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Portfolio Reflection

Emily Sergent
Professor Kimberly Lark
History 153

Through out the semester, we have learned decades of information, how society

functioned during the time of our ancestors, and how each event affected the lives of
millions. Reflecting back on this class, only one question comes to mind: What can I, as
an historian of the 20th century United States, learn and apply from the history of our
ancestors to my own role in contributing to and acting responsibly for the betterment of
society? That is an easy question to answer, ethics.
From the time Jamestown was founded, people of African descent have been
defiled, abused, and owned. They were bought by wealthy, white men for free labor in
their fields. The owners never treated the Africans like people, they were treated like
animals. Daily beatings, cramped quarters which were by no means sanitary, and
sometimes they were killed for simply talking. These were the conditions they had to live
through. The women had it worse though, frequently the owners would use the women
for whatever they wanted, did not matter if they were married or not; their children would
grow up in that same field, following the same fate as their parents.
One of the main movements within the Civil War era was that of the abolitionist.
Mainly evident in the north, abolitionists fought for the end of slavery, some even risking
their lives to this cause. The Underground Railroad was essential; a system of
transportation and safe houses that extracted slaves from the south to the north as far as
the Canadian border. Hundreds of slaves reached freedom through this system. The
system was unknown to everyone except those involved and the slaves that either
traveled through it themselves or by hearing of it via word of mouth that traveled all over
the south.

Slaves lived this life until 1863 when President Lincoln, a known

abolitionists, issued the Emancipation Proclamation which stated all persons held as
slaves with any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in
rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free 1The
13th Amendment was passed in 1865, at the end of the civil war. The 13th, 14th, and 15th
Amendments were passed to give everyone expanded civil rights.
Just because these amendments were passed does not mean people stopped treating
African Americans poorly. At the beginning of the 20th century, Jim Crow laws
dominated the south. The issue was taken to the Supreme Court. Plessy v. Ferguson
continued the segregation of schools nationally; everyone was to be separate but
equal.2 However, equality was not obtained. It was not until the case Brown v. Board of
Education reached the Supreme Court that a small amount of equality was gained.3
Despite this gain, the white men in power used poll tax, literacy tests, and violence to
stop African Americans from voting. This is when Booker T. Washington stepped in.
Washington was born into slavery but was emancipated after the war. He was one
of the few African Americans to complete school and went to college to become a
teacher. He later started a school in the south for African Americans. He knew from the
beginning the degree of racism that existed in the hearts of the southern people, so his
school focused on skills that would help African Americans the most. The Tuskegee
Institute was a center for agricultural research; a way to help people get higher paying
jobs. He was accused of helping racism in the south though, delivering the Atlanta

1 Ourdocuments.gov The abolishment of slavery
2 M3: Progressives
3 Brown v. Board of Education

Compromise in 1895 which stated that African Americans should drop their dreams and
focus on vocational jobs. The whites were very supportive of this, but everyone else was
against it, claiming that Washington was aiding white supremacists.
While Washington was in the midst of his fight for African American equality,
W.E.B DuBois was creating the NAACP. In 1905, DuBois met with 30 men at Niagara
Falls to draft demands for the eradication of racism and discrimination which was denied.
But, four years later they succeeded in the creation of the NAACP, and his fight for
equality continued across the nation.4 Since the creation of the NAACP, African
Americans became more empowered to fight for equality, a fight that exists to this day.
Using our past I want to better society. As Burke Stated in On the Rhetorical Use
of History to Understand the Present; In history a great volume is unrolled for our
instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of
mankind. 5Burke is saying we should use our history to make life better in the present
for the future. I believe we should all look at how our ancestors treated African
Americans and start to change our ways, to move toward racial equality. Racism is not
dead, but it could be if we looked to our past.
Looking at events that have happened in the past year, it is clear that we are
reverting back to our old ways. Innocent African Americans are being senselessly killed .
Their people are being jailed and beaten by police for peaceful protesting. We need to
take a step back and look at what is really happening in this world. Michael Postma
reflects this same message in What can history teach us today?6 He says that without

4 M3: Progressives
5 Hodges, Blair On Rhetorical Uses of History to Understand the Present
6 Postma, Michael. What can History Teach Us Today?

looking to our past we have no way to shape the future; no way makes things better; and
no way for people to define themselves.
I am going to use the information learned in the course to educate people, to
enlighten them, so racism can be eradicated. We are all equal no matter what skin color.
We are all made of DNA and cells, skin and bones, mind and heart, and people need to
see that. Its not the color of the person that matters, it is what is on the inside that should

Cited Sources
M3: The Progressives. History 153. This source talks about the struggles of

African Americans in the early 1900s

"13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery (1865)."
Ourdocuments.gov. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Aug. 2015.
This source touches on the passing of the 13th amendment and the end of the civil war.
Hodges, Blair. "On Rhetorical Uses of History to Understand the Present."
Academia. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2015.
This source shows how important it is to use history correctly and how to use it to impact
our current lives. Becoming more wise from our past.
Postma, Michael. " What Can History Teach Us Today?." ASCD. N.p., n.d. Web.
17 Aug. 2015.
Michael is showing how history can shape lives at a very young age and that we should
educate our children in history.