African American culture

African American culture

African American culture in the United States refers to the cultural contributions of African ethnic groups to the culture of the United States, either as part of or distinct from American culture. The distinct identity of African American culture is rooted in the historical experience of the African American people, including the Middle Passage, and thus the culture retains a distinct identity while at the same time it is enormously influential to American culture as a whole.

African American culture is rooted in Africa and is a blend of chiefly sub-Saharan African and Sahelean cultures. Although slavery greatly restricted the ability of Africans in America to practice their cultural traditions, many practices, values, and beliefs survived and over time have modified or blended with European American culture. There are even some facets of African American culture that were accentuated by the slavery period. The result is a dynamic culture that has had and continues to have a profound impact on mainstream American culture, as well as the culture of the broader world.

After Emancipation, unique African American traditions continued to flourish, as distinctive traditions or radical innovations in music, art, literature, religion, cuisine, and other fields. While for some time sociologists, such as Gunnar Myrdal and Patrick Moynihan, believed that African Americans had lost most cultural ties with Africa, anthropological field research by Melville Herskovits and others demonstrated that there is a continuum of African traditions among Africans of the Diaspora. [cite book|last=Herskovits|first=Melville|others=Sidney Mintz|title=The Myth of the Negro Past|publisher=Beacon Press|date=1990|pages=368|isbn=ISBN 0807009059|url=] The greatest influence of African cultural practices on European cultures is found below the Mason-Dixon in the southeastern United States, especially in the Carolinas among the Gullah people and in Louisiana.cite web|url=|title=The Gullah: Rice, Slavery, and the Sierra Leone Connection|last=Opala|first=Joseph|publisher=Yale University|accessdate=2008-05-22] cite web|url=|title=South Carolina – African American Culture, Heritage|publisher=South Carolina Information Highway|accessdate=2008-05-21]

African American culture often developed separately from mainstream American culture because of the persistence of racial discrimination in America, as well as African Americans' desire to maintain their own traditions. Consequently, African American culture has become a significant part of American culture and yet, at the same time, remains a distinct cultural body.cite web |url= |title=African American Voices: Slave Culture |publisher=University of Houston |date=2007-06-02 |accessdate=2007-06-02]


From the earliest days of American slavery in the 17th century, slave owners sought to exercise control over their slaves by attempting to strip them of their African culture. The physical isolation and societal marginalization of African slaves and, later, of their free progeny, however, actually facilitated the retention of significant elements of traditional culture among Africans in the New World generally, and in the U.S. in particular. Slave owners deliberately tried to repress political organization in order to deal with the many slave rebellions that took place in the southern United States, Brazil, Haiti, and the Dutch Guyanas.

African cultures, slavery, slave rebellions, and the civil rights movements have shaped African American religious, familial, political, and economic behaviors. The imprint of Africa is evident in myriad ways, in politics, economics, language, music, hairstyles, fashion, dance, religion, cuisine, and worldview. In the United States, the very legislation that was designed to strip slaves of culture and deny them education served in many ways to strengthen it.cite web |author=Maggie Papa, Amy Gerber, Abeer Mohamed |publisher=George Washington University|url= |title=African American Culture through Oral Tradition |accessmonthday=May 17 |accessyear=2007]

In turn, African American culture has had a pervasive, transformative impact on many elements of mainstream American culture. This process of mutual creative exchange is called creolization. Over time, the culture of African slaves and their descendants has been ubiquitous in its impact on not only the dominant American culture, but on world culture as well.

Oral tradition

Slaveholders limited or prohibited education of enslaved African Americans because they believed it might empower their chattel and inspire or enable emancipatory ambitions. Hence, African-based oral traditions became the primary means of preserving history, morals, and other cultural information among the people. This was consistent with the "griot" practices of oral history in many African and other cultures that did not rely on the written word. Many of these cultural elements have been passed from generation to generation through storytelling. The folktales provided African Americans the opportunity to inspire and educate one another. Examples of African American folktales include trickster tales of Br'er Rabbit [cite web |url= |title=Editor's Analysis of "The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story" |publisher=University of Virginia |accessdate=2007-10-07] and heroic tales such as that of John Henry. [cite web |url= |title=John Henry: The Steel Driving Man |accessdate=2007-10-07 |publisher=ibiblio] The Uncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris helped to bring African American folk tales into mainstream adoption. [cite web |url= |title=Uncle Remus | |date=2003 |accessdate=2007-10-10] Harris did not appreciate the complexity of the stories nor their potential for a lasting impact on society. [cite web |url= |title=EDITOR'S PREFACES | |year=2003 |accessdate=2007-10-10]

The legacy of the African American oral tradition manifests in diverse forms. African American preachers tend to perform rather than simply speak. The emotion of the subject is carried through the speaker's tone, volume, and movement, which tend to mirror the rising action, climax, and descending action of the sermon. Often song, dance, verse, and structured pauses are placed throughout the sermon. Call and response is another pervasive element of the African American oral tradition. It manifests in worship in what is commonly referred to as the "amen corner." In direct contrast to recent tradition in other American and Western cultures, it is an acceptable and common audience reaction to interrupt and affirm the speaker. [cite book |url= |title=A Fire in the Bones: Reflections on African-American Religious History |last=Raboteau |first=Albert J. |accessdate=2007-10-07 |publisher=Beacon Press |isbn=0807009334 |year=1995] This pattern of interaction is also in evidence in music, particularly in blues and jazz forms. Hyperbolic and provocative, even incendiary, rhetoric is another aspect of African American oral tradition often evident in the pulpit in a tradition sometimes referred to as "prophetic speech."

Other aspects of African-American oral tradition include the dozens, signifying, trash talk, rhyming, semantic inversion and word play, many of which have found their way into mainstream American popular culture and become international phenomena.

Spoken word artistry is another example of how the African American oral tradition has influenced modern popular culture. Spoken word artists employ the same techniques as African American preachers including movement, rhythm, and audience participation. [cite web |url= |title=The Spoken Word Movement of the 1990's |first=Mark |last=Miazga |date=1998-12-15 |accessdate=2007-10-07 |publisher=Michigan State University] Rap music from the 1980s and beyond has been seen as an extension of oral culture.

Harlem Renaissance

The first major public recognition of African American culture occurred during the Harlem Renaissance. In the 1920s and 1930s, African American music, literature, and art gained wide notice. Authors such as Zora Neale Hurston and Nella Larsen and poets such as Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Countee Cullen wrote works describing the African American experience. Jazz, swing, blues and other musical forms entered American popular music. African American artists such as William H. Johnson and Palmer Hayden created unique works of art featuring African Americans.

The Harlem Renaissance was also a time of increased political involvement for African Americans. Among the notable African American political movements founded in the early 20th century are the United Negro Improvement Association and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The Nation of Islam, a notable Islamic religious movement, also began in the early 1930s.cite web |url= |title=The Harlem Renaissance |first=William H. |last=Johnson | |accessdate=2007-06-01]

African American cultural movement

The Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s followed in the wake of the non-violent American Civil Rights Movement. The movement promoted racial pride and ethnic cohesion in contrast to the focus on integration of the Civil Rights Movement, and adopted a more militant posture in the face of racism. [cite web |url= |title=Black Power |work=King Encyclopedia |publisher=Stanford University |accessdate=2007-06-02] It also inspired a new renaissance in African American literary and artistic expression generally referred to as the African American or "Black Arts Movement."

The works of popular recording artists such as Nina Simone ("Young, Gifted and Black") and The Impressions ("Keep On Pushin"'), as well as the poetry, fine arts, and literature of the time, shaped and reflected the growing racial and political consciousness. [cite web |url= |title=Black Power |work=Black Arts Movement |publisher=University of Michigan |accessdate=2007-06-02] Among the most prominent writers of the African American Arts Movement were poet Nikki Giovanni; [cite web |url= |title=Nikki Giovanni |work=Black Arts Movement |publisher=University of Michigan |accessdate=2007-06-02] poet and publisher Don L. Lee, who later became known as Haki Madhubuti; poet and playwright Leroi Jones, later known as Amiri Baraka; and Sonia Sanchez. Other influential writers were Ed Bullins, Dudley Randall, Mari Evans, June Jordan, Larry Neal, and Ahmos Zu-Bolton.

Another major aspect of the African American Arts Movement was the infusion of the African aesthetic, a return to a collective cultural sensibility and ethnic pride that was much in evidence during the Harlem Renaissance and in the celebration of "Négritude" among the artistic and literary circles in the U.S., Caribbean, and the African continent nearly four decades earlier: the idea that "black is beautiful." During this time, there was a resurgence of interest in, and an embrace of, elements of African culture within African American culture that had been suppressed or devalued to conform to Eurocentric America. Natural hairstyles, such as the afro, and African clothing, such as the dashiki, gained popularity. More importantly, the African American aesthetic encouraged personal pride and political awareness among African Americans. [cite web |url= |title=Black Aesthetic |work=Black Arts Movement |publisher=University of Michigan |accessdate=2007-06-02]


African American music is rooted in the typically polyrhythmic music of the ethnic groups of Africa, specifically those in the Western, Sahelean, and Sub-Saharan regions. African oral traditions, nurtured in slavery, encouraged the use of music to pass on history, teach lessons, ease suffering, and relay messages. The African pedigree of African American music is evident in some common elements: call and response, syncopation, percussion, improvisation, swung notes, blue notes, the use of falsetto, melisma, and complex multi-part harmony. During slavery, Africans in America blended traditional European hymns with African elements to create spirituals. [cite book |last=Stewart |first=Earl L. |date=August 1, 1998 |publisher=Prentice Hall International |title=African American Music: An Introduction |isbn=0-02-860294-3 |pages=5-15 |url=]

Many African Americans sing "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" in addition to the American national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner", or in lieu of it. Written by James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson in 1900 to be performed for the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the song was, and continues to be, a popular way for African Americans to recall past struggles and express ethnic solidarity, faith, and hope for the future.cite book |author=Bond, Julian; Wilson, Dr. Sondra Kathryn, eds. |url= |title=Lift Every Voice and Sing: A Celebration of the Negro National Anthem; 100 Years, 100 Voices |publisher=Random House |isbn=0679463151 |accessdate=2007-10-14 |year=2000] The song was adopted as the "Negro National Anthem" by the NAACP in 1919. [cite web |url= |title=Lift Every Voice and Sing |date=2002-02-04 |accessdate=2007-06-01 |publisher=National Public Radio] African American children are taught the song at school, church or by their families. "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" traditionally is sung immediately following, or instead of, "The Star-Spangled Banner" at events hosted by African American churches, schools, and other organizations. [cite web |url= |title=Lift Every Voice -- 100 Years Old |last=McIntyre |first=Dean B. |date=2000-01-20 |accessdate=2007-06-01 |publisher=General Board of Discipleship]

In the 1800s, as the result of the blackface minstrel show, African American music entered mainstream American society. By the early twentieth century, several musical forms with origins in the African American community had transformed American popular music. Aided by the technological innovations of radio and phonograph records, ragtime, jazz, blues, and swing also became popular overseas, and the 1920s became known as the Jazz Age. The early 20th century also saw the creation of the first African American Broadway shows, films such as King Vidor's "Hallelujah!", and operas such as George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess". Rock and roll, doo wop, soul, and R&B developed in the mid-20th century. These genres became very popular in white audiences and were influences for other genres such as surf. During the 1970s, the dozens, an urban African American tradition of using rhyming slang to put down one's enemies (or friends), and the West Indian tradition of toasting developed into a new form of music. In the South Bronx the half speaking, half singing rhythmic street talk of "rapping" grew into the hugely successful cultural force known as Hip hop. [cite journal |url= |title=The Roots of Hip Hop |journal=RM Hip Hop Magazine |year=1986 |accessdate=2007-11-06] Hip Hop would become a multicultural movement, however, it still remained important to many African Americans. The African American Cultural Movement of the 1960s and 1970s also fueled the growth of funk and later hip-hop forms such as rap, hip house, new jack swing, and go go. African American music has experienced far more widespread acceptance in American popular music in the 21st century than ever before. In addition to continuing to develop newer musical forms, modern artists have also started a rebirth of older genres in the form of genres such as neo soul and modern funk-inspired groups. [cite book |title=The Music of Black Americans: A History |first=Eileen |last=Southern. |publisher=W. W. Norton & Company |edition=3rd |year=1997 |isbn=0-393-97141-4]


African American dance, like other aspects of African American culture, finds its earliest roots in the dances of the hundreds of African ethnic groups that made up African slaves in the Americas as well as influences from European sources in the United States. Dance in the African tradition, and thus in the tradition of slaves, was a part of both every day life and special occasions. Many of these traditions such as get down, ring shouts, and other elements of African body language survive as elements of modern dance. [cite web |url= |publisher=PBS |title="Gimmie de Knee Bone Bent":African Body Language and the Evolution of American Dance Forms |accessdate=2007-10-30 |first=Peter H. |last=Wood |work=Free to Dance: Behind the Dance]

In the 1800s, African American dance began to appear in minstrel shows. These shows often presented African Americans as caricatures for ridicule to large audiences. The first African American dance to become popular with white dancers was the cakewalk in 1891. Later dances to follow in this tradition include the Charleston, the Lindy Hop, the Jitterbug and the swing. During the Harlem Renaissance, African American Broadway shows such as "Shuffle Along" helped to establish and legitimize African American dancers. African American dance forms such as tap, a combination of African and European influences, gained widespread popularity thanks to dancers such as Bill Robinson and were used by leading white choreographers who often hired African American dancers.

Contemporary African American dance is descended from these earlier forms and also draws influence from African and Caribbean dance forms. Groups such as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater have continued to contribute to the growth of this form. Modern popular dance in America is also greatly influenced by African American dance. American popular dance has also drawn many influences from African American dance most notably in the hip hop genre. [cite web |url= |title=African American Dance, a history! |publisher=The African American Registry |accessdate=2007-06-02]


From its early origins in slave communities, through the end of the twentieth century, African American art has made a vital contribution to the art of the United States. [cite book |title=African-American Art |url= |accessdate=2007-10-14 |isbn=0192842137 |first=Sharon F. |last=Patton. |year=1998 |publisher=Oxford University Press] During the period between the 1600s and the early 1800s, art took the form of small drums, quilts, wrought-iron figures, and ceramic vessels in the southern United States. These artifacts have similarities with comparable crafts in West and Central Africa. In contrast, African American artisans like the New England–based engraver Scipio Moorhead and the Baltimore portrait painter Joshua Johnson created art that was conceived in a thoroughly western European fashion. [cite web |url= |isbn=0465000711 |accessdate=2007-10-14 |title=African American Art |first=Richard |last=Powell |work=Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience |publisher=Oxford University Press |date=April 2005]

During the 1800s, Harriet Powers made quilts in rural Georgia, United States that are now considered among the finest examples of nineteenth-century Southern quilting. [cite web |url= |title=Harriet Powers |publisher=Early Women Masters |accessdate=2007-10-14] Later in the 20th century, the women of Gee's Bend developed a distinctive, bold, and sophisticated quilting style based on traditional African American quilts with a geometric simplicity that developed separately but was like that of Amish quilts and modern art. [cite web |url= |title=The Quilts of Gees Bend |date=2004 |accessdate=2007-10-14 |publisher=Tinwood Ventures]

After the American Civil War, museums and galleries began more frequently to display the work of African American artists. Cultural expression in mainstream venues was still limited by the dominant European aesthetic and by racial prejudice. To increase the visibility of their work, many African American artists traveled to Europe where they had greater freedom. It was not until the Harlem Renaissance that more European Americans began to pay attention to African American art in America.

During the 1920s, artists such as Raymond Barthé, Aaron Douglas, [cite web |url= |title=Aaron Douglas (1898 - 1979) |publisher=University of Michigan |accessdate=2007-10-04] Augusta Savage, [cite web |publisher=University of Michigan |accessdate=2007-10-04 |url= |title=Augusta Fells Savage (1882 - 1962)] and photographer James Van Der Zee [cite web |url= |title=James Van Der Zee Biography (1886–1983) | |accessdate=2007-10-04] became well-known for their work. During the Great Depression, new opportunities arose for these and other African American artists under the WPA. In later years, other programs and institutions, such as the New York City-based Harmon Foundation, helped to foster African American artistic talent. Augusta Savage, Elizabeth Catlett, Lois Mailou Jones, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and others exhibited in museums and juried art shows, and built reputations and followings for themselves.

In the 1950s and 1960s, there were very few widely accepted African American artists. Despite this, The Highwaymen, a loose association of 27 African American artists from Ft. Pierce, Florida, created idyllic, quickly realized images of the Florida landscape and peddled some 50,000 of them from the trunks of their cars. They sold their art directly to the public rather than through galleries and art agents, thus receiving the name "The Highwaymen". Rediscovered in the mid-1990s, today they are recognized as an important part of American folk history. [cite web |url= |date=2004 |publisher=McElreath Printing & Publishing, Inc |accessdate=2007-10-14 |title=The Highwaymen |first=Ken |last=Hall] [cite web |url= |title=Updates & Snapshots 2006 |accessdate=2007-10-14 |date=2000 |publisher=James Gibson] Their artwork is widely collected by enthusiasts and original pieces can easily fetch thousands of dollars in auctions and sales. [" [ Painting by a Florida Highwayman] "]

The Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s was another period of resurgent interest in African American art. During this period, several African American artists gained national prominence, among them Lou Stovall, Ed Love, Charles White, and Jeff Donaldson. Donaldson and a group of African American artists formed the Afrocentric collective AfriCOBRA, which remains in existence today. The sculptor Martin Puryear, whose work has been acclaimed for years, was being honored with a 30-year retrospective of his work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in November 2007. [cite news |url= |title=Solo Museum Shows: Not the Usual Suspects |publisher=The New York Times |first=Roberta |last=Smith |date=September 9, 2007 |accessdate=2007-11-06] Notable contemporary African American artists include David Hammons, Eugene J. Martin, Charles Tolliver, and Kara Walker. [cite web |url= |title=African Americans in the Visual Arts |publisher=Long Island University |accessdate=2007-06-02]


African American literature has its roots in the oral traditions of African slaves in America. The slaves used stories and fables in much the same way as they used music. These stories influenced the earliest African American writers and poets in the 18th century such as Phillis Wheatley and Olaudah Equiano. These authors reached early high points by telling slave narratives.

During the early 20th century Harlem Renaissance, numerous authors and poets, such as Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Dubois, and Booker T. Washington, grappled with how to respond to discrimination in America. Authors during the Civil Rights era, such as Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Gwendolyn Brooks wrote about issues of racial segregation, oppression, and other aspects of African American life. This tradition continues today with authors who have been accepted as an integral part of American literature, with works such as "" by Alex Haley, "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker, and "Beloved" by Nobel Prize-winning Toni Morrison, and series by Octavia Butler and Walter Mosley that have achieved both best-selling and/or award-winning status. [cite book |title=To Shatter Innocence: Teaching African American Poetry |first=Jerry W. |last=Ward, Jr. |series=Teaching African American Literature |editor=M. Graham |publisher=Routledge |date=April 7, 1998 |isbn=041591695X |pages=146]


The African American Museum Movement emerged during the 1950s and 1960s to preserve the heritage of the African American experience and to ensure its proper interpretation in American history. [" [ African American Museums Association: History] "] Museums devoted to African American history are found in many African American neighborhoods. Institutions such as the African American Museum and Library at Oakland and The African American Museum in Cleveland were created by African Americans to teach and investigate cultural history that, until recent decades was primarily preserved trough oral traditions. ["African-American Museums, History, and the American Ideal" by John E. Fleming The Journal of American History, Vol. 81, No. 3, The Practice of American History: A Special Issue (Dec., 1994), pp. 1020-1026]


Generations of hardships imposed on the African American community created distinctive language patterns. Slave owners often intentionally mixed people who spoke different African languages to discourage communication in any language other than English. This, combined with prohibitions against education, led to the development of pidgins, simplified mixtures of two or more languages that speakers of different languages could use to communicate.citeweb | |url= |accessdate=May 17 |accessyear=2007 |title=Slavery in America: Historical Overview] Examples of pidgins that became fully developed languages include Creole, common to Haiti, [cite web |url= |title=Creole language |work=Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed |publisher=Columbia University Press |date=2007 |accessdate=2007-06-02] and Gullah, common to the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. [cite web |url= |title=Gullah |work=Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed |publisher=Columbia University Press |date=2007 |accessdate=2007-06-02]

African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is a type variety (dialect, ethnolect, and sociolect) of the American English language closely associated with the speech of, but not exclusive to, African Americans.cite book
last=Labov|first=William|year=1972|title=Language in the Inner City: Studies in Black English Vernacular |url= |accessdate=2007-10-14 |isbn=0812210514 |place=Philadelphia |publisher=University of Pennsylvania Press
] While AAVE is academically considered a legitimate dialect because of its logical structure, some of both whites and African Americans consider it slang or the result of a poor command of Standard American English. Inner city African American children who are isolated by speaking only AAVE have more difficulty with standardized testing and, after school, moving to the mainstream world for work. [cite web |url= |title=Black English Vernacular (Ebonics) and Educability A Cross-Cultural Perspective on Language, Cognition, and Schooling |first=Alondra |last=Oubré |date=1997 |accessdate=2007-06-02 |publisher=African American Web Connection] [cite web |url= |publisher=PBS |title=What lies ahead? |work=Do you speak American? |year=2005 |accessdate=2007-10-30] It is common for many speakers of AAVE to code switch between AAVE and Standard American English depending on the setting. [cite book |url= |title=Sociolinguistics: The Study of Speakers' Choices |first=Florian |last=Coulmas |year=2005 |publisher=Cambridge University Press |isbn=1397805218 |accessdate=2007-10-30 |page=177]

Fashion and aesthetics


The cultural explosion of the 1960s saw the incorporation of surviving cultural dress with elements from modern fashion and West African traditional clothing to create a uniquely African American traditional style. Kente cloth is the best known African textile. [cite book |last=Dewey |first=William Joseph |coauthors=Dele Jẹgẹdẹ, Rosalind I. J. Hackett |title=The World Moves, We Follow: Celebrating African Art |year=2003 |publisher=Frank H. McClung Museum, The University of Tennessee |location=Knoxville, Tenn. |isbn=1880174057 |pages=p. 23 ] These festive woven patterns, which exist in numerous varieties, were originally made by the Ashanti and Ewe peoples of Ghana and Togo. Kente fabric also appears in a number of Western style fashions ranging from casual t-shirts to formal bow ties and cummerbunds. Kente strips are often sewn into liturgical and academic robes or worn as stoles. Since the Black Arts Movement, traditional African clothing has been popular amongst African Americans for both formal and informal occasions.cite web |publisher=National Museum of African Art |url= |title=Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente and African American Identity |accessmonthday=May 17 |accessyear=2007]

Another common aspect of fashion in African American culture involves the appropriate dress for worship in the Black church. It is expected in most churches that an individual should present their best appearance for worship. African American women in particular are known for wearing vibrant dresses and suits. An interpretation of a passage from the Christian Bible, "...every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head...", [bible|I Corinthians 11:5-6|NIV] has led to the tradition of wearing elaborate Sunday hats, sometimes known as "crowns." [cite web |url= |title=Fashion |publisher=Dickinson College |accessdate=2007-10-14] [cite web |url= |title=Tradition of Hats in the African-American Church |publisher=PBS |accessdate=2007-10-14]


Hair styling in African American culture is greatly varied. African American hair is typically composed of tightly coiled curls. The predominant styles for women involve the straightening of the hair through the application of heat or chemical processes. [cite book |title=Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America |author=Byrd, Ayana;Tharps, Lori |publisher=St. Martin's Press |date=January 12, 2002 |isbn=0312283229 |accessdate=2007-10-14 |url= |location=New York |pages=162] These treatments form the base for the most commonly socially acceptable hairstyles in the United States. Alternatively, the predominant and most socially acceptable practice for men is to leave one's hair natural. [cite web |url= |title=Film Encourages Africans and African Americans to Cultivate Natural Hair |accessdate=2008-06-24 |last=Washington |first=Darren Taylor |date=2007-05-22 |publisher=Voice of America ] [cite web |url= |title=The "Rise" of Natural Hair |accessdate=2008-06-24 |last=McDonald |first=Ashley |date=2008-04-07 |work=The Meter ] Often, as men age and begin to lose their hair, the hair is either closely cropped, or the head is shaved completely free of hair. However, since the 1960s, natural hairstyles, such as the afro, braids, and dreadlocks, have been growing in popularity. Despite their association with radical political movements and their vast difference from mainstream Western hairstyles, the styles have not yet attained widespread social acceptance.cite web |url= |title=African American Hairstyles |publisher=Dickinson College |accessdate=2007-10-14]

Maintaining facial hair is more prevalent among African American men than in other male populations in the U.S. [Lacy, D. Aaron. [ The Most Endangered Title VII Plaintiff?: African-American Males and Intersectional Claims] ." "Nebraska Law Review", Vol. 86, No. 3, 2008, pp. 14-15. Retrieved 11-08-2007.] In fact, the soul patch is so named because African American men, particularly jazz musicians, popularized the style. [Green, Penelope. [ "Ranting; Stubble trouble.] " "The New York Times", November 8, 2007. Retrieved 11-08-2007.] The preference for facial hair among African American men is due partly to personal taste, but because they are more prone than other ethnic groups to develop a condition known as "pseudofolliculitis barbae", commonly referred to as "razor bumps", many prefer not to shave. [Lacy, op. cit.]


African American women often find themselves under pressure to conform to European aesthetic norms. Still, there are individuals and groups who are working towards raising the standing of the African aesthetic among African Americans and internationally as well. This includes efforts toward promoting as models those with clearly defined African features; the mainstreaming of natural hairstyles; and, in women, fuller, more voluptuous body types. [cite web |url= |title=Black and beautiful: African-American women haven't had an easy time in the fashion world |date=April 23, 2007 |accessdate=2007-10-14 |first=LaMont |last=Jones |publisher=Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]


While African Americans practice a number of religions, Protestant Christianity is by far the most prevalent. [cite web |url=|title=The Study of African American Religion |accessdate=2007-06-01 |publisher=Harvard University] Additionally, 14% of Muslims in the United States and Canada are African American.cite web |url= |title=American Muslims Population Statistics |accessdate=2007-05-22 |publisher=Council on American-Islamic Relations]


The religious institutions of African American Christians commonly are referred to collectively as the black church. During slavery, many slaves were stripped of their African belief systems and typically denied free religious practice. Slaves managed, however, to hang on to some practices by integrating them into Christian worship in secret meetings. These practices, including dance, shouts, African rhythms, and enthusiastic singing, remain a large part of worship in the African American church. African American churches taught that all people were equal in God's eyes and viewed the doctrine of obedience to one's master taught in white churches as hypocritical. Instead the African American church focused on the message of equality and hopes for a better future. [cite web |url= |last=Maffly-Kipp |first=Laurie F. |date=May 2001 |title=The Church in the Southern Black Community |accessmonthday=May 21 |accessyear=2007 |publisher=University of North Carolina] Before and after emancipation, racial segregation in America prompted the development of organized African American denominations. The first of these was the AME Church founded by Richard Allen in 1787.cite web |url= |title=African American Religion, Pt. I: To the Civil War |accessmonthday=May 15 |accessyear=2007 |last=Maffly-Kipp |first=Laurie |publisher=University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill] An African American church is not necessarily a separate denomination. Several predominantly African American churches exist as members of predominantly white denominations. [cite web |url= |title=Amazing grace: 50 years of the Black church |date=April 1995 |publisher=Ebony |accessdate=2007-10-14] African American churches have served to provide African American people with leadership positions and opportunities to organize that were denied in mainstream American society. Because of this, African American pastors became the bridge between the African American and European American communities and thus played a crucial role in the American Civil Rights Movement.cite book |url= |title=Religion and the Black Church |series=Introduction to Afro-American Studies |publisher=Twenty-first Century Books and Publications |location=Chicago |edition=6th |author=Abdul Alkalimat and Associates]

Like many Christians, African American Christians sometimes participate in or attend a Christmas play. "Black Nativity" by Langston Hughes is a re-telling of the classic Nativity story with gospel music. [cite web |accessdate=2007-10-13 |url= |title=Intiman Theater: Black Nativity |publisher=Intiman Theater] Productions can be found an African American theaters and churches all over the country. [cite web |url= |title=Black Nativity |publisher=The National Center of African American Artists |accessdate=2007-10-13 |date=2004]


Generations before the advent of the Atlantic slave trade, Islam was a thriving religion in West Africa due to its peaceful introduction via the lucrative trans-Saharan trade between prominent tribes in the southern Sahara and the Berbers to the North. In his attesting to this fact the West African scholar Cheikh Anta Diop explained: "The primary reason for the success of Islam in Black Africa...consequently stems from the fact that it was propagated peacefully at first by solitary Arabo-Berber travelers to certain Black kings and notables, who then spread it about them to those under their jurisdiction". [Cheikh Anta Diop, "Precolonial Black Africa", pg. 163.] Many first-generation slaves were often able to retain their Muslim identity, their descendants were not. Slaves were either forcibly converted to Christianity as was the case in the Catholic lands or were besieged with gross inconviences to their religious practice such as in the case of the Protestant American mainland. [Sylvaine Diouf, "Servants of Allah"]

In the decades after slavery and particularly during the depression era, Islam reemerged in the form of highly visible and sometimes controversial heterodox movements in the African American community. The first of these of note was the Moorish Science Temple of America, founded by Noble Drew Ali. Ali had a profound influence on Wallace Fard, who later founded the Black nationalist Nation of Islam in 1930. Elijah Muhammad became head of the organization in 1934. Much like Malcolm X, who left the Nation of Islam in 1964, many African American Muslims now follow traditional Islam.cite web |url= |title=African-American Muslims | |author=Huda |accessdate=2007-06-02] A survey by the Council on American-Islamic Relations shows that 30% of Sunni Mosque attendees are African Americans. African American orthodox Muslims are often the victims of stereotypes, most notably the assumption that an African American Muslim is a member of the Nation of Islam. In fact, fewer than 2% of African Americans who are Muslims are members of the Nation of Islam. [cite web |url= |first=Daniel B. |last=Wood |title=America's black Muslims close a rift |publisher=Christian Science Monitor |date=February 14, 2002 |accessdate=2007-11-13] African American Muslims are often viewed by the uneducated African American community in general as less authentic than Muslims from the Middle East or South Asia while credibility is less of an issue with immigrant Muslims and Muslim world in general.

Other religions

Aside from Christianity and Islam, there are also African Americans who follow Judaism, Buddhism, and a number of other religions. The Black Hebrew Israelites are a collection of African American Jewish religious organizations. Among their varied teachings, they often include that African Americans are descended from the Biblical Hebrews (sometimes with the paradoxical claim that the Jewish people are not).cite journal |url= |first=Stephen W. |last=Angell |date=Spring 2001 |title=Black Zion: African American Religious Encounters with Judaism |journal=The North Star |volume=4 |issue=2 |publisher=University of Rochester |issn=1094-902X |accessdate=2007-10-19] There is a small but growing number of African Americans who participate in African traditional religions, such as Vodou and Santeria or Ifá and diasporic traditions like Rastafarianism. Many of them are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from the Caribbean and South America, where these are practiced. Because of religious practices, such as animal sacrifice, which are no longer common among American religions and are often legally prohibited, these groups may be viewed negatively and are sometimes the victims of harassment. [cite web |url= |title=African Religions Attracting Americans | |work=African Traditional Religion |first=Maryclaire |last=Dale |date=August 9, 2003 |accessdate=2007-06-02]

Life events

For most African Americans, the observance of life events follows the pattern of mainstream American culture. There are some traditions which are unique to African Americans.

Some African Americans have created new rites of passage that are linked to African traditions. Pre-teen and teenage boys and girls take classes to prepare them for adulthood. They are typically taught spirituality, responsibility, and leadership. Most of these programs are modeled after traditional African ceremonies, with the focus largely on embracing African ideologies rather than specific rituals. [cite book |title=Deeply Into the Bone: Re-Inventing Rites of Passage |first=Ronald L. |last=Grimes |publisher=University of California Press |url= |year=2002 |accessdate=2007-10-14 |page=145-146 |isbn=0520236750]

To this day, some African American couples choose to "jump the broom" as a part of their wedding ceremony. Although the practice, which can be traced back to Ghana, [cite web |url= |title='Jumping The Broom' a short history... |accessdate=2007-10-14 |date=July 15, 2005 |publisher=African American Registry] fell out of favor in the African American community after the end of slavery, it has experienced a slight resurgence in recent years as some couples seek to reaffirm their African heritage. [cite web |url= |title=Who should jump the broom? |first=Thony |last=Anyiam |publisher=Anyiams Creations International |accessdate=2007-10-14]

Funeral traditions tend to vary based on a number of factors, including religion and location, but there are a number of commonalities. Probably the most important part of death and dying in the African American culture is the gathering of family and friends. Either in the last days before death or shortly after death, typically any friends and family members that can be reached are notified. This gathering helps to provide spiritual and emotional support, as well as assistance in making decisions and accomplishing everyday tasks.

The spirituality of death is very important in African American culture. A member of the clergy or members of the religious community, or both, are typically present with the family through the entire process. Death is often viewed as transitory rather than final. Many services are called homegoings, instead of funerals, based on the belief that the person is going home to the afterlife.cite web |url= |title=Death and Dying in the Black Experience: An Interview with Ronald K. Barrett, PhD |date=2001-09-25 |accessdate=2007-10-13 |publisher=Education Development Center, Inc.] The entire end of life process is generally treated as a celebration of life rather than a mourning of loss. This is most notably demonstrated in the New Orleans Jazz Funeral tradition where upbeat music, dancing, and food encourage those gathered to be happy and celebrate the homegoing of a beloved friend. [cite web |url= |title=Jazz Funerals |date=2004-01-30 |accessdate=2007-10-13 |publisher=PBS]


The cultivation and use of many agricultural products in the United States, such as yams, peanuts, rice, okra, sorghum, grits, watermelon, indigo dyes, and cotton, can be traced to African influences. African American foods reflect creative responses to racial and economic oppression and poverty. Under slavery, African Americans were not allowed to eat better cuts of meat, and after emancipation many often were too poor to afford them. [cite book |last=Holloway |first=Joseph E. |title=Africanisms in American Culture |year=2005 |publisher=Indiana University Press |location=Bloomington, Ind. |isbn=0253344794 |pages=p. 48 ] Soul food, a hearty cuisine commonly associated with African Americans in the South (but also common to African Americans nationwide), makes creative use of inexpensive products procured through farming and subsistence hunting and fishing. Pig intestines are boiled and sometimes battered and fried to make chitterlings, also known as "chitlins." Ham hocks and neck bones provide seasoning to soups, beans and boiled greens (turnip greens, collard greens, and mustard greens). Other common foods, such as fried chicken and fish, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, and hoppin' john (black-eyed peas and rice) are prepared simply. When the African American population was considerably more rural than it generally is today, rabbit, possum, squirrel, and waterfowl were important additions to the diet. Many of these food traditions are especially predominant in many parts of the rural South. [cite web |url= |title=A History of Soul Food |publisher=20th Century Fox |accessdate=2007-06-02]

Traditionally prepared soul food is often high in fat, sodium, and starch. Highly suited to the physically demanding lives of laborers, farmhands and rural lifestyles generally, it is now a contributing factor to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes in a population that has become increasingly more urban and sedentary. As a result, more health-conscious African Americans are using alternative methods of preparation, eschewing trans fats in favor of natural vegetable oils and substituting smoked turkey for fatback and other, cured pork products; limiting the amount of refined sugar in desserts; and emphasizing the consumption of more fruits and vegetables than animal protein. There is some resistance to such changes, however, as they involve deviating from long culinary tradition. [cite web |url= |publisher=The Christian Science Monitor |title=Backstory: Southern discomfort food |first=Patrik |last=Jonsson |date=February 6, 2006 |accessdate=2007-06-02]

Holidays and observances

As with other American racial and ethnic groups, African Americans observe ethnic holidays alongside traditional American holidays. Holidays observed in African American culture are not only observed by African Americans. The birthday of noted American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr has been observed nationally since 1983.cite web |url= |title=Extra!: History of Black History Month |date=2007-01-31 |accessdate=2007-06-01 |publisher=CNN |author=CNN Student News] It is one of three federal holidays named for an individual. [cite web |url= |title=5 USC 6103 |publisher=Cornell Law School |accessdate=2007-06-01] Black History Month is another example of another African American observance that has been adopted nationally. Black History Month is an attempt to focus attention on previously neglected aspects of the African American experience. It is observed during the month of February to coincide with the founding of the NAACP and the birthdays of Frederick Douglass, a prominent African American abolitionist, and Abraham Lincoln, the United States president who signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Less widely observed outside of the African American community is Emancipation Day. The nature and timing of the celebration vary regionally. It is most widely observed as Juneteenth, in recognition of the official reading of the Emancipation Proclamation on June 19, 1865 in Texas. [cite web | |date=2005 |url= |title=History of Juneteenth |accessmonthday=March 15 |accessyear=2007] Another holiday not widely observed outside of the African American community is the birthday of Malcolm X. The day is observed on May 19 in American cities with a significant African American population, including Washington, D.C.. [cite web |publisher=University of Kansas Medical Center |date=2003 |url= |title=Malcolm X's Birthday |accessmonthday=May 15 |accessyear=2007]

One of the most noted African American holidays is Kwanzaa. Like Emancipation Day, it is not widely observed outside of the African American community, although it is growing in popularity within the community. African American scholar and activist "Maulana" Ron Karenga invented the festival of Kwanzaa in 1966, as an alternative to the increasing commercialization of Christmas. Derived from the harvest rituals of Africans, Kwanzaa is observed each year from December 26 through January 1. Participants in Kwanzaa celebrations affirm their African heritage and the importance of family and community by drinking from a unity cup; lighting red, black, and green candles; exchanging heritage symbols, such as African art; and recounting the lives of people who struggled for African and African American freedom. [cite web | |url= |title=Fundamental Questions About Kwanzaa |accessmonthday=May 15 |accessyear=2007]


African American names are often drawn from the same language groups as other popular names found in the United States. The practice of adopting neo-African or Islamic names did not gain popularity until the late Civil Rights era. Efforts to recover African heritage inspired selection of names with deeper cultural significance. Prior to this, using African names was uncommon because African Americans were several generations removed from the last ancestor to have an African name, as slaves were often given European names. [cite web |url= |title=Finding Our History: African-American Names |publisher=Family Education |accessdate=2007-06-05]


When slavery was practiced in the United States, it was common for families to be separated through sale. Even during slavery, however, African American families managed to maintain strong familial bonds. Free, African men and women, who managed to buy their own freedom by being hired out, who were emancipated, or who had escaped their masters, often worked long and hard to buy the members of their families who remained in bondage and send for them.

Others, separated from blood kin, formed close bonds comprised of fictive kin; "play" relations, "play" aunts, cousins, and the like. This practice, perhaps a holdover from African tradition, survived Emancipation, with non-blood family friends commonly accorded the status and titles of blood relations. This broader, more African concept of what constitutes family and community, and the deeply rooted respect for elders that is part of African traditional societies may be the genesis of the common use of the terms like "aunt", "uncle", "brother", "sister", "Mother", and "Mama" when addressing other African American people, some of whom may be complete strangers.

Immediately after slavery, African American families struggled to reunite and rebuild what had been taken. As late as 1960, 78% of African American families were headed by married couples. This number steadily declined over the latter half of the 20th century. A number of factors, including attitudes towards education, gender roles, and poverty have created a situation where, for the first time since slavery, a majority of African American children live in a household with only one parent, typically the mother. [cite web |url= |title=Uncovering the Truth: Understanding the Impact of American Culture on the Black Male Black Female Relationship |first=Elonda R. |last=Wilder-Hamilton |date=2002 |accessdate=2007-06-03 |publisher=The Black Agenda] These figures appear to indicate a weak African American nuclear family structure, especially within a large patriarchal society.

This apparent weakness is balanced by mutual aid systems established by extended family members to provide emotional and economic support. Older family members pass on social and cultural traditions such as religion and manners to younger family members. In turn, the older family members are cared for by younger family members when they are unable to care for themselves. These relationships exist at all economic levels in the African American community, providing strength and support both to the African American family and the community. [cite book |url= |title=The Black Extended Family |last=Martin |first=Elmer P. |year=1980 |isbn=0226507971 |publisher=University of Chicago Press]

Politics and social issues

Since the passing of the Voting Rights Act, African Americans are voting and being elected to public office in increasing numbers. As of 2008 there were approximately 10,000 African American elected officials in America. [cite web |work=The New York Times |last=Scott |first=Janny |date=2008-03-23 |url= |title=What Politicians Say When They Talk About Race |accessdate=2008-06-24 ] African Americans are overwhelmingly Democratic. Only 11% of African Americans voted for George W. Bush in the 2004 Presidential Election. [cite web |publisher=The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies |last=Bositis |first=David |date=2001 |url= |title=The Black Vote in 2004 |accessdate=2007-05-18] Social issues such as racial profiling, [cite web |format=PDF |url= |title=Threat and Humiliation: Racial Profiling, Domestic Security, and Human Rights in the United States |accessdate=2007-06-01 |publisher=Amnesty International] the racial disparity in sentencing, [cite web |title=Racial Disparity in Sentencing: A Review of the Literature |publisher=The Sentencing Project |date=2005 |last=Kansal |first=Tushar |editor=Mauer, Marc |accessdate=2007-06-01 |format=PDF |url=] higher rates of poverty, [cite web |url= |title=Poverty in the United States: Frequently Asked Questions |date=2006 |publisher=National Poverty Center |accessdate=2007-06-01] institutional racism, [cite web |url= |title=Institutional Racism |publisher=University of Dayton |last=Randall |first=Vernellia |date=2007-03-25 |accessdate=2007-06-01] and lower access to health care [cite web |url= |title=Dying for Basic Care |last=Payne |first=January W. |publisher=Washington Post |date=2004-12-21 |accessdate=2007-06-01] are important to the African American community.While the divide on racial and fiscal issues has remained consistently wide for decades, seemingly indicating a wide social divide, African Americans tend to hold the same optimism and concern for America as whites. In the case of many moral issues such as religion and family values, African Americans tend to be more conservative than whites. [cite web |publisher=The Pew Research Center |url= |title=The Black and White of Public Opinion |date=2005-10-31 |accessdate=2007-05-18] Another area where African Americans outstrip whites in their conservatism is on the issue of homosexuality. Prominent leaders in the Black church have demonstrated against gay rights issues such as gay marriage. There are those within the community who take a more inclusive position, notably the late Coretta Scott King [cite news |title=King would not have marched against gay marriage |first=Earl Ofari |last=Hutchinson |date=December 14, 2004 |url= |accessdate=2007-10-22 |publisher=The San Francisco Chronicle] and the Reverend Al Sharpton, the latter of whom, when asked in 2003 whether he supported gay marriage, replied that he might as well have been asked if he supported black marriage or white marriage. [cite news |title=Democrats divided on gay marriage |first=Marc |last=Sandalow |date=July 16, 2003 |url= |accessdate=2008-01-11 |publisher=The San Francisco Chronicle]


African American neighborhoods are types of ethnic enclaves found in many cities in the United States. The formation of African American neighborhoods is closely linked to the history of segregation in the United States, either through formal laws, or as a product of social norms. Despite this, African American neighborhoods have played an important role in the development of nearly all aspects of both African American culture and broader American culture.

Due to segregated conditions and widespread poverty some African American neighborhoods in the United States have been called "ghettos." The use of this term is controversial and, depending on the context, potentially offensive. Despite mainstream America's use of the term "ghetto" to signify a poor urban area populated by ethnic minorities, those living in the area often used it to signify something positive. The African American ghettos did not always contain dilapidated houses and deteriorating projects, nor were all of its residents poverty-stricken. For many African Americans, the ghetto was "home" a place representing authentic blackness and a feeling, passion, or emotion derived from the rising above the struggle and suffering of being of African descent in America. [Smitherman, Geneva. Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.] Langston Hughes relays in the "Negro Ghetto" (1931) and "The Heart of Harlem" (1945): "The buildings in Harlem are brick and stone/And the streets are long and wide,/But Harlem's much more than these alone,/Harlem is what's inside." Playwright August Wilson used the term "ghetto" in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (1984) and "Fences" (1987), both of which draw upon the author's experience growing up in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, an African American ghetto. [ GHETTO] Kim Pearson]

Although African American neighborhoods may suffer from civic disinvestment, [" [ Root shock: The consequences of African American dispossession] " Journal of Urban Health. Springer New York. Volume 78, Number 1 / March, 2001] with lower quality schools, [cite book |last=Wachtel |first=Paul L. |title=Race in the Mind of America: Breaking the Vicious Circle Between Blacks and Whites |year=1999 |publisher=Routledge |location=New York |isbn=0415920000 |pages=p. 219 ] less effective policing, ["The Neighborhood Context of Police Behavior" Douglas A. Smith Crime and Justice, Vol. 8, Communities and Crime (1986), pp. 313-341] and fire protection, [cite book |last=Thabit |first=Walter |coauthors=Frances Fox Piven |title=How East New York Became a Ghetto |year=2003 |publisher=New York University Press |location=New York |isbn=0814782671 |pages=p. 80 ] [cite book |last=Rubin |first=Irene S. |title=Running in the Red: The Political Dynamics of Urban Fiscal Stress |year=1982 |publisher=State University of New York Press |location=Albany, N.Y. |isbn=0873955641 |pages=p. 126 ] there are institutions such as churches and museums and political organizations that help to improve the physical and social capital of African American neighborhoods. In African American neighborhoods the churches may be important sources of social cohesion. [Church Culture as a Strategy of Action in the Black CommunityMary Pattillo-McCoy American Sociological Review, Vol. 63, No. 6 (Dec., 1998), pp. 767-784] For some African Americans the kind spirituality learned through these churches works as a protective factor against the corrosive forces of racism. ["Gathering the Spirit" at First Baptist Church: Spirituality as a Protective Factor in the Lives of African American Children" by Wendy L. Haight; Social Work, Vol. 43, 1998] Museums devoted to African American history are also found in many African American neighborhoods.

Many African American neighborhoods are located in inner cities, and these are the mostly residential neighborhoods located closest to the central business district. The built environment is often row houses or brownstones, mixed with older single family homes that may be converted to multi family homes. In some areas there are larger apartment buildings.Shotgun houses are an important part of the built environment of some southern African American neighborhoods. The houses consist of three to five rooms in a row with no hallways. This African American house design is found in both rural and urban southern areas, mainly in African American communities and neighborhoods. [" [ Black architecture still standing, the Shotgun House!] " The Great Buildings Collection on CD-ROM Kevin Matthews]

ee also

*African American history
*African aesthetic
*African American literature
*American Culture
*Cool (aesthetic)
*Cultural appropriation
*The dozens
*Get down
*Hip hop culture
*List of African-American-related topics


External links

*cite web |url= |title=Encyclopedia Smithsonian: African American History and Culture |accessdate=2008-06-24

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