African Americans' Timeline

  • Three-Fifths Compromise Made

    Three-Fifths Compromise Made
    Because Northerners wanted slaves to count as people so South would pay taxes and Southerners wanted slaves to count as people to get more seats in Congress, delegates at the 1787 Constitutional Convention agreed that a slave was three-fifths of a free person. After being proposed by Roger Sherman and James Wilson, the Three-Fifths Compromise won popularity between politicians because the South would have adequate Congressional representation yet still be held accountable for taxes.
  • Fugitive Slave Act (1793) Enacted

    Fugitive Slave Act (1793) Enacted
    In 1793, President Washington enacted the Fugitive Slave Act (FSA) allowing owners and their slave catchers to seize suspected runaways and return them to their original owners. White abolitionists and free blacks formed mobs to attack slave catchers and get runaway slaves to British-ruled Canada. The FSA was bolstered by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made in the Compromise of 1850.
  • Eli Whitney Patents Cotton Gin

    Eli Whitney Patents Cotton Gin
    Eli Whitney designed the cotton gin to remove cotton from seeds and make slaves’ lives easier, but it worsened slaves’ lives on plantations. Since slaves could comb more cotton, cotton had to be grown and picked increasingly faster. The cotton gin expanded the need for slaves and financed the settlements of Mississippi and Alabama. Plantation owners increased in wealth and had less regard for slaves’ treatment.
  • Sojourner Truth Born

    Sojourner Truth Born
    Sojourner Truth was an African American activist for abolition and women’s rights. She was born into slavery and escaped in 1826. In 1828, she went to court to save her son and became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man. Her famous 1851 speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” arguing for African American and women’s rights. Truth recruited Union army troops and unsuccessfully lobbied for ex-slave land grants.
  • William Lloyd Garrison Born

    William Lloyd Garrison Born
    William Lloyd Garrison was a determined white abolitionist, the editor of abolitionist newspaper The Liberator and the founder of the New England Anti-Slavery Society. He helped establish the American Anti-Slavery Society, which condemned slavery with Christianity, aided fugitive slaves with the Underground Railroad, and sent petitions to Congress as part of a political campaign for immediate abolition.
  • Frederick Douglass Born

    Frederick Douglass Born
    Frederick Douglass was a runaway slave on the Underground Railroad that borrowed a free black man’s identification to escape. After leaving the south, he became an abolitionist fighting for slave emancipation and equality to overturn racism. In 1852, he gave a famous speech about the Fourth of July’s relation to slaves, disregarding the stereotype of blacks’ intellectual inferiority and fighting for racial equality as an orator and author.
  • Harriet Tubman Born

    Harriet Tubman Born
    Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in 1822. After escaping to Philadelphia in 1849, Tubman returned to the South to save thousands of other slaves and was nicknamed “Moses” for never losing a passenger while making trips on the Underground Railroad. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Tubman guided slaves into British North America to find work. She was a nurse in the Union Army and fought for women’s rights until passing away in 1913.
  • Rise of Minstrelsy

    Rise of Minstrelsy
    Minstrelsy was a popular form of theatre in 1830 in which white actors used blackface to present comic routines combining racist caricature and social criticism. The most famous act was John Dartmouth Rice, whose Jim Crow show blended a foreign jumping dance with unintelligible lyrics spoken in a mocking “Negro dialect.” Minstrels ridiculed Irish and German immigrants, suffragettes, and upper-class men while spreading white supremacy.
  • Height of Underground Railroad

    Height of Underground Railroad
    The Underground Railroad was an informal network of houses and other areas in the south assisting slaves with their escape north to freedom. It began in the early 1800s and reached its heights in 1850. Although the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 allowed slave owners and catchers to return runaway slaves to their owners, white abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and free blacks like Harriet Tubman helped thousands of slaves run to British-ruled Canada.
  • Compromise of 1850

    Compromise of 1850
    In a large win for the North, Whig leaders Clay and Webster compromised with Democrat Senator Douglas. A new Fugitive Slave Act was made, California was admitted as a free state, a boundary dispute between New Mexico and Texas was settled in favor of New Mexico, the slave trade was abolished in the District of Columbia, and the rest of the conquered Mexican lands were organized into New Mexico and Utah, with slavery left at the hands of the residents.
  • Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 Signed Into Law

    Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 Signed Into Law
    The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, as mandated by the Compromise of 1850, mitigated the South’s need for a slave labor force. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was largely ignored by the north, whose abolitionists tried to get runaway slaves to the safety of Canada. It required that all escaped slaves were, upon capture, to be returned to their masters and that officials and citizens of free states had to cooperate in this law.
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin Published

    Uncle Tom’s Cabin Published
    Written by American abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin boosted opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act and prompted the British to abolish slavery. The American North passed personal liberty laws that permitted all people to the right to a jury. The book sparked a debate about slavery and Abraham Lincoln famously said “so, this is the little woman who started this great war” upon meeting Stowe.
  • Booker T. Washington Born

    Booker T. Washington Born
    Booker T. Washington was a prominent black leader known for avoiding confrontation and cultivating white patronage and private influence. He claimed book education was a waste of time, instead telling African Americans to learn vocational skills. At the Atlanta Compromise, he told people to ‘cast down their buckets’, or unite and trust blacks, who would advance in society because they were loyal, unlike immigrants. He established the Tuskegee Institute in 1881 for further education.
  • Dred Scott v. Sandford Decided

    Dred Scott v. Sandford Decided
    Dred Scott was a slave whose master moved to a free state and died; he lived life as a free man, although he could rescue his family without entering slave territory and being captured. He sued his master’s widow for freedom. The Supreme Court argued slaves could not be national citizens and were simply property, so Scott had no right to use the Court. The Court ruled the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional and the South threatened to secede if the North didn’t obey Fugitive Slave Acts.
  • Ida B. Wells Born

    Ida B. Wells Born
    Ida B. Wells was an African American advocate against lynching and segregation. After Wells was thrown from a train seat for refusing to vacate her seat in a section reserved for white people, sued the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad for denying her a seat in the ladies’ car. Later, her African American friends were lynched for owning a store competing with a white store; Wells set out to prove lynching was a result of economic competition, labor disputes, or anger over interracial relationships.
  • Emancipation Proclamation Issued

    Emancipation Proclamation Issued
    The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln in 1863. He changed the interest of the Civil War from unity to emancipation, and declared African American men could join the military. Lincoln tried to unite America by stating slavery was prohibited in the Confederacy, hoping the seceded states would rejoin the Union to keep their slaves. No Confederate states tried to rejoin the Union and no slaves were freed.
  • Rise of Black Codes in the South

    Rise of Black Codes in the South
    After the Civil War ended, Southern states passed black codes in 1865 and 1866 to deny ex-slaves the civil rights enjoyed by whites, punishing vague crimes such as vagrancy or failing to have a labor contract. Southern states tried to force African American back to plantation labor systems that closely mirrored those in slavery times.
  • Sharecropping Begins as Part of Reconstruction

    Sharecropping Begins as Part of Reconstruction
    Reconstruction led to sharecropping: ex-slaves traded labor for land and seed. They would give their crops to the landlords and keep a portion for themselves. However, it was risky because sharecroppers had to borrow money for the first year and weather hurt the harvest, sometimes putting them in cycles of debt. Although sharecroppers could be freedmen or poor whites, the system copied slavery by making the farmer work to pay debt and thus borrow more money.
  • Thirteenth Amendment Ratified

    Thirteenth Amendment Ratified
    Following the Civil War and Union victory, President Lincoln passed the Thirteenth amendment after changing the cause of the war to abolition in the Emancipation Proclamation. Ratified by the necessary states, the Thirteenth Amendment prohibited slavery and freed slaves on southern plantations. This law was revolutionary for African Americans but angered white supremacists.
  • Ku Klux Klan Formed

    Ku Klux Klan Formed
    After the Civil War, the Reconstruction era began and lasted until President Hayes’ election 12 years later. Due to the era of black acceptance and reform, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was formed in 1965 as a secret society first undertaking violence against African Americans in the South after the Civil War. They violently fought the perceived threats posed by African Americans, immigrants, radicals, feminists, Catholics, and Jews, and the KKK tried to stop white Republicans and blacks from voting.
  • W.E.B. DuBois Born

    W.E.B. DuBois Born
    W.E.B. DuBois was an African American civil rights leader in America, refuting Booker T. Washington’s views on black advancement by arguing for total equality between races. He helped establish the NAACP (National Association for Advancement of Colored Peoples) to further progression of African American acceptance.
  • Fourteenth Amendment Adopted

    Fourteenth Amendment Adopted
    After the Civil War ended, the Fourteenth Amendment was passed. It declared people born in the US legal citizens; therefore, black people American citizens. The Due Process Clause prohibits state and local government officials from depriving people of life, liberty, or property without legislative authorization, and the Equal Protection Clause requires states to provide equal protection under the law to all people within jurisdiction.
  • Fifteenth Amendment Ratified

    Fifteenth Amendment Ratified
    The Fifteenth Amendment prohibited the federal and state government from denying a citizen the right to vote based on race, color, or previous servitude. Although many black men now vote, the amendment angered suffragettes who were still prohibited from voting and white supremacists who tried to prevent black men from voting.
  • End of Reconstruction with Second Corrupt Bargain

    End of Reconstruction with Second Corrupt Bargain
    In the election of 1876, the Democratic candidate Tilden ran against Republican candidate Hayes. Hayes won the election because the special council recounted the votes and rewarded him South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana. Tilden was originally winning both the popular and electoral votes, and Hayes’ win without the popular vote was seen as the Corrupt Bargain of 1876. In return for winning, Hayes promised to remove American troops from the south, thus ending Reconstruction.
  • A. Philip Randolph Born

    A. Philip Randolph Born
    A. Philip Randolph was a leader in the Socialist, American labor, and civil rights movements. He established the first predominantly African American labor union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. His activism led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802 in 1941, banning discrimination in defense industries during WWII. Randolph organized the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. famously gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.
  • Zora Neale Hurston Born

    Zora Neale Hurston Born
    Zora Neale Hurston was an American novelist and anthropologist famous during the Harlem Renaissance. Most famously known for writing “Their Eyes Were Watching God”, Hurston believed African American culture could be understood without emphasis on whites’ oppression. She visited the Caribbean for a decade and used her knowledge to write short stories documenting black people’s strength.
  • Plessy v. Ferguson Decided

    Plessy v. Ferguson Decided
    Homer Plessy was one-eighth black and was ordered to leave a first-class car for the colored car of a train, so he refused and was arrested. The Court ruled segregation didn’t violate the fourteenth amendment as long as black people had access to accommodations that were separate but equal to those of white people. However, the Supreme Court was biased because Jim Crow laws were very discriminatory and the train cars, restrooms, etc. reserved for ‘colored people’ were seldom equal.
  • Duke Ellington Born

    Duke Ellington Born
    Duke Ellington, an African American piano player, composer, and bandleader, was made famous during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Due to the era of African American acceptance, Ellington was able to spread the popularity of jazz music and lead a famous orchestra for years.
  • Louis Armstrong Born

    Louis Armstrong Born
    Louis Armstrong, an African American trumpet player, composer, and singer, popularized in the Harlem Renaissance. Nicknamed Satchmo, Armstrong became famous because the 1920s were an era of post-WWI wealth and subsequent social acceptance. He was well known for playing the trumpet, singing “What A Wonderful World”, and inspiring the E.B. White book “The Trumpet of the Swan.”
  • Langston Hughes Born

    Langston Hughes Born
    Langston Hughes was African American poet who popularized during the Harlem Renaissance, where there was more African American acceptance due to the popularity of blues and jazz music. His poems told people to focus on their dreams and often spoke candidly about the need for racial acceptance in America.
  • Ella Baker Born

    Ella Baker Born
    Ella Baker was an American advocate for civil rights and the cofounder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), disagreeing with Martin Luther King Jr. because she supported ordinary, nonelite people as leaders.. Baker nurtured a generation of new activists in SNCC, including John Lewis, Diane Nash, and Stokely Carmichael.
  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Formed

    National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Formed
    The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was established by W.E.B. DuBois, Mary White Ovington, and Moorfield Storey to advocate justice for African Americans. After the Race Riot of 1908, civil rights leaders including Ida B. Wells and Florence Kelley met at the Niagara Movement Conference to form the NAACP. The legal department, headed by Thurgood Marshall and Charles Houston, tried to reverse Plessy v. Ferguson.
  • Great Migration during WWI

    Great Migration during WWI
    During World War I, more than 400,00 African Americans moved to urban cities like St. Louis, Chicago, New York, and Detroit. They moved to take jobs for economic benefit and patriotism, as well as escaping the repressive racism and poverty of the South. Many African Americans served in WW1, but those not fighting wanted to aid their nation by working alongside women in the defense industry.
  • Ella Fitzgerald Born

    Ella Fitzgerald Born
    Ella Fitzgerald was an American jazz singer nicknamed the “First Lady of Song” for the way she popularized scat singing and strong diction, as well as for her example for other African American women. Fitzgerald collaborated with other popular black artists, like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, to lead the way both for music and for black acceptance in the arts.
  • Jackie Robinson Born

    Jackie Robinson Born
    Jackie Robinson was the first African American in Major League Baseball (MLB) by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. He was also the first black television analyst in MLB and the first black vice president of a major American corporation.Robinson broke through color lines and showed America that segregation limited freedom and opportunities for African Americans.
  • Harlem Renaissance

    Harlem Renaissance
    After WWI, the widespread wealth and popularization of jazz and blues led African American artists, writers, intellectuals, and social leaders to flourish, centered in the neighborhoods of Harlem, New York City. Although the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) rose in strength to counteract wider racial acceptance, many African Americans like Louis Fitzgerald and Langston Hughes grew in fame and power as American society accepted more blacks.
  • Malcolm X Born

    Malcolm X Born
    Malcolm X was a black Muslim and advocate for African-American nationalism in the United States. He didn’t want anyone who didn’t want brotherhood with him, so he ignored white supremacists and focused on strengthening the black community. After visiting the Middle East and seeing Muslims of all races worshipping together, Malcolm X established the Organization of Afro-American Unity in 1964 to promote black pride. He was killed in 1965 during a speech by three black Muslims.
  • Ku Klux Klan March on Washington

    Ku Klux Klan March on Washington
    The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) held a march on Washington with 25,000 people in 1925.The KKK had risen up in the 1920s after the premiere of Birth of a Nation, a 1915 film glorifying the Reconstruction-era Klan. The KKK targeted African Americans, immigrants, Catholics, and Jews with physical intimidation, arson, and economic boycotts. They began to spread influence by electing supporters into local and state government positions.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Born

    Martin Luther King Jr. Born
    Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Baptist minister and civil rights leader urging Americans, regardless of race, to accept African Americans. He is most famous for his “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington he organized. During his lifetime King was a peaceful advocate of African American rights, who was eventually assassinated in 1968.
  • Stokely Carmichael Born

    Stokely Carmichael Born
    Stokely Carmichael was an advocate for the pan-African and civil rights movements. He led the Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was the Honorary Prime Minister of the Black Panther Party, and led the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP). Carmichael was a Freedom Rider for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The day after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, he led riots arguing businesses should be closed and was blamed by the media for black mobs.
  • Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) Formed

    Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) Formed
    The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) is an African American civil rights organization established to bring about equality for people regardless of race, creed, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion or ethnic background. In 1947, CORE sponsored Freedom Rides to call attention to violations of Supreme Court rulings in interstate commerce; in 1963, CORE organized the March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream‘ speech.
  • Brown v. Board of Education Decided

    Brown v. Board of Education Decided
    Under the first African American Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, Brown v. Board of Education decided in 1954 that racial segregation was unconstitutional. Linda Brown, a black student, was forced to attend a segregated school instead of a white elementary school. Marshall argued Brown deserved equal protection of the laws, as stated in the Fourteenth Amendment, and overturned Plessy v. Ferguson’s ‘separate but equal’ rule.
  • Brown v. Board of Education II Decided

    Brown v. Board of Education II Decided
    Brown v. Board of Education II amended the earlier court cause. In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court had declared racial segregation unconstitutional due to the Fourteenth amendment. In the follow-up, the Court simply stated integration should proceed with deliberate speed. Desegregation angered many white families and required protection for African American students such as Ruby Bridges, the first black student to desegregate a school in Louisiana.
  • Rosa Parks Refuses to Give Up Bus Seat

    Rosa Parks Refuses to Give Up Bus Seat
    Rosa Parks was an African American advocate of civil rights. When she boarded a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, the bus driver told her to give her seat in the colored section to a white passenger, but Parks resisted segregation and was arrested. E.D. Nixon, head of the local NAACP, formed a boycott encouraging local African Americans to avoid buses or refuse to go to work. Soon, black leaders established the Montgomery Improvement Association to lead the boycott, electing Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Formed

    Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Formed
    The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was initially formed by Ella Baker to sponsor sit-ins, freedom rides, and voter registration drives in the South. In the later 1960s, led by charismatic people like Stokely Carmichael, the SNCC focused on advocating black power and protesting the Vietnam War.
  • Freedom Riders Begin Campaign

    Freedom Riders Begin Campaign
    The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized the Freedom Riders in 1961 to ride southern interstate buses and call attention to violations of Supreme Court rulings in interstate commerce. Freedom Riders, both black and white, rode buses at their own risk and sang civil rights songs. Many witnesses attacks by the KKK, bombings, and were beat for their activism. President Kennedy discouraged the Freedom Riders but beating forced attorney general Robert Kennedy to dispatch federal marshals.
  • Black Panther Party Founded

    Black Panther Party Founded
    Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, two black college students, founded the Black Panther Party (BPP) to protect African Americans from police violence. They opposed the Vietnam War and favored Third World revolutionary movements. The BPP sponsored community service, giving children free breakfast and testing people for sickle-cell anemia, but were investigated by the FBI after Newton murdered a police office, several Panthers were killed by police, and dozens went to prison.
  • First Black Supreme Court Justice Appointed

    First Black Supreme Court Justice Appointed
    The first black Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, was appointed in 1967 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Marshall is best known for the victory of Brown v. Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court argued racial segregation was unconstitutional because it denied African Americans their Fourteenth Amendment rights.
  • Inauguration of First Black President

    Inauguration of First Black President
    The first African American president of the United States, Barack Obama, was in office from 2009 to 2017. The democratic president was famously known for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, nicknamed Obamacare. Prior to his inauguration and election, Obama was the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review and was also a civil rights attorney and professor.
  • Michelle Obama Made First Black First Lady

    Michelle Obama Made First Black First Lady
    Michelle Obama, wife of forty-fourth U.S. President and first African American president Barack Obama, is the most educated first lady America has ever had and is also the first African American first lady. Michelle Obama graduated cum laude from Princeton University and also went to Harvard. She worked at a Chicago law firm before becoming the first lady and focusing on social movements (ex. healthy living, women's rights, education) during her husband's term.