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The Progressive Era and Race Relations with African Americans: Analytical Essay

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One major change in race relations included African Americans’ new freedom to vote. This new freedom allowed African Americans to finally have a say in the decisions that were made for the country. The large number of African Americans who voted created a southern Republican Party that “…eliminated property qualifications for voting and holding office, turned many appointed offices into elective posts, and provided for public schools and institutions to care for the mentally ill, the blind, the deaf, the destitute, and the orphaned” (Norton 14-5b).

These southern Republican states included African Americans in the state legislature. This is the first time white and black Americans were both a part of the state legislature which was a huge step forward in the equality of races.

Unfortunately, Reconstruction was not all positive for African Americans. The Ku Klux Klan was a group of veterans who wanted to reestablish white men as the south’s leaders. They were a violent group who targeted African American leaders, killing many and injuring even more black individuals. Before the Civil War, this may not have had any negative effects on the KKK and may have even been supported by most southerners but with Reconstruction, the KKK were met with punishments for their actions. “…Congress [passed] two Enforcement Acts and an anti-Klan law. These laws made actions by individuals against the civil and political rights of others a federal criminal offense” (Norton 14-6a). This helped to ensure that African Americans would not have to deal with the KKK anymore and would protect them from future groups who looked to do the same.

Another change in race relations included that African Americans no longer were owned and could choose a job for themselves. “After searching for better circumstances, a majority of blacks eventually settled as agricultural workers back on their former farms or plantations” (Norton 14-2a). Although they may not have ended up with a different job they were no longer owned and could stand up for themselves and make changes to their work environments. They were also allowed to have their own home away from the plantation and could have their family with them. The change in race relation from owner and slave to boss and employee was a very important result from Reconstruction because African Americans were finally treated as people opposed to being treated as a piece of property.

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Industrialization had many impacts on American politics and society. One consequence of industrialization on American society was for workers. Before industrialization women and children may have helped a little bit on the farm and with housework but when industrialization occurred they began working in factories. It was no longer just the men who were allowed to work. “Employers cut labor costs by hiring women and children and paying them low wages” (Norton 16-3c). Not only were women and children working in factories, but they also worked very long hours in dangerous working conditions.

Another impact that industrialization had on America was to the environment. Instead of people spread out in more rural areas, there were now large groups of people clustered into one area. This meant that all sewage, trash, and other waste was all in one location. This made it hard to find sources of fresh water in the city because most sewage and waste from factories was dumped into rivers (Norton 16-4l). People also disposed of sewage in the streets leading to unclean living environments. Although industrialization created many jobs and made many jobs easier and more productive, industrialization had consequences on American society such as on workers and the environment.

  1. Religion and social morality played a role in promoting Progressive reforms by groups trying to impose their own religious and morals onto another group of people despite their cultural differences and beliefs. This is seen when a movement called the Social Gospel began. This movement was a group of people who focussed on combatting “…social injustice wherever it existed” (Norton 18-1f). They tried to act like Jesus and do as they thought He would do. They tried to help the poor and better the world by incorporating Christian beliefs into the workplace. The Social Gospel went as far as going to other groups of people, such as immigrants, who have a different culture and beliefs to show them the values that they should possess (Norton 18-1f). Religion and social morality promoted Progressive reforms by groups of people such as the Social Gospel spreading their beliefs to others of a different social status, such as immigrants, in an attempt to teach people the morals that they should have.
  2. One reform movement that helped to define the Progressive Era was educational reform. Before educational reform children were expected to go to school for just a few months out of the year because they were needed to work on their family farms. However, after educational reform children were expected to go to school longer because people saw the value of allowing kids to spend more time learning than working in order to “…[promote] their physical and emotional growth” (Norton 18-3a). This change helped to define the Progressive Era because people believed that education would help teach people proper morals. Another reform movement that helped define the Progressive Era was women’s reform. Before women’s reform, women had very little rights, and many times they were expected to be homemakers and raise children. They were not expected to be paid the same or have the same rights as men. Women’s reform included advocating for children by speaking out against child labor. Women’s reform believed that “modern women must have access to jobs to be independent” and they must also be paid fairly (Norton 18-4g). These changes helped to define the Progressive Era because allowing women to have more rights would improve more people’s lives.
  3. One impact of the Progressive movement on American politics was that women were eventually granted the right to vote in 1920 (Norton 18-7b). Throughout the Progressive Era, women fought for equality with men. Throughout the feminist movement, women fought to show that they deserved citizenship and the right to be independent. “[A]ll saw the [right to] vote as a first and vital step to influencing the laws affecting them…” (Norton 18-7b). Being allowed to vote would help women have a say in decisions that would directly affect them, for example receiving equal pay or having safe working conditions. As a result of the Progressive movement, women did eventually earn the right to be able to vote and influence the decision that were being made for them.

The role of American imperialism led the United States into the Spanish-American war because the U.S. wanted to expand their economic resources to other countries. “Imperialists saw the war as an opportunity to fulfill expansionist dreams…” and allow the United States to have a place where they could make more goods such as food (Norton 19-4a). The goal of imperialists was to make the United States the most powerful and to be in control of places outside of the United States. Removing Spain from Cuba would allow the United States to be able to use Cuba for resources. Therefore, American imperialism was the reason for the Spanish-American War.

American imperialism also led the United States into World War I. At first, America tried to remain neutral in the war but allies of America were requesting more supplies for the war, therefore we were supplying allies with weapons causing other countries to ban neutral countries from shipping supplies, America included. Eventually “Americans got caught in the Allied–Central Power crossfire” causing America to join the war (Norton 20-1d). Germans were being careless and attacking passenger and merchant ships causing the U.S. to get involved in naval warfare to protect civilians. “Wilson took the United States into the Great War for principle, morality, honor, commerce, security, and reform” (Norton 20-2c). The reasoning for America entering the war was based on imperialistic ideas that the U.S. should have cultural influence outside of its borders. In this case, Wilson believed that it was our job to protect civilian ships in order to keep American honor and morals of freedom.

  1. Norton, Mary Beth. ​A People and a Nation.​ 10th ed., Cengage Learning, 2015.

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