Please be aware that when we refer to present day Israel, we are not referring to the present land of Israel or any people who claim to be the descendants of the 12 Tribes of Israel and are not. We are referring to those "Black Africans" who arrived on the shores of North America, South America and the Caribbean as slaves.
During the 18th and 19th centuries and even before there was widespread acknowledge of Israelite heritage among "African" tribes. This was due to Israelites being able to carry on their heritage from generation to generation as they traveled from East Africa to West Africa. Some ancient traditions were lost as they adapted to the customs of their surroundings, however the Israelite identity was able to sustain itself along with certain ancient traditions. This is often referred to as "Hebrewism" or "Black Judaism" in Africa. In America however, the harsh conditions of slavery did not allow the "Black" slaves to maintain their Israelite identity. Especially since slaves were not given the freedom to worship and as time went on Christianity was imposed upon them. Although the knowledge and understanding of the Black slave's true Israelite heritage is evident in their music (ex: Swing Low, Sweet Chariot) and early literature, it wasn't until the after the Civil War that most of the early Israelites congregations begin to spring up in the Western Hemisphere. The abolition of slavery gave the newly freed slaves freedom not only from their tasks but also freedom to read and worship. Hence, there began a slow but noticeable emergence of Israelite (or Jew) awareness among the freed Blacks. Most freed slaves continued in Christianity, mainly since that was the only form of worship that was known to them; however freedom and the availability of the Bible (especially in the Old Testament) caused intense study by some which revealed to them their Israelite heritage. From a few became many and by the 20th century and a few years into it Israelite (or at that time Black Jew) congregations became to emerge.
There were many Black Hebrew congregations in New York in the early 1900s, one of which was founded by Arnold Josiah Ford called "Beth B'nai Abraham Congregation." Ford who was a member of Marcus Garvey's UNIA, along with an Israelite named Wentworth Arthur Matthews founded the Commandment Keepers in 1918. Rabbi Matthews quickly emerged as one of the leading Black Israelite rabbis in Harlem. Born in 1892 of African Hebraic parentage in Lagos, West Africa, Matthews moved with his family to St. Kitts in the West Indies before coming to America in 1911.
Branches of the "Commandment Keepers" exist in many American cities such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Cincinnati, Chicago, Ohio, Virginia, and New Jersey.
In the 1960's many Israelites began to revolutionize some of the traditional standards and rituals practiced by the early Israelite pioneers. As the 1960's brought on a sense of pride and power amongst black people in general, it also inspired many Israelites to discard the many adopted practices of Judaism and take up many of the ancient ways and practices directly from the scripture. Israelite organizations in Brooklyn, NY such as Hashaba Yisrael (The Restoration of Israel) founded by Ha Cohen Levi Ben-Levi and The Original B'nai Zaken (Sons of the Ancient (Israelites) lead by the late Prince Yaquove Ben-Yehudah brought Israelites back to a sense of pride and cultural identity that was unprecedented.
Today there are thousands of Israelites across the globe awakening to their true heritage. Although there are many different schools of thought Sh'ma Yisrael as an organization is dedicated to addressing the problems that face our entire nation and restoring the so-called Blackman's sense of pride, culture and identity.