Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge
Alex Haley the Pulitzer Prize winning author best known for his outstanding historical novel Roots tells the story of 39 million Americans of African descent. Kunta Kinte who was the central character of his 1976 book believed to be born in 1750 in Gambia West Africa and caught by a slave trader when Kunta Kinte was just 17 years old. He was taken to America (Maryland) by the ship Lord Ligonier in 1767. Worked as a slave undergoing many inhuman experiences Kunta Kinte died in 1810 without seeing freedom. Kunta’s generation lived in America until they searched for a new identity and freedom.
The American author Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin which was published in 1852 had profound effects on the attitude towards slavery in the United States. Many moderate Americans felt that the slavery was evil. The American Civil War erupted mainly due to the slavery issue. President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 and declared the freedom of all slaves in any state of the Confederate States of America.
During the American Civil War tens of thousands of enslaved African Americans escaped to Union lines for freedom. The U.S. government formed regiments known as the United States Colored Troops, composed of black soldiers led by white officers. These black soldiers were nicknamed as Buffalo Soldiers. Many of these soldiers fought the enemy with courage and honor. Black soldiers like Peter Salem who demonstrated bravery and courage in the Bunker Hill Battle was hailed many decades after his death.
After the Civil War the organizations like KKK were formed by the white extremists with racial prejudice. Economic hardships during the Great Depression negatively affected the racial harmony. The tension was escalating after the WW2.
The American Civil Rights Movement from 1955 to 1968 was aimed at abolishing racial discrimination against African Americans and eempowering them achieving political, economic and social success. The Movement worked against Racial Segregation, Disenfranchisement, Exploitation and Violence. The Civil Rights Movement in America highlighted the racial discriminations faced by the colored people and Martin Luther King Jr. became one of the principal leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement and a prominent advocate of nonviolent protest adopting Gandhi’s methods.
Although Elijah Mohammad and Malcolm X proclaimed an eye for an eye mode of struggle Martin Luther King Jr. believed in racial harmony and co existence. King’s challenges to segregation and racial discrimination in the 1950s and 1960s helped convince many white Americans to support the cause of civil rights in the United States. Later Malcolm X renounced violence and realized the importance of co existence with the fellow white Americans.
The American civil rights activist Jesse Jackson participated in the Selma to Montgomery marches with Dr Martin Luther King in 1965. He achieved wide fame as an African American leader and as a famous spokesman for civil rights issues. Jesse Jackson was a candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988 feels that America has moved forward, based in large part on his own experiences.
Despite the isolated events and some racially biased issues America is walking towards multicultural society which values the ethnic harmony and tolerance. In 2001 Colin Powell became the first African American to become the Secretary of States. The new development comes with Barack Obama.
Barack, Obama a community organizer, civil rights attorney, and a Senator from Illinois is the presumptive Presidential nominee for the Democratic Party in 2008. Hence Obama become the first black man to run for President in the United States. He has focused on tackling the challenges of a globalized, 21st century world with fresh thinking.
The Americans proved that they can change from Kunta Kinte to Barak Obama and this gives a positive view to other nations who face ethnic conflicts and racial or religious intolerance. Therefore communities do not need to live in eternal conflicts and hatred forever. People can change. They can change constructively.