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Black History In America Essay, Research Paper


To fully understand the effects of the African Diaspora we must understand the

meaning of the term African Diaspora, according to the Oxford English Dictionary The

term Diaspora refers to any group of people with a common culture, therefore the African

Diaspora should refer to people of African decent who share common languages,

religions, cultures and customs, but (as is now being recognised) Africa is a continent with

many different languages, religions, cultures and customs.

The African Diaspora is commonly associated with the African slave trade, this

was one of the largest dispersal s of African peoples but not the only dispersal of Africans

from Africa for (as is commonly accepted) human life began in Africa and as humans are

nomadic, pack animals they finally left Africa and settled in other parts of the globe, within

this opinion, the population of the world from it s African roots was the first and largest

Diaspora that we have seen. Technically the first African Diaspora has not come to an end

yet possibly it never will, as we enter an age where space travel becomes common place

maybe Africans will soon populate space.

The African Diaspora I shall examine is not the first African Diaspora but the

Diaspora from the period of the Transatlantic slave trade. I aim to research and record the

effects and changes of the African people within the Diaspora and the attitudes towards

them in their adoptive countries.

In recent history many people from all over Africa have migrated ( willing and

non-willing ) to other parts of the world, this has created many different lifestyles for black

people, this is the area that I shall begin my studies. I shall choose two separate countries

where African people have settled and examine the ways that the majority arrived there,

what kind of treatment they received when they arrived and how as a people they formed

communities and evolved as members of new foreign societies.

The field of the African Diaspora would take many years research, is open to much

controversy and is never done true justice in a short general overview such as this, but it is

my aim to prove that the African Diaspora has had a profound effect on not only the

African people but in most of the western world. I shall therefor restrict my

documentation to the people in the Anglo-American parts of America and the British isles

as these were two of the main perpetrators of the slave trade.


The new world

Slavery was (and in some parts of the world still is) one of the most degrading

forms of human existence for when a person becomes a slave he or she becomes the

property of a person who has exchanged money or goods in return for that person s life

and their children s . From the 16th century to the 19th century African slavery was a

large and very lucrative business and many European countries took part in this human

trade, one country who had a very active role in slavery was England. As parts of America

were colonised as British territories the need for people to build and farm the land was

great, as hiring European hands was a very costly affair a cheaper alternative was sort

after and slavery became the easiest and cheapest way of exploiting the new lands. An

estimated number of slaves who arrived in British America and the U.S as a result of the

British slave trade is 500,000 this is only a small number of the slaves which the British

enslaved, as an estimated overall figure of transported Africans by Britons is 2,600,000.

Britain in fact was not the main carrier of slaves, Portugal made over 30,000 voyages to

Africa and transported a staggering 4,650,000 slaves to various colonies(1). Slaves (in

America) were generally sent to work on plantations in southern America as the climate

was hot and the ground was fertile. Many of the slaves on the plantations were of different

African origin to each other, they had different beliefs, languages and cultures, In the case

of the African slaves, identification with the homeland varied considerably. In many places,

individuals participated in organised communities whose origins in Africa distinguished

among several ethnic and religious ideas. White masters and overseers regularly

acknowledged ethnic and religious differences among slaves in the conduct of the

economic life of plantations but usually the masters of these slaves forced them to become

Christian, English speaking people, this gave all of the slaves one common language,

religion and formed the basis of African American communities and the beginning of the

end of slavery. Many slaves were taken from eastern Africa but were of different ethnic

backgrounds, but as they were transported to the colonies and forced to work on

plantations they formed communities where they could keep certain African traditions

alive, singing, dancing, storytelling and religion all became very important to the plantation

communities as these were the only forms of release that they had from the devastating

reality of slavery.

Slaves were treated as property in colonial America, during the mid-1600 s a series

of laws called slave codes were imposed which prohibited slaves from owning weapons,

receiving an education, meeting one another, moving about without the permission of their

masters and even testifying against white people in court, Slaves also received harsher

punishment than white people for the same crimes, many women were raped by their

masters and bore bastard children to which the farther had no interest in and treated them

too as slaves.

During the Revolutionary War in America (1775-1783), many Americans turned against

slavery. These Americans came to believe that slavery had no place in a nation that had

been formed to protect natural human rights. Opposition to slavery developed more

rapidly in the North as slavery was relatively small scale their, but some Southerners,

including leaders George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, spoke out against slavery.

However, the high profits that resulted from slavery had far greater influence than any

moral arguments. Even the many Southerners who did not own slaves accepted the

plantation owners’ view that the South’s economy would collapse without slavery.

The 1800 s brought more anti-slavery feelings as many people both black and white, north

and south were crying out for an end to slavery, according to the national census in 1790

their were 59,000 free black people living in the U.S., former slaves who had been freed

by their masters, who bought their freedom, were born of free parents or were freed by

law or contract. Some free black people joined the army to fight in the revolutionary war

one of the most famous of these African American patriots was Crispus Attucks who died

at the Boston massacre of 1770 whilst fighting the British. After the Revolution against

the British many free black people became employed by many companies including the

railway companies, shipyards, all kinds of factories some even became employed in the

media, Samuel Cornish and John Russwurm were the two best known editors of the day

as they helped set up the first black newspaper FREEDOM S JOURNAL in 1827. Their

were many people who wanted to make slavery illegal, these people were known as

abolitionists, one of the most famous abolitionists was Harriet Tubman (1820?-1931) who

escaped from slavery in 1849 and helped over 300 slaves escape in 19 trips until 1861

when she joined the union army as a nurse and in a single mission helped free over 750

slaves from the south. After the civil war (1861-1865) the law changed, the 13th

amendment was passed which made slavery illegal which delighted slaves and abolitionists

alike but the life of an ex-slave was not easy in fact they still had no rights of which they

could enforce, if a white man stole from or committed a crime toward a black man the

police would always side with the white man and sometimes it would result in the black

man being beaten by the police. Many groups such as the Ku Klux Klan rose after the

freedom of slaves lynching and murdering innocent black people, most of these groups are

still active today and pose just as much of a threat today as they did 150 years ago.

Even in the 20th century black people were segregated from white people until the 1950 s

when the civil rights movement came to it s height many great activists such as Rosa Parks

who as simple as it sounds sat on a bus and would not move so that a white man could sit

down, this inspired minister Martin Luther King as head of Montgomery improvement

association and many other people who gained equal rights for black people. All over the

U.S. Communities came together during the civil rights movement and white protests

which ended in violence were not uncommon but even under the stress of white anti-black

violence the peaceful demonstrations carried on and finally succeeded, unfortunately to

this day there are still harsh feelings toward black people all over the U.S. but attitudes are

slowly changing.


Land of hope and glory

Although Britain was the second largest slaving nation in the world their was never

a strongly documented black presence in Britain although black people have been in

Britain for hundreds of years, Liverpool was the largest slaving port in Europe from 16th

century to the 18th century but most of the slaves never saw the British shores as they

were transported to America or other colonies to be sold. Some Africans were brought to

Britain as slaves and were generally sold to rich people as maids and servants, by 1550

hundreds of black people lived in England as slaves for rich land owners working as hand

servants, maids, cooks, butlers etc.

Slavery was outlawed in Britain in the early 19th century but as William

Blackstone argued in his book commentaries on the laws of England in 1765 the spirit of

liberty is so implanted in our constitution, and rooted in our very soil, that a slave or a

Negro the moment he lands in England falls under the protection of the laws and becomes

en instanto a freeman. (2) this would suggest that since the mid-18th century slavery has

been illegal in England but not in the British colonies, another argument that suggests that

slavery was outlawed in England before the act was passed in parliament in 1833 was in

1771 Granville Sharpe, the Quaker anti-slavery campaigner, secured a warrant for the

arrest of a master who had attempted to drag an unwilling slave to a waiting boat on the

Thames, so as to return him to the West Indies. At the trial, the judge, Lord Mansfield,

who a year later was to preside over the famous Somerset case, opened proceedings by

noting that he himself had always respected the right of property in slaves. This made no

impression on the jury. Mansfield insisted that the only issue for the jury to consider was

whether or not the evidence of ownership was conclusive. The jury ignored Mansfield s

pronouncements. When the foreman announced that they did not find the servant to be the

defendant s property, the jury collectively shouted no property!, no property! (3) this

has for the most part of the slave trade era been the feeling of the British working class,

some of the upper class believed that it was a worthwhile and needed business as some of

the upper class thought that it was inhuman to own somebody as did Alexis de

Tocqueville when he said in 1839 Man has never had the right to posses man and the

fact of possession always has been and still is illegitimate. If the Negroes have the right to

become free it is undeniable that the colonials have the right not to be ruined by the

Negroes freedom. The right of slaveholders included the receipt of an indemnity

representing the venal value of freed slaves and a temporary ban on the right of Negroes

to become property owners (4) Which still says that slaves have no real rights, basically

they should be free but not equal. After freedom many black men became seamen and

many travelled to and stayed in Liverpool as it had a large black community (3,000 in

Liverpool by 1911) and absorbed new people easier than other places as one American

reporter wrote in the 1830 s speaking of Negroes, recalls the looks of interest with which

Negro sailors are regarded when they walk the Liverpool streets. In Liverpool indeed the

Negro steps with a prouder pace and lifts his head like a man; for here, no such

exaggerated feelings exists in respect to him, as in America. Three or four times I

encountered our black steward, dressed very handsomely and walking arm in arm with a

good looking woman. In New York such a couple would have been mobbed in three

minutes and the steward would have been luck to escape with whole limbs (5). Many

slaves made their way to Liverpool because they thought that they would be able to

escape back to Africa or at least hide from their masters in the local black community.

Even white West Indian plantation owners sent their black born children to be educated in

Liverpool as they received a better education and were treated more like people in

England(6). Of course not all black people arrived in Britain as a result of slavery but

some people came to study as privileged Africans (e.g. African royalty or business men) or

to set up business as free people. Britain even after freedom has still had a large racist

problem even Liverpool which has a large multicultural background has suffered from so

called race riots both in 1919 and in the early 1980 s.

During the first and second world wars the British relied on the help of black

soldiers and the black work force, they were praised and many black tradesmen moved to

England to help rebuild what had been destroyed, but after the work was done the

governments turned their back on them. Even the politicians of Britain are sometimes

racist for example Margaret Thatcher in1978 warned that Britain is under threat from

being swamped by Black Culture and in 1981,1987 and 1992 introduced new laws

which prevented black people from the commonwealth entering Britain without a visa.

Some people in the British forces are also still racist as the handling of the Stephen

Lawrence case has proved. In areas where black and white people live together their is

always media attention and reports of violence, crime and general social decay because

these areas are the scapegoat areas for the errors of past governments and are always

good at election time to try to improve.

As in America black people usually live in communities in Britain but many of

these communities are multiracial, not just for black people or white people but for

everybody, their is a sense of brotherhood and friendship within these communities and it

is a warm and kind host to those who wish to dwell there.


Slavery is one of the biggest reasons why most black people today live in both

America and Britain, the fight for freedom and equality was long and hard and still in some

places their is still a lot of racism and violence. It seems as the black American population

has had a harder time fighting for equality than the British, black people have certainly

been more accepted in Britain than in America (although there is still much

institutionalised racism).There are always a few people who want to disrupt societies and

segregate, this is an unlikely event but groups like the KKK, NF and C18 believe that they

can separate nations of people and treat people different because of the colour of their


Because of plantation slavery in America the black areas which arouse their are

much stronger and more community based than the British areas but they are equally as

important in the lives of the people within.


(1) Thomas, Hugh

THE SLAVE TRADE The history of the Atlantic slave trade 1440-1870




(2) Blackstone,William

Commentaries on the laws of England


Oxford: Clarendon press


(3) Ibid.


(4) Fryer

Staying power

(5) Ibid.


(6) Law, Ian

A history of race and racism in Liverpool 1660-1950


Whitechapel press



Ackah, William & Christian, mark , Black organisation and identity in Liverpool.


Frazier, E.Franklin , The Negro family in the United States, Chicago, 1966

Grieve, Averil Mackenzie , The last years of the English slave trade Liverpool 1750-1807,

England, 1968

Holmes, Colin , Immigrants and minorities in British society, England, 1978

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