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Runaway Slave Poster
William Lloyd Garrison
Lincoln and Sojourner Truth
54th Massachusetts Regiment
Drawing of black men voting.
Randolf (left), Rustin (right)
What the Negro Wants
An American Dilemma
Protest at Madison Square Garden
Jo Ann Robinson
Integration in Korea
Political cartoon on Federal Governments actions ending State Sovereignty.
Martin Luther King after Bus Boycott.
Orval Faubus, the Governor of Arkansas, speaking against integration.
Little Rock Nine entering Little Rock Central School.
Going to school
Greensboro Sit Ins
Marches supporting Meredith
Martin Luther King delivering the "I Have a Dream" speech.
Congress bans the importation of slaves into the U.S. The law will be largely ignored in the South.
The Abyssinian Baptist Church, New York City's oldest black church, is founded.
African American businessman Paul Cuffe finances the settlement of 38 African Americans in Sierra Leone. Captain Paul Cuffe's Memoir from Africans in America, by PBS
The U.S.'s first independent African American church denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, is organized in Philadelphia. By 2002, it will have more than 3 million members.
The first black black theater company in the United States, the African Company, is founded in New York.
Denmark Vesey, a freedman, is accused of planning a massive rebellion of thousands of slaves in Charlestown, South Carolina, but his plans are betrayed, and he and 34 others are hanged. Some historians argue that Vesey was innocent and that the white establishment cooked up the story to strike fear into slaves and to win popular approval for the upcoming election. Read The Vesey Conspiracy.
Henry Blair is the first African American to receive a patent, for a cotton-planting machine.
Slaves being transported aboard the Spanish ship Amistadtake it over and sail it to Long Island. They eventually win their freedom in a Supreme Court case.
Frederick Douglass publishes his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, an international bestseller. Learn more about Frederick Douglass from PBS.
Benjamin Roberts sues the city of Boston for refusing to allow his five-year-old daughter to enroll in a local all-white elementary school. The Massachusetts Supreme Court dismisses the case, thereby validating segregation in Boston public schools.
In the Dred Scott case, the Supreme Court decides that African Americans are not citizens of the U.S., and that Congress has no power to restrict slavery in any federal territory. This meant that a slave who made it to a free state would still be considered a slave. Learn What Dred Scott Meant for African Americans.
Harriet Wilson publishes Our Nig; Or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, the first novel by an African American woman. The novel will be republished over a century later by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
The Civil War begins when the Confederates attack Fort Sumter, in Charleston, South Carolina. The war, fought over the issue of slavery, will rage for another four years. The Union's victory will mean the end of slavery in the U.S.
The Union's 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first African American regular army regiment, assaults Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina, losing half its men. The event is memorialized in the 1989 movie Glory. By the war's end, nearly 180,000 African American men will have served in the Union army. Some also served in the Confederate army - both freedmen and conscripted slaves.
Eight African American infantry regiments fight on the Union side in the Battle of Port Hudson, attacking heroically despite heavy losses to withering Confederate fire. Learn more at African American Soldiers.
Union Gen. William T. Sherman issues a field order setting aside 40-acre plots of land --"40 acres and a mule" --in Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida for African Americans to settle.
All-white legislatures in the former Confederate states pass the so-called "Black Codes," sharply curtailing African Americans' freedom and virtually re-enslaving them.
Congress passes the Civil Rights Act, which confers citizenship on African Americans and grants them equal rights with whites.
The white supremacist organization known as the Ku Klux Klan is founded in Tennessee.
Five all-black colleges are founded: Howard University, Morgan State College, Talladega College, St. Augustine's College, and Johnson C. Smith College. There will be more than 100 predominantly black colleges by the middle of the next century.
Armed African Americans surround the county seat in Colfax, Louisiana, fearing whites will illegally overthrow the Republican government. About 300 African Americans are killed in the so-called Colfax Massacre.
The Freedman's Savings and Trust Co., a bank for American-Africans which many thought was guaranteed by the U.S. government, fails and leaves a legacy of mistrust of white-run institutions.
Henry O. Flipper is the first African American to graduate from West Point. In 1889, he will write a book about his experiences, The Colored Cadet at West Point.
Tennessee passes the first of the "Jim Crow" segregation laws, segregating state railroads. Other Southern states pass similar laws over the next 15 years.
The Tuskegee Institute, a historic black university, is founded in Alabama to train African Americans as teachers and in agriculture and industry. Booker T. Washington is the first president.
Black historian George Washington Williams publishes his History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880, the first comprehensive and objective history of African Americans.
Mississippi enacts a poll tax, which most African Americans cannot afford to pay, to try to keep blacks from voting.
Timothy Thomas Fortune, a freed slave and journalist, founds the National Afro-American League, considered a forerunner of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
African American journalist Ida B. Wells begins a crusade to investigate the lynchings of African Americans after three of her friends are lynched in Tennessee.
African American physician Daniel Hale Williams performs the world's first successful open-heart surgery.
African American intellectual spokesman Booker T. Washington gives his controversial "Atlanta Compromise" speech at the Cotton Exposition in Georgia, saying that African Americans should focus on economic advancement rather than political change. Profile of Booker T. Washington
In Plessy v. Ferguson the United States Supreme Court upholds a Louisiana law which mandates "separate but equal" facilities for blacks and whites.
Louisiana tries to disenfranchise its African Americans by passing a "grandfather clause" limiting the right to vote to anyone whose fathers and grandfathers were qualified on January 1, 1867. (No African Americans had the right to vote at that time.)
Pianist and composer Scott Joplin publishes "The Maple Leaf Rag," a major hit that helps popularize ragtime music.
African American social scientist, critic and public intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois publishes The Souls Of Black Folk, which presents the "color line" as the major problem of the 20th century. In 1905 he will help found the Niagara Movement, demanding full equality for African Americans. The Legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois
Organized by the NAACP, thousands of African Americans march down New York City's Fifth Avenue to protest racial violence and discrimination.
During the so-called "Red Summer," scores of race riots across the country leave at least 100 people dead. These are again sparked by white resentment of African Americans working in industry, and their large-scale migration from South to North.
The University of Missouri School of Law refuses to admit Lloyd Lionel Gaines, a black college graduate, on account of his race. The state offers Gaines a scholarship to attend a school outside Missouri, but he refuses the funding and files a lawsuit. Although he loses his case, the NAACP would appeal to the Supreme Court two years later.
After hearing arguments in Gaines v. Canada, the United States Supreme Court rules in favor of Lloyd Lionel Gaines, ordering his admission to the University of Missouri. His attorney was Charles H. Houston.
A. Philip Randolph, the leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union, and Bayard Rustin, a political activist and one-time organizer for the Young Communist League, propose a March on Washington to protest racial discrimination in the expanding war industries and in the military. They hope to organize 10,000 African-Americans to march in Washington, D.C. "for jobs in national defense and equal integration in the fighting forces."
President Franklin D. Roosevelt learns of the March on Washington plan. Despite meeting with A. Philip Randolph months before, the president refuses to negotiate with him, fearing that by doing so he may antagonize southerners in Congress. Randolph raises the stakes of the March, promising 100,000 protestors.
Greatly concerned with the prospect of thousands of angry African-Americans descending upon the nation's capital, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issues Executive Order 8802, which states that there shall be "no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or Government because of race, creed, color, or national origin." The Order also creates the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) to investigate discrimination complaints in wartime.
A. Philip Randolph announces in a radio broadcast that the March on Washington, originally scheduled to take place on July 1, will be "postponed."
The United States War Department opens the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Alabama, a segregated military base and the first U.S. Air Force facility to train black servicemen to be fighter pilots.
Led by A. Philip Randolph, the March on Washington Committee successfully organizes mass gatherings in New York, Chicago, and St. Louis. Randolph tells a gathering of March on Washington Movement (MOWM) members, "We must develop huge demonstrations because the world is used to big dramatic affairs... Nothing little counts."
William H. Hastie, an African-American aide to Secretary of War Henry Stimson, resigns in protest of continued segregation in military training facilities.
An explosion at Port Chicago, a northern California naval base, kills 320 munitions workers and injures 400 more, most of whom are black. 50 black seamen refuse to continue loading munitions under unsafe conditions. They are court-martialed for mutiny, dishonorably discharged, and imprisoned.
Irene Morgan, a young mother of two living in Virginia, boards a Greyhound bus headed for Baltimore, Maryland. She sits in a row in the "colored" section, but when a white couple needs seats the bus driver demands she stand and move further back. Morgan refuses; she is promptly arrested, jailed, and fined.
The University of North Carolina publishes What The Negro Wants, a collection of essays written by black leaders calling for an end to segregation, for voting rights in the South, unionism, and for a solution to the problems of poverty, lynching, and imperialism.
Gunnar Myrdal, a Swedish social scientist, writes An American Dilemma, a book encapsulating a five-year study sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation. The encyclopedic study utilizes hundreds of interviews with black people, scholarly studies, and statistics in order to describe almost every major facet of black life at the time and the conflict between American racial policies and the American belief in freedom and justice for all. Myrdal concludes that World War II may very well be the catalyst for change.
With the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Vice President Harry S. Truman becomes the 33rd President of the United States.
The Japanese formally surrender, ending World War II.
Unsatisfied with the temporary nature of the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC), the government organization created to investigate discrimination complaints during wartime, A. Philip Randolph once again rallies the masses in protest. Seventeen thousand people gather in Madison Square Garden, New York, to call for a permanent FEPC. Despite later efforts by President Harry S. Truman and Congress, the U.S. government fails to renew the FEPC in peacetime.
In Irene Morgan v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that segregation in interstate travel is unconstitutional. Many southern states refuse to enforce the new law.
Heman Sweatt, a black mail carrier from Houston, Texas, is denied admission to the University of Texas School of Law on the basis of race. Sweatt sues the university. Four years later, the NAACP would argue his case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Bayard Rustin and the Committee on Racial Equality (CORE) decide to force the South to comply with the 1946 Supreme Court decision in Irene Morgan v. Virginia. Rustin, along with an integrated group of passengers, board buses in protest; black protesters take the front seats and white protesters take the rear. The protesters, along with Rustin, are arrested and jailed, some sentenced to labor in chain gangs. These acts, collectively called "The Journey of Reconciliation," would provide a model for the Freedom Riders of the 1960s.
The United States Commission on Civil Rights issues To Secure These Rights, a scathing report on racial inequality in America.
Jackie Robinson is recruited by the Brooklyn Dodgers and becomes the first African American to play for a major-league baseball team. His success earns him the Rookie of the Year award.
President Harry S. Truman attempts to pass an extensive civil rights program including a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission, national laws against lynching, and measures to ensure voting rights and equal access to education. Congress rejects it.
President Harry S. Truman issues Executive Order 9981 desegregating the armed forces.
President Harry S. Truman is elected to a second term.
George McLaurin, a black teacher, gains admission to the University of Oklahoma's School of Education, but he is admitted under Jim Crow arrangements. McLaurin is forced to sit in a small room separated from the regular classroom, to work in a segregated space in the library, and to eat at a designated table and only at a time when white students would not be using the university's cafeteria. Two years later, the NAACP would argue this case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Congress passes the Housing Act, authorizing funds to local governments for the construction of public housing to provide a "suitable living environment" for every American family. Under programs of "urban renewal," cities clear poor neighborhoods to construct retail centers, middle-class housing complexes, public universities, roads, and parks.
Jo Ann Robinson, a professor at an all-black college and member of the Women's Political Council (WPC), is expelled from an Alabama bus for taking a seat directly behind the driver.
In the Korean War, black soldiers fight alongside whites in integrated units for the first time since the American Revolution.
In Heman M. Sweatt v. Theophilus S. Painter et al. the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the University of Texas School of Law cannot reasonably create an all-black law school that would be truly "separate but equal," and orders the university to admit Sweatt.
In George W. McLaurin v. Oklahoma Board of Regents for Higher Education, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the segregation practiced by the University of Oklahoma's Graduate School of Education violates the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides that "no state shall... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
Democrats nominate Adlai Stevenson for president and John Sparkman, a southern segregationist, as his running mate. Stevenson loses the election to Republican candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower and his running mate Richard M. Nixon.
In Oliver Brown et al. v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas the United States Supreme Court rules that segregated schools are "inherently unequal" and foster "feeling[s] of inferiority" in black children. The Court orders the desegregation of public schools but does not provide a firm timeline. The Supreme Court declares school segregationunconstitutional.
In Indianola, Mississippi, a group of largely middle- and upper-class whites found the White Citizens' Council to oppose desegregation.
Martin Luther King, Jr. becomes the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
In Belzoni, Mississippi, George Lee, a grocery store owner and NAACP member, is fatally shot while leaving the courthouse after attempting to vote. Lamar Smith, another black Mississippi citizen, is killed in front of the county courthouse after casting his ballot. No one is arrested in connection with the murders.
In Montgomery, Alabama, Claudette Colvin, a fifteen-year-old black girl on her way home from school, refuses to relinquish her seat on the city bus to a white man. Police must drag her off the bus. She is convicted of violating segregation laws and for assault on a police officer.
Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old black boy, is kidnapped by J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant. The two white men believe Till had whistled at Bryant's wife in the family's grocery store. They brutally beat Till, take him to the Tallahatchie River, shoot him in the head, fasten a large metal cotton gin fan to his neck with barbed wire, and push Till's body into the water. One month later, Milam and Bryant are acquitted of the murder by an all-white, all-male jury.
Photographs of Emmett Till's mutilated corpse appear in Jet magazine, a nationally distributed black publication. Click Here to read the NCAAP's press release regarding Emmett Till. Click Here to watch a video of people's reactions at his funeral.
In Montgomery, Alabama, Mary Louise Smith, 18, is arrested, jailed, and fined for refusing to give up her seat on the city bus to a white woman.
Rosa Parks, a seamstress and member of the NAACP, is arrested and jailed for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus, launching the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott. The boycott lasts 381 days.
Rosa Parks is convicted for violating bus segregation laws. The Women's Political Council in Montgomery calls for a one-day boycott of city buses. Black ridership drops by a whopping 90%. Leaders of the boycott form the Montgomery Improvement Association and elect Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. president. The Association votes to continue the boycott.
Montgomery CarpoolsThe Montgomery Improvement Association organizes a carpool to assist those participating in the boycott of Montgomery city buses.
The bus segregation ordinance is declared unconstitutional.
The Federal Interstate Commerce Commission bans segregation on interstate trains and buses.
A white vigilante group bombs the home of Martin Luther King, Jr., who escapes unharmed along with his wife, and his infant daughter. A crowd of black citizens gathers to tell King they are ready to retaliate, but King urges them to disarm.
In Montgomery, Alabama, thousands gather at a White Citizens' Council rally to show support for city officials who refuse to revamp segregation laws.
Segregationist senators Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Harry Byrd of Virginia draft and distribute "The Southern Manifesto," a document declaring the southern white ruling elite's opposition to the Brown v. Board decision. "We commend the motives of those States," it reads, "which have declared the intention to resist forced integration by any lawful means." See full transcript.
The U.S. Supreme Court refuses to reconsider a lower court's ruling against bus segregation in South Carolina.
In response to the Supreme Court's decision, several southern cities desegregate seating on buses. The mayor of Montgomery, Alabama, however, remains committed to segregation on public transportation and threatens to arrest any bus drivers who do not comply with his orders.
The home of Robert Graetz, a Lutheran minister and a white member of the Montgomery Improvement Association, is bombed. He, his wife Jeanie, and their children are unharmed.
The Supreme Court strikes down Alabama's bus segregation laws.
The Supreme Court decision to end segregation on public transportation goes into effect. The Montgomery Improvement Association votes to end the bus boycott.
In Montgomery, Alabama, First Baptist, Mount Olive Baptist, Bell Street Baptist, and Hutchinson Street Baptist Churches are bombed. The homes of bus boycott organizers Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King, Jr. are also targeted.
In Atlanta, Georgia, ministers from eleven southern states meet to discuss the success of the boycott, the vitality of nonviolence, and the importance of Christian leadership. The group, including Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King, Jr., founds the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Under President Dwight D. Eisenhower the U.S. federal government passes the first civil rights bill since 1875.
Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas announces on a statewide television broadcast that he intends to use National Guardsmen to block the court-ordered integration of Little Rock Central High School.
Previously reluctant to intervene, President Dwight D. Eisenhower orders the deployment of federal troops to enforce the integration of Little Rock Central High School.
Minniejean Brown, one of the nine black students who integrated Little Rock Central High School, is suspended for pouring chili on the head of white student who had been harassing the group, "continuously calling us niggers." Brown would be expelled the following February after a white girl calls her a "nigger bitch" and she responds by denouncing the young woman as "white trash."
Four black college students began sit-ins at the lunch counter of a restaurant in North Carolina where black customers were not served.
Ernest Green becomes the first of the Little Rock Nine to graduate from Little Rock Central High School. Green would remember that upon hearing his name announced at the graduation ceremony, "there was eerie silence. Nobody clapped. But I figured they didn't have to... I had accomplished what I had come there for."
Four students from the all-black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Greensboro, enter a local Woolworth's department store and sit down at a lunch counter in an area reserved for whites. They return, along with other students and a few whites, to protest day after day for five months until Woolworth's agrees to serve black customers at its lunch counters. Others use similar tactics in cities across the country.
In Raleigh, North Carolina, Ella Baker, a civil rights organizer, gathers a group of student activists to discuss strategies for ending segregation. The group founds the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Democrat John F. Kennedy defeats Republican candidate Richard M. Nixon to become the 35th president of the United States.
Civil rights organizations meet with Attorney General Robert Kennedy to discuss the obstacles to black voter registration in the South.
The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organizes "Freedom Rides," in which integrated groups travel on buses and trains into the Deep South.
In response to the "Freedom Rides" organized by the Congress of Racial Equality, the Interstate Commerce Commission orders the desegregation of all buses, trains, and terminals.
At the urging of Medgar Evers and the NAACP, President John F. Kennedy federalizes Mississippi troops to enforce a federal court ruling to allow James Meredith, a student at the all-black Jackson State College, to enroll at the all-white University of Mississippi.
Upon the arrival of James Meredith at the University of Mississippi, the first black student to enroll, students riot and federal troops must be deployed to quell the mayhem on campus. A reporter and a bystander are killed.
A church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, left four young black girls dead. Churches organized marchers during Birmingham's many protests. Most of the marchers were school children and several thousand were arrested. Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth provided inspirational leadership to the marchers during this chaotic time. The marches and demonstrations did break the bonds of public segregation in Birmingham. At 10:22 a.m., 16th Street Baptist Church became known around the world when a bomb exploded, killing four young girls attending Sunday School and injuring more than 20 other members of the congregation. Later that same evening, in different parts of town, a black youth was killed by police and one was murdered by a mob of white men. It was a shocking, terrifying day in the history of Birmingham and a day that forced white leaders to further come to grips with the city’s bitter racist reputation
Centennial anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Martin Luther King, Jr. and the SCLC convene to discuss a new boycott campaign to integrate downtown Birmingham businesses.
Martin Luther King, Jr. helps launch a series of non-violent anti-segregation protests in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. Police chief Eugene "Bull" Connor orders his police department to use fire hoses, police dogs, and night sticks to break up the demonstrations. Images of these violent episodes are disseminated worldwide.
A council representing businesses in downtown Birmingham reaches an agreement with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the SCLC. The council agrees to desegregate and hire black clerical workers and sales associates.
President John F. Kennedy appears on national television to announce a new bill that will ban discrimination in all public places.
A sniper kills Medgar Evers, field secretary of the Mississippi NAACP. He is shot in the back in the driveway of his home in Jackson.
More than 250,000 demonstrators, black and white, gather at the nation's capital for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.