the exploits of sports heroes whether on the baseball diamond, the football field, the boxing arena or the basketball stadium. And sports fans have a standard that they value their heroes that is based on talent, achievement and ability to do that one thing everybody in sports admires - to be a winner. And Mohammed Ali and Michael Jordon were certainly embodiment of great black men who were also in every way winners. And we all admire that regardless of race, color or creed.

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The Proud Black American Soldier

(category: Black-History, Word count: 635)
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The legacy of military valor and achievement by African Americans is truly a source of pride for African Americans in all walks of life. But the changes the military has undergone to accept the presence of black men in uniform has very much mirrored the struggles for integration in society at large.

The history of truly heroic achievements by African American soldiers is just as honorable as any in military history. They include...

*March 3, 1770 - The first American to die in the Revolutionary war was a black soldier by the name of Crispus Attucks. He was killed when British soldiers fired on a peaceful gathering in Boston, Massachusetts starting the war that lead to America's independence.

*In World War II - Vernon J. Baker took leadership in attacking dug in German machine gun emplacements destroying six and killing twenty six German soldiers. He received the Congressional Metal of Honor for his bravery.

*December 7, 1941 - During the horrendous Pearl Harbor attacks, a black galley cook by the name of Dorie Miller on board the USS West Virginia rushed to the deck as his fellow soldiers lay wounded and dying all around him. He valiantly took control of the machine gun emplacement on the deck and repelled the dive bombers keeping them from further killing and injuring his comrades in arms. For his courage, Dorie Miller received the first Silver Star of World War II.

These are just a few of the hundreds of stories of courage and outstanding service to country made by black men throughout America's history. Within the military, racial prejudice has long gone by the wayside because when men stand side by side in battle, they are brothers first, fellow soldiers second and people of race a distant third if at all. Battle has a way of equalizing all men and real soldiers know that. So the military has been an opportunity to cultivate equality and acceptance because it is a culture where being a good solider is always more important than any petty prejudices any man might carry.

But it took longer for the military as an institution to catch up with what soldiers new instinctively on the battlefield - that all men are equal when they are brothers in arms. Finally on July 26, 1948, President Truman issued Executive Order Number 9981 which stated in no uncertain terms what the U.S. Military's policy was concerning racial segregations...

It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale.

We can be grateful for courageous leadership such as President Truman's and for the leadership of the military establishment to set the tone for the eventual social condemnation of segregation. While it is regrettable that American has had to sustain an army to battle her enemies over the centuries, there is no question that the high ethical and moral conduct that is needed for military men to perform in combat follows those men into society when their service to their country is through.

And that is one of the many reasons that the desegregation of the military dictated that not only would racism no longer be tolerated by the American military, it would soon be viewed as ignorant and unacceptable in American society as well. While there is still work to be done to make that dream a reality, accomplishments such as these we have discussed lay the groundwork for a better world of integration for all American citizens.

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The Rainbow Coalition

(category: Black-History, Word count: 678)
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The struggle for freedom and equality for African Americans is one that is passed down from generation to generation and from one era of black leadership to the next. Throughout history, the African American leadership has had many outstanding men and women who made their mark and made a difference for black people in America. And that tradition continues to this day with modern black leadership such as Barrack Obama, The Reverend Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson.

Jessie Jackson has organized his efforts to continue the struggle for civil rights in one of the most innovative organizations in history that came to be known as the Rainbow Coalition. This organization represented the dreams and goals of the Reverend Jackson, to be sure. But it also represents the shared efforts of black Americans across the country in modern times to keep the dream of Martin Luther King alive and moving forward.

In fact, the Rainbow Coalition was the outcome of a series of efforts and movements that began with a relationship between Reverend Jackson and Dr. King. It was Martin Luther King that asked Jessie Jackson to head up a movement called Operation Breadbasket, a project to seek the economic improvement of black communities across the country, particularly in the inner city. Operation Breadbasket eventually evolved into a powerful civil rights organization known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

As these movements started to make a real difference in the lives of African Americans in America, another step was the development of Operation PUSH which stood for People United to Save Humanity. This influential organization has become the cornerstone for promoting civil rights and social justice for African Americans in the last twenty years.

It was from these different initiatives and the success they were realizing that the Rainbow Coalition was birthed to seek economic opportunity in the business community and to encourage Fortune 500 companies to hire minorities and to expand their involvement in the nurture and the development of black community for the good of all peoples.

The naming of the movement "The Rainbow Coalition" is pivotal to the vision Reverend Jackson had for the civil rights movement. He did not see it as just black people working for the betterment of the black community. Instead, inspired by Martin Luther King's dream of equality and brotherhood of all races, the coalition would truly be a partnership of all minorities, the white community and other equal rights movements to seek equal opportunity for all of America's citizens.

The important stance that The Rainbow Coalition brought to the consciousness of the black community and to America was the concept that civil rights was not just a black issue. It emphasized that all of America cannot move foreword when a part of the population is left behind to flounder in poverty and without the benefits of a good education and job opportunities. The result is that the black pride that was built by key figures of black history such as Mohammed Ali, Spike Lee and even more radical elements such as Malcolm X and the Black Panthers could now be used to promote true equality in the society. In doing so, Jackson and other contemporary black leaders taught that the African American community not only could be but must insist on being fully black and fully American in their status in American culture.

Finally, the Rainbow Coalition emphasized that civil rights is not just a political issue. The emphasis was on all aspects of American life including economic equality, social opportunity and even equal representation in the media and entertainment arts. To be truly represented as an important part of American culture, black Americans must have equal opportunities in all venues.

This is the message for its time that Reverend Jackson and the Rainbow coalition has brought and continues to bring to the national stage. And it's an important message that takes the good that was done in past civil rights movements in this country and brings up to date with a new century.

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Harriet Tubman

(category: Black-History, Word count: 637)
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Sometimes when we think of legionary outlaws who gave their life efforts to help a downtrodden and oppressed people, figures like Robin Hood or some other dashing male hero springs to mind. In black history, we have just such a character but this champion of her people did not ride the forests with merry men. Harriet Tubman, a humble and diminutive black woman truly qualifies as such a profoundly legendary figure that her exploits would rival Robin Hood's or any other hero of cultural legend. Small wonder she was often referred to as "Moses of her People."

Harriett Tubman was born in 1822 in Dorchester County, Maryland to a slave family of the estate of Anthony Thompson. During her slave years, she endured many hardships and harsh treatment which left her with scars and even as susceptibility to epileptic seizures that resulted from a head injury. It was common for slaves to change hands and that was part of Harriet's life as well. Finally in 1849, she ran away to freedom but she by far did not run away from her people.

Over the next few years Harriet Tubman became a true warrior for the salvation of her people who were locked in slavery. Harriet didn't just find a safe place and count her blessings for making it to freedom. She saw the need for the Underground Railroad in the salvation of hundreds more like her and it became her life's mission to maintain the regional stations of that railroad for as long as it took to give liberty to all who had the courage to flee slavery via that resource.

Harriet Tubman showed the kind of courage, resourcefulness and intellect that a field general for any army would be proud to boast. All totaled Tubmen lead thirteen separate missions to bring African Americans to freedom along the Underground Railroad. That means that she personally lead over seventy slaves to freedom and had a direct influence on the freeing of at least that many more. And by keeping the Underground Railroad operational and out of the reach of slave hunters and authorities who sought to shut it down, she indirectly was influential in the salvation of hundreds, perhaps thousands more. Who can say how many prosperous and influential black families in this country today owe the lives of their ancestors and the success they have achieved since those dark days to the brave work of Harriet Tubman.

When Civil War came, Harriet didn't retire satisfied that she had done her work for her people. She continued to work tirelessly for abolitionist movements and to do her part for the war effort. She became one of the first ever female spies for the North during the war and her military abilities were so well developed that she actually was put in a position of leadership to command the raid on Combahee Ferry in 1863.

After the Civil War was over, Harriet Tubman continued her work on behalf of abolitionist movements and for women's rights until she retired to write her memoirs. Her contribution during this crucial time in black history was so revered that the US Postal Service honored her with a stamp in 1978.

There have been many heroes and heroines in the long uphill struggle for liberation, freedom and equality for African Americans in this country. During this brutal time when Harriet Tubman stood in the gap for her people, the plight of black Americans was as much life and death as any other time in history. Small wonder her name is revered as one of the icons of the fight for freedom prior to the Civil War. And small wonder she was referred to as Moses to Her People and will be remembered in that way for generations to come.

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The Fifteenth Amendment

(category: Black-History, Word count: 602)
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When the Civil War came to an end, it was important to take the big accomplishments and transition them into the law of the land before any ground was lost as reconstruction returned the nation to one country rather than two warring parties. The upheaval of society that the abolition of slavery represented and the massive surge forward for black history was so important that it was important to make it permanent with amendments to the constitution so the gains made during that bloody battle would not be lost again.

The work that needed to be done to change a nation from one of slavery to one of equality started with three important amendments to the constitution. The thirteenth amendment abolished slavery forever and the fourteenth amendment reversed the negative effects of the Dred Scott decision providing equal protection under the law for all citizens of this country regardless of race, color or creed.

But the fifteenth amendment went further than just establishing the basic human rights of the African American community. It made a change so fundamental to how America works that its ramifications were sweeping and far reaching down to this day. The text of the amendment is direct and elegant...

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

This was a tremendous leap forward for the black community when this amendment was ratified on February 3, 1870 because it finally meant that the African American population in this country could stand up and be counted and start making a mark on politics and with it how decisions are made in this country. It was a proud moment when the very first black man to cast a vote came the very next day when Thomas Mundy Peterson voted in a school board election in the town of Perth Amboy, New Jersey

But like so many other great advances in black history, earning the right to vote didn't automatically make it easy to vote. There was staunch resistance to actually allowing blacks to go to the polling booth in many communities across the country. The Klu Klux Klan engaged in intimidation tactics to try to keep African Americans home from the polls. In Louisiana, the mob attempts to stop the institutions of a legally elected and integrated local governments had to be broken up by federal troops sent in by Ulysses S. Grant.

Probably the most serious threat to the actual workability of the fifteenth amendment was the introduction of the poll tax and other registration tricks that were used such as literacy tests and voter qualification tests clearly designed to deny the right to vote to African Americans. This practice became such a problem that it instigated the passage of the twenty fourth amendment which outlawed poll taxes which were only designed to usurp the rights of African Americans to vote.

But these desperate attempts could not stop the march of justice and democracy to assure that voting rights were available to all Americans. Before long blacks were occupying positions of influence and decision making in state legislatures and even at the federal level. It's been a long struggle but even in the last few decades we have seen positions of high honor and influence held by qualified African Americans such as Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. And if Barrack Obama wins the democratic nomination, that will be yet another break through for a proud man and a proud people.

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