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:
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.
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
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
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.