African-American history is a travel topic about the history of American people of African descent.
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Indigenous nations → Pre-Civil War → Civil War → Old West → Industrialization → Postwar
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.
- Tuskegee Institute.
- Manhattan/Harlem and Upper Manhattan, New York City. 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, but another famous venue is still very much alive and kicking: the famous Apollo Theater, on 125th St. between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard (usually still called 7th Ave.) and Frederick Douglass Boulevard (usually still called 8th Ave.). Countless African-American musical stars made their start at Amateur Night at the Apollo, a tradition that endures to this day.
- Chicago. 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.
- New Orleans. 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.
- Tulsa, Oklahoma. 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 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.
- Los Angeles. Site of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, which erupted when footage of Rodney King being arrested and beaten by the police emerged. The riots would spark off a nationwide conversation about police brutality. The seaside suburb of Santa Monica is home to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, where the award ceremony of the 36th Academy Awards were held in 1964, during which Sidney Poitier became the first African-American to win the Oscar for Best Actor. The Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, formerly known as the Kodak Theatre, is the current home of the Oscars, and saw Halle Berry become the first African-American woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress at the 74th Academy Awards in 2002.
- Washington D.C.. Home to many sites that are significant to African-American history. 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. Also home to Howard University, perhaps the best known of the historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), though these days, while its student body is still predominantly black, it is no longer segregated and admits students of all skin colours. DC was also the first major city to become majority African American and these days is among the first to lose its historic African-American majority due to gentrification. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is also in D.C.
- Memphis. 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.
- Omaha. 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.
- Gary, Indiana. Birthplace of Michael Jackson, who first rose to prominence at the age of 11 as the youngest member and lead singer of the Jackson 5, which also comprised of his four older brothers. Jackson was an exceptionally talented artiste who was able compose and write his own hit songs in addition to singing them, and was also an excellent choreographer in addition to being an exceptional dancer in his own right, eventually making him one of the top selling pop artistes 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.
- Wilmington, North Carolina. 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, destroyed many black-owned businesses and killed many black people in 1898.
- Detroit. 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, and even a handful of moderately successful white artistes such as Teena Marie. While the record label has since moved to Los Angeles, its original location is now a museum dedicated to the company's history.
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.
- Oakland, California – Where the Black Panther Party was founded.
- Selma, Alabama – Beginning of the Selma to Montgomery marches for voting rights.
- Topeka, Kansas – Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site