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African-American history is the portion of American history that specifically discusses the African-American or Black American ethnic groups in the United States. Most African Americans are the descendants of captive Africans held in the United States (or British controlled territories that would become the United States) from 1555 to 1865. Blacks from the Caribbean whose ancestors immigrated, or who immigrated to the U.S., also traditionally have been considered African-American, as they share a common history of predominantly West African or Central African roots, the Middle Passage and slavery.
African Americans have been known by various names throughout American history, including colored and Negro, which are no longer generally accepted in English. Instead the most usual and accepted terms nowadays are African American and Black, which however may have different connotations (see African American Terminology). Color usually refers not only to African Americans, but also to other non-white ethnic groups. Others who sometimes are referred to as African Americans, and who may identify themselves as such in US government censuses, include relatively recent Black immigrants from Africa, South America and elsewhere.
African-American history is celebrated and highlighted annually in the United States during February, designated as Black History Month. Although previously marginalized, African-American history has gained ground in school and university curricula in recent years.
The great majority of African Americans descend from peoples brought directly from Africa, or, more often, from the Caribbean. It is believed by some scholars that these slaves more often than not were prisoners of war captured by African states during warfare, and sold to Arab, European or American slave traders. Slavery within Africa had already existed in varied forms prior to the arrival of the Europeans. However, the existing market for slaves in Africa was exploited and expanded by European powers in search of low-cost labor for New World plantations. In most cases, the people who would become slaves had been kidnapped or falsely charged with crimes.
The American slave population was made up of the various ethnic groups from mostly western and central Africa, including the Sahel, although a smaller minority were from, eastern, and south eastern Africa, including the Hausa, Tuareg, Fula, Bakongo, Igbo, Mandé, Wolof, Akan, Fon and Makua amongst others. Although these different groups varied in customs, religious theology and language, what they had in common was a way a life that was different from the Europeans. However, since a majority of the slaves came from these villages and societies, once sent to the Americas these different peoples did away with tribal differences and forged a new history and culture that was a creolization of their common pasts and present.
The Bakongo people were part of a large civilization that consisted of around two million people by the 1400s. Most African Americans trace their ancestors to the Kingdoms of Kongo and Ndongo (Angola). African political organizations were also in a monarchical system similar to the Europeans.
Regions of Africa
Studies of contemporary documents reveal seven regions from which Africans were sold or taken during the Atlantic slave trade. These regions were:
• Senegambia, encompassing the coast from the Senegal River to the Casamance River, where captives as far away as the Upper and Middle Niger River Valley were sold;
• The Sierra Leone region included territory from the Casamance to the Assini River in the modern countries of Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia andCôte d’Ivoire;
• The Gold Coast region consisted of mainly modern Ghana;
• The Bight of Benin region stretched from the Volta River to the Benue River in modern Togo, Benin and southwestern Nigeria;
• The Bight of Biafra extended from southeastern Nigeria through Cameroon into Gabon;
• West Central Africa, the largest region, included the Congo and Angola; and
• East and Southeast Africa, the region of Mozambique-Madagascar included the modern countries of Mozambique, parts of Tanzania and Madagascar.
The largest source of slaves to be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean for the New World was West Africa. West Africans were skilled iron workers and were therefore able to make tools that aided in their agricultural labor. While there were many unique tribes with their own customs and religions, by the tenth century, Islam had been soaked up by many of the residents and became a common religion. Those villages in West Africa there were lucky enough to good conditions for growth and success, prospered. They also contributed their success to the slave trade.
Origins and Percentages of African Americans imported into British North America and Louisiana (1700–1820)
The Middle Passage
Africa before the Atlantic fire Trade
Before the Atlantic Slave Trade there were already people of African descent in America. A few countries in Africa would buy, sell, and trade other enslaved African’s, who were often prisoners of war, with the Europeans. The people of Mali and Benin are known for partaking in the event of selling their prisoners of war and other unwanted people off as slaves.
In the account of Olaudah Equiano, he described the process of being transported to the colonies and being on the slave ships as a horrific experience. On the ships, the slaves were separated from their family long before they boarded the ships. Once aboard the ships the captives were then segregated by gender. Under the deck, the slaves were cramped and did not have enough space to walk around freely. Male slaves were generally kept in the ship’s hold, where they experienced the worst of crowding. The captives stationed on the floor beneath low-lying bunks could barely move and spent much of the voyage pinned to the floorboards, which could, over time, wear the skin on their elbows down to the bone. Due to the lack of basic hygiene, malnourishment, and dehydration diseases spread wildly and death was common.
The women on the ships often endured rape by the crewmen. Women and children were often kept in rooms set apart from the main hold. This gave crewmen easy access to the women which was often regarded as one of the perks of the trade system. Not only did these rooms give the crewmen easy access women but it gave enslaved women better access to information on the ship’s crew, fortifications, and daily routine, but little opportunity to communicate this to the men confined in the ship’s hold. As an example, women instigated a 1797 insurrection aboard the British ship Thomas by stealing weapons and passing them to the men below as well as engaging in hand-to-hand combat with the ship’s crew.
In the midst of these terrible conditions, African slaves plotted mutiny. Male slaves were the most likely candidates to mutiny and only at times when they were on deck. While rebellions did not happen often, they were usually unsuccessful. In order for the crew members to keep the slaves under control and prevent future rebellions, the crews were often twice as large and members would instill fear into the slaves through brutality and harsh punishments. From the time of being captured in Africa to the arrival to the plantations of the European masters, took an average of six months. Africans were completely cut off from their families, home, and community life. They were forced to adjust to a new way of life.