University of North Carolina.
The African presence in the English speaking North American continent is as old as the idea of British colonies and the early idea of the United States of America. The earliest documented community of African people in North America was the 17 men and three women who arrived in Jamestown, Virginia on August 20, 1619. These immigrants most likely were the seedbed of an imported labor force that would blossom into the transatlantic slave trade. These early immigrants are not listed by name, however in 1624, an African woman named Isabel, wife of Antoney, gave birth to William, the first documented African American child born in Jamestown, Virginia. The African presence in America provided a labor force through chattel slavery. The idea of enslavement is an ancient concept used by nations throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. However, "chattel" was a peculiar element in American enslavement African people were reduced to the status of property or chattel. These people had no control over their own will and could be sold, abused, raped and murdered without the threat of legal recourse. The status of the forced migrant is a crucial aspect in understanding the strivings and desires by African American people to truly acquire full citizenship in word and deed.
Concurrently, the history of African American women is unique because these women occupy a nexus of two groups of marginalized people, women and African Americans. This unusual position has afforded these women a peculiar perspective on American citizenship in the areas of labor, politics, entertainment, academics, sports and religion to name a few. From the era of enslavement, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Progressive era, the Great Depression, the civil rights movement and the close of the twentieth century, black women have fought racism, sexism, classism and other obstacles in seeking to establish their humanity, womanhood and citizenship. Their story is a multi-layered tale of travail and triumph. These women befriended white men and women, while simultaneously fighting rampant streams of white supremacy, sexual violence and internal dissension and ever-present stereotypes.
The following seeks to present these women collectively and exceptionally throughout American history. Starting with Isabel in 1624 and climaxing with the United States of America’s First Lady Michelle Obama in 2008, African American women have contributed to the warp and woof of American history, culture and character.