Society & Culture & Entertainment Cultures & Groups

What Are the Elements of African American Culture?


    • African Americans have been instrumental in the development of almost every uniquely American music genre. Perhaps the most uniquely African-American music form is the slave spiritual, which informed gospel music. Impoverished Southern blacks invented the blues, which in turn transformed into rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues music. Black musicians evolved jazz, funk, disco, rap, hip hop and soul music.


    • The slave narratives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs were huge contributions to American culture as a whole and helped gain support for the abolition of slavery in the United States. The abolition of slavery coincided with a rise in literacy and education for African Americans and as such the volume of African-American literature increased. The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s were an influential time for black writers and the movement gave the world the works of poet Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, Jean Toomer, Claude McKay and countless others. Black leaders such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey wrote books outlining the future for African Americans. Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks wrote controversial books about racial segregation. The Autobiography of Malcolm X helped illuminate to Americans the principles of the then-baffling and polarizing Nation of Islam. More recently, poet Rita Dove served as the Poet Laureate of the United States between 1993 and 1995 while Maya Angelou continues to be a well-respected poet.


    • Spike Lee is often considered to be the archetypal African-American film director and his films have often sought to deal with African-American social issues and history as well as addressing racism and racial segregation in American cities. Going further back, the blaxploitation movies of the 1970s range from the pioneering 1971 film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song to the iconic Shaft and Superbad. These films brought tough, uncompromising black role models to American audiences and the musical scores featured African American soul and funk artists. The Hughes brothers brought a gritty vision of disenfranchised black youth to American screens in films such as Menace II Society and Dead Presidents. Hattie McDaniel was the first African American to win an Academy Award for her role as Mammy in Gone With the Wind in 1939 and has since been joined in the honor by Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry and many others.


    • Black athletes have dominated several American sports in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In 1947, Jackie Robinson was the first African American to become a Major League baseball player. The majority of professional basketball players in the NBA are African American, and every NFL team has many African American players. Black athletes have also demonstrated their physical abilities at various Olympic Games throughout the years in a variety of events. Tiger Woods is the most successful golfer of all time.

    Civil Rights Movement

    • The legacy of the Civil Rights Movement is a palpable element of African American culture and the heroes and martyrs of the movement live on in many people's hearts. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Marcus Garvey and many others have been praised and idolized in various media, in clothing, in art, and have had streets and national holidays named in their honor. Court rulings outlawing racial segregation remain in place to this day and the progress made by Civil Rights activists has helped to make America a more racially diverse and accepting nation.

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