Today's black Americans are descendants of African Negroes who were brought to the United States by force and sold into slavery. After slavery was abolished, segregation in the South and discrimination in the North kept blacks second-class citizens for almost another century. Ńînditions have greatly improved for black Americans during the past 30 years. Among this Nation's 30 million blacks are many successful, important, and famous people. However, as a group, blacks remain a disadvantaged minority. Their struggle for equal opportunity has been won in the courts of law, but they are still struggling for the respect and prosperity that most other Americans enjoy.
Slavery— from beginning to end.
In the 15th century Europeans began to import slaves from the African continent. The discovery of the Americas increased the demand for cheap labor and therefore increased the slave trade. During the next 400 years, slave traders kidnapped about 15 million Negroes from Africa and sold them into slavery. When the American Civil War began in 1860, there were about 4,5 million Negroes in the United States, most of them slaves.
The vast majority of Negro slaves lived in the South, where they worked in cotton, tobacco, and sugar cane fields. Most were uneducated, although a few were taught to read and write. Their African religious practices were discouraged, and they were converted to Christianity.
The slaves suffered greatly, both physically and emotionally. They worked long hours in the fields. They lived in crowded, primitive houses. Some were the victims of cruel masters who abused them. Often, slave owners separated Negro families by selling a slave's husband, wife, or child. Uncle Ňîm's Cabin, a famous novel about Southern slavery, emphasized these evils. The book aroused so much antislavery sentiment in the North that Abraham Lincoln said to its author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war”.
The "great war" that Lincoln was talking about was, of course, the American Civil War, sometimes called the War between the States. Slavery was the underlying cause of this war. The agricultural South depended on slave labor to work the fields of its large plantations. The industrialized North had no use for slave labor, and slavery was against the law there. Northerners considered slavery a great evil, and, in fact, some of them helped Negroes escape from slavery to one of the free states. By the mid-19th century, the nation was divided between, slave states and free states. Whenever a new state wanted to enter the Union, the question of whether it would bĺ slave or free was raised. Finally, the South decided to leave the Union and become a separate country—the Confederate States of America, president Lincoln would not allow this. In order to keep the United States united, Lincoln led his nation into a civil war. The war ended in 1865 with the North victorious, the country reunited, and slavery abolished.
In 1863, two years before the war ended, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in the Confederate states. Shortly after the war ended in 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution freed all slaves, a few years later, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments gave the former slaves full civil rights, including the right to vote.