Black Americans are those persons in the United States who trace their ancestry to members of the Negroid race in Africa. They have at various times in United States history been referred to as African, coloured, Negro, Afro-American, and African-American, as well as black. The black population of the United States has grown from three-quarters of a million in 1790 to nearly 30 million in 1990. As a percentage of the total population, blacks declined from 19. 3 in 1790 to 9. 7 in 1930. A modest percentage increase has occurred since that time.
Over the past 300 and more years in the United States, onsiderable racial mixture has taken place between persons of African descent and those with other racial backgrounds, mainly of white European or American Indian ancestry. Shades of skin colour range from dark brown to ivory. In body type black Americans range from short and stocky to tall and lean. Nose shapes vary from aquiline to extremely broad and flat; hair colour from medium brown to brown black; and hair texture from tightly curled to limp and straight.
Historically, the predominant attitude toward racial group membership in the United States has been that persons having any black African ancestry are onsidered to be black. In some parts of the United States, especially in the antebellum South, laws were written to define racial group membership in this way, generally to the detriment of those who were not Caucasian. It is important to note, however, that ancestry and physical characteristics are only part of what has set black Americans apart as a distinct group.
The concept of race, as it applies to the black minority in the United States, is as much a social and political concept as a biological one. Blacks Under Slavery: 1600-1865 The first Africans in the New World arrived with Spanish and Portuguese explorers and ettlers. By 1600 an estimated 275,000 Africans, both free and slave, were in Central and South America and the Caribbean area. Africans first arrived in the area that became the United States in 1619, when a handful of captives were sold by the captain of a Dutch man-of-war to settlers at JAMESTOWN.
Others were brought in increasing numbers to fill the desire for labour in a country where land 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 1810 the number reached 6,000,000, with another 1,800,000 arriving after 1810. Some Africans were brought directly to the English colonies in North America. Others landed as slaves in the West Indies and were later resold and shipped to the mainland. Slavery in America The earliest African arrivals were viewed in the same way as indentured servants from Europe.
This similarity did not long continue. By the latter half of the 17th century, clear differences existed in the treatment of black and white servants. A 1662 Virginia law assumed Africans would remain servants for life, and a 1667 act declared that “Baptism do not alter the condition of the person as to his bondage or freedom. By 1740 the SLAVERY system in colonial America was fully developed. A Virginia law in that year declared slaves to be “chattel personal in the hands of their owners and possessors . . . for all intents, construction, and purpose whatsoever.
In spite of numerous ideological conflicts, however, the slavery system was maintained in the United States until 1865, and widespread antiblack attitudes nurtured by slavery continued thereafter. Prior to the American Revolution, slavery existed in all the colonies. The ideals of the Revolution and the limited profitability of slavery in the North resulted in its bandonment in northern states during the last quarter of the 18th century. At the same time the strength of slavery increased in the South, with the continuing demand for cheap labour by the tobacco growers and cotton farmers of the Southern states.
By 1850, 92 percent of all American blacks were concentrated in the South, and of this group approximately 95 percent were slaves. Under the plantation system gang labour was the typical form of employment. Overseers were harsh as a matter of general practice, and brutality was common. Slaves could own no property unless sanctioned by a slave master, nd rape of a female slave was not considered a crime except as it represented trespassing on another’s property. Slaves could not present evidence in court against whites. In most of the South it was illegal to teach a black to read or write.
Opposition by Blacks Blacks were forbidden to carry arms or to gather in numbers except in the presence of a white person. Free blacks, whether living in the North or South, were confronted with attitudes and actions that differed little from those facing Southern black slaves. Discrimination existed in most social and economic activities as well as in voting and education. In 1857 the DRED SCOTT V. SANDFORD case of the U. S. Supreme Court placed the authority of the Constitution behind decisions made by states in the treatment of blacks.
The Dred Scott decision was that black Americans, even if they were free, were not intended to be included under the word citizen as defined in the Declaration of Independence and could claim none of the rights and privileges provided for in that document. Blacks responded to their treatment under slavery in a variety of ways. In addition to such persons as Prosser, Vesey, and Turner, who openly opposed the slave system, thousands of blacks escaped from slavery and moved to he northern United States or to Canada.
Still others accepted the images of themselves that white America sought to project onto them. The result in some cases was the “Uncle Tom” or “Sambo” personality, the black who accepted his or her lowly position as evidence that whites were superior to blacks. Much religious activity among slaves reflected the influences of African religious practices and served as a means by which slaves could develop and promote views of themselves different from those held by the slave owner. The Civil Rights Movement Many things influenced the changes in U. S. race relations after World War II.
The anti-Nazi propaganda generated during the war increased the realisation by many Americans of the conflict between ideals and the reality of racism in their own country. The concentration of large numbers of blacks in cities 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 made American racial inequality more visible to a world in which the United States ought to give leadership during the Cold War with the USSR.
The growth of a white minority willing to speak out against racism provided allies for blacks. Most important in altering race relations in the United States, however, were the actions of blacks themselves. Legal Action Against Racism The first major attack by blacks on racism was through the courts. In a series of cases involving professional and graduate education, the Supreme Court required admission of blacks to formerly all-white institutions when separate facilities for blacks were clearly not equal. The major legal breakthrough came in 1954.
In the case of BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF TOPEKA, KANSAS, the Supreme Court held that separate facilities are, by their very nature, unequal. In spite of this decision, more than a decade passed before significant school integration took place in the South. In the North, where segregated schools resulted from segregated housing patterns and from manipulation of school attendance boundaries, separation of races in public schools increased after 1954. A second major 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 in a series of meetings of blacks in Montgomery and a boycott of buses on which racial segregation was practiced. The boycott, which lasted for more than a year, was almost 100 percent effective. Before the courts declared unconstitutional Montgomery’s law requiring segregation on buses, Martin Luther KING, Jr. , a Baptist minister, had risen to national prominence and had articulated a strategy of non-violent direct action in the movement for CIVIL RIGHTS.
Culture Today Blacks in the United States today are mainly an urban people. Their shift from the rural South to cities of the North and West during the 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 fabric and social structure within both the old and new communities of migrating blacks. If one adds to this the problems of low income, high unemployment, poor education, and other problems related to racial discrimination, it could be said that the black community in the 20th century has existed in a perpetual state of crisis.
The black community, however, has developed a number of distinctive cultural features that black Americans increasingly look upon with pride. Many of these features reflect the influence of cultural traditions that originated in Africa; others reflect the uniqueness of the black American in the United States. The unique features of black American culture are most noticeable in music, art and literature, and religion. They may also exist in speech, extended family arrangements, dress, and other features of life-style.
Whether African ancestry or survival in the hostile environment of slavery and Jim Crow was more mportant in shaping existing cultural patterns of black American life is a question that requires further study. Music and the Arts Black American traditions in music reflect the mingling of African roots with the American experience. 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 short phrase or word. They also reflect the personal experiences of blacks and the difficult 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 and spread with their migration. By 1920 it was popular throughout the country. The enduring popularity of Louis ARMSTRONG and Duke ELLINGTON over several decades attests to its continuing attraction. The influence of jazz on other forms of popular music in America is clearly recognized. After World War II such popular performers as Nat King COLE and Lena HORNE gained international acclaim.
Later international audiences were won by Johnny MATHIS, Diana ROSS, and Michael JACKSON. BLACK AMERICAN LITERATURE and art were slower to develop than was black usic. Early artists and writers who were black dealt with themes that, in selection and approach, were indistinguishable from the works of whites. By the 1920s centers of artistic activity had developed, the best known being in New York. The HARLEM RENAISSANCE, as this artistic outpouring was known, produced outstanding figures. Among them were poets Langston HUGHES, Countee CULLEN, and James Weldon JOHNSON; writers Claude MCKAY and Jean TOOMER.
The work of the Harlem Renaissance and writers such as Richard WRIGHT reflected the growing race consciousness among blacks and their opposition to the segregation encountered n all forms of life. These themes continue to be important in the work of such writers as James BALDWIN, Amiri BARAKA, Gwendolyn BROOKS, Ralph ELLISON, Douglas Turner WARD, and John A. WILLIAMS. Religion Religion has traditionally been important to black American life. The first major denomination among blacks, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, grew from the church established by Richard Allen in Philadelphia in 1787.
With Emancipation, most former slaves joined Baptist or Methodist churches. These remain today as the church groups with the largest black memberships. Smaller numbers belong to other denominations and to independent churches of varying sizes. Among non-Christian religious groups that have attracted sizeable followings are the Peace Mission of Father DIVINE and the Nation of Islam, often referred to as the Black MuslimsThe Peace Mission is strongly integrationist in teachings, a concept opposed by the Nation of Islam during most of its history.
In recent years the racial character of leadership and members of the Peace Mission have become increasingly white. In 1985 the main Black Muslim group was unified with the Muslim community world-wide. Black inisters who have figured prominently in politics during the post-World War II period include Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King, Jr. , Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. , Leon Sullivan, and Andrew YOUNG. The Family The black family through much of U. S. history has borne the strain of slavery and Jim Crow.
These institutions limited the opportunity for the black male to fulfill his traditional role of head of household and protector of and provider for his family. Because women were often able to find domestic employment when no jobs were available to black men, women often provided more dependable and regular incomes. Statistically, black women are more frequently the head of families than is the case in nonblack families. In addition to problems of unemployment, urbanisation produced strains of overcrowding, weakening of the extended family concept, and alienation.
Nevertheless, relations among family members have traditionally been close. Many first-and second-generation city-dwelling blacks continue to think of home as the Southern place from which the family came. Education Until the post-World War II period, most blacks seeking higher education attended private BLACK COLLEGES located mainly in the South. Most of these had been started in the years immediately following the Civil War as a joint effort of blacks, Northern church groups, and the Freedmen’s Bureau.
Among these were Fisk University, Atlanta University, Talladega College, Morehouse College, and Spelman College. Late in the 19th century Tuskegee Institute was founded by Booker T. Washington, and a number of colleges were established by black church groups. Almost all blacks who received a college education before 1940 attended these institutions. In the 1940s some improvement was made in publicly supported nstitutions of higher education for blacks, and for the first time black students began to appear in colleges that had previously been all white.
In the 1970s the percentage of blacks attending college increased markedly, but in the 1980s blacks lost ground. Although desegregation of the public schools in the South proceeded slowly for the first decade after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, by 1969 school districts in every state were at least in token compliance with the 1954 ruling. By that time all forms of de jure segregation had been struck down by the courts. De facto school segregation ontinued, however, in large part because the communities the schools served were segregated in their residential patterns.
This was particularly true in large urban areas and more prevalent in the North than in the South. One method adopted to overcome such segregation was to bus children across school district lines in order to achieve racial balance in the schools. This caused major controversy and led to instances of violent opposition . The overwhelming majority of black children now attend formally integrated schools, although they may have little contact with white pupils even within the schools.