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African Americans
Top left: W. E. B. Du Bois; Top center: Martin Luther King, Jr.; Top right: Edward Brooke; Bottom left: Malcolm X; Bottom center: Rosa Parks; Bottom right: Sojourner Truth
W. E. B. Du Bois • Martin Luther King, Jr. • Edward Brooke
Malcolm X • Rosa Parks • Sojourner Truth
Total population
46,936,733 (2020)[1]
14.2% of the total U.S. population (2020)[1]
41,104,200 (2020) (one race)[1]
12.4% of the total U.S. population (2020)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Predominantly American English
Protestantism (chiefly Baptist, Pentecostal and Methodist); Roman Catholicism; Islam; minorities of Judaism and Buddhism

African-Americans, or Black Americans, are citizens of the United States whose ancestors, were mostly indigenous to Sub-Saharan Africa. It is estimated that a significant number of African-Americans have European or Native American heritage. Most African-Americans are the descendants of captive Africans who were enslaved within the boundaries of the present United States, although some are—or are descended from—voluntary immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, and South America.

Before the American Civil War, 3.5 million African-Americans lived as slaves, mostly in Southern United States, and another 500,000 lived as free persons across 33 states that comprised the nation. In January, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring freedom for slaves in those states that were still in a state of rebellion, having seceded from the Union; border states and those subdued by Union forces were not at that time affected by the Proclamation. Laws at the state and local levels would be put in place in the decades after the end of the bloody and devastating civil war that saw the plantation system collapse. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, racially discriminatory laws and racial violence aimed at African-Americans dramatically increased, as the nation rebuilt based on industrialization after the war. The desperate conditions of life in the South for whites, new immigrants, and especially for former slaves gave rise to the Great Migration of the early twentieth century, with an estimated million Blacks moving from the rural South to northern cities. Between 1954 and 1968, the Civil Rights Movement sought to abolish racial discrimination against African-Americans, particularly in the South.

African-Americans have contributed much to American life and culture in the areas of literature, art, agricultural skills, foods, clothing styles, music, language, social, sports and technological innovation. Today, African-American popular music and dance are some of the most pervasive cultural influences in the United States and other nations.

Since the Civil Rights Movement, African-Americans have improved their social-economic standing significantly and in recent decades the African-American middle class has grown rapidly. However, in African-American communities, chronic poverty, marital stress, out-of-wedlock births, health problems, low educational attainment, and high crime rates remain. African-American families are smaller and less stable than in the past, exacerbated by the increase in single-parent families and a high rate of incarceration and violent deaths of young African-American males.

For many, the term "African-American" is more than representative of a people's cultural and historical roots; it expresses a sense of African pride, kinship, and solidarity with others of the African diaspora.


Baton Rouge, Louisiana, April 2, 1863, a slave named Peter

African-Americans are primarily descended from slaves sold to British North America (which later became Canada and the United States) during the Atlantic slave trade. By 1860, there were 3.5 million enslaved Africans in the Southern United States, and another 500,000 free living across the country. African slaves were intentionally kept in a state of illiteracy, and their status was justified on the grounds of their supposed racial inferiority. Families were often broken up as slave-owners sold children away from parents, husbands away from wives, etc. Although there were efforts to abolish the institution, slavery was crucial to the American southern plantation economy and continued to exist until the end of the American Civil War.

Frederick Douglass was a leading exponent of abolitionism.

In 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation declared all slaves those states that were still in a state of rebellion, that had seceded from the Union to be free. Advancing Union troops enforced the proclamation, with Texas being the last state to be emancipated in 1865.

While the post-war Reconstruction era was initially a time of progress for African-Americans, with some becoming sharecroppers in the agricultural south. By the late 1890s, Southern states had enacted Jim Crow laws to enforce racial segregation and disenfranchisement. Most African-Americans followed the Jim Crow laws and assumed a posture of humility and servility to prevent becoming victims of racially motivated violence. Meanwhile, the emerging middle-class African-Americans were creating their own schools, churches, banks, social clubs, and other businesses.

In the last decade of the nineteenth century in the United States, racially discriminatory laws and racial violence aimed at African-Americans began to increase. Laws requiring racial segregation were upheld by the United States Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. Other forms of discrimination included voter suppression or disenfranchisement in the southern states, denial of economic opportunity or resources nationwide, laws prohibiting interracial marriage, private acts of violence, and mass racial violence aimed at African-Americans unhindered by government authorities.

W.E.B. Du Bois was a prominent intellectual leader and civil rights activist in the early twentieth century

The desperate conditions of African-Americans in the South that sparked the Great Migration of the early twentieth century, combined with a growing African-American intellectual and cultural elite in the Northern United States, led to a movement to fight violence and discrimination against African Americans. Like abolitionism before it, the Civil Rights Movement crossed racial lines. Between 1954 and 1968, it aimed at abolishing public and private acts of racial discrimination against African-Americans, particularly in the southern United States, but also in northern cities with regard to discrimination in housing, employment, labor unions, and de facto discrimination in public schools. The August 28, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—and the conditions which brought it into being—is credited with putting pressure on President John F. Kennedy and later Lyndon B. Johnson and culminated in the passage the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that banned discrimination in public accommodations, employment, and labor unions.

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 racial dignity, economic and political self-sufficiency, and freedom from White authority.

Impact on the United States

George Washington Carver

From their earliest presence in North America, African-Americans have contributed literature, art, agricultural skills, foods, clothing styles, music, language, social, and technological innovation to American culture.

The cultivation and use of many agricultural products in the U.S., such as yams, peanuts, rice, okra, sorghum, grits, watermelon, indigo dyes, and cotton, can be traced to African sources and early African-American influences. Two notable examples are biologist George Washington Carver, who created 300 products from peanuts, 118 products from sweet potatoes, and 75 from pecans; and George Crum, who invented the potato chip in 1853.

African-American inventors have created many widely used devices in the world and have contributed to international innovation. Most slave inventors were nameless, such as the slave owned by the Confederate President Jefferson Davis who designed the ship propeller used by the entire Confederate navy. However, following the Civil War, the growth of industry in the United States was tremendous and much of this was made possible with inventions by ethnic minorities. 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, and Elijah McCoy, who invented automatic lubrication devices for steam engines. Granville Woods had 35 patents to improve electric-railway systems, including the first system to allow moving trains to communicate. He even sued Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison for stealing his patents and won both cases. Garrett Morgan developed the first automatic traffic signal and gas mask, and Norbert Rillieux, who created the technique for converting sugar-cane juice into white sugar crystals. Moreover, Rillieux was so brilliant that in 1854 he left Louisiana and went to France where he spent 10 years working with the Champollions deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics from the Rosetta Stone.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (left) and Malcolm X (right) before press conference on March 26, 1964.

Civil rights and "Black Power" advocates including Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, Rosa Parks, Malcomb X, and Jesse Jackson dramatically changed the American social landscape, successfully challenging the institution of racial segregation and other discrimination in American schools, employment, labor unions, housing, marriage laws and other areas.

African-American music is one of the most pervasive 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, jazz, and gospel music. African-American-derived musical forms have also influenced and been incorporated into virtually every other popular musical genre in the world, including country and techno.

African-American genres are the most important ethnic-vernacular tradition in America, in that they have developed independent of African traditions from which they arose more so than any other immigrant group, including Europeans; make up the broadest and longest lasting range of styles in America; and have, historically, been more influential, inter-culturally, geographically, and economically, than other American vernacular traditions.

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 impact 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.

James Baldwin

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

Lewis Latimer created an inexpensive cotton-thread filament, which made electric-light bulbs practical because Edison's original light bulb only burned for a few minutes. More recent inventors include McKinley Jones, who invented the movable refrigeration unit for food transport in trucks and trains and Lloyd Quarterman who with six other Black scientists, worked on the creation of the atomic bomb (code named the Manhattan Project.) Quarterman also helped develop the first nuclear reactor, which was used in the atomically powered submarine, the Nautilus.

A few other notable examples include the first successful open heart surgery, performed by Dr. Daniel Hale Williams; the conceptualization and establishment of blood banks around the world by Dr. Charles Drew; and the air conditioner, patented by Frederick M. Jones. Dr. Mark Dean holds three of the original nine patents on the computer on which all PCs are based.

Jack Johnson was the first African-American to win the heavyweight championship in boxing.

More current contributors include Otis Bodkin, who invented an electrical device used in all guided missiles and all IBM computers, and Colonel Frederick Gregory, who was not only the first Black astronaut pilot, but also redesigned the cockpits for three space shuttles. Gregory was also on the team that pioneered the microwave-instrumentation landing system.

Over the years, African-Americans have also made significant contributions to the nation's sports. Boxing was the first sport to accept Blacks. However, heavyweight champ Jack Johnson, who held the title from 1908 to 1915, was the object of widespread hatred, and it was not until the era of Joe Louis, who held it from 1937 to 1949, that a Black champion would finally be welcomed by the majority of Whites. The list of African-American boxing champions since then is a very long one. Since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in professional baseball in 1947, blacks such as Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Reggie Jackson, and Willie Mays have set records in a sport once exclusively the domain of Whites. Likewise, pro football has produced numerous Hall-of-Fame stars (Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson, Reggie White) and have made the game more competitive. In pro basketball, African-American players have dominated the ranks in recent years, and great Black players like Michael Jordan, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Karl Malone have set records in their time. In tennis, Arthur Ashe, Venus and Serena Williams have proved competitive at the highest ranks of professional tennis. In pro golf, Tiger Woods is considered by some to be the greatest player in the history of the game. In the Olympics, Gold Medal champions like Jessie Owens, Rafer Johnson, and Carl Lewis have proudly represented their country.


African Americans as 12.3 percent of the population, 2000.

In 1790, when the first census was taken, slaves and free Negroes numbered about 760,000—-about 19.3 percent of the population. y 1860, at the start of the American Civil War, the African American population had increased to 4.4 million, but the percentage rate dropped to 14 percent of the overall population of the country. The vast majority were slaves, with almost ten percent (488,000) counted as "freemen." By 1900, the Black population had doubled and reached 8.8 million.

In 1910, about 90 percent of African-Americans lived in the South, but 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 six million Black people moved north. But in the 1970s and 1980s, that trend reversed, with more African-Americans moving south to the Sunbelt than leaving it.

The following table gives the African-American population in the United States over time, based on United States Census figures. [2]

Year Number % of total population Slaves percent in slavery
1790 757,208 19.3% (highest) 697,681 92 percent
1800 1,002,037 18.9% 893,602 89 percent
1810 1,377,808 19.0% 1,191,362 86 percent
1820 1,771,656 18.4% 1,538,022 87 percent
1830 2,328,642 18.1% 2,009,043 86 percent
1840 2,873,648 16.8% 2,487,355 87 percent
1850 3,638,808 15.7% 3,204,287 88 percent
1860 4,441,830 14.1% 3,953,731 89 percent
1870 4,880,009 12.7% - -
1880 6,580,793 13.1% - -
1890 7,488,788 11.9% - -
1900 8,833,994 11.6% - -
1910 9,827,763 10.7% - -
1920 10.5 million 9.9% - -
1930 11.9 million 9.7% (lowest) - -
1940 12.9 million 9.8% - -
1950 15.0 million 10.0% - -
1960 18.9 million 10.5% - -
1970 22.6 million 11.1% - -
1980 26.5 million 11.7% - -
1990 30.0 million 12.1% - -
2000 34.6 million 12.3% - -
2010 38.9 million 12.6% - -
2020 46.9 million 14.2% - -

By 1990, the African-American population reached about 30 million and represented 12 percent of the United States population, roughly the same proportion as in 1900. African-Americans were once the largest minority in the United States, but are now second, behind Hispanics or Latinos of any race. At the time of the 2000 Census, 54.8 percent of African-Americans lived in the South. In that year, 17.6 percent of African-Americans lived in the Northeast and 18.7 percent in the Midwest, while only 8.9 percent 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, behind only New York, Texas, Georgia, and Florida.

Almost 58 percent of African-Americans lived in metropolitan areas in 2000. With over two million Black residents, New York City had the largest Black urban population in the United States in 2000, overall the city has a 28 percent Black population. Chicago has the second largest Black population, with almost 1.6 million African-Americans in its metropolitan area, representing about 18 percent of the total metropolitan population.

The nation's most affluent county with an African-American majority is Prince George's County, Maryland. Other affluent predominantly African-American counties include Dekalb County in Georgia, and Charles City County in Virginia. 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.

Contemporary issues

African-Americans have improved their social-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 has been gained by African-Americans in the post-civil rights era. Nevertheless, due in part to the legacy of slavery, racism, and discrimination, African-Americans as a group remain at a pronounced economic, educational, and social disadvantage in many areas relative to Whites. Persistent social, economic, and political issues for many African-Americans include inadequate health-care access and delivery; institutional racism and discrimination in housing, education, policing, criminal justice and employment; and crime, poverty, and substance abuse.

One of the most serious and long-standing issues within African-American communities is poverty. Poverty itself is a hardship as it is related to marital stress and dissolution, health problems, low educational attainment, deficits in psychological functioning, and crime.

Economic status

Oprah Winfrey, the wealthiest African-American of the twentieth century.

Economically, Blacks have benefited from the advances made during the Civil Rights era. The racial disparity in poverty rates has narrowed. The Black middle class has grown substantially. In 2000, 47 percent of African-Americans owned their homes. The poverty rate among African-Americans has dropped from 26.5 percent in 1998 to 24.7 percent in 2004.

However, African-Americans are still underrepresented in government and employment. In 1999, the median income of African-American families was $33,255 compared to $53,356 for Whites. 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 September 2004 unemployment rate for Blacks was 10.3 percent, while their White counterparts were unemployed at the rate of 4.7 percent.

In 2004, African-American workers had the second-highest median earnings of American minority groups after Asian-Americans, and African-Americans had the highest level of male-female income parity of all ethnic groups in the United States. Also, among American minority groups, only Asian-Americans were more likely to hold white collar occupations (management, professional, and related fields), and African-Americans were no more or less likely than Whites to work in the service industry. In 2001, over half of African-American households of married couples earned $50,000 or more. 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. The income gap between Black and White families is also significant. In 2005, employed Blacks earned only 65 percent of the wages of Whites in comparable jobs, down from 82 percent in 1975.

According to Forbes magazine's "wealthiest American" lists, a net worth of $800 million in the year 2000 made Oprah Winfrey the richest African-American of the twentieth century, in sharp contrast to the twentieth century's richest white American Bill Gates, whose net-worth briefly hit $100 billion in 1999 However, in Forbes' list of 2006, Gates' net worth decreased to $53 billion, while Winfrey's net worth increased to $1.5 billion, making her the richest Black person on the planet, and the first African-American to make Business Week's 50 greatest philanthropists list. BET founder Bob Johnson, was also listed as a billionaire prior to an expensive divorce and has recently regained his fortune through a series of real-estate investments. Forbes estimates his net worth at $1.1 billion, solidifying him as the only male billionaire of predominantly African decent.


In African-American families, households and networks are smaller and less stable than in the past. One factor that has influenced these changes is single parenthood, which is a result of a number of complex and interrelated factors. Although rates of births to unwed mothers among both Blacks and Whites have risen since the 1950s, the rate of such births among African-Americans is three times the rate of Whites. Although these trends have affected all families, African-American children are more likely than children of other races to live with a single mother and experience family disruptions.

African-Americans historically have valued the institution of marriage and have favored the traditional two-parent family. In 1890, 80 percent of African-American families were headed by two parents, even though many had started life in forced family separation under slavery. One hundred years later, the percentage of married-couple, African-American families had dropped to 39 percent. Most of the decline in two-parent families has occurred since 1980. In 1994, 57 percent of all African-American children in the United States lived in a single-parent family headed by a woman.

Out-of-wedlock births are on the rise. Like the general population, some segments of the African-American population more readily accept premarital sex and out of wedlock births. Under such conditions, economic considerations seem to have a greater influence on the decision to marry.

Poor and unemployed African-American families have increased significantly over recent years. Because parents (usually fathers) leave to form other families, because single parents must form independent households, and because of rapid technological changes, millions of unskilled laborers have fallen into the ranks of the poor and unemployed. Persistently poor families (defined as having family incomes below the poverty line during at least eight years in a 10-year period) in the United States tend to be headed by women, and of these families, 31 percent are headed by African-American women.

An African-American child's high probability of growing up without a father is affected by factors uniquely associated with race. Among poor minority groups, children are unquestionable hurt by the combined effects of parental unemployment, low income, institutionalization, and death at an early age. Their parents are more likely than any other group to suffer discrimination by race, gender, and class in work, housing, education, and criminal-justice practices.

Care-giving grandparents are playing an increasing role in African-American families. About 12 percent of African-American children live in homes with their grandmothers, compared to six percent of Hispanic, and four percent of White children. Estimates indicate that in some cities with large, low-income African-American populations, between 30 percent and 70 percent of all children are living with grandparents.


By 2003, gender had replaced race as the primary factor in life expectancy in the United States, with African-American females expected to live longer than White males born in that year. In the same year, the gap in life expectancy between American Whites (78.0) and Blacks (72.8) had decreased to 5.2 years, reflecting a long-term trend of this phenomenon. The current life expectancy of African-Americans as a group is comparable to those of other groups who live in countries with a high human-development index.

African-Americans, who as a group are disproportionately poor and unemployed, are more often uninsured than non-Hispanic Whites or Asians. For a great many African-Americans, healthcare delivery is limited or nonexistent. And when they receive healthcare, they are more likely than others in the general population to receive substandard, even injurious medical care. African-Americans have a higher prevalence of some chronic health conditions, and a higher rate of out-of-wedlock births relative to the general population. Fifty-six percent of African-American children are born into families where the mother is not married to the biological father. In 1998, single women headed 54 percent of African-American households.

Nationwide, African-Americans are the racial group most affected by HIV and AIDS, according to the U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has been estimated that 184,991 adult and adolescent HIV infections were diagnosed during 2001-2005. More than 51 percent of all cases reported occurred among Blacks, much higher than any other race. Between the ages of 25-44, 62 percent were African-Americans. There are rates of HIV/AIDS among Blacks in some American cities that are as high as in some countries in Africa. New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC are among those with highest rates. In Washington, DC, reports the New York Times in November of 2007: "Although black residents account for 57 percent of the city’s population of 500,000 or so, they account for 81 percent of new reports of H.I.V. cases and about 86 percent of people with AIDS."[3]

The justice system

Both property crime and violent crime in the United States are concentrated in poor, urban areas. And because African-Americans are disproportionately poor and heavily concentrated in the nation's inner cities, Black communities have a notably higher crime rate than that of other communities. Although the incidence of violent crime is dropping among Blacks, more than one million African American men are currently in jail or prison. Professional street gangs and criminal networks are found among African-Americans in many American cities. Homicide remains the leading cause of death among Black men between the ages of 15 and 34.

Until recently, many local law enforcement and justice agencies had little diversity within their organizations. Many Blacks view the criminal justice system as a bureaucracy which oppresses African-Americans, and especially poor African-Americans, who are unable to afford the competent legal assistance. Since the 1960s however, more African-Americans have been hired by law-enforcement agencies due to lawsuits such as Penn/Stump v City and due to pressure from groups opposing disproportionately White police departments. However, the hiring of Black officers however has not stopped complaints of police brutality against African Americans.

In 1995, one-third of African-American men between the ages of 20 and 29 were under some form of criminal justice control (in prison, on parole or probation). Some statistics report that African Americans are at least seven times more likely to murder, be murdered and/or incarcerated than White Americans. From 1976 until 2004, despite their comprising approximately 12 percent of the population, African-Americans comprised the majority (52 percent) of criminal offenders arrested and convicted of homicide (murder and manslaughter), and a large proportion (46.9 percent) of homicide victims.

Political legacy

Barack Obama, President of the United States 2009-2017.

The gains made by African-Americans in the civil rights and Black Power movements not only obtained certain rights for African-Americans, but changed American society in far-reaching and fundamentally important ways. Prior to the 1950s, Americans were still living in the shadow of slavery and Jim Crow, when, 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."

The Civil Rights Movement marked a sea-change in American social, political, economic, and civic life. It brought with it boycotts, sit-ins, demonstrations, court battles, bombings, and other violence; prompted worldwide media coverage and intense public debate; forged enduring civic, economic, and religious alliances; disrupted and realigned the nation's two major political parties; and over time, has changed in fundamental ways the manner in which Blacks and Whites interact with and relate to one another. Ultimately, the movement resulted in the removal of codified, de jure racial segregation and discrimination from American life and law and heavily influenced the civil and social liberties that many Americans of varied cultural backgrounds expect for themselves.

Today, 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. African-Americans collectively attain higher levels of education than immigrants to the United States.

The term "African-American"

Jesse Jackson - an African-American politician, professional, civil rights activist, and Baptist minister.

The term "African-American" carries important political overtones. Earlier, terms used to identify Americans of African ancestry were conferred upon the group by Americans of European ancestry and were included in the wording of various laws and legal decisions which became tools of White supremacy and oppression. There developed among Blacks in America a growing desire for a term of their own choosing.

With the political consciousness that emerged from the political and social ferment of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the term "Negro" fell into disfavor among many Blacks. Although the terms "Negro" and "Negra" are Spanish words meaning "black," the term "Negro" had taken on a moderate, accommodationist connotation. In this period, a growing number of Blacks in the U.S., particularly African-American youth, celebrated their Blackness and their historical and cultural ties with the African continent. The Black Power movement defiantly embraced "Black" as a group identifier—a term they themselves had repudiated only two decades earlier saying black was a term in English associated with things negative and undesirable—but then proclaiming, "Black is beautiful."

In this same period, a smaller number favored "Afro-American." In the 1980s, the term "African-American" was adopted by major media outlets, in part as a result of a campaign by the Reverend Jesse Jackson supporting the term. Many Blacks in America expressed a preference for the term since it was formed in the same way as the names for other ethnic groups such as Irish-American or Chinese-American. 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 slavery, most African-Americans are unable to trace their ancestry to a specific African nation; hence, the entire continent serves as a geographic marker.

For many, "African-American" is more than a name expressive of cultural and historical roots. The term expresses African pride and a sense of kinship and solidarity with others of the African diaspora—an embracing of the notion of pan-Africanism earlier enunciated by prominent African thinkers Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Dubois, as well as Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and, later, George Padmore.

The term can also be interpreted to include non-Black immigrants from Africa to the United States, such as White South Africans or Arab Africans, although these groups generally do not refer to themselves as African-American, nor generally thought of as such in the United States. For example, the White, blond actress Charlize Theron, who was born in South Africa to Afrikaner parents, is not referred to as African-American, unlike Senator Barack Obama, who has only one African parent. Forensic anthropologist Clea Koff, who also has one African parent, is in the same category as Obama, but is often called "racially mixed," a slightly vaguer term.

Further, recent American immigrants from Africa usually refer to themselves by the name of their country of origin. For example, an individual from Nigeria would be called a "Nigerian-American," as opposed to "African-American."

Nevertheless, many prefer the term "African-American" because the national origin of the majority of Black Americans is untraceable and thus the continent of Africa serves as an indicator of geographic origin and a descriptive term.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Race and Ethnicity in the United States: 2020 U.S. Census US Census Bureau. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
  2. Numbers from years 1920 to 2000 are based on United States Census figures as given by the Time Almanac of 2005. Controversy has surrounded the "accurate" population count of African-Americans for decades. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) claims the population was under-counted intentionally to minimize the significance of the Black population in order to reduce their political power base.
  3. Ian Urbina, Report Finds Washington Has Highest AIDS Infection Rate Among U.S. Cities The New York Times, November 27, 2007. Retrieved May 29, 2021.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Hine, Darlene, William C. Hine, and Stanley Harold. The African American Odyssey, Vol. I. Prentice Hall, 2005. ISBN 978-0131922150
  • Hine, Darlene, William C. Hine, and Stanley Harold. The African American Odyssey, Vol. II. Prentice Hall, 2007. ISBN 978-0136149804
  • McKay, Nellie Y., and Henry Louis Gates, (eds.) The Norton Anthology of African-American Literature. W.W. Norton, 2003. ISBN 978-0393977783
  • Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans: A History. W. W. Norton & Company, 1997. ISBN 0393971414

External links

All links retrieved June 16, 2023.


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