Black Americans 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, considerable 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 considered 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 settlers. 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 abandonment 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, and 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 the 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 sought 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 b …