The twenties and thirties in America presented many problems for the black community all around the nation. They still were not provided the same rights as the white race – they still had no right to vote and were unable to use the same facilities as whites (transportation, restaurants, restrooms, etc.).
They were also subject to racial slurs and were often punished severely for crimes that a white could get away with and receive nothing more than a slap on the wrist. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, illustrates such prejudice in the form a court trial in which a black man is accused of assaulting a young white girl. Needless to say, the all-white jury was one of the many problems that blacks faced during the twenties and thirties.
The twenties and thirties was a time of extreme racial tension, and the arrival of the Great Depression in 1929 didn’t make things any better. The blacks were already subject to criticism by the general public, let alone the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan showed absolute brutality towards the black race. Blacks were beaten, burned, lynched, or branded by the KKK – hundreds of blacks fell under the wrath of the KKK.
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The KKK was so enormous, in fact, that it was the law since many law enforcement officials were pledged into the clan. One situation showed a black man walking on the streets one night when a police officer began to hassle him. The police officer was a member of the clan, and when he called for backup, other clansmen were there within minutes. They then proceeded to beat the black man unconscious and took him to a remote part of the woods. There, they tied him to a tree and whipped him nearly to death. They left him hanging there to die after they had had their fun. The man’s body was discovered a few days later with bite marks from all the forest creatures that had picked up his rotting scent. Conveniently, the police made no attempt to apprehend the suspect. (KKK: Acts of Brutality).
Another problem for blacks was that they were unable to enroll in white schools. Blacks had their own school building, which was no doubt dilapidated compared to the white schools. They had to work twice as hard to be seen as an equal, and when they did they were despised for it. They didn’t even have the right to ride on the same buses as whites (if they did they had to sit in the back – on the floor)! Blacks had no equal rights whatsoever, and Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t enter the battle against racism for another 30 to 40 years.
Another interesting thing about the time between the twenties and thirties was that the word “Negro” was not capitalized in the English dictionary whereas every other race was (Caucasian, Asian, etc.).The change was not made until blacks had received other equal rights to whites.
Blacks were not even represented fairly in the courtroom. If their defense lawyer was white, he would often advise his client to plead guilty because he did not want the burden of defending a Negro in court (Blacks in the Courtroom, article 2).
Even if the defendant were to plead not guilty, he or she would be faced with an all-white jury, who would almost definitely find the defendant guilty no matter what happened in the course of the trial.
Tom Robinson had a similar problem in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. He was convicted of assaulting a young girl named Mayella, who repeatedly pleaded to everyone that Robinson “took advantage of her.” During the course of the trial, it was concluded that the assaulter was left-handed. Tom Robinson lost the use of his left hand during an accident he had when he was young, so he could not have attacked Mayella. In fact, it was found that Mayella’s father was left-handed. Throughout the course of the trial, not one piece of evidence was uncovered that revealed Tom Robinson as a guilty man. Nevertheless, the jury found him guilty all because of a dirty, lying little white girl who should have been fried in the electric chair for condemning an innocent man to death. When it comes to a black’s word against a white’s, the black’s never had a chance.
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Not only did the court trial in To Kill a Mocking Bird affect Tom Robinson himself, but it also affected the lives of his lawyer and family. Atticus was often criticized for defending a “Negro” in court. Atticus’s daughter, Scout, also overheard some kids in school saying that her father defended “niggers.” Jim and Scout were even viciously attacked just because their father defended a black man.
Tom Robinson, however, was not the only one who was subject to racism. Atticus’s neighbor, Boo, also received large amounts of criticism. Rumors were spread throughout the town that he was extremely ugly, lived in the basement, ate rats, and he walked funny. He was so feared, in fact, that he had to save the life of Jim and Scout and kill their attacker before he became accepted into the normal society. But what would have happened if Boo had been black? He probably would have been hauled off to prison for killing a man (an attempted murderer) in order to save the life of two innocent young children. It seems a black could very well sent to jail by killing a man who attempted to assassinate the President of the United States.
The twenties and thirties were a time of great racial turmoil. The Ku Klux Klan had both grown and increases its targets to a dangerous level, and the coming of the Great Depression in 1929 only worsened the mood of the white population. Blacks could never expect to receive a compliment for their work; instead, they were hated twice as much for doing twice the work. They were not held to the same laws as whites in the courtroom, especially when it was one black man’s word against all the whites in the jury. Blacks could be sent to jail for a crime a white person would get a slap on the wrist for. Blacks were not treated like human beings; they were treated more like wild animals. If a white man killed a black man, it was justice. If a black man killed a white man, it was considered murder. The sad fact is that the only thing that differs between blacks and whites is the color of their skin. What does it take for people to realize that we are all the same, children of God? The people of Earth should realize this simple fact before the entire human race wipes itself out.
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