Time Line of African American History, 1852-1880
Daniel A. P. Murray born. Born in Baltimore on March 3. Murray, an African-American, was assistant librarian of Congress, and a collector of books and pamphlets by and about black Americans.
Publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, published on March 20, focused national attention on the cruelties of slavery.
Lincoln University chartered. Initially known as Ashmun Institute, Lincoln University was chartered in Oxford, Pennsylvania, on January 1. It was one of America's earliest Negro colleges.
Booker Taliaferro Washington born. Born in Franklin County, Virginia, on April 5, Washington was the first principal of Tuskegee Institute (1881), and was the individual most responsible for its early development. Washington was considered the leading African-American spokesman of his day.
Supreme Court rules on the Dred Scott case. On March 6, the Supreme Court decided that an African-American could not be a citizen of the U.S., and thus had no rights of citizenship. The decision sharpened the national debate over slavery.
John Brown's raid. On October 16-17, John Brown raided the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia (today located in West Virginia). Brown's unsuccessful mission to obtain arms for a slave insurrection stirred and divided the nation. Brown was hanged for treason on December 2.
The last slave ship arrives. During this year, the last ship to bring slaves to the United States, the Clothilde, arrived in Mobile Bay, Alabama.
Abraham Lincoln elected president. Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected president on November 6, 1860.
Slavery abolished in the District of Columbia. Congress abolished slavery in the District of Columbia -- an important step on the road for freedom for all African-Americans.
The Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation took effect January 1, legally freeing slaves in areas of the South in rebellion.
New York City draft riots. Anti-conscription riots started on July 13 and lasted four days, during which hundreds of black Americans were killed or wounded.
The Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Volunteers. On July 18, the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Volunteers -- the all-black unit of the Union army portrayed in the 1989 Tri-Star Pictures film Glory -- charged Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina. Sergeant William H. Carney becomes the first African-American to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery under fire.
Equal pay. On June 15, Congress passed a bill authorizing equal pay, equipment, arms, and health care for African-American Union troops.
The New Orleans Tribune. On October 4, the New Orleans Tribune began publication. The Tribune was one of the first daily newspapers produced by blacks.
Congress approves the Thirteenth Amendment. Slavery would be outlawed in the United States by the Thirteenth Amendment, which Congress approved and sent on to the states for ratification on January 31.
The Freedmen's Bureau. On March 3, Congress established the Freedmen's Bureau to provide health care, education, and technical assistance to emancipated slaves.
Death of Lincoln. On April 15, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated; Vice President Andrew Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat, succeeded him as president.
Ratification of Thirteenth Amendment. The Thirteenth Amendment, outlawing slavery, was ratified on December 18.
Presidential meeting for black suffrage. On February 2, a black delegation led by Frederick Douglass met with President Andrew Johnson at the White House to advocate black suffrage. The president expressed his opposition, and the meeting ended in controversy.
Civil Rights Act. Congress overrode President Johnson's veto on April 9 and passed the Civil Rights Act, conferring citizenship upon black Americans and guaranteeing equal rights with whites.
Memphis massacre. On May 1-3, white civilians and police killed forty-six African-Americans and injured many more, burning ninety houses, twelve schools, and four churches in Memphis, Tennessee.
The Fourteenth Amendment. On June 13, Congress approved the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing due process and equal protection under the law to all citizens. The amendment would also grant citizenship to blacks.
Police massacre. Police in New Orleans stormed a Republican meeting of blacks and whites on July 30, killing more than 40 and wounding more than 150.
Founding of the Ku Klux Klan. The Ku Klux Klan, an organization formed to intimidate blacks and other ethnic and religious minorities, first met in Maxwell House, Memphis. The Klan was the first of many secret terrorist organizations organized in the South for the purpose of reestablishing white authority.
Black suffrage. On January 8, overriding President Johnson's veto, Congress granted the black citizens of the District of Columbia the right to vote.
Reconstruction begins. Reconstruction Acts were passed by Congress on March 2. These acts called for the enfranchisement of former slaves in the South.
Fourteenth Amendment ratified. On July 21, the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, granting citizenship to any person born or naturalized in the United States.
Thaddeus Stevens dies. Thaddeus Stevens, Radical Republican leader in Congress and father of Reconstruction, died on August 11.
Massacre in Louisiana. The Opelousas Massacre occurred in Louisiana on September 28, in which an estimated 200 to 300 black Americans were killed.
Ulysses S. Grant becomes president. Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant (Republican) was elected president on November 3.
Fifteenth Amendment approved. On February 26, Congress sent the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution to the states for approval. The amendment would guarantee black Americans the right to vote.
First black diplomat. On April 6, Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett was appointed minister to Haiti -- the first black American diplomat and the first black American presidential appointment. For many years thereafter, both Democratic and Republican administrations appointed black Americans as ministers to Haiti and Liberia.
Census of 1860.
U.S. population: 31,443,790 Black population: 4,441,790 (14.1%)
Census of 1870.
The first African-American senator. Hiram R. Revels (Republican) of Mississippi took his seat February 25. He was the first black United States senator, though he served only one year.
Fifteenth Amendment ratified. The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on March 30.
The Fisk University Jubilee Singers tour. On October 6, Fisk University's Jubilee Singers began their first national tour. The Jubilee Singers became world-famous singers of black spirituals. The money they earned built Fisk University.
Civil Rights Act of 1875. Congress approved the Civil Rights Act on March 1, guaranteeing equal rights to black Americans in public accommodations and jury duty. The legislation was invalidated by the Supreme Court in 1883.
The first African-American to serve a full term as senator. Blanche Kelso Bruce (Republican) of Mississippi took his seat in the United States Senate on March 3. He would become the first African-American to serve a full six-year term. Not until 1969 did another black American begin a Senate term.
Birth of Mary McLeod Bethune. Mary McLeod Bethune, educator, government official, and African-American leader, was born on July 10 in Mayesville, South Carolina.
Clinton Massacre. On September 4-6, more than 20 black Americans were killed in a massacre in Clinton, Mississippi.
Birth of Carter Godwin Woodson. Carter G. Woodson, who earned a doctorate in history from Harvard and was known as "The Father of Black History," was born on December 19, 1875, in New Canton, Virginia.
Race riots and terrorism. A summer of race riots and terrorism directed at blacks occurred in South Carolina. President Grant sent federal troops to restore order.
A close presidential election. In the presidential election of 1876, the outcome in the Electoral College appeared too close to be conclusive in the campaign of Samuel Tilden (Democrat) versus Rutherford B. Hayes (Republican).
The end of Reconstruction. A deal with Southern Democratic leaders made Rutherford B. Hayes (Republican) president, in exchange for the withdrawal of federal troops from the South and the end of federal efforts to protect the civil rights of African-Americans.
The first African-American to graduate from West Point. On June 15, Henry O. Flipper became the first black American to graduate from West Point.
U.S. population: 39,818,449 Black population: 4,880,009 (12.7%)
Census of 1880.
James Garfield elected president. On November 2, James A. Garfield, Republican, was elected president.
U.S. population: 50,155,783 Black population: 6,580,793 (13.1%)
President Garfield assassinated. President Garfield was shot on July 2; he died on September 19. Vice President Chester A. Arthur (Republican) succeeded Garfield as president.
Tuskegee Institute founded. Booker T. Washington became the first principal of Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, on July 4. Tuskegee became the leading vocational training institution for African-Americans.
Segregation of public transportation. Tennessee segregated railroad cars, followed by Florida (1887), Mississippi (1888), Texas (1889), Louisiana (1890), Alabama, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Georgia (1891), South Carolina (1898), North Carolina (1899), Virginia (1900), Maryland (1904), and Oklahoma (1907).
Lynchings. Forty-nine black Americans are known to have been lynched in 1882.
Civil Rights Act overturned. On October 15, the Supreme Court declared the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional. The Court declared that the Fourteenth Amendment forbids states, but not citizens, from discriminating.
Sojourner Truth dies. Sojourner Truth, a courageous and ardent abolitionist and a brilliant speaker, died on November 26.
A political coup and a race riot. On November 3, white conservatives in Danville, Virginia, seized control of the local government, racially integrated and popularly elected, killing four African-Americans in the process.
Lynchings. Fifty-three black Americans are known to have been lynched in 1883.
Cleveland elected president. Grover Cleveland (Democrat) was elected president on November 4.
Lynchings. Fifty-one black Americans are known to have been lynched in 1884.
A black Episcopal bishop. On June 25, African-American Samuel David Ferguson was ordained a bishop of the Episcopal church.
Lynchings. Seventy-four black Americans are known to have been lynched in 1885.
The Carrollton Massacre. On March 17, 20 black Americans were massacred at Carrollton, Mississippi.
Labor organizes. The American Federation of Labor was organized on December 8, signaling the rise of the labor movement. All major unions of the day excluded black Americans.
Lynchings. Seventy-four black Americans are known to have been lynched in 1886.
Lynchings. Seventy black Americans are known to have been lynched in 1887.
Two of the first African-American banks. Two of America's first black-owned banks -- the Savings Bank of the Grand Fountain United Order of the Reformers, in Richmond Virginia, and Capital Savings Bank of Washington, DC, opened their doors.
Harrison elected president. Benjamin Harrison (Republican) was elected president on November 6.
Lynchings. Sixty-nine black Americans are known to have been lynched in 1888.
Lynchings. Ninety-four black Americans are known to have been lynched in 1889.
Census of 1890.
The Afro-American League. On January 25, under the leadership of Timothy Thomas Fortune, the militant National Afro-American League was founded in Chicago.
African-Americans are disenfranchised. The Mississippi Plan, approved on November 1, used literacy and "understanding" tests to disenfranchise black American citizens. Similar statutes were adopted by South Carolina (1895), Louisiana (1898), North Carolina (1900), Alabama (1901), Virginia (1901), Georgia (1908), and Oklahoma (1910).
A white supremacist is elected. Populist "Pitchfork Ben" Tillman was elected governor of South Carolina. He called his election "a triumph of ... white supremacy."
Lynchings. Eighty-five black Americans are known to have been lynched in 1890.
Lynchings. One hundred and thirteen black Americans are known to have been lynched in 1891.
Grover Cleveland elected president. Grover Cleveland (Democrat) was elected president on November 8.
Lynchings. One hundred and sixty-one black Americans are known to have been lynched in 1892.
Lynchings. One hundred and eighteen black Americans are known to have been lynched in 1893.
The Pullman strike. The Pullman Company strike caused a national transportation crisis. On May 11, African-Americans were hired by the company as strike-breakers.
Lynchings. One hundred and thirty-four black Americans are known to have been lynched in 1894.
Douglass dies. African-American leader and statesman Frederick Douglass died on February 20.
A race riot. Whites attacked black workers in New Orleans on March 11-12. Six blacks were killed.
The Atlanta Compromise. Booker T. Washington delivered his famous "Atlanta Compromise" address on September 18 at the Atlanta Cotton States Exposition. He said the "Negro problem" would be solved by a policy of gradualism and accommodation.
The National Baptist Convention. Several Baptist organizations combined to form the National Baptist Convention of the U.S.A.; the Baptist church is the largest black religious denomination in the United States.
Lynchings. One hundred and thirteen black Americans are known to have been lynched in 1895.
Plessy v. Ferguson. The Supreme Court decided on May 18 in Plessy v. Ferguson that "separate but equal" facilities satisfy Fourteenth Amendment guarantees, thus giving legal sanction to Jim Crow segregation laws.
Black women organize. The National Association of Colored Women was formed on July 21; Mary Church Terrell was chosen president.
McKinley elected president. On November 3, William McKinley (Republican) was elected president.
George Washington Carver. George Washington Carver was appointed director of agricultural research at Tuskegee Institute. His work advanced peanut, sweet potato, and soybean farming.
Lynchings. Seventy-eight black Americans are known to have been lynched in 1896.
American Negro Academy. The American Negro Academy was established on March 5 to encourage African-American participation in art, literature and philosophy.
Lynchings. One hundred and twenty-three black Americans are known to have been lynched in 1897.
The Spanish-American War. The Spanish-American War began on April 21. Sixteen regiments of black volunteers were recruited; four saw combat. Five black Americans won Congressional Medals of Honor.
The National Afro-American Council. Founded on September 15, the National Afro-American Council elected Bishop Alexander Walters its first president.
A race riot. On November 10, in Wilmington, North Carolina, eight black Americans were killed during white rioting.
Black-owned insurance companies. The North Carolina Mutual and Provident Insurance Company and the National Benefit Life Insurance Company of Washington, DC were established. Both companies were black-owned.
Lynchings. One hundred and one black Americans are known to have been lynched in 1898.
A lynching protest. The Afro-American Council designated June 4 as a national day of fasting to protest lynchings and massacres.
Lynchings. Eighty-five black Americans are known to have been lynched in 1899.
U.S. population: 62,947,714 Black population: 7,488,676 (11.9%)
Census of 1900.
Lynchings. One hundred and six black Americans are known to have been lynched in 1900.
A World's Fair. The Paris Exposition was held, and the United States pavilion housed an exhibition on black Americans. The "Exposition des Negres d'Amerique" won several awards for excellence. Daniel A. P. Murray's collection of works by and about black Americans was developed for this exhibition.
U.S. population: 75,994,575 Black population: 8,833,994 (11.6%)
Campfires of Freedom: The Camp Life of Black Soldiers During the Civil War
African-Americans - both freemen and ex-slaves - enlisted for a variety of reasons, from patriotism to sheer poverty. Like many of their white counterparts, they attributed theological significance to the war
Raising Freedom's Child: Black Children and Visions of the Future After Slavery
Previously untapped documents and period photographs casts a dazzling, fresh light on the way that abolitionists, educators, missionaries, planters, politicians, and free children of color envisioned the status of African Americans after emancipation
Colored Troop Books
Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers
This historical exploration denotes the uneasy alliance between black soldiers and white officers who, divided by racial tension and ideology, were united by the trials and bonds of the war they fought side by side
The Sable Arm: Black Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865
The first work to fully chronicle the remarkable story of the nearly 180,000 black troops who served in the Union army. This work paved the way for the exploration of the black military experience in other wars. This edition, with a new foreword by Herman Hattaway and bibliographical essay by the author, makes available once again a pioneering work that will be especially useful for scholars and students
A Black Woman's Civil War Memoirs: Reminiscences of My Life in Camp With the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops, Late 1st South Carolina Volunteers
Taylor was born a slave in 1848 on an island off the coast of Georgia. She gained her freedom and worked as a laundress for an African-American Union regiment during the war.
She offers fascinating details about her life with the troops
Where Death and Glory Meet: Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Infantry
The history of how our culture determines manhood. Although a rather detached supporter of abolition, Shaw was skeptical about the fighting abilities of freedmen, and initially declined the command. When he did accept, he was aware that the eyes of the nation were on his regiment, and his training of them was relentless. The 54th measured up by proving itself in battle
Freedom for Themselves: North Carolina's Black Soldiers in the Civil War Era
The processes by which black men enlisted and were trained, the history of each regiment, the lives of the soldiers' families during the war, and the experiences of the colored veterans and their families living in an ex-Confederate state
The Black Civil War Soldiers of Illinois: The Story of the Twenty-Ninth U.S. Colored Infantry
Study in the lives of black recruits in the Civil War era, and a journey into the hinterlands of an American racial pathos. Throughout this study, Miller explores in detail the biographies of individual soldiers, revealing their often convoluted histories
Strike the Blow for Freedom: The 6th United States Colored Infantry in the Civil War
The recruitment, training, battles and finally the mustering out of the 6th. The 6th shared some of the same influences that shaped the formation of many military units of that time
Black Southerners in Confederate Armies
Official records, newspaper articles, and veterans' accounts to tell the stories of the Black Confederates. This well researched collection is a contribution to the discussion about the numbers of black Southerners involved and their significant history.
A Grand Army of Black Men: Letters from African-American Soldiers in the Union Army 1861-1865
Almost 200,000 African-American soldiers fought for the Union in the Civil War. Although most were illiterate ex-slaves, several thousand were well educated, free black men from the northern states
District of Columbia. Company E, 4th US Colored Infantry at Fort Lincoln
Johnsonville, Tenn. Camp of Tennessee Colored Battery
Black slaves who fled to Union lines, or "contrabands," often proved themselves extremely useful, even before the government enlisted them into service. A group of "contrabands" appear on this calling card. Calling cards, or cartes de visite, with photographs were popular during this era partly because photography was relatively new and the cards provided a means of sharing likenesses with friends and relatives. This one includes images of white officers of the 2nd Rhode Island Camp at Camp Brightwood in the District of Columbia. On the left is Capt. B. S. Brown. In the center is Lt. John P. Shaw, killed in action at the Wilderness, Virginia, May 5, 1864, and on the right is Lt. T. Fry. The "contrabands" with them are not named.
A group of "contrabands." [Stereograph]
ca.1861 published later
Click to enlarge
29th Regiment from Connecticut
Colored Troops Pictures
American Civil War Exhibits
Women in the War
Civil War Cooking
Civil War Submarines
Kids Zone Underground Railroad
Kids Zone Causes of the War
Dred Scott Decision
Benjamin Oliver Davis First Colored U.S. General
"A Black Woman's Civil War Memoirs," by Susie King Taylor, was
First published in 1902. A new edition, edited by Patricia Romero and featuring an introduction by Willie Lee Rose, appeared in 1988. In that new intro Rose declared, "There is nothing even vaguely resembling Susie King Taylor's small volume of random recollections in the entire literature of the Civil War, or in that of any other American conflict insofar as I am aware." Indeed, this book is a rare and valuable historical document.
Taylor was born a slave in 1848 on an island off the coast of Georgia. She gained her freedom and worked as a laundress for an African-American Union regiment during the war.
Taylor recalls how she learned to read and write and then herself became a teacher. She offers fascinating details about her life with the troops. She had many different duties beyond laundry service. I loved the episode where she recalls concocting "a very delicious custard" from turtle eggs and canned condensed milk, and serving it to the troops.
Taylor condemns the lack of appreciation shown for both black and white Civil War veterans. She also condemns early 20th century racism. Reading her book I was reminded of W.E.B. Du Bois' classic "The Souls of Black Folk," which was first published around the same time; I think the two books complement each other well.
Taylor ends on a note of hope and pride, noting "my people are striving" for better lives. This book is, in my opinion, an important milestone in African American literature.
In the summer of 1865, a former slave by the name of Jourdan Anderson sent a letter to his former master. And 147 years later, the document reads as richly as it must have back then.
This letter was dictated and sent to the New York Times in addition to Mr. Anderson
August 7, 1865
To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee
Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin's to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.
I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, "Them colored people were slaves" down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.
As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams's Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.
In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.
Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.
From your old servant,
U.S. National Park Service
U.S. Library of Congress.