Black Americans are those persons in the United States who trace theirancestry to members of the Negroid race in Africa. They have at various times inUnited States history been referred to as African, coloured, Negro,Afro-American, and African-American, as well as black. The black population ofthe United States has grown from three-quarters of a million in 1790 to nearly30 million in 1990.
As a percentage of the total population, blacks declinedfrom 19. 3 in 1790 to 9. 7 in 1930. A modest percentage increase has occurredsince that time.
Over the past 300 and more years in the United States,considerable racial mixture has taken place between persons of African descentand those with other racial backgrounds, mainly of white European or AmericanIndian ancestry. Shades of skin colour range from dark brown to ivory. In bodytype black Americans range from short and stocky to tall and lean. Nose shapesvary from aquiline to extremely broad and flat; hair colour from medium brown tobrown black; and hair texture from tightly curled to limp and straight. Historically, the predominant attitude toward racial group membership in theUnited States has been that persons having any black African ancestry areconsidered to be black.Order now
In some parts of the United States, especially in theantebellum South, laws were written to define racial group membership in thisway, generally to the detriment of those who were not Caucasian. It is importantto note, however, that ancestry and physical characteristics are only part ofwhat has set black Americans apart as a distinct group. The concept of race, asit applies to the black minority in the United States, is as much a social andpolitical concept as a biological one. Blacks Under Slavery: 1600-1865 The firstAfricans in the New World arrived with Spanish and Portuguese explorers andsettlers. By 1600 an estimated 275,000 Africans, both free and slave, were inCentral and South America and the Caribbean area.
Africans first arrived in thearea that became the United States in 1619, when a handful of captives were soldby the captain of a Dutch man-of-war to settlers at JAMESTOWN. Others werebrought in increasing numbers to fill the desire for labour in a country whereland was plentiful and labour scarce. By the end of the 17th century,approximately 1,300,000 Africans had landed in the New World. From 1701 to 1810the number reached 6,000,000, with another 1,800,000 arriving after 1810. SomeAfricans were brought directly to the English colonies in North America.
Otherslanded as slaves in the West Indies and were later resold and shipped to themainland. Slavery in America The earliest African arrivals were viewed in thesame way as indentured servants from Europe. This similarity did not longcontinue. By the latter half of the 17th century, clear differences existed inthe treatment of black and white servants. A 1662 Virginia law assumed Africanswould remain servants for life, and a 1667 act declared that “Baptism donot alter the condition of the person as to his bondage or freedom.
” By1740 the SLAVERY system in colonial America was fully developed. A Virginia lawin that year declared slaves to be “chattel personal in the hands of theirowners and possessors . . . for all intents, construction, and purposewhatsoever. ” In spite of numerous ideological conflicts, however, theslavery system was maintained in the United States until 1865, and widespreadantiblack attitudes nurtured by slavery continued thereafter.
Prior to theAmerican Revolution, slavery existed in all the colonies. The ideals of theRevolution and the limited profitability of slavery in the North resulted in itsabandonment in northern states during the last quarter of the 18th century. Atthe same time the strength of slavery increased in the South, with thecontinuing demand for cheap labour by the tobacco growers and cotton farmers ofthe Southern states. By 1850, 92 percent of all American blacks wereconcentrated in the South, and of this group approximately 95 percent wereslaves. Under the plantation system gang labour was the typical form ofemployment. Overseers were harsh as a matter of general practice, and brutalitywas common.
Slaves could own no property unless sanctioned by a slave master,and rape of a female slave was not considered a crime except as it representedtrespassing on another’s property. Slaves could not present evidence in courtagainst whites. In most of the South it was illegal to teach a black to read orwrite. Opposition by Blacks Blacks were forbidden to carry arms or to gather innumbers except in the presence of a white person.
Free blacks, whether living inthe North or South, were confronted with attitudes and actions that differedlittle from those facing Southern black slaves. Discrimination existed in mostsocial and economic activities as well as in voting and education. In 1857 theDRED SCOTT V. SANDFORD case of the U.
S. Supreme Court placed the authority ofthe Constitution behind decisions made by states in the treatment of blacks. TheDred Scott decision was that black Americans, even if they were free, were notintended to be included under the word citizen as defined in the Declaration ofIndependence and could claim none of the rights and privileges provided for inthat document. Blacks responded to their treatment under slavery in a variety ofways. In addition to such persons as Prosser, Vesey, and Turner, who openlyopposed the slave system, thousands of blacks escaped from slavery and moved tothe northern United States or to Canada. Still others accepted the images ofthemselves that white America sought to project onto them.
The result in somecases was the “Uncle Tom” or “Sambo” personality, the blackwho accepted his or her lowly position as evidence that whites were superior toblacks. Much religious activity among slaves reflected the influences of Africanreligious practices and served as a means by which slaves could develop andpromote views of themselves different from those held by the slave owner. TheCivil Rights Movement Many things influenced the changes in U. S. race relationsafter World War II.
The anti-Nazi propaganda generated during the war increasedthe realisation by many Americans of the conflict between ideals and the realityof racism in their own country. The concentration of large numbers of blacks incities of the North and West increased their potential for political influence. It also projected the problems related to race as national rather than regional. The establishment of the United Nations headquarters in the United States madeAmerican racial inequality more visible to a world in which the United Statessought to give leadership during the Cold War with the USSR.
The growth of awhite minority willing to speak out against racism provided allies for blacks. Most important in altering race relations in the United States, however, werethe actions of blacks themselves. Legal Action Against Racism The first majorattack by blacks on racism was through the courts. In a series of casesinvolving professional and graduate education, the Supreme Court requiredadmission of blacks to formerly all-white institutions when separate facilitiesfor blacks were clearly not equal.
The major legal breakthrough came in 1954. Inthe case of BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF TOPEKA, KANSAS, the Supreme Courtheld that separate facilities are, by their very nature, unequal. In spite ofthis decision, more than a decade passed before significant school integrationtook place in the South. In the North, where segregated schools resulted fromsegregated housing patterns and from manipulation of school attendanceboundaries, separation of races in public schools increased after 1954. A secondmajor breakthrough in the fight against segregation grew out of the Montgomery,Ala.
, bus boycott in 1955. The boycott began when Rosa Parks, a black woman,refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white person. Her arrest resulted ina series of meetings of blacks in Montgomery and a boycott of buses on whichracial segregation was practiced. The boycott, which lasted for more than ayear, was almost 100 percent effective. Before the courts declaredunconstitutional Montgomery’s law requiring segregation on buses, Martin LutherKING, Jr.
, a Baptist minister, had risen to national prominence and hadarticulated a strategy of non-violent direct action in the movement for CIVILRIGHTS. Culture Today Blacks in the United States today are mainly an urbanpeople. Their shift from the rural South to cities of the North and West duringthe 20th century constitutes one of the major migrations of people in U. S.
history. This enormous shift of population has put severe strains on the fabricand social structure within both the old and new communities of migratingblacks. If one adds to this the problems of low income, high unemployment, pooreducation, and other problems related to racial discrimination, it could be saidthat the black community in the 20th century has existed in a perpetual state ofcrisis. The black community, however, has developed a number of distinctivecultural features that black Americans increasingly look upon with pride. Manyof these features reflect the influence of cultural traditions that originatedin Africa; others reflect the uniqueness of the black American in the UnitedStates. The unique features of black American culture are most noticeable inmusic, art and literature, and religion.
They may also exist in speech, extendedfamily arrangements, dress, and other features of life-style. Whether Africanancestry or survival in the hostile environment of slavery and Jim Crow was moreimportant in shaping existing cultural patterns of black American life is aquestion that requires further study. Music and the Arts Black Americantraditions in music reflect the mingling of African roots with the Americanexperience. BLUES and can be traced back to the African call-and-response chant,in which a solo verse line is alternated with a choral response of a shortphrase or word. They also reflect the personal experiences of blacks and thedifficult adjustments demanded in the American environment.
Bessie SMITH and W. C. HANDY stand out as major figures in the development of this form of music. JAZZ, a direct descendant of blues, developed among blacks in New Orleans andspread with their migration.
By 1920 it was popular throughout the country. Theenduring popularity of Louis ARMSTRONG and Duke ELLINGTON over several decadesattests to its continuing attraction. The influence of jazz on other forms ofpopular music in America is clearly recognized. After World War II such popularperformers as Nat King COLE and Lena HORNE gained international acclaim. Laterinternational audiences were won by Johnny MATHIS, Diana ROSS, and MichaelJACKSON.
BLACK AMERICAN LITERATURE and art were slower to develop than was blackmusic. Early artists and writers who were black dealt with themes that, inselection and approach, were indistinguishable from the works of whites. By the1920s centers of artistic activity had developed, the best known being in NewYork. The HARLEM RENAISSANCE, as this artistic outpouring was known, producedoutstanding figures.
Among them were poets Langston HUGHES, Countee CULLEN, andJames Weldon JOHNSON; writers Claude MCKAY and Jean TOOMER. The work of theHarlem Renaissance and writers such as Richard WRIGHT reflected the growing raceconsciousness among blacks and their opposition to the segregation encounteredin all forms of life. These themes continue to be important in the work of suchwriters as James BALDWIN, Amiri BARAKA, Gwendolyn BROOKS, Ralph ELLISON, DouglasTurner WARD, and John A. WILLIAMS.
Religion Religion has traditionally beenimportant to black American life. The first major denomination among blacks, theAfrican Methodist Episcopal Church, grew from the church established by RichardAllen in Philadelphia in 1787. With Emancipation, most former slaves joinedBaptist or Methodist churches. These remain today as the church groups with thelargest black memberships. Smaller numbers belong to other denominations and toindependent churches of varying sizes.
Among non-Christian religious groups thathave attracted sizeable followings are the Peace Mission of Father DIVINE andthe Nation of Islam, often referred to as the Black MuslimsThe Peace Mission isstrongly integrationist in teachings, a concept opposed by the Nation of Islamduring most of its history. In recent years the racial character of leadershipand members of the Peace Mission have become increasingly white. In 1985 themain Black Muslim group was unified with the Muslim community world-wide. Blackministers who have figured prominently in politics during the post-World War IIperiod include Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King, Jr.
, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. ,Leon Sullivan, and Andrew YOUNG. The Family The black family through much ofU. S. history has borne the strain of slavery and Jim Crow.
These institutionslimited the opportunity for the black male to fulfill his traditional role ofhead of household and protector of and provider for his family. Because womenwere often able to find domestic employment when no jobs were available to blackmen, women often provided more dependable and regular incomes. Statistically,black women are more frequently the head of families than is the case innonblack families. In addition to problems of unemployment, urbanisationproduced strains of overcrowding, weakening of the extended family concept, andalienation.
Nevertheless, relations among family members have traditionally beenclose. Many first-and second-generation city-dwelling blacks continue to thinkof home as the Southern place from which the family came. Education Until thepost-World War II period, most blacks seeking higher education attended privateBLACK COLLEGES located mainly in the South. Most of these had been started inthe years immediately following the Civil War as a joint effort of blacks,Northern church groups, and the Freedmen’s Bureau. Among these were FiskUniversity, Atlanta University, Talladega College, Morehouse College, andSpelman College.
Late in the 19th century Tuskegee Institute was founded byBooker T. Washington, and a number of colleges were established by black churchgroups. Almost all blacks who received a college education before 1940 attendedthese institutions. In the 1940s some improvement was made in publicly supportedinstitutions of higher education for blacks, and for the first time blackstudents began to appear in colleges that had previously been all white.
In the1970s the percentage of blacks attending college increased markedly, but in the1980s blacks lost ground. Although desegregation of the public schools in theSouth proceeded slowly for the first decade after the Brown v. Board ofEducation decision, by 1969 school districts in every state were at least intoken compliance with the 1954 ruling. By that time all forms of de juresegregation had been struck down by the courts. De facto school segregationcontinued, however, in large part because the communities the schools servedwere segregated in their residential patterns.
This was particularly true inlarge urban areas and more prevalent in the North than in the South. One methodadopted to overcome such segregation was to bus children across school districtlines in order to achieve racial balance in the schools. This caused majorcontroversy and led to instances of violent opposition . The overwhelmingmajority of black children now attend formally integrated schools, although theymay have little contact with white pupils even within the schools.