African-American history is the history of Black Americans whose ancestors were brought to the United States as slaves from the 16th to the 19th century. At that time African Americans were called Negros or colored people, which are not accepted in modern English. Since the 16th century, African Americans have gone through a lot of suffering, humiliation, and discrimination (Shafer 454). However, the last century has shown that people realized the cruelty of their ancestors, and African Americans have managed to achieve justice and acquired the same status as other races of American society.
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In the 1550s, European seafarers began bringing black people from Africa to America in order to use them as slaves for cultivation and personal needs. This was not a new strategy, as, in the eighth century, Europeans already sold slaves from West Africa to wealthy people of the Mediterranean. However, trading African people in America was known for its cruelty and inhumane attitude towards the slaves. It is estimated that approximately one-third of all slaves transported from Africa died on the route. The main reason for this is that before the departure from Africa, they were kept as prisoners in inhumane conditions (Shafer 449). Those slaves who managed to reach America alive were sold at auctions to their new owners, who used them mostly for the work at plantations. The owners could do with their slaves anything they wanted, beginning from calling them any names they liked to beat them to death.
In the course of time, African slaves managed to form their own cultural identity despite the predicament they were in. They got married, had children, and tried to maintain family ties despite the fear of being separated. They adopted Christianity but developed their own styles of worship (“The African American Odyssey”). In addition, later, they created their own music and art, in which they expressed their hard life.
The Abolition of Slavery and the Civil War
The tendency of bringing African people to America and using them as slaves continued until the 19th century when the American president Abraham Lincoln managed to officially abolish slavery in the country in 1863. Interestingly, the preconditions for this event appeared in the 18th century, when some black slaves began to be granted freedom. They could also possess the property and be part of American society. Certainly, the majority opposed such actions, but they could not influence those owners who decided to give freedom to their slaves. In such cases, the freed slaves moved northwards, where the attitude towards slaves was not that harsh as in the south of the country (“The African American Odyssey”). There they could contribute to the country by developing its infrastructure.
The call for the abolition of slavery began at the beginning of the 19th century. At that time, Frederick Douglass who being a laborer was taught by the wife of his master how to read. In 1838, he fled to Massachusetts and became a writer and a supporter of the movement for the abolition of slavery (Shafer 451). He referred to the Declaration of Independence and spoke about justice and political freedom.
At the end of the Civil War in 1865, when the Union defeated the Confederacy, Northern troops stayed in the south to make sure that the law of the abolition of slavery was observed. African Americans began to build their own schools and churches, buy land, and engage in political affairs (Miles 84). Thus, by 1870, twenty-two African American representatives had been sent to Congress.
However, even after such a major defeat, the South did not give up and organized a secret organization called Ku Klux Klan, who made raids upon the establishments created by African Americans, burned their churches, schools, and houses, and executed them. In 1877, the Northern troops returned to the north, and those who had suppressed African Americans gained power once again. By the end of the 19th century, they managed to exclude African Americans from almost all public spheres, thereby segregating them from the rest of society (Crutchfield 5). Although they were not slaves again, their lives became unsafe, as they were exposed to violence from the side of racists.
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Resulting from the racists gaining power in the South, African Americans began to massively migrate to the North in the 1890s. The situation slightly changed in the 1920s, when after World War I, in Europe, the laws that significantly restricted immigration came into force, and in the USA, a big demand for workers on factories emerged (Miles 86). Thus, the large number of African Americans migrated to such industrial cities as Chicago, Detroit, and Omaha searching for jobs.
Thus, in the North, the quality of life of African Americans considerably improved. In the South, discrimination against them was still in effect. However, urban culture began to thrive in the middle of the 20th century. Many musicians like King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, and Louis Armstrong, who managed to influence the culture of the whole country, appeared. Some of them became the greatest celebrities of the Jazz Age (Crutchfield 11). They sang their songs, played their music, and created an urban atmosphere in many establishments at that time.
Nowadays, African Americans are a part of American society. They contribute to every sphere including science, politics, arts, business, and entertainment. Despite certain problems with their discrimination being still present, they certainly do not affect African Americans in a way it did a couple of centuries ago.
“The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship.” Library of Congress, 2017. Web.
Crutchfield, Robert D. “From Slavery to Social Class to Disadvantage: An Intellectual History of the Use of Class to Explain Racial Differences in Criminal Involvement.” Crime and Justice, vol. 44, no. 1, 2015, pp. 1-47.
Miles, Tiya. “National Museum of African American History and Culture.” The Public Historian, vol. 39, no. 2, 2017, pp. 82-86.
Shafer, Gregory. “Teaching the African American Experience: History and Culture.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 46, no. 5, 2015, pp. 447-461.