Black History Month has arrived and we are here to commemorate and remember the history of African Americans. If you are a Black reader, we celebrate who you are and recognize the faults of systemic racism and your unique perseverance. For any other readers, and as clinicians at Heartland Therapy Connection, we recognize our need to learn about African American history and our past contributions.

Woman smiling - Black history

African Americans are a minority group within the United States that has persisted throughout the last few centuries. They presently make up 12-13% of the American population (McGoldrick et al., 2005, p. 87). This makes them the second largest minority group in America. Although there is history of enslavement or colonization and a commonality of adverse experiences and their nuanced similarities, communities and individuals within the Black community have differences in history, politics, and economics.

These differences drastically shape individuals to identify from a different world-view, varying from person to person. Assumptions should not be made about African Americans, their ideation, self-construal, background, origin, world-view, and experiences. As the African American population is vast in origin, the primary focus in this blog is to focus on descendants of African slaves.


The majority of immigrants who have migrated to America and the Western Hemisphere have ancestors who did not migrate by means of choice but by force, enslavement, and estrangement from homeland, family, and community (McGoldrick et al., 2005, p.77). Carl Bankston notes that “Slavery has historically constituted a significant denial of human rights and, as practiced in the United States, laid the foundations for conflict between whites and African Americans for generations to come.” (Bankston, 2006, p. 826, Vol. 3). This slave trade persisted throughout the 15th and 19th centuries, where 9.7 million Africans were brought to the Caribbean, the Americas, and the nations of the earth as they were scattered and exploited without any consent (Bankston, 2006, p. 828, Vol. 3).

50 million people were lost to Africa by enslavement and death on the journey to the West over the duration of approximately 300 years. African Americans who were enslaved would be placed in colonized settings, and were expected to adhere to the white population that was domineering. They were to conform, acculturate, and assimilate to the culture that was being crafted in the Americas.


There are major benchmarks which shaped the African American plight and culture. Such Black history events include:

  • Enslavement for centuries
  • 1776 when 6 states outlawed the importation of Africans
  • 1808 when the federal government banned importation of slaves while still giving
    allowance to slave states to keep practicing enslavement of African Americans
  • The Underground Railroad (1810-1860)
  • The Civil War (1861-65)
  • The Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 which ended the institution of slavery
  • Juneteenth on June 19, 1865 in Galveston, TX (slaves heard news of freedom 2
    years after the Emancipation proclamation)
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1866
  • The Fourteenth Amendment of 1867 which proclaimed African Americans as citizens
    with full rights to civil action and voting (McGoldrick et al., 2005, p.78-79 & Wilkerson, 2010, p. 240).

Also, prior to the Civil War, there were approximately 500,000 African Americans who were free and were key in advocating and shaping U.S. policy in view of the abolitionist movement and other areas of society in regards to agriculture, industry, and technology which contributed majorly to the expression of America that was introduced in the 20th century (Pederson et al., 2016, p. 145).

Meanwhile, there would be an advancement in the southern strategy of segregation post Civil War. Though change was coming along for African Americans, Jones writes that “Even after the Civil War, legal racial discrimination hung on in many forms for another hundred years, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is only two to three generations behind us…racial prejudice has the stubborn resilience of a weed that breaks off at the ground level, leaving the taproot intact” (Jones, 2016, p. 79).


There are some other key moments in the 20th century to take into account in commemoration of Black History Month:

  • The Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North and West that spanned from 1915-1970 with the prospect of an environment that was more conducive to freedom and welfare (McGoldrick et al., 2005, p 87 & Wilkerson, 2010, p. 8-9). )
  • Jim Crow Law in the South
  • The Civil Rights Movement

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 would culminate the Civil Rights Movement and mark the mere beginning of the desegregation of America. Leaders from the African American community would arise during this time period such as; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and monumental protestor Rosa Parks (McGoldrick et al., 2005, p 87 & Bankston, 2006, p. 523-524, Vol. 2).

black history - smiling family


Therapists who work with clients who are from the African American population must have the resolve to understand the client’s worldview, values, and experiences. Presently, “Afrocentric scholars have concluded that the recognition of ancient African culture and Black history is paramount to fully comprehending African Americans” and there is a general consensus that “the family and the spiritual dimension of life are essential for the individual’s existence” (McGoldrick et al., 2005, p. 87).

With that in mind, a holistic approach and comprehension of an individual as well as the corporate culture of African Americans is of the utmost importance when serving persons from this population. We must bear in mind that one cannot assume that one knows all about any individual or culture prior to exploration with the client and their self disclosure.

Thus, therapists should keep in mind that Black people (this terminology preference vs. African American varies per person as well) are “more different from one another than they are collectively different from other races” and the “practice of force fitting Black people into a category [of all of them being the same] reflects a Eurocentric paradigm that relies heavily on taxonomies to understand complex material” (Pederson et al., 2016, p. 144).


  • Avent, J. R., Cashwell, C. S. (2015). The Black Church: Theology and Implications for Counseling African Americans: The Professional Counselor, Volume 5, Issue 1. NBCC, Inc & Affiliates, doi: 10.15241/jra.5.1.81
  • Bankston, C. L. (2006). African American History: Vol. 1 – 3. Salem Press Inc. New Jersey
  • Davis, J. H., Apuzzo, M. (April 2015). President Obama Condemns Both the Baltimore Riots and the Nation’s ‘Slow-Rolling Crisis’. New York Times.
  • Grier-Reed, T., Ajayi, A. A. (April 2019). Incorporating Humanistic Values and Techniques in a Culturally Responsive Therapeutic Intervention for African American College Students: Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Vol. 58. American Counseling Association.
  • Jones, R. P. (2016). The End of White Christian America. Simon & Schuster, Inc. New York, NY.
  • King, M. L. K. (accessed April 17, 2015) King’s Western Michigan University Speech.
  • McGoldrick, M., Giordano, J., Nydia, G. P. (2005). Ethnicity & Family Therapy: Third Edition. The Guilford Press, New York.
  • Pederson, P. B, Lonner, W. J., Draguns, J. G., Trimble, J. E.. Scharron, M. R. (2016). Counseling Across Cultures. Sage Publications Inc.
  • Sue, D. W., Sue, D., Neville, H. A., Smith, L. (2019). Counseling the Culturally Diverse: Theory and Practice. John Wiley & Sons Inc.
  • Wilkerson, I. (2010). The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. Vintage Books, United States of America.

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