Perhaps more than that of any other minority, the history of African Americans in this country has
been a long and complex story. During the slave trade in the early history of the United States,
millions of blacks were brought from Africa. By the late 1700s, almost 4 million slaves lived in the
southern states. While some slave masters may have tried to treat their black slaves humanely, the
slaves felt deeply their loss of homeland, family, and freedom. In addition, harsh working conditions,
physical beatings, manacles, branding, and castration were common. Nor did the slaves always
passively give in to their masters' whims; sometimes slaves rebelled against their masters. Out of all
of this oppression evolved a variety of uniquely African-American forms of art and music, including
gospel, jazz, and the blues.
The formal abolition of slavery during the Civil War forever altered the life of blacks, especially in the
South. Yet the one form of group closure—slavery—was replaced by another—discrimination. The
behavior of the former slaves was closely monitored, and they were quickly punished for their
“transgressions.” The result was continual denial of black people's political and civil rights.
Legislation was also passed legalizing segregation of blacks from whites in public places like trains
and restaurants. However, following the Civil War, most states in the South passed legislation against
the interests of blacks, which became known as the
Jim Crow laws
. The laws, for example,
prohibited blacks from attending white schools, theaters, restaurants, and hotels.