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African Americans facts for kids

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Famous African Americans: Above: W. E. B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, and Barack Obama. Below: Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and Sojourner Truth.

An African American generally refers to a person who lives in the United States and speaks English, but whose ancestors were from Africa. It could also describe a first generation African immigrant who has citizenship in the United States. More rarely, it is used for people of African ancestry who live elsewhere in the Americas.

The term is usually associated with "black people". This is because of many African Americans' dark skin due to having Sub-Saharan African ancestors. Many Africans were brought to the United States in the slave trade. Many of the U.S. population (especially in many urban or city areas) are African American. Many others live in rural areas in the Southern United States. Detroit has the highest percent of blacks in the nation, and many live in other big cities. Cities with the highest percent of African Americans are Jackson, Mississippi; New Orleans; Memphis; Miami Gardens; and Savannah, Georgia. New York City and Chicago have the largest population of African Americans. Other cities with a high African American population are Baltimore, Houston, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Baton Rouge, Washington, D.C. and Dallas. States with the highest percentage of African Americans are Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland, South Carolina, Alabama, Delaware, North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee. African Americans are third largest ethnic group in the United States after White Americans and Hispanic and Latino Americans.


African-American refers to a specific range of diverse cultures with a common thread of ethnic connection to Africa. This term was created to describe an ethnic/cultural link to Africa for people who are American, much as in the case of Italian Americans, Irish Americans, or Polish Americans. The difference is that Italian Americans and Polish Americans know they are Americans of Italian or Polish (not general European) descent.

The 'African' in African-American acknowledges the connection to a number of African cultures, not one in particular. The 'American' shows the nationality and culture of the United States. A person born in Nigeria is still Nigerian even if he or she comes to the United States and lives here for the rest of their life. If that person wants to say that they are an American citizen, they would simply say "I am an American citizen". His American-born children could correctly call themselves Nigerian-American OR African-American.

Some Caribbeans such as Jamaicans do not identify as African American, even if they have African ancestry.


Malcolm X NYWTS 2a
Malcolm X

In America, and from an American point of view, the term 'Black' is often applied to other ethnic groups throughout the world who do not necessarily see themselves as Black, such as Australian Aborigines, for example. African American culture was born in the United States and is distinct from any single African culture.

African-American is a term that many Black people chose to call themselves because they found the term "Negro" offensive.

In America there are many immigrants of mixed race that includes African descent, like Cape Verdeans, Dominicans, Cubans, Brazilians and Puerto Ricans. These groups, by and large, do not think of themselves as Black or African American and object to these labels.

Many mixed race Americans also resist pressure to identify themselves as Black or White. Blasians and Afro-Hispanics also resist pressure.

Genetic studies

Many African Americans have European ancestry and Native American along with African ancestry.

Recent surveys of African Americans using a genetic testing service have found varied ancestries. These studies found that on average, African Americans have 73.2–82.1% West African, 16.7%–24% European, and 0.8–1.2% Native American genetic ancestry, with large variation between individuals. Genetics websites themselves have reported similar ranges, with some finding 1 or 2 percent Native American ancestry and reporting an outlying percentage of European ancestry among African Americans of 29%. 38% of African Americans have Irish ancestry.


Most of the first African Americans were brought to North America as part of the Atlantic slave trade. African slaves were brought to North America from 1619 to 1808. After the United States became independent, slavery became illegal in most northern states. At the same time, slavery grew more important to the economy of the southern states. Many African American slaves worked on plantations that grew cotton and tobacco. Plantation work was very difficult and slaves were often whipped and physically punished. It was illegal for slaves to learn how to read and write.

At the same time, there were many free African Americans in the north. Unlike slaves, they were allowed to start churches, write newspapers, and sometimes own property. Frederick Douglass was an important abolitionist (fighter against slavery). Harriet Tubman helped to create the Underground Railroad, which helped African Americans to sneak away from their masters and become free. During the American Civil War from 1861-1865, the south broke away from the United States to form the Confederate States of America, or Confederacy. The United States won the war, and in 1865, it freed all slaves (about 4 million) by the 13th amendment.

African Americans were not slaves anymore, but white southerners passed laws called Black Codes that took away their freedom. Some African Americans served in government, but after 1877, the white southerners mostly kept them out of government. Whites founded the Ku Klux Klan to scare African Americans and stop them from voting. Most southern African Americans became sharecroppers. Sharecropping was a system in which the farmers rented the land from the landowner and had to pay the landowner part of their crops. Jim Crow laws segregated white and black people. Black people had to go to different schools and usually live in different neighborhoods than white people. Many businesses were for whites only. The Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson said that black and white facilities could be separate but equal, but facilities for black people were usually worse. Lynching was often practiced against African Americans.

In the early 1900s, African American culture grew with the Harlem Renaissance, an artistic and literary movement in New York City. The NAACP was founded to improve the lives of African Americans. Leaders had different ideas about what was best for African Americans. Booker T. Washington thought they should go to vocational schools to get better jobs. W. E. B. Du Bois thought university education was more important. Marcus Garvey believed that African Americans should move to Africa to have a country of their own. During the Great Migration, from the 1910s to the 1960s, African Americans moved from the south to cities in the north and west. At the beginning, only 10% of African Americans lived outside the south, but by the end, 47% lived in the north and west. Segregation also existed in the north. Redlining stopped people who lived in African American neighborhoods from buying homes.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement called for equality between African Americans and whites. The 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education banned racial segregation in schools. Many Southern schools still stopped black students from attending, until 1957, when federal troops forced a school in Little Rock, Arkansas to allow black students (called the Little Rock Nine). In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus. This started the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which involved Martin Luther King. King and Malcolm X were two leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, but they were both killed in the 1960s. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act banned discrimination based on race.

Language and society

Neil deGrasse Tyson - NAC Nov 2005
Neil Degrasse Tyson

With their American born children came the first generation of English speaking African Americans. But this development was not the same all over the country. For example; even today the Gullah of the Sea Islands off the Carolina and Georgia coasts still speak a language that is a blend of several African languages. They are the descendants of slaves from different countries in Africa.

In the United States when Americans say African-American or Black, they are referring to the same people. Both terms describe an ethnic group that came to exist in the United States. The Africans who were brought to America as slaves were from different nationalities and did not all speak the same language. They became a new blended ethnic group with a new language that was not their own: English.

Blacks used to be segregated in schools but since the 1960s were able to join major schools, colleges and universities. In the second half of the 20th century, reading-ability rates for blacks increased.


Frank Ocean December 2011 (cropped)
Frank Ocean is an African American

African Americans have influenced various forms of music, including Hip hop, R&B, funk, rock and roll, soul, blues, and other contemporary American musical forms while older black forms of music included blues, doo-wop, barbershop, ragtime, bluegrass, jazz, and gospel music. Michael Jackson, an African-American pop singer, released an album called Thriller in 1982 which is the best-selling album of all time. In the nineties Beyonce Knowles became famous as the lead singer of the R&B girl band Destiny's Child. In the 2000s she started releasing music on her own. Her first album Dangerously in Love sold 11 million copies and won five Grammy Awards. African-American rappers Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Kanye West, 50 Cent, Flo Rida and Drake are considered one of the best selling artists. Gangsta rap such as 50 Cent and G-Unit is popular African-American music.

Black culture has been the subject of documentaries. For example, the award-winning Black Is, Black Ain't explores black identity. Good Hair discusses the significance of having 'good hair' for black women in American culture.

There is a National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.

Protestant Christianity is the most practised religion by African Americans.

Soul food is a cuisine eaten by African Americans in the South. Fried chicken, mac and cheese, cornbread and candied yams is typical soul food.

Kwanzaa and Juneteenth are popular African American holidays.

Popular African-American fashions are hip-hop such as durags, saggying jeans and grills. African American hairstyles include dreadlocks and cornrows.

Quick facts about African Americans

  • African Americans are people who live in America and speak English but have ancestors from Africa.
  • Since there are many African countries, an American who has ancestors from Nigeria, Africa, could call himself either African American or Nigerian American.
  • Most of the time, African Americans are called "black people".
  • Many Africans were brought to the southern United States in the Atlantic slave trade.
  • There were many free African Americans in the north.
  • There are many immigrants in America of a mixed race who do not call themselves "black" or "African Americans".
  • Black people used to be segregated in schools, especially in the south.
  • Other restrictions were put on African-American people in the south because of the color of their skin.
  • Many African Americans have their own culture that is reflected in their music, dress, religion, food, and celebrations.

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