The African American ethnic groups will always be part of a history class discussion. They have made numerous contributions in America’s history, culture, way of life, entertainment, and politics. In spite of that, there are countless records of discrimination for people of color in history books. Who are the African Americans? Where did they come from? How did they come to immigrate in the United States? This paper will go through the long and colorful history of the African Americans who lived in the United States.
There have been African explorers living in the land that would be known as the United States since the 1400s. But it wasn’t until the year 1619, that the arrival of “20 and odd” Angolans in Virginia have been recorded. Those Angolans have been bought by English colonists as indentured servants. This event triggered the quick spread of slavery across the American colonies. Having servants is very expensive and so Europeans turned to enslaving Africans as they cost cheaper.
In the 18th century, historians estimate that 6 to 7 million Africans were transported to America by the English colonizers. Indentured servants are only meant to work for their employer for a certain number of years that is stated in their contract but obviously, many did not choose to follow this rule. Whites justified their actions by leaning heavily on their belief that Blacks were “inferior” and are “heathens.”
Before long, trade for African slaves have grown to be very profitable. Some even sold off their own African brothers to European traders. People from all over Africa is being brought to America to work at cotton, rice, indigo, sugar, and tobacco industries. Slaves who fought with the Americans as soldiers and sailors were freed after the American Revolution.
Former Presidents Jefferson and Washington have signed laws, the slave codes, that regulated, not ended, the slave system. This made slavery even worse as the law has reduced the influx of African slaves. As this was during the time of the rise of the cotton industry, female slaves have been raped and was treated more like animals than ever. Female slaves were forced to give birth as often as possible as early as the age of 13. Aside from that, slaves were prohibited to have a passable family life, privacy, and to learn how to read and write.
The still massive slave trade during this time ultimately led to revolts despite the strict control that was being enforced. There have been numerous slave revolts but none except one had been successful. In the early 1830s, Nat Turner led the only effective slave rebellion in the history of United States. Nat Turner and his followers managed to kill 60 whites before being captured. This revolt struck fear in the hearts of slave owners.
As an act of rebellion, some mothers even kill off their newborn babies to save them from the life of slavery. Some poisoned their owners, destroyed properties, or ran away. Those who managed to escape from their owners went to North America or Canada where slavery isn’t as widespread as it is in the South.
In contrary to common beliefs, there were also whites who are against slavery. Many of them, alongside free Black people, helped runaway slaves escape to freedom via the Underground Railroad. Free Black people were made up of former indentured servants and their descendants. Even if they were technically “free,” Free Blacks still suffered from discrimination, lack of complete freedom of movement, and had no voting rights. They were still bound to many restrictions that were imposed on slaves and they were in constant danger of being a slave themselves.
By this time, a number of organizations were being led by African Americans. The Free Blacks have begun meeting regularly to propose strategies on how to abolish slavery and discrimination that all African Americans were suffering from.
After the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln eventually issued the Emancipation Proclamation and officially declared that all slaves within a designated part of a state in Rebellion be free on the first day of the year 1863. This act freed nearly 4 million African American slaves but angered abolitionists for slaves in the border states that were loyal to the Union were not among those declared free.
The freed African Americans then were struggling to find adequate food and shelter. During this time, the Black Codes were enacted. The Black Codes resembles the previously mentioned slave codes. It is a series of laws designed to restrict Black people’s movements in order to force them to work for the labor force once again. During this time, some African American people already hold political positions of power in the South. This political power was short-lived because there has been a rebirth of white supremacy.
Even after the 14th Amendment granted equal protection of America’s citizens and the 15th Amendment’s guarantee of everyone’s right to vote, African Americans soon felt that they were still being set apart and discriminated. There were Anti-Black riots, confinement to overcrowded and dilapidated housing, and separation of Black and white people in schools, hotels, trains, and other establishments.
Marcus Garvey is a Black nationalist leader that contributed to the liberation from the political, social and economic situations that African Americans found themselves in. After realizing that the people of the African origin were treated unfairly, Marcus founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The organization had become the largest mass movement of African Americans and was able to open up to 700 branches in thirty-eight American states by the year 1920. Marcus Garvey appealed to the African community’s racial pride and cultural heritage rediscovery.
In the 1920s, there has been a great migration from the South to the North. The creativity and talent for the arts of the African Americans set in motion a cultural renaissance centered in a neighborhood in New York known as Harlem. The Harlem Renaissance soon spread out to the North and West. This is the first time that popular publishers and critics took notice of the African American people’s talents despite the cultural differences.
This is a great time for Black artists because they are slowly stepping into the limelight as their talents are getting noticed. The Black cultural movement has produced many prominent writers, musicians, and artists. On the contrary, some of the talented on-the-rise African American people are experiencing drawbacks because the industry is heavily owned by white people.
The Harlem Renaissance drew to a close when National Urban League focused on economic and political problems that African Americans are facing. However, it has opened the doors for Black artists, writers, and musicians.
Civil Rights Movement Against Discrimination
African Americans are now seeking the end of racism as they are tired of constantly being treated as “separate but equal.” There are several movements that addressed the issues on restrictive housing, segregation in transportation and schools, and discrimination in recreational facilities. Segregationists fought back armed with economic pressure, legal back up, and violence.
However, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led a successful non-violent movement which was provoked by an incident where an African American woman refused to give up her seat to a white passenger in a bus. The court ruled that the segregation in public utility vehicles was deemed to be unconstitutional.
In 1963, both black and white people joined the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. With more or less 250,000 people, it became the largest and most significant demonstration of the civil rights movement’s strength. Martin Luther addressed the people and gave one of America’s greatest speeches, I Have a Dream.
Black Lives Matter Movement
Since then, African American people have been granted more constitutional rights than what they initially had. In addition, a Black woman, Oprah Winfrey, have produced a one-woman empire, an African American man, Colin Powell, became Secretary of State in 2001, Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States, and half African American Kamala Harris recently won as the 49th Vice President of the United States.
African American people have come far but that doesn’t mean that the racial discrimination stopped. Because of the still prevalent racism, the Black Lives Movement was born in 2013. It is dedicated to fighting racism and anti-Black violence. It first started as an online movement using a hashtag in social media after an unjust acquittal of a man who has shot and killed a Black man. Before long, it became a symbol and movement more inclined towards police brutality.
The Black Lives Matter movement has many goals aside from fighting racism. They want to put into the spotlight the ways African American people are being treated unfairly. They have fought by using political actions and nonviolent protests. They also promote Black artists, writers, and musicians and have supported the newly elected President Joe Biden.
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History.com Editors. (2020, June 6). Black History Milestones: Timeline. History.com. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-history-milestones
Lynch, H. (2020, August 17). African Americans. In Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/African American