Thomas Sugrue’s Sweet Land of Liberty shows readers that racism is a very insidious “system” that affects primarily African Americans, economically, socially, and politically. The racism of the South was legitimatized with the Jim Crow laws. The North did not have such blatant discrimination, as it was not shrouded under Jim Crow laws. Yet, as millions of African Americans headed North starting in the 1920s, Northerners seemingly were in support of these new migrants by passing civil rights laws, theoretically prohibiting discrimination and protecting voting rights, long before the national laws were passed in the 1960s.

Martin Luther King once stated that the Southerners needed to learn about hate from the North, after a non-violent march in Chicago. During this march, bricks were thrown at the heads of King, nuns, and other non-violent marchers. Hatred is an extreme emotion in which rational thought does not enter. Hate can be channeled into economic, political and social realms to suppress others, specifically the African Americans. Other minorities such as Asians, have been more fully integrated and assimilated into American culture, which is surprising in that it has only been seventy years since they were imprisoned and their property, savings, and lives taken away from them in the name of national security. African Americans have been a part of American culture for over three hundred years, yet their status has improved on a much lesser extent than other demographics living within the United States.

The Emancipation Proclamation freed the American slaves but functioning safety nets were not in place to help the African Americans adjust or thrive in this post- Civil War reality. Political, economic, and social barriers, already in place by the nature of slavery and the plantation system, were blatantly placed in front of these new “citizens”. Economically, the sharecroppers were just on the other side of slavery. The Communist Party targeted this demographic group, “the nearly enslaved laborers whose toil was essential to the southern economy,” (p. 24) With the various migrations of the Southern African-Americans to the North looking for a better way of life, many, especially women, became entrapped in low paying jobs “that their enslaved mothers and grandmothers had performed.” (p. 27) Activists such as Anna Arnold Hedgeman felt that good jobs and adequate welfare was the only way to help the African American women of New York City. The labor market in the 1930s was flooded with workers for minimal, low paying jobs.
During the 1930’s and 40s, different ideological groups were banning together, creating a stronger voice in politics and public opinion. Some groups, such as the YWCA advocated uplift, education, and training, as tactics while other more militant groups utilized protests and pickets. These various groups and supporters laid the foundation of protest and boycotts that were picked up by the non-violent protesters of the south, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Junior.

Thomas Sugrue reiterates that although changes have been made in such arenas as education and successfully integrating schools in the south, the trend is starting to change and go back towards segregation. This leads me to wonder if the latest tornado, and the devastation that it caused to communities, when these communities are rebuilt, how will the social, economic, and political factors fall, for African Americans? Will the latest trends towards segregation continue? Will African Americans end up being better off with new homes and neighborhoods? Or, will the end result be as Sugrue insinuates, and the cycle of racism will continue through nuance, affecting basic building blocks of the American Dream – a quality, equal education, home ownership to build up the family assets that so many other American families depend on for generational survival, and a political voice in city, county, state, and governments.

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