In August 1619, an English ship named White Lion reached Hampton, Virginia, carrying about 20 slaves from Africa. Soon, a second ship brought more enslaved people to North American shores. For more than 200 years, millions of Africans were taken from their homeland across the Atlantic Ocean. These people were often separated from their families. Ever since, Black Americans have had to work to rebuild their community on the new continent.
Most enslaved people were forced to work on . They had to work without pay — and they had no choice. Many of these enslaved people tried to escape. And they relied on the sense of community to find freedom. For example, Harriet Tubman escaped slavery in 1849. She then worked with a community of others to free other slaves. This system was called the Underground Railroad.
The Underground Railroad was not a real train. It was a series of meeting sites, hidden paths, and safe houses. Together, the system helped lead enslaved people to safety. Experts believe that 100,000 enslaved people used this system to find freedom.
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 let slaveowners recover an escaped slave. Yet Tubman risked her life — over and over — to help others in her community. “I can say what most conductors can’t say,” said Tubman. “I never ran my train off the track, and I never lost a passenger.”
The United States banned slavery in 1865. Yet Black Americans continued to work together to lift up their community. After all, millions of them faced Jim Crow laws in southern states. These unfair laws forced from the late 1800s through 1965. For example, Black students were not allowed to go to the same schools as white students.
These Jim Crow laws helped drive Black people to move to large cities in the north and west — such as Chicago, Illinois. About 6 million Black Americans moved between 1910 and 1970. The movement of entire Black communities is called the Great Migration.
However, many Black people struggled to find housing in their new communities. Other unfair laws made it harder for them to find homes. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 protected Black Americans and people in other minority groups. It allowed families to stay together and find housing in places they wanted to live — supporting the growth of their communities.
Barbara Krauthamer is a Black historian at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She told News-O-Matic that churches have been important centers of the Black community. “The churches are not just about religion,” Krauthamer explained. The historian said the churches helped “organize politically, to organize relief efforts, to support poor people in their community.” She said they also helped “provide resources to an enslaved person who ran away.”
It is through that organization that the Black community has worked to elect local leaders. In 1968, a largely Black community in New York City helped elect Shirley Chisholm to the U.S. Congress. She became the first Black woman elected to Congress. And Chisholm helped start the Black Caucus in Congress. That group — made up of mostly Black members of Congress — continues to work to shape laws in the United States.
Updated January 31, 2023, 5:03 P.M. (ET)
By Jhazzmyn Joiner