Black History Facts for Kids

What is Black History?

  • The historical events concerning the African-American population in the United States of America are known as Black History or African-American History.
  • From the 16th till the 19th century, 10.7 million Africans were transported to various parts of the world by Europeans. 
  • The Africans were forced into slavery by the traders who bought them during a tumultuous time in Africa.
  • About 450,000 Africans were taken to North America or what we know today as the United States of America.  
  • They were forced to perform hard labor on the plantations of various states for no pay. Their working conditions were inhumane and the owners of the plantations did not treat them as fellow human beings. 
  • Though the southern economy depended on the labor of the Africans, the Africans did not benefit from the profits of their work at all. 
  • They were intimidated, threatened, beaten, and killed if they did not follow the rules of their masters. 
  • Several gruesome acts against the Black community propelled progressives such as Abraham Lincoln to fight for their cause. 
  • The white community often used the bible to justify the vicious acts perpetrated by the colonists against the Black people. 
  • They believed that white humans are humans whereas Black or colored humans are like animals that can be used and abused by the superior race.
  • During the late 1800s, the victory of Union troops against the Confederacy led to the formation of Reconstruction amendments that guaranteed equality to all citizens that were born in the USA. 
  • However, the progress made in the Reconstruction era stalled until the 1950s because of widespread opposition to the voting rights of the African American population. 
  • The white people in the USA tried to discourage and disempower the Black community via physical and psychological attacks such as the Jim Crow laws. 
  • However, the civil rights movement led by activists such as Martin Luther King led to better conditions for the Black community after the world wars. 
  • Even today, many people are unaware of the trials and tribulations suffered by the African American community in the USA and they continue to face discrimination. 
  • However, many efforts such as the yearly celebration of Black History Month have helped in making people aware of the achievements and contributions of the black community. 
  • It is observed in the month of February in the USA and Canada, while European nations like Ireland, the UK, and the Netherlands celebrate it during October. 

Historical Background

  • Following the Age of Discovery, many European nations came in contact with the Africans in hopes of expanding their trade beyond the European borders. 
  • However, due to the unstable political conditions in Africa, the Europeans began trading in slaves captured during wars and raids. 
  • The Atlantic Slave trade was lucrative as Americans needed labor in order to reap the fertile lands for cash crops such as sugarcane, cotton, tobacco, etc. 
  • The conditions in which the slaves were transported are described as horrific and unhygienic. Several men were kept in the ship’s hold with barely any space to move around freely. 
  • The women and children were kept in rooms where crewmen would rape them. This was one of the greatest benefits for slave traders. 
  • The slaves that were transported by European traders belonged to various ethnic tribes and possessed different skills making them highly sought after for the tough jobs that needed to be performed on American plantations. 
  • Some of the tribes that were brought to the Americas belonged to the Hausa, Bakongo, Igbo, Mande, Wolof, Akan, Fon, Yoruba, and Makua communities. 
  • They were bought from Western and Central Africa as well as Eastern and South-Eastern Africa. They practiced different customs and religions and spoke various languages. 
  • In America, the European way of life was forced upon them. Their beliefs and practices were considered primitive which is why many Africans lost their cultural heritage. 
  • The African American culture that we observe today in America is based on the shared experience of the past and present events in the lives of African Americans and has a heavy influence from the European culture.  

Early Life in America

  • Before the introduction of Black slaves in America, European people of lower social status were used as indentured servants, which means they were supposed to work for the people who had bought them for a number of years. 
  • However, this system did not work as the indentured servants would compete for the resources once they had paid off their debt. Also, there was no one to replace them in America. 
  • Chattel slavery became rampant in the 13 colonies when over 760,000 Africans were brought during the late 18th century by the Dutch and Portuguese traders. They accounted for nearly 1/5th of the total population in America at the time. 
  • In Chattel slavery, the servant is bought for life and his slavery is passed down to his children. 
  • Unlike the indentured servants, a non-christian slave cannot become free after a number of years and could not compete for the resources against the white population. 
  • Massachusetts Colony legalized this kind of slavery in 1641 and the other colonies followed the example soon after. 
  • The Black slaves were given food and quarters to live but no wages whatsoever. They were also not allowed to leave and suffered severe punishments if they tried to escape. 
  • Killing an enslaved person was illegal and some white people were hung for the crime, but generally, the black population had very few human rights.
  • In the beginning, the colonies were small and did not need a large number of slaves. But slowly, due to the expansion of the colonies and the growth of farmlands, a big number of slaves was required. 
  • A few companies like the Royal African Company had a monopoly on the slave trade in the 17th century. 
  • However, to meet the needs of the 13 colonies such monopolies were removed and changes were made to the colonial tax laws to facilitate trade from Africa to America by other slave traders. 
  • Between the years 1700 to 1859, young and strong Africans were transported to America in huge cargoes. They were then taken to do hard labor in Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana. 
  • The northern colonies did not depend on agriculture hence did not need to bring many slaves. Although bigger cities such as New York, Boston, and Philadelphia had a significant number of free as well as enslaved Africans. 
  • The African population had outnumbered the white population in some colonies such as South Carolina. There were 3 black persons for every white one. 
  • However, other states like Virginia maintained the white population despite an increase in the number of slaves. 
  • Some rebellions took place such as the Stono Uprising in 1739 whereby about 150 slaves killed 20 white people and tried to escape to Florida. However, they were caught and killed by the local militia soon after. 

Significant Events

  • The mercantile laws and the interference of the British government in the colonies’ affairs after the French and Indian War in 1763 forced the colonists to seek independence from the British Empire. 
  • Though the White colonists sought freedom and self-rule from the British, they did not want to give the same powers to the slaves.
  • The Declaration of Independence is a very hypocritical document because it speaks of human rights and personal freedom but is written by Thomas Jefferson who himself was the owner of over 200 slaves. 
  • Free black people like Prince Hall had repeatedly submitted petitions to free the black people but the colonial legislative assemblies did not pay any heed to them.
  • The Continental Army recruited Black people to join the American Revolutionary war effort. During the Boston Massacre, the first person to suffer an injury on behalf of the colonists was a free Black tradesman by the name of Crispus Attucks.
  • About 5000 Black men joined the Continental Army and fought against the British troops. They played a significant role at the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and at Bunker Hill as well. 
  • Some African Americans like Agrippa Hull had fought in the American Revolutionary War for more than 6 years. They did so because they thought it could improve their chances to become free. 
Charleston, South Carolina: Broad Street, 1865
  • The British promised to emancipate the Black slaves if they joined the Loyalist forces. Over 25000 slaves in South Carolina fought alongside the British or ran away in the midst of the chaos.  
  • Once George Washington took command of the Patriot forces in 1775, he stopped further recruitment of Black people and did not give freedom to the ones who had fought. 
  • After the Americans won the war, they demanded the return of all property including the slaves but the British allowed 3000 African Americans to escape to Britain, Nova Scotia, or Jamaica to keep their promise. 
  • The Americans formed the constitution on the basis of freedom and equality, however, it was not extended to the other races present in America. 
  • The constitution in fact supported slavery by including the fugitive slave clause and the 3/5ths compromise.
  • Many African Americans opposed the restrictions placed on them by the new government. They were not allowed to vote and their children could not attend public schools. 
  • Paul Cuffe was a Black businessman in Boston. He refused to pay taxes until he was granted voting rights. 

Protests and Revolutions

  • Though revolutionary sentiments had motivated many slaveholders in the North to free their slaves, in the south slavery was still rampant. 
  • The perception that slavery was a social evil was not shared by all-white Americans and they formed violent groups to discourage the Black population from seeking independence. 
  • In Haiti, the uprising of the slaves was successful and this further influenced the way Americans perceived slavery. 
  • Even the southerners began discussing if slavery should exist but the industrial revolution and the invention of cotton gin 1790s delayed the talks and slavery continued until the American Civil War.
  • Though the importation of slaves was banned by Thomas Jefferson, internal slave trading was carried out on a large scale. 
  • 11 states had abolished slavery altogether while 11 states continued to practice it giving rise to two opposite camps on the issue. 
  • After Abraham Lincoln was elected, the stage for the American Civil War was set because President Lincoln was very clear on his anti-slavery stance. 
The Emancipation Proclamation
  • The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 changed the legal status of over 3 million slaves in the United States of America in one go. 
  • This terrified the slave owners and they moved their slaves as far out of the reach of the federal troops as possible. 
  • Nonetheless, by 1865 the Union Army had control over all the confederate states and the slaves were declared free. 
  • 200,000 African American people served the Union Army and thus acquired full citizenship, however, many of them also perished in the mass migrations caused due to the war.
  • During the Reconstruction Era between 1863 to 1877 three amendments were made to the United States Constitution which abolished slavery and guaranteed civil rights to all African Americans. 
  • However, the assassination of President Lincoln stalled all progress made during the Reconstruction period and the Southerners were able to regain political control over their slave population. 
  • Violent terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan openly lynched African Americans who asserted their freedoms while segregationist laws such as the Jim Crow Laws became commonplace. 
  • The Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, James Bevel, and many others during the mid twentieth century was able to reverse all the unfair restrictions placed on the voting rights of the Black and other racial communities in America. 
  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed literacy tests and banned poll taxes for state elections thereby increasing the voter turnout from 6% in 1964 to 59% in 1969 in Mississippi alone. 
  • Peaceful protests, nonviolent resistance tactics, and mass mobilization of the racial minorities were able to ensure equal status for the African American community after decades of slavery in America. 

Sources

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reconstruction_era
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_History_Month
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African-American_history