People, Races, Ethnicity in the U.S. Black or African Americans Part 2

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.


Numbers: Barely half the Africans put on slave ships survived the trip across the Atlantic. The nation's first census of 1790 revealed that 750,000 blacks (92% slave, 8% free) lived in the U.S., accounting for 19% of the population. Although technically American ports were closed to slave traffic after 1807, another 250,000 were smuggled ashore before the Civil War.

From 1899 to 1937, 150,000 black aliens entered the country, nearly all from the Caribbean. Since 1933, more blacks have left the U.S. each year than have immigrated to it; however, both figures are small. The 1970 census put the number of black Americans at 22,580,289--11% of the population.

Their Story in America: In 1619, a year before the Mayflower beached at Plymouth Rock, a Dutch man-of-war eased into Jamestown, Va., carrying 20 Africans recently pirated from a Portuguese slaver. The ship's captain sold his booty into indentured servitude. Thus the first blacks to arrive in America began their new lives, not as slaves, but, like countless whites, as indentured servants. When they worked their time out, they became the first free blacks, some of whom later acquired indentured servants of their own. At least one such black family had white servants.

In 1611, Virginia legalized the enslavement of blacks, and other colonies quickly followed suit. To make slavery stick, of course, it was necessary to deny that blacks were human beings. Thus local laws dictated that slaves could neither travel nor bear arms without permission. Slaves had no standing in a court of law, and their testimony was ruled inadmissible against whites. By denying them the right to enter into contracts, even marriage contracts, it became legal to tear husband from wife and to sell off slave children.

There quickly developed a hierarchy among plantation slaves, generally breaking down into three groups. Household servants received the best treatment and were the envy of the slave cabins. Next came the skilled craftsmen (coopers, blacksmiths, etc.), who often were hired out to neighboring plantations. Those receiving the worst treatment were the field hands.

After 1750, slavery seemed to be dying out, especially in the North, but in the South, too. The man responsible for its perpetuation was a 28-year-old teacher named Eli Whitney, who in 1793 invented a machine which allowed a single person to separate daily as much as 50 lb. of cotton from its seed. The efficiency of the cotton gin injected new life into the stagnant Southern economy and doomed blacks to another 70 years of slavery.

Although the 14th and 15th Amendments (1868 and 1870) were designed to protect blacks' civil rights, the Southern states all drafted Jim Crow laws which effectively circumvented the Constitution. Blacks were now free to travel, but not in white railroad cars; and some communities passed ordinances requiring blacks to seek special permission before entering the city limits. Blacks were free to marry, but not with whites. White hotels, barbershops, theaters, restaurants--all were off limits to dark skin. To make matters worse, the Supreme Court upheld segregation as constitutional in a number of rulings from 1883 to 1896.

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