African American History in the U.S.

Updated: February 19, 2024
See the faces of just some of the many African Americans who have contributed to building the United States into the country it is today.

African Americans in the early history of the United States had an extremely difficult start as immigrants. Having been primarily forced to immigrate to a new continent, African Americans worked through slavery to become a powerful force that influenced our nation to value equal rights among all men and women of all races.

Between 1555 and 1865, most Africans arrived in the Americas as the result of slavery. Overcoming slavery and the resulting prejudice, the African American community has greatly contributed to the art, culture, and economic growth of the United States.

In the 1930's, the newly formed employment and infrastructure Works Progress Administration (WPA) program paid people to interview living ex-slaves in the United States. Thanks to this initiative, we have a recorded history of slavery in the United States. Their narratives were powerful and show us all how recent the heritage of slavery really is and why it affects us all. Here is part of the narrative of one of these men and women:

"Well, Sir, Cap'n, I was born in Richmond, Virginny, in 1848. Befo' I was ole 'nuff to 'member much, my mammy wid me an' my older brudder was sold to Marse John Calloway at Snodoun in Montgomery County, ten miles south of de town of Montgomery.

Marse John hab a big plantation an' lots of slaves. Dey treated us purty good, but we hab to wuk hard. Time I was ten years ole I was makin' a reg'lar han' 'hin de plow. Oh, yassuh, Marse John good 'nough to us an' we get plenty to eat, but he had a oberseer name Green Bush what sho' whup us iffen we don't do to suit him . . .

Nawsuh, we didn't git no schoolin' 'cep'in' befo' we got big 'nough to wuk in de fiel' we go 'long to school wid de white chillun to take care of 'em. Dey show us pictures an' tell us all dey kin, but it didn't 'mount to much . . .

When de war started 'mos' all I know 'bout it was all de white mens go to Montgomery an' jine de army. My brudder, he 'bout fifteen year ole, so he go 'long wid de ration wagon to Montgomery 'mos' ebry week. One day he come back from Montgomery an' he say, 'Hell done broke loose in Gawgy.' He couldn't tell us much 'bout what done happen, but de slaves dey get all 'cited 'caze dey didn' know what to 'spect. Purty soon we fin' out day some of de big mens call a meetin' at de capitol on Goat Hill in Montgomery. Dey 'lected Mista Jeff Davis president an' done busted de Nunited States wide open.
" - Walter Calloway, Birmingham, Alabama interviewed by W.P. Jordan in the 1930's

From Dred Scott, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, and W.E.B. Du Bois through Langston Hughes, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, and Medgar Evers to Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, Hank Aaron, Maya Angelou, Oprah, and Barack Obama and countless others, African Americans have impacted the nation in uncounted ways. The narratives are powerful, and so are the pictures in these pages, showcasing the history of African Americans in the United States.

Share and discover the people and places from your past
Back to Top