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African-Americans & the Black Experience: African-American Identity & Culture

If the problem of the twentieth century was, in W. E. B. Du Bois’s famous words, ‘the problem of the color line,’ then the problem of the twenty-first century is the problem of colorblindness, the refusal to acknowledge the causes and consequences of enduring racial stratification.
— Naomi Murakawa, Princeton University

African Americans (also referred to as Black Americans or Afro-Americans) are citizens or residents of the United States who have origins in any of the black populations of Africa.   In the United States, the terms are generally used for Americans with at least partial Sub-Saharan African ancestry.

Most African Americans are the direct descendants of captive Africans who survived the slavery era within the boundaries of the present United States, although some are—or are descended from—immigrants from African, Caribbean, Central American or South American nations. As an adjective, the term is usually spelled African-American.

African American history starts in the 17th century with indentured servitude in the American colonies and progresses onto the 2008 and 2012 election of Barack Obama, an African American, as the 44th President of the United States. Between those landmarks there were other events and issues, both resolved and ongoing, that were faced by African Americans. Some of these were: slavery, reconstruction, development of the African-American community, participation in the great military conflicts of the United States, racial segregation, and the Civil Rights Movement.

African Americans and their contributions to American society and culture are honored each February with Black History Month. Black Americans make up the single largest racial minority in the United States and form the second largest racial group after whites in the United States.

  • A. P. Marshall African American Oral History Archive. Recorded by historian A.P. Marshall in the 1980s, these interviews span several generations and help to tell the rich and varied story of African-Americans in Ypsilant, Michigani. Each discussion illuminates eras of profound social change and offers an intimate look into the social, home and political life of an historic Michigan community.
  • "American Black Journal." Documenting over thirty years of Detroit history from African American perspectives, this collection of programs by Detroit Public Television includes interviews, round-table discussions, field-produced features and artistic performances featuring African Americans, many of who are among the nation’s most recognized and controversial figures, and provides the visual and audio context of key debates and discussions surrounding African American history, culture, and politics.
  • African-American Odyssey. This Special Presentation of the Library of Congress exhibition, The African-American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship, showcases the Library's incomparable African-American collections. The presentation is a highlight of what is on view in this major black history exhibition and a glimpse into the Library's vast African-American collections.
  • John Franklin Hope: Imprint of an American Scholar. John Hope Franklin was one of the most well-known and influential scholars of his era. Over the Course of his nearly 70 years as a historian, Franklin molded hundreds, if not thousands, of students to raise scholastic standards within his field and broke countless professional barriers along the way. Franklin was also the definition of a public intellectual, continuously lending his scholarship and influence to causes beyond the walls of academia. This exhibition explores his indelible imprint on the classroom, the institution, his public and private relationships, and his life's work of utilizing history and knowledge to cultivate a better human society.
  • The Making of African American Identity, Pt. 1: 1500-1865 : A collection of primary resources—historical documents, literary texts, and works of art—thematically organized with notes and discussion questions. Themes covered include : Freedom, Enslavement, Community, and Identity.
  • 101 African American Firsts
  • About.Com's African American History Page.
  • About.Com's African American Women's History Page.
  • African American History And Culture courtesy of the Encyclopedia Smithsonian.
  • African American History in the United States.  A compilation of articles and resources posted in the World History Archives.
  • African American History Month Portal by the Library of Congress.  February is African American History Month.  The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society.

"Meet Hercules, One of America's Early Celebrity Chefs".  Daniel Crown, Atlas Obscura, February 21, 2018. Heralded for his food, the enslaved cook headed the first presidential kitchen and might be considered the first American celebrity chef.   Needless to say, he was a slave who eventually fled, seeking his freedom.

Gilbert Stuart's portrait of Hercules, thought to have been painted 	between 1795 and 1797

  •   Provides an unflinching examination of political and cultural news through insightful debate and commentary from both established and emerging black thought-leaders. The Root features unvarnished analysis of important issues in the black community and engages anyone looking for diverse viewpoints that are provocative, savvy and smart.  Also provides a Facebook page.  100 Amazing Facts About the Negro is a series by Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also the editor-in-chief of The Root.
  • The Making of African American Identity, Pt. 1: 1500-1865 : A collection of primary resources—historical documents, literary texts, and works of art—thematically organized with notes and discussion questions. Themes covered include : Freedom, Enslavement, Community, Identity, and Emancipation.  Courtesy of the National Humanities Center, 2009.
  • The Making of African American Identity, Pt. 2: 1865-1917 : A collection of primary resources—historical documents, literary texts, and works of art—thematically organized with notes and discussion questions. Themes covered include : Freedom, Identity, Institutions, Politics, and Forward.  Courtesy of the National Humanities Center, 2006.
  • The Making of African American Identity, Pt. 3: 1917-1968 : A collection of primary resources—historical documents, literary texts, and works of art—thematically organized with notes and discussion questions. Themes covered include : Segregation, Migration, Protest, Community, and Ovecome? Courtesy of the National Humanities Center, 2007.
  • Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African American Newspapers.  Curated by Matt Delmont, Arizona State University.
  • 7 of the Most unrecognized Women in Black History

  • African American Identity in the Gilded Age.  Examine the tension experienced by African-Americans as they struggled to establish a vibrant and meaningful identity based on the promises of liberty and equality in the midst of a society that was ambivalent towards them and sought to impose an inferior definition upon them....The primary sources used are drawn from a time of great change that begins after Reconstruction's brief promise of full citizenship and ends with the First World War's Great Migration, when many African-Americans sought greater freedoms and opportunities by leaving the South for booming industrial cities elsewhere in the nation....The central question posed by these primary sources is how African-Americans were able to form a meaningful identity for themselves, reject the inferior images fastened upon them, and still maintain the strength to keep "from being torn asunder." Using the primary sources presented here, look for answers that bring your ideas together in ways that reflect the richness of the African-American experience.  Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
  • African American Lives 2 / PBS.  Building on the program's theme of searching for lost history, the Web site for African-American Lives 2 provides information about the series, background on the research, scholarship, and science, and resources for people to learn more about their own family history and genealogy.  Also listed under biography.
  • African-American Mosaic: A Library of Congress Resource. This exhibit was done in conjunction with the publication of The African-American Mosaic: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Black History and Culture. This site highlights four areas - Colonization, Abolition, Migrations, and the WPA.
  • African-American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship.  This exhibition showcases the incomparable African American collections of the Library of Congress. Displaying more than 240 items, including books, government documents, manuscripts, maps, musical scores, plays, films, and recordings, this is the largest black history exhibit ever held at the Library, and the first exhibition of any kind to feature presentations in all three of the Library's buildings.
  • African American Religion : A Documentary  History Project. African-American Religion: A Documentary History Project was founded in 1987 and is headquartered at Amherst College. Its goal is to produce a comprehensive history of African-American religion, from the earliest African-European encounters along the west coast of Africa in the mid-fifteenth century to the present day. This history will be presented in a three-part, multi-volume series that will include representative documents and interpretive commentary. This work, provisionally titled African-American Religion: A Historical Interpretation with Representative Documents, is under contract to the University of Chicago Press and will begin appearing in 2010. David W. Wills, Amherst College.

African American Sites in the Digital Collections of the Library of Congress: Contributions by African Americans to the arts, education, industry, literature, politics and much more are well represented in the vast collections of the Library of Congress. The digital collections are no exception. American Memory, the flagship of the Library's digital collections, online exhibits and other areas of the Library's Web site provide a broad range of digitized materials pertaining to the African American experience.

African-Americans - Biography, Autobiography and History : a compilation of resources by the Avalon Project sponsored by the Yale Law School.

Business and Professional Life

  • The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company was founded in Durham, N.C. in 1898 and is the oldest currently active African American-owned insurance company in the United States.
  • North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company Archives.
  • African American History Program (AAHP) Database of Distinguished American Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers.  African Americans have made significant contributions to science, engineering, and medicine. Many of these researchers, scholars, and practitioners had to overcome tremendous obstacles. New knowledge born from their brilliance and perseverance has benefited humankind.  Over 25 years ago, the African American History Program (AAHP) began as a staff-based initiative in the form of a portrait collection created to raise awareness of the contributions made by an often marginalized group within our society.  Now expanded in the form of an online database, it includes African American citizens of the United States who have made significant contributions in science, engineering, or medicine. Individuals within the database have demonstrated distinguished achievements in original research, important publications or other contributions to theory and practice in a specific field, or unusual accomplishments in pioneering new and developing areas of science, medicine, or technology. Also included in the list are historical figures from other fields that paved the way legally, politically, and socially for African Americans that followed.  Through their work, these individuals have made a positive and significant impact in their fields and on society.  Sponsored jointly by the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine.

Military Service

Harlem Hellraisers - African American soldiers in World War I

  • African American Soldiers in World War I. This primary source set emphasizes the experiences of African American doughboys during the war while also highlighting how they were perceived by white Americans. Use the sources to determine how racism and patriotism shaped the experiences of the African American soldiers. Courtesy of Jamie Lathan and the Digital Public Library of America.
  • Brave Deeds are Proudly Spoken Of: African American Military Service. Highlights some of the experiences and personal stories of African American men and women who have served in the U.S. military.
  • Harry S. Truman and Civil Rights. This collection focuses on President Harry S. Truman's decisions on civil rights. The collection includes 72 documents totaling 342 pages covering the years 1948 through 1953. Supporting materials include photographs, oral history transcripts, a subject guide to archival materials and other links. Includes President Truman's decision to desegregate the U.S. Armed Forces.
  • African American Involvement in the Vietnam War. : Welcome to the virtual library of materials published about African-American involvement in the Vietnam War. "Involvement" is defined as those who served and those who protested. Although this site represents a sizable collection of full-text articles, papers, other documents (including government documents), Web links, sound files, photographs, speeches, poetry, and film references, the majority of the site consists of annotated bibliographic citations.
  • African Americans in Cryptologic History, part of the Center for Cryptologic History (NSA)
  • Negro League Baseball.    Between the end of the Civil War and 1890, some African American baseball players played alongside white players in minor and major leagues. After 1890, Jim Crow segregation dominated the sport until Jackie Robinson integrated major league baseball in 1947. Consequently African Americans formed their own professional baseball leagues commonly and collectively known as Negro League baseball. During its heyday in the 1920s and 30s, the Negro Leagues drew large crowds and fielded over thirty teams throughout the East Coast and Midwest.In this primary source set, students will view original photographs, listen to oral history recordings, and read historical texts to gain a better understanding of of the lives and experiences of Negro League baseball players.  Courtesy of Jamie Lathan and the Digital Public Library of America.
  • Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Located in Kansas City at 1616 East 18th Street

Circulation Coordinator

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Ms. Bathsheba Love
Murrell Library


Much of this material was originally compiled by Erik Ponder, African Studies Librarian at Michigan State University.