What constitutional amendment made slavery illegal?

History of the United States: Slavery and the Civil Rights Movement

An African American man as President of the United States, like Barack Obama, would have been unthinkable for many Americans about 50 years ago.

It was a long road to legal equality for US Afro-American citizens.

You will find out why this is so on the following pages ...

Image: Shutterstock.com (Halloran)

The history of slavery


Image: alamy images (© North Wind Picture Archives)

The keeping of slaves was already among the Indian tribes of the Native Americans (slaves) common. But when the first Europeans settled in America, they quickly made the natives into slaves themselves.

When the work increased with the increasing settlement and some natives died from diseases brought in from Europe, in 1619 English settlers kidnapped 20 people from Africa and enslaved them (enslaved) you. The slaves were supposed to help grow tobacco in Virginia.

By 1815 the number of slaves rose to over a million. Most of them were deported to the south, where many cheap workers were needed on the plantations. But there were also slaves who lived in mines or in their owners' households (slave holder) had to work.

The slave trade
The Africans did not become slaves of their own free will, of course. The majority of them were abducted from Africa as described or captured in wars. Others were from master to master or even sold by their own parents. They were treated like goods. The children of slaves were automatically slaves too. Her life was hard and full of suffering.

The life of the slaves

African Americans were treated like objects. They could be bought and resold. They had no rights or earned any money for their hard work in the fields. Although they often suffered from malnutrition, they had to do a good job, otherwise some of them were whipped to death or sold to another slave owner and thus away from their families. In addition, the slave owners often tortured their slaves with beatings or they raped their wives and daughters.

The film offers an impressive insight into the living conditions of the slaves Twelve years a slave (2013, directed by Steve McQueen). It is based on the autobiographical book of the same name by Solomon Northup from 1853. Northup was a free American citizen. However, he was kidnapped and forced into slavery. In his book he describes his twelve-year history of suffering.

Image: Kobal Collection (FOTOFINDER.COM)

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The end of slavery

The American Civil War


Image: alamy images (© Archive Images)

But there were also whites in the north of the United States who opposed slavery because they considered it unchristian. They abolished slavery in their part of the country around 1840 and also demanded the release of the slaves from the south.

The southern states then declared their independence from the north in 1861. The civil war broke out. Over half a million people died in this war, which the north won four years later in 1865. The then American President Abraham Lincoln, who opposed the independence of the South from the outset, as a result passed a constitutional amendment that made slavery illegal and granted former slaves rights.

1861-1865: American Civil War (The American Civil War)

The Civil Rights Movement

Racial segregation

However, the constitutional amendment at the end of the American Civil War in 1865 did not end discrimination against African Americans. In some southern states there were laws, the so-called Black Codes, enact. They provided for a further separation between white and black citizens.

For example, African Americans were not allowed to go public in the same place as whites. This meant that the freed slaves were not allowed to attend the same school, use the same side of the street or sit together with white people in restaurants. Professionally, they were only allowed to exercise professions in the low-wage sector.


Image: Focus Photo and Press Agency GmbH (© Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos)

The photo shows racial segregation in daily life. Look at the signs: left White, right Colored

First protests

In the middle of the 20th century, protests against racial segregation among Americans began to spread. Workers and migrants who came to the United States during WWI and WWII believed that America should not fight for freedom in other countries while its own citizens did not enjoy equal rights. As a result of the protests, African Americans were allowed to take better paying jobs in the defense industry, and segregation in schools was banned from 1954.

Activists of the Civil Rights Movement

The mass protests of the Civil Rights Movement started in the 1950s. However, they had their peak in the 1960s. Well-known activists such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and Malcom X ensured that this movement was promoted. It finally ended with legal equality in 1964. From 1965, African Americans were finally allowed to vote.

Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott




The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Martin Luther King


Image: Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo (KPA)



Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam

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Bullshit Bingo

Maybe you feel like a little round Bullshit Bingo?

What events and catchphrases can you think of that would have to be mentioned in a post about the civil rights movement in the USA? The game Buzzword bingo also known as Bullshit Bingo is a fun way to test your knowledge on this or other topics. It works in a similar way to number bingo, which you are probably familiar with. And so it goes:

  1. Create a grid with 3x3 or 4x4 boxes.
  2. Now put English words (9 or 16) that you think you will encounter while practicing in the boxes. You can see an example above.
  3. Whenever you come across one of your keywords, you mark it.
  4. If you have succeeded in marking 3 or 4 words in a row, you shout out loud - or if you prefer to practice on your own not that loud;) - BINGO !!