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The caged bird in Paul Laurence Dunbars poem Sympathy represents both the author himself and the

African American community as a whole. The first stanza of the poem illustrates the inherent longing of the so-called caged bird to be free. The author explains, I know what the caged bird feelsWhen the sun is bright on the upland slopes; When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass, And the river flows like a stream of glass. In other words, the author understands what its like to have freedom just out of reach (i.e. the African Americans situation during Reconstruction). Segregation, racial etiquette, and the overall concept of separate but equal reinforced the African Americans status as second-class citizens. Though they were labeled as free men they were still caged by the open racism of the time. The second stanza continues to realize the frustration of the bird, trying desperately to break from its cage knowing its efforts are futile. The author also illustrates the internal pain the cage evokes. And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars And they pulse with a keener sting I know why the caged bird beats his wing. In short, the scars slavery left on the black population are being reopened as they fight desperately for equality. Now that they can see their freedom, have tasted it, the need for it is greater than ever. The last stanza of the poem illustrates the undaunted hope of the African American population. Though his wing is bruised and his bosom sore they continue to believe in the possibility of freedom. A prayer that he sends from his hearts deep core, a plea, that upward Heaven he flings I know why the caged bird sings!

Emancipation and the Reconstruction Era: 1860-1877 By 1860, the question of slavery had deeply divided the still new United States, and it seemed that further compromise between the slave-holding powers in the southern states and the abolitionist leaders of the northern states would be impossible. A series of political arguments over the place of slavery in newly acquired territories and states had prompted several southern states to secede from the Union and form their own confederacy. On April 14, 1861, a barrage of artillery from the newly seceded Confederate forces against Union-held Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, officially began the Civil War (Vandiver 1992). At the beginning of the war, many northerners were divided over its meaning. Abraham Lincoln (president of the Union), Democrats, and most moderate Republicans felt that the wars primary purpose was to preserve the Union from division. Radical Republicans and abolitionists, on the other hand, felt the entire purpose of the war should be to permanently abolish slavery from Abraham Lincoln issued the the nation. As casualties mounted in the first year of the Emancipation Proclamation war, public opinion began to sway toward the side of abolitionism, and on September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued in 1862, which freed all slaves in Confederate-held the historic Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all slaves in Confederate-held territories forever free as of territories January 1, 1863 (Foner 2005). While the proclamation actually freed very few slaves (Union forces did not yet have access to the slaves in Confederate territories), it forever changed the meaning of the war toward a mission to abolish slavery. When the Civil War ended with Union victory in 1865, it became the task of northern lawmakers to decide what to do with the decimated South and the millions of newly freed slaves. It was decided that all former Confederate states which declared allegiance to the Union could be readmitted, but the government, economics, and society of these states would be reconstructed under the control of Congress and the enforcement of Union soldiers. Thus, between the years of 1865 and 1877, the period of U.S. history called Reconstruction occurred (Vandiver 1992). The Reconstruction era was a period of progress for many southern blacks, as the full rights of U.S. citizenship (including the right to vote) were constitutionally extended to all African-American males (Foner 2005). Under the enforcement of Union soldiers posted in the South, newly freed slaves began to clear and own their own land, establish school systems, and participate in local and federal elections. However, white southern resistance to the effects of Reconstruction was high, and the time of progress for African-Americans in the South was short-lived. In 1877, a compromise between Democrats and Republicans in Congress, allowing the disputed Rutherford B. Hayes to take office as president in exchange for the removal of Union forces from the South, effectively ended the Reconstruction era (ibid). Whatever rights and privileges AfricanAmericans had gained during this brief period were quickly taken away as southern whites exerted their authority once more.

Jim Crow and a New Enslavement: 1877-1910 From the end of the Reconstruction era in 1877 to the start of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, the South was ruled by a series of laws called the Jim Crow laws that mandated segregation of blacks and whites in all public places (Rubel 2005). While segregation was supposedly designed as a separate but equal status for AfricanAmericans, in reality, blacks were given inferior treatment and were forced into a number of economic, social, and educational disadvantages as a result. At the same time as Jim Crow laws were forcing southern blacks into an inferior status, state after state in the South began to pass literacy tests and poll taxes as requirements for voting which prevented blacks from exercising their new rights as citizens. Southern whites also used an even more effective method called the grandfather clause to disenfranchise African-Americans, which denied voting rights to anyone whose grandfather had not been free, preventing nearly all blacks from voting regardless of their financial situation or level of education (ibid). During the 1890s and early twentieth century, race violence increased rampantly as lynchingthe arbitrary torture and execution of blacks suspected of disobedience or rule breakingbecame a common practice in the South. Between 1890 and 1910, approximately 100 blacks were killed every year at the hands of lynch mobs (Ciment 2001). In the North, where the African-American population was still relatively low at the beginning of the twentieth century, racism was equally widespread. Blacks were deemed genetically inferior to whites according to the scientific principles of Social Darwinism, and their status in society was little better than that of their peers in the South (ibid). Still, despite the rampant violence, intimidation, and oppression directed at African-Americans nationwide during this period, individual blacks and black organizations continued to challenge the ideas and practices of racism, setting the stage for the civil rights movement that would drastically change the place of blacks in society.