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Sub-Saharan Africans have been at the forefront of racial persecution, particularly regarding colour. The term 'black' was first used by the English in 1625 to describe the endemic people of West Africa.
The blacks themselves adopted the term in the mid-1960s to emphasise their ethnic pride, displacing derogatory terms such as ‘nigger’.
At the start of global trading, which led to the European empires, blacks were first taken from West Africa to the West Indies by the Spaniards as slaves. Later, other colonial powers such as the English took them to the American mainland to work the plantations.
In England an anti-slavery movement began in 1782, led by Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce. In 1805 slavery was abolished in the new colonies, and in 1807 the General Abolition Bill went on to cover all British possessions.
America failed to cover the issue of slavery at the time of independence, but by 1799 they had achieved emancipation in the Northern States. However, the south was a different matter, for here, slavery was still the main element of their economy.
THE AMERICAN SOUTH
This problem was one of the major concerns of the American Civil War, with many blacks fighting for the union - although in separate regiments to whites. Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 freed all slaves in America, but it had to wait until victory over the south in 1865 for it to become policy.
However, nothing is ever as simple as it seems. In the same year as the war ended, the Ku Klux Klan was founded in Tennessee. Wearing white cloaks and hoods, the KKK rode the countryside at night, burning white crosses and beating and murdering blacks.
Fuelled by resentment in the south, the KKK was strongest among poor whites, who had been hit hard economically by the end of slavery.
Never a truly organised force, the KKK died down at the turn of the century, but there was a revival in 1915 and 1945, and even today, the KKK is still raises its ugly head as the pathetic excuse of nationalism.
The Ku Klux Klan aside, emancipation faced legal hurdles too. In 1896 the US Supreme Court made a retreograde ruling following the case of Plessy v Ferguson. Initiating a policy of ‘separate but equal’, segregation was deemed correct providing equal facilities were provided for blacks and whites alike.
In effect, this was a new form of apartheid, with blacks having separate schools, separate ghettos and separate transport facilities that never actually matched those of the whites.
This policy led to the Civil Rights Movement. In 1955 the Montgomery bus boycott began in Alabama, bringing to national attention the civil rights campaigner, Martin Luther King.
Initiating the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, King advocated non-violent protest. Joined by large numbers of white students, protesters converged on Washington DC from all over America in 1963.
Such protests led to the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, guaranteeing equal rights under law and prohibiting discrimination in public facilities.
However, laws have never led to equality, and discrimination continued, leading to the Watts riots in Los Angeles in 1965, and a further riot in 1992 after the aquittal of policemen charged with beating up a black motorist.
This continuing lack of equality led, of course, to a more violent and extreme black backlash. In 1966 Huey Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther Party, dedicated to the establishment of a separate black state in America under the aegis of the united Nations.
Following a National Black Political Convention in 1972, a National Black Assembly was formed after the realisation that civil rights organisations were ineffectual. In addition, the Black Muslims were formed in 1929 as a religious group led, from 1934, by Elijah Muhammad.
Now known as the Nation of Islam, it developed into a black separatist organisation in 1946 under Malcolm X. Preaching active self-defence, the organisation had a revival in the 1990s under its leader, Louis Farrakhan, who organised the famed Million Man March.
© Anthony North, January 2008