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African Americans in the Gilded Age: New Beginnings and New Challenges

African American history is usually taught in the form of a triad: Slavery, The Civil War, and the Civil Rights Movement; however, between 1619-1968, other figures existed in the era called the Gilded Age.

The Gilded Age was considered the era of progress across the United States. Tycoons like Andrew Carnegie, Jay Gould, Henry Clay Frick, and the Vanderbilt family were on the top of the world in industries such as steel, railroads, and import/export shipping. America also saw a boom in immigration. According to a Washington State University Digital Exhibit, about 11. 7 million immigrants came to America during this period, most of whom were from Europe. The rise of the Industrial Age led many to the country in hopes of obtaining better wages and opportunities.

It is important to remember that the Gilded Age was a time of promise for another group: African Americans. At the beginning of the Gilded Age in 1870, there were approximately 5,392,172 African Americans in the United States. Five years after the Civil War, many Black Americans were still trying to forge a path of their own. Hiram Revels would become the first Black Senator in 1871, and Blanche K. Bruce would follow him in 1875. The passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870 made it possible for Black men to vote, allowing them to stake their claim as rightful citizens. African Americans all over the country began to engage in the political process.

However, a nation still wounded by war would not be so easy to heal, especially when the lingering disease of racism rotted in it. Anger over the advancement of Black Americans would create backlashes throughout the country. Racial terrorism was prevalent, with more than 2,000 African Americans lynched ( These sobering statistics show that while the nation was offering immigrants a chance at the American Dream, African Americans were denied access to it to roll back any idea that they were truly free and equal.

Still, leaders like Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Anna Julia Cooper, and Ida B. Wells encouraged African Americans to persist and take their rightful place in society. Mob violence and racism

did not silence them. Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Well courageously spoke out against the heinous crimes of lynching, with the latter publishing The Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States in 1895. Anna Julia Cooper and Booker T. Washington encouraged African Americans' education as a gateway to success. Washington emphasized that African Americans gradually advocated for their rights by engaging in agricultural work and not pressing for equality immediately.

Instead, Cooper advocated for African American women to make their voices heard through education and activism. Finally, a new class of elite African Americans was taking center stage to guide all classes of Black people on their turbulent journey through a new America.

Through their knowledge, activism, and belief that All men (and women) were created equal, these African Americans would set the stage for events over the next hundred years. Without them, there would have been no impetus for what we know as the Modern Civil Rights Movement. Instead, their action set the tone for what African Americans deserved and how hard they would fight to get it.

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