African American People in the History of the USA


Fifty-seven years ago, the United States finally ended racial segregation, symbolized by the “For Whites Only” signs on benches, in parks, or in restaurants. Since then, the United States has come a long way towards electing the first black president and even politicians’ compensation claims to the descendants of slaves. Years of political and economic oppression have affected today’s black citizens (Bleich et al. 1). This essay is planned to discuss the role of black people in the formation of American literature. It will be based on a review of the available key literary works.

The available data are sufficient to create a comprehensive analysis of the history of the black population without overlooking any aspect. However, this essay aims specifically at pointing out the events that have shaped the contemporary image of African American literature. The paper is structured by moving the narrative from the past to the present. Thus, it will be possible to demonstrate the discovered cause-and-effect relationships. It seems that the literature of the black population cannot be perceived in isolation from the general history of US literature.

Historical Background

In April 1861, a civil war broke out in the United States. President Abraham Lincoln, who came to power, began it against 11 rebellious southern states, which did not recognize him, and announced their withdrawal from the United States. The industrial and migrant North demanded that it should be canceled. At the same time, the agricultural and slave-labor South opposed The North won, and amendments to the US Constitution abolished slavery (Bell and Harris 4). Nevertheless, the abolition of slavery did not make whites and blacks equal. The adopted amendments, in many ways, testified only to the willingness of the authorities to recognize the immorality of slavery but not to take an active position to eradicate it. In the South, racists persecuted blacks from the Ku Klux Klan. At the end of the 19th century, segregation laws appeared there (Wilson 213). In the cities of the North, blacks settled in ghettos, where the standard of living was much worse than in white areas.

Cultural Events of the Early 20th Century

After World War II, the white population left the city centers. Some improved their standard of living, bought cars, and went to the suburbs, while others fled from the fact that their areas’ ethnic composition and order began to change dramatically. Since the mid-1950s, the fight for equal rights between whites and blacks has become a mass phenomenon. The African American struggle for equality has never been limited to protests and clashes with the police. The Civil Rights Movement itself in the 1960s would have been impossible without the flourishing of black culture in New York’s Harlem in the 1920s and 1930s (Burnim 23). As Morgan (17) notes, during these years, black musicians, writers, and artists united to fight for their freedom and the right to create. Through joint efforts, cultural figures overcame inequality and racial prejudices prevailing in the country.

However, indeed, the particular heightened attention of the state to granting rights to the black population of America made it necessary to start The Civil Rights Movement (Wilson 330). It was then that white Americans first recognized the uniqueness and value of African American music and began going to the Cotton Jazz Club (Burnim 18). There started the careers of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington and many black actors who were then invited to Broadway. Authors note that due to African Americans’ influence, it became possible to draw attention to the racial problems so acute in those years.

Major Black Writers of the Early 20th Century

Among those who wrote about the black population of the USA were the pan-Africanist, sociologist, and historian William Edward Burghardt Du Bois. His idea of ​​double consciousness is essential to understanding the black rebellion (Rusert and Battle-Baptiste 15). This theory explains the self-perception of African Americans in the States and the origins of racism in the country (Du Bois 3). One of the most influential African American writers of the 20th century, Richard Wright, wrote about the plight of African Americans in the late 19th and mid-20th centuries. Black Boy is his autobiographical novel about the hardships of growing up in the American South during the Jim Crow era (Wright). This book discusses how difficult it is to exist as a human being when there is only cruelty, pain, and hostility independent of skin color.

The Most Influential Black Writers of the Second Half of the 20th Century

Another writer, Booker Washington, wrote that the difference between blacks and whites arises from “unequal opportunities in the past” (Washington 315). Systematic racism against people of color has a negative multidimensional negative impact on the life of this population group, which the authors emphasize. Information about the most influential authors, representatives of African-American literature, was systematized in encyclopedias and collections. In particular, for example, Macey’s book (9) tells about the key figures of black literature of the last three hundred years. At the same time, the work of Gates and Robbins (21) emphasizes the characteristics of women’s black classical books. The texts of African-American writers are united by the author’s impulse to speak about their unique experiences, which is the distinguishing feature of such literature. Accordingly, the works created by the authors affect the perception of the black population both by their representatives themselves and by the people of the country as a whole.

Black Writers of the 21st Century

The topic of slavery and related issues of the US Civil War became part of the American agenda under Trump. The policy pursued by Obama from 2009 to 2016 significantly reduced its influence from the coming power of a new president. The first Black U.S. president took measures to minimize institutional discrimination against the colored population of the USA. While for Trump, it was essential to enlist the support of the Republicans, and therefore he spoke out in a racist manner many times (Wodak 2). However, despite tremendous progress, many of the problems of the black population in the United States remain relevant.

Moreover, the number of racial incidents – both concerning blacks and other population members – is growing. The novels published in the 21st century, the theme of which is the oppression of the colored population, are evidence of this and the reaction to this. Particularly, in Ta-Nehisi’s Between the World and Me novel (7), the author discusses white supremacy over blacks, profoundly explores the causes and nature of institutional racism, and claims the right to reparations. It is offensive not to mention the book of the first black president of America, Barack Obama, A Promised Land. The book had one super-goal- to prove that America values ​​its ideals and does not use them to cover racial discrimination or wild capitalism (Obama). In his memoirs, peace as the unity of the globe means precisely a world without war. Moreover, his efforts in international politics are reduced only to preventing this war. Recently, the United States has been experiencing internal contradictions, and the conflict in American society is escalating, including between representatives of various ethnic groups.


It seems that the authors’ works on African American culture released over the years emphasize its importance in the context of general history. Failure to consider the cultural influence of representatives of this community deprives people who want to know the history of the country of a holistic perception. To familiarize oneself with the key figures in the literature, one should refer to the available encyclopedias and collections on the topic. It is also essential to understand that it is impossible to study the culture of any ethnic community in isolation from general history. Therefore, it is necessary to refer to primary historical sources and analytical articles constantly.


Cultural figures in their works on the lives of black Americans tirelessly highlight the difficulties they faced. Moreover, it is emphasized that currently, despite the attempts of leaders, inequality persists. The measures taken are often not enough; besides, the regular change of government affects. How black people are perceived is influenced by popular culture, in particular literature. However, African-Americans themselves create works of art. In addition, while the years of segregation laws are behind us, African Americans still have a more challenging time in almost every aspect of life. The created literary works emphasize that the state would have solved this everyday and institutional racism problem long ago. Still, there has been only an escalation of the existing conflicts in recent years. Thus, the cultural contribution of the black population both to the general history of the state and specifically to the history of US culture is exceptionally significant.

Works Cited

Bell, Samantha S., and Harris, Duchess. The Thirteenth Amendment and Its Legacy. Abdo Publishing, 2019.

Bleich, Sara, et al. “Discrimination in the United States: Experiences of Black Americans.” Health Services Research, vol. 54, no. 2, 2019, pp. 1-10.

Burnim, Mellonee V. Issues in African American Music: Power, Gender, Race, Representation. Taylor & Francis, 2016.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. Random House Publishing Group, 2015.

Du Bois, William Edward Burghardt. The souls of Black folk. McClurg & Co, 1903.

Gates, Henry Louis, and Robbins, Hollis. The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers. Penguin Publishing Group, 2017.

Macey, J. David. African American Literature: An Encyclopedia for Students. ABC-CLIO, 2019.

Morgan, Jo-Ann. The Black Arts Movement and the Black Panther Party in American Visual Culture. Routledge, 2018.

Obama, Barack. A Promised Land. Crown, 2020.

Rusert, Britt, and Battle-Baptiste, Witney, editors. W. E. B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America. Princeton Architectural Press, 2018.

Washington, Booker Taliaferro. Booker T. Washington Papers. Vol. 5. University of Illinois Press, 1977.

Wilson, Jamie J., editor. 50 Events That Shaped African American History: An Encyclopedia of the American Mosaic. Vol. 1-2. ABC-CLIO, 2019.

Wodak, Ruth, et al. “Shameless Normalisation of Impoliteness: Berlusconi’s and Trump’s Press Conferences. Discourse & Society, vol. 32, no. 3, 2020, pp. 1-25.

Wright, Richard. Black Boy. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2020.

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