African American Heritage & Ethnography Key Concepts: Learning Resources Center—Further Reading

Who Are African Americans?

“African American,” according to the Census 2000, “refers to people in the United States who have origins in any of the black races of Africa.” Furthermore, Americans of African descent have defined themselves in terms of their African origins for well over two hundred years.

In Census 2000, people identifying themselves or who were reported as Black or African American were the second largest group after those choosing or reported in the White category (U.S. Department of Commerce, U. S. Census Bureau 2001).

About 36.5 million people or 12.9% of the nation’s population reported Black or African American as their race alone or in combination with one or more of the other five race categories. This number included 34.7 million people who reported only Black or African American and 1.8 million people who reported Black as well as one or more other races. The latter group also included a little over 710,353 people who reported their ethnicity as Hispanics or Latinos and their race as Black, either alone or in combination with one or more other races. Blacks reported racial combinations with Whites, American Indians and groups in all other categories (U.S. Department of Commerce, U. S. Census Bureau, 2001).

As heterogeneous as contemporary African Americans are, the majority of the people in this group are part of a descendent community whose fore parents participated in the American Experience of exploration, settlement, and development of this continent and subsequently the nation. They also share that heritage with other culturally diverse peoples from the earliest explorations of the Western Hemisphere to the present. The presence and participation of people of African descent can be documented in every aspect of the development of the United States. Some were free people and some were enslaved. Some were born here and others were born in Africa or the Caribbean. Availability of census data offers excellent demographic and geographic starting points for researching evidence of African American heritage.

Where can I find out more?

  1. The United States Historical Census Data Browser

    The following image is an example of the kind of data one can develop from this source.

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    Information on the decennial census is available in Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses from 1790 to 2000. This PDF document is fairly large and may be difficult to download at slow modem speeds. Please email if you have problems with this link.

  2. CensusScope is an easy-to-use tool for investigating U.S. demographic trends, offered by the Social Science Data Analysis Network (SSDAN) <> at the University of Michigan. With eye-catching graphics and exportable trend data, CensusScope is designed for generalists and specialists.

    Diversity in America

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