African AmericanAfrican Americans W. E. B. Du Bois • Martin Luther King, Jr. • Edward Brooke
Malcolm X • Rosa Parks • Sojourner TruthTotal population United States
(predominantly Southern) 38,662,569  Liberia
(called Americo-Liberians) 150,000
African Americans or Black Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa. In the United States, the term is generally used for Americans with at least partial Sub-Saharan African ancestry. Most African Americans are the descendants of captive Africans who survived the slavery era within the boundaries of the present United States, although some are — or are descended from — voluntary immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, South America, or elsewhere. African Americans make up the single largest racial minority in the United States, though Hispanics compose the largest ethnic minority.
- 1 History
- 2 Demographics
- 3 Contemporary issues
- 4 The term "African American"
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
HistoryW. E. B. Du Bois, notable proponent of pan-Africanism, prominent intellectual leader and civil rights activist in the African-American community; co-founder of the Niagara Movement and the NAACP.
- Main article: African American history
Africans arrived in British North America (the future United States) in 1619 as indentured servants. The first Africans settled in Jamestown and for many years were similar in legal position to poor English people 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 or English settlers. 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. By 1860, there were 3.5 million enslaved Africans in the Southern United States due to the Atlantic slave trade, and another 500,000 Africans lived free across the country. In 1863, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The 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. While the post-war reconstruction era was initially a time of progress for African Americans, in the late 1890s, Southern states enacted Jim Crow laws to enforce racial segregation and disenfranchisement. Most African Americans followed the Jim Crow laws and assumed a posture of humility and servility to prevent becoming victims of racially motivated violence. To maintain self-esteem and dignity, middle-class African Americans created their own schools, churches, banks, social clubs, and other businesses.
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 included racial segregation – 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 the Great Migration 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 and discrimination against African Americans that, like abolitionism before it, crossed racial lines. The Civil Rights Movement aimed at abolishing public and private acts of racial discrimination against African Americans between 1954 to 1968, particularly in the southern United States. By 1966, the emergence of the Black Power movement, which lasted from 1966 to 1975, expanded upon the aims of the Civil Rights Movement to include racial dignity, economic and political self-sufficiency, and freedom from white authority. 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 that culminated in the passage the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that banned discrimination in public accommodations, employment, and labor unions.
DemographicsAfrican Americans as percent of population, 2000.
In 1790, when the first U.S. Census 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 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 Great Migration, 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 Sunbelt than leaving it.
The following gives the African-American population in the United 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) The CIA World Factbook 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.Year Number % of total population Slaves % in slavery 1790 757,208 19.3% (highest) 697,681 92% 1800 1,002,037 18.9% 893,602 89% 1810 1,377,808 19.0% 1,191,362 86% 1820 1,771,656 18.4% 1,538,022 87% 1830 2,328,642 18.1% 2,009,043 86% 1840 2,873,648 16.8% 2,487,355 87% 1850 3,638,808 15.7% 3,204,287 88% 1860 4,441,830 14.1% 3,953,731 89% 1870 4,880,009 12.7% - - 1880 6,580,793 13.1% - - 1890 7,488,788 11.9% - - 1900 8,833,994 11.6% - - 1910 9,827,763 10.7% - - 1920 10.5 million 9.9% - - 1930 11.9 million 9.7% (lowest) - - 1940 12.9 million 9.8% - - 1950 15.0 million 10.0% - - 1960 18.9 million 10.5% - - 1970 22.6 million 11.1% - - 1980 26.5 million 11.7% - - 1990 30.0 million 12.1% - - 2000 36.6 million 12.3% - -
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 U.S. Census figures, some 39.9 million African Americans live in the United States, comprising 13.8 percent of the total population. At the time of the 2000 Census, 54.8 percent of African Americans lived in the South. In that year, 17.6 percent of African Americans lived in the Northeast and 18.7 percent in the Midwest, while only 8.9 percent 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, Dominican, Cuban, Haitian, or other Latin American descent.
The only self-reported ancestral groups larger than African Americans are Irish and German Americans. Due to the fact that many African Americans trace their ancestry to colonial American origins, some simply self-report as "American".
Almost 58 percent of African Americans lived in metropolitan areas in 2000. With over 2 million black residents, New York City had the largest black urban population in the United States in 2000, overall the city has a 28 percent 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 percent (though it should be noted that the 2006 Census estimate puts the city's population below 100,000.) Nonetheless, Gary is followed closely by Detroit, Michigan, which was 82 percent African American. Other large cities with African-American majorities include New Orleans, Louisiana (67 percent), Baltimore, Maryland (64 percent) Atlanta, Georgia (61 percent), Memphis, Tennessee (61 percent), and Washington, D.C. (60 percent).
The nation's most affluent county with an African-American majority is Prince George's County, Maryland, with a median income of $62,467. 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 European Americans.
- Main article: African American contemporary issues
African Americans have improved their social economic standing significantly since the Civil Rights Movement 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 has been gained by African Americans in the post-civil rights era. Nevertheless, due in part to the legacy of slavery, racism and discrimination, 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; institutional racism and 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.
Economic statusOprah Winfrey, the richest African American of the 20th century.
Economically, African-Americans have benefited from the advances made during the Civil Rights era, 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 has grown substantially. In 2000, 47% of African Americans owned their homes. The poverty rate among African Americans has dropped from 26.5% in 1998 to 24.7% in 2004.
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 white collar occupations (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.
However, 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 Labor Statistics unemployment figures. Nationwide, the September 2004 unemployment rate for blacks was 10.3%, while their white counterparts were unemployed at the rate of 4.7%.
The income gap between black and white families is also significant. In 2005, employed blacks earned only 65% of the wages of whites in comparable jobs, down from 82% in 1975. Although rates of births to unwed mothers among both blacks and whites have risen since the 1950s, the rate of such births among African Americans is three times the rate of whites.
According to Forbes magazine's "wealthiest American" lists, a 2000 net worth of $800 million dollars made Oprah Winfrey the richest African American of the 20th century; by contrast, the net worth of the 20th century's richest American, Bill Gates, who is of European descent, 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.
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 life expectancy between American 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 5 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 care. 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 HIV and AIDS, according to the Centers 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 TIMES. 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 group.Martin Luther King, Jr. (left) and Malcolm X (right) at the U. S. Capitol on March 26, 1964.
News media and coverage
News media 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.
Politics and social issues
Collectively, African Americans are more involved in the American political process than other minority groups in the US, 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.
Crime, particularly in impoverished, urban communities, is a serious and ongoing issue in America. The African-American population in many urban areas are disproportionately poor, a factor which resonate in the nation's crime statistics for metropolitan areas.
Cultural influence in the United StatesTwo African American children.
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, peanuts, rice, okra, sorghum, grits, watermelon, indigo dyes, and cotton, can be traced to African and African-American influences. A couple of notable examples include George Washington Carver, who created 300 products from peanuts, 118 products from sweet potatoes, and 75 from pecans; and George Crum, 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, R&B, funk, rock and roll, soul, blues, and other contemporary American musical forms originated in black communities and evolved from other black forms of music, including blues, rag-time, jazz, 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 and techno. 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 Ailey'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. African American literature 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.
African-American inventors have created many widely used devices in the world and have contributed to international innovation. 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 Rosetta Stone. Most slave inventors were nameless, such as the slave owned by the Confederate President Jefferson Davis who designed the ship propeller used by the Confederate navy.
Following the Civil War, the 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 Morgan developed the first automatic traffic signal and gas mask.
Lewis Latimer created an 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 Manhattan Project.) Quarterman also helped develop the first nuclear reactor, which was used in the atomically powered submarine called the Nautilus.
A few other notable examples include the first successful open heart surgery, performed by Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, the conceptualization and establishment of blood banks around the world by Dr. Charles Drew, and the air conditioner, patented by Frederick M. Jones. Dr. Mark Dean holds 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 used 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.
Political legacyBarack Obama, the junior Senator from Illinois and presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee for the 2008 election.
The gains made by African Americans in the Civil Rights 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, Americans were still living in the shadow of slavery and Jim Crow. 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...."