The first African slaves arrived via
Santo Domingo to the
San Miguel de Gualdape colony (most likely located in the
Winyah Bay area of present-day
South Carolina), founded by Spanish explorer
Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón in 1526.
The ill-fated colony was almost immediately disrupted by a fight over leadership, during which the slaves revolted and fled the colony to seek refuge among local
Native Americans. De Ayllón and many of the colonists died shortly afterwards of an epidemic and the colony was abandoned. The settlers and the slaves who had not escaped returned to
Haiti, whence they had come.
The first recorded Africans in
British North America (including most of the future United States) were "20 and odd negroes" who came to
Jamestown, Virginia via
Cape Comfort in August 1619 as
 As English settlers died from harsh conditions, more and more Africans were brought to work as laborers.
Slaves processing tobacco in 17th-century Virginia
An indentured servant (who could be white or black) would work for several years (usually four to seven) without wages. The status of indentured servants in early Virginia and Maryland was similar to slavery. Servants could be bought, sold, or leased and they could be physically beaten for disobedience or running away. Unlike slaves, they were freed after their term of service expired or was bought out, their children did not inherit their status, and on their release from contract they received "a year's provision of corn, double apparel, tools necessary", and a small cash payment called "freedom dues".
Africans could legally raise crops and cattle to purchase their freedom.
 They raised families, married other Africans and sometimes
intermarried with Native Americans or
The First Slave Auction at New Amsterdam in 1655
By the 1640s and 1650s, several African families owned farms around Jamestown and some became wealthy by colonial standards and purchased indentured servants of their own. In 1640, the Virginia General Court recorded the earliest documentation of lifetime slavery when they sentenced
John Punch, a Negro, to lifetime servitude under his master Hugh Gwyn for running away.
One of the Dutch African arrivals,
Anthony Johnson, would later own one of the first black "slaves",
John Casor, resulting from the court ruling of a civil case.
The popular conception of a race-based slave system did not fully develop until the 18th century. The
Dutch West India Company introduced slavery in 1625 with the importation of eleven black slaves into
New Amsterdam (present-day New York City). All the colony's slaves, however, were freed upon its surrender to the British.
Reproduction of a handbill advertising a slave auction in
, South Carolina, in 1769.
Massachusetts was the first British colony to legally recognize slavery in 1641. In 1662 Virginia passed a law that children of enslaved women (who were of African descent and thus foreigners) took the status of the mother, rather than that of the father, as under English common law. This principle was called
partus sequitur ventrum.
By an act of 1699, the colony ordered all free blacks deported, virtually defining as slaves all people of African descent who remained in the colony.
 In 1670 the colonial assembly passed a law prohibiting free and baptized negroes (and Indians) from purchasing Christians (in this act meaning English or European whites) but allowing them to buy people "of their owne nation".
The earliest African-American congregations and churches were organized before 1800 in both northern and southern cities following the
Great Awakening. By 1775, Africans made up 20% of the population in the
American colonies, which made them the second largest ethnic group after the English.
From the American Revolution to the Civil War
During the 1770s, Africans, both enslaved and free, helped rebellious English colonists secure American independence by defeating the British in the
 Africans and Englishmen fought side by side and were fully integrated.
 Blacks played a role in both sides in the American Revolution. Activists in the Patriot cause included
Prince Whipple and
Slavery had been tacitly enshrined in the
U.S. Constitution through provisions such as Article I, Section 2, Clause 3, commonly known as the
3/5 compromise. Slavery, which by then meant almost exclusively African Americans, was the most important political issue in the
antebellum United States, leading to one crisis after another. Among these were the
Missouri Compromise, the
Compromise of 1850, the
Fugitive Slave Act, and the
Dred Scott decision.
Prior to the
Civil War, eight serving presidents owned slaves, a practice protected by the U.S. Constitution.
 By 1860, there were 3.5 to 4.4 million enslaved blacks in the U.S. due to the
Atlantic slave trade, and another 488,000–500,000 African Americans lived free (with legislated limits)
 across the country.
 With legislated limits imposed upon them in addition to "unconquerable prejudice" from whites according to
 some blacks who weren't enslaved left the U.S. for
Liberia in Africa.
 Liberia began as a settlement of the
American Colonization Society (ACS) in 1821, with the abolitionist members of the ACS believing blacks would face better chances for freedom and equality in Africa.
The slaves not only constituted a large investment, they produced America's most valuable product and export:
cotton. They not only helped build the
U.S. Capitol, they built the
White House and other
District of Columbia buildings. (
Washington was a slave trading center.
) Similar building projects existed in slaveholding states.
In 1863, during the
American Civil War,
Abraham Lincoln signed the
Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation declared that all slaves in Confederate-held territory were free.
 Advancing Union troops enforced the proclamation with Texas being the last state to be emancipated, in 1865.
Slavery in Union-held Confederate territory continued, at least on paper, until the passage of the
Thirteenth Amendment in 1865.
 Prior to the Civil War, only white men of property could vote, and the
Naturalization Act of 1790 limited U.S. citizenship to whites only.
14th Amendment (1868) gave African-Americans citizenship, and the
15th Amendment (1870) gave African-American males the right to vote (only males could vote in the U.S. at the time).
Reconstruction Era and Jim Crow
African Americans quickly set up congregations for themselves, as well as schools and community/civic associations, to have space away from white control or oversight. While the post-war Reconstruction era was initially a time of progress for African Americans, that period ended in 1876. By the late 1890s, Southern states enacted Jim Crow laws to enforce
racial segregation and
 Segregation, which began with slavery, continued with Jim Crow laws, with signs used to show blacks where they could legally walk, talk, drink, rest, or eat.
 For those places that were racially mixed, non whites had to wait until all white customers were dealt with.
 Most African Americans obeyed the Jim Crow laws, in order to avoid
racially motivated violence. To maintain self-esteem and dignity, African Americans such as
Anthony Overton and
Mary McLeod Bethune continued to build their own
churches, banks, social clubs, and other businesses.
In the last decade of the 19th century, racially discriminatory laws and racial violence aimed at African Americans began to mushroom in the United States, a period often referred to as the "
nadir of American race relations". These discriminatory acts included
racial segregation—upheld by the United States Supreme Court decision in
Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896—which was legally mandated by southern states and nationwide at the local level of government, voter suppression or disenfranchisement in the southern states, denial of economic opportunity or resources nationwide, and private acts of violence and mass racial violence aimed at African Americans unhindered or encouraged by government authorities.
Great Migration and Civil Rights Movement
A group of white men pose for a 1919 photograph as they stand over the black victim Will Brown who had been
and had his body mutilated and burned during the
Omaha race riot of 1919
. Postcards and photographs of lynchings were popular souvenirs in the U.S.
The desperate conditions of African Americans in the South sparked the
Great Migration of the early 20th century which led to a growing African-American community in the
Northern United States.
 The rapid influx of blacks disturbed the racial balance within Northern cities, exacerbating hostility between both black and white Northerners. Urban riots—whites attacking blacks—became a northern problem.
Red Summer of 1919 was marked by hundreds of deaths and higher casualties across the U.S. as a result of race riots that occurred in more than three dozen cities, such as the
Chicago race riot of 1919 and the
Omaha race riot of 1919. Overall, blacks in Northern cities experienced
systemic discrimination in a plethora of aspects of life. Within employment, economic opportunities for blacks were routed to the lowest-status and restrictive in potential mobility. Within the housing market, stronger discriminatory measures were used in correlation to the influx, resulting in a mix of "targeted violence, restrictive covenants,
redlining and racial steering".
 While many whites defended their space with violence, intimidation, or legal tactics toward African Americans, many other whites migrated to more racially homogeneous suburban or exurban regions, a process known as
By the 1950s, the
Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum. A 1955 lynching that sparked public outrage about injustice was that of
Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago. Spending the summer with relatives in
Money, Mississippi, Till was killed for allegedly having
wolf-whistled at a white woman. Till had been badly beaten, one of his eyes was gouged out, and he was shot in the head. The visceral response to his mother's decision to have an open-casket funeral mobilized the black community throughout the U.S.
 Vann R. Newkirk| wrote "the trial of his killers became a pageant illuminating the tyranny of
 The state of Mississippi tried two defendants, but they were speedily acquitted by an
 One hundred days after Emmett Till's murder,
Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus in Alabama—indeed, Parks told Emmett's mother
Mamie Till that "the photograph of Emmett’s disfigured face in the casket was set in her mind when she refused to give up her seat on the Montgomery bus."
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the conditions which brought it into being are credited with putting pressure on Presidents
John F. Kennedy and
Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson put his support behind passage of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964 that banned discrimination in public accommodations, employment, and
labor unions, and the
Voting Rights Act of 1965, which expanded federal authority over states to ensure black political participation through protection of voter registration and elections.
 By 1966, the emergence of the
Black Power movement, which lasted from 1966 to 1975, expanded upon the aims of the Civil Rights Movement to include economic and political self-sufficiency, and freedom from white authority.
During the postwar period, many African Americans continued to be economically disadvantaged relative to other Americans. Average black income stood at 54 percent of that of white workers in 1947, and 55 percent in 1962. In 1959, median family income for whites was $5,600, compared with $2,900 for nonwhite families. In 1965, 43 percent of all black families fell into the poverty bracket, earning under $3,000 a year. The Sixties saw improvements in the social and economic conditions of many black Americans.
From 1965 to 1969, black family income rose from 54 to 60 percent of white family income. In 1968, 23 percent of black families earned under $3,000 a year, compared with 41 percent in 1960. In 1965, 19 percent of black Americans had incomes equal to the national median, a proportion that rose to 27 percent by 1967. In 1960, the median level of education for blacks had been 10.8 years, and by the late Sixties the figure rose to 12.2 years, half a year behind the median for whites.
Post-Civil Rights era
Politically and economically, African Americans have made substantial strides during the post-civil rights era. In 1989,
Douglas Wilder became the first African American elected governor in U.S. history.
Clarence Thomas became the second African-American Supreme Court Justice. In 1992
Carol Moseley-Braun of
Illinois became the first African-American woman elected to the
U.S. Senate. There were 8,936 black officeholders in the United States in 2000, showing a net increase of 7,467 since 1970. In 2001 there were 484 black mayors.
In 2005, the number of Africans immigrating to the United States, in a single year, surpassed the peak number who were involuntarily brought to the United States during the
Atlantic Slave Trade.
 On November 4, 2008,
John McCain to become the first African American to be elected President. At least 95 percent of African-American voters voted for Obama.
 He also received overwhelming support from young and educated whites, a majority of
 picking up a number of new states in the Democratic electoral column.
 Obama lost the overall white vote, although he won a larger proportion of white votes than any previous nonincumbent Democratic presidential candidate since
 Obama was
reelected for a second and
final term, by a similar margin on November 6, 2012.