| Uncovering the History
Tangled Roots is a small part of the large subject of immigrant history. We're encouraged that so many writers and scholars share the same interest and passion. As you examine this site, you'll find references to many of the books written by these authors.
We have tried to present what we have been learning in an easily comprehensible style. We have created a primer for further discussion in these areas. Tangled Roots is a beginning and can open the researcher to other sources to learn more about our tangled roots.
The organization of this section reflects the way we learned this history and the methods we developed in order to understand it better ourselves. Some of the organization was inherent in the history. Four sociological categories show the large history of both groups. These are displacement, oppression, discrimination and acceptance. Each group lived through these stages and experienced much of the same suffering and struggle.
Tangled Roots does not suggest that the oppression of the Irish by the English is the equal of American slavery and the Jim Crow Laws but many similarities are evident. Some of the most apparent occurred during periods of oppression and displacement: eviction or bodily removal from native lands, indiscriminate abuse and transport on infamous shipping vessels.
This history, particularly when it concerns the history of slavery in America, will likely be familiar to many readers. We document these periods to establish that a relationship does in fact exist and that lack of political and economic freedom circumscribed the power of both groups. What may be less familiar to readers is the period of discrimination, experienced by both groups, during the nineteenth century in America. Irish immigrants and freed slaves shared stereotyping and limitations on work and housing available.
Within each category, we include historical events, statements from the leaders of the period, African, Irish and American and some stories of individuals who were living in those moments. We have used narratives, voices from the past, in an attempt to make the larger history more human, more real. Readers may be dismayed at how leaders of the day thought about Irish immigrants. They may be surprised by the shared living conditions of freed slaves and Irish immigrants.
We have included time lines to clarify each section. Until Americans of African and Irish heritage entered mainstream America in the 1850s, their histories, while similar, are very separate. The timelines place the events in a larger context and include events occurring within the same periods in America. By paralleling several histories, we can show the interrelationships more easily.
The above timeline presents the four categories used to explicate the parallels between Americans of African heritage (AAH) and Americans of Irish heritage (AIH). Each group experienced involuntary displacement from their land of origin, oppression by institutionalized systems, discrimination by others in America, and some degree of acceptance.
The dates for these experiences were often different for each group. One significant question to consider is how this difference in time has affected the question of race in America today.
The time period is a three-century span. Each group's history had earlier beginnings but these three centuries were most significant to the shared experiences.
Displacement of Africans from their country largely ended in the early 1800s when international legalized slave trading ended. Irish displacement was most significant from the 1840s forward.
Oppression of the Irish occurred in Ireland before displacement. For Africans, oppression began on their way to America. Legal oppression ended with the Union victory in the Civil war, but occurred again when Jim Crow laws were enacted. Relief does not begin until World War II.
Discrimination against the Irish began with their arrival in America and continues until the middle of this century. Discrimination against Black Freedmen existed throughout American history and continues to this day, North and South.
The final category, acceptance, is, perhaps, least complete. It is also the most compelling because we are all still living the history of racial and ethnic acceptance in America as we move into yet another century. We've struggled ourselves to clarify what acceptance of an ethnic group looks like in America. Is it about political power? Economic power? Social status? We discuss each of these ideas and offer diverse facts and opinions on the question of acceptance into American society.
We invite the reader to join with us as we consider why nineteenth century Irish immigrants did not join hands with freed slaves to form a powerful union.
We challenge the reader with the words of an American of both African and Irish heritage, Jim McGowan. Jim believes that we should not wait for someone else to tell us who we are because they may not have our best interests at heart. He thinks we should be the first to tell the world that we share the blame for contributing to some of its misery but we also take credit for contributing to some of its happiness.