African Americans have the highest overall mortality rate from coronary heart disease (CHD) of any ethnic group in the United States, particularly out-of-hospital deaths, and especially at younger ages. Although all of the reasons for the excess CHD mortality among African Americans have not been elucidated, it is clear that there is a high prevalence of certain coronary risk factors, delay in the recognition and treatment of high-risk individuals, and limited access to cardiovascular care. The clinical spectrum of acute and chronic CHD in African Americans is similar to that in whites. However, African Americans have a higher risk of sudden cardiac death and present more often with unstable angina and non-Q-wave myocardial infarction than whites. African Americans have less obstructive coronary artery disease on angiography, but may have a similar or greater total burden of coronary atherosclerosis. Ethnic differences in the clinical manifestations of CHD may be explained largely by the inherent heterogeneity of the coronary syndromes, and the disproportionately high prevalence and severity of hypertension and type 2 diabetes in African Americans. Identification of high-risk individuals for vigorous risk factor modification-especially control of hypertension, regression of left ventricular hypertrophy, control of diabetes, treatment of dyslipidemia, and smoking cessation--is key for successful risk reduction.