African American Culture Information

Collard greens are staples in the diets of many African-Americans.

African-Americans, the second-largest minority group as of 2010, have lived in the United States since the Colonial period. Most African-Americans are the descendants of slaves who worked on Southern plantations during the antebellum era. Seeking a sense of identity, they formed their own culture based on the arts, faith, oral tradition and community. Although black culture has evolved to include new elements, such as hip-hop, remnants from the past continue to influence present culture.

1 Influences

Many aspects of African-American culture come from West Africa, where most blacks originate. Foods such as collard greens, rice and okra are staples in the black diet, and West African slaves introduced these foods to the United States. Many blacks in the Deep South, particularly in New Orleans, practice voodoo, which originates from Africa. Stepping, a popular dance among black youths, derives partly from African foot dances, such as the Gumboot dance.

2 Literature

For the greater part of American history, most blacks were not allowed to read or write. Hence, there are few African-American writings from the antebellum era. Of the writings that do exist, the most renowned are the slave narratives, including the works of William Wells Brown and the poetry of Phillis Wheatley. Common themes in antebellum African-American literature include slavery, miscegenation, oppression, family and abolitionism. There was a resurgence of black writing during the 1920s Harlem Renaissance, and Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Claude McKay were noted authors from that era. Contemporary African-Americans include Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Sista Souljah and Nikki Giovanni.

3 Music

Music is a key element of African-American culture. During slavery, many blacks sang Negro spirituals and call-and-answer songs while working on the fields. They sang songs such as “Wade in the Water” and “Michael Row the Boat Ashore,” which people continue to sing today. During the early and mid-20th century, African-Americans created blues and jazz music, and Louis Armstrong and B.B. King were famous black jazz and blues musicians. Today, most black musicians create rhythm and blues (R&B) and rap songs.

4 Notable African Americans

Although African-Americans lived as second-class citizens for most of American history, today they enjoy equal rights due to the efforts of black abolitionists and civil rights activists. African-Americans such as Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Frances Harper and Harriet Tubman led thousands of blacks to freedom and/or worked with white abolitionists. During the postbellum era, activists such as W.E.B. Dubois, Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King Jr. fought against segregation. Contemporary African-American idols include Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé and Chris Gardner.

5 Current Culture

Today, African-American culture is often associated with urban culture due to the high percentage of blacks living in the inner cities and the influences of hip-hop culture. Most hip-hop musicians are African-American, and their music discusses issues--such as crime, dysfunctional families, frustration, gangs and poverty--which are prevalent in the black community. Nevertheless, in the past 50 years, the black middle class has continued to grow, and important values of black bourgeoisie culture are education, tradition and family.

Therese Rochon is a college student and freelance writer from St. Louis. She is studying English and Spanish literature at Washington University and plans to attend law school in the future. She speaks two languages and, in 2011, will au pair in Europe to learn two more languages. She has been writing online since 2005.