The Evolution of the United States
While the United States is fondly referred to as the ‘the ‘cultural melting pot,’ several occurrences in history prove that the journey to where America is today has not been easy. Throughout its history, various groups of American inhabitants have endured hostility and discrimination from both the government and white Americans since they denied their basic human rights. The five themes discussed in this paper, including Cherokee Removal, the Dawes Act, Gam Saan, Executive Order 9066, and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, paint a clear picture of the continuing journey from an era of fear, discrimination, and inequality to where America is today.
The white settlers, particularly those who resided on the western frontier, were fearful and resentful of the Native Americans. They perceived the American Indians to be unfamiliar and alien people who resided in the fertile lands that the white settlers wanted to themselves, and which they believed was entitled to them. In the 1830s, the Native Americans were now being perceived as a problem and the federal government joined forced with the white settlers to drive the Indians out of their ancestral land. On 28 March 1830, the U.S .President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law (Denson 21). The law allowed the president to grant all the unsettled lands to the west of the Mississippi River to the Indians in exchange for all the other Indian lands that was located within state borders. At the same time, the Indians were expected to leave their homelands and walk over long distances to ‘Indian territories,’ which were specially designated lands located on the other side of the Mississippi (Denson 21). While some Indian tribes left their lands peacefully, many were those which resisted the presidential relocation policy. Among those that refused to bulge were the Cherokees who were forcefully removed from their ancestral land by the U.S. government between 1838 and 1839. Approximately 4,000 Cherokees lost their lives during this forceful march, which was soon referred to as the ‘Trail of Tears.’
The Dawes Act
The Dawes Act was an American law that allowed the government to distribute Indian reservation land to specific tribesmen. The main intention of the Act was to establish a clique of responsible farmers that were aligned to the white man’s image. Following its enactment in early 1887, the president of the United States had the power to determine the suitability of the recipients and issue grants of either 160 acres to married farmers or 80 acres to unmarried farmers with the condition that they could not alienate their land for the past 25 years (Otis 113). The Indian farmers that received such land automatically became American citizens and were subject to local, state, and federal laws. While the Act was initially meant to promote the welfare of the Indians, it was only passed in the Congress after it was amended to ensure that the remaining land would be sold to the public.
In the 1840s, news travelled to all parts of the world that there was gold in California. It was also believed that all those who seized the opportunity to mine gold in this highly coveted part of America could make amass great fortunes (Library of Congress). Within a short while people from all over the world were traveling to the United States in the hopes of striking it rich upon making a claim on the Californian gold. In the late 1840s, news about the Gold Mountain got to Hong Kong and was welcomed by most of the Chinese men living in its various provinces. Within two years, more than 25,000 Chinese immigrants had left their homes and moved to gam Saan, which refers to the mountain of gold (Library of Congress).
Unfortunately for the Chinese immigrants, they found that the gold mountain was a mere illusion upon their arrival to the United States. It was almost impossible for them to find work in the gold mines, and the fields were full of unwelcoming locals and disappointed prospectors. Given the scarcity of work in the mines, the new Chinese immigrant often found it difficult to make enough money to afford a meal, leave alone strike it rich (Library of Congress). Within a short time, the initially hopeful immigrant found themselves stranded in a strange land that was thousands of miles away from home. Similar to the Native Americans, they were forced to reside in an unwelcoming land and one that only afforded them with minimal means of survival.
Executive Order 9066
On 19 February 1942, President Roosevelt signed the Executive Order 9066, which authorised the expulsion of all people hailing from regions that the military considered to be desirable. The U.S. military in its turn termed the entire West Coast, which was home of the majority of American citizens of Japanese descent, to be a military area (McCormick 268). By mid-1942, more than 100,000 Japanese Americans were forcefully removed from their homes and relocated to heavily guarded internment camps that were set up by the U.S. military (McCormick 269). Between then and 1945, most of the Japanese Americans that had been uprooted from their homes endured extremely difficult living situations and inhumane treatment form their military guards.
Towards the end of 1944, a Public Proclamation was issued by that allowed the Japanese Americans that were internally displaced in their own country to move back to their homes. The proclamation followed the arrest of ten Americans that were found guilty of serving as Japanese spies during World War II, none of whom was of Japanese ancestry (McCormick 270). Four years later, President Ronald Regan signed a bill that saw to the compensation of those affected by the eviction accompanied by a government issues cheque of $20,000 and a formal apology from the U.S. government.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s
The 1960s Civil Rights Movement was meant to restore social justice in the United States that would provide African American with equal rights as stipulated in the U.S. Constitution. While the Civil War had brought an end to the slavery era, it had not ended discrimination against black people as they continued to endure the distressing impact of racism even in the mid-20th century (Chong 8). As a result, the 1950s and 1960s served as an era when the African Americans stood up to fight against the prejudice and violence that they had endured for centuries.
The 1960s Civil Rights Movement was a result of events triggered by an incident where four college students refused to leave a lunch counter, meant for white students only, in Woolworth until they were served (Chong 10). Within a few days, hundreds others joined them and launched a boycott of all segregated lunch counters until the four students were served at the Woolworth’s counter (Chong 11). Their stance spearheaded the rise of peaceful demonstrations throughout the country and the emergence of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The March on Washington was held in 1963 and was attended by Martin Luther King Jr. among other civil rights leaders. The peaceful march was aimed at forcing legislators to pass a civil rights legislation and to create job equality for all, which eventually resulted in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Chong 76). The Act guaranteed equal employment rights, minimal use of voter literacy tests, and the integration of all public facilities in the U.S.
As discussed,the American journey to become the land of opportunity where the constitutional rights of all people are respected and upheld was not easy. In the course of its history, Native Americans were chased out of their ancestral land and the remaining land was allocated to only a few individuals in accordance with the Dawes Act; Chinese immigrants moved to the unwelcoming California in the hopes of striking it rich; and Japanese Americans were forced out of their homes in the West Coast. In the 1950s and 1960s , African Americans have fought for equal rights , which have greatly contributed towards making the United States an epitome of cultural diversity and integration.
Chong, Dennis. Collective Action and the Civil Rights Movement. University of Chicago Press, 2014.
Denson, Andrew. Monuments to Absence: Cherokee Removal and the Contest over Southern Memory. University of North Carolina Press, 2017.
Library of Congress. “Searching for the Gold Mountain.” Immigration, 2018, https://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/immigration/chinese2.html Accessed 23 July 2018
McCormick, Theresa M. “Fear, panic, and injustice: Executive Order 9066.” Social Education, vol. 72, no. 5, 2008, pp. 268-271.
Otis, Delos Sacket. The Dawes Act and the Allotment of Indian Lands. vol. 123. University of Oklahoma Press, 2014.
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