The HIST 2112 Midterm Exam

 

Now that the first midterm exam is over, you might be wondering what type of essay you would have needed to write in order to receive the full 60 points for the essay question.  A good essay should be clear, well organized, detailed, and thorough in its coverage.  It should answer every part of a multifaceted essay question.

 

Here is a model response to the following essay question:

  1. In every region of the late-19th-century U.S. – the New South, the Old West, and the East Coast – white Americans of Anglo-Saxon descent struggled to differentiate themselves from other Americans who had not come to the United States from the British Isles.  Compare the treatment of immigrants, African Americans, and Native Americans, and analyze the different approaches that white Americans took toward these groups in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  How did the immigrants, Native Americans, and African Americans respond to such policies? 

 

Notice that this model essay examines every region mentioned in the question, and covers each of the three minorities.  It discusses both parts of the essay question – the treatment that these minorities received and the way in which they responded.  The essay makes a clear argument, and then supports that argument with specific historical examples from the readings and lectures.

 

This essay might be somewhat longer than one that you would have time to write in the time allotted, but perhaps it will give you an idea of the type of essay structure that you could use for your response on the next exam.  Even an essay that is only half this length could still cover most of the concepts that this essay introduces.

 

 

Model Essay:

 

African Americans, immigrants, and Native Americans all faced discrimination in the late 19th century, but the plight of each group was different.  African Americans struggled to retain basic constitutional rights, Native Americans faced war with the American army and the threat of cultural annihilation, and immigrants had to worry about making a living in a country that did not welcome their presence.

 

The constitutional amendments (13th, 14th, and 15th) that were passed during Reconstruction freed the slaves and gave African Americans the basic rights of American citizenship, including the right to vote for African American men.  But after Reconstruction ended in 1877, the South quickly disfranchised blacks, implemented a form of legal segregation, and tolerated acts of violence against African Americans that were designed to keep them from advancing.  African Americans had wanted to start their own independent farms after the Civil War with “40 acres and a mule,” but the system of sharecropping kept blacks tied to the land without any prospect of owning it.  Many blacks were lynched or worked to death as convict laborers on chain gangs.  In 1896, the Supreme Court upheld the system of racial segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson, arguing that “separate but equal” was constitutional.  In practice, the separate facilities that blacks had to use were never equal, and that was especially apparent in public schools.  Blacks had to endure inferior educational facilities, and the lack of black high schools in most parts of the South meant that very few African Americans had the opportunity to go on to college.

 

Several African American leaders spoke out against these injustices.  Ida B. Wells, the editor of a black newspaper in Memphis, led a campaign against lynching in the 1890s, but she had to flee the South when angry whites destroyed her press and threatened violence against her.  Booker T. Washington founded Tuskegee Institute to give African Americans an opportunity to learn a trade and enter the skilled working class, because he hoped that economic advancement would lead to political advancement for African Americans.  But W.E.B. DuBois, the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard, criticized Washington for ignoring the problems of segregation and disfranchisement that blacks in the South faced.  DuBois helped to found the NAACP to address these issues.  African Americans also turned to their churches for help.

 

The United States army waged a war against Native Americans in the West between 1850 and 1880, and this war became especially intense after the Homestead Act of 1862 encouraged thousands of white settlers to come to Western states to farm.  Between 1860 and 1880, the Navajo, Sioux, and other tribes were sent to reservations.  Some Native Americans, such as Manuelito of the Navajo, decided to fight back after whites tried to kill them.  Others, such as Black Kettle and White Antelope, appealed to the president for help.  Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tried to flee to Canada for safety.  But in each of these cases, resistance proved to be futile, and Native Americans ended up on reservations, where they were deprived of the opportunity to pursue their traditional religion and customs.  The death rate on many of these reservations was shockingly high. In addition, whites’ extermination of the buffalo (American bison), which took place between 1860 and 1880, deprived the Native Americans in the Western plains of their traditional food supply.  The Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 was an attempt on the part of the American government to give the Native Americans some citizenship rights, but only if they renounced their traditional cultural practices and adopted American customs.  Although Native Americans turned to traditional religious revivals for answers to their problems, even these could get them into trouble with whites, as Native Americans at Wounded Knee found out in 1890 when they engaged in a traditional ghost dance and were massacred by army guards.  In response, some Native Americans gave up hope.  As Chief Joseph told whites, “I will fight no more forever.” 

 

The United States experienced an unusually high rate of immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as immigrants from southern and eastern Europe came to New York and other eastern cities in search of jobs and a better life.  Some immigrants who could quickly move into the middle class – a group that included the Germans who settled the Midwest and the Scandinavians who acquired homesteads in the Great Plains states – did quite well, but the majority of Italian and E. European immigrants who came through Ellis Island faced a life of hardship that included poor living conditions in tenement housing and harsh working conditions at sweatshops and factories.  In one particularly gruesome example of harsh working conditions for immigrants, nearly 150 women died in a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in NYC because their supervisor had locked them inside an upper-storey room with no escape.  Although most immigrants did not face the same degree of racial discrimination that African Americans did, they could experience the threat of violence on occasion.  Leo Frank, a Jew, was lynched in Marietta, GA in 1915 after being falsely accused of murdering one of his coworkers, and most people believe that that lynching occurred solely because of anti-Semitic prejudice.  By the 1920s, many Americans had decided that they wanted to restrict immigration from southeastern Europe and other areas, so they passed the Immigration Act of 1924, which instituted immigration quotas.  The United States had already restricted immigration from China and other parts of Asia, beginning with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

 

Some humanitarians, such as Jane Addams (the founder of Hull House) and Jacob Riis (a photojournalist) tried to help the immigrants’ plight in the late 19th century, and immigrants also turned to their own cultural institutions, such as churches, for help in preserving their own cultural identity.  At a time when many white Americans of Anglo-Saxon descent wanted immigrants to “Americanize” by adopting American customs and saying the pledge of allegiance in schools, it was important for immigrants to find help from their own religious and cultural organizations.  For help in negotiating with their employers, some immigrants turned to unions, although the strikes that unions organized in the late 19th century were rarely successful.  Saloons served as havens for many immigrant men in northern cities.

 

Each of these minority groups – African Americans, Native Americans, and immigrants – experienced limited success in improving their lives in the late 19th century.  Instead, they faced severe discrimination that did not begin to improve until several decades later.