African Americans

By 1990, African Americans constituted the biggest non-European racial group in the United States. The population of African Americans was estimated at 35 million. In addition to those in the United States, there were approximately 1 million African Americans living outside the U.S., mainly in Africa, South America and Europe. The cities with the biggest populations of African Americans are New York, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.

Africans were first brought to north America as slaves with European explorers and settlers in the 16th century. For a period of 200 years, the slave trade saw millions of men, women and children forcibly shipped from west Africa to the United States. Slavery, and Britain?s part in the slave trade, was abolished by the British government in 1833. This was applied across the British Empire, including in states neighbouring the U.S., such as in Canada (where slavery was already being phased out) and in Britain?s Caribbean territories, such as Jamaica.

By 1860, slavery in the north and west of the United States had been virtually eliminated, and at the end of the Civil War in 1865, it was abolished altogether. After the war, 14 percent of the population of the United States were Africans or of African descent. In the 17th century, most Africans in the Americas spoke West African languages as their first language. The African population in the United States developed a highly sophisticated pidgin, called by linguists in its creolized form ?Ebonics.? It was the prototype for the speech of the vast majority of African Americans.

African Americans' enslaved labor contributed to the economy of the United States. Railroads, factories, residences, and places of business were often built by slaves. During the reconstruction period after the Civil War, legislation that provided for public education for African Americans was introduced. Until the ?Great Migration? after the end of World War II in 1945, African Americans tended to live predominantly in rural areas of the southern states, where for generations their families had worked, from slavery onwards, in labor-intensive cotton and tobacco plantations. In the latter half of the 20th century, hundreds of thousands African Americans moved to urban centers of the northern states and California in search of better jobs and living conditions.

During the 1950s and 1960s, many African Americans were committed to advancing the cause of equality and justice through the civil rights movement. In this period, African Americans' voting rights were guaranteed and protected, educational segregation was made unlawful, and sustained protests and demonstrations helped lead to the eradication of discrimination in hotels and in public facilities.

The first African American U.S. Senator was Hiram Revels, who was Senator from Mississippi in 1870, during the Reconstruction. The first African American Senator since Reconstruction was Edward Brooke, who served from 1966 to 1979. The first African American to become U.S. cabinet member was Robert C. Weaver, who was Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1966 to 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson. Barack Obama became the first African American president of the United States when he was inaugurated on January 20, 2009.

The first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize was Gwendolyn Brooks in 1950, while the first Nobel Prize for Literature winner was Toni Morrison in 1993. The first African American male to win a Grammy award was Count Basie in 1958 and Ella Fitzgerald was the first female in the same year. The first Oscar won by an African American was Hattie McDaniel's Oscar for supporting actress in Gone with the Wind in 1940. Robert Johnson became the first African American billionaire in 2001, followed by the first female billionaire Oprah Winfrey in 2003.

African Americans practice the three main monotheistic religions, as well as eastern and African religions. Christianity is the predominant faith, followed by the group of believers that accept the ancestral religions of Africa, including Vodun, Myal and Santeria, and a third group who practice Islam. There is no single set of beliefs for all African Americans.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Black Legacy: America's Hidden Heritage
William D. Piersen.
University of Massachusetts Press, 1993
The Civil Rights Movement
Peter B. Levy.
Greenwood Press, 1998
Cultural Trauma: Slavery and the Formation of African American Identity
Ron Eyerman.
Cambridge University Press, 2001
The African-American Predicament
Christopher H. Foreman Jr.
Brookings Institution Press, 1999
Black Lives: Essays in African American Biography
James L. Conyers.
M. E. Sharpe, 1999
We Have No Leaders: African Americans in the Post-Civil Rights Era
Robert C. Smith; Ronald W. Walters.
State University of New York Press, 1996
Long Memory: The Black Experience in America
Mary Frances Berry; John W. Blassingame.
Oxford University Press, 1982
Black History and Black Identity: A Call for a New Historiography
W. D. Wright.
Praeger, 2002
The Journey to the Promised Land: The African American Struggle for Development since the Civil War
Dione Brooks Taylor; Dickson A. Mungazi.
Praeger, 2001
Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century
Kevin K. Gaines.
University of North Carolina Press, 1996
Black Leadership for Social Change
Jacob U. Gordon.
Greenwood Press, 2000
The Fruits of Integration: Black Middle-Class Ideology and Culture, 1960-1990
Charles T. Banner-Haley.
University Press of Mississippi, 1994
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