Skip to content

Subject Material

Easy text: African Americans - from Slavery to Civil Rights

There are and have been famous African Americans in many fields: entertainment, music, politics and sport. How many famous African Americans can you think of?
African-Americans rallying for civil rights in 1960
Open image in new window

African Americans - from Slavery to the Present Day


The first Africans arrived in America in 1619. They were not slaves but servants contracted for a number of years to the English settlers and they worked in return for their board. The slave trade developed in the 18th century. Africans were brought against their will and transported to the American colonies under terrible conditions. There they were sold as slaves to work on the plantations mainly in the southern states. A white slave owner was free to do whatever he wanted with them as they were considered to be his property. He could sell the slaves, divide up their families, punish or kill them.

Difficult Words
  • contracted to = forpliktet til/forplikta til
  • board = kost og losji
  • plantation = plantasje
  • property = eiendeler/eigendelar
  • punish = straffe
  1. Who did the first Africans work for and what was their job called?
  2. Why did the Americans need slaves?
  3. Did the slaves have any rights?

The slave trade was made illegal in the North in 1808 and eventually during the Civil War (1861 – 65) the president, Abraham Lincoln, signed the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) making all slaves free. However, this was not the end of the problems for African Americans. They were discriminated against and suffered oppression for another hundred years. In the South, there were laws which said that they were not allowed to own land, to vote or to mix with whites. This is called segregation and the laws were called Jim Crow laws. Many African Americans migrated to the North in the early 20th century. This was called the Great Migration. But even in the North, blacks were generally worse off than whites. They had lower incomes, higher unemployment and poorer educational opportunities.

Civil War

From 1861-1865 the northern and southern states were at war with each other. One reason was the issue of slavery. President Abraham Lincoln wanted to end slavery and this angered many Southerners who needed slaves to help pick their cotton. For four years the two sides fought. The southern states wanted to separate from the North (leave the Union) to form their own federation. Lincoln fought hard to keep all the states together. The North won, the Union remained and slavery was abolished.

Difficult Words
  • illegal = ulovlig/ulovleg
  • Emancipation Proclamation = frigjøringskunngjøring/frigjeringskunngjering
  • oppression = undertrykking
  • segregation = raseskille/raseskilje
  • income = inntekt
  • unemployment = arbeidsledighet/arbeidsløyse
Comprehension - True or False
  1. Slavery was one reason for the the American Civil War.
  2. The Emancipation Proclamation ended the Civil War.
  3. In 1863, by order of the president, all slaves were freed.
  4. Many African Americans moved from the North to the South.
  5. In the South, there was discrimination and segregation.
  6. In the North the blacks were usually worse off than the whites.
The Right to Vote Rally

The Civil Rights Movement 1955 – 1968 grew from the desire to abolish racial discrimination against African Americans. There were sit-ins, demonstrations and boycotts arranged in areas which were reserved for whites in buses, trains and restaurants. One of the leaders for the Civil Rights Movement was Martin Luther King. He fought against discrimination using peaceful and non-violent means. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and in 1968, less than four years later, he was assassinated. Other black leaders like Malcolm X, were more militant. In August 1963, over 200,000 people took part in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. There Martin Luther King gave his famous speech, “I Have a Dream”. This and other protests led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The new law banned discrimination in public places. Blacks and whites could now go to the same schools and use the same public facilities, such as parks, buses, restaurants, etc.

Difficult Words
  • desire = ønske
  • abolish = avskaffe
  • non-violent = ikke voldelig/ikkje valdeleg
  • assassinated = snikmyrdet/snikmyrda
  • Civil Rights Act = lov om borgerrettigheter/lov om borgarrettar
Make correct sentences

The Civil Rights Movement-- -- took place in August 1963

Martin Luther King-- -- banned discrimination in public places

Malcolm X-- -- was a famous speech

The March on Washington-- -- fought discrimination with non-violence

“I Have a Dream”-- -- was a militant black leader

The Civil Rights Act-- -- wanted to stop racial discrimination of African Americans

Barack Obama. Photo.

At the time of the American Civil War, every seventh American was an African. Today, there are 38.1 million (2009) African Americans, or 12.6% of the population. More than half of the African Americans have raised their standard of living, have improved their economical status and have better education and work opportunities. However, many of the blacks live in large cities with high rates of social problems such as unemployment, illiteracy, drug addiction, crime and violence. Many African Americans are leading figures in politics and business and, of course, in the fields of entertainment and sport. They have come a long way from slavery to the inauguration in 2009 of Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States.

Explanation of "Sit in"

A form of protest where demonstrators seat themselves, often in public places, and do not move. Used often by African Americans to protest racial segregation. They would sit in the seats reserved for whites, for example in restaurants and on buses.

Difficult Words
  • raise = heve
  • opportunity = anledning/høve
  • illiteracy = analfabetisme
  • addiction = avhengighet/det å vere avhengig av
  • inauguration = innsettelse/innsetting

Use the information in the text to answer the questions.

  1. If there were 4 million African Americans at the time of the Civil War, what was the total population of the United States?
  2. What is the total population of the USA in 2009?
  3. What is the approximate number of African Americans who have improved their standard of living?

This text is an easy version of From Slavery To Civil Rights and African Americans Today.

Related content

In a 2008 study of Black America, 24% of African Americans interviewed said they had been personally discriminated against in the preceding three months.

Few people have suffered more than the native Africans who served as slaves for white plantation owners in the southern states of North America.

CC BY-SAWritten by: Engelsk for videregående (Vega) and Anne Scott Hagen.
Last revised date 11/13/2018

Learning content