Experience African American History with WisdomMaps: The Future of the Past!
African American history began with the arrival of the first black slave ship in the American colonies in 1619. But for more than a thousand years, Muslim traffickers had traded slaves throughout the Mediterranean and Africa. In addition, many West African peoples kept slaves, who were usually prisoners of war, criminals, or members of the lowest castes.
The slave trade was barbaric, brutal, and lethal. Many captives died on the march to the barracoons on the Atlantic seacoast where they were bought by European slavers. Below the decks of the slave vessels, they were chained onto coffin-sized racks where immobility, filth, disease, and despair caused one in three of these unfortunates to die in the hideous ordeal of the Middle Passage.
If they arrived in America alive, slaves were sold at auction to owners who wanted them for the brutish labor of the plantations. They could punish slaves with complete impunity, and in the cruelest practice of all, they often broke up families by selling off their members.
Lives of unending hardship caused slaves to develop a strong cultural identity and sense of community. They cared for each other, and they married and formed strong family ties. Their community was founded in an African American Christianity with its own forms of worship. Their spirituals expressed religious fervor and the hope of freedom, and celebrated endurance pending the day.
Slave culture enriched both African American history and American music, theater, and dance. The banjo was an African stringed instrument, and African rhythms fused with Christian hymns and band marches. The blues melded African with European musical scales, and vaudeville took its inspiration from the songs and dances of black street performers.
Up north, some blacks gained freedom, acquired property, and were given access to white society. Slavery was still legal there, but less of a presence in a region where poor soils and harsh winters made plantation agriculture impracticable, and where sentiment against slavery was pervasive. Many northern blacks found jobs building roads and canals, and in helping to build the manufacturing and mercantile economy of the cities.
Whites and free blacks in Northern states began to demand the abolition of slavery. Frederick Douglass, a young slave, was taught to read by his master’s wife. In 1838, he escaped to Massachusetts, and then traveled to England to lend his powerful voice to the growing abolitionist movement.
Many Northern blacks volunteered to fight for the Union in the Civil War. They fought fiercely to both restore the Union and to free their own people. After the war ended in the defeat of the Confederacy, Northern troops remained in the South to enforce the new freedom of the former slaves. Freedmen started their own churches and schools, bought land, and elected black Congressmen—22 by 1870.
Southerners reacted to black freedoms with restrictive laws, forced incarceration, debt peonage and terror by Ku Klux Klan and other groups that organized raids that burned homes, schools, and churches, and lynched blacks. In fact, some were even burned at the stake. With Northern occupation over by 1877, the South’s old white power structure re-emerged. With that, Jim Crow laws succeeded in completely suppressing nascent black freedoms and political power. African Americans were excluded from voting or otherwise participating in white society, and lived (and died) with constant violence and intimidation.
Beginning in the 1890s, many blacks moved north, into jobs in meat packing plants, steel mills, and automobile factories that had been vacated by enlistments in World War I and the drop in European immigration caused by the war in Europe. While many of their new communities were slums, they also enabled blacks to find their own political voice and elect their own representatives. Black urban culture blossomed in the Harlem Renaissance, and jazz pioneers like Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and King Oliver became celebrities in the Jazz Age of the 1920s. Langston Hughes used the language of the ghetto in his poetry of the African American experience. That experience coalesced with the Great Depression, which brought many blacks and whites together for the first in what had been white labor unions and farmers’ unions.
Today, black Americans contribute richly to every segment of African American history and American society. No community has come so far, and accomplished so much, with so much denied them. Though discrimination continues, African Americans continue to achieve and lead and to remind the world of the meaning of America’s promise to all.
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Slavey: Index | Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade | Slave Trade in Africa |Kingdom of Asante | Kingdom of Dahomey | Kingdom of Kongo | Kingdom of Ndongo | Kingdom of Oyo | End of the Slave Trade | Slavery in America: Morality • Ethos • Plantations • The South • Race and the American Revolution | The South in the American Revolution | The Old South | Sectionalism: Origins • Missouri Compromise • The South • 1830-1850 • 1850-1860 • Compromise of 1850 | John Brown’s Raid | Kansas | Bleeding Kansas • Kansas-Nebraska Controversy • Far West • Pro-Slavery Argument • James Buchanan: Governance | Stephen Douglas | Abraham Lincoln: Election of 1860 | Abolitionism: Factions • William Lloyd Garrison • Anti-Abolitionism • Political Abolitionism • Black Abolitionism | Civil War: Society • Power • Economy | States’ Rights | Secession | The Confederacy: Governance • Money and Manpower | Union Army | Fort Sumter | Progression of the War | Wartime Governance | Wartime Politics | Politics of Emancipation | Battle and Campaigns: Commanders • Opening Clashes • Virginia Front • Peninsular Campaign • Western Theater • The West • Turning of the Tide • Final Stage • Strategy and Diplomacy: Europe • Sea Power | Reconstruction: Aftermath of the War • Society • Power: Governance • Congressional Moderation • Northern Occupation • Northern Style • Conflict • Congressional Reconstruction • Presidential Reconstruction • Republican Rule • Andrew Johnson • Rutherford Hayes • Ulysses Grant | Legacy | New South: Cities • Rural Areas | Black Society 1877-1900: Nadir • Political Sphere • Separatism • Booker T. Washington • 1945-1960: Post-War Black Life • Civil Rights 1960-1973: Black Radicalism • Martin Luther King, Jr. • Race Riots • Selma • Albany Movement • Birmingham • Fair Housing Act • Freedom Rides • Kennedy Administration • Johnson Administration • Malcolm X • Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party • Freedom Summer • Prison Reform • St. Augustine Movement • University of Mississippi • Voter Registration
Transatlantic Slave Trade
Slave Trade in Africa
Slavery in Africa: Kingdom of Asante
Slavery in Africa: Kingdom of Dahomey
Slavery in Africa: Kingdom of Kongo
Slavery In Africa: Kingdom of Ndongo
Slavery in Africa: Kingdom of Oyo
End of the Slave Trade
Slavery: The South
Race and the American Revolution
The South and the American Revolution
The Old South
Compromise of 1850
John Brown’s Raid
James Buchanan: Governance
Election of 1860
William Lloyd Garrison
Civil War: Index
The Confederacy: Governance
The Confederacy: Money and Manpower
Progression of the War
Politics of Emancipation
Battles and Campaigns
Virginia Front: Peninsular Campaign
Turning of the Tide
Strategy and Diplomacy
Strategy and Diplomacy: Europe
Strategy and Diplomacy: Sea Power
Aftermath of the War
Reconstruction Northern Style
The New South
Black Society 1877-1890
Black Society: Nadir
Civil Rights Movement
Political Sphere: 1877-1900
Booker T. Washington
Post-War Black Life
Civil Rights 1960-1973
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Fair Housing Act
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
St. Augustine Movement
University of Mississippi