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African Americans in United States History

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The history of African Americans in the United States did no start out in a way that many might have believed. While many of those that had come or arrived from European countries and had many successes in the new world, those that did not were facing hardships that involved who they were as a people, race, religion, or even the way they looked. African Americans in our own country did not start out with many privileges that they did. From the beginning of where most originated from, their early history, civil rights movements, as well as where they are today. Even though the United States has made a lot of progress, there is still much work to be done until we have reached full equality for all.

To begin, many African Americans are descended from Africans (and other ethnicities) who were originally brought from Africa to the United States to be forced to become slaves. Many were taken from their homelands, taken unwillingly (some were captured in African wars), and then transported through the slave trade. Their transportation to America was a harsh and horrible experience, with conditions that no human being should ever be in. Many families were separated and split up before being boarded onto the ships, cramped together into small spaces inside, with no space to even walk around, with many being pinned down to the floorboards unable to move. Many of the slaves, once they had reached the new world of the United States (if they had survived the journey), were forced into changing the way that they were; the people of America had European standards and beliefs, and therefore it caused many African Americans to lose their tribal differences and ended up forging a new history and culture that was a mixture of their common past, present, as well as their new European culture.

As slaves were eventually freed, they had become a competition for resources, that needed to be replaced in some way, shape, or form. With many plantations needing laborer’s, planation owners turned to lifetime slaves where they could not escape from their new lives. At this time, they had some rights (most famously that it was a crime to kill a slave), and in this process created something new for themselves: their own family system, religion and customs within the slave quarters with little interference from owners.

While many were in slavery, the United States version rested upon 5 central conditions: Slavery was for life, the status was inherited, slaves were considered mere property, slaves were denied rights, and coercion was used to maintain the system (Schaefer, 2015). With the status of slavery growing and developing, slave codes (laws that defined the low position of slaves in the United States) grew and developed as well. Codes such as marriage between slaves were not legally recognized, they could not have a last will and testament, they were not allowed to be taught to read and write by anyone, as well as not being allowed to argue with white Americans. Failure to adhere to the slave codes resulted in punishment, ranging from mutilation, branding, whipping, to imprisonment. This controlled all aspects of their way of life, with no exceptions, dehumanizing them and making them less than their white counterparts (Schaefer, 2015, p. 162). They slave bred deliberately to maximize the amount of offspring they could have. They family unit of slaves was just to sire offspring, not to protect or shelter those around them. This reinforced blackness as an inferior race by stigmatizing them, which has continued throughout our history into today, to the point that it took generations before white people even began to question it (Schaefer, 2015, p. 163).

By the beginning of the 1800s, the importation of slaves from Africa began to decline as it had become illegal in many of the country in doing so many African American began to live as a free person after so many years of being slaves. They had been able to gain many more privileges within the cities (in the north), while many in the south were farther behind. With many plantation owners needing workers, they became so dependent on them that it had driven America into two different sides. This led to many fighting for the rights of other African Americans during the American Revolutionary War, hoping to improve their view to their white counterparts as well as to get them to help fight for their freedom. Because of this, it had garnered a widespread sentiment that slavery was a social evil that needed to be abolished.

During the 1840s through the 1860s, abolitionists began to create a large amount of propaganda campaigns against slavery, emphasizing the vast amount of cruelties and atrocities that many African Americans had faced. Harriet Beecher Stowe, a popular female abolitionist, after publishing her novel and play called Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1856, paved the way to solidify the north in its opposition to slavery after depicting the life of a slave and the harsh cruelties that they faced every day of their life.

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There were challenges that had been brought to light, for example Dred Scott v. Sandford (Dred Scott v. Sandford, n.d.), where the decision of the Supreme court stated that even though he had lived in the free state of Illinois for so long (and he had tried to sue the court for his freedom because he had been there for so long), stated that African Americans were not American citizens and could never be citizens because slaves were property, not people, and by that ruling, they could not sue in court. This angered and shocked many in the community, including those that had fought for the rights of many. Before the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was put into place, the Emancipation Proclamation was put into place by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863 as an executive order that had changed the legal status of all slaves to be free. Eventually the supreme court ruling had been overturned with the Civil Rights Act of 1866, making African American full United States citizens, followed with 14th Amendment granting them full citizenship, and the 15th giving and extending the right to vote to African American males. Even though these changes helped to change the standing of African Americans in the United states, many people still didn’t believe in full equality of the races (including Abraham Lincoln himself).

This didn’t help to eliminate the prejudice and the discrimination that they still faced even though they were considered free. W.E.B. Du Bois, and many other civil rights activists, disagree that identity for African Americans was achieved after the Civil War, stating that even though they were considered “free”, they had so many other rules and regulations that they were to follow, prevented many of them from living with the same freedoms that many white citizens had (Du Bois, 1903). Jim Crow laws, disenfranchisement, and other challenges did not help with the improvement of equality between the races. Jim Crow laws affected many African Americans by imposing a mandated de jure segregation in all public facilities, which created a “separate, but equal” status for them. This led to African Americans’ treatment and accommodations that were usually inferior to those that were provided to White / Caucasian Americans, which systemized many economic, educational, as well as many social disadvantages. During the late 1800s to early 1900s, many southern states started adopting new changes to their constitutions, or began to adopt amendments that disenfranchised many African Americans as well as poor whites; many involved a combination of restrictions, such as poll taxes, residency requirements and literacy tests, which dramatically decreased black voter registration and turnout, with many cases to zero (Wikipedia, n.d.). Segregation for the first time in the United States became a standard legal process within the south. Jim Crow limited African American access to many public services, such as transportation, schools, restaurants, and many other public facilities.

African Americans also faced many other problems within society, especially of other human beings who increased violence and destruction against them. The Ku Klux Klan, or the KKK, was a secret vigilante organization that was dedicated to destroying, and terrorizing African American leaders, hiding behind masks and robes to hide their identity to carry out their plans of violence and damage in their wake. They used excessive amounts of terrorism, such as murder threats (as well as murder), arson, as well as intimidation. Many African Americans were consistently killed at a much higher rate in the South due to the tensions and rumors that occurred from their violence, with numbers reaching 40 to 50 African Americans dead for each 3 whites killed in mob violence. This era of Jim Crow created the cruelest wave of “racial” suppression the United States had ever experienced. Many were disenfranchised, killed, and even brutalized. According to newspaper records kept at the Tuskegee Institute, about 5,000 men, women, and children were murdered in documented lynching’s (Lynching, n.d.), yet many were not reported in newspapers (which means that there could have been amounted to many more). These lynching’s were used as a weapon to keep terror in the hearts of many Africans Americans, keeping them in a constant state of fear and anxiety so that they were not able to make a ruckus – to basically keep them in their place. Even if many wanted to keep themselves protected from such violence, many could not under Jim Crow laws, due to many African Americans being denied the right to even keep and bear arms.

Soon enough, many civil rights groups began to emerge out of the many setbacks that had arrived that many African Americans faced. With the help of W.E.B. Du Bois and 28 other prominent, African Americans joined together to created a manifesto that called for an end to racial discrimination, give full civil liberties for African Americans, and give all the recognition of brotherhood among all humans. This group soon became known as the Niagara Movement, as well with other concerned Whites joined with their leadership and formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to face legal challenges to segregations as well as talking with legislatures on behalf of those African Americans that could not. When many voices were not heard, the Great Migration had happened, where over five million African Americans decided to “vote with their feet” by moving from the south to northern and western cities in hopes of escaping the political discrimination and hatred, violence, finding better jobs, voting, and to hopefully have a better equality and education for their children (Wikipedia, n.d.).

After the Supreme Court made its final decision (that ultimately changed a lot) in it’s case with Brown v. Board of Education (1954) of Topeka, stating that racial segregation in public schools were considered unconstitutional, it started to affect other public spaces that began to change other places. This started the Civil Rights movements, many being led by Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcom X, with peaceful protests, boycotts, voter registration campaigns, and other uses of nonviolent direct action to bring up the importance of the issues involving equal access and voting rights of African Americans. Since the hard work of those during that time, post-civil rights era, there have been many substantial strides that led to many Africans Americans being in places of power in politics (ex. Barack Obama, 44th U.S. President), and even in the media (Oprah Winfrey). But even with these strides that have been made within our society today, there is still a lot that is still unequal to African Americans today.

With reference to Pew Research Center, on average African Americans are “at least twice as likely as whites to be poor or to be unemployed” (Pew Research Center, 2016), as well how white households are about 13 times as wealthy as black households (Pew Research Center, 2016). There is still information stating that education and social well-being and family structures are much lower than their white counterparts. The gap of household incomes is still persistently lagging. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (when they started to collect data in the 1960s), the median household income for African Americans households was $43,300, while white households were around $71,300 (Pew Research Center, 2016). There is even a statistic from 2014 that 71% of births to African American women occurred outside of marriage, while it is 29% to white women, which has been a longstanding statistic, many to be believe because of educational differences. Many African American Children live with only a single parent, at 54% (compared to 19% of white families), while marriage has declined largely due to many never getting married, or due to divorce after 10 years. Many African Americans (71%) have stated they still experience discrimination or have been treated unfairly due to their race/ethnicity, with 11% stating that it happens on a regular basis. They are usually treated with suspicion from others, or others question their intelligence about matters, either with the general public or with those with police. Meanwhile, police brutality with African Americans have grown more prominent in society due to technology being able to document it, especially in cases of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Philando Castile (Shooting of Philando Castile, n.d.). Many have tried to express their support of the Black Lives Matter movement, with its efforts to bring about racial equality, yet most of its support is from the African American community itself (On Views of Race and Inequality, Blacks and Whites Are Worlds Apart, 2017). Many still are facing discrimination with housing due to residential segregation, as well as redlining (Quick & Kahlenberg, 2019). It is something that is still being dealt with on a daily basis, even after many policies have been changed and/or disregarded, especially with concentrated poverty, and education.

With all this information that has been presented throughout our own history, it is surprising to say how much there is still to do be done. It is something that cannot be changed others cannot (or will not) be advocates and advocate for those rights of others. Sociology has really affected those around us in the sense that many of us experience these issues, or see these issues every day of our lives, but to some of us we disregard it because either it isn’t important to us, or that it is because we see it so often. With the many sociological perspective that are prominent within sociology (Functionalist perspective, conflict perspective, and symbolic perspective) that can give explanation to those around us. With the functionalist perspective within society, it is stated as that society is a system of interconnected parts that work together in harmony to maintain a state of balance and social equilibrium for the whole (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht, 2007). With this kind of description, it feels as if there must be that kind of split for change to be able to happen, and that it would something that could give others that initiative to make that change for those around them. If there is some kind of relationship present, it can more likely be able to influence the other (and vice versa), creating a sense of interconnectedness with both social stability as well as disfunctionality to it (especially with the issues of physical violence, fear, and loss of others). There is also the aspect of Conflict perspective as it “views society as composed of different groups and interest competing for power and resources” (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht, 2007). It is something that has been present within our history since the beginning. With the beginning of slavery and bring them in as indentured servants, to treating them as property and not as human beings, so that they could stay in power. Many slave owners would be able to use them for free labor so that they could get more money out of their crops, which in turn would give them more power within society. Our society has sadly always benefitted white or Caucasian (usually males) more than those of other races. African Americans (as well as others) have the lower end of the stick, being given less opportunities to grow and expand, especially with restrictions within politics, police, education, housing, and even to the normal everyday interactions with others. People want to be able to progress, but sometimes the chance to have power (in some way), can override that ability to work with others and give everyone a standing, and equal chance. Yet even with symbolic interactionism, we are shaped by social interaction, which in turn could be how we interact with others every day, how we see others on the media, and how human behavior in influenced, created, and even maintained through interaction with others (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht, 2007). Some of society might not have great interactions with African Americans, while others have had the greatest. Sometimes, the media can play into this, with the evidence of videos, pictures, etc. that show others that could possibly start to solidify who is good and who is bad. It is something that as a society that we need to emphasize and work towards to change the issues within our society, as much as we can through institution, social, and many other networks one step at a time.


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  2. Dred Scott v. Sandford. (n.d.). Retrieved from Oyez:
  3. Du Bois, W. (1903). The Souls of Black Folk. Retrieved from National Humanities Center:
  4. Lynching. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  5. Mooney, Knox, & Schacht. (2007). The Three Main Sociological Perspective. Understanding Social Problems, 5th Edition.
  6. On Views of Race and Inequality, Blacks and Whites Are Worlds Apart. (2017, July 27). Retrieved from Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project:
  7. Pew Research Center. (2016, July 25). Demographic Trends and Economic Well-being. Retrieved from Pew Research Center’s Social and Demographic Trends Project:
  8. Quick, K., & Kahlenberg, R. D. (2019, June 25). Attacking the Black–White Opportunity Gap That Comes from Residential Segregation. Retrieved from The Century Foundation:
  9. Schaefer, R. (2015). Racial and Ethnic Groups 15th Ed. Pearson.
  10. Shooting of Philando Castile. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia:
  11. Wikipedia. (n.d.). African American History. Retrieved from Wikipedia:

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African Americans in United States History. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from
“African Americans in United States History.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2022,
African Americans in United States History. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 8 Dec. 2022].
African Americans in United States History [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 12 [cited 2022 Dec 8]. Available from:
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