From colonial times, African-Americans arrived in large numbers as slaves and lived primarily on plantations in the South. In 1790 slave and free blacks together comprised about one-fifth of the U.S. population. As the nation split between southern slave and northern free states prior to the American Civil War, the Underground Railroad spirited thousands of escaped slaves from South to North. In the century following abolition, this migration pattern became more pronounced as 6.5 million blacks moved from rural areas of the South to northern cities between 1910 and 1970. On the heels of this massive internal shift came new immigrants from West Africa and the black Caribbean, principally Haiti, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic.
The Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s awakened the nation’s conscience to the plight of African-Americans, who had long been denied first-class citizenship. The movement used nonviolence and passive resistance to change discriminatory laws and practices, primarily in the South. As a result, increases in median income and college enrollment among the black population were dramatic in the late 20th century. Widening access to professional and business opportunities included noteworthy political victories. By the early 1980s black mayors in Chicago, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Baltimore, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C., had gained election with white support. In 1984 and 1988 Jesse Jackson ran for U.S. president; he was the first African-American to contend seriously for a major party nomination. However, despite an expanding black middle-class and equal-opportunity laws in education, housing, and employment, African-Americans continue to face staunch social and political challenges, especially those living in the inner cities, where some of American society’s most difficult problems (such as crime and drug trafficking) are acute.
Like African-Americans, Hispanics (Latinos) make up about one-eighth of the U.S. population. Although they generally share Spanish as a second (and sometimes first) language, Hispanics are hardly a monolithic group. The majority, nearly three-fifths, are of Mexican origin—some descended from settlers in portions of the United States that were once part of Mexico (Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California), others legal and illegal migrants from across the loosely guarded Mexico–U.S. border. The greater opportunities and higher living standards in the United States have long attracted immigrants from Mexico and Central America.
The Puerto Rican experience in the United States is markedly different from that of Mexican Americans. Most importantly, Puerto Ricans are American citizens by virtue of the island commonwealth’s association with the United States. As a result, migration between Puerto Rico and the United States has been fairly fluid, mirroring the continuous process by which Americans have always moved to where chances seem best. While most of that migration traditionally has been toward the mainland, by the end of the 20th century in- and out-migration between the island and the United States equalized. Puerto Ricans now make up about one-tenth of the U.S. Latino population.
Quite different, though also Spanish-speaking, are the Cubans who fled Fidel Castro’s communist revolution of 1959 and their descendants. While representatives of every social group are among them, the initial wave of Cubans was distinctive because of the large number of professional and middle-class people who migrated. Their social and political attitudes differ significantly from those of Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans, though this distinction was lessened by an influx of 120,000 Cuban refugees in the 1980s, known as the Mariel immigrants.
After 1960 easy air travel and political and economic instability stimulated a significant migration from the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. The arrivals from Latin America in earlier years were often political refugees, more recently they usually have been economic refugees. Constituting about one-fourth of the Hispanic diaspora, this group comprises largely Central Americans, Colombians, and Dominicans, the last of whom have acted as a bridge between the black and Latino communities. Latinos have come together for better health, housing, and municipal services, for bilingual school programs, and for improved educational and economic opportunities. © "United States" © Emmanuel Buchot and Encarta
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