Henry Louis Gates estimates that altogether about four hundred and fifty thousand Africans were brought to what is now the United States as part of the Atlantic slave trade, legal and illegal (legal importation of slaves from Africa ended in 1808, but illegal trafficking to the United States continued until 1865 and the defeat of the Confederacy). Thereafter, there was little African immigration to the United States, in part because of persistent American racism. Those blacks that came to New York in the twentieth century were mostly of Caribbean origin. They played a major role in the Harlem Renaissance and black New York politics. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and Shirley Chisholm were both of Caribbean origin.
The New York Times is calling attention to a new immigration stream from Africa to New York City. It estimates that between 2000 and 2010 the number of legal black African immigrants arriving in the United States doubled to about one million. The largest numbers have come to New York, but others have gone to California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Texas, and Virginia. The Times citing the New York City Department of City Planning estimates that in the past decade the African-born population of New York has increased by 39 percent and that about one third of black New Yorkers were born abroad, mostly in the Caribbean. Africans are about 4 percent of the city’s foreign born population.
Compared to other immigrant groups in the past, Africans appear to be better educated. The U.S. Bureau of the Census, found that 30 percent of African-born blacks in New York City had a college degree, compared to 18 percent of Caribbean born blacks and 19 percent of the non-black foreign-born population.
The establishment of an African immigrant community seems likely to change New York’s black political scene. The Times quotes Africans as saying that they self-identify as “African” rather than “African American.” The history of American discrimination against blacks has less relevance to them. The Times quotes one New Yorker of African origins as saying, “Selma doesn’t exactly cut for them.”
African immigrants, with a strong family structure, a focus on education, and a willingness to work two jobs are doing well in the United States.