People, Races, Ethnicity in the U.S. Black or African Americans Part 1

About the black or African-Americans in the U.S. including where they are from, why they left, how many there are, famous African-Americans and more.


Where They Came From: In 1517 a Spanish missionary named Bartolome de Las Casas, sickened by the enslavement of Indians in Latin America, in desperation proposed bringing Africans to the New World to do the white man's dirty work. Although Father de Las Casas regretted his suggestion almost as soon as he made it, the idea caught on. The most likely spot to "recruit" blacks for duty in the New World was West Africa, an area already explored by Portuguese navigators. Thus the slaves who eventually landed in America came from ports along a 3,000-mi. stretch of the West African coast, from modern-day Senegal down along the "hump" of Africa to Angola. Slave raiders paid no attention to tribal relationships. Packed indiscriminately into the cargo holds of westbound ships were Ashanti, Bantu, Dahomean, Efik, Fanti, Hausa, Ibo, Kru, Mandingo, and others. Actually, most slaves did not sail directly from Africa to the U.S., but rather were dumped in the West Indies for three months or so in order to be properly "seasoned" for slave life on the mainland. After W.W. I, blacks from the French and British Caribbean islands began emigrating freely to the U.S. in search of jobs.

Why They Left: Unlike the European immigrants who came to the U.S. in flight from poverty, religious persecution, or draft laws, nearly all black Americans were brought overseas against their will. Centuries before white immigrants were to sit huddled in third-class squalor belowdecks talking to one another about their dreams of a better life, Africans had lain supine, chained ankle to ankle with neither fresh air nor hope, the flesh literally rubbed off their bones from the rough-hewn slats beneath their backs. West Africans tapped for the one-way trip to slavery came from three sources. Teams of slave raiders fanned out from the coast and bagged as many unwary tribesmen as possible. Like fish, the strong, healthy ones were considered "keepers"; the puny and the infirm were discarded. Other slaves originally were POWs, taken during one tribal war or another, who were sold into bondage by their captors. Still others were sold by their own tribes as punishment for severe violations of tribal law. Some Africans served as slave brokers, known as slatees; they earned their living peddling their black brothers to the white slavers.

Where They Settled: Most slaves sold at auction ended up on the plantations of the South. By 1715, 39% of all blacks in the U.S. resided in Virginia; South Carolina was second with 18%. Virginia continued to house the lion's share of blacks, both slave and free, until the 1830s.

The South's grip on the black population peaked in the 1850s at about 97%. With the Civil War and emancipation, many blacks left the South for the North and West. However, in 1880 blacks still outnumbered whites in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi. But as the 19th century drew to a close, the numbers of blacks in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi steadily declined. Southern blacks were abandoning the farms for urban areas. Blacks in 1900 outnumbered whites in Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, Montgomery, Shreveport, and Baton Rouge.

The flight to the North accelerated after W.W.I. Chicago, for example, experienced a whopping 148% jump in the black population in just 10 years. The Great Depression drove still more blacks off the farm.

According to the 1970 census, the South still holds the majority of blacks with 53%, but this is down 7 percentage points from 1960. Most blacks live in urban areas, predominantly in the inner cities. Blacks now hold majorities in Washington, D.C. (74%) and Atlanta (51%) and constitute over 40% of the population in Baltimore, St. Louis, New Orleans, Detroit, Birmingham, Richmond, Savannah, Charleston, and Augusta.

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