In 1790, when the first U.S. Census was taken, Africans (including slaves and free people) numbered about 760,000—about 19.3% of the population. In 1860, at the start of the Civil War, the African American population had increased to 4.4 million, but the percentage rate dropped to 14% of the overall population of the country. The vast majority were slaves, with only 488,000 counted as “freemen“. By 1900, the black population had doubled and reached 8.8 million. In 1910, about 90% of African Americans lived in the South, but large numbers began migrating north looking for better job opportunities and living conditions, and to escape Jim Crow laws and racial violence. The Great Migration, as it was called, spanned the 1890s to the 1970s. From 1916 through the 1960s, more than 6 million black people moved north. But in the 1970s and 1980s, that trend reversed, with more African Americans moving south to the Sun Belt than leaving it.
The following table of the African American population in the United States over time shows that the African American population, as a percent of the total population, declined until 1930 and has been rising since then.
|Year||Number||% of total population||Slaves||% in slavery|
|1930||11.9 million||9.7% (lowest)||–||–|
By 1990, the African American population reached about 30 million and represented 12% of the U.S. population, roughly the same proportion as in 1900. In current demographics, according to 2005 U.S. Census figures, some 39.9 million African Americans live in the United States, comprising 13.8% of the total population. The World Factbook gives a 2006 figure of 12.9% Controversy has surrounded the “accurate” population count of African Americans for decades. The NAACP believed it was under counted intentionally to minimize the significance of the black population in order to reduce their political power base.
At the time of the 2000 Census, 54.8% of African Americans lived in the South. In that year, 17.6% of African Americans lived in the Northeast and 18.7% in the Midwest, while only 8.9% lived in the western states. The west does have a sizable black population in certain areas, however. California, the nation’s most populous state, has the fifth largest African American population, only behind New York, Texas, Georgia, and Florida. According to the 2000 Census, approximately 2.05% of African Americans identified as Hispanic or Latino in origin, many of whom may be of Brazilian, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Cuban, Haitian, or other Latin American descent. The only self-reported ancestral groups larger than African Americans are Irishs and Germans. Because many African Americans trace their ancestry to colonial American origins, some simply self-identify as “American“.