Disclaimer: This is an example of a student written essay.
Click here for sample essays written by our professional writers.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UKEssays.com.

American Dream And The Civil Rights English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3559 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

Reference this

As a continuation of the African-American quest for their racial pride and the creation of African-American political and cultural institutions in the United States of America, the role of dream was significant to the African-American people. It was not only a motif that was very much a part of the American phenomenon157, but was as a part of African culture as well. Dream had a reverence in the African-American community. African-Americans dealt with dreams as “part of their reality, and the course it’s related to the spiritual”.158 They believed, that was how God communicated to them.

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Essay Writing Service

African Americans had a traditional way with dreams. Dreams were used all over Africa as part of “the healing process”, “if they [Africans] don’t dream, I [healer] cannot heal them”.159 That was from Zulu culture.160 Africans trusted dreams. They believed, in dreams their spirits came in touch with ancestors, or with the spirits of their living persons, or with higher spiritual being. Sometimes, dreams were used as a means of witchcraft, or they were sent by deceitful spirits. Other dreams might convey wisdom and interests of the departed. People, therefore, watched their dreams and talked about them, and they often took them to experts for interpretation. Traditionally, the interpreters of dreams included herbalists, sorcerers, diviners, and priests.161 Such beliefs (connecting dreams with ancestors) led Westerns to suppose mistakenly, that Africans worshiped their ancestors. However, the founder of Kwanzaa, 162 affirmed that Africans worshiped only God, the Creator, in his many manifestations. Ancestors were merely “spiritual intercessors between human[s] and the Creator”.163

These traditional dream beliefs were part of a broad enhancement of African-Americans’ identity in the United States of America. They represented the survival of African dream culture in Northern America.164 The cultural survival was more than just a useful concept. It was a deep article of faith for many of those whose forebears were torn from their native ground, scattered, and deliberately stripped of their cultures. In his play Going to Meet the Light, interviewee, Daniel Wideman linked between cultural survival, personal survival, and dreams. A character repeated what her grandmother taught her:

She told me, the only thing that kept black folk going,

through slavery and ever since, was that we got the power

to remember what we never knew. That power is what kept

our culture alive through the dark times…But, no matter how

dark it gets, we still rise. We rise because, together we can

always remember a story we never knew, a dream we never

dreamed and we can ride that dream out and up into the light.165

In an old short story, Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) had called attention to dreams as one device by which a slave kept going. “To [a slave,] slavery was [a] deep night. What a wonder, then, that he should dream, and that through the ivory gate should come to him the forbidden vision of freedom”.166 The general point was, however, the meaning of “survival” meant “dreaming”, which was one of the sophisticated coping devices by which African-Americans had “survived so well” through slavery to the present. This was what Darry Burrow stated, “It was a way to keep going and be a normal person, despite things that are designed to make [African American] not a normal person”.167 African-Americans’ endurance and survival during slavery were recognized by dream.

Dreams were prophetic.168 The character of the African-American dream could be illustrated as “something that’s gonna happen in the future”. “African American dream beliefs retain African features”.169 On one hand, most African-Americans believed that there was something in the dream that was going to tell them what was going to happen. With the daily encounters with this land, its people, weather, its tasks, the African-Americans’ mind fashioned with spiritual realm, visions, and dreams. On the other hand, they still believed in “Afro-dream”, because they believed that their ancestors still influenced the society and helped and guided the living in day-to-day activities.170

The words “vision” and “dream” were indiscriminate. Vision was used in preference to dream, when the sleep experience was religious or spiritual in character, “that God or his angles come to a certain person that night, warn or guide him or her …and he or she would share it with the congregation as a form of vision”.171 Thus, visions and dreams were said to contain messages or some other information that helped African-Americans deal with the environment around them. One of the Africans, Angela Jackson said:

Before something can happen in your life, you must dream

it, you know. And I have always found that to be true for

me! whether it’s good or bad. It’s like a sleep, and it takes

you to another landing in your emotional life, so you are able,

in the deepest way, to cope with what’s going to happen. Because

you have an inside metaphor or symbol for it.172

Many African-Americans had retained some of that dream beliefs through the passing down of oral history, culture, and tradition through generations. Dreams were simply dreams, pictures that pass before one’s eyes, and some dreams were visions, where God gave one or taught one something.173 The general point was, however, that dream was part of the African-American culture, and was attached to a vision. This vision was directly devoted to that vision of the American dream, but it was ignored for centuries. The American dream was a unifying vision that allowed infinite variations within that vision.174

Twenty two million African-Americans were among American population during the first half of the twentieth century, who were ready to fight for that dream which was the extension to the American dream.175 One of the most important African-American figures, who dealt with this doctrine was Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 176 the winner of the Noble Peace Prize in 1964, who articulated the moral and cultural basis for the dream of equality in American life not only for African-Americans, but for all Americans. King’s vision was represented in his remarkable speech “I Have Dream”:

I still have a dream. It is rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day, this nation will rise up and

live out the true meaning of its creed: “we hold these truths

to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”.177

The vision meant that King “had hope” and “had dream”, a hope visited his night dream, or perhaps he “had recurrent dream”. This illustrated free boundaries in facility of survival. King presented a metaphor for political, social, and economic position, at a time, when African-Americans were frustrated by the continued segregation and racial discrimination.178 Therefore, the struggle for black dream of equality was considered the greatest dream in the African-American history. It was the vision of a nation of equal rights, and the desire to achieve full citizenship and the core premises of national identity and the American dream of happiness.179

King’s dream was the dream of the African-Americans and other minorities that was ignored over one hundred years, since Civil War. African-American women had always pursued the American dream. The dream of freedom was identified by eighteenth century black woman author and poetess, Phillis Whealthy pointed to freedom that existed inside each human being’s heart:

In every human breast, God has implanted a

principle, which we call freedom, it is important

of oppression and pant, for deliverance I will assert

that same principle live in us [African Americans].180

Others had a part in fighting for their rights and to be engaged to the feminist movement. Rosa McCauley Parks (1913-2005) also known as “the mother of the Civil Rights Movement” was the secretary of the Montgomery NAACP chapter. She was the core influence of arousing the spirit of social equality. She was arrested 1955-1956, tried, and convicted for disorder conduct and violating a local ordinance, because she refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. The fact that she did not intend to be arrested, but her only concern was to go home. “I didn’t get on the bus with the intention of being arrested,” she said later. “I got on the bus with the intention of going home.” 181 Her action opened a decisive chapter in the civil rights movement. She called for equality that, she “would never ride on a segregated bus again”.182 Her action reached the African-American community. Fifty African-American leaders gathered and organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott to demand their social equality. But the boycott lasted 381 days, with nearly unanimous support from the 50,000 African-Americans in Montgomery. Protesters formed an organization called the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The MIA urged sympathizers not to ride on Montgomery’s segregated buses and helped them find other means of transportation. In November 1956 the Supreme Court of the United States upheld a federal court decision ordering the Montgomery buses desegregated. The order took effect the following month, ending the boycott. Consequently, this led to a massive resistance on the part of African-Americans. The incident was adopted by a combined strategy of direct action with nonviolent resistance known as civil disobedience.183

The “March on Washington for jobs and freedom” On August 28th, 1963184 was one of such strategy of the African Americans to end segregation. It expressed the ideals of the civil rights movement. Among them was the “black version of the dream of Upward Mobility”185, ending the doctrine of “separate-but-equal” of both: the Brown v. Broad of Education, which in fact it appeared to be “separate education facilities are inherently unequal”.186 And the end of Plessy v. Ferguson, which deserted the principle of equality. This doctrine could not work with African-Americans. Because equality was simply not a part of the national agenda-not in racial relations.187 Therefore, King’s Jr., main concern was on good work habits and vocational training made vivid sense of generations of African-Americans, particularly, working-class. To be equal meant, that African-Americans could freely enjoy the fruits of their labor without any “opportunity for the stronger to rob the weaker”.188

The general point was, however, with the previous evidences, the Civil Rights movement exposed the disillusionment of the American dream, that was “hard to maintain” that overcome the psychology of African-Americans.189 But, the voice of the movement formed new sense of the American dream and was the key theme for African-American equality. King Jr. converted the American dream from its idealistic principle into a lasting reality that the African-American people ever experienced.190

I should like to discuss with you some aspects of the American

dream…for in a sense, America is essentially a dream, a dream

as yet unfulfilled. It is a dream of a land where men of all races,

of all nationalities and creeds can live together as brothers…we

are simply seeking to bring into full realization of the American

dream- a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity,

of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land

where men no longer argue that the color of a man’s skin

determines the content of his character… a dream of a land,

where men will not take necessities from the many to give

luxuries to the few.191

Furthermore, King Jr. equalized the African-American dream to that of American dream of the founding fathers, which brought independence to their people from British Empire, and in his time:

[America has]… got 22,000,000 black people

… today, 1964, who are fed up with taxation

without representation, and will do the same thing. Who are

ready, willing and justified to do the same thing today to

bring about independence for our people that your fore-

fathers did to bring about independence for your people.192

African Americans were “the only people in [American] history, who became free without any effort on their own behalf”.193 African-American freed themselves from the power of the white Americans. The African-American dream referred to the power of African-Americans. It indicated the ability through participation in the society and economy. And, the most important thing, the movement aimed at was independence as well as brotherhood, to “be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together knowing that we will be free one day”.194

Find Out How UKEssays.com Can Help You!

Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.

View our services

This vision of power of African-Americans in America was transformed to Africa. There was no better vision for Africa than Dr. King’s dream, whose vision was not only for African-Americans in the United States of America, but became the African dream as well. This dream was a vision of African rule of law liberation movement and the reunification of African-Americans, who helped to take this dream to Africa in order to abolish the last, reminisces of slavery and restored African rights to the democratic process in Africa.195

1:6Drama of Black Arts Movement

The Black Arts Movement196 referred to as “literary Nationalism”, 197 flourished during the late1960s and 1970s. In his essay “The Black Arts Movement”, Larry Neal, one of the important African-American thinkers defined the movement:

Black Arts is the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power

concept. As such, it envisions an art that speaks directly to the needs

and aspirations of Black America. In order to perform this task, the

Black Arts Movement proposes a radical reordering of the Western

cultural aesthetic. It proposes a separate symbolism, mythology,

critique, and iconology. The Black Arts and the Black Power concept

both relate broadly to the Afro-American’s desire for self-determination

and nationhood. Both concepts are nationalistic. One is politics; the other

with the art of politics.198

The movement was influenced by one of the profound and complex influential figure of the “Black Power Movement”199, Malcolm X200, whose economic, political and social philosophy was “Black Nationalism”201, “… black man should control his politics and the politicians in his own community”.202 This marked a turning point in black-white relations in the United States, and also in how blacks would define themselves. African-Americans redefined their standers of being of beauty that were historically influenced by whites and instead celebrated a natural “Blackness,”203 by reflecting their cultural importance. John Sweat Rock was the first to coin the phrase “Black is Beautiful”, in the slavery era, aimed to dispel the notion that black people’s natural features such as skin color, facial features and hair were inherently ugly. The movement was built on the belief that the color of the African-Americans’ skin was going to free them from oppression, if they were ugly, then their ugliness and Blackness were beautiful. It was against the prevailing idea in American culture that “black features” were less attractive or desirable than white features.204

The significant principles of the Black Power Movement were, however, black unity, self-determination, independence from (American) European community. Malcolm X connected the case of the African-Americans to that of the Africans. He presented the conflicts of both of the African-Americans in the United States of America and of the Africans in Africa as “struggles against colonial power”.205 He was inspired by Marcus Garvey’s sense of community and group feeling by going back to their home, Africa. However, his philosophy was that of “revolutionary struggle [through] the role of language, aesthetic forms, and every day experience of the people”.206 he argued, going home, Africa should be an “aesthetic and psychic movement” rather than a “physical” one. His philosophy influenced the Black Theater movement. His philosophy represented:

cultural revolution [that] must be the means of bringing us closer to

our African brothers and sisters. It must begin in the community

and be based on community participation. Afro-Americans will

be free to create only when they can depend on the Afro-American

community for support and Afro-American artist must realize that

they depend on the Afro-American for inspiration.207

Africa was a symbol of refuge and inspiration for African-American writers, poets, and dramatists. The image of Africa was used for national liberation.208 In December 1964; Malcolm X went on a tour to Africa, where he had met SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and CORE (the Congress Of Racial Equality) representatives to cooperate with his new organization off Afro-American Unity in America. This African tour increased his awareness of the significant need of black independent community in the United States of America. Malcolm X’s perspective of the position of African-Americans was seen as victims:

No, I’m not an American. I’m one of the 22 million

black people who are the victims of Americanism.

One of the …victims of democracy, nothing but,

disguised by hypocrisy…And I see America through

the eyes of victim.209

The last sentence revealed the fact of the African-American suffering, and African-Americans were required to invent and reinvent public policy that strived for a high center, where the competing values of freedom, responsibility, equality, and opportunity could be resolved.210 Malcolm X presented names of “Negroes”, “African”, “Black”, and “Afro” Americans that, referred to African roots and origin. He also showed Blackness as the essential ingredients of the identity of the African-Americans. He was called on African-American people in American and Africans as well to build their own communities and institutions against discrimination, making it a central part of the program of the Organization of Afro-American Unity – which in turn further influenced radical black arts activists, such as Amiri Baraka (1934- ), Larry Neal, Lorraine Hansberry, etc., and promoted the rise of cultural nationalism as a powerful, organized tendency within the Black Power movement.211

Thus, the Black Arts Movement was inspired by the Black Power movement, to show the position of African-American culture in America, “there would be no multiculturalism movement without Black Arts”.212 African-Americans could own thing, get into their own background, their own history, their own tradition and their own culture. They had struggled and challenged “cultural sovereignty and Black Arts struck a blow on that”.213

The Black Arts Movement made the most important dream of the African-Americans. It was presented as the dream of identity and nationality, it became obvious that all approaches to the American dream defined it as an “Overall”214 American dream that was made up of several dreams. Parts of the overall American dream were: the dream of Freedom; Equality; Upward Mobility; and the dream of House ownership, and the most recent interpretation about the dream of “Identity”.

Dramatists like Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) and August Wilson (1945-2005), who are the main concern of this study, had flourished by the late 1950s and the early 1980s and proved that their dramatic works were not only revolutionary and realistic, but also were pieces of art. Both playwrights presented and delivered messages to their audience according to their different times, to build up black identity and to glorify African-American heritage and culture. The drama of Lorraine Hansberry and the drama of August characterized the real experience of African-American dream of the twentieth century (after the dream deferred era). Each playwright presented different visions of the American dream, but they share the same central theme of cultural survival.


Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on UKEssays.com then please: