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African Americans
Total population
12.7% of the total U.S. population (2017)
39,445,495 non-Hispanic[2]
12.3% of the total U.S. population (2017)[3]
Regions with significant populations
Across the United States, especially in the South and urban areas

English (American English dialects, African-American English)
Louisiana Creole French
Gullah Creole English

Predominantly Protestant (71%)
Minorities: Catholic (5%), Jehovah's Witnesses (2%), Muslim (2%); Irreligious or unaffiliated (18%)
Related ethnic groups
Other African diaspora in the Americas
  • Americo-Liberians
  • Afro-Latin Americans

African Americans (also referred to as Black Americans or Afro-Americans)[5] are an ethnic group of Americans with total or partial ancestry from any of the black racial groups of Africa.[6][7] The term typically refers to descendants of enslaved black people who are from the United States.[8][9][10]

African Americans constitute the third largest racial and ethnic group in the United States (after White Americans and Hispanic and Latino Americans).[11] Most African Americans are descendants of enslaved peoples within the boundaries of the present United States.[12][13] On average, African Americans are of West/Central African and European descent, and some also have Native American ancestry.[14] According to U.S. Census Bureau data, African immigrants generally do not self-identify as African American. The overwhelming majority of African immigrants identify instead with their own respective ethnicities (≈95%).[15] Immigrants from some Caribbean, Central American and South American nations and their descendants may or may not also self-identify with the term.[10]

African-American history starts in the 16th century, with peoples from West Africa forcibly taken as slaves to Spanish America, and in the 17th century with West African slaves taken to English colonies in North America. After the founding of the United States, black people continued to be enslaved, and the last four million black slaves were only liberated after the Civil War in 1865.[16] Due to notions of white supremacy, they were treated as second-class citizens. The Naturalization Act of 1790 limited U.S. citizenship to whites only, and only white men of property could vote.[17][18] These circumstances were changed by Reconstruction, development of the black community, participation in the great military conflicts of the United States, the elimination of racial segregation, and the civil rights movement which sought political and social freedom. In 2008, Barack Obama became the first African American to be elected President of the United States.[19]


Colonial era

The first African slaves arrived via Santo Domingo to the San Miguel de Gualdape colony (most likely located in the Winyah Bay area of present-day South Carolina), founded by Spanish explorer Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón in 1526.[20]

The marriage between Luisa de Abrego, a free black domestic servant from Seville and Miguel Rodríguez, a white Segovian conquistador in 1565 in St. Augustine (Spanish Florida), is the first known and recorded Christian marriage anywhere in what is now the continental United States.[21]

The ill-fated colony was almost immediately disrupted by a fight over leadership, during which the slaves revolted and fled the colony to seek refuge among local Native Americans. De Ayllón and many of the colonists died shortly afterwards of an epidemic and the colony was abandoned. The settlers and the slaves who had not escaped returned to Haiti, whence they had come.[20]

The first recorded Africans in British North America (including most of the future United States) were "20 and odd negroes" who came to Jamestown, Virginia via Cape Comfort in August 1619 as indentured servants.[22] As English settlers died from harsh conditions, more and more Africans were brought to work as laborers.[23]

Slaves processing tobacco in 17th-century Virginia, illustration from 1670

An indentured servant (who could be white or black) would work for several years (usually four to seven) without wages. The status of indentured servants in early Virginia and Maryland was similar to slavery. Servants could be bought, sold, or leased and they could be physically beaten for disobedience or running away. Unlike slaves, they were freed after their term of service expired or was bought out, their children did not inherit their status, and on their release from contract they received "a year's provision of corn, double apparel, tools necessary", and a small cash payment called "freedom dues".[24]

Africans could legally raise crops and cattle to purchase their freedom.[25] They raised families, married other Africans and sometimes intermarried with Native Americans or English settlers.[26]

The first slave auction at New Amsterdam in 1655, illustration from 1895 by Howard Pyle[27]

By the 1640s and 1650s, several African families owned farms around Jamestown and some became wealthy by colonial standards and purchased indentured servants of their own. In 1640, the Virginia General Court recorded the earliest documentation of lifetime slavery when they sentenced John Punch, a Negro, to lifetime servitude under his master Hugh Gwyn for running away.[28][29]

In the Spanish Florida some Spanish married or had unions with Pensacola, Creek or African women, both slave and free, and their descendants created a mixed-race population of mestizos and mulattos. The Spanish encouraged slaves from the southern British colonies to come to Florida as a refuge, promising freedom in exchange for conversion to Catholicism. King Charles II of Spain issued a royal proclamation freeing all slaves who fled to Spanish Florida and accepted conversion and baptism. Most went to the area around St. Augustine, but escaped slaves also reached Pensacola. St. Augustine had mustered an all-black militia unit defending Spain as early as 1683.[30]

One of the Dutch African arrivals, Anthony Johnson, would later own one of the first black "slaves", John Casor, resulting from the court ruling of a civil case.[31][32]

The popular conception of a race-based slave system did not fully develop until the 18th century. The Dutch West India Company introduced slavery in 1625 with the importation of eleven black slaves into New Amsterdam (present-day New York City). All the colony's slaves, however, were freed upon its surrender to the British.[33]

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Reproduction of a handbill advertising a slave auction in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1769.

Massachusetts was the first British colony to legally recognize slavery in 1641. In 1662, Virginia passed a law that children of enslaved women (who were of African descent and thus foreigners) took the status of the mother, rather than that of the father, as under English common law. This principle was called partus sequitur ventrum.[34][35]

By an act of 1699, the colony ordered all free blacks deported, virtually defining as slaves all people of African descent who remained in the colony.[36] In 1670, the colonial assembly passed a law prohibiting free and baptized negroes (and Indians) from purchasing Christians (in this act meaning English or European whites) but allowing them to buy people "of their owne nation".[37]

In the Spanish Louisiana although there was no movement toward abolition of the African slave trade, Spanish rule introduced a new law called coartación, which allowed slaves to buy their freedom, and that of others.[38] Although some did not have the money to buy their freedom that government measures on slavery allowed a high number of free blacks. That brought problems to the Spaniards with the French Creoles who also populated Spanish Louisiana, French creoles cited that measure as one of the system's worst elements.[39] In spite of that, there was a greater number of slaves as the years passed, as also the entire Spanish Louisiana population increased.

The earliest African-American congregations and churches were organized before 1800 in both northern and southern cities following the Great Awakening. By 1775, Africans made up 20% of the population in the American colonies, which made them the second largest ethnic group after the English.[40]

From the American Revolution to the Civil War

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Crispus Attucks, the first "martyr" of the American Revolution. He was of Native American and African-American descent.

During the 1770s, Africans, both enslaved and free, helped rebellious English colonists secure American independence by defeating the British in the American Revolution.[41] Africans and Englishmen fought side by side and were fully integrated.[42] Blacks played a role in both sides in the American Revolution. Activists in the Patriot cause included James Armistead, Prince Whipple and Oliver Cromwell.[43]

In the Spanish Louisiana, Governor Bernardo de Gálvez organized Spanish free blackmen into two militia companies to defend New Orleans during the American Revolution. They fought in the 1779 battle in which Spain took Baton Rouge from the British. Gálvez also commanded them in campaigns against the British outposts in Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida, he recruited slaves for the militia by pledging to free anyone who was seriously wounded and promised to secure a low price for coartación (buy their freedom and that of others) for those who received lesser wounds. During the 1790s, Governor Francisco Luis Héctor, baron of Carondelet reinforced local fortifications and recruit even more free blackmen for the militia. Carondelet doubled the number of free blackmen who served, creating two more militia companies—one made up of black members and the other of pardo (mixed race). Serving in the militia brought free blackmen one step closer to equality with whites, allowing them, for example, the right to carry arms and boosting their earning power. However actually these privileges distanced free blackmen from enslaved blacks and encouraged them to identify with whites.[39]

Slavery had been tacitly enshrined in the U.S. Constitution through provisions such as Article I, Section 2, Clause 3, commonly known as the 3/5 compromise. Slavery, which by then meant almost exclusively African Americans, was the most important political issue in the antebellum United States, leading to one crisis after another. Among these were the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act, and the Dred Scott decision.

Frederick Douglass, ca 1850

Prior to the Civil War, eight serving presidents owned slaves, a practice protected by the U.S. Constitution.[44] By 1860, there were 3.5 to 4.4 million enslaved blacks in the U.S. due to the Atlantic slave trade, and another 488,000–500,000 African Americans lived free (with legislated limits)[45] across the country.[46][47] With legislated limits imposed upon them in addition to "unconquerable prejudice" from whites according to Henry Clay,[48] some blacks who weren't enslaved left the U.S. for Liberia in Africa.[45] Liberia began as a settlement of the American Colonization Society (ACS) in 1821, with the abolitionist members of the ACS believing blacks would face better chances for freedom and equality in Africa.[45]

The slaves not only constituted a large investment, they produced America's most valuable product and export: cotton. They not only helped build the U.S. Capitol, they built the White House and other District of Columbia buildings. (Washington was a slave trading center.)[49] Similar building projects existed in slaveholding states.

In 1863, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation declared that all slaves in Confederate-held territory were free.[50] Advancing Union troops enforced the proclamation with Texas being the last state to be emancipated, in 1865.[51]

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Harriet Tubman, around 1869

Slavery in Union-held Confederate territory continued, at least on paper, until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865.[52] Prior to the Civil War, only white men of property could vote, and the Naturalization Act of 1790 limited U.S. citizenship to whites only.[17][18] The 14th Amendment (1868) gave African-Americans citizenship, and the 15th Amendment (1870) gave African-American males the right to vote (only males could vote in the U.S. at the time).

Reconstruction Era and Jim Crow

African Americans quickly set up congregations for themselves, as well as schools and community/civic associations, to have space away from white control or oversight. While the post-war Reconstruction era was initially a time of progress for African Americans, that period ended in 1876. By the late 1890s, Southern states enacted Jim Crow laws to enforce racial segregation and disenfranchisement.[53] Segregation, which began with slavery, continued with Jim Crow laws, with signs used to show blacks where they could legally walk, talk, drink, rest, or eat.[54] For those places that were racially mixed, non whites had to wait until all white customers were dealt with.[54] Most African Americans obeyed the Jim Crow laws, in order to avoid racially motivated violence. To maintain self-esteem and dignity, African Americans such as Anthony Overton and Mary McLeod Bethune continued to build their own schools, churches, banks, social clubs, and other businesses.[55]

In the last decade of the 19th century, racially discriminatory laws and racial violence aimed at African Americans began to mushroom in the United States, a period often referred to as the "nadir of American race relations". These discriminatory acts included racial segregation—upheld by the United States Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896—which was legally mandated by southern states and nationwide at the local level of government, voter suppression or disenfranchisement in the southern states, denial of economic opportunity or resources nationwide, and private acts of violence and mass racial violence aimed at African Americans unhindered or encouraged by government authorities.[56]

Great migration and civil rights movement

A group of white men pose for a 1919 photograph as they stand over the black victim Will Brown who had been lynched and had his body mutilated and burned during the Omaha race riot of 1919 in Omaha, Nebraska. Postcards and photographs of lynchings were popular souvenirs in the U.S.[57]

The desperate conditions of African Americans in the South sparked the Great Migration during the first half of the 20th century which led to a growing African-American community in Northern and Western United States.[58] The rapid influx of blacks disturbed the racial balance within Northern and Western cities, exacerbating hostility between both blacks and whites in the two regions.[59] The Red Summer of 1919 was marked by hundreds of deaths and higher casualties across the U.S. as a result of race riots that occurred in more than three dozen cities, such as the Chicago race riot of 1919 and the Omaha race riot of 1919. Overall, blacks in Northern and Western cities experienced systemic discrimination in a plethora of aspects of life. Within employment, economic opportunities for blacks were routed to the lowest-status and restrictive in potential mobility. Within the housing market, stronger discriminatory measures were used in correlation to the influx, resulting in a mix of "targeted violence, restrictive covenants, redlining and racial steering".[60] While many whites defended their space with violence, intimidation, or legal tactics toward African Americans, many other whites migrated to more racially homogeneous suburban or exurban regions, a process known as white flight.[61]

By the 1950s, the civil rights movement was gaining momentum. A 1955 lynching that sparked public outrage about injustice was that of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago. Spending the summer with relatives in Money, Mississippi, Till was killed for allegedly having wolf-whistled at a white woman. Till had been badly beaten, one of his eyes was gouged out, and he was shot in the head. The visceral response to his mother's decision to have an open-casket funeral mobilized the black community throughout the U.S.[62] Vann R. Newkirk| wrote "the trial of his killers became a pageant illuminating the tyranny of white supremacy".[62] The state of Mississippi tried two defendants, but they were speedily acquitted by an all-white jury.[63] One hundred days after Emmett Till's murder, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus in Alabama—indeed, Parks told Emmett's mother Mamie Till that "the photograph of Emmett's disfigured face in the casket was set in her mind when she refused to give up her seat on the Montgomery bus."[64]

March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963, shows civil rights leaders and union leaders.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the conditions which brought it into being are credited with putting pressure on Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson put his support behind passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that banned discrimination in public accommodations, employment, and labor unions, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which expanded federal authority over states to ensure black political participation through protection of voter registration and elections.[65] By 1966, the emergence of the Black Power movement, which lasted from 1966 to 1975, expanded upon the aims of the civil rights movement to include economic and political self-sufficiency, and freedom from white authority.[66]

During the postwar period, many African Americans continued to be economically disadvantaged relative to other Americans. Average black income stood at 54 percent of that of white workers in 1947, and 55 percent in 1962. In 1959, median family income for whites was $5,600, compared with $2,900 for nonwhite families. In 1965, 43 percent of all black families fell into the poverty bracket, earning under $3,000 a year. The Sixties saw improvements in the social and economic conditions of many black Americans.[67]

From 1965 to 1969, black family income rose from 54 to 60 percent of white family income. In 1968, 23 percent of black families earned under $3,000 a year, compared with 41 percent in 1960. In 1965, 19 percent of black Americans had incomes equal to the national median, a proportion that rose to 27 percent by 1967. In 1960, the median level of education for blacks had been 10.8 years, and by the late Sixties the figure rose to 12.2 years, half a year behind the median for whites.[67]

Post–civil rights era

Black Lives Matter protest in response to the Philando Castile shooting in July 2016

Politically and economically, African Americans have made substantial strides during the post–civil rights era. In 1989, Douglas Wilder became the first African American elected governor in U.S. history. Clarence Thomas became the second African-American Supreme Court Justice. In 1992, Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois became the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate. There were 8,936 black officeholders in the United States in 2000, showing a net increase of 7,467 since 1970. In 2001, there were 484 black mayors.[68]

In 2005, the number of Africans immigrating to the United States, in a single year, surpassed the peak number who were involuntarily brought to the United States during the Atlantic Slave Trade.[69] On November 4, 2008, Democratic Senator Barack Obama defeated Republican Senator John McCain to become the first African American to be elected president. At least 95 percent of African-American voters voted for Obama.[70][71] He also received overwhelming support from young and educated whites, a majority of Asians,[72] Hispanics,[72] and Native Americans[73] picking up a number of new states in the Democratic electoral column.[70][71] Obama lost the overall white vote, although he won a larger proportion of white votes than any previous nonincumbent Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter.[74] Obama was reelected for a second and final term, by a similar margin on November 6, 2012.[75]


The proportional geographic distribution of African Americans in the United States, 2000.

U.S. Census map indicating U.S. counties with fewer than 25 black or African-American inhabitants

Percentage of population self-reported as African-American by state in 2010:

  less than 2 %
  2–5 %
  5–10 %
  10–15 %
  15–20 %

  20–25 %
  25–30 %
  30–35 %
  35–40 %

Graph showing the percentage of the African-American population living in the American South, 1790–2010. Note the major declines between 1910 and 1940 and 1940–1970, and the reverse trend post-1970. Nonetheless, the absolute majority of the African-American population has always lived in the American South.

In 1790, when the first U.S. Census was taken, Africans (including slaves and free people) numbered about 760,000—about 19.3% of the population. In 1860, at the start of the Civil War, the African-American population had increased to 4.4 million, but the percentage rate dropped to 14% of the overall population of the country. The vast majority were slaves, with only 488,000 counted as "freemen". By 1900, the black population had doubled and reached 8.8 million.[76]

In 1910, about 90% of African Americans lived in the South. Large numbers began migrating north looking for better job opportunities and living conditions, and to escape Jim Crow laws and racial violence. The Great Migration, as it was called, spanned the 1890s to the 1970s. From 1916 through the 1960s, more than 6 million black people moved north. But in the 1970s and 1980s, that trend reversed, with more African Americans moving south to the Sun Belt than leaving it.[77]

The following table of the African-American population in the United States over time shows that the African-American population, as a percentage of the total population, declined until 1930 and has been rising since then.

African Americans in the United States[78]
Year Number % of total
% Change
(10 yr)
Slaves % in slavery
1790 757,208 19.3% (highest)  – 697,681 92%
1800 1,002,037 18.9% 32.3% 893,602 89%
1810 1,377,808 19.0% 37.5% 1,191,362 86%
1820 1,771,656 18.4% 28.6% 1,538,022 87%
1830 2,328,642 18.1% 31.4% 2,009,043 86%
1840 2,873,648 16.8% 23.4% 2,487,355 87%
1850 3,638,808 15.7% 26.6% 3,204,287 88%
1860 4,441,830 14.1% 22.1% 3,953,731 89%
1870 4,880,009 12.7% 9.9%  –  –
1880 6,580,793 13.1% 34.9%  –  –
1890 7,488,788 11.9% 13.8%  –  –
1900 8,833,994 11.6% 18.0%  –  –
1910 9,827,763 10.7% 11.2%  –  –
1920 10.5 million 9.9% 6.8%  –  –
1930 11.9 million 9.7% (lowest) 13%  –  –
1940 12.9 million 9.8% 8.4%  –  –
1950 15.0 million 10.0% 16%  –  –
1960 18.9 million 10.5% 26%  –  –
1970 22.6 million 11.1% 20%  –  –
1980 26.5 million 11.7% 17%  –  –
1990 30.0 million 12.1% 13%  –  –
2000 34.6 million 12.3% 15%  –  –
2010 38.9 million 12.6% 12%  –  –

By 1990, the African-American population reached about 30 million and represented 12% of the U.S. population, roughly the same proportion as in 1900.[79]

At the time of the 2000 Census, 54.8% of African Americans lived in the South. In that year, 17.6% of African Americans lived in the Northeast and 18.7% in the Midwest, while only 8.9% lived in the western states. The west does have a sizable black population in certain areas, however. California, the nation's most populous state, has the fifth largest African-American population, only behind New York, Texas, Georgia, and Florida. According to the 2000 Census, approximately 2.05% of African Americans identified as Hispanic or Latino in origin,[11] many of whom may be of Brazilian, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Cuban, Haitian, or other Latin American descent. The only self-reported ancestral groups larger than African Americans are the Irish and Germans.[80]

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, nearly 3% of people who self-identified as black had recent ancestors who immigrated from another country. Self-reported non-Hispanic black immigrants from the Caribbean, mostly from Jamaica and Haiti, represented 0.9% of the U.S. population, at 2.6 million.[81] Self-reported black immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa also represented 0.9%, at about 2.8 million.[81] Additionally, self-identified Black Hispanics represented 0.4% of the United States population, at about 1.2 million people, largely found within the Puerto Rican and Dominican communities.[82] Self-reported black immigrants hailing from other countries in the Americas, such as Brazil and Canada, as well as several European countries, represented less than 0.1% of the population. Mixed-Race Hispanic and non-Hispanic Americans who identified as being part black, represented 0.9% of the population. Of the 12.6% of United States residents who identified as black, around 10.3% were "native black American" or ethnic African Americans, who are direct descendants of West/Central Africans brought to the U.S. as slaves. These individuals make up well over 80% of all blacks in the country. When including people of mixed-race origin, about 13.5% of the U.S. population self-identified as black or "mixed with black".[83] However, according to the U.S. census bureau, evidence from the 2000 Census indicates that many African and Caribbean immigrant ethnic groups do not identify as "Black, African Am., or Negro". Instead, they wrote in their own respective ethnic groups in the "Some Other Race" write-in entry. As a result, the census bureau devised a new, separate "African American" ethnic group category in 2010 for ethnic African Americans.[84]

U.S. cities

After 100 years of African-Americans leaving the south in large numbers seeking better opportunities in the west and north, a movement known as the Great Migration, there is now a reverse trend, called the New Great Migration. As with the earlier Great Migration, the New Great Migration is primarily directed toward cities and large urban areas, such as Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston, Dallas, Raleigh, Tampa, San Antonio, Memphis, Nashville, Jacksonville, and so forth.[85] A growing percentage of African-Americans from the west and north are migrating to the southern region of the U.S. for economic and cultural reasons. New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles have the highest decline in African Americans, while Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston have the highest increase respectively.[85]

Among cities of 100,000 or more, Detroit, Michigan had the highest percentage of black residents of any U.S. city in 2010, with 82%. Other large cities with African-American majorities include Jackson, Mississippi (79.4%), Miami Gardens, Florida (76.3%), Baltimore, Maryland (63%), Birmingham, Alabama (62.5%), Memphis, Tennessee (61%), New Orleans, Louisiana (60%), Montgomery, Alabama (56.6%), Flint, Michigan (56.6%), Savannah, Georgia (55.0%), Augusta, Georgia (54.7%), Atlanta, Georgia (54%, see African Americans in Atlanta), Cleveland, Ohio (53.3%), Newark, New Jersey (52.35%), Washington, D.C. (50.7%), Richmond, Virginia (50.6%), Mobile, Alabama (50.6%), Baton Rouge, Louisiana (50.4%), and Shreveport, Louisiana (50.4%).

The nation's most affluent community with an African-American majority resides in View Park–Windsor Hills, California with an annual median income of $159,618.[86] Other largely affluent predominantly African-American communities include Prince George's County in Maryland (namely Mitchellville, Woodmore, and Upper Marlboro), Dekalb County and South Fulton in Georgia, Charles City County in Virginia, Baldwin Hills in California, Hillcrest and Uniondale in New York, and Cedar Hill, DeSoto, and Missouri City in Texas. Queens County, New York is the only county with a population of 65,000 or more where African Americans have a higher median household income than White Americans.[87]

Seatack, Virginia is currently the oldest African-American community in the United States.[88] It survives today with a vibrant and active civic community.[89]


Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is director of New York City's Hayden Planetarium.

By 2012, African Americans had advanced greatly in education attainment. They still lagged overall compared to white or Asian Americans but surpassed other ethnic minorities, with 19 percent earning bachelor's degrees and 6 percent earning advanced degrees.[90] Between 1995 and 2009, freshmen college enrollment for African Americans increased by 73 percent and only 15 percent for whites.[91] Black women are enrolled in college more than any other race and gender group, leading all with 9.7% enrolled according to the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau.[92][93] Predominantly black schools for kindergarten through twelfth grade students were common throughout the U.S. before the 1970s. By 1972, however, desegregation efforts meant that only 25% of Black students were in schools with more than 90% non-white students. However, since then, a trend towards re-segregation affected communities across the country: by 2011, 2.9 million African-American students were in such overwhelmingly minority schools, including 53% of Black students in school districts that were formerly under desegregation orders.[94][95]

Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), which were originally set up when segregated colleges did not admit African Americans, continue to thrive and educate students of all races today. The majority of HBCUs were established in the southeastern United States, Alabama has the most HBCUs of any state.[96][97]

As late as 1947, about one third of African Americans over 65 were considered to lack the literacy to read and write their own names. By 1969, illiteracy as it had been traditionally defined, had been largely eradicated among younger African Americans.[98]

U.S. Census surveys showed that by 1998, 89 percent of African Americans aged 25 to 29 had completed a high-school education, less than whites or Asians, but more than Hispanics. On many college entrance, standardized tests and grades, African Americans have historically lagged behind whites, but some studies suggest that the achievement gap has been closing. Many policy makers have proposed that this gap can and will be eliminated through policies such as affirmative action, desegregation, and multiculturalism.[99]

The average high school graduation rate of blacks in the United States has steadily increased to 71% in 2013.[100] Separating this statistic into component parts shows it varies greatly depending upon the state and the school district examined. 38% of black males graduated in the state of New York but in Maine 97% graduated and exceeded the white male graduation rate by 11 percentage points.[101] In much of the southeastern United States and some parts of the southwestern United States the graduation rate of white males was in fact below 70% such as in Florida where 62% of white males graduated from high school. Examining specific school districts paints an even more complex picture. In the Detroit school district the graduation rate of black males was 20% but 7% for white males. In the New York City school district 28% of black males graduate from high school compared to 57% of white males. In Newark County 76% of black males graduated compared to 67% for white males. Further academic improvement has occurred in 2015. Roughly 23% of all blacks have bachelor's degrees. In 1988, 21% of whites had obtained a bachelor's degree versus 11% of blacks. In 2015, 23% of blacks had obtained a bachelor's degree versus 36% of whites.[102] Foreign born blacks, 9% of the black population, made even greater strides. They exceed native born blacks by 10 percentage points.[102]

Economic status

The US homeownership rate according to race.[103]

Economically, African Americans have benefited from the advances made during the civil rights era, particularly among the educated, but not without the lingering effects of historical marginalisation when considered as a whole. The racial disparity in poverty rates has narrowed. The black middle class has grown substantially. In 2010, 45% of African Americans owned their homes, compared to 67% of all Americans.[104] The poverty rate among African Americans has decreased from 26.5% in 1998 to 24.7% in 2004, compared to 12.7% for all Americans.[105]

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This graph shows the real median US household income by race: 1967 to 2011, in 2011 dollars.[106]

African Americans have a combined buying power of over $892 billion currently and likely over $1.1 trillion by 2012.[107][108] In 2002, African American-owned businesses accounted for 1.2 million of the US's 23 million businesses.[109] As of 2011 African American-owned businesses account for approximately 2 million US businesses.[110] Black-owned businesses experienced the largest growth in number of businesses among minorities from 2002 to 2011.[110]

In 2004, African-American men had the third-highest earnings of American minority groups after Asian Americans and non-Hispanic whites.[111]

Twenty-five percent of blacks had white-collar occupations (management, professional, and related fields) in 2000, compared with 33.6% of Americans overall.[112][113] In 2001, over half of African-American households of married couples earned $50,000 or more.[113] Although in the same year African Americans were over-represented among the nation's poor, this was directly related to the disproportionate percentage of African-American families headed by single women; such families are collectively poorer, regardless of ethnicity.[113]

In 2006, the median earnings of African-American men was more than black and non-black American women overall, and in all educational levels.[114][115][116][117][118] At the same time, among American men, income disparities were significant; the median income of African-American men was approximately 76 cents for every dollar of their European American counterparts, although the gap narrowed somewhat with a rise in educational level.[114][119]

Overall, the median earnings of African-American men were 72 cents for every dollar earned of their Asian American counterparts, and $1.17 for every dollar earned by Hispanic men.[114][117][120] On the other hand, by 2006, among American women with post-secondary education, African-American women have made significant advances; the median income of African-American women was more than those of their Asian-, European- and Hispanic American counterparts with at least some college education.[115][116][121]

The U.S. public sector is the single most important source of employment for African Americans.[122] During 2008–2010, 21.2% of all Black workers were public employees, compared with 16.3% of non-Black workers.[122] Both before and after the onset of the Great Recession, African Americans were 30% more likely than other workers to be employed in the public sector.[122]

The public sector is also a critical source of decent-paying jobs for Black Americans. For both men and women, the median wage earned by Black employees is significantly higher in the public sector than in other industries.[122]

In 1999, the median income of African-American families was $33,255 compared to $53,356 of European Americans. In times of economic hardship for the nation, African Americans suffer disproportionately from job loss and underemployment, with the black underclass being hardest hit. The phrase "last hired and first fired" is reflected in the Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment figures. Nationwide, the October 2008 unemployment rate for African Americans was 11.1%,[123] while the nationwide rate was 6.5%.[124]

The income gap between black and white families is also significant. In 2005, employed blacks earned 65% of the wages of whites, down from 82% in 1975.[105] The New York Times reported in 2006 that in Queens, New York, the median income among African-American families exceeded that of white families, which the newspaper attributed to the growth in the number of two-parent black families. It noted that Queens was the only county with more than 65,000 residents where that was true.[87]

In 2011, it was reported that 72% of black babies were born to unwed mothers.[125] The poverty rate among single-parent black families was 39.5% in 2005, according to Williams, while it was 9.9% among married-couple black families. Among white families, the respective rates were 26.4% and 6% in poverty.[126] Collectively, African Americans are more involved in the American political process than other minority groups in the United States, indicated by the highest level of voter registration and participation in elections among these groups in 2004.[127] African Americans collectively attain higher levels of education than immigrants to the United States.[127] African Americans also have the highest level of Congressional representation of any minority group in the U.S.[128]


A large majority of African Americans support the Democratic Party. In the 2004 Presidential Election, Democrat John Kerry received 88% of the African-American vote compared to 11% for Republican George W. Bush.[129] Although there is an African-American lobby in foreign policy, it has not had the impact that African-American organizations have had in domestic policy.[130]

Many African Americans were excluded from electoral politics in the decades following the end of Reconstruction. For those that could participate, until the New Deal, African Americans were supporters of the Republican Party because it was Republican President Abraham Lincoln who helped in granting freedom to American slaves; at the time, the Republicans and Democrats represented the sectional interests of the North and South, respectively, rather than any specific ideology, and both conservative and liberal were represented equally in both parties.

The African-American trend of voting for Democrats can be traced back to the 1930s during the Great Depression, when Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal program provided economic relief to African Americans. Roosevelt's New Deal coalition turned the Democratic Party into an organization of the working class and their liberal allies, regardless of region. The African-American vote became even more solidly Democratic when Democratic presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson pushed for civil rights legislation during the 1960s. In 1960, nearly a third of African Americans voted for Republican Richard Nixon.[131]


The life expectancy for Black men in 2008 was 70.8 years.[132] Life expectancy for Black women was 77.5 years in 2008.[132] In 1900, when information on Black life expectancy started being collated, a Black man could expect to live to 32.5 years and a Black woman 33.5 years.[132] In 1900, White men lived an average of 46.3 years and White women lived an average of 48.3 years.[132] African-American life expectancy at birth is persistently five to seven years lower than European Americans.[133]

Black people have higher rates of obesity, diabetes and hypertension than the U.S. average.[132] For adult Black men, the rate of obesity was 31.6% in 2010.[134] For adult Black women, the rate of obesity was 41.2% in 2010.[134] African Americans have higher rates of mortality than does any other racial or ethnic group for 8 of the top 10 causes of death.[135] In 2013, among men, black men had the highest rate of getting cancer, followed by white, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander (A/PI), and American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) men. Among women, white women had the highest rate of getting cancer, followed by black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native women.[136] Violence has an impact upon African-American life expectancy. A report from the U.S. Department of Justice states "In 2005, homicide victimization rates for blacks were 6 times higher than the rates for whites".[137] The report also found that "94% of black victims were killed by blacks."[137]

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African-Americans also have higher rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) compared to whites, with 5 times the rates of syphilis and chlamydia, and 7.5 times the rate of gonorrhea.[138]

AIDS is one of the top three causes of death for African-American men aged 25–54 and for African-American women aged 35–44 years. In the United States, African Americans make up about 48% of the total HIV-positive population and make up more than half of new HIV cases. The main route of transmission for women is through unprotected heterosexual sex. African-American women are 19 times more likely to contract HIV than other women.[139]

Washington, D.C. has the nation's highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection, at 3%. This rate is comparable to what is seen in West Africa, and is considered a severe epidemic.[140] Dr. Ray Martins, Chief Medical Officer at the Whitman-Walker Clinic, the largest provider of HIV care in Washington D.C., estimated that the actual underlying percent with HIV/AIDS in the city is "closer to five percent".[140]

Although in the last decade black youth have had lower rates of cannabis (marijuana) consumption than whites of the same age, they have disproportionately higher arrest rates than whites: in 2010, for example, blacks were 3.73 times as likely to get arrested for using cannabis than whites, despite not significantly more frequently being users.[141][142]


According to a Gallup survey, 4.6% of Black or African-Americans self-identified as LGBT in 2016,[143] while the total portion of American adults in all ethnic groups identifying as LGBT was 4.1% in 2016.[143] The disproportionately high incidence of HIV/AIDS among African-Americans has been attributed to homophobic attitudes and lack of access to healthcare.[144]


Genome-wide studies

Genetic clustering of 128 African Americans, by Zakharaia et al. (2009).[145] Each vertical bar represents an individual.

Recent surveys of African Americans using a genetic testing service have found varied ancestries which show different tendencies by region and sex of ancestors. These studies found that on average, African Americans have 73.2–82.1% West African, 16.7%–24% European, and 0.8–1.2% Native American genetic ancestry, with large variation between individuals.[146][147][148] Genetics websites themselves have reported similar ranges, with some finding 1 or 2 percent Native American ancestry and reporting an outlying percentage of European ancestry among African Americans, 29%.[149]

According to a genome-wide study by Bryc et al. (2009), the mixed ancestry of African Americans in varying ratios came about as the result of sexual contact between West/Central Africans (more frequently females) and Europeans (more frequently males). Consequently, the 365 African Americans in their sample have a genome-wide average of 78.1% West African ancestry and 18.5% European ancestry, with large variation among individuals (ranging from 99% to 1% West African ancestry). The West African ancestral component in African Americans is most similar to that in present-day speakers from the non-Bantu branches of the Niger-Congo (Niger-Kordofanian) family.[146][nb 1]

Correspondingly, Montinaro et al. (2014) observed that around 50% of the overall ancestry of African Americans traces back to the Niger-Congo-speaking Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria and southern Benin, reflecting the centrality of this West African region in the Atlantic Slave Trade. The next most frequent ancestral component found among African Americans was derived from Great Britain, in keeping with historical records. It constitutes a little over 10% of their overall ancestry, and is most similar to the Northwest European ancestral component also carried by Barbadians.[151] Zakharaia et al. (2009) found a similar proportion of Yoruba associated ancestry in their African-American samples, with a minority also drawn from Mandenka and Bantu populations. Additionally, the researchers observed an average European ancestry of 21.9%, again with significant variation between individuals.[145] Bryc et al. (2009) note that populations from other parts of the continent may also constitute adequate proxies for the ancestors of some African-American individuals; namely, ancestral populations from Guinea Bissau, Senegal and Sierra Leone in West Africa and Angola in Southern Africa.[146]

Altogether, genetic studies suggest that African Americans are a multiracial people. According to DNA analysis led in 2006 by Penn State geneticist Mark D. Shriver, around 58 percent of African Americans have at least 12.5% European ancestry (equivalent to one European great-grandparent and his/her forebears), 19.6 percent of African Americans have at least 25% European ancestry (equivalent to one European grandparent and his/her forebears), and 1 percent of African Americans have at least 50% European ancestry (equivalent to one European parent and his/her forebears).[14][152] According to Shriver, around 5 percent of African Americans also have at least 12.5% Native American ancestry (equivalent to one Native American great-grandparent and his/her forebears).[153][154] Research suggests that Native American ancestry among people who identify as African American is a result of relationships that occurred soon after slave ships arrived in the American colonies, and European ancestry is of more recent origin, often from the decades before the Civil War.[155]


Africans bearing the E-V38 (E1b1a) likely traversed across the Sahara, from east to west, approximately 19,000 years ago.[156] E-M2 (E1b1a1) likely originated in West Africa or Central Africa.[157] According to a Y-DNA study by Sims et al. (2007), the majority (≈60%) of African Americans belong to various subclades of the E-M2 (E1b1a1, formerly E3a) paternal haplogroup. This is the most common genetic paternal lineage found today among West/Central African males, and is also a signature of the historical Bantu migrations. The next most frequent Y-DNA haplogroup observed among African Americans is the R1b clade, which around 15% of African Americans carry. This lineage is most common today among Northwestern European males. The remaining African Americans mainly belong to the paternal haplogroup I (≈7%), which is also frequent in Northwestern Europe.[158]


According to an mtDNA study by Salas et al. (2005), the maternal lineages of African Americans are most similar to haplogroups that are today especially common in West Africa (>55%), followed closely by West-Central Africa and Southwestern Africa (<41%). The characteristic West African haplogroups L1b, L2b,c,d, and L3b,d and West-Central African haplogroups L1c and L3e in particular occur at high frequencies among African Americans. As with the paternal DNA of African Americans, contributions from other parts of the continent to their maternal gene pool are insignificant.[159]

Social status

African Americans have improved their social and economic standing significantly since the civil rights movement and recent decades have witnessed the expansion of a robust, African-American middle class across the United States. Unprecedented access to higher education and employment in addition to representation in the highest levels of American government has been gained by African Americans in the post–civil rights era.[160]

Economic issues

One of the most serious and long-standing issues within African-American communities is poverty. Poverty is associated with higher rates of marital stress and dissolution, physical and mental health problems, disability, cognitive deficits, low educational attainment, and crime.[161] In 2004, almost 25% of African-American families lived below the poverty level.[105] In 2007, the average income for African Americans was approximately $34,000, compared to $55,000 for whites.[162] Forty percent of prison inmates are African-American.[163] African Americans experience a higher rate of unemployment than the general population.[164] African American males are more likely to be killed by police.[165] This is one of the factors that led to the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement.[166]

African Americans have a long and diverse history of business ownership. Although the first African-American business is unknown, slaves captured from West Africa are believed to have established commercial enterprises as peddlers and skilled craftspeople as far back as the 17th century. Around 1900, Booker T. Washington became the most famous proponent of African-American businesses. His critic and rival W. E. B. DuBois also commended business as a vehicle for African-American advancement.[167]

Social issues

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President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, their daughters Malia and Sasha, and Michelle's mother, Marian Robinson at White House Easter Egg Roll

After over 50 years, marriage rates for all Americans began to decline while divorce rates and out-of-wedlock births have climbed.[168] These changes have been greatest among African Americans. After more than 70 years of racial parity black marriage rates began to fall behind whites.[168] Single-parent households have become common, and according to U.S. census figures released in January 2010, only 38 percent of black children live with both their parents.[169]

In 2008, Democrats overwhelmingly voted 70% against California Proposition 8, African Americans voted 58% in favor of it while 42% voted against Proposition 8.[170] On May 9, 2012, Barack Obama, the first black president, became the first U.S. president to support same-sex marriage. Since Obama's endorsement there has been a rapid growth in support for same-sex marriage among African Americans. Now 59% of African Americans support same-sex marriage, which is higher than support among the national average (53%) and white Americans (50%).[171]

Polls in North Carolina,[172] Pennsylvania,[173] Missouri,[174] Maryland,[175] Ohio,[176] Florida,[177] and Nevada[178] have also shown an increase in support for same sex marriage among African Americans. On November 6, 2012, Maryland, Maine, and Washington all voted for approve of same-sex marriage, along with Minnesota rejecting a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Exit polls in Maryland show about 50% of African Americans voted for same-sex marriage, showing a vast evolution among African Americans on the issue and was crucial in helping pass same-sex marriage in Maryland.[179]

Blacks hold far more conservative opinions on abortion, extramarital sex, and raising children out of wedlock than Democrats as a whole.[180] On financial issues, however, African Americans are in line with Democrats, generally supporting a more progressive tax structure to provide more government spending on social services.[181]

Political legacy

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. remains the most prominent political leader in the American civil rights movement and perhaps the most influential African-American political figure in general.

African Americans have fought in every war in the history of the United States.[182]

The gains made by African Americans in the civil rights movement and in the Black Power movement not only obtained certain rights for African Americans, but changed American society in far-reaching and fundamentally important ways. Prior to the 1950s, Black Americans in the South were subject to de jure discrimination, or Jim Crow laws. They were often the victims of extreme cruelty and violence, sometimes resulting in deaths: by the post World War II era, African Americans became increasingly discontented with their long-standing inequality. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., African Americans and their supporters challenged the nation to "rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed that all men are created equal ..."[183]

The civil rights movement marked an enormous change in American social, political, economic and civic life. It brought with it boycotts, sit-ins, nonviolent demonstrations and marches, court battles, bombings and other violence; prompted worldwide media coverage and intense public debate; forged enduring civic, economic and religious alliances; and disrupted and realigned the nation's two major political parties.

Over time, it has changed in fundamental ways the manner in which blacks and whites interact with and relate to one another. The movement resulted in the removal of codified, de jure racial segregation and discrimination from American life and law, and heavily influenced other groups and movements in struggles for civil rights and social equality within American society, including the Free Speech Movement, the disabled, the women's movement, Native Americans, and migrant workers.

Media and coverage

BET founder Robert L. Johnson with former U.S. President George W. Bush

Some activists and academics contend that American news media coverage of African-American news, concerns, or dilemmas is inadequate,[184][185][186] or that the news media present distorted images of African Americans.[187]

To combat this, Robert L. Johnson founded Black Entertainment Television, a network that targets young African Americans and urban audiences in the United States. Over the years, the network has aired such programming as rap and R&B music videos, urban-oriented movies and television series, and some public affairs programs. On Sunday mornings, BET would broadcast Christian programming; the network would also broadcast non-affiliated Christian programs during the early morning hours daily. BET is now a global network that reaches households in the United States, Caribbean, Canada, and the United Kingdom.[188] The network has gone on to spawn several spin-off channels, including BET Her (originally launched as BET on Jazz), which originally showcased jazz music-related programming, and later expanded to include general-interest urban programs as well as some R&B, soul, and world music.[189]

Another network targeting African-Americans is TV One. TV One's original programming was formally focused on lifestyle and entertainment-oriented shows, movies, fashion, and music programming. The network also reruns classic series from as far back as the 1970s to current series such as Empire and Sister Circle. TV One is owned by Urban One, founded and controlled by Catherine Hughes. Urban One is one of the nation's largest radio broadcasting companies and the largest African-American-owned radio broadcasting company in the United States.[190]

African-American networks that were scheduled to launch in 2009 include the Black Television News Channel founded by former Congressman J. C. Watts and Better Black Television founded by Percy Miller.[191][192] In June 2009, NBC News launched a new website named The Grio[193] in partnership with the production team that created the black documentary film Meeting David Wilson. It is the first African-American video news site that focuses on underrepresented stories in existing national news. The Grio consists of a broad spectrum of original video packages, news articles, and contributor blogs on topics including breaking news, politics, health, business, entertainment and Black History.[194]

Other Black-owned and oriented media outlets include:

  • The Africa Channel - Dedicated to programming representing the best in Africican culture.
  • aspireTV – a digital cable and satellite channel owned by businessman and former basketball player Magic Johnson.
  • ATTV - an independent public affairs and educational channel.
  • Bounce TV – a digital multicast network owned by E. W. Scripps Company.
  • Cleo TV - a sister network to TV One targeting African-American women.
  • Oprah Winfrey Network - a cable and satellite network founded by Oprah Winfrey and jointly owned by Discovery, Inc. and Harpo Studios. While not exclusively targeting African Americans, much of its original programming is geared towards a similar demographic.
  • Revolt - a music channel owned by Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs.
  • Soul of the South Network - a regional broadcast network.
  • VH1 - A female-oriented general entertainment channel owned by Viacom. Originally focused on light genres of music, the network's programming became slanted towards African American culture in recent years.[195]


A traditional soul food dinner consisting of fried chicken with macaroni and cheese, collard greens, breaded fried okra and cornbread.

From their earliest presence in North America, African Americans have significantly contributed literature, art, agricultural skills, cuisine, clothing styles, music, language, and social and technological innovation to American culture. The cultivation and use of many agricultural products in the United States, such as yams, peanuts, rice, okra, sorghum, grits, watermelon, indigo dyes, and cotton, can be traced to West African and African-American influences. Notable examples include George Washington Carver, who created 300 products from peanuts, 118 products from sweet potatoes, and 75 products from pecans; and George Crum, a local legend associates him with the creation of the potato chip in 1853.[196][197] Soul food is a variety of cuisine popular among African Americans. It is closely related to the cuisine of the Southern United States. The descriptive terminology may have originated in the mid-1960s, when soul was a common definer used to describe African-American culture (for example, soul music). African Americans were the first peoples in the United States to make fried chicken, along with Scottish immigrants to the South. Although the Scottish had been frying chicken before they emigrated, they lacked the spices and flavor that African Americans had used when preparing the meal. The Scottish American settlers therefore adopted the African-American method of seasoning chicken.[198] However, fried chicken was generally a rare meal in the African-American community, and was usually reserved for special events or celebrations.[199]


African-American English is a variety (dialect, ethnolect, and sociolect) of American English, commonly spoken by urban working-class and largely bi-dialectal middle-class African Americans.[200]

African-American English evolved during the antebellum period through interaction between speakers of 16th- and 17th-century English of Great Britain and Ireland and various West African languages. As a result, the variety shares parts of its grammar and phonology with the Southern American English dialect. Where African-American English differs from Standard American English (SAE) is in certain pronunciation characteristics, tense usage and grammatical structures that were derived from West African languages, particularly those belonging to the Niger-Congo family.[201]

Virtually all habitual speakers of African-American English can understand and communicate in Standard American English. As with all linguistic forms, AAVE's usage is influenced by various factors, including geographical, educational and socioeconomic background, as well as formality of setting.[201] Additionally, there are many literary uses of this variety of English, particularly in African-American literature.[202]

Traditional names

African-American names are part of the cultural traditions of African Americans. Prior to the 1950s, and 1960s, most African-American names closely resembled those used within European American culture.[203] Babies of that era were generally given a few common names, with children using nicknames to distinguish the various people with the same name. With the rise of 1960s civil rights movement, there was a dramatic increase in names of various origins.[204]

By the 1970s, and 1980s, it had become common among African Americans to invent new names for themselves, although many of these invented names took elements from popular existing names. Prefixes such as La/Le, Da/De, Ra/Re and Ja/Je, and suffixes like -ique/iqua, -isha and -aun/-awn are common, as are inventive spellings for common names. The book Baby Names Now: From Classic to Cool—The Very Last Word on First Names places the origins of "La" names in African-American culture in New Orleans.[205]

Even with the rise of inventive names, it is still common for African Americans to use biblical, historical, or traditional European names. Daniel, Christopher, Michael, David, James, Joseph, and Matthew were thus among the most frequent names for African-American boys in 2013.[203][206][207]

The name LaKeisha is typically considered American in origin, but has elements that were drawn from both French and West/Central African roots. Names such as LaTanisha, JaMarcus, DeAndre, and Shaniqua were created in the same way. Punctuation marks are seen more often within African-American names than other American names, such as the names Mo'nique and D'Andre.[203]


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Religious affiliation of African Americans

Mount Zion United Methodist Church is the oldest African-American congregation in Washington, D.C.

Masjid Malcolm Shabazz in Harlem, New York City

The majority of African Americans are Protestant, many of whom follow the historically black churches.[208] The term Black church refers to churches which minister to predominantly African-American congregations. Black congregations were first established by freed slaves at the end of the 17th century, and later when slavery was abolished more African Americans were allowed to create a unique form of Christianity that was culturally influenced by African spiritual traditions.[209]

According to a 2007 survey, more than half of the African-American population are part of the historically black churches.[210] The largest Protestant denomination among African Americans are the Baptists,[211] distributed mainly in four denominations, the largest being the National Baptist Convention, USA and the National Baptist Convention of America.[212] The second largest are the Methodists,[213] the largest denominations are the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.[212][214]

Pentecostals are distributed among several different religious bodies, with the Church of God in Christ as the largest among them by far.[212] About 16% of African-American Christians are members of white Protestant communions,[213] these denominations (which include the United Church of Christ) mostly have a 2 to 3% African-American membership.[215] There are also large numbers of Catholics, constituting 5% of the African-American population.[210] Of the total number of Jehovah's Witnesses, 22% are black.[208]

Some African Americans follow Islam. Historically, between 15 and 30% of enslaved Africans brought to the Americas were Muslims, but most of these Africans were converted to Christianity during the era of American slavery.[216] During the twentieth century, some African Americans converted to Islam, mainly through the influence of black nationalist groups that preached with distinctive Islamic practices; including the Moorish Science Temple of America, and the largest organization, the Nation of Islam, founded in the 1930s, which attracted at least 20,000 people by 1963,[217][218] prominent members included activist Malcolm X and boxer Muhammad Ali.[219]

Malcolm X is considered the first person to start the movement among African Americans towards mainstream Islam, after he left the Nation and made the pilgrimage to Mecca.[220] In 1975, Warith Deen Mohammed, the son of Elijah Muhammad took control of the Nation after his father's death and guided the majority of its members to orthodox Islam.[221]

African-American Muslims constitute 20% of the total U.S. Muslim population,[222] the majority are Sunni or orthodox Muslims, some of these identify under the community of W. Deen Mohammed.[223][224] The Nation of Islam led by Louis Farrakhan has a membership ranging from 20,000–50,000 members.[225]

There are relatively few African-American Jews; estimates of their number range from 20,000[226] to 200,000.[227] Most of these Jews are part of mainstream groups such as the Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox branches of Judaism; although there are significant numbers of people who are part of non-mainstream Jewish groups, largely the Black Hebrew Israelites, whose beliefs include the claim that African Americans are descended from the Biblical Israelites.[228]

Confirmed atheists are less than one half of one-percent, similar to numbers for Hispanics.[229][230][231]


The King & Carter Jazzing Orchestra photographed in Houston, Texas, January 1921
Chuck Berry was considered a pioneer of rock and roll.

African-American music is one of the most pervasive African-American cultural influences in the United States today and is among the most dominant in mainstream popular music. Hip hop, R&B, funk, rock and roll, soul, blues, and other contemporary American musical forms originated in black communities and evolved from other black forms of music, including blues, doo-wop, barbershop, ragtime, bluegrass, jazz, and gospel music.

African-American-derived musical forms have also influenced and been incorporated into virtually every other popular music genre in the world, including country and techno. African-American genres are the most important ethnic vernacular tradition in America, as they have developed independent of African traditions from which they arise more so than any other immigrant groups, including Europeans; make up the broadest and longest lasting range of styles in America; and have, historically, been more influential, interculturally, geographically, and economically, than other American vernacular traditions.[232]

African Americans have also had an important role in American dance. Bill T. Jones, a prominent modern choreographer and dancer, has included historical African-American themes in his work, particularly in the piece "Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land". Likewise, Alvin Ailey's artistic work, including his "Revelations" based on his experience growing up as an African American in the South during the 1930s, has had a significant influence on modern dance. Another form of dance, Stepping, is an African-American tradition whose performance and competition has been formalized through the traditionally black fraternities and sororities at universities.[233]

Literature and academics

Many African-American authors have written stories, poems, and essays influenced by their experiences as African Americans. African-American literature is a major genre in American literature. Famous examples include Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou.

African-American inventors have created many widely used devices in the world and have contributed to international innovation. Norbert Rillieux created the technique for converting sugar cane juice into white sugar crystals. Moreover, Rillieux left Louisiana in 1854 and went to France, where he spent ten years working with the Champollions deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics from the Rosetta Stone.[234] Most slave inventors were nameless, such as the slave owned by the Confederate President Jefferson Davis who designed the ship propeller used by the Confederate navy.[235]

By 1913, over 1,000 inventions were patented by black Americans. Among the most notable inventors were Jan Matzeliger, who developed the first machine to mass-produce shoes,[236] and Elijah McCoy, who invented automatic lubrication devices for steam engines.[237] Granville Woods had 35 patents to improve electric railway systems, including the first system to allow moving trains to communicate.[238] Garrett A. Morgan developed the first automatic traffic signal and gas mask.[239]

Lewis Howard Latimer invented an improvement for the incandescent light bulb.[240] More recent inventors include Frederick McKinley Jones, who invented the movable refrigeration unit for food transport in trucks and trains.[241] Lloyd Quarterman worked with six other black scientists on the creation of the atomic bomb (code named the Manhattan Project.)[242] Quarterman also helped develop the first nuclear reactor, which was used in the atomically powered submarine called the Nautilus.[243]

A few other notable examples include the first successful open heart surgery, performed by Dr. Daniel Hale Williams,[244] and the air conditioner, patented by Frederick McKinley Jones.[241] Dr. Mark Dean holds three of the original nine patents on the computer on which all PCs are based.[245][246][247] More current contributors include Otis Boykin, whose inventions included several novel methods for manufacturing electrical components that found use in applications such as guided missile systems and computers,[248] and Colonel Frederick Gregory, who was not only the first black astronaut pilot but the person who redesigned the cockpits for the last three space shuttles. Gregory was also on the team that pioneered the microwave instrumentation landing system.[249]

Mental health

The relationship between African Americans and mental health has many barriers. Counseling has been frowned upon and distant in utility and proximity to many people in the African American community. In 2004, a qualitative research study explored the disconnect with African Americans and mental health. The study was conducted as a semistructured discussion which allowed the focus group to express their opinions and life experiences. The results revealed a couple key variables that create barriers for many African American communities to seek mental health services such as the stigma, lack of four important necessities; trust, affordability, cultural understanding and impersonal services.[250]

Historically, many African American communities did not seek counseling because religion was a part of the family values.[251] African American who have a faith background are more likely to seek prayer as a coping mechanism for mental issues rather than seeking professional mental health services.[250] In 2015 a study concluded, African Americans with high value in religion are less likely to utilize mental health services compared to those who have low value in religion.[252]

Most counseling approaches are westernized and do not fit within the African American culture. African American families tend to resolve concerns within the family, and it is viewed by the family as a strength. On the other hand, when African Americans seek counseling, they face a social backlash and are criticized. They may be labeled "crazy," viewed as weak, and their pride is diminished.[250] Because of this, many African Americans instead seek mentorship within communities they trust.

Terminology is another barrier in relation to African Americans and mental health. There is more stigma on the term psychotherapy versus counseling. In one study, psychotherapy is associated with mental illness whereas counseling approaches problem-solving, guidance and help.[250] More African Americans seek assistance when it is called counseling and not psychotherapy because it is more welcoming within the cultural and community.[253]

Counselors are encouraged to be aware of such barriers for the well-being of African American clients. Without cultural competency training in health care, many African Americans go unheard and misunderstood.[250]



This parade float displayed the word "Afro-American" in 1911.

The term African American carries important political overtones. Earlier terms used to describe Americans of African ancestry referred more to skin color than to ancestry, and were conferred upon the group by colonists and Americans of European ancestry; people with dark skins were considered inferior in fact and in law. Other terms (such as colored, person of color, or negro) were included in the wording of various laws and legal decisions which some thought were being used as tools of white supremacy and oppression.[254]

Michelle Obama was the First Lady of the United States; she and her husband, President Barack Obama, are the first African Americans to hold these positions.

A 16-page pamphlet entitled A Sermon on the Capture of Lord Cornwallis is notable for the attribution of its authorship to "An African American". Published in 1782, the book's use of this phrase predates any other yet identified by more than 50 years.[255]

In the 1980s, the term African American was advanced on the model of, for example, German-American or Irish-American to give descendants of American slaves and other American blacks who lived through the slavery era a heritage and a cultural base.[254] The term was popularized in black communities around the country via word of mouth and ultimately received mainstream use after Jesse Jackson publicly used the term in front of a national audience in 1988. Subsequently, major media outlets adopted its use.[254]

Surveys show that the majority of Black Americans have no preference for African American versus Black American,[256] although they have a slight preference for Black American in personal settings and African American in more formal settings.[257]

Many African Americans have expressed a preference for the term African American because it was formed in the same way as the terms for the many other ethnic groups currently living in the nation. Some argued further that, because of the historical circumstances surrounding the capture, enslavement and systematic attempts to de-Africanize blacks in the United States under chattel slavery, most African Americans are unable to trace their ancestry to a specific African nation; hence, the entire continent serves as a geographic marker.

The term African American embraces pan-Africanism as earlier enunciated by prominent African thinkers such as Marcus Garvey, W. E. B. Du Bois and George Padmore. The term Afro-Usonian, and variations of such, are more rarely used.[258][259]


Since 1977, in an attempt to keep up with changing social opinion, the United States government has officially classified black people (revised to black or African American in 1997) as "having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa."[260] Other federal offices, such as the United States Census Bureau, adhere to the Office of Management and Budget standards on race in its data collection and tabulations efforts.[261] In preparation for the United States 2010 Census, a marketing and outreach plan, called 2010 Census Integrated Communications Campaign Plan (ICC) recognized and defined African Americans as black people born in the United States. From the ICC perspective, African Americans are one of three groups of black people in the United States.[262]

The ICC plan was to reach the three groups by acknowledging that each group has its own sense of community that is based on geography and ethnicity.[263] The best way to market the census process toward any of the three groups is to reach them through their own unique communication channels and not treat the entire black population of the U.S. as though they are all African Americans with a single ethnic and geographical background. The U.S. Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation categorizes black or African-American people as "A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa" through racial categories used in the UCR Program adopted from the Statistical Policy Handbook (1978) and published by the Office of Federal Statistical Policy and Standards, U.S. Department of Commerce, derived from the 1977 Office of Management and Budget classification.[264]


Historically, "race mixing" between black and white people was taboo in the United States. So-called anti-miscegenation laws, barring blacks and whites from marrying or having sex, were established in colonial America as early as 1691,[265] and endured in many Southern states until the Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia (1967). The taboo among American whites surrounding white-black relations is a historical consequence of the oppression and racial segregation of African Americans.[266] Historian David Brion Davis notes the racial mixing that occurred during slavery was frequently attributed by the planter class to the "lower-class white males" but Davis concludes that "there is abundant evidence that many slaveowners, sons of slaveowners, and overseers took black mistresses or in effect raped the wives and daughters of slave families."[267] A famous example was Thomas Jefferson's mistress, Sally Hemings.[268]

Harvard University historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. wrote in 2009 that "African Americans [ ... ] are a racially mixed or mulatto people—deeply and overwhelmingly so" (see genetics). After the Emancipation Proclamation, Chinese American men married African-American women in high proportions to their total marriage numbers due to few Chinese American women being in the United States.[269] African slaves and their descendants have also had a history of cultural exchange and intermarriage with Native Americans,[270] although they did not necessarily retain social, cultural or linguistic ties to Native peoples.[271] There are also increasing intermarriages and offspring between non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics of any race, especially between Puerto Ricans and African Americans (American-born blacks).[272] According to author M.M. Drymon, many African Americans identify as having Scots-Irish ancestry.[273]

Racially mixed marriages have become increasingly accepted in the United States since the civil rights movement and up to the present day.[274] Approval in national opinion polls have risen from 36% in 1978, to 48% in 1991, 65% in 2002, 77% in 2007.[275] A Gallup poll conducted in 2013 found that 84% of whites and 96% of blacks approved of interracial marriage, and 87% overall.[276]

Terminology dispute

In her book The End of Blackness, as well as in an essay on the liberal website Salon,[277] author Debra Dickerson has argued that the term black should refer strictly to the descendants of Africans who were brought to America as slaves, and not to the sons and daughters of black immigrants who lack that ancestry. In her opinion, President Barack Obama, who is the son of a Kenyan immigrant, although technically black, is not African-American.[277][278] She makes the argument that grouping all people of African descent together regardless of their unique ancestral circumstances would inevitably deny the lingering effects of slavery within the American community of slave descendants, in addition to denying black immigrants recognition of their own unique ancestral backgrounds. "Lumping us all together", Dickerson wrote, "erases the significance of slavery and continuing racism while giving the appearance of progress".[277]

Similar viewpoints have been expressed by Stanley Crouch in a New York Daily News piece, Charles Steele, Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference[279] and African-American columnist David Ehrenstein of the Los Angeles Times, who accused white liberals of flocking to blacks who were Magic Negros, a term that refers to a black person with no past who simply appears to assist the mainstream white (as cultural protagonists/drivers) agenda.[280] Ehrenstein went on to say "He's there to assuage white 'guilt' they feel over the role of slavery and racial segregation in American history."[280]

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (who was famously mistaken for a "recent American immigrant" by French President Nicolas Sarkozy),[281] said "descendants of slaves did not get much of a head start, and I think you continue to see some of the effects of that." She has also rejected an immigrant designation for African Americans and instead prefers the term black or white to denote the African and European U.S. founding populations.[282]

Terms no longer in common use

Before the independence of the Thirteen Colonies until the abolition of slavery in 1865, an African-American slave was commonly known as a negro. Free negro was the legal status in the territory of an African-American person who was not a slave.[283] The term colored later also began to be used until the second quarter of the 20th century, when it was considered outmoded and generally gave way again to the exclusive use of negro. By the 1940s, the term was commonly capitalized (Negro); but by the mid-1960s, it was considered disparaging. By the end of the 20th century, negro had come to be considered inappropriate and was rarely used and perceived as a pejorative.[284][285] The term is rarely used by younger black people, but remained in use by many older African Americans who had grown up with the term, particularly in the southern U.S.[286] The term remains in use in some contexts, such as the United Negro College Fund, an American philanthropic organization that funds scholarships for black students and general scholarship funds for 39 private historically black colleges and universities.

There are many other deliberately insulting terms. Many were in common use (e.g., nigger), but had become unacceptable in normal discourse before the end of the 20th century. One exception is the use, among the black community, of the slur nigger rendered as nigga, representing the pronunciation of the word in African American English. This usage has been popularized by the rap and hip-hop music cultures and is used as part of an in-group lexicon and speech. It is not necessarily derogatory and, when used among black people, the word is often used to mean "homie" or "friend".[287]

Acceptance of intra-group usage of the word nigga is still debated, although it has established a foothold among younger generations. The NAACP denounces the use of both nigga and nigger.[288] Mixed-race usage of nigga is still considered taboo, particularly if the speaker is white. However, trends indicate that usage of the term in intragroup settings is increasing even among white youth due to the popularity of rap and hip hop culture.[289]

Notable people

See also

  • African-American art
  • African-American business history
  • African-American literature
  • African-American middle class
  • African-American music
  • African-American neighborhood
  • African-American upper class
  • Afrophobia
  • Civil rights movement (1865–1896)
  • Civil rights movement (1896–1954)
  • Military history of African Americans
  • Timeline of the civil rights movement


  • African Americans in France
  • African Americans in Ghana
  • African diaspora in the Americas


  • Index of articles related to African Americans
  • List of historically black colleges and universities
  • List of topics related to the African diaspora
  • List of populated places in the United States with African-American plurality populations
  • List of African-American neighborhoods


  1. ^ DNA studies of African-Americans have determined that they primarily descend from various Niger-Congo-speaking West/Central African ethnic groups: Akan (including the Ashanti and Fante subgroups), Balanta, Bamileke, Bamun, Bariba, Biafara, Bran, Chokwe, Dagomba, Edo, Ewe, Fon, Fula, Ga, Gurma, Hausa, Ibibio (including the Efik subgroup), Igbo, Igala, Ijaw (including the Kalabari subgroup), Itsekiri, Jola, Luchaze, Lunda, Kpele, Kru, Mahi, Mandinka (including the Mende subgroup), Naulu, Serer, Susu, Temne, Tikar, Wolof, Yaka, Yoruba, and Bantu peoples; specifically the Duala, Kongo, Luba, Mbundu (including the Ovimbundu subgroup) and Teke.[150]


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Further reading

  • Altman, Susan (2000). The Encyclopedia of African-American Heritage. ISBN 978-0-8160-4125-1. 
  • Finkelman, Paul, ed. Encyclopedia of African American History, 1619-1895: From the Colonial Period to the Age of Frederick Douglass (3 vol Oxford University Press, 2006).
  • Finkelman, Paul, ed. Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present: From the Age of Segregation to the Twenty-first Century (5 vol. Oxford University Press, USA, 2009).
  • John Hope Franklin, Alfred Moss, From Slavery to Freedom. A History of African Americans, McGraw-Hill Education 2001, standard work, first edition in 1947.
  • Gates, Henry L. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (eds), African American Lives, Oxford University Press, 2004 – more than 600 biographies.
  • Darlene Clark Hine, Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, Elsa Barkley Brown (eds), Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, Paperback Edition, Indiana University Press 2005.
  • Kranz, Rachel. African-American Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs' (Infobase Publishing, 2004).
  • Salzman, Jack, ed. Encyclopedia of Afro-American culture and history, New York, New York : Macmillan Library Reference USA, 1996.
  • Stewart, Earl L. (1998). African American Music: An Introduction. ISBN 978-0-02-860294-3. 
  • Southern, Eileen (1997). The Music of Black Americans: A History (3rd ed.). W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-97141-5. 

External links

Definitions from Wiktionary
Quotations from Wikiquote
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This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at African Americans. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.