(also referred to as
) are citizens or residents of the
United States who have origins in any of the black
populations of Africa. In the United
States, the terms are generally used for Americans with at least
partial Sub-Saharan African
ancestry. Most African Americans are the direct descendants of
captive Africans who survived the slavery era
boundaries of the present United States, although some are—or are
descended from—immigrants from African, Caribbean, Central American
or South American nations. As an adjective, the term is usually
African-American history starts in the 17th century with indentured
servitude in the American colonies
and progresses onto the election of an African American as the 44th
and current President of
the United States
– Barack Obama
Between those landmarks there were other events and issues, both
resolved and ongoing, that were faced by African-Americans. Some of
these were: slavery, reconstruction
development of the African-American community
participation in the great military conflicts of the
, and the Civil
Black Americans make up the single largest racial
minority in the United States
and form the second largest
racial group after whites in the United
The first recorded Africans in British North America
of the future United States) arrived in 1619 as indentured servants
who settled in
. As English
settlers died from harsh conditions more and more Africans were
brought to work as laborers. Africans for many years were similar
in legal position to poor English indenturees, who traded several
years labor in exchange for passage to America. Africans could
legally raise crops and cattle to purchase their freedom. They
raised families, marrying other Africans and sometimes
intermarrying with Native Americans
. By the 1640s and
1650s, several African families owned farms around Jamestown and
some became wealthy by colonial standards. The popular conception
of a race-based slave system did not fully develop until the 1700s.
The first black congregations and churches were organized before
1800 in both northern and southern cities following the Great Awakening
. By 1775, Africans
made up 20% of the population in the American colonies
, which made them the
second largest ethnic group after the English. During the 1770s
Africans, both enslaved and free, helped rebellious English
colonists secure American Independence by defeating the British in
the American Revolution
Africans and Englishmen fought side by side and were fully
integrated. James Armistead
African American, played a large part in making possible the
1781 Yorktown victory
established the United States as an independent nation. Other
prominent African Americans were Prince
, who are both depicted in the front of the boat in
1776 Crossing the
By 1860, there were 3.5 million enslaved African Americans in the
United States due to the Atlantic
, and another 500,000 African-Americans lived free
across the country. In 1863, during the American Civil War
, President Abraham Lincoln
signed the Emancipation Proclamation
proclamation declared all slaves in states that had seceded from
the Union were free. Advancing Union troops enforced the
proclamation with Texas being the last state to be emancipated in
1865. African Americans quickly set up congregations for
themselves, as well as schools, community and civic associations,
to have space away from white control or oversight. While the
was initially a time of progress for African Americans, in the late
1890s, Southern states enacted Jim Crow
to enforce racial
Most African Americans followed the Jim Crow laws, using a mask of
compliance to prevent becoming victims of racially motivated violence
. To maintain
self-esteem and dignity, African Americans continued to build their
, banks, social clubs, and
In the last decade of the nineteenth century, racially
discriminatory laws and racial violence aimed at African Americans
began to mushroom in the United States. These discriminatory acts
—upheld by the United States Supreme Court decision
in Plessy v. Ferguson
in 1896—which was legally
mandated by southern states and nationwide at the local level of
government, voter suppression or disenfranchisement in the southern
states, denial of economic opportunity or resources nationwide, and
private acts of violence and mass racial violence aimed at African
Americans unhindered or encouraged by government authorities. The
desperate conditions of African Americans in the South that sparked
of the early 20th century, combined with a growing
African-American intellectual and cultural elite in the Northern United States
, led to a
movement to fight violence
against African Americans
that, like abolitionism
crossed racial lines.
The Civil Rights Movement
between 1954 to 1968 was directed at abolishing racial discrimination
against African Americans,
particularly in the southern United States. The March on Washington for
Jobs and Freedom
and the conditions which brought it into being
are credited with putting pressure on President John F. Kennedy
and then Lyndon B. Johnson
. Johnson put his support behind
passage of the Civil Rights Act
that banned discrimination
in public accommodations,
employment, and labor unions
, and the
Voting Rights Act (1965), which expanded federal authority over
states to ensure black political participation through protection
of voter registration and elections. By 1966, the emergence of the
movement, which lasted from
1966 to 1975, expanded upon the aims of the Civil Rights Movement
economic and political self-sufficiency, and freedom from white
In 2008, Democratic
Senator Barack Obama
Senator John McCain
to become the first Black American
elected to the office of President of the United
. Ninety-five percent of African-American voters voted
for Obama. He also received overwhelming support from young and
educated whites, a majority of Asians, Americans of Hispanic
origin, and Native Americans picking up a number of new states in
the Democratic electoral column. Obama lost the overall white vote,
although he won a larger proportion of white votes than any
previous nonincumbent Democratic presidential candidate since
Carter. The following year Michael
was elected the
first African-American chairman of the national Republican
African Americans as percent of
Census map indicating U.S. counties with fewer than 25 black
or African American inhabitants
In 1790, when the first U.S.
was taken, Africans
(including slaves and free people) numbered about 760,000—about
19.3% of the population. In 1860, at the start of the American Civil War
, the African-American
population had increased to 4.4 million, but the percentage rate
dropped to 14% of the overall population of the country. The vast
majority were slaves, with only 488,000 counted as "freemen
". By 1900, the black population had doubled
and reached 8.8 million.
In 1910, about 90% of African Americans lived in the South, but
large numbers began migrating north looking for better job
opportunities and living conditions, and to escape Jim Crow laws
and racial violence. The
as it was called, spanned the 1890s to the 1970s. From 1916 through
the 1960s, more than 6 million black people moved north.
But in the
1970s and 1980s, that trend reversed, with more African Americans
moving south to the Sun
Belt than leaving it.
The following table of the African-American population in the
United States over time shows that the African-American population,
as a percent of the total population, declined until 1930 and has
been rising since then.
African Americans in the United States
||% of total population
||% in slavery
By 1990, the African-American population reached about 30 million
and represented 12% of the U.S. population, roughly the same
proportion as in 1900. In current demographics, according to 2005
figures, some 39.9 million
African Americans live in the United States, comprising 13.8% of
the total population. The World
gives a 2006 figure of 12.9% Controversy has
surrounded the "accurate" population count of African Americans for
decades. The NAACP believed it was under counted intentionally to
minimize the significance of the black population in order to
reduce their political power base.
At the time of the 2000
, 54.8% of African Americans lived in the South
. In that year, 17.6% of African
Americans lived in the Northeast
and 18.7% in the
, while only 8.9%
lived in the western states
. The west does have a sizable black
population in certain areas, however. California, the nation's most
populous state, has the fifth largest African-American population,
only behind New York, Texas, Georgia, and Florida. According to the 2000
Census, approximately 2.05% of African Americans identified as
Hispanic or Latino in origin, many of whom may be of Brazilian, Puerto
Rican, Dominican, Cuban, Haitian, or other
The only self-reported ancestral groups larger than African
Americans are Irish and German Americans. Because many African
Americans trace their ancestry to colonial American origins, some
simply self-identify as "American
Almost 58% of African Americans lived in metropolitan areas
in 2000. With over 2
million black residents, New York City had the largest black
population in the United States in
2000, overall the city has a 28% black population. Chicago has the
second largest black population, with almost 1.6 million African
Americans in its metropolitan area, representing about 18 percent
of the total metropolitan population. Among cities of
100,000 or more, Gary,
Indiana had the highest percentage of black residents of
any U.S. city in 2000, with 84% (though it should be noted that the
2006 Census estimate puts the city's population below
100,000). Gary is followed closely by Detroit, Michigan, which was 82% African American.
large cities with African-American majorities include New Orleans, Louisiana (67%), Baltimore,
Maryland (64%) Atlanta,
Georgia (61%), Memphis, Tennessee (61%), and Washington, D.C.
nation's most affluent county with an African-American majority is
George's County, Maryland, with a median income of $62,467.
that county, among the wealthiest communities are Glenn Dale,
Maryland and Fort Washington, Maryland. Other affluent predominantly African-American
counties include Dekalb County in Georgia, and Charles City
County in Virginia. Queens
County, New York is the only county with a population of 65,000 or
more where African Americans have a higher median household income
than Americans of European descent.
Religions of African Americans
The majority of African Americans are Protestant
whom many follow the historically
. Black church refers to
churches which minister predominantly African American
congregations. Black congregations were first established by freed
slaves at the end of the 17th century, and later when slavery was
abolished allowed more African Americans to create a unique form of
Christianity influenced culturally of African spiritual traditions.
According to a 2007 survey, more than half of the African American
population are part of the historically black churches, majority
are Baptist, with a strong numbers of Methodists and a few
Pentecostals, while a fifth are part of Evangelical or mainline
Protestant churches. There are 12 million African American
Baptists, distributed in four denominations, includes the National Baptist
and the National Baptist
Convention of America
. There are 6 million Methodists, the
largest sects are the African Methodist Episcopal
and the African Methodist
Episcopal Zion Church
. Pentecostals are mainly part of the
Church of God in Christ
About 16% of African Americans Christians are members of white
Protestant communions, these denominations (which includes United Church of Christ
) mostly have
2 to 3% African American membership. The numbers of Roman Catholics
is from 2.3 to 3 million. Of
the total Jehovah's Witnesses
22% are black.
Some African Americans also practice Islam
Historically, between 15 to 30% of enslaved Africans brought to the
Americas were Muslims, but most of these Africans were converted to
Christianity during American slavery. Some African Americans
converted to Islam during the 20th century, mainly through the
influence of black nationalist groups that preached with
distinctive Islamic practices; the largest such group was the
Nation of Islam
, founded during the
1930s and led by Elijah Muhammad
which attracted activist Malcolm X
boxer Muhammad Ali
. Malcolm X is
considered the first to start the movement among African Americans
towards Sunni Islam
after he left the
Nation and made the pilgrimage to Mecca
1975, Warith Deen Mohammed
son of Elijah Muhammad who took control of the Nation after his
death, guided most of the membership to Sunni Islam. However, some
members rejected these changes, including Louis Farrakhan
, who revived the Nation of
Islam in 1978 based on its original teachings. Today the majority
of African American Muslims are Sunni Muslims. It is estimated
there are around 2.5 million African American Muslims, and they
represent about 30% of the total U.S. Muslim population
. It is
estimated the Nation of Islam has between 10,000 to 50,000
There are relatively few African American Jews
; estimates of their number range from 20,000 to
200,000. Most of these Jews are part of mainstream groups such as
, or Orthodox
branches of Judaism; although
there are significant numbers of people who are part of
non-mainstream Jewish groups, largely the Black Hebrew Israelites
beliefs include that African Americans are descended from the
African Americans have improved their social and economic standing
significantly since the Civil
and recent decades have witnessed the expansion
of a robust, African-American middle class across the United
States. Unprecedented access to higher education and employment in
addition to representation in the highest levels of American
government has been gained by African Americans in the post-civil
rights era. Nevertheless, due in part to the legacy of slavery
, African Americans as a group
remain at a pronounced economic, educational and social
disadvantage in many areas relative to European Americans.
Persistent social, economic and political issues for many African
Americans include inadequate health care access and delivery;
discrimination in housing, education, policing, criminal justice
and employment; crime,
poverty and substance abuse
. One of
the most serious and long standing issues within African-American
communities is poverty. Poverty itself is a hardship as it is
related to marital stress and dissolution, health problems, low
educational attainment, deficits in psychological functioning, and
crime. In 2004, 24.7% of African-American families lived below the
poverty level. In 2007, the average African-American income was
$33,916, compared with $54,920 for whites.
Politics and social issues
Collectively, African Americans are more involved in the American
political process than other minority groups in the United States,
indicated by the highest level of voter registration and
participation in elections among these groups in 2004. African
Americans collectively attain higher levels of education than
immigrants to the United States. African Americans also have the
highest level of Congressional
of any other minority group in the U.S. African
Americans tend to vote overwhelmingly for Democrats
elections. Even most conservative African Americans tend to vote
for Democrats . In the 2004 Presidential
, Democrat John Kerry
received 88% of the African-American vote compared to 11% for
Republican George W. Bush
Although there is an African-American lobby
in foreign policy
, it has not had the impact that
African-American organizations have had in domestic policy.
Historically African Americans were supporters of the Republican
Party due to the fact that it was Republican President Abraham
Lincoln who helped in granting freedom to American slaves; at the
time, the Republicans and Democrats represented the sectional
interests of the North
, respectively, rather than any
specific ideology, and both right
were represented equally in both
parties. The African-American trend of voting for Democrats can be
traced back to the 1930s when in the middle of the Great Depression
, when Franklin D. Roosevelt
program provided economic relief to African Americans;
Roosevelt's New Deal coalition
turned the Democratic Party into an organization of the working
class and their liberal allies, regardless of region. The
African-American vote became even more solidly Democratic when
Democratic presidents John F.
and Lyndon B. Johnson
pushed for civil rights
legislation during the 1960s.
After over 50 years, marriage rates for all
began to decline whiledivorce rates and out-of-wedlock births have
climbed. These changes have been greatest among African Americans.
After more than 70 years of racial parity black marriage rates
began to fall behind whites. Despite that and heavy Democratic
leanings, African Americans favor "traditional American values"
about family and marriage. While 52% of Democrats support same-sex
marriage, 30% of black Democrats do. In 2008, though Democrats
overwhelmingly voted (64%) against the California ballot
proposition banning gay marriage
, blacks overwhelmingly
approved (70% in favor) it, more than any other racial group. The
high-profile candidacy of Barack Obama is credited with increasing
black turnout on the bill which has been seen as the crucial
difference in its passing. Blacks also hold far more conservative
opinions on abortion
, extramarital sex
, and raising children out of
than Democrats as a whole. On
financial issues, however, African Americans are very much in line
with Democrats, generally supporting a more progressive tax
structure to provide more
services and reduce injustice and as well as more government
spending on social services.
News media and coverage
coverage of African American
news, concerns or dilemmas is inadequate, some activists and
academics contend.Activists also contend that the news media
present distorted images of African-Americans. To combat this
African Americans founded their own television networks. Black Entertainment
, founded by Robert
is a network that
targets young African Americans and urban audiences in the United
States. Most programming on the network consists of rap
music videos and urban-oriented
movies and series. Additionally, the channel shows syndicated
television series, original programs, and some public affairs
programs. On Sunday mornings, BET broadcasts a lineup of
other, non-affiliated Christian programs are also shown during the
early morning hours daily. BET is now an global network that
reaches 85 million viewers in the Caribbean, Canada, and the United
Kingdom. In addition to BET there is Centric
, which is a spin-off cable television
channel of BET, created originally as BET on Jazz to showcase
music-related programming, especially that
of black jazz musicians. Programming since has been expanded to
include a block of urban programs as well as some R&B, neo soul
, and alternative hip hop
, with the focus on
jazz reduced to low-profile hours. TV
is another African-American-oriented network and a direct
competitor to BET. It targets African-American adults with a broad
range of programming. The network airs original lifestyle and
entertainment-oriented shows, movies, fashion and music
programming, as well as classic series such as 227
, Good Times
, Boston Public
and It's Showtime at the Apollo
network primarily owned by Radio
. Radio One, Inc., founded and controlled by Catherine Hughes
, it is one of the nation's
largest radio broadcasting companies and the largest
African-American-owned radio broadcasting company in the United
States. Other African-American networks scheduled to launch in 2009
are the Black Television News Channel founded by former Congressman
and Better Black Television
. In June of 2009, NBC News
launched a new website named The Grio
in partnership with the production team
that created the black documentary film, Meeting David Wilson
. It is the first
African American video news site
focuses on underrepresented stories in existing national news.
consists of a broad spectrum of
original video packages, news articles, and contributor blogs on
topics including breaking news, politics, health, business,
entertainment and Black History.
By 2000, African Americans had advanced greatly. They still lagged
overall in education attainment compared to white or Asian
Americans, with 14 percent with four year and 5 percent with
advanced degrees, though it was higher than for other minorities.
African Americans attend college at about half the rate of whites,
but at a greater rate than Americans of Hispanic origin. More
African-American women attend and complete college than men.
for kindergarten through
twelfth grade students were common throughout the U.S., and a
pattern towards re-segregation is currently occurring across the
country. Historically black
colleges and universities
remain today which were originally
set up when segregated colleges did not admit African Americans. As
late as 1947, about one third of African Americans over 65 were
considered to lack the literacy to read and write their own names.
By 1969, illiteracy
as it had been
traditionally defined, had been largely eradicated among younger
African Americans.US Census surveys showed that by 1998, 89 percent
of African Americans aged 25 to 29 had completed high school, less
than whites or Asians, but more than Hispanics. On many college
entrance, standardized tests and grades, African Americans have
historically lagged whites, but some studies suggest that the
has been closing. Many policy makers have proposed that this gap
can and will be eliminated through progressive policies such as
affirmative action, desegregation, and multiculturalism.
In Chicago, Marva Collins
African-American educator, created a low cost private school
specifically for the purpose of teaching low-income
African-American children whom the public school system had labeled
as being "learning disabled
article about Marva Collins' school stated, "Working with students
having the worst of backgrounds, those who were working far below
grade level, and even those who had been labeled as 'unteachable,'
Marva was able to overcome the obstacles. News of third grade
students reading at ninth grade level, four-year-olds learning to
read in only a few months, outstanding test scores, disappearance
of behavioral problems, second-graders studying Shakespeare, and
other incredible reports, astounded the public." During the
2006–2007 school year, Collins' school charged $5,500 for tuition,
and parents said that the school did a much better job than the
Chicago public school system. Meanwhile, during the 2007–2008 year,
Chicago public school officials claimed that their budget of
$11,300 per student was not enough.
Economically, African-Americans have benefited from the advances
made during the Civil
, particularly among the educated, but not without
the lingering effects of historical marginalization when considered
as a whole. The racial disparity in poverty rates has narrowed. The
black middle class
substantially. In 2000, 47% of African Americans owned their homes.
The poverty rate among African Americans has decreased from 26.5%
in 1998 to 24.7% in 2004. African-Americans are the second largest
consumer group in America with a combined buying power of over $892
billion currently and likely over $1.1 trillion by 2012. In 2002
African-American owned businesses accounted for 1.2 million of the
US's 23 million businesses.
In 2004, African-American workers had the second-highest median
earnings of American minority groups
after Asian Americans
, and African Americans had
the highest level of male-female income parity of all ethnic groups
in the United States. Also, among American minority groups
, only Asian Americans
were more likely to hold
(management, professional, and related fields), and African
Americans were no more or less likely than European Americans to
work in the service industry. In 2001, over half of
African-American households of married couples earned $50,000 or
more. Although in the same year African Americans were
over-represented among the nation's poor, this was directly related
to the disproportionate percentage of African-American families
headed by single women; such families are collectively poorer,
regardless of ethnicity.
By 2006, gender continued to be the primary factor in income level,
with the median earnings of African-American men more than those
black and non-black American women overall and in all educational
levels. At the same time, among American men, income disparities
were significant; the median income of African-American men was
approximately 76 cents for every dollar of their European American
counterparts, although the gap narrowed somewhat with a rise in
educational level. Overall, the median earnings of African-American
men were 72 cents for every dollar earned of their Asian American
counterparts, and $1.17 for every dollar earned by Hispanic men. On
the other hand by 2006, among American women with post-secondary
education, African-American women have made significant advances;
the median income of African-American women was more than those of
their Asian-, European- and Hispanic American counterparts with at
least some college education.
African Americans are still underrepresented in government and
employment. In 1999, the median income of African-American families
was $33,255 compared to $53,356 of European Americans. In times of
economic hardship for the nation, African Americans suffer
disproportionately from job loss and underemployment
, with the black underclass
being hardest hit. The phrase "last hired and first fired" is
reflected in the Bureau of
unemployment figures. Nationwide, the October
2008 unemployment rate for African Americans was 11.1%, while the
nationwide rate was 6.5%.
The income gap between black and white families is also
significant. In 2005, employed blacks earned only 65% of the wages
of whites, down from 82% in 1975. The New
York Times reported in 2006 that in Queens, New York, the median income among African-American families
exceeded that of white families, which the newspaper attributed to
the growth in the number of two-parent black families.
noted that Queens was the only county with more than 65,000
residents where that was true.
In 1999, the rate of births to unwed African-American mothers was
estimated by economist Walter E.
Williams of George Mason
University to be 70%.
The poverty rate among
single-parent black families was 39.5% in 2005, according to
Williams, while it was 9.9% among married-couple black families.
Among white families, the comparable rates were 26.4% and 6%.
According to Forbes
"wealthiest American" lists, a 2000 net worth of $800 million
dollars made Oprah Winfrey
African American of the 20th century; by contrast, the net worth of
the 20th century's richest American, Bill
, who is of European
, briefly hit $100 billion in 1999. In Forbes' 2007
list, Gates' net worth decreased to $59 billion while Winfrey's
increased to $2.5 billion, making her the world's richest black
person. Winfrey is also the first African American to make Business
Week's annual list of America's 50 greatest philanthropists. BET
founder Bob Johnson was also listed as a billionaire prior to an
expensive divorce and has recently regained his fortune through a
series of real estate investments. Although Forbes estimates his
net worth at $1.1 billion, which makes him the only male
African-American billionaire, Winfrey remains the only African
American wealthy enough to rank among the country's 400 richest
people. Some black entrepreneurs use their wealth to create new
avenues for both African-Americans and new opportunities for
American business in general. Examples such as Tyler Perry who created new filming studios in
Georgia which makes it possible to film movies and
television shows outside of California.
African Americans continue to have lower life expectancies on
average than whites in the United States. Even when adjusted for
age, African Americans are 1.6 times more likely to die from one of
the 10 leading causes of death in the United States than European
Americans. However, there is evidence that this may be changing: by
2003, sex had replaced race
as the primary
factor in life expectancy in the United States, with
African-American females expected to live longer than European
American males born in that year. In the same year, the gap in
whites (78.0) and blacks (72.8) had decreased to 5.2 years,
reflecting a long term trend of this phenomenon. By 2004, "the
trend toward convergence in mortality figures across the major race
groups also continued", with white–black gap in life expectancy
dropping to five years. The current life expectancy of African
Americans as a group is comparable to those of other groups who
live in countries with a high Human Development Index
At the same time, the life expectancy gap is affected by
collectively lower access to quality medical
. With no system of universal health care
, access to
medical care in the U.S. generally is mediated by income level and
employment status. As a result, African Americans, who have a
disproportionate occurrence of poverty and unemployment as a group,
are more often uninsured than non Hispanic whites or Asians. For a
great many African Americans, healthcare delivery is limited, or
nonexistent. And when they receive healthcare, they are more likely
than others in the general population to receive substandard, even
injurious medical care. African Americans have a higher prevalence
of some chronic health conditions.
African Americans are the American ethnic group most affected by
, according to
for Disease Control and Prevention
. It has been estimated that
"184,991 adult and adolescent HIV infections [were] diagnosed
during 2001-2005" (1). More than 51 percent occurred among blacks
than any other race. Between the ages of 25–44 years 62 percent
were African Americans. Dr. Robert Janssen (2007) states, "We have
rates of HIV/AIDS among blacks in some American cities that are as
high as in some countries in Africa". The rate for African
Americans with HIV/AIDS in Washington, D.C. is 3 percent, based on
cases reported. In a New York Times Article, about 50 percent of
AIDS-related deaths were African-American woman, which accounted
for 25 percent of the city's population. In many cases there are a
higher proportion of black people being tested than any other
racial group. Dr. Janssen goes on by saying "We need to do a better
job of encouraging African Americans to test. Studies show that
approximately one in five black men between the ages 40 to 49
living in the city is HIV-positive, according to the
. Research indicates that African Americans' sexual
behavior is no different than any other racial group. Dr. Janssen
says "Racial groups tend to have sex
with members of their own racial
Crime also plays a significant role in the racial gap in life
expectancy. A report from the U.S. Department of Justice states "In 2005, homicide victimization rates for
blacks were 6 times higher than the rates for whites" and "94% of
black victims were killed by blacks."
Cultural influence in the United States
The King & Carter Jazzing
Orchestra photographed in Houston, Texas, January 1921
From their earliest presence in North America, African Americans
have contributed literature, art, agricultural skills, foods,
clothing styles, music, language, social and technological
innovation to American culture.The cultivation and use of many
agricultural products in the U.S., such as yams
, and cotton
, can be traced to
African and African-American influences. Notable examples include
George Washington Carver
who created 300 products from peanuts, 118 products from sweet
potatoes, and 75 from pecans; and George
, who invented the potato chip in 1853.African American music
is one of the
most pervasive African-American cultural influences in the United
States today and is among the most dominant in mainstream popular
music. Hip hop
, rock and roll
, and other contemporary American musical
forms originated in black communities and evolved from other black
forms of music, including blues
, and gospel music
. African-American-derived musical
forms have also influenced and been incorporated into virtually
every other popular musical genre in the world, including country
African-American genres are the most important ethnic vernacular
tradition in America, as they have developed independent of African
traditions from which they arise more so than any other immigrant
groups, including Europeans; make up the broadest and longest
lasting range of styles in America; and have, historically, been
more influential, interculturally, geographically, and
economically, than other American vernacular traditions.
African Americans have also had an important role in American
dance. Bill T. Jones
, a prominent modern choreographer and
dancer, has included historical African-American themes in his
work, particularly in the piece "Last Supper at Uncle Tom's
Cabin/The Promised Land". Likewise, Alvin
's artistic work, including his "Revelations" based on his
experience growing up as an African American in the South during
the 1930s, has had a significant influence on modern dance. Another
form of dance, Stepping
is an African-American tradition whose performance and competition
has been formalized through the traditionally black fraternities
and sororities at universities.
Many African-American authors have written stories, poems, and
essays influenced by their experiences as African Americans.
is a major genre in American literature
. Famous examples include Langston Hughes
, James Baldwin
, Richard Wright
, Zora Neale Hurston
, Ralph Ellison
, Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison
, and Maya Angelou
many widely used devices in the world and have contributed to
. Norbert Rillieux
created the technique for
converting sugar cane juice into white sugar crystals. Moreover, Rillieux
left Louisiana in 1854 and went to France, where he spent ten
years working with the Champollions deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics from the
inventors were nameless, such as the slave owned by the Confederate
Jefferson Davis who designed the ship propeller used by the
Following the Civil War
growth of industry in the United States was tremendous, and much of
this was made possible with inventions by ethnic minorities. By
1913 over 1,000 inventions were patented by black Americans. Among
the most notable inventors were Jan Matzeliger, who developed the
first machine to mass-produce shoes, and Elijah McCoy
, who invented automatic
lubrication devices for steam engines. Granville Woods
had 35 patents to improve
electric railway systems, including the first system to allow
moving trains to communicate. He even sued Alexander Graham Bell
and Thomas Edison
for stealing his patents and won
both cases. Garrett A. Morgan
developed the first automatic
traffic signal and gas mask.
Lewis Howard Latimer
inexpensive cotton-thread filament, which made electric light bulbs
practical because Edison's original light bulb only burned for a
few minutes. More recent inventors include McKinley Jones, who
invented the movable refrigeration unit for food transport in
trucks and trains. Lloyd Quarterman worked with six other black
scientists on the creation of the atomic bomb (code named the
also helped develop the first nuclear reactor, which was used in
the atomically powered submarine
A few other notable examples include the first successful open heart surgery
, performed by Dr.
Daniel Hale Williams
conceptualization and establishment of blood banks around the world
by Dr. Charles R. Drew
, and the air conditioner, patented by
Frederick McKinley Jones
was another pioneer in
surgery, the first to perform the misnamed Blalock-Taussig shunt on
a dying baby girl. Dr. Mark Dean
three of the original nine patents on the computer on which all PCs
are based. More current contributors include Otis Boykin
, whose inventions included several
novel methods for manufacturing electrical components that found
use in applications such as guided missile systems and computers,
and Colonel Frederick Gregory
who was not only the first black astronaut
pilot but the person who redesigned the cockpits for the last three
space shuttles. Gregory was also on the team that pioneered the
microwave instrumentation landing system. In 2000, Bendix Aircraft
Company began a worldwide promotion of this microwave
instrumentation landing system.
African-Americans have fought
in every war in
the history of the
The gains made by African Americans in the Civil
and Black Power movements not only obtained certain
rights for African Americans, but changed American society in
far-reaching and fundamentally important ways. Prior to the 1950s,
Black Americans in the South were subject to de jure
discrimination, or Jim Crow
would often be the victims of extreme cruelty and violence,
sometimes resulting in deaths: by the post WWII era, something had
to give. In the words of Martin
Luther King, Jr.
, African Americans and their supporters
challenged the nation to "rise up and live out the true meaning of
its creed that all men are created equal ..."
The Civil Rights Movement
marked a sea-change in American social, political, economic and
civic life. It brought with it boycotts
, demonstrations, court battles,
bombings and other violence; prompted worldwide media coverage and
intense public debate; forged enduring civic, economic and
religious alliances; disrupted and realigned the nation's two major
. Over time, it has
changed in fundamental ways the manner in which blacks and whites
interact with and relate to one another. The movement resulted in
the removal of codified, de jure
racial segregation and
discrimination from American life and law, and heavily influenced
other groups and movements in struggles for civil rights and social
equality within American society, including the Free Speech Movement
, the disabled,
women, Native Americans, and migrant workers.
The term "African-American"
The term African American carries important political overtones.
Earlier terms used to identify Americans of African ancestry were
conferred upon the group by colonists and Americans of European
ancestry. The terms were included in the wording of various laws
and legal decisions which some thought were being used as tools of
white supremacy and oppression
developed among blacks in America a growing desire for a term of
self-identification of their own choosing.
With the political consciousness that emerged from the political
and social ferment of the late 1960s and early 1970s, blacks no
longer approved of the term Negro. They believed it had suggestions
of a moderate, accommodationist, even "Uncle
" connotation. In this period, a growing number of blacks in
the United States, particularly African-American youth, celebrated
their blackness and their historical and cultural ties with the
African continent. The Black Power movement defiantly embraced
as a group identifier. It was a term social leaders
themselves had repudiated only two decades earlier, but they
proclaimed, "Black is
In this same period, a smaller number of people favored
. In the 1980s the term
was advanced on the model of, for
to give descendents of
American slaves and other American blacks who lived through the
and a cultural base. The term was popularized in black communities
around the country via word of mouth and ultimately received
mainstream use after Jesse Jackson
publicly used the term in front of a national audience,
subsequently major media outlets adopted its use. Many blacks in
America expressed a preference for the term, as it was formed in
the same way as names for others of the many ethnic groups in the
nation. Some argued further that, because of the historical
circumstances surrounding the capture, enslavement and systematic
attempts to de-Africanize blacks in the United States under
, most African Americans are
unable to trace their ancestry to a specific African nation; hence,
the entire continent serves as a geographic marker.
For many, African American is more than a name expressive of
roots. The term expresses pride in Africa
and a sense of kinship and solidarity with others of the African diaspora
—an embrace of
pan-Africanism as earlier enunciated by prominent African thinkers
such as Marcus Garvey
, W. E.
and George Padmore
Who is African American?
Since 1977, in an attempt to keep up with changing social opinion,
the United States government officially classified black people
(revised to black
or African American
in 1997) as
A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of
Other Federal offices, such as the United States Census
Bureau, adheres to
the OMB standards on race in its data collection and tabulations
efforts. In preparation for the United States 2010 Census, a
marketing and outreach plan, called 2010 Census Integrated
Communications Campaign Plan
(ICC) recognized and defined
African Americans as black people born in the United States. From
the ICC perspective, African Americans are one of three groups of
black people in the United States The ICC plan was to reach the
three groups by acknowledging that each group has its own sense of
community that is based on geography and ethnicity. The best way to
market the census process toward any of the three groups is to
reach them through their own unique communication channels and not
treat the entire black population of the U.S. as though they are
all African Americans with a single ethnic and geographical
background. The U.S. Department of Justice Federal Bureau of
Investigation categorizes black or African-American people as "A
person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa"
through racial categories used in the UCR Program adopted from the
Statistical Policy Handbook (1978) and published by the Office of
Federal Statistical Policy and Standards, U.S. Department of
Commerce, derived from the 1977 OMB classification. On census
forms, the government depends on individuals'
Due in part to a centuries-old history within the United States,
historical experiences pre- and post-slavery, and migrations
throughout North America, contemporary African Americans possess
varying degrees of admixture with European ancestry. A lesser
percentage also have Native American
With the help of geneticists, the historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
African-American ancestry in these terms:
- 58 percent of African Americans have at least 12.5 percent
European ancestry (equivalent of one great-grandparent);
- 19.6 percent of African Americans have at least 25 percent
European ancestry (equivalent of one grandparent);
- 1 percent of African Americans have at least 50 percent
European ancestry (equivalent of one parent); and
- 5 percent of African Americans have at least 12.5 percent
Native American ancestry (equivalent to one
However, studies by historians and geneticists show that African
Americans have significant Native American heritage due to many
different circumstances in different families. African Americans
with Native American ancestry have either been accused of not
having Native American ancestry or having little native ancestry.
One reason being, the genetic tests done to test for how much
a person has does not
present a complete picture, as argued by geneticists, because tests
trace only one bloodline and thus exclude most ancestors.
The short series African
which was hosted by historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
criticized because the program did not acknowledge nor inform those
that were tested that not all ancestry may show up in the tests,
especially for those who claimed having Native American
numerous families of free African Americans in the Upper South by the end of the 18th century were
descended from white women, free or servant, and African men,
slaves, free or indentured servants, who worked and lived closely
together during the colonial period in Virginia.
Their free descendants migrated to the
frontier of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina in the
18th and 19th centuries. There were also similar free families in
Delaware and Maryland, as documented by Paul Heinegg.
In their attempt to ensure white supremacy, in the early 20th
century some southern states created laws defining a person as
black if the person had any known African ancestry. This was a
stricter interpretation than what had prevailed earlier and went
against commonly accepted social rules of judging a person by
appearance. It became known as the one-drop rule
, meaning that a single drop of
"black blood" made a person "black". Some courts called it the
traceable amount rule. Anthropologists called it the hypodescent
rule, meaning that racially mixed
persons were assigned the status of the subordinate group.
Prior to the one-drop rule, different states had different laws
regarding color. More importantly, social acceptance often played a
bigger role in how a person was perceived and how identity was
construed than any law. In frontier areas there were fewer
questions about origins, and the community looked at how people
performed, whether they served in the militia and voted. When
questions about racial identity arose because of inheritance
issues, for instance, litigation outcomes often were based on how
people were accepted by neighbors.
Virginia prior to 1920, for example, a person was legally
black if he or she had at least one-eighth black ancestry.
The one-drop rule originated in some Southern United States in the
late 19th century, likely in response to whites' attempt to limit
black political power following the Democrats' regaining control of
state legislatures in the late 1870s. The first year in which the
U.S. Census did not count mulattoes
separately was 1920, evidencing a shift in the American conception
of what an African American is.
For African Americans, the one-drop system of pigmentocracy
became a significant factor in ethnic
solidarity. The binary division of society by race forced African
Americans to share more of a common lot in society than they might
have after the Civil War, given widely varying ancestry,
educational and economic levels. The binary division altered the
separate status of the traditionally free people of color in
Louisiana, for instance, although they maintained a strong
Louisiana Créole culture related to French culture and language,
and practice of Catholicism. African Americans began to create
common cause—regardless of their multiracial
admixture or social and economic
stratification. In further changes, during the Civil Rights and
Black Power movements, the African-American community increased its
own pressure for people of any portion of African descent to be
claimed solely by the black community.
By the 1980s, parents of mixed-race children (and adults of
mixed-race ancestry) began to organize and lobby for the ability to
show more than one ethnic category on Census and other legal forms.
They refused to be put into just one category. When the U.S.
government proposed the addition of the category of "bi-racial" or
"multiracial" in 1988, the response from the general public was
mostly negative. Some African-American organizations and political
leaders, such as Senator Diane Watson
and Representative Augustus
, were particularly vocal in their rejection of the
category. They feared a loss in political and economic power if
African Americans abandoned their one category.
This reaction is characterized as "historical irony" by Daniel
(2002). The African-American self-designation had been a response
to the one-drop rule, but then people resisted the chance to claim
their multiple heritages. At the bottom was a desire not to lose
political power of the larger group. Whereas before people resisted
being characterized as one group regardless of ranges of ancestry,
now some of their own were trying to keep them in the same
In recent decades, the multicultural
aspect of the United States
has continued to expand, in part due to new waves of immigration
from Asia, Central and South America, and Africa. Although the
terms mixed-race, biracial, and multiracial
are increasingly used, it remains
common for those who possess visible traits of black heritage to
identify or be identified as blacks or African Americans.
For example, 55% of European Americans classify President Barack Obama
as biracial when they are told
that he has a white mother, while 66% of African Americans consider
him black. Obama describes himself as black and African American,
using both terms interchangeably. Because of that and general
conventions, he is generally considered to be African American.
Obviously he is in fact both African-American and bi-racial; these
are not exclusive categories.
People who are considered African American can also claim Native
heritage. Relationships between Native Americans and African slaves
first occurred in 1502, and continued throughout the centuries.
Tracing the genealogy of African Americans and Native Americans is
a difficult process, because records were not kept for most African
slaves and many Native Americans did not speak English. Another
difficulty is that elder family members sometimes withhold
pertinent genealogical information. Knowing a family's geographic
origins in different periods is a key factor in helping trace
Native American ancestry related to specific tribes.Native
Americans, during the transitional period of Africans becoming the
primary race enslaved, were enslaved at the same time and shared a
common experience of enslavement. They worked together, lived
together in communal quarters, produced collective recipes for
food, shared herbal remedies, myths and legends, and in the end
they intermarried." In the eighteenth century, many Native American
women did marry freed or runaway
African men due to a large decrease in the population of men in
Native American villages. In addition, records also show that
Native American women actually bought African men, but unknown to
European sellers the women freed and married the men into their
tribe. It was also beneficial for African men to marry or have
children by Native American woman because children born to a mother
who was not a slave were free.In changes of their own, since the
1980s some Native American nations have changed their rules for
membership to construe them more narrowly. They have excluded
members who also have African-American ancestry, or who are
descendants of slaves held by the tribe, but without a blood
ancestor member of the tribe at certain time periods. After the
Civil War, all tribes were supposed to make freed slaves citizens
of their tribes, in a pattern similar to freeing slaves held by
people in the Confederate states. There has been considerable
controversy, for example, over the case of descendants of Cherokee Freedmen
, who have recently been
expelled from the tribal nation.
Terms no longer in common use
The terms mulatto
were widely used until the second quarter of
the 20th century, when they were considered outmoded and generally
gave way to the use of negro
. By the 1940s, the term
commonly was capitalized, but by the mid 1960s, it had acquired
negative connotations, though the term mulatto
is still in
use in many parts of Latin America and is not considered offensive
there. Today, in the culture of the United States, the term is
considered inappropriate and is now rarely used and perceived as a
, now largely
defunct, survive in certain historical organizations such as the
United Negro College Fund
the National Council of
, and the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People
was a term used by anthropologists
first in the 18th century to
describe some indigenous Africans and their descendants throughout
the African diaspora
. As with most
descriptors of race based on inconsistent, unscientific
phenotypical standards, the term is controversial and imprecise.
Growing numbers of blacks have substituted the term Africoid
, which, unlike Negroid
encompasses the phenotypes of all indigenous peoples of
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Votes of Native Americans could impact several battleground
- Behind the Numbers.
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States over time, based on U.S. Census figures. (Numbers from years
1920 to 2000 are based on U.S. Census figures as given by the
Time Almanac of 2005, p. 377.)
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USA. 2008-02-14. Retrieved on 2009-06-22.
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1776-2005: winners and losers in our religious economy.
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See Part III, Chap 10
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- President Obama's Speech to the NAACP on July 16, 2009
– full video by MSNBC