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- Significant events in American history from Colmbus’ discovery up to the Civil Rights Movement
- Colonial America under the British rule
- Glimpse of the American Revolutionary War and the Civil War
- US economy during the Industrial Revolution and the Roaring Twenties
Key Facts And Information
Let’s know more about American History!
- About 15,000 BC, Native Americans inhabited the modern-day country of the United States of America. From their arrival, many indigenous cultures appeared and gradually disappeared until the arrival Christopher Columbus in 1492.
- A century after the arrival of first Europeans in Newfoundland, English colonies were established and governed under the name of kings. By the late 18th century, the American Revolutionary War paved way to their independence and nationhood as the new United States of America. At the turn of the 20th century, the United States of America became one of the world’s superpowers.
Pre-colonial America: The arrival of Christopher Columbus
- At the height of the Age of Discovery and rivalry between Spain and Portugal, Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer, reached the Bahamas (which he thought were part of East Asia) on October 12, 1492. He renamed the island of Guanahani as San Salvador.
- On December 3, 1492, Columbus and his fleet reached the island of Ayti (today’s Haiti) and renamed it La Isla Española, or Hispaniola.
- Columbus and one of his captains, Juan de la Rosa, wrecked the Santa Maria as they reached Hispañola.
- Because the Niña, captained by Vincent Yànez Pinzón, couldn’t accommodate all of Columbus’ crew, they decided to salvage parts of the Santa Maria to build a simple fort on the northern coast of the island. It was named La Navidad and Columbus left 39 men there to wait for his return.
- With great conviction that he’d reached East Asia, Columbus called the natives ‘Indians’. While building the fortified village of La Navidad, his crew who were left behind began to explore the coast and amass gold.
- Columbus got first sight of the Caribbean’s gold when the Santa Maria docked on the shore of Hispaniola. He was amazed when the natives arrived to trade gold for the brass hawk’s bell.
- Immediately, Columbus wrote a letter to the Sovereign of Spain detailing what he saw on the island, including the abundance of gold. The rumours of gold in the Americas fueled further exploration by Columbus and other subsequent conquistadors.
- In 1493, Columbus set sail on his second voyage to Hispaniola with 17 ships and over a thousand men. His aim was to establish a colony and conquer the Americas. On November 22, Columbus reached Hispaniola where he found his men had been killed by the nativesand the settlement burned to the ground.
- On the coast of Hispaniola, where gold was first found, he established the settlement of Isabella, followed by exploration into the interior for gold.
Colonial Period: British settlement and rule
- In the early 17th century, the establishment of British colonies along the coast of North America was launched by James I. The first successful British settlement north of the Spanish-controlled territory of Florida was Jamestown, which was first inhabited by 100 English settlers. However, disease, hunger, and attacks by local Indians reduced their population to 40.
- In 1620, a boatload of English immigrants sailed to North America on the Mayflower. They later became known as the Pilgrim Fathers. Due to the success of the Plymouth settlers, many Puritans followed and settled in Massachusetts and New England.
- In 1664, New York and New Jersey were granted by Charles II to his brother.
- Conversely, colonies in New England were run by independent Puritan communities. Other proprietary colonies soon followed, including Carolina and Georgia. In 1681, William Penn, out of royal debt, founded the new colony of Pennsylvania.
- The struggle for power among two European Empires - the British and Spanish - led to colonisation and settlement of the two great American continents. The competition during the Age of Exploration resulted in expansion and populating of the Americas, specifically the English in the North and Spanish in the South bordering Florida.
Reasons for British settlement
- Early settlements in Massachusetts were founded by English Puritans who strongly believed that it was their duty to convert the natives. With its underlying religious orientation, towns and villages were organised through congregational churches. Everyday life was restricted by rules and the leadership of ministers. Farming became the main source of production, along with private enterprise and a growing merchant class.
- Meanwhile, those settlements around the Chesapeake Bay area, including Jamestown, Virginia, were explored and established by Captain John Smith in search of material wealth like gold. After the failed search for gold, settlers in Virginia attempted to produce silk and citrus products. It was in 1620 when they turned to intensive cultivation of tobacco.
- Upon arrival, English settlers struggled to survive. Many were weakened by disease and the fatigue of a long sea voyage. Their general disadvantage in a new environment led to famine and new settlers’ encounters with the native population resulted in either peace or violence. Those who survived the New World referenced England by naming their surroundings Boston, Northumberland, Middlesex, and Cambridge.
- In New England, the colonial authority of governments was contested by the native population of American Indians. In particular, the Powhatan Confederacy established early resistance against the settlers and colonial officials.
- The same happened in Virginia during the late 17th century when Chesapeake Indians led the Bacon’s Rebellion, which overthrew the early colonial government.
- An estimated 10 million to 12 million enslaved Africans were transported to the Americas between the 16th and 19th centuries. Millions died enroute. The trade crossed the Atlantic Ocean, which completed the three stages of the triangular trade.
- Replacing indentured servitude of poor Europeans, African slavery became the main source of cheap labour in colonial America.
- In order to meet the demand for labour, plantation owners turned to African slaves. In 1750, there were about 235,000 enslaved Africans, of which 85% lived in the South. With the expansion of the slave trade, plantation farming also grew, specifically in South Carolina and Georgia.
- In the South, rice and tobacco became ideal crops to plant almost year-round. Both crops were labour-intensive, which required workers.
- Compared to indentured servitude and labour from American Indians, African slavery became the building blocks and foundation of the British colonial economy.
- Aside from being suited to the tropical climate, enslaved Africans had skills in crop cultivation.
- Moreover, unlike American Indians, Africans had some immunity to tropical diseases like malaria and yellow fever. However, poor food supply and horrible working conditions contributed to their high mortality rate in the Americas, especially in the Caribbean.
- Demographically, the population in the British American colonies reached 250,000 by the early 1700s. The increasing British population in the New World marked the establishment of stronger Anglo-American relations.
British rule of the Thirteen Colonies
- Under British rule, the territories in America were called colonies, provinces, or dominions.
- For each colony, the King appointed royal governors to rule and impose English common law under his name. With limited self-government, local and provincial governments were voted by wealthy landowners and subjected for the approval of the colony’s governor.
- In most parts of the thirteen colonies, slavery was legal and widely practised. Most slaves worked in plantations and households. Amongst the examples were Virginia and Maryland’s tobacco plantations and South Carolina’s rice and indigo plantations.
- In the mid 1700s, the colonies developed independent governments and money systems from each other. With growing population and trade opportunities, the colonists felt restricted by the British mercantilist policies. As a result, colonists began smuggling goods through secret trading with France, Spain, and the Netherlands.
- The British Empire imposed the mercantile system in running the economy of the colonies, which mean trading with other empires was forbidden.
British laws over the American colonies
- In the late 1300s, King Richard II restricted imports and exports to be transported only in English-owned ships. As a result of growing smuggling, in 1651, the English Parliament passed the Navigation Acts that generally regulated shipping and maritime commerce of American colonists.
- In 1764, tax was levied on sugar and molasses imported into the colonies through the Sugar Act passed by the British Parliament. The act amended the existing Molasses Act of 1733 that increased duties on imported molasses.
- In 1765, the Stamp Act placed tax on printed materials, including pamphlets, newspapers, and legal documents. Due to resounding opposition from the colonists, the act was repealed the next year.
- In order to improve living conditions of British troops and cut the cost to the crown, the Quartering Act was passed in 1765 that required colonial assemblies to provide housing and basic care for the troops.
- Another revenue driven act was passed in 1767, the Townshend Acts that levied duties on 72 items, such as paint, tea, paper, and glass. Moreover, it established the American Customs Boards that ignited colonists’ resistance and resulted in the bloody incident in Boston.
- In 1773, the Tea Act granted the East India Company the sole right to import and distribute tea in the 13 colonies. As a result, smugglers increased and by December, a number of Bostonians dumped hundreds of chests of tea into the harbour, which later became known as the Boston Tea Party.
- As punishment to the colonists, especially in Boston, the British Parliament passed the Intolerable Acts in 1774. Also known as the Coercive Acts, they consisted of five laws: the Boston Port Act, Massachusetts Government Act, Administration of Justice Act, Quartering Act, and Quebec Act.
The American War of Independence
- The American Revolution was a political battle that took place between 1765 and 1783 during which colonists in the Thirteen American Colonies rejected the British monarchy and aristocracy, overthrew the authority of Great Britain, and founded the United States of America.
Causes of the revolutionary war
- The costly French and Indian War pushed the British Parliament to develop and impose taxes on the colonies as a means of raising revenue.
- Parliament’s imposition of new colonial taxes and laws angered the colonists. They believed that no law should be imposed over them without representation.
- The incidents in Boston, (1) mob harassment near the Customs House and (2) the dumping of tea into the harbour represented sound defiance against the British government. The Americans named these events as the Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party.
- In September 1774, in response to the Intolerable Acts, all colonies except Georgia sent delegates to the First Continental Congress that convened in Philadelphia. They called for the repeal of the unconstitutional Coercive Acts and threatened to form a continental non-importation association that would boycott all the British products.
Timeline Overview of the Revolutionary War
- APRIL 18, 1775
Paul Revere, patriot and member of the Sons of Liberty made his famous midnight ride, warning colonists of the arrival of the British troops.
- APRIL 19, 1775
The first shot of the revolutionary war was heard at Lexington and Concord.
- MAY 10, 1775
Patriots Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold captured Fort Ticonderoga from the British.
- JUNE 17, 1775
The American forces defended Bunker Hills against the advancing British troops.
- JULY 4, 1776
The Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence
- DECEMBER 25, 1776
Washington’s troops crossed the Delaware River.
- JUNE 14, 1777
The Stars and Stripes flag was adopted by the Continental Congress.
- On February 6 1778, France made an alliance with the American revolutionaries. Through the Treaty of Amity and Commerce and the Treaty of Alliance signed in Paris, France began to send fleets and armies.
- In the same year, the Second Continental Congress created the Articles of Confederation, which were ratified in March 1781.
- Between September and October, the Siege of Yorktown took place. With the French alliances, Washington’s troops won over British General Cornwallis. On October 19, 1781, Cornwallis and his troops surrendered.
The American Industrial Revolution
- In the mid-17th and early 18th century, the Industrial Revolution hit Great Britain and transformed it into an economic and colonial powerhouse. By the mid-1800s, the revolution reached America, which made it into an international superpower.
- In the late 1790s Samuel Slater introduced mechanised textile manufacturing in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Born in England, Slater brought to the U.S. the first water-powered cotton mill. President Andrew Jackson coined him as the Father of American Industrial Revolution.
- Among the first who attempted to revolutionise industry in colonial America was Eli Whitney with his invention of the cotton gin. The simple machine separated cotton seeds from fiber much faster than using bare hands. As a result, southern plantations increased cotton supply.
- Also during this era, statesman and innovator Benjamin Franklin began his experiments in electricity using a lightning rod, while in Great Britain, Michael Faraday was studying electromagnetism.
- The Tom Thumb (the first American-built locomotive) was launched by the Baltimore and Maryland Railroad in 1830. Initially, a one-way fare for a journey of one and a half miles cost 9 cents.
- Upon the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in the U.S. in 1869, people, raw materials, and goods were easily transported across the country.
- Expansion of American industry was primarily launched by a number of industrialists including Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and inventors such as Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison. As a result of industrial transition, jobs were created in cities that later changed the landscape of America from a rural to an urban society.
- Americans began working in large factories. Most did repetitive manufacturing jobs under dangerous and unsanitary conditions. Later, women joined the workforce. Years after the Civil War, workers organised strikes to protest against long working hours, low wages, and child labour. Labour unions spread from West Virginia to other states.
The American Civil War and the institution of slavery
- The American Civil War, widely known in the United States as simply the Civil War, was a war fought from 1861 to 1865 to determine the survival of the Union or independence for the Confederacy. The issue of slavery primarily divided the Northern and Southern states.
Nature and Causes of the Civil War
- Prior to the 1861 Civil War, the United States of America was divided between the North and South. Disagreements regarding states’ rights, economy, tariffs, and slavery marked the demarcation line. In addition, continued westward expansion caused concern for the Southerners that new states would be admitted as free states.
- The Union consisted of 20 free states and four border states. Free states included California, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Maine, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Oregon, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kansas, New York, Nevada, Vermont, Ohio, Michigan and West Virginia.
- The Civil War officially broke out on April 12, 1861, when Confederate troops bombarded Union soldiers at Fort Sumter in South Carolina, followed by another attack at Fort Pickens in Florida. The Confederate states gathered 62,000 volunteers from southern states in less than a month.
- The Confederate States of America, or simply known as the Confederacy, was a breakaway republic formed by slaveholding states in 1861. It was composed of eleven secessionist states led by Jefferson Davis as president.
Also known as the Union States, its soldiers were called Yankees.
The economy was more industrialised, thus less dependent on slave labour.
Northerners wanted to abolish slavery.
Union soldiers were categorised by specialty, including infantry, artillery and cavalry. Their operations were also divided based on geographical regions called theatres.
A large population, wealth, and industrialised supplies and weapons became their advantage.
Geographically, the North had bays and harbours good for industries such as fishing and shipbuilding.
Also known as the Confederate States, its soldiers were called the Rebels.
Compared to the North, the South was highly dependent on plantations, thus needed more slaves for cheaper labour.
Southerners wanted to retain and even expand slavery.
Geographically, the South had swamps and marshes suitable for agriculture.
Confederate volunteers were composed of able men from 18 to 35 years old, while owners with 20 slaves or more were exempt.
Debate on slavery
- Representation issue
After the Revolutionary War, the original U.S. Constitution acknowledged the system of slavery. Article 1, Section 2, also known as three-fifths compromise, stated that slaves counted as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of taxation and representation in Congress. Including all slaves meant increasing representation in slave states. Since slaves were not allowed to vote, such a representation issue only enabled slave states to count slaves among their population totals.
- Banning of slavery
Clause 1 of the original Constitution prohibited Congress from passing any laws banning slavery until 1808. It was only in 1807 that Thomas Jefferson, a known slave owner, Founding Father, and later U.S. President, signed a bill banning slavery. It took effect on January 1, 1808.
- Free, border and slave states
Free states included California, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Maine, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Oregon, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kansas, New York, Nevada, Vermont, Ohio, Michigan and West Virginia.
Border states were slave states that did not secede to the Union. They included Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri.
Between 1820 and 1860, the following states permitted slavery: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Under Section 2 of the Constitution, free states were prohibited from protecting slaves who escaped from states honouring the system.
Even during the American Revolutionary War, the abolitionist feeling already existed. By the 1820s, at the time of the Second Great Awakening, abolitionism became a movement along with religious revivals, women’s suffrage, and temperance.
In the early 1830s, William Lloyd Garrison openly published his sentiments on freeing African-American slaves in his newspaper, The Liberator. By 1833, along with more than sixty delegates, Garrison founded the Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia.
Two years later, the society gained support from free states. By the 1840s, abolitionist ideas continued to spread, mixing with religion and calls for women’s suffrage. Abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, and Lucy Stone became household names.
In 1850, a revised Fugitive Slave Act was passed as a result of growing slave resistance and rebellion. With the revised act, citizens were forced to capture fugitive slaves. Moreover, captured slaves were denied a trial by jury. For full enforcement, agents were paid more for capturing slaves. Like the initial act, it drew criticism, especially from Northerners who supported the abolition of slavery.
Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation
- With the ongoing Civil War, on January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that officially freed all slaves in states under rebellion. As a result of freeing 3 million slaves in the south, public opinion supporting the Union increased. Moreover, about 186,000 slaves joined the Union army, while the Confederacy was deprived of its labour force.
- The victory of the Union in 1865 granted freedom to about 4 million slaves. Later in the same year, during the Reconstruction period, the 13th Amendment was passed that officially abolished slavery.
- On April 9, 1865, upon the surrender of General Robert E. Lee to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, the Civil War ended. Five days after the end of the war, John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathiser, assassinated Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. At the age of 56, Lincoln died and was succeeded by his vice president Andrew Johnson.
1920s: The Boom and the Great Depression
- In contrast to most European countries that were devastated after WWI, the United States faced great economic boom. Between 1914 and 1918, manufacturing and production techniques in American factories developed to meet the demands of war.
- After WWI, the Allies owed $10 billion to the U.S. for armament and food supplies. Between 300,000 and 500,000 American rural workers migrated to urban cities in the north to work in munition and manufacturing factories.
Causes of economic boom
- The 1920s saw an explosion of personal prosperity and consumer spending. Companies offered new ways for consumers to buy on credit through monthly instalment plans.
- In order to facilitate mass production, Henry Ford, a wealthy and influential industrialist, introduced the assembly line. With this mechanism, products were produced in a shorter time, at a cheaper cost, and in massive quantities, which resulted in lower consumer cost.
- From 1921 until 1932, the United States was led by three Republican presidents who employed laissez-faire or free-market policies. This mechanism allowed for the expansion of big business without government interference.
- With the availability of hire purchase, consumers were able to buy common and luxury goods through credit as long as they could afford the repayments. Despite the economic boom, however, there was inequality of wealth for some Americans.
The Great Depression
- In 1929, the economic boom in the U.S. came to an end with the catastrophic Wall Street Crash, which saw small investors panic and sell their shares. The Wall Street Crash on October 24, 1929, also became known as Black Thursday in the U.S.
- By the time of Hoover’s election as the 31st president of the United States, the stock market had completely collapsed. Hoover initiated measures to address the Great Depression, including the passage of the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act, which increased import duties and the idea of rugged individualism.
- Amidst his measures, Hoover remained unpopular. Unemployment continued to rise in 1932. His attempts to revive the American economy were believed to have failed.
- In the November 1932 presidential election, Franklin Roosevelt defeated reelectionist Hoover with 22,810,000 votes compared to his rival’s 15, 759,000 votes.
Roosevelt’s New Deal (Relief, Recovery and Reform)
- With his election as president, democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt immediately instituted a series of programmes which came to be known as the New Deal.
- These programmes aimed to provide jobs for Americans and stabilise the economy damaged by the Great Depression. Over a span of eight years, Roosevelt attempted to execute various programmes to revive the American economy.
- On March 5, 1933, Roosevelt declared a four-day banking holiday, which prevented Americans from withdrawing money from unstable banks. It was followed by the passage of the Emergency Banking Act, which reorganised banks and closed those that were insolvent.
- With aims to end the Great Depression, Roosevelt urged Congress to end Prohibition. By the end of the year, through the 21st Amendment, Prohibition was ended and the buying and distributing of beer in the United States was legalised.
- In order to finance the New Deal, Roosevelt borrowed huge amounts of money for projects. He also ensured there was no budget deficit.
- Roosevelt also created a number of alphabet agencies to address specific issues and projects. They included, among others, the formation of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Civil Works Administration (CWA), Farm Credit Administration (FCA), and the National Recovery Administration (NRA).
U.S and the World Wars
World War I
- In 1914, World War I broke out in Europe, while the United States under the presidency of Woodrow Wilson remained neutral and employed the policy of nonintervention. However, in 1915 when the British ocean liner Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat, public sentiments began to change.
- Three years after the outbreak of WWI, the United States declared war against Germany on April 6, 1917. President Wilson, through a special joint session of Congress, formalised the declaration of war.
- In May 1917, the passage of the Selective Service Act increased the number of Americans who volunteered to serve in the armed forces. From 133,000 members prior to the war, military men increased to 2 million.
- In June 1917, American troops arrived in Europe. By October, they faced combat in France.
- In November 1918, the Allies won the war. It was formally ended through an armistice. At the end of the war, President Wilson pushed his Fourteen Points that included recovery of countries involved in the war and the establishment of the League of Nations.
World War II
- The Second World War, which took place between 1939 and 1945, was among the largest conflicts in world history. Initially fought in Europe, WWII battles extended to parts of Asia and the Pacific. Germany, Japan, and Italy comprised the Axis Powers, while the U.S., Great Britain, and later on the USSR were the Allies.
- In September 1939, the Nazi invasion of Poland sparked the beginning of the war. However, it was only on December 7, 1941, that the United States formally entered the war, after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, located in Hawaii.
- The U.S. troops contributed to a number of battles, including the Battle of Midway in 1942, invasion of Italy in 1943, invasion of France in 1944, the Battle of Leyte in 1944, and the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945.
- In 1943, British and American forces defeated the Germans and Italians in North Africa. Benito Mussolini’s government came to an end in July, while the fightings in the Pacific continued.
- Following defeat after defeat, Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945. Hitler, leader of the Axis power, committed suicide on April 30. After the war in Europe, the Big Three met at the Potsdam Conference.
- Amidst the Axis surrender in Europe, Japan continued to fight in the Pacific. Japan refused to submit to the outcome of the Potsdam Conference.
- As a result, the U.S. materialised the Manhattan Project, which involved atomic bombs.
- On August 6, 1945, Little Boy atomic bomb was dropped in the Japanese city of Hiroshima, followed by the Fat Man in Nagasaki, on August 9. By August 15, Emperor Hirohito of Japan announced his country’s surrender during a radio broadcast.
The Cold War
- The Cold War was the American and Soviet political and technological rivalry that lasted from the end of WWII until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. With the threat of Soviet Union expansionism in Eastern Europe, the former Allies agreed to the strategy of containment, which further alienated the U.S. and the USSR.
- In March 1946, in a speech broadcast from Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, Winston Churchill stated that an ‘Iron Curtain’ had descended across the European continent. Joseph Stalin interpreted this as a war cry, but Truman countered it through U.S. policies.
- The U.S. instituted the Truman Doctrine through which the U.S. would give financial aid to countries threatened by Communist expansion. This was also in line with the potential civil war in Greece, which could be used by the Soviets to influence the country.
- In June 1947, the Marshall Plan was implemented. It was a European Economy Program in which US$13 billion was made available for the rehabilitation of European countries damaged by the war. U.S. President Truman believed that Communism could only be stopped if Europe became wealthier through economic reconstruction.
- In 1947, George Kennan, a famed diplomat, advocated the policy of containment. It was a policy designed against the aggressive moves of the Soviet Union.
- On January 5, 1949, Joseph Stalin forbade Soviet satellite countries from accepting U.S. aid. He initiated the creation of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON).
- With the arms race between the U.S. and USSR, both countries began to develop Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles or ICBMs, which were designed to reach long-range targets as far away as 3,500 miles.
- On November 27, 1958, the Soviet foreign ministry issued a document accusing the three Western Allies (the U.S., Great Britain, and France) of violation of the Potsdam Agreement. According to Khrushchev and the Soviet government, the Allies had no right to stay in Berlin. The document became known as the Berlin Ultimatum, whereby Khrushchev gave the Allies six months to demilitarize West Berlin.
The Cuban Missile Crisis
- In 1959, the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista was overthrown by Fidel Castro, a left-wing revolutionary. Castro established a totalitarian government supported by the Soviets. Tensions increased as the U.S. had several investments in Cuba and was the primary consumer of the country’s sugar and tobacco.
- Castro implemented communism in Cuba and nationalized all the privately-owned, primarily American companies. Cuba is located 90 miles south of Florida; the U.S. felt threatened due to having the USSR’s sphere of influence so close to its shores.
- As a result, the U.S. imposed a trade embargo on Cuba, cutting off the country’s major consumer of sugar and tobacco. Furthermore, it stopped economic aid and banned Cuba from trading with the U.S.
- In October 1962, the U.S. and the USSR were on the brink of a nuclear war. For 13 days, the world was on standby for the possibility of a direct confrontation between the two superpowers.
- In 1961, when John F. Kennedy became the President of the U.S., he approved the plan to invade Cuba and overthrow Castro. On April 17, 1961, a CIA paramilitary group made up primarily of Cuban exiles intending to remove Castro from power landed at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. The invasion failed as 20,000 soldiers of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces defeated them in three days.
- In July, 1962, Khrushchev and Castro had a secret meeting in which it was agreed that several missile launch facilities would be placed in Cuba to deter U.S. aggression. Khrushchev believed that this action would enhance the strength of the USSR and would test Kennedy as the new president.
- In 1963, at the height of the Cold War, U.S. President John F. Kennedy visited West Berlin where he delivered his speech Ich bin ein Berliner, or I am a Berliner.
- Beginning in 1971, U.S. President Richard Nixon and the Soviet Union’s Secretary General Leonid I. Brezhnev began to improve relations between the two countries, which became known as the period of dѐtente. The end of war was signed by Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan.
Civil Rights Movement
- When the US civil war ended in 1865, the period that followed was known as the Reconstruction Era. With the ratification of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, opportunities opened up for African-Americans. However, by the 1870s, Jim Crow laws were enacted in southern states mandating racial segregation in public facilities until 1965.
Background of Segregation and Discrimination
- This cemented racial discrimination and favoured white people over black people. White supremacy became observable in terms of unequal work opportunities and in government, schools, churches, and hospitals, to name some.
- The laws were named after "Jump Jim Crow", a song and dance popularised in 1832 featuring a black male caricature performed by a white actor, Thomas D. Rice.
- During the Reconstruction period, three amendments were established to ensure equal opportunities for black people: The Thirteenth Amendment (1865) prohibited slavery; the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) granted citizenship and protection rights to anyone "born or naturalised in the United States"; and the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) established that "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, colour, or previous condition of servitude." However, in the southern states, several attempts were made to suppress African-Americans’ right to vote.
- The aim of the civil rights movement was to ensure constitutional and legal rights for African-Americans after decades of discrimination.
- During the Reconstruction period, several organisations were established to fight against segregation and discrimination. It reached its peak in the 1960s, when protests and mass civil disobedience campaigns were organised.
- Several events that pushed the civil rights organisations into direct action against racial discrimination included:
1865 The formation of the Ku Klux Klan, which aimed to promote white supremacy by attacking and lynching African-Americans.
1877-1965 Jim Crow laws in the South.
1943 Race riots in Detroit in which white people attacked African-Americans.
1955 The lynching of 14-year-old teenager Emmett Till, who was accused of offending a white woman in her family's grocery store. His death and funeral stirred the civil rights movement as his mother requested an open casket to display the brutality of his murder.
1955 The Montgomery Bus incident in which Rosa Parks was arrested when she refused to give up her seat for a white person.
- On 12 February 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was established by a group of people including sociologist and historian W.E.B. Du Bois, suffragist Mary White Ovington, and lawyer Moorfield Storey.
- On March 1942, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was founded by James Farmer. As an interracial organisation, it aimed to promote race relations through direct actions. Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, CORE intended to end racial discrimination through non-violent activities.
Montgomery Bus Boycott
- On 1 December 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks boarded a bus on her way home from her job at a department store. She sat in the front row of the 'coloured section' as per the city ordinance of racial segregation.
- As the 'white section' was full, bus driver James F. Blake ordered African-Americans in the front row to vacate their seats. Parks refused and she was arrested and fined US$10 plus US$4 for court fees.
- Prior to this, Parks had already had an encounter with Blake wherein she’d paid her bus fare at the front of the bus then exited it to re-enter through the back door, but Blake pulled away before she could board.
- The incident inspired a massive boycott from African-Americans in Montgomery wherein they refused to ride city buses in protest of segregation. It took place from 5 December 1955 until 20 December 1956.
- Many notable persons participated in the boycott including Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Rosa Parks inspired the African-American community and she became a symbol of the civil rights movement. The US Congress named her the 'first lady of civil rights' and 'the mother of the freedom movement'.
- As she was the secretary of the NAACP Montgomery chapter, Parks helped in training activists for civil rights. Furthermore, she collaborated with prominent civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr.
- On 9 September 1957, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 was enacted, as proposed by President Eisenhower in Congress.
- It established the Civil Rights Section of the Justice Department.
- It strengthened the federal voting rights bill as per the Fifteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
- It demonstrated the support of the national government for racial equality.
- Racial discrimination could be investigated by the executive branch of the Civil Rights Commission .
Martin Luther King, Jr.
- When Martin Luther King Jr. was elected as the president of the MIA, he became a prominent symbol of the civil rights movement. He supported and helped the establishment of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
- This was an influential civil rights group, which aimed to end segregation in the south through non-violent resistance. The group was also a contributor to the March on Washington in August 1963 in which King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
- On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated while staying in a motel in Memphis. Earlier that day, he had supported a sanitation workers’ strike.
- Upon his death, President Johnson declared a day of national mourning.
- James Earl Ray, King’s assassin, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to serve 99 years in prison.
- In 1983, President Ronald Reagan approved MLK Day, a federal holiday to honour King.