Miami Dade College
African Americans can most be identified as citizens of the United States that have bloodlines tracing them to ancestry in Africa. They have been a major part of development in the United States from the invention of cotton gin to the election of Barack Obama as the first African American president. Their contributions to the American society have been nothing but extraordinary. Through their successes they have revolutionized music, arts, and education, while also becoming more prideful of their race.
African Americans were first forcefully brought to the American colonies as slaves in the 16th century. They were looked upon with disgust based on their skin color and were thought of nothing more than peasants and property. They were not provided with education or anything of quality. For 89 years, slavery was legal in all colonies In 1787, slavery was made illegal in the Northwest Territory. However, this began the controversy of many slaves running away for freedom in the Northwestern Territory. The Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1793 requiring all runaway slaves to return to their “rightful” owners (Brunner). In a fifteen short years after that, the importation of slaves from Africa is banned by Congress Tensions between the people who were proslavery and antislavery built up to the point where the Congress decided the only way to resolve the arguments was to agree to disagree. In 1820, the Missouri Compromise was drawn upon granting Missouri the right to become a slave state but also making Maine a free state. The Missouri Compromise also passed an “amendment that drew an imaginary line across the former Louisiana Territory, establishing a boundary between free and slave regions that remained the law of the land until it was negated by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854” (Fonner and Garraty). Many years and rebellions after, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation stating that anyone held as a slave should then be freed. The Thirteenth Amendment was added in 1865 to the Constitution prohibiting slavery.
African Americans, however, still dealt with the verbal abuse of ignorant white citizens. A few common ones were: negroes, niggers, blacks, and colored (Maxwell). There are a succession of names that can be used to refer an African American. Through these hurtful terms, African Americans still found their way influencing and bettering the America that their previous “owners” so proudly inhabited. They struggled mostly to reach equality and attain the same inalienable rights they deserved. They worked to discontinue the assumption that blacks were inferior to whites that had been set by slavery (Adams 79b). Unfortunately, the whites still kept denying them full access to what that African Americans longed for. Laws were designed setting apart the races socially and politically African Americans seemed to have a strong will and open mind because they never gave up. John Hope Franklin had said, “With an optimism born in hope when only despair was in view,” which perfectly described the African Americans’ situation (Adams 79b).
At first, African Americans couldn’t find employment. Sharecropping became outdated thanks to new machinery, so they began working at factories. The factories had paid better than any other job they had previously held which would eventually lead them to better their education, use the money for their needs and grow intellectually. In the 1950s, African Americans were wealthier and more educated than their parents or grandparents had ever been (Carr). Because of this new found education, African Americans began to protest for their equal rights. Martin Luther King Jr is one of the most celebrated African Americans because of his success in convincing the Congress to pass the Civil Rights Bill. When it was passed in 1964, it made it illegal to prohibit any African American