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"But look, I was born here. My children
were born here. What the hell do I
have to do to be called an American?"
Joseph P. Kennedy, 1930s
"At no point in my life have I ever
felt as though I was an
American"
Toni Morrison, 1986
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Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition

   Acceptance in America

The quotes above introduce the idea of this section— the acceptance of African and Irish Americans. The statements suggest that a discussion about acceptance includes understanding how an individual, or group, perceives their identity and how society perceives the person or group.

The idea of acceptance develops by looking at historical documents as a sequence of events, a journey to acceptance.

The records explore two views that are always part of acceptance:

  1. Cultural impressions and personal experience
  2. Institutional access and barriers — laws, policies, and community standards.

The material in this section includes timelines, 19th century images and a series of individual histories. The timelines sequence the history of Irish and African Americans in two ways, in time order and in four categories. Both are ways of considering what shaped acceptance. The nineteenth century images show how society perceived the two groups. The individual histories of Barrier Breakers introduce Irish and African Americans who influenced the perceptions of each group. Each section includes questions to consider and a suggested search of related documents.


Time and Place: Chronology of the journey

The following hyperlinks access four timelines. They can be printed for use in classroom discussion. Below the hyperlinks are questions and a suggested search. The questions can be used in class discussion to consider the effect of specific events and legislation.

Displacement Timeline
Oppression Timeline
Discrimination Timeline
Acceptance Timeline

Questions to consider:

  1. What period of time seems most significant in the history of African Americans? In the history of Irish Americans?
  2. How did legal access and barriers shape the history of each group?
  3. What is the significance of the riots in the nineteenth century? In the riots of the twentieth century?
  4. What are some of the identifiable differences between the oppression of African and Irish Americans?
  5. What images might describe the journey to acceptance? Knocking on a door? Unlocking a gate? Climbing over a wall? Something else?

Search the archives for New York census data about population and religion. Consider the effect of this data on African and Irish American shared history in New York.


Nineteenth Century Images: Perceptions about Irish and African Americans

The following hyperlinks access political cartoons and images. Other images can be accessed by searching the subject list on the site. Below the hyperlinks are questions and a search which can be used in a class discussion to consider the effect of these images on the history of African and Irish Americans.

American Images

The Ignorant Vote—Honors are Easy (Cartoon)
The Results of Abolitionism (Cartoon)
The Day We Celebrate (Cartoon)

British Images

Am I Not a Man and a Brother? (Cartoon)
The Modern Sisyphus (Cartoon)

Questions to consider:

  1. How were African Americans and Irish Americans perceived?
  2. What ideas were associated with both groups?
  3. What differences in perception were suggested by British images?
  4. What messages were sent through the images?
  5. How did the events of the period influence perceptions of African and Irish Americans?
Search the archives for records about the American Party. Consider whether the records share the same perceptions as the images above about African and Irish Americans.


Barrier Breakers: Individual Influences

The following hyperlinks access images and biographical information on each individual. Sources for further information are also included. Below the hyperlinks are questions and a suggested search which can initiate a class discussion to consider the effect of individual achievement on group identity.

The 54th Massachusetts Infantry
The Fighting 69th (The Irish Brigade)
The Tuskegee Airmen
Edward William Brooke
Blanche Kelso Bruce
Frederick Douglass
F. Scott Fitzgerald
James Mercer Langston Hughes
Michael Joseph "King" Kelly
Joe Louis (Barrow)
Joseph R. McCarthy
George Meany
Daniel O'Connell
A Philip Randolph
Alfred Emanuel Smith
John L. Sullivan
Questions to consider:

  1. What effect did the achievements of one African or Irish American have on perceptions about the group?
  2. Were some individuals considered exceptions to a general perception about Irish or African Americans?
  3. How much of an individual's achievements was shaped by changes in laws or other barriers?
  4. Did other African or Irish Americans take pride in the achievements of an individual of their race or ethnic group?
  5. How significant was the effect of African and Irish Americans on American culture?

Search the archives for records about Daniel O'Connell or Frederick Douglass. Consider how these records affect your understanding of his achievements.