The people of USA
With more than 245,000,000 inhabitants, the United States is the fourth country in the world in terms of population. About 75 % of the population live in urban areas and there are 170 cities of more than 100,000 inhabitants, 24 of which have populations of over 500,000. Most of these urban centers lie along the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts, the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes. The most populous area is the relatively small Northeast, which accounts for nearly one fourth of the nation's population.
In 1990 the US Bureau of the Census conducted a new census of the American people. The Census counted 245,837,683 people in the USA. But the figures might be incorrect. One of the Governors, referring to his state's smaller-than-expected growth, said, "Do you honestly believe that everybody who should be counted has been counted?"
"What then is the American, this new man?" One of enthusiastic French visitors first posed the question in 1782. Even in his day his answer — that an American was "either a European or the descendant of a European" — was inadequate to describe a variegated people that already included Indians and Africans.
America's population remains richly diverse. Statistics tell part of the story. 87.5 per cent are classified as white by the US Bureau of the Census. The vast majority of the population was WASP until about 1860. Between 1860 and 1920 almost 30 million immigrants arrived from central and southeastern Europe in particular. These mainly Italian, Russian, Polish and Hungarian immigrants quickly formed their own culturally homogeneous neighborhoods ("Little Italys", for example) and became a second economic class behind the WASPs. So now the majority, fully 65 per cent, are other than "Anglo-Saxon".
Almost 12 per cent of the population that are black are bottom of the economic and educational table, with far higher unemployment than whites, especially as a result of racial discrimination.
The most rapidly growing ethnic group is the Hispanics (almost 7 % of the Americans), who still continue to use Spanish in their homes even though the vast majority were born in the United States. Like the blacks, they have a generally lower economic and educational level than the rest of the population and are also isolated in ghetto areas.
There are almost 2 million generally prosperous Oriental Americans (predominantly from Japan, China and the Philippines), who are concentrated mainly in California.
The 1.5 million Native Americans live mainly in reserves in the southwestern states in usually deep poverty and there has been little or no integration into American society.
While most of US minorities maintain their individual cultural identity, any gains that are made by one group serve to help them all. It was once widely believed that the US was a "melting pot", fueled by the clash of immigrant cultures. In recent years the interest of America's myriad ethnic minorities in the customs and traditions of the lands from which their fathers came has grown, sparked in part by a new sense of self-esteem. More accurate than "melting pot" might be the metaphor "salad bowl", implying that each ingredient makes its contribution and adds flavor to the whole.
Since there are different ethnic groups in the United States, the civil right issue has always dominated American politics. It became very urgent in the 1950s and 1960s.
Numerous Presidents attempted to improve the situation of black people and other minorities in American society. President Truman appointed the first black judge in the Federal Court system and some progress was made towards racial integration in schools, restaurants and transportation in the South by Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson, despite congressional opposition. The blacks themselves, led by people like the Reverend Martin Luther King, became increasingly active in attempting to improve their status, and numerous non-violent protests began in 1960 to speed up the end of segregation. In the mid-1960s these mass demonstrations often degenerated into violent clashes, as the militant Black Power movements replaced the non-violent organizations.
Much has changed for the better since then, though substantial segments of American population are still excluded from the American dream of equal opportunity for all. America has not solved all her social problems yet, but an unprecedented national awareness of their existence gives hope that the basis has already been laid for a better spreading of the good life.
Once mostly English and Dutch, then one-fifth slave, then host to immigrants from a hundred lands, the American people have grown increasingly diverse as they have prospered. The national character has been immeasurably enriched by the special skills and outlooks each successive wave of newcomers has included in its ethnic luggage.
Despite sporadic setbacks and slowdowns, America continues to inch toward full realization of the ideal first expressed almost two centuries ago: "Here, it is not asked what or who was your father, but ... what are you?"
The American continent was peopled by four great migrations. First to come were prehistoric hunters from the steppes of Asia who, most anthropologists believe, crossed a bridge of land that then extended across the Bering Sea and Strait. Their descendants, the American Indians, developed scores of complex and colorful cultures before the arrival of the white man in the early 17th century.
The British and Western European settlers came to America seeking riches, land, and sanctuary. They conquered the wilderness, established the Thirteen Original Colonies, and eventually launched a new nation.
With the white settlers came a massive and unwilling immigration of Negro slaves from West Africa. The natural talents of those Negroes and their extraordinary powers of endurance enabled them to survive the horrors of slavery and to make incalculable contributions to American civilization.
Finally, in increasing numbers throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th, came the outpouring of immigrants from almost everywhere that made a reality of poet Walt Whitman's vision of America as "not merely a nation but a teeming nation of nations".
Since the birth of the United States, some 44 million immigrants have flocked to this country in search of opportunities denied them in their native lands. Among them have been men and women of every sort — seekers after land and freedom, religious and political dissidents searching for sanctuary, adventurers and misfits, merchants and artists.
But most of these people have been unlettered farmers from Europe's peasant heart, ordinary people with strong backs, hope, and a will to succeed. Through unshakable optimism, hard work, and grit, most have made a go of it. They have carved homes from America's wilderness, peopled cities and towns, transformed her 1 politics, and manned her farms and factories. The saga of the "immigrants" struggle to fashion a new life in a foreign and often unfriendly land is among the most stirring "pages" in America's history.
From across New York Bay, Ellis Island lies in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. Today its handsome buildings may be unfamiliar to some onlookers from shore; however, Ellis Island occupies a permanent place in America's history. It stands as a constant reminder of American nation's immigrant saga. Located just a few hundred yards north of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, Ellis Island is a monument to the great traditions of freedom and opportunity in America.
Ellis Island was a major federal immigration facility in America.
Between 1892 and 1954, 12 million immigrants were processed at Ellis Island, which means that more than half of the immigrants entering the United States between those years passed through its gates. Today more than 40 per cent, or over 100 million, of all living Americans can trace their roots to an ancestor who came through Ellis Island. The immigrants arrived with little money, but a wealth of hopes and dreams. They dreamed of a better life for themselves and for their children.
While mass examination of immigrants at Ellis Island ended in 1924, it continued to be used as a detention center for immigrants whose status in the country was questioned. In 1954, the island was permanently closed as an active immigration station. In 1965, however, it was added by Presidential Proclamation to the Statue of Liberty National Monument and was opened for public tours in 1976. In 1984, Ellis Island was closed for a restoration.
The restoration of Ellis Island cost approximately $160 million and was the largest restoration project of its kind in American history. Ellis Island reopened to the public on September 10, 1990 with new exhibits, films, and programs and it is once again receiving millions of visitors from around the world.
The new Ellis Island Immigration Museum tells the inspiring story of the largest human migration in modern history. The museum is located in the 200,000-square-foot Main Building— the most historically significant structure on Ellis Island. It was here, in various rooms of the building, where new arrivals— many fearful of rejection — were inspected and ultimately granted permission to enter the country. It offers visitors a fascinating complete look at the total immigrant experience, using innovative displays that feature historic artifacts and photos, interactive devices, computers and taped reminiscences of the immigrants themselves.
One of the unique exhibits is the American Immigrant Wall of Honor, which is devoted solely to the display of thousands of names of immigrants. Many Americans think that in years to come, children who visit Ellis Island will be proud to find the name of their grandparent or great-grandparent recorded with others who came and built America. They also think that the Wall is a way to make sure that the values and ideals symbolized by Ellis Island — tolerance, opportunity and freedom — are transmitted to their children.
Suppose for the moment, that we could return to Ellis Island when it teemed with immigrants and share the experience of an immigrant's progress.
"When I first arrived in this country I was filled with so many hopes, dreams and tears. One of the greatest fears was of a place known as Ellis Island, but called by us the 'Island of Tears'.
"In my village I had heard of this place to be inspected and may be, it was said, sent home if you did not pass. 'Sent home to what? To where?', I worried. I tried to convince myself that America would never send me home once I had reached her doors.
"I will never forget the joy I felt when I saw the tall buildings of New York and the Statue of Liberty after so many dark days on board that crowded ship. There was the symbol of all my dreams — freedom to start out in a new life. Then came Ellis Island.
"When I landed the noise and commotion were unbelievable. There were so many languages being spoken. The shouting and pushing guards calling out the big numbers on the tags attached to our coats created more noise and confusion. Surely, I felt, the noise surrounding the Tower of Babel could not have been worse.
"We were told 'keep moving' and 'hurry up' as my group was pushed along one of the dozens of metal railings which divided the room into several passageways. Immigrants walked along those passageways until they reached the first medical inspector who looked at face, hair, neck and hands. Interpreters asked, 'What is your age?', 'What work do you do?'
"I walked on to where a doctor inspected me for diseases. Again I moved to another doctor, the 'eye man' about whom I had heard so many terrible rumors. I passed inspection but the man in front was marked with an 'E' in chalk on his coat and sent to another area. I had heard that an 'E' meant deportation.
"For a long time I sat on a bench in the main part of the great hall waiting for the final test. I talked anxiously with those around me and rehearsed the answers to questions I might be asked about jobs, money and relatives. Some people said it was best to answer as fully as possible; others said it was best to say just 'Yes' or 'No'.
"Finally, I went before a tired, stern looking official who checked my name against the ship's passenger list and quickly fired questions at me: 'Can you read and write?', 'Do you have a job waiting for you?', 'Who paid your passage?', 'Have you ever been in prison?', 'How much money do you have?', 'Let me see it now'. On and on went the questions until I got more and more confused.
"Suddenly I was handed a landing card. It was hard to believe the ordeal was over in an afternoon. My fears were unfounded, the statue in the harbor had not turned her back on me. America had accepted me".
The island is empty of immigrants now and it may be hard to imagine their laughter and tears echoing throughout the buildings. By listening hard, however, we may still hear the sound of many languages they spoke decades ago on the "Island of Tears".
Thomas Jefferson, the author of the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, which boldly recognized that "all men are created equal", was himself a prosperous slave-owner. The nation that first proclaimed the essential dignity of man also officially sanctioned the ownership of one man by another.
Of all America's immigrant peoples, only the Africans came in chains. Although slavery had a long, bitter history in America, it never took root in the North, mostly because Northern farms and factories were initially too small to require large labor forces such as those provided by slaves. It must be said that Northern disapproval of slavery and slave-owning rarely came into play when a profit was at stake. So, many New England fortunes rested on the shipment and sale of slaves to buyers in Southern ports.
Even in the South, however, white servants outnumbered black slaves in every Colony until 1700. But gradually the South developed great plantations of rice, sugar, and tobacco, which demanded large numbers of workers. Consequently slavery became the very foundation of the Southern economy.
No one knows how many African men, women, and children were shipped to the New World aboard slave vessels, but estimates range as high as 24 million. Perhaps one of every four died on the 10-week voyage. Shackled below deck in foul-smelling, tight-packed rows, they subsided on stagnant water and stale provisions. Those who fell ill were thrown overboard. Many went mad or died struggling with their captors or by throwing themselves into the sea. By 1776 there were some 500 thousand slaves in the Colonies.
The sudden demand for Southern cotton turned slave trading into an enormously profitable industry. Once ashore, the slaves were at the mercy of their masters' whims. The best they could expect was unremitting toil; the worst was cruelty and even death. Although all Northern States had barred slavery by 1804, it was maintained in the South until the end of the Civil War. By 1860 there were well over 4 million slaves in the United States.
Those black Africans and their descendants proved an astonishingly resilient and resourceful people. Forced to work long hours, kept even from learning to read the Bible for fear they would be inspired to rebel, they managed to establish their own clandestine churches, develop their own African-tinged music and folklore, and express in myriad ways their longing to be free.
Slave revolts were rare. The few that did develop were brutally crushed.
The conflict over slavery and States rights eventually came to dominate American politics and finally drove the Nation to a terrible and bloody Civil War. The Emancipation Proclamation and the Union Army— with the aid of some 186,000 black volunteers— finally freed the slaves and the 13,h Amendment to the Constitution made their freedom official. The 14th Amendment granted blacks citizenship and the 15th Amendment gave them the right to vote.
I am fed up
With Jim Crow laws,
People who are cruel
Who lynch and run,
Who are scared of me
I pick up my life
And take it away
On a one-way ticket —
Gone up North,
Gone out West,
Gone! And me of them.
Between 1915 and 1940, hundreds of thousands of black Americans left the South and migrated to the cities of the North. This "Great Migration" changed both the lives of the Afro-American migrants and the racial status quo in much of the North.
The national impact of this crucial period in Afro-American and American history was immense. The Great Migration altered the very structure of American society and thrust the question of the "colour line" onto the national agenda. Newcomers, faced with an existence far different from their lives in the South, helped to create a new, more aggressive Afro-American community in the large, predominantly black neighbourhoods that emerged in northern cities.
Black ghettos in major cities became centers of a vibrant Afro-American culture in spite of the poverty, prejudice, crime, crowding, and disease that accompanied their growth. Despite the odds, increasing numbers of blacks worked their way into the professions, while others became prominent in sports and entertainment. Black Americans have had a lasting influence on the Nation's cultural and artistic life, while millions of Negroes in more prosaic callings — men and women, slave and free — have played an important role in building the economy.
America in the 1950s was beset by controversies over civil liberties and civil rights. Negroes, particularly those who had moved to the north, were at last beginning to demand some economic independence. Wartime jobs had provided many with new opportunities to learn skills and gain promotion. Blacks were also gaining some political leverage; voting in blocks in such large cities as Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland, they often held the balance of power in elections. But while there was some progress, it was partial and erratic.
Blacks, however, began to find unexpected allies and make strong gains among concerned religious groups, in the growing influence of biracial organizations, and, most importantly, in the courts. Slowly but surely legal barriers to equality in everything from education and voting rights to sitting in bus terminals were declared unconstitutional.
Gradually school districts in the South began complying fully with Federal Court desegregation orders. But although segregation was no longer sanctioned by law, many schools in both the North and South remained segregated in fact, because they were located in all-white or all-black neighbourhoods.
Negroes by this time had taken many of the issues into their own hands. A crucial step forward was the 1955-56 bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, led by a young Baptist minister, Martin Luther King. Although Dr. King and other ministers were thrown into jail for a brief time, segregated seating in Montgomery buses and, later, in all forms of transportation was ended, and a new era in nonviolent resistance to discrimination was begun.
Such organizations as King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Congress of Racial Equality organized scores of blacks and whites, many of them college students, to participate in demonstrations, sit-ins, and freedom rides. All were efforts to force businessmen — storekeepers, hotel managers, and bus line owners — to end discrimination. In some cases the reaction of Southern whites was positive, and a number of chain stores, hotels, and eating places stopped segregation practices. In many instances, however, the demonstrators were booed, spat on, and even physically harmed.
In the mid-1960s the problems of bettering the lot of the disadvantaged outran the progress achieved. Some angry young black activists turned away from the nonviolent methods and joined various militant separatist groups.
In many places there was violence. In the long, hot summer of 1965, rioting broke out in Los Angeles. Buildings were burnt, stores looted, and blacks and whites alike were killed. Two years later violence started in the black ghettos of Newark, New Jersey, and Detroit, Michigan, and spread to some 20 other communities.
In 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated (for motives never satisfactory explained) as he stood on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. James Earl Ray, a white southerner, pleaded guilty to the murder and was sentenced to a 99-year prison term.
By the mid-1970s, although much had been made in the battle for improvement, the social evils of discrimination against minority groups and the poor, lack of opportunity, unequal education and health care, unemployment, hunger, and slum living remained ugly realities in the eyes of all who cared to look. It was obvious that city, State, and national agencies were failing to cope with the growing problems. There was general agreement on what to do, but most Americans had at least become aware that finding workable solutions was a matter of urgency and worthy of their utmost efforts.