THE NATION CLASSROOM
American History as It Happened
RACE RELATIONS and CIVIL RIGHTS
MODULE SEVEN: 1966-1990
STUDENT PRACTICE ACTIVITY TWO
Carefully reread the excerpts referenced in the questions below and answer accordingly.
1. In Document Three, the Kerner Commission report states, “Discrimination and segregation have long permeated much of American life; they now threaten the future of every American.” Why might discrimination and segregation threaten the future of all Americans, not just African-Americans?
Answers will vary. The commission report foresees two separate Americas, separate and unequal. In other words, the trajectory the country is on regarding race will literally tear the nation apart, and as Abraham Lincoln observed, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Discrimination and segregation threaten the future of all Americans because they are a threat to the unity and health of the nation itself.
Another approach to answering this question might be to say that two separate and unequal societies would be completely against the values codified in the US Constitution. In other words, an apartheid United States is unacceptable because it is strictly unconstitutional. And since discrimination and segregation are the vehicles leading the country to this outcome, all Americans are threatened.
2. In Document Four, “Television,” what does John Horn mean when he says, “To all human beings, television is a continuous assault on the heart, the mind and the spirit. To Negroes, as to all racial minorities, it is a major alienating force.”
Thorn does not merely assert that television is bad for African Americans, but for everyone. He argues that TV’s emphasis on materialism, hedonism, and violence, as well its depiction of a homogenously white America, hurts all viewers. However, he says, the it does particular damage to minority peoples: By painting a false image of the country as homogeneously white, it essentially says non-whites have no place in American society.
3. In Document Six, McWilliams says: “The struggle for civil rights was not a social revolution. It had limited objectives, though objectives of critical importance. Legal barriers and discrimination had to be removed before more significant progress could be made.” What might he be referring to as “more significant progress?”
Answers will vary. Legislation against discrimination can only go so far in creating a society and culture of full and equal rights. The human heart cannot be legislated into accepting people of different backgrounds, ethnicity, and races. “More significant progress” might be the change, over time, of American hearts and minds toward full acceptance and appreciation of a diverse society. Other signs of progress could include economic advancement, greater opportunity, and better health and educational outcomes.
4. Identify three excerpts in which the writers assert that blacks were literally afraid for their lives in the America of the post-civil rights movement era. According to those excerpts, what was killing—potentially annihilating—black America? Explain.
In Document Two, Paul Good states, “Many Negroes felt that white power, which had led whites to prosperity, was leading to slow death for Negroes.” In Document Five, Michael Harris asserts that the Black Panthers fear “the liquidation of all black Americans.” And in Document Seven, James Baldwin writes, “Perhaps only black people realize this, but we are dying, here, out of all proportion to our numbers, and with no respect to age, dying in the streets, in the madhouse, in the tenement, on the roof, in jail and in the army.” Baldwin sees this as deliberate oppression, and tragic end results can be inferred.
As to what was killing—or potentially annihilating—black America, student explanations will vary, but should make a reasonable argument supported by the documents. Essentially, racism, and/or the white power structure, or economic oppression or injustice are all referenced in the excerpts.