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Section 1 Social and Cultural Life Section 2 Activism Today Section 3 Looking to the Future. African Americans in Modern America. Section 1: Social and Cultural Life. Main Idea African Americans remain a strong presence in the cultural life of the United States. Reading Focus

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Section 1Social and Cultural Life

Section 2Activism Today

Section 3Looking to the Future

African Americans in Modern America

Section 1: Social and Cultural Life

Main Idea

African Americans remain a strong presence in the cultural life of the United States.

  • Reading Focus
  • What is Afrocentrism, and what has been its impact?
  • What are some characteristics of recently arrived African immigrants?
  • What are some highlights of modern African American culture?
Building Background

In the years following the civil rights movement, African Americans have taken on an increasingly significant role in the nation’s public life. In turn, trends in national politics and American culture have influenced African American culture in modern America. 

Some African Americans took a more separatist approach; influenced by Pan-Africanism, this movement became known as Afrocentrism

Origins in early 1900s, gained momentum in the 1960s

Afrocentrists promote a shift toward Africa-centered view; greater emphasis should be put on Africa’s contributions to world civilizations

Advocates preserving contemporary African American language, food, music, and dance

In 1966 Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa to introduce and reinforce core African family and community values

Credited with improving the self-image of many black Americans and with revealing aspects of African history that had long been ignored

But Afrocentrism criticized for distorting aspects of African history

Some critics say Afrocentrism is, in effect, promoting racism

Though popularity has faded, Afrocentrism influence is still felt in some intellectual and cultural circles


Reading Check


What is Afrocentrism?


Black nationalist movement that gained popularity in the United States in the 1960s

New Immigrants
  • Leaving Africa
  • Crises within Africa one reason for rise in U.S. immigration rates
  • Those crises include high unemployment rates, drought and famine, government corruption, civil wars, and genocide
  • Majority of 50,000 Africans that immigrate legally are from sub- Saharan Africa—Nigeria, Ghana, and Ethiopia
  • With illegal immigration, the African population may be larger than reported; changes in immigration law have contributed to increase
  • 1993 Congress instituted the Diversity Visa Lottery
  • Today most Africans come to the U.S. by way of this program
  • 2003 this type of visa accounted for about one-third of immigrant visas awarded to Africans
A New Life in the United States
  • African immigrants often highly educated and familiar with urban life; work in many occupations
  • Live in cities such as Washington, D.C. and New York City, where sizable communities already exist
  • Smaller Cities
  • Not all recent immigrants move to large cities
  • Increasing numbers of African immigrants moving to smaller cities in less densely populated regions, such as the Midwest
  • Visible Presence
  • Newcomers use support networks of friends and family
  • Effects of the increasing number of immigrants visible; growing number of African-centered businesses and places of worship
  • Tension
  • Successful African immigrants have pushed for more opportunities; some concern and resentment among some native-born blacks
  • Relationships between the two groups has at times been tense
Modern African American Culture
  • Hip-Hop Culture
  • Hip-hop refers to a cultural movement that began among youth, primarily African American and Latino, in the South Bronx in the late 1970s; hip-hop and rap music do not have the same meaning
  • Rap is spoken verse over a rhythmic beat; hip-hop culture—including rap, break dancing, and graffiti art—emerged as a way to counteract the deteriorating urban landscape of the South Bronx
  • Most significant modern influence on hip-hop is the Jamaican style of toasting, or talking over a rhythm or beat; an oral tradition traced back to the griots of West Africa
  • By the mid-1980s subsets had developed such as gangsta rap or jazz rap; today hip-hop and rap are accepted by mainstream audiences across the globe and enjoy huge commercial success
African American Writers
  • Number of internationally acclaimed African American writers has increased dramatically over the last few decades
  • 1988 Toni Morrison received the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Beloved
  • 2004 Edward P. Jones won a Pulitzer Prize in fiction for The Known World
  • Maya Angelou was San Francisco’s first black streetcar conductor before gaining literary fame; achieved national recognition for autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings; received a Pulitzer Prize for poetry
  • Rita Dove is another acclaimed poet with a Pulitzer Prize for poetry; was named this country’s poet laureate in 1993 as the first African American, and at 40, the youngest person ever, to be appointed to the post
  • August Wilson most successful contemporary African American playwright; received Pulitzer Prizes for two of his plays, Fences and The Piano Lesson
  • Anna Deavere Smith another distinguished playwright; nominated finalist for 1993 Pulitzer Prize in drama; awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, known as a “genius grant”
African American Entertainers
  • Actors and Oprah
  • 2001 Academy Awards African Americans Halle Berry and Denzel Washington won Oscars
  • In the late 1980s Oprah Winfrey became the first woman in history to own and produce her own talk show
  • In national syndication, the show became the highest-rated television talk show in the U.S.; has earned several Emmy Awards
  • In 2007, Forbes Magazine declared Winfrey the richest woman in show business
  • Spike Lee
  • Spike Lee—successful African American film director, producer, writer, and actor
  • Known for dealing with controversial social issues
  • Films often depict tense racial situations
  • In Do the Right Thing (1989) Lee examined the causes of a race riot
  • Critically praised for 1992 film, Malcolm X, a biography of the popular and controversial black nationalist leader
Female Athletes
  • Florence Griffith Joyner and Jackie Joyner-Kersee were record setters in track and field events
  • Tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams shine in traditionally white-dominated sport of tennis
  • African American Athletes
  • Michael Jordan won six NBA championships while obtaining numerous successful sponsorships
  • Tiger Woods is one of the most dominant professional golfers of his era
  • More Visible Presence
  • African Americans making gradual gains toward assuming leadership roles in the sports industry
  • Majority of leadership positions at both the professional and collegiate level are still held by white men
  • Front Office
  • The number of African Americans in coaching, management, and behind-the-scenes positions continues to increase
  • Example—Super Bowl XLI featured first black head coaches
Reading Check


What themes are common to works of some contemporary black authors and entertainers?


Racism, personal history, slavery, discrimination, social ills

Section 2: Activism Today

Main Idea

African Americans have been active in fighting racial inequalities and discrimination that persist in the United States, such as in the areas of justice and federal support.

  • Reading Focus
  • How have activists continued to fight racial discrimination since 1990, and what have their efforts accomplished?
  • How did Hurricane Katrina reveal racial inequalities, and how did African Americans work to address those inequalities?
Building Background

During the 1970s and 1980s African Americans made major political gains. With those gains, black leaders and politicians worked to reduce crime and poverty in the black community and to address racial inequalities. Although African Americans made notable improvements, many racial inequalities remained. For this reason, black activists have continued to work for full equality for African Americans. 

Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam helped organize the Million Man March

October 16, 1995, in Washington, D.C. march promoted as day of unity, renewal, and protest

Crowds gathered to hear black leaders speak; black men urged to get active in politics and in their communities; help register African Americans to vote

Received mixed reactions, critics spoke out

Louis Farrakhan, accused of being antiwhite, anti-Semitic, and sexist

Organizers criticized for limiting the march to men

March made important gains; about 1.5 million black men registered

Million Woman March, held by black women in 1997

2005 coalition of leaders called the Millions More March; celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Million Man March

Fighting Discrimination

Coretta Scott King
  • Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., played an important role in social activism
  • 1968 she founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change
  • Helped make her husband’s birthday a national holiday in 1986
  • Coretta Scott King continued to speak out against discrimination and injustice around the world until her death in January 2006
  • Supported ending South Africa’s apartheid regime; gaining equal rights for underrepresented groups
African Americans Seek Justice
  • African Americans have dealt with inequality in the justice system; black men in the U.S. imprisoned more often and for longer terms than are white men
  • In the 1980s and 1990s, police officers were accused of using excessive force against African Americans
  • 1991 Rodney King, a black motorist, was pulled over after a high-speed chase; LAPD officers used batons to beat him but a witness caught the violence on videotape aired repeatedly on news outlets
  • 1992 a mostly white jury acquitted the officers; outrage over the verdict led to three days of violent rioting in Los Angeles
  • With more than 50 deaths and 2,000 injuries, and approximately $1 billion in property damage, the LA riots one of the most costly riots in American history
  • Opposition to widespread use of racial profiling, a system that uses race, among other factors, to determine which people are likely to commit certain types of crime
  • In the 1990s New Jersey Turnpike black motorists targeted to be pulled over solely because of their race; NJ state troopers admitted the claim was true
  • Majority of states with laws against racial profiling; or require data collection on police stops
  • Reforms improvement but black males still face challenges in receiving fair or equal treatment
  • Better Cooperation
  • The riots brought racial tension into nationwide focus
  • Los Angeles and many other communities are building trust between the black community and law enforcement
  • More African American officers on the streets and in positions of authority; focus now on community policing
  • Civilian watchdog groups are monitoring police to ensure that complaints of excessive force are fully investigated
Reading Check


What issues have black activists and other leaders addressed to reduce racial discrimination in the justice system?


Increasing number of black officers, focusing on community policing, adopting police policies not based on racial profiling

Hurricane Katrina
  • On August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina struck the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The massive hurricane left a path of death and destruction across four states. After the slow response of some government agencies to the destruction, many blacks protested that the government’s inadequate response was due to discrimination against poor black communities.
  • Damage along the Gulf Coast
  • Katrina left destruction along the Gulf Coast; in New Orleans, LA levees broke submerging major parts of city beneath polluted floodwaters
  • Residents left stranded with little or no food and water; large-scale looting broke out in city; military was called in to restore order
  • More than 1,500 people died, hundreds of thousands of people lost their homes and sources of livelihood; $80 billion worth of damages estimated
  • Hurricane Rita struck LA and TX weeks later; adding to the destruction
  • Federal response led by FEMA, now part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • FEMA officials assisted local and state agencies in relief efforts; workers helped evacuate disaster victims
  • Success
  • Coast Guard rescued more than 24,000 and assisted with the evacuation of more than 9,000 hospital patients and workers
  • Volunteers from Citizen Corps and American Red Cross, individuals assisted with relief efforts
  • Race in New Orleans
  • Issues of race and class may have been factor in poor response; implied bias against blacks, poor
  • City shown as crime-ridden, needing military intervention; blacks shown as dangerous, poor class of people undeserving of aid
  • Overwhelming Odds
  • Response slow, inadequate, and poorly organized for size of disaster
  • Local New Orleans officials held responsible for the poor response; mayor Ray Nagin criticized
  • Black communities most impacted
  • Recovery from Katrina slow; in New Orleans only about half of the 1 million residents evacuated had returned a year later
  • Of those who had returned, many were still living in temporary housing until could rebuild; poorer areas of the city still with no electricity or sewage; traditionally black Ninth Ward remained abandoned, residents not returning
  • Victims of the storm living in temporary FEMA or FEMA-subsidized housing; flood insurance not enough to cover all the costs of rebuilding
  • Some critics blame slowness of recovery on the government’s desire to prevent certain racial, social classes from returning to the Gulf Coast region
  • From William Quigley, a Katrina evacuee and law professor at Loyola University, “There is not a sign outside of New Orleans saying, ‘If you are poor, sick, elderly, disabled, a child or African-American, you cannot return,’ but there might as well be.”
  • Some evacuees have no plans to return to Louisiana; many struggling to survive without jobs or on household incomes of less than $500 a month
Reading Check


Why do some claim that the inadequate response to Katrina was due to race or class prejudices?


Some say that media coverage portrayed blacks as undeserving of aid; some poorer areas of New Orleans were without basic services a year later.

Section 3: Looking to the Future

Main Idea

The future holds great promise for African Americans, but challenges remain. Strong leaders help point the way to a bright future.

  • Reading Focus
  • Who are some of the African Americans in leadership positions today?
  • What are some of the challenges and opportunities facing African Americans today?
Building Background

You have read how Africans first came to America hundreds of years ago. Since then, African Americans have achieved great successes in politics, education, business, and culture. What does the future hold?

Many of today’s most visible black leaders are in the political world

Condoleezza Rice served first as national security adviser and later replaced Colin Powell as U.S. secretary of state; political adviser Donna Brazile first African American to direct a major presidential campaign

In 2000 more than 9,000 black elected officials in the United States

Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois the first black woman elected to the U.S. Senate in 1993; sought the Democratic nomination for president

Barack Obama from Illinois is only the fifth black American senator

Deval Patrick became the first black governor of Massachusetts in 2006

Many black leaders are working to improve the black community

National Urban League strengthens and empowers black communities

Groups work to improve education, health care, and the criminal justice system; opportunities in political, economic, and cultural arenas

Past leaders built a strong foundation; leaders of tomorrow must continue their legacy

Leaders for Today

Reading Check


In what areas are some black leaders making an impact today?


As political advisers, elected officials, and advocates for the black community

Ensuring the Legacy
  • Educational Challenges
  • Education still key to real progress; achievement gap remains between white and black students
  • Black students have higher dropout rates and lower scores on standardized tests
  • African Americans face challenges in higher education
  • Lower percentage of African Americans attend college; about 13 percent of blacks enrolled in colleges attend HBCUs
  • Past few decades black enrollment at HBCUs has declined
  • Schooling Issues
  • Formerly integrated schools now either mostly black or white, situation some people call resegregation
  • Urban school districts declining tax bases; inner-city schools often lack adequate funding
  • High black student dropout rates may be effect of single-parent households
  • In working-class neighborhoods, informal networks of friends and families are pooling resources to help youth stay in school
Late 1960s migration trends began to change; by 1970 more African Americans returning to the South than leaving it, a situation called the Third Great Migration

Many blacks moved south out of a feeling of family duty or responsibility; for example black Americans returning to care for elderly parents

Many Northern-born blacks also migrated to the South

Some for reasons of heritage, others for greater job opportunities

Manufacturing operations moving south because of cheaper land, government incentives, and more temperate climate

Trend continues today; by 2000 some 7 million African Americans had returned to former slave states

The South has lifestyle advantages over the North, including lower crime rates and a lower cost of living

Return of African Americans to the South a sign of great progress

Return Migration

Societal Challenges
  • Blacks still face societal challenges—equal access to jobs and education
  • Many opponents contend that affirmative action policies require that decisions are based on race or gender rather than merit; California voters in 1996 passed Proposition 209 banning the use of racial preferences in decisions such as university admissions
  • 2003 Supreme Court decision upheld University of Michigan Law School policy which used race as a factor in its admissions process; the Court struck down the university’s undergraduate affirmative action policy
  • Another important societal issue—environmental racism, the intentional or unintentional practice of racial bias in dealing with environmental concerns
  • Environmental racism includes targeting minority and low-income communities for pollution sites; excluding minority community members from regulatory bodies that make such environmental decisions
A Promising Future
  • Though challenges remain, the future is bright and full of promise for today’s youth
    • Positive black role models, such as Barack Obama
    • Young people can see how their actions can make a difference
  • The African American community is dynamic and diverse
    • Holding distinctive political or religious views
    • Coming from diverse cultural heritage
    • Having differing socioeconomic status
  • African Americans have responsibility, privilege of working together to improve the quality of life
  • Courageous figures will inspire African Americans to greatness in the twenty-first century and beyond
Reading Check


What are some obstacles to equality that African Americans still face?


inequality in educational opportunities, many black communities still plagued with crime, some blacks struggle with equal opportunity