Afro-Caribbean, a term not used by West Indians themselves but first coined by Americans in the late 1960s, describes Caribbean people who trace at least some of their ancestry to West Africa in the period since Christopher Columbus' arrival in the region in 1492. Other names for this ethnicity include African-Caribbean (especially preferred among the United Kingdom branch of the diaspora), Black West Indian, Black Caribbean, Afro-Antillean, or Afro-West Indian. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, European-led triangular trade brought enslaved West African people to work on Caribbean islands, primarily on various sugar plantations and in domestic households. Many Afro-Caribbeans also have non-African ancestry, such as European, Asian, Middle Eastern, and Native American, as there has been extensive intermarriage and unions among the peoples over the centuries.
Although most Afro-Caribbean people today live in French, English, and Spanish-speaking Caribbean nations, there are also significant diaspora populations throughout the Western world – especially in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands. Both the home and diaspora populations have produced a number of individuals who have had a notable influence on modern Western, Caribbean, and African societies; they include political activists such as Marcus Garvey and C.L.R. James; writers and theorists such as Aime Cesaire and Frantz Fanon; US military leader and statesman Colin Powell, whose parents were immigrants; and Jamaican musician Bob Marley.
During the post-Columbian era, the archipelagos and islands of the Caribbean were the first sites of African diaspora dispersal in the western Atlantic. Specifically, in 1492, Pedro Alonso Niño, an African-Spanish seafarer, was recorded as piloting one of Columbus' ships. He returned in 1499, but did not settle. In the early 16th century, more Africans began to enter the population of the Spanish Caribbean colonies, sometimes arriving as free men of mixed ancestry or as indentured servants, but increasingly as enslaved workers and servants. This increasing demand for African labour in the Caribbean was in part the result of massive depopulation of the native Taino and other indigenous peoples caused by the new infectious diseases, harsh conditions, and warfare brought by European colonists. By the mid-16th century, the slave trade from West Africa to the Caribbean was so profitable that Francis Drake and John Hawkins were prepared to engage in piracy as well as break Spanish colonial laws, in order to forcibly transport approximately 1500 enslaved people from Sierra Leone to San Domingo (modern-day Haiti and Dominican Republic).
During the 17th and 18th centuries, European colonial development in the Caribbean became increasingly reliant on plantation slavery to cultivate and process the lucrative commodity crop of sugarcane. On many islands shortly before the end of the 18th century, the enslaved Afro-Caribbeans greatly outnumbered their European masters. In addition, there developed a class of free people of color, especially in the French islands, where persons of mixed race were given certain rights. On Saint-Domingue, free people of color and slaves rebelled against harsh conditions, and constant inter-imperial warfare. Inspired by French revolutionary sentiments that at one point freed the slaves, Toussaint L'Ouverture and Jean Jacques Dessalines led the Haitian Revolution that gained the independence of Haiti in 1804, the first Afro-Caribbean republic in the Western Hemisphere.
In 1804, Haiti, with its overwhelmingly African population and leadership, became the second nation in the Americas to win independence from a European state. During the 19th century, continuous waves of rebellion, such as the Baptist War, led by Sam Sharpe in Jamaica, created the conditions for the incremental abolition of slavery in the region by various colonial powers. Great Britain abolished slavery in its holdings in 1834. Cuba was the last island to be emancipated, when Spain abolished slavery in its colonies.
During the 20th century, Afro-Caribbean people, who were a majority in many Caribbean societies, began to assert their cultural, economic, and political rights with more vigor on the world stage. Marcus Garvey was among many influential immigrants to the United States from Jamaica, expanding his UNIA movement in New York City and the U.S. Afro-Caribbeans were influential in the Harlem Renaissance as artists and writers. Aimé Césaire developed a négritude movement.
In the 1960s, the West Indian territories won their independence from British colonial rule. They were pre-eminent in creating new cultural forms such as reggae music, calypso and rastafarianism within the Caribbean. Beyond the region, a developing Afro-Caribbean diaspora, including such figures as Stokely Carmichael and DJ Kool Herc, was influential in the development of the Black Power and hip-hop movements in the United States of the 1960s and the following years. African-Caribbean individuals also contributed to cultural developments in Europe, as evidenced by influential theorists such as Frantz Fanon and Stuart Hall.