African American History: African Heritage
Africans and their descendants have been a part of the story of the Americas at least since the late 1400s. As scouts, interpreters, navigators, and military men, blacks were among those who first encountered Native Americans. Beginning in the colonial period, African Americans provided most of the labor on which European settlement, development, and wealth depended, especially after European wars and diseases decimated Native Americans.
African workers had extensive experience in cultivating rice, cotton, and sugar, all crops grown in West and North Africa. These skills became the basis of a flourishing plantation economy. Africans were also skilled at ironworking, music and musical instruments, the decorative arts, and architecture. Their work, which still marks the landscape today, helped shape American cultural styles. They brought with them African words, religious beliefs, styles of worship, aesthetic values, musical forms and rhythms. All of these were important from the beginning in shaping a hybrid American culture.