Black History

Black History

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Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. From Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad to the Montgomery Bus Boycott to Selma to Montgomery March to the Black Lives Matter movement, Black leaders, artists and writers have helped shaped the character and identity of a nation.

The Unsung African American Scientists of the Manhattan Project

During the height of World War II between 1942 and 1945, the U.S. government’s top-secret program to build an atomic bomb, code-named the Manhattan Project, cumulatively employed some 600,000 people, including scientists, technicians, janitors, engineers, chemists, maids and day more

What Role Did Airplanes Play in the Tulsa Race Massacre?

What role did airplanes play in the deadly Tulsa race massacre of 1921? Just after Memorial Day that year, a white mob destroyed 35 city blocks of the Greenwood District, a community in Tulsa, Oklahoma known as the “Black Wall Street.” Prompted by an allegation that a Black man more

Niagara Movement

In 1905, a group of prominent Black intellectuals led by W.E.B. Du Bois met in Erie, Ontario, near Niagara Falls, to form an organization calling for civil and political rights for African Americans. With its comparatively aggressive approach to combating racial discrimination more

Black History: Timeline of the Post-Civil Rights Era

From the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., to the 2008 election of Barack Obama, to widespread global protests declaring Black Lives Matter in 2020, African American history in the United States has been filled with both triumph and strife. Here's a look at some of more

Reconstruction: A Timeline of the Post-Civil War Era

Between 1863 and 1877, the U.S. government undertook the task of integrating nearly four million formerly enslaved people into society after the Civil War bitterly divided the country over the issue of slavery. A white slaveholding south that had built its economy and culture on more

Black Women Who Have Run for President

When Kamala Harris entered the 2020 U.S. presidential race, she chose campaign materials with a sleek typeface and red-and-yellow color scheme that mirrored those of the late politician Shirley Chisholm, who made history in 1972 after becoming the first Black woman to compete for more

7 Boundary-Breaking Black TV Shows

African Americans have appeared on television as long as the medium has been around. In fact, the first Black person on TV may have been Broadway star Ethel Waters, who hosted a one-off variety show on NBC on June 14, 1939, when television was still being developed. The medium more

How Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition Championed Diversity

In November 1983, Rev. Jesse Jackson announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, becoming only the second Black presidential candidate (after Shirley Chisholm in 1972) to compete at the national level. In doing so, he claimed to be fighting for the rights more

Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)

Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's protest strategies of nonviolence and civil disobedience, in 1942 a group of Black and white students in Chicago founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), helping to launch one of America’s most important civil rights movements. Taking a more

Shirley Chisholm: Facts About Her Trailblazing Career

Shirley Chisholm is widely known for her history-making turn in 1972 when she became the first African American from a major political party to run for president and the first Democratic woman of any race to do so. But Chisholm’s presidential bid was far from Chisholm's only more

Activism That Led to the First Black Marines

It was just a month since the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. U.S. troops were arriving in Europe to join Allied forces in fighting Adolf Hitler’s invasions. The United States needed its people to help win World War II. And yet, in January 1942, the highest-ranking officer in more

6 Black Heroes of the Civil War

As America’s Civil War raged, with the enslavement of millions of people hanging in the balance, African Americans didn’t just sit on the sidelines. Whether enslaved, escaped or born free, many sought to actively affect the outcome. From fighting on bloody battlefields to more

6 Renowned Tuskegee Airmen

As the first Black aviators to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps, the Tuskegee Airmen broke through a massive segregation barrier in the American military. Their success and heroism during World War II, fighting Germans in the skies over Europe, shattered pervasive stereotypes more

President Truman ends discrimination in the military

President Harry S. Truman signs Executive Order 9981—ending discrimination in the military—on July 26, 1948. Truman’s order ended a long-standing practice of segregating Black soldiers and relegating them to more menial jobs. African Americans had been serving in the United more

Members of the Niagara Movement meet for the first time

Niagara Movement members begin meeting on the Canadian side of the Niagara Falls. This all-African American group of scholars, lawyers and businessmen came together for three days to create what would soon become a powerful post-slavery Black rights organization. Although it only more

A Survivor of the Last Slave Ship Lived Until 1940

The last known survivor of the last U.S. slave ship died in 1940—75 years after the abolition of slavery. Her name was Matilda McCrear. When she first arrived in Alabama in 1860, she was only two years old. By the time she died, Matilda had lived through the Civil War, more

7 Black Heroes of the American Revolution

During the American Revolution, thousands of Black Americans jumped into the war, on both sides of the conflict. But unlike their white counterparts, they weren’t just fighting for independence—or to maintain British control. In a time when the vast majority of African Americans more

8 Things We Know About Crispus Attucks

On the evening of March 5, 1770, British troops fired into a crowd of angry American colonists in Boston who had taunted and violently harassed them. Five colonists were killed. The event, which became known as the Boston Massacre, helped fuel the outrage against British rule—and more

The importance of black history and why it should be celebrated beyond February

Carter G. Woodson started the tradition of celebrating black history.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

In 1925, Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson, known as the "Father of Black History," had a bold idea.

That year, he announced "Negro History Week" -- a celebration of a people that many in this country at the time believed had no place in history.

The response to the event, first celebrated in February 1926, a month that included the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, was overwhelming -- as educators, scholars and philanthropists stepped forward to endorse the effort. Fifty years later, coinciding with nation's bicentennial and in the wake of the civil rights movement, the celebration was expanded to a month after President Gerald R. Ford decreed a national observance.

Since Woodson's death in 1950, the organization that he founded, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History -- now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) -- has fought to keep his legacy alive.

Now, nearly 105 years after its founding, one of the organization's biggest challenges is keeping people engaged beyond February.

"One cannot discuss the African American freedom struggle or the civil rights movement without paying attention to white allies who were working alongside black people," Lionel Kimble, vice president for programs at ASALH, told ABC News. "One of the biggest issues we see, especially for those non-black folks, is that the emphasis on black history is divisive and some mistakenly label it 'racist.'"

"But, if we continue to emphasize that all Americans worked towards these common goals, then everyone can see themselves as part of the larger mission."

ASALH, which holds events to promote and celebrate black history all throughout the year, said the organization has made major gains toward promoting African American history to a wider audience, but there are still too many who only recognize black history during the month of February and ignore it for the rest of the year.

"It's disappointing," Kimble said. "But we have to really build on the study of black history and get people to understand the important roles of black folks in the larger narrative of the United States."

Noelle Trent, director of interpretation, collections and education at the National Civil Rights Museum, said it's wonderful to mobilize for Black History Month festivities, but "there's no one season for it. It's continuous."

"We do black history 365 days a year," Trent told ABC News. "We're telling the story of the African American struggle for civil rights, for human rights, and all aspects, through our programming and through our exhibition in various capacities throughout the year."

The museum, which is located at the former Lorraine Motel in Memphis where civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, said it pays special attention to Black History Month and uses it as a time to emphasize educating children about black heritage. The museum specializes in the civil rights era, but Trent said Woodson's mission guides just about all of their initiatives.

"When 'Negro History Week' was founded, black history was not being talked about or written about and people were saying African Americans had no presence in history," Trent said. "What we're able to do here at the museum today through our work is really amplify that historical presence."

"Woodson was dedicated to making African American history accessible to the everyday person. He wanted African Americans, and all Americans, really, to know the African American story and to see themselves in it because representation is power," she added.

As a part of her work with the museum, Trent said she is frustrated that black history tends to be ignored by popular culture once February ends. Instead, she thinks Black History Month should be seen as a "starting point" for a larger conversation about how to incorporate black history into American history as a whole.

"I understand that culturally organizations are in different places, but ideally in 2020 we would like people to be more inclusive. But if you start just doing it in February, then the next step is, how can we incorporate this into other days of the year," she said.

If companies, schools and other organizations "keep relegating the story to just February," they're missing the point of Black History Month, according to Trent.

Kimble, of ASALH, said the organization has seen a growing number of partnership interests from corporate donors and organizations that aren't necessarily "black oriented," as more companies look to address issues surrounding diversity and inclusion.

He said the increase is "very encouraging," but it isn't enough to indicate a significant trend just yet.

"I would like to companies do more," Trent said. "But all we can do is keep pushing and educating folks who have an interest in black history and black studies."

ASALH picks a theme each year to bring to the public's attention important developments that merit emphasis. This year's theme is "African Americans and the Vote."

The year 2020 marks the centennial of the 19th Amendment and the culmination of the women’s suffrage movement. It also marks the sesquicentennial of the 15th Amendment, which gave black men the right to vote in 1870, following the Civil War.

"Through voting-rights campaigns and legal suits from the turn of the 20th century to the mid-1960s, African Americans made their voices heard as to the importance of the vote," ASALH says on its website. "Indeed the fight for black voting rights continues in the courts today."

Kimble said the group has events scheduled throughout the year that will deal with civic education, voter suppression, voting rights and other issues that are tethered to this year's theme, but its main goal is to engage with people outside of academia to educate them about the depth of their heritage.

"This isn't a conversation that only black folks should be having. If we look at ourselves as a diverse nation, I think everyone should have these conversations about their history," Kimble said. "We want people to see that their stories are valuable and that you don't have to be this internationally renowned figure to do great things."


Hampton & Newport News
In August 1619, the first recorded Africans arrived at Point Comfort, site of Fort Monroe in Hampton, after being forced from their villages in present-day Angola and pushed onto a Portuguese slave ship headed for the New World. Read More

Fort Monroe was dubbed 𠇏reedom’s Fortress” for protecting runaway slaves during the Civil War and is recognized as a national monument for the origin and endpoint of slavery. Learn more about the arc of freedom at the Casemate Museumਊnd new Fort Monroe Visitor and Education Center.

Visit Emancipation Oak, where President Lincoln&aposs Emancipation Proclamation was first read to Hampton&aposs people, at Hampton University, founded in 1868 as an institute of higher learned for newly freed blacks. The university museum is the oldest and largest African American museum in the nation and features artifacts and contemporary art from countries and cultures worldwide.

In the sanctuary of Hampton&aposs Little England Chapel, the only known African-American missionary chapel in the state, see a short video and collection of photographs and materials that help explain the religious lives of post-Civil War Black people.

To learn about the first Black U.S. aviators, visit the Virginia Air & Space Centerਊnd see the photographic exhibit of Tuskegee Airmen.

In Newport News, tour The Newsome House Museum, which commemorates J. Thomas Newsome, one of the first African-American lawyers to argue before the Virginia Supreme Court. Learn about the heroics of African-American soldiers at the Virginia War Museum, and talk with a bucket maker about life as a freed Black in colonial times at the Mariners&apos Museum.

At Jamestown in 1625, a woman named 𠇊ngelo” (Angela), was one of the first Africans listed in a colony-wide census as living in the household of Captain William Pierce of New Towne. Visit the Angela Site at Historic Jamestowne where archeologists are excavating the site of Pierce’s property to learn more about Angela’s world.

During the Revolutionary era, most African Americans lived in the Chesapeake region, about 50-60 percent of the overall population. Visit Colonial Williamsburgਊnd learn about the people who worked on tobacco plantations and large farms at the Slave Quarter at Carter&aposs Grove.

Visit Jamestown Settlementਊnd American Revolution Museum at Yorktown to learn about an African family who lived at Jamestown. An estimated 100,000 African Americans escaped, died or were killed during the American Revolution.

Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Suffolk
In nearby Norfolk, visit West Point Cemetery to view the Black Soldiers Memorial, honoring Union veterans of the Civil War. At nearby Norfolk State University, the largest predominately Black university in the nation, find an exhibit on enslaved persons at the Lyman Beecher Brooks Library.

In Portsmouth, take a walking tour past the Emanuel A.M.E. Church, furnished with benches hand cared by slaves. Stop by the Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum. Here you can find memorabilia, photographs, books and journals of Portsmouth&aposs Black heritage.

See the Medal of Honor Monument that honors 11 soldiers, including Sgt. Charles Veal with the 4th U.S. Colored Troops who served at the Battle of New Market Heights in 1864.

While in Chesapeake, stop by the only visitor center in Virginia with an Afro-Union and Afro-Virginian repository theme, the J. J. Moore Visitor, Archives & Family Life Center.

In Suffolk, the Great Dismal Swamp was a waystation on the Underground Railroad, and a pavilion dedicated to it stands 3/4 of a mile down Railroad Ditch Road. Recent archaeological excavations now show that self-emancipated slaves created communities here as early as 1680. Dodging snakes and slave catchers, these people lived on high ground.


Richmond, trace the slave trade from Africa to Virginia and onward throughout the United States until 1860, take a walk along the Richmond Slave Trail.

American Civil War Museum at Historic Tredegar is the gateway to Civil War travel in the region. A National Historic Landmark and one-time heart of Confederate war production, the site offers an interactive exploration of the Civil War on both the local and national levels through the perspectives of Union, Confederate, and African American participants.

For special exhibits on African-American life during the Civil War, visit the ACWM - Museum of the Confederacy.

Discover one of the country&aposs foremost African-American communities, Jackson Ward, known as "The Harlem of the South" and Birthplace of Black Entrepreneurship. While there, visit the Home of Maggie Walker, the first femaleꂺnk president in America and see a newly unveiled bronze statue of Walker. Also, visit the Black History Museum and Cultural Center which celebrates the rich culture and moving histories of Black people in Virginia.

The nearby Bill "Bojangles" Robinson statue recognizes the dancer best known for his tap dancing with child-star Shirley Temple.

A popular addition to Monument Avenue, considered to be one of the most beautiful boulevards in the world, is the statue of tennis star Arthur Ashe. A few blocks away, view African art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

The L. Douglas Wilder Library and Learning Centerਊt Virginia Union University documents the life and career of Virginia&aposs 66th governor and the first elected Black governor in U.S. history.. Wilder was the first elected African-American governor and currently serves as Richmond&aposs mayor.

The Jackson Blacksmith Shop was built in 1880 by Henry Jackson, a freed slave. It was passed down through the generations until the 1970s. It is now listed on the Virginia Register of Historic Places.

The Joseph Jenkins Roberts Memorial਌ommemorates independent Liberia&aposs first president. Travel through The Triangle, Petersburg&aposs African-American business center for more than a century until the 1970s. After Reconstruction, African Americans formed their own separate society with banks, drugstores, barbershops and even the Rialto Theater.

Gillfield Baptist Church, with what is believed to be the oldest handwritten Black church record book in America, opens its archives to interested visitors.

Petersburg National Battlefield is where a number of Civil War battles occurred between June 15, 1864 and April 1, 1865. About 40,000 slaves were promised their freedom if they agreed to fight for the South. Also, 187,000 African-Americans served in the Union army. Of those, the greatest concentration of U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) was at Petersburg.

Pamplin Historical Park & The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier sits on the property where the last battles of the Civil War occurred. See plantation life reenacted at Tudor Hall and the Military Encampment with full-scale earthworks dug by the slaves and military demonstrations. Plan to spend the day, because there&aposs so much to see and do.

Pocahontas Island was one of the earliest predominantly African-American neighborhoods. The first enslaved people were brought here in 1732 to work in the tobacco warehouses. In 1797, free Blacks lived there, too. The National Park Service: "Petersburg was considered to have the largest number of free Blacks of any Southern city at that time. Many of the freedmen prospered there as barbers, blacksmiths, boatmen, draymen, livery stable keepers and caterers."

Farmville and Lynchburg
Farmville is the home of the Robert Russa Moton Museum, where a student strike in 1951 spurred the lawsuit of Brown v. The Board of Educationcase in 1954, a hallmark in the civil rights movement. Before you head that way, see the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial on Capitol Square in Richmond. It was erected in 2008 to honor the actions of 16 year-old Barbara Rose Johns of Robert Russa Moton High School.

Thomas Jefferson&aposs Poplar Forest is his octagonal retreat near the Blue Ridge Mountains. Archaeologists have excavated four slave cabins at Poplar Forest, including both single family log cabins and a duplex for extended families. Learn about those who labored for Jefferson’s happiness through a guided enslaved community tour. Dig deeper through an Archaeology Behind-the-Scenes Tour or Barrels, Bottles and Casks Tour.

About an hour&aposs drive to Lynchburg, tour the House and Gardens of Anne Spencer, the noted Harlem Renaissance poet and civil rights activist. Don&apost miss the special exhibits highlighting African-American involvement in the city&aposs history at the Legacy Museum of African American History or the opportunity to take a Black History Walking Tour of the Old City Cemetery.

Charlottesville Area
To the north in Charlottesville, take a tour of the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson and home to the Carter Woodson Institute, named for the "Father of Black History."

Thomas Jefferson&aposs Monticello, lets you glimpse into Jefferson’s life and many accomplishments, as well as the paradox he lived by illustrating 𠇊ll men are created equal” while enslaving more than 600 people over the course of his life. Mulberry Row, once the industrial “main street” of the 5,000-acre agricultural enterprise, has been restored to represent the lives of the enslaved. See Monticello through the lens of the Hemings Family, the best documented enslaved family in the United States, through special guided tours and the new exhibit, The Life of Sally Hemings, Jefferson’s concubine who not only bore several of his children but successfully negotiated their freedom as well.

Nearby, at James Monroe&aposs home, Highland, tour the restored slave quarters, and discover Monroe&aposs views on slavery and his involvement in the establishment of Liberia 1817.

James Madison&aposs home in Orange, Montpelier, is the site for archeological digs, primarily around the original home of Mount Pleasant, which was built by slaves in 1723. The Mere Distinction of Colour਎xhibition, located in the cellars and south yard, examines the paradox of America&aposs founding era, exploring slavery to connect the past to the present through the lens of the Constitution.


Fredericksburg and Mount Vernon
In Fredericksburg, take one of two self-guided walking tours that leads past a slave auction block, or visit a Black history exhibit at the Fredericksburg Area Museum.

At George Washington&aposs Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens, tour the Greenhouse slave quarters and the slave burial ground. Through household furnishings, art works, archaeological discoveries, documents, and interactive displays, Lives Bound Togetherꃞmonstrates how closely intertwined the lives of the Washingtons were with those of the enslaved.

Alexandria and Arlington
Farther north in Alexandria, visit the Freedom House MuseumAlexandria Black History Museumਊnd African-American Heritage Park򠿪turing a sculpture group of bronze trees, Truths that Rise from the Roots Remembered by sculptor Jerome Meadows and acknowledges the African Americans who contributed to the growth of Alexandria.

Virtual Tour of the Freedom House Museum in Alexandria:

At the Museum at Gum Springs Historical Society in Fairfax County, see the community started by West Ford, a former slave of George Washington, which is the oldest African-American community in Fairfax County, established in 1833. Located near Mount Vernon, it was a sanctuary for freed slaves and runaways.

Journey along the Black History Tour of Alexandria. Stops include the Franklin & Armfield Slave office and the Stabler-Leadbetter Apothecary.

The Manassas Industrial School/Jeannie Dean Memorial has an information kiosk and a bronze model outlying the foundations of this historic site. Also, look for the African-American exhibits at the Manassas Museum.

Nearby, the Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County is an African-American Museum and Genealogical Resource Center.


Africans first came to Virginia in the early 1500s — almost a century before the English permanently settled Jamestown in 1607 — as explorers and as members of Spanish and French Jesuit missions. By 1600, the first Melungeons were documented in the southern Appalachian valleys. The Melungeons were the first people, aside from Native Americans, to move into Virginia&aposs Appalachian region. Many of the Melungeons were of Portuguese ancestry, with North African and Native American traits.

The Appalachian African-American Cultural Center򠿪tures historical artifacts from the African-American experience in the Heart of Appalachia region.

Booker T. Washington was born on a tobacco plantation as a slave child. Learn about his early life, emancipation and his many accomplishments at the Booker T. Washington National Monument, which is overseen by the National Park Service.

Historic Christiansburg includes the Christiansburg Industrial Institute, a private primary school for African-Americans established in 1866 that was once supervised by Booker T. Washington. Visits to the Cambria Historic District, the Montgomery Museum and the Lewis Miller Regional Art Center are musts!

The Pulaski County Courthouse򠿪tures the local history of Black people, developed by Lucy Harmon, wife of Chauncy, an early civil rights advocate in the 1950s.

When you stop in Bristol, be sure to tour the Nyumba Ya Tausi-Peacock Museum, home to African artifacts and local Black memorabilia, slave items and more.

Located just outside of Covington, the Longdale Recreation Area was completed in 1940 and dedicated as the "Green Pastures Recreation Area," an NAACP-requested site for African-American use at that time. The dam, bath house, picnic shelter and two restroom facilities are original to the site.

In Roanoke, the Harrison Museum of African American Culture is on the first floor of the first public high school for African-American students in Southwest Virginia. The museum aims to preserve and interpret the achievements of Black people in Southwestern Virginia with archives and collections of memorabilia, photographs, oral stories, and African and contemporary art.

In Bedford, the Bedford Historic Meeting House still has its original side door, stair and gallery, once used by slaves for the religious and educational purposes in the decades following the Civil War.

Also, in Bedford, see the National D-Day Memorial, dedicated on June 6, 2001. Bedford was selected as the memorial site because the city lost more citizen-soldiers per capita on D-Day than any other city in the nation.


Near the Virginia-North Carolina border in Clarksville, see one of the oldest remaining slave quarters in Virginia at Prestwould Plantation, where a large collection of slave writings and records remain.

To the north in Prince Edward County, visit Twin Lakes State Park, once the only Virginia state park for Black people. Today, the park offers six miles of hiking and biking trails, picnic areas, campsites, a swimming beach and fresh-water fishing.

Representing more than 100 years on Martinsville&apossꃺyette Street, the Fayette Area Historical Initiative African American Museum was created to collect, preserve and interpret the local Black experience. FAHI also displays images representative of Black history on the national level.

Freemen of Color and Slaves Migrate West to the Interior

In the late 18th and early 19th century, other free blacks—freed and escaped slaves—migrated west into the interior from colonies on the Atlantic coast, mainly working in the fur trade. They were slaves, free trappers, camp keepers, traders, and entrepreneurs. One man, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, was a very successful trader of African descent—his early life is not well-documented though it is likely that he was born into slavery—who settled near the mouth of the Chicago River in the 1780s and is widely regarded as the first resident and founder of Chicago. When Point du Sable sold his farm in 1800, it included a house, two barns, a horse-drawn mill, a bakehouse, a poultry house, a dairy, and a smokehouse.

In 1803, Merriweather Lewis and William Clark set out from St. Louis, where the Mississippi and Missouri rivers meet, to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Territory, look for a water route to the Pacific, and explore the Pacific Northwest. The Corps of Discovery included Clark’s slave York, who made invaluable contributions to the expedition through labor, hunting game, and helping establish friendly relations with the native tribes. He risked his life to save Clark in a flash flood in present-day Montana, and as the journey wore on and the Corps coalesced into a true team he was treated as an equal, voting member. On their return to St. Louis, Clark expected York to return to slavery, refusing to free him. Sometime after 1816 Clark either relented and freed York or York managed to finally escape. His ultimate fate is unclear—Clark claimed York hated freedom and died trying to return. Contrary to this claim, a fur trapper reported seeing him in an Indian village in the 1830s, content and respected in his old age.

Before the Civil War, black slaves fled the South not just to freedom in the North but to freedom in the West. Escaped slaves and free blacks were drawn to the west for the same reasons whites were: the promise of riches in the Gold Rush, cheap land, and a chance for a better life. Several acted as guides, Moses Harris and Edward Rose among them. One man, Moses Rodgers, arrived in California during the Gold Rush, eventually purchased mines in California, and became one of the wealthiest men in the state.

During the Civil War, about 100,000 slaves escaped to settle in western states bordering on slave states—Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana (the latter two were still considered “western states” at the time). Freed slave Clara Brown made her way to Colorado just before the Civil War began and became a prominent business woman and community leader, helping countless former slaves make new homes and find jobs in the West.

In the years following the Civil War, as with whites, there was a great migration of blacks to new western states—between 1865 and 1910 about 250,000 migrated. As Jim Crow laws were put on the books and widespread discrimination was sanctioned by law, many blacks moved west to claim land via the Homestead Act. Most chose to migrate to Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, and California, with migration to Oklahoma picking up in the 1890s after Indian lands were opened for settlement. All-black communities formed around the promise of land ownership and escape from racial persecution.

Like whites, blacks were homesteaders and their communities included all professions and social institutions—schools, churches, restaurants, men’s and women’s clubs. Some were entrepreneurs Elvira Conley opened a laundry business in Sheridan, Kansas—at the time a lawless frontier town—that was frequented by Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickock. Biddy Mason was a slave and midwife who obtained her freedom by petitioning the court in California. She was able to buy a significant amount of land in Los Angeles and make her family one of richest in California.

Stories to Celebrate Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, we’re sharing StoryCorps stories that center Black voices in conversations about Black history, identity, struggles, and joy. This collection also includes behind-the-scenes information about some of the stories. Through these broadcasts and animations, you can discover new perspectives and reflections on our shared history as a nation.

Whose voice do you want to see included in the narrative of Black history? By sitting down with someone you love for a StoryCorps conversation, you’re showing them that their stories matter and preserving them for generations. You can record in person using the StoryCorps App, or remotely using StoryCorps Connect.

20 Powerful Black History Books to Add to Your Reading List

These fiction and non-fiction books about the Black experience are essential reads.

You know how the saying goes: Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. But when we still haven't emerged from the ongoing effects of our past, taking the time to learn about where those forces originated and how we got where we are today becomes even more important. Reading books written by Black authors can help add important context to the world we're living in, as well as shed light on systemic racism and discrimination for those who are privileged enough to not experience their impact firsthand. Literature is a powerful force. It can help further our own antiracist education, lift up voices that have been historically left out of the conversation and take the emotional burden off Black friends and colleagues to educate others too. Reading doesn't absolve us of taking meaningful action against injustice, but it's a start.

When most of us went through school, we learned history from a largely white-centric point of view. African history, and the history of Black lives in the United States, didn't feature heavily (if at all) in most of those conversations. But there's no time like the present to fill in the gaps. Here are a few of our favorite Black history books to add to your TBR list.

August is a Black man who works for the Barclays, a white family that's fallen on hard times. To get by, they decide to sell the rib sauce made by their Black cook, Miss Mamie, with August's face on the label. But neither of them will see a penny. Taking a good, hard look at racial stereotypes and how elements of Black culture have been exploited, this novel is as delicious as it is thought-provoking.

You've heard the phrase, "it takes a village." But we know so little about the mothers who raised Civil Rights titans like Martin Luther King, Jr. Malcolm X and James Baldwin. This book changes that in a long-overdue celebration of Black motherhood.

We hear a lot about the Black experience during the Civil Rights Movement, but the stories of abolitionists and enslaved people are often lost to history. This collection seeks to change that, featuring voices of anti-slavery orators like Sarah Mapps Douglass and James Forten Jr., stories from formerly enslaved people about how they found joy amidst their circumstances, and a look at how the arts were part of the anti-slavery movement.

For most of her life, Pheby Delores Brown has been relatively sheltered from the worst of enslaved life by her mother's position as a plantation woman and favor from the master's sister. But all of that changes when she turns 18 and finds herself thrust into the Devil's Half Acre, a horrific jail in Richmond. There, she has to carefully navigate the jailer's contradictory nature in order to survive. This unputdownable story barely lets you breathe.

Alexander L. Twilight

First Black person to graduate from a U.S. college

Alexander Twilight grew up in Corinth, Vermont during the turn of the 18th century where he worked on a neighbor's farm while learning to read and write. He was able to finally put himself through school at Randolph’s Orange County Grammar School at the age of 20. Six years later he transferred as a junior to Vermont's Middlebury College, where he graduated from in 1823, becoming the first Black person to earn a bachelor's degree from a U.S. college.

Twilight went on to become a teacher, molding the minds of students for generations to come. In 1836, during a stint teaching in Brownington, Vermont, he became part of the state legislature.


Black History Month is a time to celebrate the achievements made by Black Americans but it can also be a platform to discuss the historical inequalities faced by Black Americans and how to improve upon them for the future generations.

Catalans jeer Spanish king amid efforts to ease tensions

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African origins Edit

The majority of African Americans are the descendants of Africans who were forced into slavery after being captured during African wars or raids. They were purchased and brought to America as part of the Atlantic slave trade. [3] African Americans are descended from various ethnic groups, mostly from ethnic groups that lived in Western and Central Africa, including the Sahel. A smaller number of African Americans are descended from ethnic groups that lived in Eastern and Southeastern Africa. The major ethnic groups that the enslaved Africans belonged to included the Hausa, Bakongo, Igbo, Mandé, Wolof, Akan, Fon, Yoruba, and Makua, among many others. Although these different groups varied in customs, religious theology and language, what they had in common was a way of life which was different from that of the Europeans. [4] Originally, a majority of the future slaves came from these villages and societies, however, once they were sent to the Americas and enslaved, these different peoples had European standards and beliefs forced upon them, causing them to do away with tribal differences and forge a new history and culture that was a creolization of their common past, present, and European culture . [5] Slaves who belonged to specific African ethnic groups were more sought after and became more dominant in numbers than slaves who belonged to other African ethnic groups in certain regions of what later became the United States.

Regions of Africa Edit

Studies of contemporary documents reveal seven regions from which Africans were sold or taken during the Atlantic slave trade. These regions were:

    , encompassing the coast from the Senegal River to the Casamance River, where captives as far away as the Upper and Middle Niger River Valley were sold
  • The Sierra Leone region included territory from the Casamance to the Assinie in the modern countries of Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire
  • The Gold Coast region consisted of mainly modern Ghana
  • The Bight of Benin region stretched from the Volta River to the Benue River in modern Togo, Benin and southwestern Nigeria
  • The Bight of Biafra extended from southeastern Nigeria through Cameroon into Gabon
  • West Central Africa, the largest region, included the Congo and Angola and
  • East and Southeast Africa, the region of Mozambique-Madagascar included the modern countries of Mozambique, parts of Tanzania and Madagascar. [6]

The largest source of slaves transported across the Atlantic Ocean for the New World was West Africa. Some West Africans were skilled iron workers and were therefore able to make tools that aided in their agricultural labor. While there were many unique tribes with their own customs and religions, by the 10th century many of the tribes had embraced Islam. Those villages in West Africa that were lucky enough to be in good conditions for growth and success, prospered. They also contributed their success to the slave trade. [4]

Origins and percentages of African Americans imported into the Thirteen Colonies, French and Spanish Louisiana (1700–1820): [7]

Region Percentage
West Central Africa 26.1%
Bight of Biafra 24.4%
Sierra Leone 15.8%
Senegambia 14.5%
Gold Coast 13.1%
Bight of Benin 4.3%
Mozambique-Madagascar 1.8%
Total 100.0%

The Middle Passage Edit

Before the Atlantic slave trade there were already people of African descent in America. A few countries in Africa would buy, sell, and trade other enslaved Africans, who were often prisoners of war, with the Europeans. The people of Mali and Benin are known for partaking in the event of selling their prisoners of war and other unwanted people off as slaves. [4]

Transport Edit

In the account of Olaudah Equiano, he described the process of being transported to the colonies and being on the slave ships as a horrific experience. On the ships, the enslaved Africans were separated from their family long before they boarded the ships. [8] Once aboard the ships the captives were then segregated by gender. [8] Under the deck, the enslaved Africans were cramped and did not have enough space to walk around freely. Enslaved males were generally kept in the ship's hold, where they experienced the worst of crowding. [8] The captives stationed on the floor beneath low-lying bunks could barely move and spent much of the voyage pinned to the floorboards, which could, over time, wear the skin on their elbows down to the bone. [8] Due to the lack of basic hygiene, malnourishment, and dehydration diseases spread wildly and death was common.

The women on the ships often endured rape by the crewmen. [4] Women and children were often kept in rooms set apart from the main hold. This gave crewmen easy access to the women which was often regarded as one of the perks of the trade system. [8] Not only did these rooms give the crewmen easy access to women but it gave enslaved women better access to information on the ship's crew, fortifications, and daily routine, but little opportunity to communicate this to the men confined in the ship's hold. [8] As an example, women instigated a 1797 insurrection aboard the slave ship Thomas by stealing weapons and passing them to the men below as well as engaging in hand-to-hand combat with the ship's crew. [8]

In the midst of these terrible conditions, enslaved Africans plotted mutiny. Enslaved males were the most likely candidates to mutiny and only at times they were on deck. [8] While rebellions did not happen often, they were usually unsuccessful. In order for the crew members to keep the enslaved africans under control and prevent future rebellions, the crews were often twice as large and members would instill fear into the enslaved Africans through brutality and harsh punishments. [8] From the time of being captured in Africa to the arrival to the plantations of the European masters, took an average of six months. [4] Africans were completely cut off from their families, home, and community life. [9] They were forced to adjust to a new way of life.

Africans assisted the Spanish and the Portuguese during their early exploration of the Americas. In the 16th century some black explorers settled in the Mississippi valley and in the areas that became South Carolina and New Mexico. The most celebrated black explorer of the Americas was Estéban, who traveled through the Southwest in the 1530s. The uninterrupted history of black people in the United States began in 1619, when "twenty and odd" Africans were landed in the Virginia Colony. These individuals were not enslaved but indentured servants—persons bound to an employer for a limited number of years—as were many of the settlers of European descent (whites). By the 1660s large numbers of Africans were being brought to the Thirteen Colonies. In 1790 Black people numbered almost 760,000 and made up nearly one-fifth of the United States population.

In 1619, the first enslaved Africans were brought to Point Comfort on a Dutch slave ship, [10] today's Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia, 30 miles downstream from Jamestown, Virginia. They were kidnapped by Portuguese slave traders. [11] The Virginian settlers treated these captives as indentured servants and released them after a number of years. This practice was gradually replaced by the system of chattel slavery used in the Caribbean. [12] As servants were freed, they became competition for resources. Additionally, released servants had to be replaced. [13]

This, combined with the still ambiguous nature of the social status of Black people and the difficulty in using any other group of people as forced servants, led to the relegation of Black people into slavery. Massachusetts was the first colony to legalize slavery in 1641. Other colonies followed suit by passing laws that passed slavery on to the children of slaves and making non-Christian imported servants slaves for life. [13]

Africans first arrived in 1619, when a Dutch ship sold 19 black people to Virginian settlers at Point Comfort (today's Fort Monroe), thirty miles downstream from Jamestown, Virginia. In all, about 10–12 million Africans were transported to the Western Hemisphere. The vast majority of these people came from that stretch of the West African coast extending from present-day Senegal to Angola a small percentage came from Madagascar and East Africa. Only 5% (about 500,000) went to the American colonies. The vast majority went to the West Indies and Brazil, where they died quickly. Demographic conditions were highly favorable in the American colonies, with less disease, more food, some medical care, and lighter work loads than prevailed in the sugar fields. [14]

At first the Africans in the South were outnumbered by white indentured servants, who came voluntarily from Europe. They avoided the plantations. With the vast amount of good land and the shortage of laborers, plantation owners turned to lifetime enslavement of African peoples who worked for their keep but were not paid wages and could not easily escape. Enslaved Africans had some legal rights (it was a crime to kill an enslaved person, and a few whites were hanged for it.) Generally, enslaved Africans developed their own family system, religion, and customs in the slave quarters with little interference from owners, who were only interested in work outputs. Before the 1660s, the North American mainland colonies were expanding, but still fairly small in size and did not have a great demand for labour, so the colonists did not import large numbers of enslaved Africans at this point. [ citation needed ]

The Black population in the 1700s Edit

By 1700 there were 25,000 enslaved Black people in the North American mainland colonies, about 10% of the population. Some enslaved Black people had been directly shipped from Africa (most of them were from 1518 to the 1850s), but initially, in the very early stages of the European colonization of North America, occasionally they had been shipped via the West Indies in small cargoes after spending time working on the islands. [15] At the same time, many were native-born due to the fact that they were born on the North American mainland. Their legal status was now clear: they were enslaved for life and so were the children of enslaved mothers. As white colonizers began to claim and clear more land for large-scale farming and the building of plantations, the number of enslaved Africans who were directly imported from Africa began to rapidly increase from the 1660s to the 1700s and thereafter, since the trade in enslaved people who were coming in from the West Indies was much too small to meet the huge demand for the now fast-growing North American mainland slave market. Additionally, most North American buyers of enslaved people no longer wanted to purchase enslaved people who were coming in from the West Indies—by now they were either harder to obtain, too expensive, undesirable, or more often, they had been exhausted in many ways by the very brutal regime that existed on the island's sugar plantations. By the end of the seventeenth century, drastic changes in colonial tax laws, and the Crown's removal of monopolies that had earlier been granted to a very small number of slave-trading companies such as the Royal African Company, had made the direct slave trade with Africa much easier for other slave traders. As a result, freshly imported young, strong, and healthy Africans were now much more affordable, cheaper in price, and more readily available in large numbers to the North American slave buyers, who by now had preferred to purchase them—even if they were distraught for a while and needed time to adjust to a new life enslaved at a plantation. From about 1700 to 1859, the majority of enslaved people who were imported to the North American mainland came directly from Africa in huge cargoes that were much-needed in order to fill the massive spike in demand for the heavy labour required to work the continually expanding plantations in the Southern colonies (that later became part of the present-day United States), with most enslaved people heading to Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and French or Spanish Louisiana. [15] Unlike the colonies in the South, the Northern colonies developed into much more urbanized and industrialized societies, and they relied less on agriculture as the main source of survival and growth for the economy, so therefore, they did not import many enslaved Africans, and the Black population which lived there remained fairly low for a very long time. However, big Northern cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, had relatively large Black populations (both enslaved and free) for most of the colonial period and thereafter.

From the 1750s, American-born enslaved people of African descent already began to outnumber African-born enslaved people. By the time of the American Revolution, a few of the Northern states had begun to consider abolishing slavery. Some Southern states, such as Virginia, had produced such large and self-sustaining locally-born enslaved Black populations by the natural increase that they stopped taking indirect imports of enslaved Africans altogether. However, other Southern states, such as Georgia and South Carolina, still relied on constant, fresh supplies of enslaved people's labor to keep up with the demand for it, which accompanied their burgeoning plantation economies. These states continued to allow the direct importation of enslaved Africans until 1808, only stopping for a few years in the 1770s due to a temporary lull in the trade which was brought on by the American Revolutionary War. The continuing direct importation of enslaved Africans ensured that South Carolina's Black population remained very high for most of the eighteenth century, with Black people outnumbering whites three to one. In contrast, Virginia maintained a white majority despite its significant Black enslaved population. [16] It was said that in the eighteenth century, the colony South Carolina resembled an "extension of West Africa". All legal, direct importation of enslaved Africans had stopped by 1808, when the now, newly formed United States finally banned its citizens from participating in the international slave trade altogether by law. Despite the ban, small to moderate cargoes of enslaved Africans were occasionally and illegally shipped into the United States directly from Africa for many years, as late as 1859. [17]

Slowly a free Black population emerged, concentrated in port cities along the Atlantic coast from Charleston to Boston. Enslaved people who lived in the cities and towns had more privileges than enslaved people who did not, but the great majority of enslaved people lived on southern tobacco or rice plantations, usually in groups of 20 or more. [18] Wealthy plantation owners eventually became so reliant on slavery that they devastated their own lower class. [19] In the years to come, the institution of slavery would be so heavily involved in the South's economy that it would divide America.

The most serious slave rebellion was the 1739 Stono Uprising in South Carolina. The colony had about 56,000 enslaved people, who outnumbered whites two to one. About 150 enslaved people rose up, seizing guns and ammunition to kill twenty whites before heading for Spanish Florida. The local militia soon intercepted and killed most of the enslaved people involved in the uprising. [20]

At this time, slavery existed in all American colonies. In the North, 2% of people owned enslaved people, most of whom were personal servants. In the south, 25% of the population relied on the labour of enslaved people. Southern slavery usually took the form of field hands who lived and worked on plantations. [21] These statistics show the early imbalance that would eventually tip the scale and rid the United States of slavery. [22]

The later half of the 18th century was a time of political upheaval in the United States. In the midst of cries for independence from British rule, people pointed out the apparent hypocrisies of slave holders' demanding freedom. The Declaration of Independence, a document that would become a manifesto for human rights and personal freedom, was written by Thomas Jefferson, who owned over 200 enslaved people. Other Southern statesmen were also major slaveholders. The Second Continental Congress did consider freeing enslaved people to assist with the war effort. They removed language from the Declaration of Independence that included the promotion of slavery amongst the offenses of King George III. A number of free Black people, most notably Prince Hall—the founder of Prince Hall Freemasonry, submitted petitions for the end of slavery. But these petitions were largely ignored. [23]

This did not deter Black people, free and enslaved, from participating in the Revolution. Crispus Attucks, a free Black tradesman, was the first casualty of the Boston Massacre and of the ensuing American Revolutionary War. 5,000 Black people, including Prince Hall, fought in the Continental Army. Many fought side by side with White soldiers at the battles of Lexington and Concord and at Bunker Hill. But when George Washington took command in 1775, he barred any further recruitment of Black people. [ citation needed ]

Approximately 5000 free African-American men helped the American Colonists in their struggle for freedom. One of these men, Agrippa Hull, fought in the American Revolution for over six years. He and the other African-American soldiers fought in order to improve their white neighbor's views of them and advance their own fight of freedom. [24]

By contrast, the British and Loyalists offered emancipation to any enslaved person owned by a Patriot who was willing to join the Loyalist forces. Lord Dunmore, the Governor of Virginia, recruited 300 African-American men into his Ethiopian regiment within a month of making this proclamation. In South Carolina 25,000 enslaved people, more than one-quarter of the total, escaped to join and fight with the British, or fled for freedom in the uproar of war. Thousands of slaves also escaped in Georgia and Virginia, as well as New England and New York. Well-known African-Americans who fought for the British include Colonel Tye and Boston King. [ citation needed ]

The Americans eventually won the war. In the provisional treaty, they demanded the return of property, including enslaved people. Nonetheless, the British helped up to 3,000 documented African Americans to leave the country for Nova Scotia, Jamaica, and Britain rather than be returned to slavery. [25]

Thomas Peters was one of the large numbers of African Americans who fought for the British. Peters was born in present-day Nigeria and belonged to the Yoruba tribe, and ended up being captured and sold into slavery in French Louisiana. [26] Sold again, he was enslaved in North Carolina and escaped his master's farm in order to receive Lord Dunmore's promise of freedom. Peters had fought for the British throughout the war. When the war finally ended, he and other African Americans who fought on the losing side were taken to Nova Scotia. Here, they encountered difficulty farming the small plots of lands they were granted. They also did not receive the same privileges and opportunities as the white Loyalists had. Peters sailed to London in order to complain to the government. "He arrived at a momentous time when English abolitionists were pushing a bill through Parliament to charter the Sierra Leone Company and to grant it trading and settlement rights on the West African coast." Peters and the other African Americans on Nova Scotia left for Sierra Leone in 1792. Peters died soon after they arrived, but the other members of his party lived on in their new home. [27]

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 sought to define the foundation for the government of the newly formed United States of America. The constitution set forth the ideals of freedom and equality while providing for the continuation of the institution of slavery through the fugitive slave clause and the three-fifths compromise. Additionally, free Black people's rights were also restricted in many places. Most were denied the right to vote and were excluded from public schools. Some Black people sought to fight these contradictions in court. In 1780, Elizabeth Freeman and Quock Walker used language from the new Massachusetts constitution that declared all men were born free and equal in freedom suits to gain release from slavery. A free Black businessman in Boston named Paul Cuffe sought to be excused from paying taxes since he had no voting rights. [28]

In the Northern states, the revolutionary spirit did help African Americans. Beginning in the 1750s, there was widespread sentiment during the American Revolution that slavery was a social evil (for the country as a whole and for the whites) that should eventually be abolished. [ citation needed ] All the Northern states passed emancipation acts between 1780 and 1804 most of these arranged for gradual emancipation and a special status for freedmen, so there were still a dozen "permanent apprentices" into the 19th century. In 1787 Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance and barred slavery from the large Northwest Territory. [29] In 1790, there were more than 59,000 free Black people in the United States. By 1810, that number had risen to 186,446. Most of these were in the North, but Revolutionary sentiments also motivated Southern slaveholders.

For 20 years after the Revolution, more Southerners also freed enslaved people, sometimes by manumission or in wills to be accomplished after the slaveholder's death. In the Upper South, the percentage of free Black people rose from about 1% before the Revolution to more than 10% by 1810. Quakers and Moravians worked to persuade slaveholders to free families. In Virginia, the number of free Black people increased from 10,000 in 1790 to nearly 30,000 in 1810, but 95% of Black people were still enslaved. In Delaware, three-quarters of all Black people were free by 1810. [30] By 1860, just over 91% of Delaware's Black people were free, and 49.1% of those in Maryland. [31]

Among the successful free men was Benjamin Banneker, a Maryland astronomer, mathematician, almanac author, surveyor, and farmer, who in 1791 assisted in the initial survey of the boundaries of the future District of Columbia. [32] Despite the challenges of living in the new country, most free Black people fared far better than the nearly 800,000 enslaved Blacks. Even so, many considered emigrating to Africa. [28]

By 1800 a small number of slaves had joined Christian churches. Free Black people in the North set up their own networks of churches and in the South the slaves sat in the upper galleries of white churches. Central to the growth of community among blacks was the Black church, usually the first communal institution to be established. The Black church was both an expression of community and unique African-American spirituality, and a reaction to discrimination. The churches also served as neighborhood centers where free Black people could celebrate their African heritage without intrusion from white detractors. The church also served as the center of education. Since the church was part of the community and wanted to provide education it educated the freed and enslaved Black people. Seeking autonomy, some black people like Richard Allen (bishop) founded separate Black denominations. [33]

The Second Great Awakening (1800–1830s) has been called the "central and defining event in the development of Afro-Christianity." [34] [35]

As the United States grew, the institution of slavery became more entrenched in the southern states, while northern states began to abolish it. Pennsylvania was the first, in 1780 passing an act for gradual abolition. [36]

A number of events continued to shape views on slavery. One of these events was the Haitian Revolution, which was the only slave revolt that led to an independent country. Many slave owners fled to the United States with tales of horror and massacre that alarmed Southern whites. [37]

The invention of the cotton gin in the 1790s allowed the cultivation of short staple cotton, which could be grown in much of the Deep South, where warm weather and proper soil conditions prevailed. The industrial revolution in Europe and New England generated a heavy demand for cotton for cheap clothing, which caused an exponential demand for slave labor to develop new cotton plantations. There was a 70% increase in the number of slaves in the United States in only 20 years. They were overwhelmingly concentrated on plantations in the Deep South, and moved west as old cotton fields lost their productivity and new lands were purchased. Unlike the Northern States who put more focus into manufacturing and commerce, the South was heavily dependent on agriculture. [38] Southern political economists at this time supported the institution by concluding that nothing was inherently contradictory about owning slaves and that a future of slavery existed even if the South were to industrialize. [39] Racial, economic, and political turmoil reached an all-time high regarding slavery up to the events of the Civil War.

In 1807, at the urging of President Thomas Jefferson, Congress abolished the importation of enslaved workers. While American Black people celebrated this as a victory in the fight against slavery, the ban increased the internal trade in enslaved people. Changing agricultural practices in the Upper South from tobacco to mixed farming decreased labor requirements, and enslaved people were sold to traders for the developing Deep South. In addition, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 allowed any Black person to be claimed as a runaway unless a White person testified on their behalf. A number of free Black people, especially indentured children, were kidnapped and sold into slavery with little or no hope of rescue. By 1819 there were exactly 11 free and 11 slave states, which increased sectionalism. Fears of an imbalance in Congress led to the 1820 Missouri Compromise that required states to be admitted to the union in pairs, one slave and one free. [40]

In 1850, after winning the Mexican-American War, a problem gripped the nation: what to do about the territories won from Mexico. Henry Clay, the man behind the compromise of 1820, once more rose to the challenge, to craft the compromise of 1850. In this compromise the territories of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada would be organized but the issue of slavery would be decided later. Washington D.C. would abolish the slave trade but not slavery itself. California would be admitted as a free state but the South would receive a new fugitive slave act which required Northerners to return enslaved people who escaped to the North to their owners. The compromise of 1850 would maintain a shaky peace until the election of Lincoln in 1860. [41]

In 1851 the battle between enslaved people and slave owners was met in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The Christiana Riot demonstrated the growing conflict between states' rights and Congress on the issue of slavery. [42]

Abolitionism Edit

Abolitionists in Britain and the United States in the 1840–1860 period developed large, complex campaigns against slavery.

According to Patrick C. Kennicott, the largest and most effective abolitionist speakers were Black people who spoke before the countless local meetings of the National Negro Conventions. They used the traditional arguments against slavery, protesting it on moral, economic, and political grounds. Their role in the antislavery movement not only aided the abolitionist cause but also was a source of pride to the Black community. [43]

In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe published a novel that changed how many would view slavery. Uncle Tom's Cabin tells the story of the life of an enslaved person and the brutality that is faced by that life day after day. It would sell over 100,000 copies in its first year. The popularity of Uncle Tom's Cabin would solidify the North in its opposition to slavery, and press forward the abolitionist movement. President Lincoln would later invite Stowe to the White House in honor of this book that changed America.

In 1856 Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts congressmen and antislavery leader, was assaulted and nearly killed on the House floor by Preston Brooks of South Carolina. Sumner had been delivering an abolitionist speech to Congress when Brooks attacked him. Brooks received praise in the South for his actions while Sumner became a political icon in the North. Sumner later returned to the Senate, where he was a leader of the Radical Republicans in ending slavery and legislating equal rights for freed slaves. [44]

Over 1 million enslaved people were moved from the older seaboard slave states, with their declining economies, to the rich cotton states of the southwest many others were sold and moved locally. [45] Ira Berlin (2000) argues that this Second Middle Passage shredded the planters' paternalist pretenses in the eyes of Black people and prodded enslaved people and free Black people to create a host of oppositional ideologies and institutions that better accounted for the realities of endless deportations, expulsions, and flights that continually remade their world. [46] Benjamin Quarles' work Black Abolitionists provides the most extensive account of the role of Black abolitionists in the American anti-slavery movement. [47]

The Black community Edit

[48] Black people generally settled in cities, creating the core of Black community life in the region. They established churches and fraternal orders. Many of these early efforts were weak and they often failed, but they represented the initial steps in the evolution of Black communities. [49]

During the early Antebellum period, the creation of free Black communities began to expand, laying out a foundation for African Americans' future. At first, only a few thousand African Americans had their freedom. As the years went by, the number of blacks being freed expanded tremendously, building to 233,000 by the 1820s. They sometimes sued to gain their freedom or purchased it. Some slave owners freed their bondspeople and a few state legislatures abolished slavery. [50]

African Americans tried to take the advantage of establishing homes and jobs in the cities. During the early 1800s free Black people took several steps to establish fulfilling work lives in urban areas. [51] The rise of industrialization, which depended on power-driven machinery more than human labor, might have afforded them employment, but many owners of textile mills refused to hire Black workers. These owners considered whites to be more reliable and educable. This resulted in many Black people performing unskilled labor. Black men worked as stevedores, construction worker, and as cellar-, well- and grave-diggers. As for Black women workers, they worked as servants for white families. Some women were also cooks, seamstresses, basket-makers, midwives, teachers, and nurses. [50] Black women worked as washerwomen or domestic servants for the white families. Some cities had independent Black seamstresses, cooks, basketmakers, confectioners, and more.

While the African Americans left the thought of slavery behind, they made a priority to reunite with their family and friends. The cause of the Revolutionary War forced many Black people to migrate to the west afterwards, and the scourge of poverty created much difficulty with housing. African Americans competed with the Irish and Germans in jobs and had to share space with them. [50]

While the majority of free Black people lived in poverty, some were able to establish successful businesses that catered to the Black community. Racial discrimination often meant that Black people were not welcome or would be mistreated in White businesses and other establishments. To counter this, Black people like James Forten developed their own communities with Black-owned businesses. Black doctors, lawyers, and other businessmen were the foundation of the Black middle class. [52]

Many Black people organized to help strengthen the Black community and continue the fight against slavery. One of these organizations was the American Society of Free Persons of Colour, founded in 1830. This organization provided social aid to poor Black people and organized responses to political issues. Further supporting the growth of the Black Community was the Black church, usually the first community institution to be established. Starting in the early 1800s [53] with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and other churches, the Black church grew to be the focal point of the Black community. The Black church was both an expression of community and unique African-American spirituality, and a reaction to European American discrimination. The church also served as neighborhood centers where free black people could celebrate their African heritage without intrusion by white detractors. [50] The church was the center of the Black communities, but it was also the center of education. Since the church was part of the community and wanted to provide education they educated the freed and enslaved Black people. [54] At first, Black preachers formed separate congregations within the existing denominations, such as social clubs or literary societies. Because of discrimination at the higher levels of the church hierarchy, some Black people like Richard Allen (bishop) simply founded separate Black denominations. [55]

Free Black people also established Black churches in the South before 1800. After the Great Awakening, many Black people joined the Baptist Church, which allowed for their participation, including roles as elders and preachers. For instance, First Baptist Church and Gillfield Baptist Church of Petersburg, Virginia, both had organized congregations by 1800 and were the first Baptist churches in the city. [56] Petersburg, an industrial city, by 1860 had 3,224 free Black people (36% of Black people, and about 26% of all free persons), the largest population in the South. [57] [58] In Virginia, free Black people also created communities in Richmond, Virginia and other towns, where they could work as artisans and create businesses. [59] Others were able to buy land and farm in frontier areas further from white control.

The Black community also established schools for Black children, since they were often banned from entering public schools. [60] Richard Allen organized the first Black Sunday school in America it was established in Philadelphia during 1795. [61] Then five years later, the priest Absalom Jones established a school for Black youth. [61] Black Americans regarded education as the surest path to economic success, moral improvement and personal happiness. Only the sons and daughters of the Black middle class had the luxury of studying. [50]

Haiti's effect on slavery Edit

The revolt of enslaved Hatians against their white slave owners, which began in 1791 and lasted until 1801, was a primary source of fuel for both enslaved people and abolitionists arguing for the freedom of Africans in the U.S. In the 1833 edition of Nile's Weekly Register it is stated that freed Black people in Haiti were better off than their Jamaican counterparts, and the positive effects of American Emancipation are alluded to throughout the paper. [62] These anti-slavery sentiments were popular among both white abolitionists and African-American slaves. Enslaved people rallied around these ideas with rebellions against their masters as well as white bystanders during the Denmark Vesey Conspiracy of 1822 and the Nat Turner Rebellion of 1831. Leaders and plantation owners were also very concerned about the consequences Haiti's revolution would have on early America. Thomas Jefferson, for one, was wary of the "instability of the West Indies", referring to Haiti. [63]

The Dred Scott decision Edit

Dred Scott was an enslaved person whose owner had taken him to live in the free state of Illinois. After his owner's death, Dred Scott sued in court for his freedom on the basis of his having lived in a free state for a long period. The Black community received an enormous shock with the Supreme Court's "Dred Scott" decision in March 1857. [65] Black people were not American citizens and could never be citizens, the court said in a decision roundly denounced by the Republican Party as well as the abolitionists. Because enslaved people were "property, not people", by this ruling they could not sue in court. The decision was finally reversed by the Civil Rights Act of 1865. [66] In what is sometimes considered mere obiter dictum the Court went on to hold that Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories because enslaved people are personal property and the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution protects property owners against deprivation of their property without due process of law. Although the Supreme Court has never explicitly overruled the Dred Scott case, the Court stated in the Slaughter-House Cases that at least one part of it had already been overruled by the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, which begins by stating, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." [67]

The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863. In a single stroke it changed the legal status, as recognized by the U.S. government, of 3 million enslaved people in designated areas of the Confederacy from "slave" to "free." It had the practical effect that as soon as an enslaved person escaped the control of the Confederate government, by running away or through advances of federal troops, the enslaved person became legally and actually free. The owners were never compensated. Plantation owners, realizing that emancipation would destroy their economic system, sometimes moved their enslaved people as far as possible out of reach of the Union army. By June 1865, the Union Army controlled all of the Confederacy and liberated all of the designated enslaved people. [68]

About 200,000 free Black people and former enslaved people served in the Union Army and Navy, thus providing a basis for a claim to full citizenship. [69] The severe dislocations of war and Reconstruction had a severe negative impact on the Black population, with a large amount of sickness and death. [70]

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 made Black people full U.S. citizens (and this repealed the Dred Scott decision). In 1868, the 14th amendment granted full U.S. citizenship to African-Americans. The 15th amendment, ratified in 1870, extended the right to vote to Black males. The Freedmen's Bureau was an important institution established to create social and economic order in southern states. [4]

After the Union victory over the Confederacy, a brief period of Southern Black progress, called Reconstruction, followed. During the Reconstruction the entire face of the South changed because the remaining states were readmitted into the Union. [71] From 1865 to 1877, under protection of Union troops, some strides were made toward equal rights for African-Americans. Southern Black men began to vote and were elected to the United States Congress and to local offices such as sheriff. The safety provided by the troops did not last long, and white Southerners frequently terrorized Black voters. Coalitions of white and Black Republicans passed bills to establish the first public school systems in most states of the South, although sufficient funding was hard to find. Black people established their own churches, towns, and businesses. Tens of thousands migrated to Mississippi for the chance to clear and own their own land, as 90% of the bottomlands were undeveloped. By the end of the 19th century, two-thirds of the farmers who owned land in the Mississippi Delta bottomlands were Black. [72]

Hiram Revels became the first African-American senator in the U.S. Congress in 1870. Other African Americans soon came to Congress from South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. These new politicians supported the Republicans and tried to bring further improvements to the lives of African Americans. Revels and others understood that white people may have felt threatened by the African-American congressmen. Revels stated, "The white race has no better friend than I. I am true to my own race. I wish to see all done that can be done. to assist [Black men]in acquiring property, in becoming intelligent, enlightened citizens. but at the same time, I would not have anything done which would harm the white race," [73] Blanche K. Bruce was the other African American who became a U.S. senator during this period. African Americans elected to the House of Representatives during this time included Benjamin S. Turner, Josiah T. Walls, Joseph H. Rainey, Robert Brown Elliot, Robert D. De Large, and Jefferson H. Long. Frederick Douglass also served in the different government jobs during Reconstruction, including Minister Resident and Counsel General to Haiti, Recorder of Deeds, and U.S. Marshall. [74] Bruce became a Senator in 1874 and represented the state of Mississippi. He worked with white politicians from his region in order to hopefully help his fellow African Americans and other minority groups such as Chinese immigrants and Native Americans. He even supported efforts to end restrictions on former Confederates' political participation. [73]

The aftermath of the Civil War accelerated the process of a national African-American identity formation. [75] Some civil rights activists, such as W. E. B. Du Bois, disagree that identity was achieved after the Civil War. [76] African Americans in the post-civil war era were faced with many rules and regulations that, even though they were "free", prevented them from living with the same amount of freedom as white citizens had. [77] Tens of thousands of Black northerners left homes and careers and also migrated to the defeated South, building schools, printing newspapers, and opening businesses. As Joel Williamson puts it:

Many of the migrants, women as well as men, came as teachers sponsored by a dozen or so benevolent societies, arriving in the still turbulent wake of Union armies. Others came to organize relief for the refugees. Still others. came south as religious missionaries. Some came south as business or professional people seeking opportunity on this. special black frontier. Finally, thousands came as soldiers, and when the war was over, many of [their] young men remained there or returned after a stay of some months in the North to complete their education. [78]

The Jim Crow laws were state and local laws in the United States enacted between 1876 and 1965. They mandated de jure segregation in all public facilities, with a supposedly "separate but equal" status for Black Americans. In reality, this led to treatment and accommodations that were usually inferior to those provided for white Americans, systematizing a number of economic, educational and social disadvantages. [79]

In the face of years of mounting violence and intimidation directed at blacks as well as whites sympathetic to their cause, the U.S. government retreated from its pledge to guarantee constitutional protections to freedmen and women. When President Rutherford B. Hayes withdrew Union troops from the South in 1877 as a result of a national compromise on the election, Black people lost most of their political power. Men like Benjamin "Pap" Singleton began speaking of leaving the South. This idea culminated in the 1879–80 movement of the Exodusters, who migrated to Kansas, where blacks had much more freedom and it was easier to acquire land. [80]

When Democrats took control of Tennessee in 1888, they passed laws making voter registration more complicated and ended the most competitive political state in the South. Voting by Black people in rural areas and small towns dropped sharply, as did voting by poor whites. [81] [82]

From 1890 to 1908, starting with Mississippi and ending with Georgia, ten of eleven Southern states adopted new constitutions or amendments that effectively disenfranchised most black people and many poor whites. Using a combination of provisions such as poll taxes, residency requirements and literacy tests, states dramatically decreased Black voter registration and turnout, in some cases to zero. [83] The grandfather clause was used in many states temporarily to exempt illiterate white voters from literacy tests. As power became concentrated under the Democratic Party in the South, the party positioned itself as a private club and instituted white primaries, closing Black people out of the only competitive contests. By 1910 one-party white rule was firmly established across the South.

Although African Americans quickly started litigation to challenge such provisions, early court decisions at the state and national level went against them. In Williams v. Mississippi (1898), the US Supreme Court upheld state provisions. This encouraged other Southern states to adopt similar measures over the next few years, as noted above. Booker T. Washington, of Tuskegee Institute secretly worked with Northern supporters to raise funds and provide representation for African Americans in additional cases, such as Giles v. Harris (1903) and Giles v. Teasley (1904), but again the Supreme Court upheld the states. [83]

Segregation for the first time became a standard legal process in the South it was informal in Northern cities. Jim Crow limited black access to transportation, schools, restaurants and other public facilities. Most southern blacks for decades continued to struggle in grinding poverty as agricultural, domestic and menial laborers. Many became sharecroppers, sharing the crop with the white land owners..

Racial terrorism Edit

In 1865, the Ku Klux Klan, a secret white supremacist criminal organization dedicated to destroying the Republican Party in the South, especially by terrorizing Black leaders, was formed. Klansmen hid behind masks and robes to hide their identity while they carried out violence and property damage. The Klan used terrorism, especially murder and threats of murder, arson and intimidation. The Klan's excesses led to the passage of legislation against it, and with Federal enforcement, it was destroyed by 1871. [84]

The anti-Republican and anti-freedmen sentiment only briefly went underground, as violence arose in other incidents, especially after Louisiana's disputed state election in 1872, which contributed to the Colfax and Coushatta massacres in Louisiana in 1873 and 1874. Tensions and rumors were high in many parts of the South. When violence erupted, African Americans consistently were killed at a much higher rate than were European Americans. Historians of the 20th century have renamed events long called "riots" in southern history. The common stories featured whites heroically saving the community from marauding Black people. Upon examination of the evidence, historians have called numerous such events "massacres", as at Colfax, because of the disproportionate number of fatalities for Black people as opposed to whites. The mob violence there resulted in 40–50 Black people dead for each of the three whites killed. [85]

While not as widely known as the Klan, the paramilitary organizations that arose in the South during the mid-1870s as the white Democrats mounted a stronger insurgency, were more directed and effective than the Klan in challenging Republican governments, suppressing the Black vote and achieving political goals. Unlike the Klan, paramilitary members operated openly, often solicited newspaper coverage, and had distinct political goals: to turn Republicans out of office and suppress or dissuade Black voting in order to regain power in 1876. Groups included the White League, that started from white militias in Grant Parish, Louisiana, in 1874 and spread in the Deep South the Red Shirts, that started in Mississippi in 1875 but had chapters arise and was prominent in the 1876 election campaign in South Carolina, as well as in North Carolina and other White Line organizations such as rifle clubs. [86]

The Jim Crow era accompanied the most cruel wave of "racial" suppression that America has yet experienced. Between 1890 and 1940, millions of African Americans were disenfranchised, killed, and brutalized. According to newspaper records kept at the Tuskegee Institute, about 5,000 men, women, and children were murdered in documented extrajudicial mob violence—called "lynchings." The journalist Ida B. Wells estimated that lynchings not reported by the newspapers, plus similar executions under the veneer of "due process", may have amounted to about 20,000 killings. [87]

Of the tens of thousands of lynchers and onlookers during this period, it is reported that fewer than 50 whites were ever indicted for their crimes, and only four were sentenced. Because Black people were disenfranchised, they could not sit on juries or have any part in the political process, including local offices. Meanwhile, the lynchings were used as a weapon of terror to keep millions of African-Americans living in a constant state of anxiety and fear. [88] Most Black people were denied their right to keep and bear arms under Jim Crow laws, and they were therefore unable to protect themselves or their families. [89]

In response to these and other setbacks, in the summer of 1905, W. E. B. Du Bois and 28 other prominent, African-American men met secretly at Niagara Falls, Ontario. There, they produced a manifesto calling for an end to racial discrimination, full civil liberties for African Americans and recognition of human brotherhood. The organization they established came to be called the Niagara Movement. After the notorious Springfield, Illinois race riot of 1908, a group of concerned Whites joined with the leadership of the Niagara Movement and formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) a year later, in 1909. Under the leadership of Du Bois, the NAACP mounted legal challenges to segregation and lobbied legislatures on behalf of Black Americans.

While the NAACP use the court system to promote equality, at the local level African Americans adopted a self-help strategy. They pooled their resources to create independent community and institutional lives for themselves. They established schools, churches, social welfare institutions, banks, African-American newspapers and small businesses to serve the needs of their communities. [90] The main organizer of national and local self-help organizations was Alabama educator Booker T. Washington. [91]

Progressive Era reformers were often concerned with the Black condition. In 1908 after the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot got him involved, Ray Stannard Baker published the book Following the Color Line: An Account of Negro Citizenship in the American Democracy, becoming the first prominent journalist to examine America's racial divide it was extremely successful. Sociologist Rupert Vance says it is:

the best account of race relations in the South during the period—one that reads like field notes for the future historian. This account was written during the zenith of Washingtonian movement and shows the optimism that it inspired among both liberals and moderates. The book is also notable for its realistic accounts of Negro town life. [92]

During the first half of the 20th century, the largest internal population shift in U.S. history took place. Starting about 1910, through the Great Migration over five million African Americans made choices and "voted with their feet" by moving from the South to northern and western cities in hopes of escaping political discrimination and hatred, violence, finding better jobs, voting and enjoying greater equality and education for their children. [93]

In the 1920s, the concentration of Black people in New York led to the cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance, whose influence reached nationwide. Black intellectual and cultural circles were influenced by thinkers such as Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor, who celebrated blackness, or négritude and arts and letters flourished. Writers Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Nella Larsen, Claude McKay and Richard Wright and artists Lois Mailou Jones, William H. Johnson, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence and Archibald Motley gained prominence. [94]

The South Side of Chicago, a destination for many on the trains up from Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana, joined Harlem as a sort of Black capital for the nation. It generated flourishing businesses, music, arts and foods. A new generation of powerful African-American political leaders and organizations also came to the fore, Typified by Congressman William Dawson (1886–1970). Membership in the NAACP rapidly increased as it mounted an anti-lynching campaign in reaction to ongoing southern white violence against blacks. Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, the Nation of Islam, and union organizer A. Philip Randolph's Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (part of the American Federation of labor) all were established during this period and found support among African Americans, who became urbanized. [95]

Businesses operated at the local level, and included beauty shops, barber shops, funeral parlors and the like. Booker T. Washington organized them nationally into the National Negro Business League. [96] The more ambitious Black businessman with a larger vision avoided small towns and rural areas and headed to progressive large cities. [97] They sent their children to elite Black colleges such as Howard, Spellman, and Morehouse by the 1970s they were accepted in more than token numbers at national schools such as the Ivy League. Graduates were hired by major national corporations. They were active in the Urban League, the United Negro College Fund and the NAACP, and were much more likely to be Episcopalians than Baptists. [98] [99] [100]

Women in the beauty business Edit

Although most prominent African-American businesses have been owned by men, women played a major role especially in the area of beauty. Standards of beauty were different for whites and Black people, and the Black community developed its own standards, with an emphasis on hair care. Beauticians could work out of their own homes, and did not need storefronts. As a result, Black beauticians were numerous in the rural South, despite the absence of cities and towns. They pioneered the use of cosmetics, at a time when rural white women in the South avoided them. As Blain Roberts has shown, beauticians offered their clients a space to feel pampered and beautiful in the context of their own community because, "Inside Black beauty shops, rituals of beautification converged with rituals of socialization." Beauty contests emerged in the 1920s, and in the white community they were linked to agricultural county fairs. By contrast in the Black community, beauty contests were developed out of the homecoming ceremonies at their high schools and colleges. [101] [102] The most famous entrepreneur was Madame C. J. Walker (1867–1919) she built a national franchise business called Madame C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company based on her invention of the first successful hair straightening process. [103]

Soldiers Edit

The U.S. armed forces remained segregated during World War I. Still, many African Americans eagerly volunteered to join the Allied cause following America's entry into the war. More than two million African American men rushed to register for the draft. By the time of the armistice with Germany in November 1918, over 350,000 African Americans had served with the American Expeditionary Force on the Western Front.[1] [104] [105] [106]

Most African American units were relegated to support roles and did not see combat. Still, African Americans played a significant role in America's war effort. Four African American regiments were integrated into French units because the French suffered heavy losses and badly needed men after three years of a terrible war. One of the most distinguished units was the 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the "Harlem Hellfighters", which was on the front lines for six months, longer than any other American unit in the war. 171 members of the 369th were awarded the Legion of Merit. [ citation needed ]

From May 1918 to November 1918, the 371st and 372nd African American Regiments were integrated under the 157th Red Hand Division [107] commanded by the French General Mariano Goybet. They earned glory in the decisive final offensive in Champagne region of France. The two Regiments were decorated by the French Croix de Guerre for their gallantry in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. [ citation needed ]

Corporal Freddie Stowers of the 371st Infantry Regiment was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor—the only African American to be so honored for actions in World War I. During action in France, Stowers had led an assault on German trenches, continuing to lead and encourage his men even after being wounded twice. Stowers died from his wounds, but his men continued the fight on a German machine gun nest near Bussy farm in Champagne, and eventually defeated the German troops. [ citation needed ]

Stowers was recommended for the Medal of Honor shortly after his death, but according to the Army, the nomination was misplaced. Many believed the recommendation had been intentionally ignored due to institutional racism in the Armed Forces. In 1990, under pressure from Congress, the Defense Department launched an investigation. Based on findings from this investigation, the Army Decorations Board approved the award of the Medal of Honor to Stowers. On April 24, 1991—73 years after he was killed in action—Stowers' two surviving sisters received the Medal of Honor from President George H. W. Bush at the White House. [ citation needed ]

Home front and postwar Edit

With an enormous demand for expansion of the defense industries, the new draft law in effect, and the cut off of immigration from Europe, demand was very high for underemployed farmers from the South. Hundreds of thousands of African-Americans took the trains to Northern industrial centers in a dramatic historical event known as the Great Migration. Migrants going to Pittsburgh and surrounding mill towns in western Pennsylvania between 1890 and 1930 faced racial discrimination and limited economic opportunities. The Black population in Pittsburgh jumped from 6,000 in 1880 to 27,000 in 1910. Many took highly paid, skilled jobs in the steel mills. Pittsburgh's Black population increased to 37,700 in 1920 (6.4% of the total) while the Black element in Homestead, Rankin, Braddock, and others nearly doubled. They succeeded in building effective community responses that enabled the survival of new communities. [108] [109] Historian Joe Trotter explains the decision process:

Although African-Americans often expressed their views of the Great Migration in biblical terms and received encouragement from northern black newspapers, railroad companies, and industrial labor agents, they also drew upon family and friendship networks to help in the move to Western Pennsylvania. They formed migration clubs, pooled their money, bought tickets at reduced rates, and often moved ingroups. Before they made the decision to move, they gathered information and debated the pros and cons of the process. In barbershops, poolrooms, and grocery stores, in churches, lodge halls, and clubhouses, and in private homes, southern blacks discussed, debated, and decided what was good and what was bad about moving to the urban North. [110]

After the war ended and the soldiers returned home, tensions were very high, with serious labor union strikes and inter-racial riots in major cities. The summer of 1919 was known as the Red Summer with outbreaks of racial violence killing about 1,000 people across the nation, most of whom were Black. [111] [112]

Nevertheless, the newly established Black communities in the North nearly all endured. Joe Trotter explains how the Blacks built new institutions for their new communities in the Pittsburgh area:

Black churches, fraternal orders, and newspapers (especially the Pittsburgh Courier) organizations such as the NAACP, Urban League, and Garvey Movement social clubs, restaurants, and baseball teams hotels, beauty shops, barber shops, and taverns, all proliferated. [113]

The Great Depression hit Black America hard. In 1930, it was reported that 4 out of 5 Black people lived in the South, the average life expectancy for Black people was 15 years less than whites, and the Black infant mortality rate at 12% was double that of whites. [114] In Chicago, Black people made up 4% of the population and 16% of the unemployed while in Pittsburgh blacks were 8% of the population and 40% of the unemployed. [115] In January 1934, the journalist Lorena Hickok reported from rural Georgia that she had seen "half-starved Whites and Blacks struggle in competition for less to eat than my dog gets at home, for the privilege of living in huts that are infinitely less comfortable than his kennel". [116] She also described most Southern Black people who made worked as sharecroppers as living under a system very close to slavery. [116] A visiting British journalist wrote she "had traveled over most of Europe and part of Africa, but I have never seen such terrible sights as I saw yesterday among the sharecroppers of Arkansas". [117]

The New Deal did not have a specific program for Black people only, but it sought to incorporate them in all the relief programs that it began. [118] [119] The most important relief agencies were the CCC for young men (who worked in segregated units), the FERA relief programs in 1933–35 (run by local towns and cities), and especially the WPA, which employed 2,000,000 or more workers nationwide under federal control, 1935–42. All races had had the same wage rates and working conditions in the WPA. [120]

A rival federal agency was the Public Works Administration (PWA), headed by long-time civil rights activist Harold Ickes. It set quotas for private firms hiring skilled and unskilled Black people in construction projects financed through the PWA, overcoming the objections of labor unions. In this way, the New Deal ensured that blacks were 13% of the unskilled PWA jobs in Chicago, 60% in Philadelphia and 71% in Jacksonville, Florida their share of the skilled jobs was 4%, 6%, and 17%, respectively. [121] In the Department of Agriculture, there was a lengthy bureaucratic struggle in 1933–35 between one faction which favored rising prices for farmers vs. another faction which favored reforms to assist sharecroppers, especially Black ones. When one Agriculture Department official, Alger Hiss, in early 1935 wrote up a directive to ensure that Southern landlords were paying sharecroppers for their labor (which most of them did not), Senator Ellison D. Smith stormed into his office and shouted: "Young fella, you can't do this to my niggers, paying checks to them". [122] The Agriculture Secretary, Henry A. Wallace, sided with Smith and agreed to cancel the directive. [123] As it turned out, the most effective way for Black sharecroppers to escape a life of poverty in the South was to move to the North or California.

An immediate response was a shift in the Black vote in Northern cities from the GOP to the Democrats (blacks seldom voted in the South.) [124] In Southern states where few Black people voted, Black leaders seized the opportunity to work inside the new federal agencies as social workers and administrators, with an eye to preparing a new generation who would become leaders of grass-roots constituencies that could be mobilized at some future date for civil rights. [125] President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed the first federal black judge, William H. Hastie, and created an unofficial "black cabinet" led by Mary McLeod Bethune to advise him. [126] Roosevelt ordered that federal agencies such as the CCC, WPA and PWA were not to discriminate against Black Americans. [126] The president's wife, Eleanor Roosevelt (who was a close friend of Bethune's), was notably sympathetic towards African-Americans and constantly in private urged her husband to do more to try help Black Americans. [126] The fact that the Civil Works Administration paid the same wages to Black workers as white workers sparked much resentment in the South and as early as 1933 conservative Southern politicians who claiming that federal relief payments were causing Black people to move to the cities to become a "permanent welfare class". [127] Studies showed that Black people were twice likely to be unemployed as whites, and one-fifth of all people receiving federal relief payments were Black, which was double their share of the population. [128]

In Chicago the Black community had been a stronghold of the Republican machine, but in the Great Depression the machine fell apart. Voters and leaders moved en masse into the Democratic Party as the New Deal offered relief programs and the city Democratic machine offered suitable positions in the Democratic Party for leaders such as William Dawson, who went to Congress. [129]

Militants demanded a federal anti-lynching bill, but President Roosevelt knew it would never pass Congress but would split his New Deal coalition. [130] Because conservative white Southerners tended to vote as a bloc for the Democratic Party with all of the Senators and Congressmen from the South in the 1930s being Democrats, this tended to pull the national Democratic Party to the right on many issues while Southern politicians formed a powerful bloc in Congress. [131] When a Black minister, Marshall L. Shepard, delivered the opening prayer at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in 1936, Senator Ellison D. Smith stormed out, screaming: "This mongrel meeting ain't no place for a white man!" [131] Though Smith's reaction was extreme, other Democratic politicians from the South made it clear to Roosevelt that they were very displeased. In the 1936 election, African-Americans who could vote overwhelmingly did so for Roosevelt, marking the first time that a Democratic candidate for president had won the Black vote. [132]

In November 1936, the American duo Buck and Bubbles became the first Black people to appear on television, albeit on a British television channel. [133]

In April 1937, Congressman Earl C. Michener read out on the floor of the House of Representatives an account of the lynching of Roosevelt Townes and Robert McDaniels in Duck Hill, Mississippi on 13 April 1937, describing in much detail how a white mob tied two Black men to a tree, tortured them with blowtorches, and finally killed them. [134] Michener introduced an anti-lynching bill that passed the House, but which was stopped in the Senate as Southern senators filibustered the bill until it was withdrawn on 21 February 1938. [135] Both civil rights leaders and the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, pressed President Roosevelt to support the anti-lynching bill, but his support was half-hearted at best. [136] Roosevelt told Walter Francis White of the NAACP that he personally supported the anti-lynching bill, but that: "I did not choose the tools with which I must work. Had I been permitted to choose them I would have selected quite different ones. But I've got to get legislation passed to save America. The Southerners by reason of the seniority rule in Congress are chairmen or occupy strategic places on most of the Senate and House committees. If I came out for the antilynching bill now, they will block every bill I ask Congress to pass to keep America from collapsing. I just can't take the risk". [136]

Through Roosevelt was sympathetic, and his wife even more so towards the plight of African-Americans, but the power of the Southern Democratic bloc in Congress, whom he did not wish to take on, limited his options. [136] Through not explicitly designed to assist Black Americans, Roosevelt supported the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which imposed a national minimum wage of 40 cents per hour and a forty-hour work week while banning child labor, which was intended to assist poorer Americans. [137] The Southern congressional bloc were vehemently opposed to the Fair Labor Standards Act, which they saw as an attack on the entire Southern way of life, which was based upon extremely low wages (for example the minimum wage was 50 cents per day in South Carolina), and caused some of them to break with Roosevelt. [138] In 1938, Roosevelt campaigned in the Democratic primaries to defeat three conservative Southern Democratic senators, Walter F. George, Millard Tydings and Ellison "Cotton Ed" Smith, whom were all returned. [139] Later in 1938, the conservative Southern Democrats allied themselves with conservative Republicans, forming an alliance in Congress which sharply limited Roosevelt's ability to pass liberal legislation. [140]

After Congress passed the Selective Service Act in September 1940 establishing the draft, A. Philip Randolph, the president of all black Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union had his union issue a resolution calling for the government to desegregate the military. [141] As the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had attended the meeting of the brotherhood that passed the resolution, it was widely believed that the president was supportive. [141] Randolph subsequently visited the White House on 27 September 1940, where President Roosevelt seemed to be equally sympathetic. [142] Randolph felt very betrayed where he learned the military was to remain segregated after all despite the president's warm words. [143] Roosevelt had begun a program of rearmament, and feeling the president was not to be trusted, Randolph formed the March on Washington Movement, announcing plans for a huge civil rights march in Washington DC that would demand desegregation of the military and the factories in the defense industry on 1 July 1941. [143]

In June 1941 as the deadline for the march approached, Roosevelt asked for it to be cancelled, saying that 100, 000 Black people demonstrating in Washington would create problems for him. [143] On 18 June 1941, Randolph met with Roosevelt with the mayor of New York, Fiorello H. La Guardia serving as a mediator, where in a compromise it was agreed that the march would be cancelled in exchange for Executive Order 8802, which banned discrimination in factories making weapons for the military. [144] In 1941, the Roosevelt administration, through officially neutral, was leaning in very Allied direction with the United States providing weapons to Great Britain and China (to be joined by the Soviet Union after 22 June 1941), and the president needed the co-operation of Congress as much possible, where isolationist voices were frequently heard. Roosevelt argued to Randolph that he could not antagonize the powerful bloc of conservative Southern Democrats in Congress, and desegregation of the military was out of the question as the Southern Democrats would never accept it by contrast, as La Guardia pointed out, most of the factories in the defense industry were located in California, the Midwest and the Northeast. [144]

Cotton Edit

The largest group of Black people worked in the cotton farms of the Deep South as sharecroppers or tenant farmers a few owned their farms. Large numbers of whites also were tenant farmers and sharecroppers. Tenant farming characterized the cotton and tobacco production in the post-Civil War South. As the agricultural economy plummeted in the early 1930s, all farmers in all parts of the nation were badly hurt. Worst hurt were the tenant farmers (who had relatively more control) and sharecroppers (who had less control), as well as daily laborers (mostly Black, with least control). [145]

The problem was very low prices for farm products and the New Deal solution was to raise them by cutting production. It accomplished this in the South by the AAA, which gave landowners acreage reduction contracts, by which they were paid to not grow cotton or tobacco on a portion of their land. By law, they were required to pay the tenant farmers and sharecroppers on their land a portion of the money, but some cheated on this provision, hurting their tenants and croppers. The farm wage workers who worked directly for the landowner were mostly the ones who lost their jobs. For most tenants and sharecroppers the AAA was a major help. Researchers at the time concluded, "To the extent that the AAA control-program has been responsible for the increased price [of cotton], we conclude that it has increased the amount of goods and services consumed by the cotton tenants and croppers." Furthermore, the landowners typically let their tenants and croppers use the land taken out of production for their own personal use in growing food and feed crops, which further increased their standard of living. Another consequence was that the historic high levels of turnover from year to year declined sharply, as tenants and coppers tend to stay with the same landowner. Researchers concluded, "As a rule, planters seem to prefer Negroes to whites as tenants and coppers." [146]

Once mechanization came to cotton (after 1945), the tenants and sharecroppers were largely surplus they moved to towns and cities.

Shining the Light of Truth: Teaching Black History All Year Long

The end of this past school year, and the events surrounding the death of George Floyd while in police custody, have left all of us reeling.

For those of us who teach U.S. history, there is so much advice, so many suggestions from so many well-meaning individuals and organizations, so much to read. And more to read. I have gotten more links to lists of books to read about racism in the last few weeks than I can count.

But may I suggest that, for history teachers, what Dr. King described as the “urgency of now” demands we read as much about the past as the present?

Whenever I get overwhelmed, I go back to what matters most to me as a teacher. And right now, that means rethinking my curriculum to include more Black history than I already do. I teach 8th grade U.S. history picking up from after Reconstruction. I can imagine that what my new students understand about Reconstruction will be shaky due to remote learning.

So I am considering starting off the year with a review of the Reconstruction Era and how it is an unfinished process in our country.

“The 1873 Colfax Massacre Crippled the Reconstruction Era” (Smithsonian Magazine)

We must remember that African American history is not all about slavery, but that slavery had a profound impact and reach that continues today. (See the end of this post for resources on that continuing impact via the 1619 Project.)

We must remember that when we do teach about historical slavery, we can’t wait to teach it until right before we get to the Civil War unit. We must teach students about the enormous impact of slavery on the story of America from its very beginnings.

And when we wrap up our units on the Civil War and Reconstruction, we can’t ignore Black history until Rosa Parks. None of us – no matter our race or the race of our students – can afford such a distorted view of history.

If we are intentional about doing the work that social justice advocates are talking about right now, we will be busy. We will struggle this summer as we get ready for fall. Lonnie G. Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian, concluded his recent statement on racial violence and division with the quotation below.

If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. – Frederick Douglass

Why Students Need Black History All Year

Editor’s note: The remainder of this article first appeared on 9/17/19, and some comments date from then.

In the month of February you will find countless articles about Black History Month. One of the many suggestions you see in those articles is that Black history should be taught all year, which is why you are reading this in September.

In my classroom, we are newly back to school, and we cannot wait until February. Carter Woodson, the founder of what started out as Black history week, hoped that one day the need for such a special designation would disappear – that one day the history and contributions of Black people would be fully embedded in our classes.

I don’t think we’re at that point yet. How could we be when we still read stories about misguided teachers holding slavery simulations in their classrooms or asking students to identify slavery’s positive aspects?

But in my classroom I am working hard to reach Carter Woodson’s goals. The district where I teach has been wrestling with issues of equity that center around race with a new urgency during the past few years. As a result, I have been to a number of workshops on this issue.

These workshops and my own reading and experience confirm for me, a white teacher, that at least part of the answer is to be found in our curriculum. I cannot single-handedly close the achievement gap or end racism, but I can focus on Black history.

Black History Is for Everyone

Among my own students, 55% are white and the next largest group is African American. But whatever the racial makeup in a school, ALL of our students need Black history.

Why? Let me suggest four reasons, with three caveats.

Reason 1: U.S. history makes no sense without African American history.

As W.E.B. Du Bois famously wrote, “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.” The twenty-first century, so far, does not appear to be much different.

The color line, beginning with slavery, has informed every aspect of our history. Slavery is THE fundamental contradiction in our country’s history. Our nation’s founding principle – a dedication to the proposition that all men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights – is in direct conflict with slavery.

Our country was built with slave labor, we went to war over slavery, and we have not yet made good on the promissory note Martin Luther King spoke of in 1963. As Nikole Hannah-Jones recently asked, “What if America understood…that we [African Americans] have never been the problem but the solution?”

While our country espouses the ideals of democracy, liberty and equality, we haven’t lived up to them, and yet ironically, it is Black Americans who have been the “foremost freedom fighters” in our history. Understanding this contradiction is one of the keys towards understanding the history of the United States of America.

Reason 2: African American history intersects in every unit and period.

Even after your class gets past Reconstruction, African American history continues to play an important role. The Jim Crow era, during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, and the Civil Rights movements are the obvious spots, but African American history fits EVERYWHERE.

As I have taught different grades, I have found myself at different points in the curriculum during February, which has led me to research and then teach different aspects of Black history. A few years ago, I found myself teaching about the Spanish American War and the annexation of the Philippines during February. At first, I didn’t see how I would find a connection there. But find it I did. African Americans fought in the war, many because they hoped it would prove they were loyal Americans.

This would be true of every war the U.S. has ever fought, beginning with the American Revolution and the death of Crispus Attucks during the Boston Massacre. Interestingly, some Black Americans pointed out the hypocrisy of fighting to acquire the Philippines against the will of the population and then working to “civilize them” when there was still so much discrimination against African Americans at home.

Using primary sources such as this declaration from the Colored Citizens of Boston protesting the Filippino War, or “The Black Man’s Burden,” a response to Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, “White Man’s Burden,” help provide alternative perspectives. Furthermore, the anti-imperialist view of the Colored Citizens of Boston is echoed in all the subsequent wars of the 20th century. I use this YouTube clip (starting at minute 1:51) of Muhammed Ali’s stance on Vietnam to demonstrate the parallel.

So whatever units or periods of American history that you teach, do some research. (See resources below for places to start.) You will find something on the role Blacks played that can fuel discussion and illuminate greater truths about the period. Whether it is the opportunities of the workers in the Gilded Age, or the cowboys out west, or the suffragists fighting for women’s right to vote, or the impact of World War II – there are Black people involved.

Reason 3: Our nation’s present problems with race and intolerance make no sense if we don’t know the history behind it.

As I write this post, the New York Times has just published The 1619 Project which examines “the ways the legacy of slavery continues to shape our country.” The last several years have brought renewed attention to the impact of slavery on the world today. (See the excellent podcast, Seeing White, from Scene on Radio.)

Whether you are looking at today’s rise of white supremacy movements, contemporary efforts to take down Confederate monuments, or the advantages slavery had for Northern institutions, it is clear that slavery was the major plot line of American history in the past and continues to inform the present.

When we teach Black history in isolation – as a pause for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or a few heroes in February, or worse, as a few days spent on slavery, its abolition in 1865 and then nothing until Brown v. Board in 1954 – we contribute to our nation’s amnesia about race.

Our students – even in all/mostly white communities – know that race is a major issue in our country. When we don’t acknowledge that, when we don’t teach about the roots of it, then the misunderstanding and the racism continue. As I mentioned in a recent post, Professor Steven Thurston Oliver speaks eloquently about this issue in a podcast for Teaching Tolerance’s Hard History: American Slavery.

Reason 4: Students like Black History

In my experience – no matter what the racial composition of a student is – they like African American history. They like it because it is about justice and injustice. And there is nothing like injustice to stir the passion of a 13-year-old.

Sharecroppers evicted 1936, John Vachon

During my unit on the Great Depression, I use an engaging, 10 minute film clip from the History Channel. I watch students watch it (and they are mostly watching), but I always have a few who drift in and out. Until the part when noted actor Ossie Davis comes on and talks about FDR’s fireside chats.

Davis says, “…and me, a little Black boy down in Georgia…it wasn’t that [FDR] told it to Daddy…or told it to Mama. No, he was talking to little Ossie.” And when he says that, I kid you not, the entire class, including the white kids, perk up and refocus. I know, because I have watched all 5 of my classes for the past few years I have shown this, and it never fails. The same thing happens every time. There is something about that comment (and it’s not just Davis’s wonderful voice) that speaks to them.

This is how it is whenever I teach Black history. Middle school students are (please forgive my broad generalization here) idealistic, full of hatred against anything that isn’t fair. Too often they feel powerless. African American history is all about that and more.

3 Important Caveats

Remember that there is diversity of experience over time and place. Do not treat all African Americans alike. Not every Black person was a slave. Slavery was different in the North from the South. Consider urban vs. rural, small farm or large plantation. Consider the conditions of Black people in the colonial period vs. antebellum vs. 1920s.

The Great Migration fundamentally changed the demographics of our country and life was different for those who made the journey and those who didn’t, for those who followed family and for those who were the first to arrive. There is a beautiful expression of this by classroom teacher Jordan Lanfair in #15 of the Teaching Hard History: American Slavery podcasts at about minute 38:00.

Even African Americans who had the same experiences did not interpret them the same way. I love to use two opposing documents about women’s suffrage from Booker T. Washington and Du Bois to illuminate this. Students are surprised that a Black man would oppose women’s suffrage.

Be sure your entire focus is not slavery and oppression. It shouldn’t be, and not only for the sake of our Black students, who can be justifiably proud of the enormous impact Black culture continues to have on everything American. While slavery and oppression, of course, are a major part of the story, they don’t explain the cultural longevity and successes of African Americans, nor their unique contributions to the arts, to literature (including SF), to music, to sports, to business, to science and mathematics.

One source I especially like to use to address this is a brief video from a New York Times interactive collection featuring the voices of “hypenated” Americans. Michaela, a very light-skinned woman who identifies as Black, is so proud of her identity she pointedly asks, “Why would I want to be White?”

Another piece of cultural history is found in a chapter from Langston Hughes’s 1940 autobiography, The Big Sea, called “When the Negro Was in Vogue.” Students will see echoes of the role African American culture played in the 1920s in our society today.

And one last question you might have….

So if you do this all year, what do you do in February? I’m still wrestling with this question. It is probably wise at the start of the month to explain to students the story of how Black History Month came to be.’s video does this well. I then remind them of other designated months.

You might consider a discussion of what African American history month is for. Is it a celebration of famous people and contributions? A time to focus our attention on the history of African Americans as a people? Is it a time to focus on the successes and the victories? Or the struggle? Or the work yet to be done?

To do all this well, you will need sources other than a textbook. A few of my favorites are linked below.


  • Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “The Case for Reparations” is an important article that is really an overview of the impact of slavery. I also like the essay by Lonnie Bunch, the director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, about the continuing importance of Black History Month. – from Teaching Tolerance – great lessons that need editing for middle schoolers. – from Facing History – part of New York public library – useful for pedagogical issues to consider when thinking about painful topics, like slavery, Jim Crow and lynching.

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Lauren S. Brown (@USHistoryIdeas) has taught U.S. history, sociology and world geography in public middle and high schools in the Midwest. She currently teaches 8th grade U.S. history in suburban Chicago. Lauren has also supervised pre-service social studies teachers and taught social studies methods courses. Her degrees include an M.A. in History from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her blog U.S. History Ideas for Teachers is insightful and packed with resources.

5 Responses

Thank you for this article. It articulates perfectly all the ideas I have about how to teach history in an inclusive way. Though I appreciate the purpose of Black History month, it does tend to allow teachers to avoid the importance of African Americans in ALL parts of our history.

Thank you. I think Black History month is still important and needed, but I agree–it can also lead to ignoring this history until then.

How sad that so many of the ideas here are so racially divisive – just after 2 successful elections of the first black president. What part of the American dream are citizens not allowed to partake? Yes, MLK lived at a time when Jim Crow was still highly active– and his speech was a catalyst for freedoms enjoyed now. Even then he said, “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” Yet, the recommended video of Muhammed Ali, refusing to fight when called by his country (many did this) has him yelling “you white people are my enemy!”

And “there’s nothing like injustice to stir a 13-year old!” It just seems your recommended curriculum seems to be grievance based. Which seems antithetical to MLK’s vision of a color blind world. Does it imply that “whites” have an idyllic world without problems? To actually be fair, we have to teach Hispanic history, Asian history, LGBT history, Filipino history, and so forth. As we break (and keep) individuals in their respective groups, we totally lose the idea of “American History.”

I can see why so many Americans hate the country and deny anything good about it. We need to see people as individuals – not divided into grievance/victim groups. Does your curriculum strengthen or weaken that?

I don’t see my suggestions as grievance-based I see them as U.S. history. Muhammed Ali was speaking at a time when there was significant racism impacting Black Americans. And, as I mentioned, I used the clip during a lesson on the war with the Filipinos. It illustrates a recurring theme in American history. It does not imply that other groups do not have problems.

The quotation you mention from MLK about not drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred is a poignant one and speaks to the broad point you are making. We do, I agree, have to be careful to avoid presenting a view of American history that is so depressing our students lose hope. While I say that there is nothing like injustice to stir a 13-year old, the corollary is that they have tremendous hope and idealism, and we must do all we can to harness that.

That is why I think teaching about past injustices is so important many of these injustices have been addressed. But King’s “vision of a color blind world” is a vision that I do not think has yet been achieved. We are not in the “post-racial” world that many spoke about following Obama’s election. African Americans still fall behind Whites in so many areas– education, economics, health. The evidence is quite clear. Being “color conscious” in the classroom means being aware of and sensitive to the many different backgrounds and cultural roots of our students. That awareness is necessary to teach effectively. Color-blindness, in that context, would not be acceptable. Nor would color-blindness in teaching about the past.

I believe in E Pluribus Unum out of many, one. I do not think that telling the stories of different groups detracts from the story of our nation as a whole. It’s not all about grievances and victims. It is also about overcoming adversity and adding to the body politic. I just finished listening to the first podcast of the 1619 Project: There’s a lovely bit at the very end (about minute 36:00) where Nikole Hannah-Jones explains the role African Americans played in fulfilling the promises and ideals made by the Declaration of Independence and the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. It’s a beautiful thought about the ideals for which this country stands.

I would just like to say as an African American student, I’m glad that you took the time to actually try to teach and educate people as to why it’s important to teach African American history – which is in fact American history. Thank you so much for making an effort.

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