The Gilded Age
The Gilded Age was an extremely famous time period in American history following the Civil War and Reconstruction. The time era lasted from the late 1860s to 1896. The “Gilded Age” was a term coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their book The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today that was published in 1873. This term meant, that during the late 19th century, from the outside looking in, the U.
S. may have looked good but underneath the surface it was unethical. In the popular view, the 19th century was a period of shady business practices, scandal-plagued politics, and greedy Robber Barons.The Gilded Age was an era of rapid growth economically and industrially. The first Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869 and made travel simpler for everyone during that time. As the United States started to outgrow Britain in industrialization, the economy started to expand into new areas like factories, railroads, and coal mining. Wealthy industrialists would often be labeled the term “Robber Barons” by critics who would argue their fortunes were made at the expense of the working class.
The unequal distribution of wealth remained high during this period of time. Labor unions grew steadily in industrial cities in the late 1800s. They generally blocked women, African Americans from the unions but welcomed European immigrants. Labor unions organizing strikes became a routine event by the 1880s and space between rich and poor widened. Building traders and coal miners were the two main unions that had the largest number of strikes.Immigration multiplied during the Gilded Age and was commonly referred to as the new immigration, being compared to the era before the Gilded Age which was known as old immigration. African Americans migrated due to the job opportunity in Northern factories.
These immigrants were poor and uneducated and struggled despite being said to have all the rights of a citizen. Because of this inequality, there was segregation. States passed Jim Crow laws that legalized segregation in the late 19th century after the reconstruction era. These laws were enforced until 1965. During the Jim Crow era legislatures in the South tried their hardest to reestablish white supremacy. This legislation was known as the Black Codes. These were special laws that African Americans were held to.
Jim Crow was the name of a clown character found in a show. A white actor would blacken his face and act like a fool as his performance.The U.S Supreme Court legalized segregation on a national level. Many Americans believed the end of the Civil War would bring change to the lives of the slaves in the South. With slavery being abolished and the guarantees of the post- Civil War Amendments, created new conditions for women, African Americans, and others to press rights claims. After the union’s victory in the Civil War, the Constitution was amended to end slavery, provide national citizenship and voting rights for African Americans through the 13th,14th, and 15th amendments.
The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution stated, “No state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Many states found a way around this amendment by creating their own laws. They were declared citizens of the United States and were guaranteed certain rights by the Constitution, so they assumed their lives would change, but they did not change as much as they hoped. The southern states were not the only ones that had problems with equality. Many of the northern states also had segregation. Blacks and Whites lived, worked, and ate separately and it was just a normal thing no one thought to question it. Whites held the majority of seats in state legislatures so passing laws to their benefit was an easy task.
In some states, you could be put in prison for dating or marrying between races. Vigilantes during that time took the law into their own hands at times and hanged anyone they thought might be breaking this law.Despite gains made by African Americans during the Reconstruction era, whites doubled their efforts to undermine and reverse progress for former slaves. In response to the Plessy v. Ferguson case in 1896, it was stated that there could be separate but not equal facilities for different races. In years after the Plessy case, the court Segregation occurred in almost all public places such as schools, transportation, and restrooms. These laws coupled with segregated private lives inevitably resulted in two separate and decidedly unequal societies.
Congress then passed the Fifteenth Amendment giving African American males the right to vote. In the early 1890s southern states made literacy tests, poll taxes, elaborate registration systems, and eventually white only democratic party primaries to exclude black voters. Denying black men the right to vote through intimidation and violence was the first step in taking away their civil rights. Grandfather clauses were put into voting roles. If a person’s grandfather had not voted, then that person was denied the privilege to vote. White rage manifested itself in the form of slavery, incarceration, and segregation. It also was regularly on exhibition in the murder of thousands of African Americans.
Extrajudicial murders were a regular feature of the early 20th Century life throughout the U.S. A terrorist organization was formed over white rage called the Ku Klux Klan. This organization was created in hope to maintain America’s system of racial apartheid.African Americans continued to fight through adversity although it took time. Two major leaders for African Americans during the Gilded Age were Booker T. Washington and W.
E.B Dubois. Booker T. Washington believed in something called accommodation which meant that African Americans would accept discrimination only for a while until they were able to show whites they were willing to work hard and learn. Washington wanted whites to teach African Americans to live and work in free society. Washington made a plan to better the lives of the unskilled and uneducated African Americans migrating into the Northern cities. He created the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
This school taught industrial trading and social skills like budgeting money. Booker felt a way for African Americans to advance was through bettering themselves economically. Many whites supported this institute and actually helped Washington start it. Another great African American leader was W.E.B. DuBois although he disagreed with Washington on what African Americans should do.
DuBois believed in reform and wanted to fight to change for better things for African Americans instead of accepting discrimination and facing more oppression. DuBois often spoke publicly about racism and called for political action. He helped create the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also known as the NAACP. Dubois demanded from lawmakers to be given the right to vote, equality, and better education.As the Gilded Age was a prosperous era for American capitalists, African Americans suffered as their hopes for equality, born from emancipation and reconstruction, failed to materialize. Despite the passage of the of the post-Civil War Amendments, the Supreme Court constitutionalized racial discrimination and oppression through Plessy v. Ferguson and similar cases.
The Civil Rights movement of the 20th century waged a campaign to realize the promise of the post-Civil War Amendments and the backlash of white rage the was the inevitable result. While legal segregation was outlawed in 1954, racial segregation and racial inequality persisted as white rage moved to its third stage of development; modern-day black codes in the form of criminal justice policy and practice that has resulted in mass incarceration for African Americans.Blocker, Jack S. “Building Networks: Cooperation and Communication Among African Americans in the Urban Midwest, 1860–1910.” Indiana Magazine of History, vol. 99, no. 4, 2003, pp.
370–386. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27792513.Miller, Worth Robert. “The Lost World of Gilded Age Politics.” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, vol.
1, no. 1, 2002, pp. 49–67. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25144285.Sandweiss, Martha A.
Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception across the Color Line. New York: Penguin Press, 2009., 2009.Calhoun, Charles W. The Gilded Age : Perspectives on the Origins of Modern America. Lanham, Md. : Rowman ; Littlefield Pub lishers, c2007., 2007.