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19th century


Early 19th century

  • The first Black Codes enacted.


  • August 30 – Gabriel Prosser's planned attempt to lead a slave rebellion in Richmond, Virginia is suppressed.


  • At the urging of President Thomas Jefferson, Congress passes the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves. It makes it a federal crime to import a slave from abroad.


  • January 1 – The importation of slaves is a felony. This is the earliest day under the United States Constitution that a law could be made restricting slavery.


  • The first separate black denomination of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) is founded by Richard Allen, who is elected its first bishop.

  • The American Colonization Society is begun by Robert Finley, to send free African Americans to what is to become Liberia in West Africa.


  • March 6 – The Missouri Compromise allows for the entry as states of Maine (free) and Missouri (slave); no more slave states are allowed north of 36°30′.

  • The British West Africa Squadron's slave trade suppression activities are assisted by forces from the United States Navy, starting in 1820 with the USS Cyane. With the Webster–Ashburton Treaty of 1842, the relationship is formalised and they jointly run the Africa Squadron.


  • The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church is formed.


  • July 14 – Denmark Vesey's planned slave rebellion in Charleston, South Carolina is suppressed.


  • September – David Walker begins publication of the abolitionist pamphlet Walker's Appeal.


  • October 28 – Josiah Henson, a slave who fled and arrived in Canada, is an author, abolitionist, minister and the inspiration behind the book Uncle Tom's Cabin.


  • William Lloyd Garrison begins publication of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator. He declares ownership of a slave is a great sin, and must stop immediately.

  • August – Nat Turner leads the most successful slave rebellion in U.S. history. The rebellion is suppressed, but only after many deaths.


  • Sarah Harris Fayerweather, an aspiring teacher, is admitted to Prudence Crandall's all-girl school in Canterbury, Connecticut, resulting in the first racially integrated schoolhouse in the United States. Her admission led to the school's forcible closure under the Connecticut Black Law of 1833.


  • The American Anti-Slavery Society, an abolitionist society, is founded by William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur Tappan. Frederick Douglass becomes a key leader of the society.


  • February – The first Institute of Higher Education for African Americans is founded. Founded as the African Institute in February 1837 and renamed the Institute of Coloured Youth (ICY) in April 1837 and now known as Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.


  • July 2 – Slaves revolt on the La Amistad, an illegal slave ship, resulting in a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court (see United States v. The Amistad) and their gaining freedom.


  • The Liberty Party breaks away from the American Anti-Slavery Society due to grievances with William Lloyd Garrison's leadership.


  • The U.S. Supreme Court rules, in Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842), that states do not have to offer aid in the hunting or recapture of slaves, greatly weakening the fugitive slave law of 1793.


  • June 1 – Isabella Baumfree, a former slave, changes her name to Sojourner Truth and begins to preach for the abolition of slavery.

  • August – Henry Highland Garnet delivers his famous speech Call to Rebellion.


  • Frederick Douglass begins publication of the abolitionist newspaper the North Star.

  • Joseph Jenkins Roberts of Virginia becomes the first president of Liberia.


  • Roberts v. Boston seeks to end racial discrimination in Boston public schools.

  • Harriet Tubman escapes from slavery to Philadelphia, and begins helping other slaves to escape via the Underground Railroad.


  • September 18 – As part of the Compromise of 1850, Congress passes the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 which requires any federal official to arrest anyone suspected of being a runaway slave.


  • March 20 – Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe is published.


  • December – Clotel; or, The President's Daughter is the first novel published by an African-American.


  • President Franklin Pierce signs the Kansas–Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise and allowed slaves to be brought to the new territories.

  • In opposition to the Kansas–Nebraska Act, the Republican Party is formed with an anti-slavery platform.


  • John Mercer Langston is one of the first African Americans elected to public office when elected as a town clerk in Ohio.


  • May 21 – The Sacking of Lawrence in Bleeding Kansas.

  • May 25 – John Brown, whom Abraham Lincoln called a "misguided fanatic", retaliates for Lawrence's sacking in the Pottawatomie massacre.

  • Wilberforce University is founded by collaboration between Methodist Episcopal and African Methodist Episcopal representatives.


  • March 6 – In Dred Scott v. Sandford, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds slavery. This decision is regarded as a key cause of the American Civil War.


  • Harriet E. Wilson writes the autobiographical novel Our Nig.

  • In Ableman v. Booth the U.S. Supreme Court rules that state courts cannot issue rulings that contradict the decisions of federal courts; this decision uphold the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.



  • April 12 – The American Civil War begins (secessions began in December 1860), and lasts until April 9, 1865. Tens of thousands of enslaved African Americans of all ages escaped to Union lines for freedom. Contraband camps were set up in some areas, where blacks started learning to read and write. Others traveled with the Union Army. By the end of the war, more than 180,000 African Americans, mostly from the South, fought with the Union Army and Navy as members of the US Colored Troops and sailors.

  • May 2 – The first North American military unit with African-American officers is the 1st Louisiana Native Guard of the Confederate Army (disbanded in February 1862).

  • May 24 – General Benjamin Butler refuses to extradite three escaped slaves, declaring them contraband of war

  • August 6 – The Confiscation Act of 1861 authorizes the confiscation of any Confederate property, including all slaves who fought or worked for the Confederate military.

  • August 30 – Frémont Emancipation in Missouri

  • September 11 – Lincoln orders Frémont to rescind the edict.


  • March 13 – Act Prohibiting the Return of Slaves

  • April 16 – (Emancipation Day) – District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act

  • May 9 – General David Hunter declares emancipation in Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.

  • May 19 – Lincoln rescinds Hunter's order.

  • July 17 – Confiscation Act of 1862 frees confiscated slaves.

  • September 22 – Lincoln announces the Emancipation Proclamation to go into effect January 1, 1863.

1863–1877 Reconstruction Era

  • January 1 – The Emancipation Proclamation goes into effect, changing the legal status, as recognized by the United States federal government, of 3 million slaves in the designated areas of the South from "slave" to "free."

  • January 31 – U.S. Army commissions the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, a combat unit made up of escaped slaves.

  • May 22 – The U.S. Army recruits United States Colored Troops. (The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment would be featured in the 1989 film Glory.)

  • June 1 – Harriet Tubman the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers liberate 750 people with the Raid at Combahee Ferry.

  • July 13–16 – Ethnic Irish immigrants protests against the draft in New York City turn into riots against blacks, the New York Draft Riots.

  • July 18 – The Second Battle of Fort Wagner begins when the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an African-American military unit, led by white Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, attacked a Confederate fort at Morris Island, South Carolina. The attack on Fort Wagner by the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry failed to take the fort and Gould was killed in the battle. However, the fort was abandoned by the Confederates on September 7, 1863, after many could not stand the constant weeks of bombardment and the smell of dead Union black soldiers sickening them.


  • April 12 – The Battle of Fort Pillow, which results in controversy about whether a massacre of surrendered African-American troops was conducted or condoned.

  • October 13 – Controversial election results in approval of Maryland Constitution of 1864; emancipation in Maryland.


  • January 16 – Sherman's Special Field Orders, No. 15 allocate a tract of land in coastal South Carolina and Georgia for Black-only settlement.

  • January 31 – The United States Congress passes the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, abolishing slavery and submits it to the states for ratification.

  • March 3 – Congress passes the bill that forms the Freedman's Bureau; mandates distribution of "not more than forty acres" of confiscated land to all loyal freedmen and refugees.

  • May 29 – Andrew Johnson amnesty proclamation initiates return of land to pre-war owners.

  • December 18 – The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits slavery except as punishment for crime; emancipation in Delaware and Kentucky.

  • Shaw Institute is founded in Raleigh, North Carolina, as the first black college in the South.

  • Atlanta College is founded.

  • Southern states pass Black Codes that restrict the freedmen, who were emancipated but not yet full citizens.


  • April 9 – The Civil Rights Act of 1866 is passed by Congress over Johnson's presidential veto. All persons born in the United States are now citizens.

  • The Ku Klux Klan is formed in Pulaski, Tennessee, made up of white Confederate veterans; it becomes a paramilitary insurgent group to enforce white supremacy.

  • July – New Orleans Riot: white citizens riot against blacks.

  • July 21 – Southern Homestead Act of 1866 opens 46 million acres of land in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi; African Americans have priority access until January 1, 1877.

  • September 21 – The U.S. Army regiment of Buffalo Soldiers (African Americans) is formed.

  • One version of the Second Freedmen's Bureau Act is vetoed and fails; another is vetoed and passed via override in July.


  • February 14 – Augusta Institute, now known as Morehouse College, is founded in the basement of Springfield Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia.

  • March 2 – Howard University is founded in Washington, D.C.


  • April 1 – Hampton Institute is founded in Hampton, Virginia.

  • July 9 – The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution's Section 1 requires due process and equal protection.

  • Through 1877, whites attack black and white Republicans to suppress voting. Every election cycle is accompanied by violence, increasing in the 1870s.

  • Elizabeth Keckly publishes Behind the Scenes (or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House).


  • February 3 – The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right of male citizens of the United States to vote regardless of race, color or previous condition of servitude.

  • February 25 – Hiram Rhodes Revels becomes the first black member of the Senate (see African Americans in the United States Congress).

  • Christian Methodist Episcopal Church founded.

  • First two Enforcement Acts.


  • October 10 – Octavius Catto, a civil rights activist, is murdered during harassment of blacks on Election Day in Philadelphia.

  • US Civil Rights Act of 1871 passed, also known as the Klan Act and Third Enforcement Act.


  • December 11 – P. B. S. Pinchback is sworn in as the first black member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

  • Disputed gubernatorial election in Louisiana cause political violence for more than two years. Both Republican and Democratic governors hold inaugurations and certify local officials.

  • Elijah McCoy patented his first invention, an automatic lubricator that supplied oil to moving parts while a machine was still operating.


  • April 14 – In the Slaughter-House Cases the U.S. Supreme Court votes 5–4 for a narrow reading of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court also discusses dual citizenship: State citizens and U.S. citizens.

  • Easter – The Colfax Massacre; more than 100 blacks in the Red River area of Louisiana are killed when attacked by white militia after defending Republicans in local office – continuing controversy from gubernatorial election.

  • The Coushatta MassacreRepublican officeholders are run out of town and murdered by white militia before leaving the state – four of six were relatives of a Louisiana state senator, a northerner who had settled in the South, married into a local family and established a plantation. Five to twenty black witnesses are also killed.


  • Founding of paramilitary groups that act as the "military arm of the Democratic Party": the White League in Louisiana and the Red Shirts in Mississippi, and North and South Carolina. They terrorize blacks and Republicans, turning them out of office, killing some, disrupting rallies, and suppressing voting.

  • September – In New Orleans, continuing political violence erupts related to the still-contested gubernatorial election of 1872. Thousands of the White League armed militia march into New Orleans, then the seat of government, where they outnumber the integrated city police and black state militia forces. They defeat Republican forces and demand that Gov. Kellogg leave office. The Democratic candidate McEnery is installed and White Leaguers occupy the capitol, state house and arsenal. This was called the "Battle of Liberty Place". The White League and McEnery withdraw after three days in advance of federal troops arriving to reinforce the Republican state government.



  • March 1 – Civil Rights Act of 1875 signed.

  • The Mississippi Plan to intimidate blacks and suppress black voter registration and voting.


  • Lewis Latimer prepared drawings for Alexander Graham Bell's application for a telephone patent.

  • July 8 – The Hamburg Massacre occurs when local people riot against African Americans who were trying to celebrate the Fourth of July.

  • varied – White Democrats regain power in many southern state legislatures and pass the first Jim Crow laws.


  • With the Compromise of 1877, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes withdraws federal troops from the South in exchange for being elected President of the United States, causing the collapse of the last three remaining Republican state governments. The compromise formally ends the Reconstruction Era.


  • Spring – Thousands of African Americans refuse to live under segregation in the South and migrate to Kansas. They become known as Exodusters.


  • In Strauder v. West Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that African Americans could not be excluded from juries.

  • During the 1880s, African Americans in the South reach a peak of numbers in being elected and holding local offices, even while white Democrats are working to assert control at state level.


  • April 11 – Spelman Seminary is founded as the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary.

  • July 4 – Booker T. Washington opens the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama.


  • Lewis Latimer invented the first long-lasting filament for light bulbs and installed his lighting system in New York City, Philadelphia, and Canada. Later, he became one of the 28 members of Thomas Edison's Pioneers.

  • A biracial populist coalition achieves power in Virginia (briefly). The legislature founds the first public college for African Americans, Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute, as well as the first mental hospital for African Americans, both near Petersburg, Virginia. The hospital was established in December 1869, at Howard's Grove Hospital, a former Confederate unit, but is moved to a new campus in 1882.


  • October 16 – In Civil Rights Cases, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the Civil Rights Act of 1875 as unconstitutional.


  • Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is published, featuring the admirable African-American character Jim.

  • Judy W. Reed, of Washington, D.C., and Sarah E. Goode, of Chicago, are the first African-American women inventors to receive patents. Signed with an "X", Reed's patent no. 305,474, granted September 23, 1884, is for a dough kneader and roller. Goode's patent for a cabinet bed, patent no. 322,177, is issued on July 14, 1885. Goode, the owner of a Chicago furniture store, invented a folding bed that could be formed into a desk when not in use.

  • Ida B. Wells sues the Chesapeake, Ohio & South Western Railroad Company for its use of segregated "Jim Crow" cars.


  • Norris Wright Cuney becomes the chairman of the Texas Republican Party, the most powerful role held by any African American in the South during the 19th century.


  • October 3 – The State Normal School for Colored Students, which would become Florida A&M University, is founded.


  • Mississippi, with a white Democrat-dominated legislature, passes a new constitution that effectively disfranchises most blacks through voter registration and electoral requirements, e.g., poll taxes, residency tests and literacy tests. This shuts them out of the political process, including service on juries and in local offices.

  • By 1900 two-thirds of the farmers in the bottomlands of the Mississippi Delta are African Americans who cleared and bought land after the Civil War.


  • Ida B. Wells publishes her pamphlet Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases.


  • Daniel Hale Williams performed open-heart surgery in 1893 and founded Provident Hospital in Chicago, the first with an interracial staff.


  • September 18 – Booker T. Washington delivers his Atlanta Compromise address at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia.

  • W. E. B. Du Bois is the first African-American to be awarded a Ph.D by Harvard University.


  • May 18 – In Plessy v. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds de jure racial segregation of "separate but equal" facilities. (see "Jim Crow laws" for historical discussion).

  • The National Association of Colored Women is formed by the merger of smaller groups.

  • As one of the earliest Black Hebrew Israelites in the United States, William Saunders Crowdy re-establishes the Church of God and Saints of Christ.

  • George Washington Carver is invited by Booker T. Washington to head the Agricultural Department at what would become Tuskegee University. His work would revolutionize farming – he found about 300 uses for peanuts.


  • Louisiana enacts the first statewide grandfather clause that provides exemption for illiterate whites to voter registration literacy test requirements.

  • In Williams v. Mississippi the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the voter registration and election provisions of Mississippi's constitution because they applied to all citizens. Effectively, however, they disenfranchise blacks and poor whites. The result is that other southern states copy these provisions in their new constitutions and amendments through 1908, disfranchising most African Americans and tens of thousands of poor whites until the 1960s.

  • November 10 – Coup d'état begins in Wilmington, North Carolina, resulting in considerable loss of life and property in the African-American community and the installation of a white supremacist Democratic Party regime.


  • September 18 – The "Maple Leaf Rag" is an early ragtime composition for piano by Scott Joplin.

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