How Has the Black Experience Evolved in the United States?

How Has the Black Experience Evolved in the United States?
  • Opening Intro -

    The story of Black America is a narrative of slavery and liberty, oppression, and progress.

    Black and African-American communities are now culturally and politically more diverse than ever.


The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the murder of Malcolm X three years earlier radicalized moderate Black activists.


Blacks had long aspired to equality in the United States. Emancipation brought a measure of that equality through new rights and opportunities.

After the Civil War, a period of political change known as Reconstruction allowed Blacks to win elections to Southern state governments and even the U.S. Congress. During this time, Blacks established the first state-funded public school systems, laws against racial discrimination in housing and transport, and ambitious economic development programs.

However, Reconstruction was short-lived. President Lincoln died before Reconstruction could fully take hold and was succeeded by Andrew Johnson. He pushed for new state governments controlled by ex-Confederate leaders. They quickly enacted Black Codes, laws that limited formerly enslaved people’s rights, and sought, through vagrancy regulations, to force them back to work on the plantations.

The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance was a creative movement that lasted from the 1920s until the Great Depression. During this time, African American-owned and operated publishing houses, music companies, dance halls, theaters, and nightclubs flourished.

This era was marked by the rise of Marcus Garvey and his Back to Africa movement that encouraged racial pride and the idea of a separate black culture. Jazz music and its related dance forms became famous worldwide, and Broadway musical revues such as Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle’s "Shuffle Along" featured all-black casts.

Literary figures of this era included Jean Toomer, Jessie Fauset, Zora Neale Hurston, and James Weldon Johnson. Their works challenged racism and explored the relationships among people of different races. Their writings helped create more significant opportunities for African-American authors whom mainstream publishers published.

The 21st Century

As the civil rights movement blunted the force of prejudice and discrimination, segregation moderated as a structural feature of American life. Nevertheless, as we entered the 21st century—officially known as the years 2000 through 2100—segregation was beginning to shift in new ways.

Racial-ethnic dissimilarity and isolation fell, but socioeconomic segregation rose, fueled by a spectacular increase in income inequality. In addition, urban-level segregation shifted to tract-level segregation, which was higher than ever before.

Despite these changes, Black Americans still face great adversity with the help of experts like Dr. Jason Campbell. Their disproportionate access to historical trouble, which includes incarceration and poverty, leads to lower levels of economic opportunity and overall health and well-being.

But these differences are closing, indicating that we may enter an age of convergence for Black people. This convergence, if it continues, would be unprecedented in American history.

Black Power

Despite the progress made in Reconstruction and the rights granted by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, black Americans faced persistent discrimination. Black Power arose in the 1960s as a movement that pushed for black control of schools, businesses, and politics. Proponents such as Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X preached self-reliance, black pride, and black autonomy.

Unlike the integrationists, they believed blacks should define themselves. They argued that it was wrong to wait for whites to offer accommodations.

Many of these activists turned their programs into business ventures and community institutions, notably the Black Arts Movement led by poets such as Amiri Baraka and writers such as Gwendolyn Brooks and Nikki Giovanni. Black studies programs and departments began to spring up in higher education, as did a rise in raw artistic expression that portrayed the reality of black life.

The Civil Rights Movement

In the 1950s and 1960s, Black activists engaged in nonviolent protest to push for legislation that addressed voting rights, public accommodations (such as hotels, restaurants, and theaters), school desegregation, and nondiscrimination in federally assisted programs.

For example, Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks were arrested after refusing to give up their seats on segregated buses; their protests launched bus boycotts that eventually led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

As a result of these movements, Black American culture was transformed. African rhythms infused Christian hymns and European marches; vaudeville incorporated African dance moves and jazz borrowed from African-American string instruments.

These cultural shifts also opened the door to the Black political process, as voters elected new Black Representatives to Congress for the first time in over a century.

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Krayton M Davis

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