African-American History

African-American history focuses on the Black American ethnic group in the United States. Most African-Americans originate from African natives who were enslaved in the United States between 1619 to 1865.

Dating back to the early 17th century African-American history began with the arrival of the first Africans in America and the West Indies mostly from West Africa and Madagascar. Initially, Africans were treated as indentured servants who were hired to work for a few years, but the growing need for servants and the need for labourers for plantations gradually led to their transformation into slaves. The first American State to proclaim slavery as official was Massachusetts, with other States adopting laws to legalize slavery after 1641.

Although they were life-time slaves, the people had some legal rights and built up their own customs and religion. Some were freed and formed a free black society located predominantly in port cities along the Atlantic coast.

Slaves in the northern parts of America were working mostly as personal servants, while those living in the South were working on tobacco or rice plantations. Hard work and bad conditions on the plantations prompted the Stono Uprising, which broke out in 1739 in South Carolina and ended with the death of most of the rebels.

During the late 18th century, when the American Revolutionary War took place, a few African-Americans demanded that slaves be freed; some were even part of the revolution until 1775, when George Washington took control and banned the recruitment of black people to the cause. At that time thousands of slaves escaped and settled in Virginia, Georgia, New York and New England.

The newly established United States of America laid the foundation of its constitution appealing for freedom and equality, but supporting the continuation of slavery. Most African-Americans were kept out of public schools and were not allowed to vote. In the North, however, where slavery was considered a social evil, emancipation acts, defining special status for freed people, were passed. In 1787 Congress banned slavery in the Northwest, while in 1808 it prohibited international slave trade.

However, demand for slaves in the deep South grew dramatically, especially with the invention of the cotton gin. The banned trade increased this demand even further. Until 1819 free States in America totalled 11, as much as were slave States, prompting the Missouri Compromise, which divided the country into pairs from 1820.

More than one million slaves were relocated to the wealthy southwestern States, where the cotton industry was developing rapidly. Many freed slaves achieved success with their own businesses by serving the African-American community. At the start of the 19th century African-Americans established their own church, schools and other organisations providing help to the poor ones.

The Emancipation Proclamation, issued during the Civil War in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln, freed slaves in the southern States. The 13th amendment of the Constitution forbade slavery in the United States, while the 14th amendment gave full citizenship to African-Americans and the 15th amendment, ratified in 1870, gave African-American men the right to vote.

Eventually some African-Americans were elected to Congress whilst others took charge of local offices. Thousands moved to Mississippi and other southern parts, where they were allowed the chance to buy land, build schools and print newspapers.

Between 1876 and 1965 the Jim Crow laws called for segregation of African-Americans from white people in public places, which led to serious discrimination and violence. The Ku Klux Klan, a secret organization that hunted African-Americans, emerged in this period. The extremely violent nature of this organization triggered an official ban in 1871. Nevertheless, brutality towards and the physical terror continued behind the curtains. The Jim Crow era was marked by racial terrorism, tortures and murder of African-Americans, with only four persecutors sentenced for their crimes.

Following this, during the first half of the 20th century, was the civil rights movement where prominent African-Americans formed movements and associations fighting for brotherhood and equality. In 1963 over 250,000 people gathered around the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC to protest against violence and to seek equality. At this meeting, Martin Luther King delivered his famous "I have a dream" speech.

The events from this period forced President J F Kennedy to pass the Civil Rights Act in 1964 which prohibited public discrimination. After the civil rights era many African-Americans were elected to assume senior political posts and in 2009 President Barack Obama became the first US President of African-American origin.

African-American History: Selected full-text books and articles

To Make Our World Anew: A History of African Americans By Robin D. G. Kelley; Earl Lewis Oxford University Press, 2000
Unfinished Business: Racial Equality in American History By Michael J. Klarman Oxford University Press, 2007
Let Freedom Ring: A Documentary History of the Modern Civil Rights Movement By Peter B. Levy Praeger, 1992
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
Black Identity and Black Protest in the Antebellum North By Patrick Rael University of North Carolina Press, 2002
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