Our History – A Timeline

The “Father of Black History”

During the early 20th century, it was commonly presumed that black people had little history besides the subjugation of slavery. Today, it is indisputable that African-Americans have significantly impacted the development of social, political, and economic structures of the US and the world. Credit for the evolving awareness is largely bestowed upon Dr. Carter G. Woodson.

The second African-American to earn a PhD, Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now the Association for the African-American Life and History) and in 1926 initiated the celebration of Negro History Week, which corresponded with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

In 1976, this celebration was expanded to include the entire month of February, and is now known as Black History Month.

Black History Timeline

The African Diaspora was the movement of Africans an their descendents to places throughout the world – predominantly to the American, than later to Europe, the Middle East and other places around the globe.
The Underground Railroad was an organized system of secret routes and safe houses used by the 19th century Black slaves in the United States to escape to free states and countries with the aid of abolitionists.

1619 The first African slaves arrive in Virginia.

1746 Lucy Terry becomes the earliest known poet with Bar’s Fight written about the last American Indian attack on her village of Deerfield, Massachusetts.

1773 Phillis Wheatley becomes the first to publish a book: Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Reaching such a fete contradicted notions that African American’s could not participate in the creation of literary artifacts.

1787 Slavery is banned in the Northwest Territory however the US Constitution states that Congress cannot ban the slave trade until 1808


a) The invention of the cotton gin increased the profitability of cotton resulting in a soaring demand for slave labor.
b) A federal fugitive slave law enacted offered rewards to those who returned runaway slaves

1800 Congress bans the imporiation of slaves from Africa.

1820 The Missouri Compromise bans slavery north of the southern boundary of Missouri.

1831 Enslaved preacher Nat Turner leads his followers to launch a bloody rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia. They are overcome and Virginia institutes stricter slave laws.

a) The Wilmot Proviso brings the slavery debate to the forefront as is attempts to ban slavery in territoty gained in the Mexican-American War however it is blocked by Southerners.
b) Frederick Douglass launches The North Star, an abolitionist newspaper.

1849 Harriet Tubman escapes from slavery and becomes one of the most effective leaders of the Underground Railroad.

1850 The Compromise of 1850 was a series of bills aimed at resolving the territorial and slavery controversies arising from the Mexican-American War. The five laws balanced the interests of the slave states and free states however it strengthened the Fugitive Slave Laws.

1852 Harriet Breecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin exposed the cruelty of slavery to millions and influenced them to react.

1854 Congress passes the Kansas- Nebraska Act that repeals the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and puts the slavery debate into the hands of the people under “popular sovereignty”. This further fuels tensions between anti- and pro- slavery factions.

1857 Dred Scott case maintains that Congress cannot ban slavery in the states. It further defines slaves as non-citizens.

1859 John Brown and 21 men launch an attack on the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, the beginning of a long-range plan to destroy the slave system in the South.

a) The Confederacy is founded when the South secedes.
b) The Civil War begins

1863 President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation that states that the slaves within the Confederate states shall be free

a) The Freedmen’s Bureau is established by Congress to protect newly emancipate slaves.
b) The Civil War ends
c) Lincoln is assassinated
d) The Ku Klux Klan is established by ex-Confederates
e) The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution is approved, prohibiting slavery
f) The Black Codes are passed by southern states limiting the civil rights and liberties of African Americans

1867 Reconstruction acts are passed to help guarantee the civil rights of freed slaves.

1868 The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution is passed defining citizenship and nullifying the Dred Scott Case of 1857

1869 Howard University’s law school becomes the country’s first black law school

a) The Fifteenth Amendment passes allowing blacks the right to vote
b) During Reconstruction, 16 blacks serve in Congress and approximately 600 serve in states legislative

1879 Tens of thousands of African Americans migrate north to Kansas becoming known as The Black Exodus

a) Spelman College, the first college for black women in the US, is founded by Sophia B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles.
b) Booker T. Washington founds the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama. The school becomes one of the leading schools of higher learning for African Americans.

1896 The landmark case of Plessy vs. Ferguson held that racial segregation is constitutional, paving the way for the repressive Jim Crow laws, “separate but equal”, in the South

1905 The Niagara Movement is founded by W.E.B. DuBois and embraces a more radical approach to the black civil rights movement

1909 The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is founded by prominent black and white individuals with dedication to political equality and social justice and led by W.E.B. DuBois.

1914 Marcus Garvey establishes the Universal Negro Improvement Association, an influential Black Nationalist organization “to promote the spirit of race pride” and create a sense of worldwide unity among blacks.

1920 The Harlem Renaissance flourishes during the 1920s and 1930s bring a wave of literary, artistic and intellectual movement that fosters a new black cultural identity

1947 Jackie Robinson signs with the Brooklyn Dodgers and by doing so breaks the color barrier in Major League Baseball

1948 President Truman issues an executive order integrating the US armed forces World War II even though African Americans have participated in  every major US war.

1952 Malcolm X becomes a minister of the Nation of Islam, a Black Nationalist and separatist movement that contends that only blacks can resolve the problems of blacks

1954 Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas declares that racial segregation in schools is unconstitutional

a) Emmett Till, a young black boy, is brutally murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. An all-white jury acquits the two white men charged with the crime but later the men boast about the murder causing public outrage and spurring the civil rights movement
b) Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat at the front of the “colored section” of a bus to a white passenger

a) The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a civil rights group, is established by Martin Luther King Jr., Charles K. Steele, and Fred J. Shuttlesworth
b) Federal troops and the National Guard are called to intervene after Gov. Orval Faubus blocked nine black students, known as the Little Rock Nine, from entering a school

a) Four black students in Greensboro, North Carolina, begin a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter sparking similar nonviolent protests throughout the South
b) The formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee provides young blacks with a place in the civil rights movement

1961 A group of student volunteers (black and white) known as the “freedom riders” take bus trips through the South to test new laws that prohibit segreation however they are attacked by angry mobs along the way

1962 James Meredith becomes the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi. His enrollment sparked riots that prompted President Kennedy to send 5000 federal troops further fueling the civil rights movement

a) Martin Luther King Jr. is jailed during anti-segregation protests in Birmingham, Alabama. In jail, he writes “Letter from Birmingham Jail” advocating nonviolence.
b) The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is attended by 250000 and Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech
c) Four young black girls attending Sunday school are killed when a bomb explodes at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, a popular location for civil rights meetings. Riots erupt in Birmingham, leading to the deaths of two more black youths.

a) President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination of all kinds of based on race, color, religion, or national origin.
b) Martin Luther King Jr. receives the Nobel Peace Prize

a) Malcolm X is assassinated
b) State troopers violently attack peaceful demonstrations led by Martin Luther King Jr. as they try to cross the Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama Troopers used tear gas, whips and clubs to stop them resulting in the hospitalization in 50 marchers and the incident being dubbed “Bloody Sunday”
c) Congress passes the Voting Rights Act of 1965, making it easier for Southern blacks to register to vote by making literacy tests, poll taxes, and other such requirements illegal
d) Rioting breaks out in Watts, a black section of Los Angeles, for six days; 35 people are killed and 883 injured.

a) Major race riots take place in Newark and Detroit
b) African American Thurgood Marshall is appointed to the Supreme Court by President Johnson
c) The Supreme Court rules in Loving vs. Virginia that prohibiting interracial marriage is unconstitutional

a) Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated
b) President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968 prohibiting discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing

1972 The Tuskegee Syphilis experiment ends. Begun in 1932, the US Public Health Service’s 40-year experiment on 399 black men in the late stages of syphilis has been described as an experiment that “used human beings as laboratory animals in a long and inefficient study of how long it takes syphilis to kill someone”.

1973 Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke upheld the constitutionality of affirmation action, but imposed limitations on it to ensute that providing greater opportunities for minorities did not come at the expense of the rights of the majority.

1992 Race riots erupt in south-central Los Angeles after a jury acquits four white police officers for the videotaped beating of African-American Rodney King

2003 In Grutter vs. Bollinger, the most important affirmation action decision since the 1978 Bakke case, the Supreme Court (5-4) upholds the University of Michigan Law School’s policy, ruling that race can be one of the factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers “a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body”.

2006 In Parents vs. Seattle and Meredith vs. Jefferson, affirmative action suffers a setback when a bitterly divided court rules (5-4) that programs in Seattle and Louisville, Kentucky which tried to maintain diversity in schools by considering race when assigning students to schools, are unconstitutional

a) Senator Barack Obama becomes the first African American to be nominated as a major party nominee for president
b) Senator Barack Obama becomes the first African American to be elected president of the United States