February 22, 2005


More Africans Enter U.S. Than in Days of Slavery (SAM ROBERTS, 2/21/05, NY Times)

For the first time, more blacks are coming to the United States from Africa than during the slave trade.

Since 1990, according to immigration figures, more have arrived voluntarily than the total who disembarked in chains before the United States outlawed international slave trafficking in 1807. More have been coming here annually - about 50,000 legal immigrants - than in any of the peak years of the middle passage across the Atlantic, and more have migrated here from Africa since 1990 than in nearly the entire preceding two centuries.

New York State draws the most; Nigeria and Ghana are among the top 20 sources of immigrants to New York City. But many have moved to metropolitan Washington, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston and Houston. Pockets of refugees, especially Somalis, have found havens in Minnesota, Maine and Oregon.

The movement is still a trickle compared with the number of newcomers from Latin America and Asia, but it is already redefining what it means to be African-American. The steady decline in the percentage of African-Americans with ancestors who suffered directly through the middle passage and Jim Crow is also shaping the debate over affirmative action, diversity programs and other initiatives intended to redress the legacy of slavery.

In Africa, the flow is contributing to a brain drain. But at the same time, African-born residents of the United States are sharing their relative prosperity here by sending more than $1 billion annually back to their families and friends.

"Basically, people are coming to reclaim the wealth that's been taken from their countries," said Howard Dodson, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, in Harlem, which has just inaugurated an exhibition, Web site and book, titled "In Motion," to commemorate the African diaspora.

The influx has other potential implications, from recalibrating the largely monolithic way white America views blacks to raising concerns that American-born blacks will again be left behind.

"Historically, every immigrant group has jumped over American-born blacks," said Eric Foner, the Columbia University historian. "The final irony would be if African immigrants did, too."

Thomas Sowell noted years ago that Haitian immigrants did about as well as non-black immigrants, so it's likely Africans will too. But Hugh Thomas, in his book The Slave Trade, estimates that ten million slaves were taken out of Africa. Even if not all were brought here, it wouldn't seem possible that as many Africans have immigrated here in just fifteen years. (What's 15 x 50,000?)

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 22, 2005 5:02 PM

OJ -

I think Roberts means on an annualized basis, rather than the cumulative sum. I have no way of knowing if he is correct (rather, I *do* have a way of knowing, but am too lazy to pursue it.).

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at February 22, 2005 5:22 PM

OTOH, he does say this: "...and more have migrated here from Africa since 1990 than in nearly the entire preceding two centuries." Perhaps the bulk of the slaves arrived prior to 1805?

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at February 22, 2005 5:25 PM

750,000. Don't you have a calculator on that PC?

Posted by: Brandon at February 22, 2005 5:25 PM

From the Article:

That the latest movement of black Africans arriving voluntarily surpasses the total who disembarked in chains before the United States outlawed international slave trafficking is a bit of a statistical anomaly. That total, most historians now agree, was about 500,000, with an annual peak of perhaps 30,000, compared with the millions overall who were sold into slavery from Africa. Many died aboard ship. Most were transported to the Caribbean and Brazil, where they were vulnerable to indigenous diseases and to the rigors of raising sugar cane, which was harder to cultivate than cotton or rice, the predominant crops on plantations in the United States, where the slave population was better able to survive and reproduce.

Moreover, black Africans represented a much higher proportion of the population then than they do today. In 1800, about 20 percent of the 5 million or so people in the United States were black. Among nearly 300 million Americans today, about 13 percent are black.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at February 22, 2005 5:42 PM


Deleted it. Math is a tool of Satan.

Posted by: oj at February 22, 2005 5:48 PM

Brandon You don't need a calculator if you have the Force (a/k/a Google). Type "What's 15 x 50,000?" into a search page (the one at the top of this page will not work, I do not know why) and it will give you the answer or just type 15*50,000 same thing.


Read the Fine Manual

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at February 22, 2005 5:52 PM

A tool of Satan? How do you figure?

Posted by: Pat H at February 22, 2005 6:07 PM


I'm bad at it--must be the Devil's handiwork.

Posted by: oj at February 22, 2005 6:15 PM

That was just a bad pun. That begs the question is there any other kind? With a sense of humor like this, no wonder I'm single.

Posted by: Pat H at February 22, 2005 6:25 PM

Robert -

I'd forgotten about the Google calculator, thanks for the reminder. Oh, and with God as my witness, I actually thought OJ was being rhetorical when he asked, "What's 15 x 50,000?" - pointing out the discrepancy, etc.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at February 22, 2005 6:27 PM


I was afraid it might be 15 million.

Posted by: oj at February 22, 2005 6:35 PM

I can attest that Orrin's high point in mathematics came when he made his high school math teacher cry. He was also responsible for a bright young chemistry teacher quitting the profession entirely after one year on the job.

Posted by: Foos at February 22, 2005 7:08 PM

Is that ten millions slaves from Africa arriving in the US, or ten million africans shipped, of whom some much lesser number arrived alive as slaves in the US?

Posted by: Mike Earl at February 22, 2005 10:01 PM

Bruce: The frightening thing is that your thought did't occur to me.

OJ: Are you going to learn to use the Force?

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at February 22, 2005 10:01 PM


10M out of Africa. As noted, most went to other countries. It's interesting to note that the USA slave population rapidly became self-sustaining whereas it was so harsh in Latin America constant loads of new slaves were required.

As for most slaves ariving before 1805, that seems likely since (as noted) the transportation of slaves in to the USA was outlawed in 1807, just two years later. As I understand it, this point is related to the previous in that because the local slave population in the USA was self-sustaining it was politically possible to ban the further importation of slaves.

Finally, I have to just shake my head at the idea that modern African immigrants are "coming to reclaim the wealth that's been taken from their countries". The amount of the wealth in the USA that was "taken" from anywhere is vanishingly small. That very mindset is a big part of the reason we're wealthy and they're not.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at February 22, 2005 11:05 PM

2 points:

1)Roberts original point was that "more have migrated here from Africa since 1990 than in nearly the entire preceding two centuries." ie since 1805. One reason this makes eminent sense is the lack of contact between this country and Africa from say 1800-1940. Other than our involvement in liberia and the continuing patrol of the coast to stop illegal slaving, we had little contact with Africa which became further colonized/explored/exploited by Europe in that same period.

2)AOG makes an excellent point the trade was banned because enlightened minds felt that the polulation of slaves in this country was sufficient to continue the operation of a dying industry. Unfortunately the contemporaneous development of the cotton gin and the securing of the cotton lands of AL, MS, and GA following the Creek Wars gave an impetus to importation of new slaves despite the ban.

One of the things that has surprised me in studying the antebellum South is how many of the earliest slaves won their freedom, and secondarily how many of their descendants entered the white community. For example, it is certain that a few Confederate generals had African ancestry--hard as that may be to believe; see here for example


Thus, as slaves moved imperceptibly out of the slave community new ones had to be brought in to replace them in order to keep the system economically viable. Hence the madness which gripped the South in the 1840s and 1850s for reopening the slave trade and expanding slavery.

Posted by: at February 23, 2005 10:30 AM