African-American history is a travel topic about the history of American people of African descent.
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African-American history • Mexican-American history • Presidents
The Atlantic Slave Trade that existed from the 1500s to the 1800s resulted in many Africans being taken from Africa and being brought to the Americas as slaves. Some of the slaves were taken to what is today the United States of America, where slavery continued in the South until the American Civil War of the 1860s, after which slavery except as a punishment for a crime was outlawed throughout the United States. During the entire period of chattel slavery in the U.S., there were also a smaller number of free black citizens, and some of them played very important roles in U.S. history, including Crispus Attucks, who as the first victim of the Boston Massacre can be thought of as the first casualty of the Revolutionary War that brought the U.S. into being. Many of these free black people even had slaves of their own.
However, after the end of post-Civil War Reconstruction, various states, especially in the South, instituted segregation and Jim Crow laws, effectively denying black citizens the right to vote and largely separating blacks and whites in any situation where they might otherwise be treated equally. Even in the North, which did not have formal segregation laws, most places were segregated in practice, with many fancier establishments barring entry to non-white patrons. Things would get worse with the rise of the automobile, when suburban homes were largely restricted to white residents, and non-white people were largely forced to live in blighted inner-city neighborhoods. It was not until the Civil Rights Movement gained steam again in the 1950s-1960s that such practices were eventually outlawed and overturned, and not until 2008 that an African-American would be elected president; see postwar United States for context.
In spite of the discrimination they have faced since the 17th century, African-Americans have made tremendous contributions in every field. To take one example, it's nearly impossible to imagine what American music might sound like without the inventiveness, excellence and unique heritage of African-American musicians. To take another, it probably is impossible to imagine what Southern cuisine would be like without the creativity of African-American cooks. African-American soldiers also made valuable contributions in the Civil War, Spanish-American War and both world wars, despite being forced to serve in segregated units. The wars in turn had a huge influence on African-American history, with the Civil War leading to the end of slavery and a short period of African-American political ascendancy in the South, but the mere experience of white soldiers fighting the same battles as their black brothers-in-arms converted some staunch racists into advocates of black civil rights. This can be particularly observed in diaries, memoirs and letters home of white northern Civil War soldiers. Similarly, returning soldiers after both world wars who had experienced a slightly less discriminatory world in the trenches and on the battlefields were not willing to put up with Jim Crow segregation — especially after the Second World War, a war they'd been told was about defeating racism.
A Black Bostonian named Crispus Attucks was killed by British forces in the "Boston Massacre" that helped trigger the American Revolution. Boston was subsequently an abolitionist stronghold and a target for the Underground Railroad.
The South Side of Chicago was once home to Black Metropolis, an economically thriving area with many black-owned businesses. Sadly, the advent of redlining and blockbusting in the postwar years led to the decline of the area, and these days, the South Side has a partly-deserved reputation for high violent crime rates. That said, don't write off a visit to the area entirely, as there are strong upper and middle class black neighbourhoods that are perfectly safe to visit, and Bronzeville, the historical heart of the Black Metropolis, is quickly gentrifying due to the influx of upwardly-mobile black millennials. Due to the legacy of the Great Migration, the South Side is also known as one of the best places in Chicago for soul food. Jackson Park will eventually be home to the Barack Obama Presidential Center, which will house exhibits about the presidency of Barack Obama, the country's first African-American president.
Nicknamed the Motor City, its automobile industry was a draw for many Black workers during the Great Migrations from the South, and enabled quite a few to attain a middle-class lifestyle through promotions within the Big Three car companies' ranks.
It was also the original home of Motown, the first African-American-owned record label to achieve mainstream success, having boasted among its rank numerous all-time greats such as Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. While the record label has since moved to Los Angeles, its original location in Midtown-New Center is the Motown Museum, dedicated to the company's history. That's also where you will find the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, which holds the world's largest permanent exhibit on African American culture.
This Black-majority suburb of Chicago, formerly a bustling steel city and now a depressed Rust Belt community, was the birthplace of Michael Jackson. Jackson rose to prominence at the age of 11 as the youngest member and lead singer of the Jackson 5, in which he performed with his four older brothers. Jackson became one of the top selling pop artists of all time by the 1980s-1990s. His birth house still stands, and while not open to the public, can be viewed and photographed from the outside.
West Coast hip hop started in L.A. and Compton. The 1992 Los Angeles Riots, which erupted when footage of Black motorist Rodney King being arrested and beaten by the police emerged, sparked off a nationwide conversation about police brutality. The California African American Museum (CAAM) in South Central LA focuses on the cultural heritage and history of African Americans with a focus on California and western United States.
Famous as a historical center of blues music, it also played a prominent role in the civil rights struggle. The Lorraine Motel is where Martin Luther King, Jr. was staying in 1968 when he stood with unionized garbage collectors while they struck, seeking safer working conditions and an end to racial discrimination. Dr. King was assassinated at the motel, which has since been converted to the National Civil Rights Museum.
One of the main ports in North America, New Orleans was a major locus of both the slave trade and communities of free blacks and mixed-race Creoles in the 19th century. "The Big Easy", as it is called, was also the birthplace of the quintessential African-American music genre of jazz. Also an excellent place to try some soul food, with several African-American restaurants that have become culinary icons.
- Preservation Hall. The famous Preservation Hall is a place where traditional jazz lives in the city of its origin.
In the 1920s, Harlem witnessed a renaissance in African-American culture, arts, literature and social awareness, spurred by the Great Migration from the southern states to the West, Midwest and in this case, the Northeast. Jazz was also part of the Harlem Renaissance. Duke Ellington's orchestra played at the segregated Cotton Club on 142nd St. and Lenox Ave. and became the first ensemble to be broadcast live on a nationwide radio hookup, starting in 1927. The Cotton Club no longer exists, although a much newer club by the same name at 656 W 125th St near the Hudson River is in business as of October 2021. Another famous venue is still very much alive and kicking: the famous Apollo Theatre, on 125th St. between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard (7th Ave.) and Frederick Douglass Boulevard (8th Ave.). Countless African-American musical stars made their start at Amateur Night at the Apollo, a tradition that endures to this day. The South Bronx was the birthplace of hip hop in the 1970s, and many hip hop stars got their starts at the block parties in the Black communities in the Bronx and other boroughs including Harlem in Manhattan and Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn.
- African Burial Ground Memorial, 290 Broadway, 1st Floor (between Duane St and Reade St; 1st Floor of the Ted Weiss Federal Building. The monument is actually closer to Elk St, 1 block to the east). This monument near City Hall marks part of a 17th-to-18th-century burial ground where more than 15,000 Africans, some free but many enslaved, were buried. This burial ground had been forgotten about for centuries and was rediscovered only when construction of a 34-story federal building was underway in 1991.
- Apollo Theatre. This is the world-famous theatre where Ella Fitzgerald and so many other future superstars proved themselves before the demanding audience at the venue's Amateur Night.
- Birdland, 315 West 44th St. The original location of Birdland, where seminal bebop musicians like Charlie Parker (known as "Bird") and Dizzy Gillespie played, was on 52nd St., but this venue, now somewhat further south and west, remains one of New York's top jazz clubs.
- Duke Ellington statue. This statue of Duke Ellington playing the piano is in the middle of the traffic circle at the intersection of 110th St. and 5th Avenue in Harlem. The Duke was born in Washington, D.C. but was based in New York for years. He burst onto the national scene when his orchestra at the Cotton Club was the first to have a weekly nationwide radio broadcast, starting in 1927.
- Louis Armstrong House Museum, 34-56 107th Street, Queens, NY. The great cornettist, trumpeter and singer, Louis Armstrong, often considered the most important figure in the history of jazz, moved from his native New Orleans to Chicago in the 1920s but lived in this house in Corona from 1943 till his death in 1971. This house is in essentially the same condition and appearance as when Mr. Amstrong lived here with his wife Lucille.
- Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center (Formerly Audubon Ballroom), 3940 Broadway (at West 165th St). This building, where Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965, is dedicated to continuing his work and the work of his wife Betty Shabazz by building youth leadership, advancing radical scholarship and working for racial equity.
- 1 Masjid Malcolm Shabazz (formerly Muhammad’s Temple of Islam #7), 102 West 116th St (at Malcolm X Boulevard (Lenox Ave.)). This green-domed mosque, formerly a Nation of Islam mosque where Malcolm X preached until his split with Elijah Muhammad in 1964, became a Sunni Muslim mosque renamed in Malcolm's honor in 1975. It is one of Harlem's landmarks.
- 2 Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 515 Malcolm X Boulevard (at 135th St). This big research library, part of the New York Public Library system, has loads of materials on African-American, African Diaspora and African topics and also hosts exhibits and performances.
- 3 Studio Museum Harlem, 144 West 125th Street (between Lenox and 7th Aves). Temporarily closed as of October 2021. This museum exhibits work by artists of African descent from the local community and elsewhere.
This city across the San Francisco Bay from San Francisco has a very large Black community, and the Black Panther Party was founded there in 1966.
- 4 African American Museum & Library at Oakland, 659 14th St. The museum on the second floor of this historic Carnegie library building, built in 1902, has great permanent and temporary exhibits about the history of the Black community, particularly in the Bay Area, and also features photography and other art by Black artists. The library has about 12,000 volumes of books by and/or about African-Americans.
Birthplace of Civil Rights leader Malcolm X. Although his house of birth no longer stands, the site it used to stand on is now a National Historic Site and marked by a plaque.
The black district of Greenwood, then called "the Negro Wall Street", was home to a prosperous and influential community of African-Americans until 1921, when white supremacist mobs devastated the neighborhood in the notorious Tulsa Race Riot. Today, Greenwood has a cultural center that promotes the neighborhood's history, and John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park contains statues memorializing the victims of the riot.
- Greenwood Cultural Center. The center aims to promote and preserve African-American culture and keep the memory of the massacre alive.
- Tuskegee Institute. Historically Black university founded by the famous civil rights activist and writer, Booker T. Washington.
- 5 Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site. Dedicated to the African American pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen who trained at this site called Moton Field. Many of them were heroes in World War II.
Home to many sites that are significant to African-American history. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is also in D.C. The National Mall is home to the Lincoln Memorial, where African-American opera singer Marian Anderson sang for a crowd of some 75,000 people in 1939 after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow her to perform a scheduled concert at Constitution Hall, which they helped manage, on account of her color. In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech there to 250,000 supporters as part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Ford's Theatre in the East End is the site where anti-slavery president Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. It is also home to Howard University, perhaps the best known of the historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). In addition, the White House and Capitol are among the buildings in D.C. that were built by enslaved African-Americans. D.C. was the first major city to become majority African American, and is among the first to lose its historic African-American majority due to gentrification.
Once a black-majority city with a strong black middle class, the community was decimated by a white supremacist insurrection that overthrew the city's elected government, until then an interracial coalition, destroyed many black-owned businesses and killed many black people in 1898. Poplar Grove is America's oldest peanut plantation, and is preserved as a museum that explores the history of slavery, farming, and the Gullah Geechee people.
Civil rights movement
Many cities, especially in the South, have historic sites from the civil rights movement.
- Anniston, Alabama – Freedom Riders National Monument
- Atlanta, Georgia – Birthplace and tomb of Martin Luther King, Jr., and a museum and preserved historic neighborhood
- Birmingham, Alabama – A number of famous historic sites, including sites where activists organized and where they were attacked, as well as the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
- Greensboro, North Carolina – The site of the 1960 sit-ins is now a museum.
- Little Rock, Arkansas – Where the Little Rock Nine attended the previously segregated Little Rock Central High School. This event is now celebrated with monuments and memorials, and the city has more black history as well.
- Memphis, Tennessee – The motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot is now a museum.
- Montgomery, Alabama – Several sites celebrating Rosa Parks, MLK, and the Freedom Riders.
- Selma, Alabama – Beginning of the Selma to Montgomery marches for voting rights.
- Topeka, Kansas – Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site
Due to the long history of discrimination, African-Americans tend to be very sensitive on the topic of race relations. While African-Americans are usually happy to share how their race has affected their life experiences, try to do more listening than talking and avoid having debates on the subject.
While the term "Negro" used to be common for referring to "African-Americans" up until the late 20th century, it is now regarded as a racist slur and should be avoided.