Arab American History

The history of Arabs coming and settling in the Americas is long and diverse.  Many people believe that Arabs are new to the United States, but in fact Arabs have been coming to the United States for hundreds of years.  As early as the 15th Century, Spanish explorers brought slaves from the Arab world to the Americas.  In the late 18th Century, the South Carolina House of Representatives decided that Moroccan Arabs living in the state should be treated according to the laws for whites, not the laws for blacks from Africa.

Arab American history received a significant push during the era called the Great Migration, the period between 1880 and 1924, when more than 20 million immigrants entered the United States.  Most of the immigrants came from Southern and Eastern Europe, but more than 95,000 Arabs came from Greater Syria.  By 1924, there were about 200,000 Arabs living in the United States.

As the number of immigrants who came to the United States during the Great Migration grew, resistance to them also grew among Americans born in the United States.  Groups of people working to end immigration in the United States claimed the Arab immigrants were un-American, had cultures that did not fit with American culture, were more likely to be criminal and poor, and did not understand the American political system.  These movements grew in strength, and a series of laws passed by the U.S. Congress in 1917, 1921, and 1924 caused immigration from the Arab world to slow down to a trickle.  The historical period called the Great Migration ended with these restrictive laws and a similar period in the history of the United States would not reemerge until the mid 1960’s.

There were notable differences among the Arab immigrants that came to the U.S. during the Great Migration.  Some groups started family migrations and planned to stay in the United States.  Others were mostly composed of men seeking work and planned to return home after a while.  Some groups clustered in certain cities, while others were equally likely to move anywhere in the country.  All these groups contributed to the United States history and to the Arab American history.

The Arab American history is an on-going story from the first early settlers through the Great Migration and on to modern day.  Arab Americans have made a significant contribution to the history of the United States through their achievements in the arts, science, politics, community development, entertainment, sports, civil rights and social justice.

More Arab American History Resources

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