African American

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Template:AfricanAmerican An African American (also Afro-American, Black American, or simply black), is a member of an ethnic group in the United States whose ancestors, usually in predominant part, were indigenous to Africa. Some African Americans have European and/or Native American ancestry as well. Some have Asian ancestral backgrounds too. The term refers specifically to sub-Saharan African ancestries; not, for example, to white or Arab African ancestry, such as Moroccan or white South African ancestry. This is so even though there is huge genetic variation among the various inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa. Members of the African Diaspora from non-African countries such as Jamaica, Haiti, Cuba, or Great Britain are theoretically referred to by their nation of origin and not African American unless they immigrate to the United States. But once a person of the African Diaspora becomes a permanent U.S. resident, then it is generally assumed that they (and especially their U.S.-born children) are "African American."



The term "African American" has been in common usage in the United States since the late 1980s, when greater numbers of African Americans began to adopt the term self-referentially. Malcolm X favored the term "African American" over "Negro" and used the term at an OAAU (Organization of Afro American Unity) meeting in the early 1960s, saying, "Twenty-two million African-Americans - that's what we are - Africans who are in America." Former NBA player/coach Lenny Wilkens is another who used the term as a teenager when filling a job application. Many Blacks began to abandon the term "Afro-American", which had become popular in the 1960s and '70s, for "African-American," because they desired an unabbreviated expression of their African heritage that could not be mistaken or derided as an allusion to the afro hairstyle. The term became increasingly popular, and by the 1980s, Jesse Jackson and others pressed for its adoption and acceptance. Users of the term argued that "African-American" was more in keeping with the nation's immigrant tradition of so-called "hyphenated Americans", who were known by terms like "Irish-American", or "Chinese-American", "Polish-American"), which link people with their, or their ancestors', geographic points of origin.

Terms used at various points in American history include Negro, colored, Black and Afro-American. Negro and colored were common until the late 1960s, but are now less commonly used and considered derogatory. African American, Black and, to a lesser extent, Afro-American are used interchangeably today, but their precise meanings and connotations are in dispute.

The term African American is sometimes problematic because of its imprecise cultural and geographic meaning. The term as originally applied refers to only those descended from a small number of colonial indentured servants and the estimated 500,000 Africans taken to British North America or the U.S. as slaves (of approximately 11 million Africans taken to the western hemisphere in general). In slightly broader usage, the term can include West Indian and Afro-Latino immigrants whose African ancestors also survived the Middle Passage or recent African immigrants/children of immigrants with American citizenship, but these groups tend to use the ethnic terms Latino or Hispanic, or identify themselves by their countries of origin (i.e., as Dominican or Jamaican instead of African American). The term does not include white, Indian or Arab immigrants from the African continent. The common interpretation of the term 'African American' is frequently, and controversially, challenged; including an infamous incident at a Nebraska High School where a white South African student campaigned for a "Distinguished African American Student Award." [1]

Current Demographics

File:USA 2000 black density.jpg
Population density of African Americans in 2000

According to 2003 U.S. Census figures, some 37.1 million African Americans live in the United States, comprising 12.9 percent of the total population. At the time of the 2000 Census, 54.8 percent of African Americans lived in the South. In that year, 17.6 percent of African Americans lived in the Northeast and 18.7 percent in the Midwest, while only 8.9 percent lived in the western states. Almost 88 percent of African Americans lived in metropolitan areas in 2000. With over 2 million black residents, New York City had the largest black urban population in the United States in 2000. Among cities of 100,000 or more, Gary, Indiana, had the highest percentage of black residents of any U.S. city in 2000, with 85 percent (2003), followed closely by Detroit, Michigan, with 84.6 percent (2004). As of 2004, Memphis, Tennessee has an African-American population of 61.4 percent (2004), Atlanta, Georgia has about 54.2 percent (2004), and the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., has a 57.8 percent Black population (2004).

African American history

Main article: African American history

Blacks in America, like their White counterparts, are composed of many diverse ethnic groups. Over 40 identifiable ethnic groups from 25 different kingdoms were shipped to the United States after being sold to traders during the Atlantic Slave trade. These people came from an area spanning from present day Senegal all the way to Democratic Republic of Congo. 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. Africans were sold and traded into bondage and shipped to the American South from 1619. In 1662 Virginia, the following law mentioned hereditary slavery and tied it to being born of a slave mother; its wording suggests that "negroes" but not "Englishmen" could be enslaved, and it was apparently clarifying an existing legal status, rather than establishing a new one.

Whereas some doubts have arisen whether children got by any Englishman upon a negro woman should be slave or free, be it therefore enacted and declared by the present grand assembly, that all children borne in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother.

The 1662 law brought Virginia into line with Iberian laws that had been in effect since 1265. Over the next few decades, identical laws would be adopted throughout the British colonies. They would remain in effect until U.S. slavery ended over two centuries later. The new partus sequitur ventrem law had three long-term consequences. First, it set a psychological basis for popular culture's seeing slaves as less than fully human. Prior British common law had held that social status passed through the father; only livestock ownership had been matrilineal. Second, since biracial children of free mothers were free, it enabled the emergence of a population of legitimately freeborn Americans of mixed Afro-European ancestry who had no connection to slavery within living memory. Third, it meant that tens of thousands of future slaves would be genetically European, due to European alleles from free fathers gradually replacing African alleles from slave mothers, through random DNA mixing (meiosis) at each generation. Within two centuries, this would lead to such runaway slave advertisements as, "A beautiful girl, about twenty years of age, perfectly white, with straight light hair and blue eyes. — 1847 Hannibal MO," creating the never-to-be-resolved conflict in U.S. society between a dichotomous color line and the obvious fact of mixed heritage.

In 1807, the importation of slaves by U.S. citizens became illegal, yet the practice continued. 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 lead to the American Civil War (1861 - 1865).

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, European American landowners reinstituted a regime of disenfranchisement and racial segregation, and with it a wave of terrorism and repression, including lynchings and other vigilante violence.

The desperate conditions of African Americans in the South that sparked the Great Migration of the early 20th century, combined with a growing African American intellectual and cultural elite in the Northern United States, led to a movement to fight violence and discrimination against African Americans that, like abolitionism before it, crossed racial lines. One of the most prominent of these groups, the NAACP, galvanized by outspoken journalist and activist Ida B. Wells Barnett, led an anti-lynching crusade. In the 1950s, the organization mounted a series of calculated legal challenges to overturn Jim Crow segregation, culminating in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision.

The Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board was one of defining moments of the modern-day Civil Rights Movement. It was part of a long-term strategy to strike down Jim Crow segregation in public education, the hospitality industry, public transportation, employment and housing, granting equal access to African Americans and ensuring their right to vote. The movement reached its peak in the 1960s under leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young, and Roy Wilkins, Sr. At the same time, Nation of Islam spokesman Malcolm X and, later, Stokely Carmichael, the Black Panther Party, and the Republic of New Africa called for African Americans to embrace black nationalism and black self-empowerment, propounding ideas of African (black) unity and solidarity and pan-Africanism.


In the mid 1970s, New York's New Amsterdam News reported that more than 80% of African Americans possessed Native American ancestry; other studies report a lower, though still significant, percentage. Native Americans often took in runaway bondsmen and women and accepted them as members of their tribes, and there is a lengthy history of peaceful coexistence, intermarriage and fighting alliances against whites between Native Americans and African Americans. Some Native American tribes, notably the Cherokee, held enslaved Africans. Further, recent genetic tests on a small population of African Americans revealed their ancestry to be, on average, approximately 19 percent white.

Additionally, throughout U.S. history, very fair persons with straight hair sometimes chose to "pass" as white to escape racism and discrimination, oftentimes completely separating themselves from contact with darker members of their family. This was a dangerous action, in light of anti-miscegenation laws, social attitudes and lynch mobs. Many lived in constant fear of producing children with telltale African features or being otherwise discovered.

Contemporary issues

Main article: African American contemporary issues

Many African Americans have significantly improved their social and economic standing since the Civil Rights Movement, and recent decades have witnessed the expansion of a robust, African American middle class across the United States. However, due in part to a legacy of racism and discrimination, African Americans as a group remain at a pronounced economic, educational and social disadvantage relative to European Americans. Economically, the median income of African Americans is roughly 55 percent of that of European Americans. Persistent social, economic and political issues for many African Americans include inadequate health care access and delivery; institutional racism and discrimination in housing, education, policing, criminal justice and employment; crime; poverty; and substance abuse. African Americans are frequently the targets of racial profiling. They are also more likely to be incarcerated. African Americans also have higher prevalence of some chronic health conditions and out-of-wedlock births relative to the general population. These problems and potential remedies have been the subject of intense public policy debate in the United States in general, and within the African American community in particular.


Main article: African American culture

African American culture is an amalgam of influences, including African, Caribbean, European, and Latino cultures. From its music and dance, to speech, demeanor, and foodways, African American culture bears the strong imprint of West Africa, particularly in rural portions of the Deep South and Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina.

African American music is one of the most pervasive African American cultural influences in the United States today. Hip hop, rock, R&B, funk, and other contemporary American musical forms evolved from blues, jazz, and gospel music. African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is a dialect of English spoken by many African Americans to varying degrees.

African American authors have written many stories, poems, and essays influenced by their experiences as African Americans, and African American literature is a major genre in American literature. Famous examples include Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou.

The term African American

Political overtones

The term African American carries important political overtones. Previous terms used to identify Americans of African ancestry were conferred upon the group by whites and were included in the wording of various laws and legal decisions which became tools of white supremacy and oppression. There developed among blacks in America a growing desire for a term of their own choosing.

With the political consciousness that emerged from the political and social ferment of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Negro fell into disfavor among many African Americans. It had taken on a moderate, accommodationist, even Uncle Tomish, connotation. In this period, a growing number of blacks in the U.S., particularly African American youth, celebrated their blackness and their historical and cultural ties with the African continent. The Black Power movement defiantly embraced black as a group identifier—a term they themselves had repudiated only two decades earlier—a term often associated in English with things negative and undesirable, proclaiming, "Black is beautiful."

In this same period, others favored the term Afro-American; this particular term never gained much traction, but by the 1990s, the term African American had emerged as the leading choice of self-referential term. Just as other ethnic groups in American society historically had adopted names descriptive of their families' geographical points of origin (such as Italian-American, Irish-American, Polish-American), many blacks in America expressed a preference for a similar term. Because of the historical circumstances surrounding the capture, enslavement and systematic attempts to de-Africanize blacks in the U.S. under chattel slavery, most African Americans are unable to trace their ancestry to a specific African nation; hence, the entire continent serves as a geographic marker.

For many, African American is more than a name expressive of cultural and historical roots. The term expresses African pride and a sense of kinship and solidarity with others of the African diaspora—an embracing of the notion of pan-Africanism earlier enunciated by prominent African thinkers such as Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Dubois and, later, George Padmore.

A discussion of the term African American and related terms can be found in the journal article "The Politicization of Changing Terms of Self Reference Among American Slave Descendants" in American Speech v 66 is 2 Summer 1991 p. 133-46.

Who is African American?

To be considered African American in the United States of America nowadays, not even half of one's ancestry need be black African. Since the early 20th century, the nation's answer to the question "Who is black?" has been that a "black" is any person with any known African ancestry. This definition reflects the experience with racism, white supremacy, slavery, and, later, with Jim Crow laws. But this definition was not always the case.

Antebellum Social Customs1

Before 1690 or so, colonial social divisions reflected class (planters, craftsmen, forced laborers) and religion (Christians, "heathens") but did not emphasize ethnic origin. Afro-European intermarriage was common. The endogamous color line was invented in 1691 Virginia, when intermarriage was legislated to be a crime. Over the next 30 years, Afro-European intermarriage was outlawed throughout 12 of the 13 colonies (SC being the exception) and the terms Black and White took on today's meaning.

For the next century and a half, as reflected in U.S. literature, popular culture, and court cases, Americans defined which side of the color line you were on by three rules: appearance, association, and blood fraction. Appearance meant that you would not be accepted as White if you looked African. Association meant that if all your friends were Black, then you would not be accepted as White even if you looked European. Blood fraction meant that if you had more than a statutory fraction of Black ancestry, then you could not become legally White even if you looked European and associated only with Whites. Although the three rules were formally documented and enforced by the courts, each rule’s details varied from state to state. For example, the same biracial person of mostly European ancestry might be seen as a light-skinned Black in Virginia, but White-looking in Spanish Florida and the French Gulf Coast. In Barbadian South Carolina, the rule of association was heavily influenced by wealth; money whitened as in today's Brazil. And the legal blood fraction limit ranged from 1/8 (as in North Carolina) to 1/2 (Ohio). During this period, hundreds of individuals, including famous ones like Jefferson's son Eston Hemmings, painter John James Audubon, and Florida's first U.S. senator David Levy Yulee, were socially accepted as White despite acknowledging slight Black ancestry (rather like Carol Channing today).

The Rise and Triumph of the One-Drop Rule2

The one-drop rule of invisible Blackness arose in the mid-1830s in the Ohio Valley and spread to the south after the Civil War. Those who advocated the notion that you could look completely European and self-identify as White, but still be involuntarily Black due to an undetectable trace of Black ancestry, were a minority at first, and the idea was rejected both by popular culture and the law. But as 19th century was ending, the one-drop rule became increasingly accepted in the South. By 1900 it had become the law of the land in court cases. In the 1910-1930 period its acceptance spread throughout the nation, and it was made statutory and enforced in most states.

Incidentally, not everyone uses the term one-drop rule thus. To some, the term is synonymous with Marvin Harris’s “hypodescent,” meaning that Americans who look slightly African are considered Black, even if their African admixture is less than 50 percent. This differs from the Caribbean, where you are White if you look preponderantly European. To others, one-drop rule refers to the U.S. folkloric belief that anyone who has even one drop of African blood in his veins is marked by some subtle physical trait, a clue that reveals the African ancestry. Some say that it is revealed in the color of the half-moons at the base of the thumbnails, or in the shape of the heels, or in blue or purple marks at specific locations on the body. To them, one-drop rule is the belief that no matter how diluted African blood may be, a residue of visible evidence will always remain, generation after generation. This is nonsense, of course, since about one-third of White Americans have detectable recent African genetic admixture in their DNA from ancestors who passed through the color line. The one-drop rule, on the other hand, is the idea that you can look completely European and self-identify as White, but still be involuntarily Black due to an undetectable trace of Black ancestry.

Why were Americans the only society to adopt such a strange rule of group membership (undetectable and intangible by definition)? The question has interested anthropologists and historians. The four most popular theories are: that it maintained and expanded the agricultural labor force, that it was embraced by Black leadership to enhance ethnic solidarity, that it was used by White supremacists to support the notion of White racial purity, and that it was wielded as a threat to keep compassionate White families in line by exiling them to Blackness if they defended or befriended Blacks during the Jim Crow period of White-on-Black terror and oppression. Of course, these explanations are not mutually exclusive, and may have operated in combination.

The first theory is that the one-drop rule maintained or expanded the labor force by subjecting those of mixed ancestry to forced labor. Its strength lies in explaining why the one-drop rule triumphed in the early 20th century. This was the very period when much of the South's Black agricultural labor force fled to the North in the Great Migration. The one-drop rule shifted the color line pale-wards, trapping many who had been previously seen as White. The theory's weakness is that it is sometimes erroneously applied to slavery. This is an error because no court case ever ruled that someone was a slave merely because of his or her "race." Slavery was matrilineal. Hundreds of people of sub-Saharan phenotype were routinely freed following case law set by Higgins v. Allen, 1796 Maryland by proving that a matrilineal ancestor was free. Indeed, having mixed ancestry was useful because, ever since Gobu v. Gobu, 1802 North Carolina; Hudgins v. Wrights, 1806 Virginia; and Adelle v. Beauregard, 1810 Louisiana, the law of the land (subsequently followed in hundreds of cases) was that biracial individuals were presumed to be free unless proven otherwise. But most importantly, the one-drop rule was not adopted—indeed, it was virtually unknown—in the South until long after slavery was dead. (See Race.)

The explanation that the one-drop rule was embraced by Black leadership in order to enhance ethnic solidarity matches the timing and direction of the rule's spread. The rule was advocated by both Martin R. Delany (1812-1885) and Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) before the Civil War. It was carried south after the war by the Black Yankees who built the schools, printed the newspapers, and opened the businesses that taught the newly freed to flourish as Americans. It was defended and supported by Black political leadership throughout the Jim Crow terror. The one-drop system of racial designation was a significant factor in African-American ethnic solidarity since antebellum times. African Americans generally shared a common lot in society and, therefore, common cause—regardless of their ethnic admixture and social and economic stratification. This theory's weakness is that it cannot stand alone. It seems unlikely that a minority population (Black) could somehow cause mainstream society (White) to adopt and impose a law that helped only Blacks. After all, one-drop rule was enforced by White elites through the judicial system.

The theory that the one-drop rule was used by White supremacists in order to support the notion of White racial purity has the advantage that it reflects the excuses given by the very legislators who wrote the laws and the judges who enforced them. They claimed that they wanted to preserve the "purity of the white race" from being "polluted" by Black blood. White supremacists, whose motivation was racist, considered anyone with African ancestry tainted, inherently inferior morally and intellectually and, thus, subordinate. The theory's drawback is that articulate public figures, such as lawmakers and judges, do not always tell the truth, even to themselves.

The theory that the one-drop rule was used to keep compassionate White families in line is psychologically compelling and matches court evidence of how the rule was enforced. Between 1900 and 1920, over a hundred court cases were held to decide whether an accused family was truly White or unknowingly Black. About forty of those cases were then appealed to state supreme courts. In not one of those forty cases was any genealogical evidence produced. In no case did an accuser reveal an ancient birth certificate, marriage license, school record, or the like. Instead, the testimony was that: An aunt was seen laughing at a joke told by a Black maid. An uncle was seen shaking hands with a Black carpenter who had been hired to build a chicken-coop. A 15-year-old niece was seen flirting with a Black boy of the same age. The testimony that banished families to Blackness was always about establishing one-on-one family-to-family relationships across the color line. The theory is compelling because it is a well-known law of group psychology that when a powerful group bullies a weak group, any member of the bullying group who befriends and tries to defend a victim will be expelled to the bullied group and become a victim himself. During the Jim Crow wave of terror, the White community bullied the Black community. And so, any White family that befriended a Black family was expelled from Whiteness and made legally Black.

U.S. Social Customs Today3

In 1896, the United States Supreme Court missed an opportunity to stifle the one-drop rule before it became the law of the land two decades later. In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the Court affirmed the legality of racial segregation and upheld the State of Louisiana's ruling that, despite being 7/8 white, Homer Plessy's one black great-grandparent rendered him legally non-white and, therefore, subject to being barred from whites-only railway carriages. Ironically, the Justices wanted to consider the issue of Plessy's "race" and encouraged Plessy's lawyers to argue the point. But Plessy's legal strategy was to stipulate that he was Black in order to focus on refuting the public benefit of segregation. Like Walter White a generation later, his goal was not to redefine himself as White (he could easily have done that without court permission); it was to kill segregation.

With the advent of Affirmative Action and other entitlement programs, some have seen it advantageous to be accepted as African-American. The claims to Blackness by individuals who look White and were raised as White, have been rejected by some courts but upheld by others. It apparently depends upon community acceptance. The firefighter Malone brothers of 1985 Boston were convicted of "racial fraud" for acquiring Affirmative Action points added to test scores by claiming that a great-grandmother was Black—a claim that was violently opposed by the local Black community. On the other hand, the employers of Mary Walker of 1988 Denver, a schoolteacher of fair complexion, green eyes, light brown hair, and no documented Black ancestry, were court-ordered to accept her as Black because she was supported by the local Black community. Conversely, Mostafa Hefny of 1997 Detroit, a Black-looking immigrant from Africa (Egypt), was denied benefits because he was not "ethnically" African-American. And yet Mark Stebbins, an Afro-sporting Stockton California councilman who claimed to be of African heritage and raised in the African-American ethnicity lost his seat due to a recall vote paid for by an equally African-American (but Black separatist) opponent on the grounds that Stebbins's integrationist political agenda had made him no longer African-American enough. Again, whether you can benefit from entitlement programs meant for African Americans seems to depend on the support of the local African-American community.

Some recent evidence suggests that the one-drop rule may be waning in America's popular culture. One way of measuring the tenacity of the one-drop-rule is by examining how Black/White interracial parents identify their children on the census “race” question. Such couples are not typical of most Americans. Nevertheless, if interracial parents accept the legitimacy of African-American ethnic self-identity while simultaneously rejecting the one-drop rule, you would expect half of their children to be identified as White and half as Black. That the children of Black/White interracial parents have been more often identified as Black than as White since 1880 demonstrates that the one-drop rule has been accepted for many decades. In fact, the fraction of such children labeled as unmixed White has fallen steadily from 50 percent in 1940 to 13 percent in 2000. This suggests that the one-drop rule continues to grow stronger among Black/White interracial parents. On the other hand, the fraction of such children labeled as unmixed Black dropped abruptly from 62 percent in 1990 to 31 percent in 2000. This suggests that it has recently become unfashionable to make first-generation biracial children deny their European ancestry. Whether this portends a crack in the one-drop rule remains to be seen.

On the other hand, other recent evidence suggests that the one-drop rule is still invoked by Americans whenever it seems useful. As recently as 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the one-drop rule by refusing to hear a case against Louisiana’s “racial” classification criteria as applied to Susie Phipps (479 U.S. 1002). And authors have found it very profitable to "out" as Black famous historical Americans who looked White, were accepted as White in their society, and self-identified as White, merely because they acknowledged having slight African ancestry (Patrick Francis Healy, Michael Morris Healy, Jr., Calvin Clark Davis, John James Audubon, Mother Henriette Delille—a biracial Louisiana Creole).

In the 1980s, parents of mixed-race children began to organize and lobby for the addition of a more inclusive term of racial designation that would reflect the heritage of their offspring. As a result, the term biracial has become more widely used and accepted to classify people of mixed race.

In sum, how Americans have determined whether a person is African American (that is, a member of the U.S. Black endogamous community) or White (that is, a suitable marriage partner for Whites) has changed dramatically over the centuries and may be changing still.

Terms no longer in common use

The term Negro, which was widely used until the 1960s, today increasingly is considered passé and inappropriate or derogatory. It is still fairly commonly used by older individuals and in the Deep South. Once widely considered acceptable, Negro fell into disfavor for reasons already herein stated. The self-referential term of preference for Negro became black.

Negroid is a term used by European anthropologists first in the 18th century to describe indigenous Africans and their descendants throughout the African diaspora. As with most descriptors of race based on inconsistent, unscientific phenotypical standards, the term is controversial and imprecise. Because of its similarity to Negro, growing numbers of blacks have substituted the term Africoid which, unlike Negroid, encompasses the phenotypes of all indigenous African peoples.

Other largely defunct, seldom used terms to refer to African Americans are mulatto and colored. Even so, the use of the word "colored" can still be found today in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP. The American use of the term mulatto originally was used to mean the offspring of a "pure African black" and a "pure European white". The Latin root of the word is mulo, as in "mule", implying incorrectly that, like mules, which are horse-donkey hybrids, mulattoes are sterile crosses of two different species. For example, in the early 20th century, African American leaders such as Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass, who had slaves as mothers and white fathers, were referred to as mulattoes. While not as common as "mixed" or "biracial," or even "multiracial," mulatto is still sometimes used to refer to people of mixed parentage and, despite its origin, is not considered inherently derogatory.

The term quadroon referred to a person of one-fourth African descent, for example, someone born to a Caucasian father and a mulatto mother. Someone of one-eighth African descent technically was an octoroon, although the term often was used to refer to any white person with even a hint of black ancestry.

Mulatto and terms with the -roon suffix persisted in a social context for a number of decades, but by the mid twentieth century, they no longer were in common use. With the end of slavery, there was no longer a strong commercial incentive to classify blacks by their African-European ancestral admixture. The occasional use of these terms, however, does still persist in electronic media, literature and in some social settings.

Black American population

The following gives the black population in the U.S. over time, based on U.S. Census figures. (Numbers from years 1920 to 2000 are based on U.S. Census figures as given on page 377 of the Time Almanac of 2005.

Year Number Percentage of total population
1790 757,208 19.3% (highest historic percentage)
1800 1,002,037 18.9%
1810 1,377,808 19.0%
1820 1,771,656 18.4%
1830 2,328,642 18.1%
1840 2,873,648 16.8%
1850 3,638,808 15.7%
1860 4,441,830 14.1%
1870 4,880,009 12.7%
1880 6,580,793 13.1%
1890 7,488,788 11.9%
1900 8,833,994 11.6%
1910 9,827,763 10.7%
1920 10.5 million 9.9%
1930 11.9 million 9.7% (lowest historic percentage)
1940 12.9 million 9.8%
1950 15.0 million 10.0%
1960 18.9 million 10.5%
1970 22.6 million 11.1%
1980 26.5 million 11.7%
1990 30.0 million 12.1%
2000 34.6 million 12.3% (current percentage)

note: The CIA World Factbook gives the current 2005 figure as 12.9% [2]

Further reading

  • Jack Salzman, ed., Encyclopedia of African-American culture and history, New York, NY  : Macmillan Library Reference USA, 1996
  • African American Lives, edited by Henry L. Gates, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Oxford University Press, 2004 - more then 600 biographies
  • From Slavery to Freedom. A History of African Americans, by John Hope Franklin, Alfred Moss, McGraw-Hill Education 2001, standard work, first edition in 1947
  • Black Women in America - An Historical Encyclopedia, Darlene Clark Hine (Editor), Rosalyn Terborg-Penn (Editor), Elsa Barkley Brown (Editor), Paperback Edition, Indiana University Press 2005

See also

Other groups

External links


  1. This section was adapted from chapters 6-13 of the book, Legal History of the Color Line: The Rise and Triumph of the One-Drop Rule by Frank W. Sweet, ISBN 0939479230, which contains the detailed citations and references. Summaries of these chapters, with endnotes, are also available online at How the Law Decided if You Were Black or White: The Early 1800s.
  2. This section was adapted from chapters 20-21 of the book, Legal History of the Color Line: The Rise and Triumph of the One-Drop Rule by Frank W. Sweet, ISBN 0939479230, which contains the detailed citations and references. Summaries of these chapters, with endnotes, are also available online at Jim Crow Triumph of the One-Drop Rule.
  3. This section was adapted from chapter 14 of the book, Legal History of the Color Line: The Rise and Triumph of the One-Drop Rule by Frank W. Sweet, ISBN 0939479230, which contains the detailed citations and references. A summary of this chapters, with endnotes, is also available online at Features of Today’s One-Dropأمريكيون أفارقة

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