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African Americans

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Blacks in America are descended from many diverseethnic groups. Members of over 40 identifiable ethnic groups from at least 25 different kingdoms were sold to British North America (which later became Canada and the United States) during the Atlantic slave trade. These African slaves were usually sold to European traders by powerful coastal or interior states in exchange for European goods such as textiles and firearms. Africans were very rarely kidnapped by Europeans because they could not penetrate the interior. The danger of fatal disease was ever-present and the coastal areas were dominated by powerful warrior kingdoms. Africans sold and traded into bondage and shipped to the United States came from eight distinct slave-trading regions in Africa, including the south of Morocco, Mauritania, Senegambia (present-day Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea and Guinea Bissau), Sierra Leone (also includes the area of present-day Liberia), the Windward Coast (present-day Ivory Coast), the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana and surrounding areas), the Bight of Benin (present-day Togo, Benin and western Nigeria), the Bight of Biafra (Nigeria south of the Benue River, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea), Central Africa (Gabon, Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Southeast Africa (Mozambique and Madagascar).

Enslaved Africans brought their own religious beliefs, languages, and cultural practices with them when they were forced on ships from Africa to the New World; however, slave traders and owners mounted a systematic and brutal campaign to de-Africanize them, eventually nearly completely stripping them of their original names, languages and religious beliefs. As additional means of subjugation, slave owners often intentionally mixed people who spoke many different African languages to discourage communication in any language other than English on their plantations and it became illegal for slaves to be taught to read or write. Over time, Africans in America formed a new and common identity focused on their mutual condition in America as opposed to cultural and historic ties to Africa.Throughout the period of African enslavement, various types of slavery developed. The types of crops grown (rice, cotton, tobacco, etc), led to varying types of slavery. The schedules of planting, tilling, sowing and harvesting throughout the seasons of the year led to different work regimens and different frequencies of owner-'property' interactions. The majority of slaves were owned by farmers who owned less than three slaves. This sometimes led to an intense blending of culture and sexual relations. In these situations it also enabled the enslaved a modicum of power through work stoppage and running away to nearby plantations during critical times of the year to barter for better treatment and working conditions.

By 1860, there were 3.5 million enslaved Africans in the Southern United States, and another 500,000 Africans lived free across the country. Slavery was a controversial issue in American society and politics. The growth of abolitionism, which opposed the institution of slavery, culminated in the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, and was one reason for the secession of the Confederate States of America, which led to the American Civil War (1861 - 1865). After the Civil War, the United States offered certain civil rights to African Americans. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 declared all slaves in the Confederacy free under U.S. law. It included exceptions for those held in all territories that had not seceded, however, and thus did not immediately free a single slave, since U.S. law held no sway over the Confederacy at the time. The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1865, freed all slaves, including those in states that had not seceded. During Reconstruction, African Americans in the South obtained the right to vote and to hold public office, as well as a number of other civil rights they previously had been denied. However, when Reconstruction ended in 1877, southern, White landowners reinstituted the "Jim Crow" regime of disenfranchisement and racial segregation, and with it a wave of terrorism and repression, including lynchings and other vigilante violence.

During the Progressive Era, black members of the middle class attempted improving the conditions of their race.



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