Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes

African American History

as Minority or Immigrant


African Americans as minority vs. immigrant

African Americans did not immigrate voluntarily like traditional immigrants.

When African Americans arrived in New World, not opportunity but slavery.


African American experience in USA: 350 years of slavery and segregation, 50 years of legal desegregation.

Slavery lasted app. 250 years.

Legal segregation lasted another 100 years (separate & unequal schools, voting restrictions, last hired-first fired, excluded from professions, bans against black-white intermarriage)

Complete legal equality has existed for only 1-2 generations

Biggest lag: capital development—slaves were forced to work their whole lives without profit or savings for themselves or their children.

Immigrants had opportunity to work, profit, accrue capital, wealth, property. (Some didn't; others got more than their share from work by slaves and poor whites)


Unofficial segregation continues

Public schools are more segregated now than in the 1960s.

Official segregation is illegal.

Segregation regained through geographic, economic separation. (white flight, economic inequality)

Higher education: decreasing state support, higher tuitions.

Conservative-led states work to restrict voting by minorities. (Shorter hours, picture IDs)


Internal migration for African America

"Exodusters": after Emancipation, African American families and communities founded all-black towns in Kansas and in Oklahoma territory (also Florida?)

The Great Migration of African Americans to northern cities, late 1800s through mid-1900s for industrial work and service-related jobs.

Slave narratives prefigure Great Migration with slaves escaping from "Pharaoh's Egypt" (slavery) in the South to the "Promised Land" of the North.


Africans as immigrants? (e.g. Dr. Rose Ihedigbo, from Sandals in the Snow (IV2 149-172))

Africans who immigrate are sometimes not counted as "African Americans," a term that may be reserved to Americans descended from enslaved Africans.

Instead African immigrants may be called Nigerian-Americans, Kenyan-Americans, etc., but this naming situation is new and fluid.


African immigration to USA almost non-existent until past generation

Why not? American legal discrimination against African Americans meant immigrant narrative couldn't work for Africans

Also African overpopulation is unprecedented in world history--overpopulation drives immigration throughout history


native-born Americans like immigrants for their traditional cultures, especially devotion to family and respect for elders.

but irony: immigrant children's parents left their parents, so next generation will likely move too, getting further and further from traditional roots and becoming more modern.