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Civil Rights Movement - CIVIL RIGHTS AND POPULAR CULTURE

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Although America engaged in World War II (1939–1945) supposedly to make the world safe for democracy, in 1945 most of the limitations imposed upon African Americans by racial segregation remained intact in the United States. Major changes affecting the potential for black insurgency had built up within the black community decades before the war, but the war accelerated them. A review of some of these changes is necessary for understanding the later civil rights movement of the 1950–1960 period. Known for generations as Jim Crow, the practice of segregation and discrimination against blacks stamped a badge of inferiority, stigmatizing them as a group. Unapologetic racists disfranchised black voters across the South, having removed African Americans in overwhelming numbers from the political process since the 1890s. Jim Crow also perpetuated the subjugation of blacks economically in domestic service, agricultural, and entry-level industrial occupations.

CIVIL RIGHTS AND POPULAR CULTURE

Social, economic and legal demands for racial equality were not the sole expressions of resistance emerging out of black America in the immediate postwar era. Black writers, as extensions of the Harlem Renaissance, produced unabashed literary critiques of race and racism in the United States. This era of literary realism witnessed works by black writers such as Richard Wright ( Native Son , 1940), Chester Himes ( If He Hollers Let Him Go , 1945), Ann Petry ( The Street , 1946), Ralph Ellison ( Invisible Man , 1952), James Baldwin ( Go Tell It on the Mountain , 1953), and Lorraine Hansberry ( A Raisin in the Sun , 1959), and in 1945 Ebony magazine began circulation, appealing to a wide array of blacks across the nation.

In other entertainment venues African Americans made similar demands for equality. As late as the 1940s media depictions of African Americans remained openly negative. Black filmmakers and actors responded to these and other racial stereotypes by creating more positive images of African Americans beyond the standard Sambos, coons, and mammies. With Gregory Peck’s Gentle-man’s Agreement (1947) on anti-Semitism, Hollywood paved the way for what has been called “social problem” movies. With black audiences larger and more urban than ever, the problem/theme movies appealed to more assertive black communities who rejected the images of black clowns, happy servants, or token entertainers. Among the movies showing blacks as individuals beyond stereotypes were Home of the Brave (1949) with James Edwards, No Way Out (1950) with Sidney Poitier, Member of the Wedding (1952) with Ethel Waters, Carmen Jones (1954) starring Dorothy Dandridge, and Blackboard Jungle (1955) with Sidney Poitier, the new and dignified black actor of the era. For African audiences on the verge of the renewed civil rights movement, complacent mammies and lackadaisical handyman servants were literally Gone with the Wind (1939).

Racially polarized popular entertainment was not exempt from the mushrooming rebellion against racism. In professional sports African Americans met racial hurdles with momentous achievements. Of these achievements, none was more important than Jackie Robinson integrating the fiercely segregated Major League Baseball. Robinson, a former All-American running back at the university of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and member of the historic Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League, was the first African American to break the racial barrier to the hallowed, all-white, male-dominated institution of professional baseball when he was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946. One year later, legendary Negro League home-run hitter Larry Doby joined the Cleveland Indians, opening the floodgates for black ballplayers to join major league teams. Ultimately, however, these developments signaled the end of the historic Negro Baseball Leagues. In boxing, Joe Louis reigned as heavyweight champion from 1937 to 1949, winning decisive victories over a multitude of white challengers for blacks to applaud. The accomplishments of these athletes and the many that followed offered African Americans brief respites from the frustrations associated with the norms and practices of Jim Crow America.

Civil War Politics and Racism - COMPROMISES, WAR IN KANSAS, AND JOHN BROWN, THE ELECTION OF 1860 AND SECESSION [next] [back] Civil Rights Acts - THE ORIGINS OF CIVIL RIGHTS LEGISLATION, THE RECONSTRUCTION ERA, THE EMERGENCE OF JIM CROW

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over 1 year ago

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