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African American Studies Research Guide: Milestones in Black History

Chronological Listings

African Americans and their contributions to American society and culture are honored each February with Black History Month. Since arriving in America in 1619 as slaves, African Americans have fought for their independence and to be seen as equals. These struggles have produced many historical figures and events that make all Americans proud, and a few that brought major disappointment.  Below is a chronological list of a few of the events that shaped black history and some information about the brave men and women who led the way for later generations.

African Endentured Servants Brought to Jamestown, VA, 1619

  • A Dutch ship brings 20 African indentured servants to the English colony of Jamestown, Virginia.

Maryland Passes First Law Banning Interracial Marriage, 1664

  • On Septeember 20 1664, Maryland passed the first antiamalgamation law. This was intended to prevent English women from marrying African men. Interracial marriage was a fairly common practice during the colonial era among white indentured servants and black slaves-as well as in more aristocratic circles.

The Stono Rebellion, 1739

  • One of the earliest slave revolts takes place in Stono, South Carolina, near Charleston. A score of whites and more than twice as many blacks slaves are killed as the armed slaves try to flee to Florida. For more information, visit Africans in America, Pt. 1, The Terrible Transformation.

Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770

  • Crispus Attacks, 1st American and African Amrican killed in Revolutionary War, The Crisis, Jan.-Feb. 1999, cover.

Thomas Paine Publishes Anti-Slavery Tract, 1775

  • Although Paine was not the first to advocate the aboliton of slavery in Amerca, he was certainly one of the earliest and most influential. The essay African Slavery in America was written in 1774 and published March 8, 1775 when it appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal and the Weekly Advertiser. Just a few weeks later on April 14, 1775 the first anti-slavery society in America was formed in Philadelphia. Paine was a founding member.

Declaration of Independence, 1776

  • A passage by Thomas Jefferson condemning the slave trade is removed from the Declaration of Independence due to pressure from the southern colonies. For more information, see Africans in America, Pt. 1, The Terrible Transformation.

Revolutionary War, 1775-1782

  • Blacks fought for both the British and the American side during the Revolutionary War, depending on who was offering freedom for doing so. For more information, see Africans in America, Pt. 2, Revolution.

Battle of Trenton, December 25, 1779

  • African American soldier Prince Whipple, a black man, crossed the Delaware with General Washington on December 25, 1779, on the eve of the Revolutionary War's famous Battle of Trenton. Whipple (pictured in the left rear pulling an oar) was a bodyguard for General Whipple of New Hampshire, an aide to the future President. The Crisis, Jan.-Feb. 1999, p.18-19.

Massachusetts Grants African-Americans Right to Vote, 1780

  • On February 9,  1780, Capt. Paul Cuffe and six other African-American residents of Massachusetts petitioned the state legislature for the right to vote. Claiming "no taxation without representation," the residents had earlier refused to pay taxes. The courts agreed and awarded Cuffe and the six other defendants full civil rights.

Northwest Ordinance, 1787

U.S. Constitution Adopted, 1789

  • Slaves counted as three-fifths of a person for means of representation.

First Fugitive Slave Act, 1793

  • Congress passes the first Fugitive Slave Act, which makes it a crime to harbor an escaped slave.

Gabriel's Conspiracy, 1800

  • On August 30, 1800, a tremendous storm dropped heavy rain on central Virginia, swelling creeks and turning Richmond's dirt streets into quagmires. The storm aborted one of the most extensive slave plots in American history, a conspiracy known to hundreds of slaves throughout central Virginia. A charismatic blacksmith named Gabriel, who was owned by Thomas Prosser, of Henrico County, planned to enter Richmond with force, capture the Capitol and the Virginia State Armory, and hold Governor James Monroe hostage to bargain for freedom for Virginia's slaves. Source : Notes from the Library of Virginia. More information from PBS's Africans In America.

Slave Revolt in Louisiana, 1811

  • More than a century before the first modern-day civil rights march, Charles Deslondes and his make-do army of more than 200 enslaved men battled with hoes, axes and cane knives for that most basic human right: freedom.  Source :  1811 Slave Revolt in Louisiana

The Missouri Compromise, 1820

The Vesey Conspiracy, 1822

  • In response to the closing of their church in Charleston, which boasted a membership of over three thousand in 1820, Denmark Vesey used his position as a respected free man and Methodist leader to organize other free and enslaved blacks to battle for freedom. For more information vist The Vesey Conspiracy courtesy of PBS's Africans in America.  For more information, read He shall go out free : the lives of Denmark Vesey / Douglas R. Egerton available in the MSU Main Library.

Freedom's Journal, 1827-1829

  • Samuel Cornish and John Russwurm publish Freedom's Journal, the first African American newspaper in America, from March 16, 1827-March 28, 1829

Nat Turner Slave Revolt, 1831

Amistad Case, 1839

  • Slaves being transported aboard the Spanish ship Amistad take it over and sail it to Long Island. They eventually win their freedom in a Supreme Court case.

Frederick Douglass, 1818-1895

  • In 1845 publishes Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, one of the enduring classics of American literature.
  • Douglass advocates enlisting in the Union Army to lay the groundwork for citizenship during the Civil War.
  • In December, 1866, The Atlantic Monthly publishes "Reconstruction" , in which Douglass warns Congress of the potential for the de facto re-enslavement of blacks should the South's antebellum political system remain intact. Douglass exhorted Congress to pass a civil-rights amendment affirming the equality of blacks and whites in the United States.

Harriet Tubman, c.1820–1913

  • The most famous conductor of the Underground Railroad. Having escaped slavery herself, she returned time and time again to rescue family and friends in Maryland between 1849 and the outbreak of the Civil War. She was nicknamed General Tubman by John Brown and Grandma Moses by others for leading so many slaves out of bondage. She also served as a spy for Union forces during the Civil War.  For more information see the The Heroic Struggle of "General" Tubman, The People, Vol.108, no.12, March 1999.

The Compromise of 1850

  • The Compromise of 1850 was actually a series of bills passed mainly to address issues related to slavery. The bills provided for slavery to be decided by popular sovereignty in the admission of new states, prohibited the slave trade in the District of Columbia, settled a Texas boundary dispute, and established a stricter fugitive slave act. This featured document is Henry Clay's handwritten draft. Source : Our Documents . gov : 100 Milestone Documents of American History

Sojourner Truth, Electrifies Women's Rights Conference, 1851

  • Freedwoman Sojourner Truth, a compelling speaker for abolitionism, gives her famous "Ain't I a Woman" speech in Akron, Ohio. Truth would later move to Battle Creek, Michigan
  • On June 1, 1834, Sojourner Truth set out from New York on an historic journey across America. She traveled far and wide preaching about the evils of slavery and promoting women's rights. She claimed the Lord gave her the name Sojourner Truth, as he had called upon her " to travel up and down the land" declaring the truth to people. Truth was born a slave, originally bearing the name Isabella Baumfree. She gained her freedom when the New York State Emancipation Act was passed in 1827. An impressive sight, she stood six-feet tall and wore a satin banner that said, "Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." Truth was the guest of President Lincoln at the White House on several occasions and was one of the voices that influenced Lincoln to recruit African-American soldiers for the Union Army during the Civil War.

Uncle Tom's Cabin Published, 1851-1852

  • Angered by the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes the first of 41 installments of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in an abolitionist weekly, June 5, 1851. She intends her novel about slaves Uncle Tom, who is sold and resold, and Eliza, who flees to save her child, to “awaken sympathy” for those suffering under a “cruel and unjust” system. In book form the following year, Cabin sells 300,000 copies and is credited with shaping perceptions leading to the Civil War. In time the novel’s stereotypes, exaggerated in minstrel show versions, alter attitudes toward Stowe’s hero, and “Uncle Tom” becomes a pejorative for a passive, subservient black man.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854

  • In January 1854, Senator Stephen Douglas introduced a bill that divided the land west of Missouri into two territories, Kansas and Nebraska. He argued for popular sovereignty, which would allow the settlers of the new territories to decide if slavery would be legal there. Antislavery supporters were outraged because, under the terms of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, slavery would have been outlawed in both territories. After months of debate, the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed on May 30, 1854. Pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers rushed to Kansas, each side hoping to determine the results of the first election held after the law went into effect. The conflict turned violent, aggravating the split between North and South until reconciliation was virtually impossible. Opponents of the Kansas-Nebraska Act helped found the Republican Party, which opposed the spread of slavery into the territories. As a result of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the United States moved closer to Civil War. Source : Our Documents . gov : 100 Milestone Documents of American History

Dred Scott v Sanford (1857)

  • In 1846 a slave named Dred Scott and his wife, Harriet, sued for their freedom in a St. Louis city court. The odds were in their favor. They had lived with their owner, an army surgeon, at Fort Snelling, then in the free Territory of Wisconsin. The Scotts' freedom could be established on the grounds that they had been held in bondage for extended periods in a free territory and were then returned to a slave state. Courts had ruled this way in the past. However, what appeared to be a straightforward lawsuit between two private parties became an 11-year legal struggle that culminated in one of the most notorious decisions ever issued by the United States Supreme Court....On its way to the Supreme Court, the Dred Scott case grew in scope and significance as slavery became the single most explosive issue in American politics. By the time the case reached the high court, it had come to have enormous political implications for the entire nation....On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney read the majority opinion of the Court, which stated that slaves were not citizens of the United States and, therefore, could not expect any protection from the Federal Government or the courts. The opinion also stated that Congress had no authority to ban slavery from a Federal territory. This decision moved the nation a step closer to Civil War....The decision of Scott v. Sanford, considered by legal scholars to be the worst ever rendered by the Supreme Court, was overturned by the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution, which abolished slavery and declared all persons born in the United States to be citizens of the United States. Source : Our Documents . gov : 100 Milestone Documents of American History

Last Known Slave Ship Arrives in United States, 1859

  • On August 22, 1859, Captain Foster guided the slaver Clotilde into Mobile, Alabama, under a veil of secrecy. The vessel was laden with human cargo in violation of the ban on the international slave trade. To avoid being arrested by the federal authorities, Captain Foster hid his African captives ashore and set fire to the ship. Foster and the ship's owner, Timothy Meaher, found it impossible to secure buyers for their contraband cargo and were forced to keep all the intended slaves themselves. Not long afterwards, at the outset of the Civil War, Meaher and Foster freed the Clotilde captives. The Clotilde was the last known slave ship to arrive in America.

Nicholas Biddle : First African-American Soldier Wounded in Civil War, 1861

  • For more information, see John David Hoptak, "Baltimore, Bricks, and First Blood", courtesy  of HistoryNet.com.  Just days after Fort Sumter, a pro-Confederate mob in Baltimore, Maryland turned ex-slave Nicholas Biddle into the war's first casualty.

Slave Freed in Missouri, But Lincoln Backtracks, 1861

  • On Aug. 30, 1861, Union Gen. John C. Fremont instituted martial law in Missouri and declared slaves there to be free. (However, Fremont's emancipation order was countermanded by President Abraham Lincoln).

The Emancipation Proclamation, 1862 & 1863

War Department General Order 143: Creation of the U.S. Colored Troops (1863)

Bravery Displayed at Fort Wagner (1863) earns First U.S. Medal of Honor for African-American Soldier

Wade-Davis Bill (1864)

  • Near the end of the Civil War, this bill created a framework for Reconstruction and the readmittance of the Confederate states to the Union. Although Lincoln used a pocket veto to kill it, after his assassination the Republican Congress passed the measure requiring among other things, that southern states give the Negro the right to vote. Source : Our Documents . gov : 100 Milestone Documents of American History

13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery (1865)

1866 Civil Rights Act

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1866 granted citizenship and the same rights enjoyed by white citizens to all male persons in the United States "without distinction of race or color, or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude."

14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Civil Rights (1868)

First African American Elected Official In Michigan (1868)

Mary Ellen Pleasant, 1868

  • Long before Rosa Parks, Mary Ellen Pleasant sued to win the right to ride on cable cars in San Francisco.  Source: Pleasant v North Beach & Mission Railway and Wikipedia.

15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Voting Rights (1870)

  • Passed by Congress February 26, 1869, and ratified February 3, 1870, the 15th amendment granted African American men the right to vote. Source : Our Documents . gov : 100 Milestone Documents of American History At the same time, however, the first "Jim Crow" or segregation law is passed in Tennessee mandating the separation of African Americans from whites on trains, in depots and wharves. In short order, the rest of the South falls into step. By the end of the century, African Americans are banned from white hotels, barber shops, restaurants, theaters and other public accommodations. By 1885, most southern states also have laws requiring separate schools.

First Jim Crow Segregation Law Passed, 1871

  • Tennessee passes the first of the "Jim Crow" segregation laws, segregating state railroads. Other Southern states pass similar laws over the next 15 years.

First Open Heart Surgery Performed by Black Physician, 1873

  • African American physician Daniel Hale Williams performs the world's first successful open-heart surgery.  For another article about Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, see Frank Daniels III, "Doctor performed successful open-heart surgery", The Tennessean, January 17, 2013.

Civil Rights Act of 1875

  • “That all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall be entitled to the full and equal and enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement; subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law, and applicable alike to citizens of every race and color, regardless of any previous condition of servitude.”

Civil Rights Cases, 1883

  • “On the whole, we are of opinion that no countenance of authority for the passage of the law in question can be found in either the thirteenth or fourteenth amendment of the constitution; and no other ground of authority for its passage being suggested, it must necessarily be declared void, at least so far as its operation in the several states is concerned.” (overturns the Civil Rights Act of 1875)

First Poll Tax Passed, 1890

  • Mississippi enacts a poll tax, which most African Americans cannot afford to pay, to try to keep blacks from voting.

Ida B. Wells Launches Her Anti-Lynching Crusade, 1892

  • 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.

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

Louisiana Disenfranchizes All African Americans, 1898

  • Louisiana passes limits 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. Other southern states follow suit. For more information visit "grandfather clause" in BlackPast.org

Booker T. Washington : First African American To Address a Racially-Mixed Southern Audience, September 18, 1898

  • On September 18, 1895, Booker T. Washington delivered his famous "Atlanta Compromise" speech at the opening of the Cotton States and International Exhibition in Atlanta, Georgia. Washington, the founder and president of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, was the first African-American man ever to address a racially-mixed Southern audience.  More info from the Library of Congress.

Scott Joplin Helps Launch Ragtime, 1899

  • Pianist and composer Scott Joplin publishes "The Maple Leaf Rag," a major hit that helps popularize ragtime music.

Black National Anthem, 1900

  • On November 1, 1900, brothers James Weldon Johnson, author, educator and general secretary of the NAACP (1920-1930), and John Rosamond Johnson composed the song "Lift Every Voice and Sing", commonly referred to as the black national anthem.

DuBois Publishes The Souls of Black Folk, 1903 

  • William Edward Burghardt DuBois, social scientist, critic and public intellectual, was a leading figure in African-American protest for most of his adult life. He emerged at the turn of the century as an opposing voice to Booker T. Washington, who appeared to have accepted segregation, or-in DuBois's eyes -- defeat. His book Souls of Black Folk, written in 1903, presented an alternative to Booker T. Washington's "accommodation" platform and is considered a classic work of the civil rights movement.  For DuBois the "color line" was the major problem of the 20th century. In 1905 he will help found the Niagara Movement, demanding full equality for African Americans.

African American Woman Starts A Business Which Will Make Her a Millionaire, 1903

  • Sarah Breedlove MacWilliams, better known as Madam C. J. Walker, starts an African American hair-care business in Denver and eventually becomes America's first self-made woman millionaire.

Chicago Defender, Chicago's First African American Newspaper, Launched in 1903

  • Thwarted in practicing law, Robert S. Abbott turns to publishing an African American newspaper in Chicago. Within a decade, it is one of the country's most influential African American weekly papers, and Abbott has become a millionaire. 

NAACP Established (1909)

First African American Reaches North Pole, 1909

  • On April 6, 1909, Matthew Henson became the first man to reach the North Pole. Adm. Robert E. Peary, the expedition's commander, arrived about 45 minutes after Henson. The temperature was 29 degrees when Henson planted the American flag at 90 degrees north-the only place on the planet where the only way you can go is south. 

Great Migration Begins, 1910-1920

  • Looking for better opportunities, massive numbers of African Americans move north to seek employment in factories. Trend won't slow down until 1960s, and may start to reverse in the 2000s.

National Urban League Founded, 1911

  • Started to help the many African Americans who are migrating to the cities find jobs and housing.

First African American Pilot, March 1912

  • Emory Malick wins pilot's license. Source : Rebecca Maksel, Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine, March 1, 2011

Father of the Blues Produces First Big Hit, 1912

  • W. C. Handy publishes his song "Memphis Blues," which becomes a huge hit.

East Saint Louis Race Riots, 1917

  • Forty African Americans and eight whites are killed in race riots in East St. Louis, Ill., stirred up by white resentment of African Americans working in wartime industry.

World War I, 1918

Red Summer Race Riots, 1919

  • 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. 

Oscar Micheaux Produces First Film, 1919

  • Pioneering director-producer produces his first film, The Homesteader, based on his novel., for the African-American audience

19th Amendment to the U.S. Constituion, 1920

  • "The rights of citizens...to vote shall not be denied or abridged...on account of sex."

Jesse Owens Wins Four Gold Medals at Berlin Olympics, 1936

  • On August 3, 1936, at the Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany, Jesse Owens won the 100-meter sprint, capturing his first of four gold medals. Over the next six days, Owens won Olympic gold in the 200-meter dash, the broad jump, and the 400-meter relay.

Eleanor Roosevelt Climbs Into Airplane With Tuskegee Flight Instructor, March 29, 1941.

  • No one expected Eleanor Roosevelt - America's First Lady - to get into a small plane with an African-American pilot.  Such events didn't happen in the early spring of 1941.  For more information, see Red Tails courtesy of Awesome Stories.

Executive Order 9808 : First President's Committee on Civil Rights Established (1946)

  • On December 5, 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order No. 9808. This landmark order established the first President's Committee on Civil Rights charged with examining law enforcement agencies and government systems to determine how their means of safeguarding the civil rights of Americans could improve and strengthened. The committee was ordered to report their findings to the president in writing.

Breaking the Color Line in Baseball, April 17, 1947

  • When Jackie Robinson  stepped onto Ebbets field on April 15th, 1947, Robinson became the first African American in the twentieth century to play baseball in the major leagues — breaking the “color line,” a segregation practice dating to the nineteenth century. Jackie Robinson was an extremely talented multi-sport athlete and a courageous man who played an active role in civil rights.   Source : Baseball and Jackie Robinson.

Executive Order 9981: Desegregation of the Armed Forces (1948)

Ralph Bunche, First African-American Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, 1950.

  • On September 22, 1950 Ralph J. Bunch was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role as mediator in the Palestinian conflict. Bunch was the first African-American Nobel Peace Prize recipient

Brown v Board of Education (1954)

Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, December 1955

Desegregation of Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas (1957)

Civil Rights Act Passes Congress (1957)

  • August 29, 1957, the Senate gave final congressional approval to a Civil Rights Act after South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond (then a Democrat) ended a filibuster that had lasted 24 hours.

Greensboro Woolworth Sit-In, 1960

  • On Monday, February 1, 1960, at 4:30 p.m., four freshmen from North Carolina Agricultural and Technological College, Ezell Blair, Jr., David Richmond, Joseph McNeil, and Franklin McCain, sat down at the lunch counter at the local F.W. Woolworth store and ordered coffee and cherry pie. This simple act was extremely bold for the times. These African-American students were acting in defiance of Jim Crow laws that permitted blacks to shop in the store but not to eat a meal there.  The Greensboro sit-in is credited with re-igniting the civil rights movement in America, transforming the older generation's don't-rock-the-boat tactics to a more militant, protest-based platform.

Freedom Riders Fight Segregation Across South, 1961

  • Thirteen members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) set off on a bus ride from Washington D.C. to New Orleans on May 4, 1961. These civil rights activist were testing a 1960 Supreme Court ruling that expanded anti-discrimination laws covering interstate travel to include facilities used by travelers. The Freedom Riders bravely entered segregated terminals, waiting rooms, restrooms and restaurants. They were met with harassment, violence, and even arrest.

Birmingham Campaign and Church Bombing, 1963

  • The Birmingham Campaign was launched in 1963. Martin Luther King Jr. and other activists were soon jailed, but it was the participation of the children that advanced the momentum of the Birmingham movement. They marched alongside the adults and were taken to jail with them as well. Because the 16th St. Baptist Church was close to the downtown area, it was an ideal location to hold rallies and meetings. On Sunday morning, Sept. 15, 1963, dynamite planted by the Ku Klux Klan, exploded in the building. Under the fallen debris, the bodies of four girls were found. Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley died because of the color of their skin. For more information check out 4 Little Girls / an HBO documentary film in association with 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks production ; a Spike Lee Joint ; director, producer, Spike Lee ; producer, Sam PollardHBO Home Video, c1998.  1 VHS videocassette (102 min.) F334.B69 A24 1998 Videocassette :Features archival film footage, home photographs, comments by surviving family members, and interviews with local and national figures of the time.
  • While residing in jail, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous "Letter from Birmingham City Jail" which later appeared in The Atlantic Monthly (under the title "The Negro Is Your Brother"), ...addressing a national audience that did not recognize his full rights of equality as a citizen and human being. A copy of the letter is available in the MSU Libraries Special Collections.

Equal Pay Act of 1963

  • prohibits sex-based pay differentials on jobs.

Civil Rights Act of 1964

  • This act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2, 1964, prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal. This document was the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. Source : Our Documents . gov : 100 Milestone Documents of American History

Malcolm X Assassinated, 1965

  • On Februry 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated while speaking at a rally of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. Malcolm X was a charismatic speaker and disciplined leader who quickly rose to prominence through his association with the Nation of Islam.

Bloody Sunday, 1965

  • The Historic Selma to Montgomery marchers started on March 7, 1965.  More than 600 hundred marchers led by the SNCC and SCLC gathered in Selma to march in solidarity. Coupled with the original aim of the protest, marchers also wanted to call attention to the denial of their voting rights. With the 1964 Civil Rights Act passing, King and other leaders hoped the gathering would speed along the opportunity for fairness. Led by current Georgia congressman John Lewis (then-chairman of the SNCC) and Rev. Hosea Williams of the SCLC, the marchers were undeterred until they reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge that crosses the Alabama River heading in to Montgomery.  Police gathered and formed a wall barring the passing of the marchers, after Sheriff Jim Clark called all able-bodied White men to become temporary deputies and assist in enforcement. When Rev. Williams tried to peacefully reason with the officers, shoving matches ensued and the carnage began: officers fired tear gas in to the crowd and began beating the non-violent protesters with billy clubs. The aggressive actions of the Alabama police force were televised nationally and around the world, sparking fierce debate and renewed support for the Civil Rights Movement. Reports vary, but between 17 and 50 people were injured and hospitalized with one woman, Amelia Boynton, nearly beaten to death.

Voting Rights Act of 1965

1965 Executive Order 11246

  • affirmative action requirements of government contractors and subcontractors.

Thurgood Marshall, 1967

  • First Black appointed to the United States Supreme Court, August 30, 1967. Spent his entire life battling for civil rights, winning 29 out of 32 Supreme Court Cases before ever serving on the Supreme Court. Source : Thurgood Marshall Biographical Sketch, part of the PBS : The Supreme Court : Expanding Civil Rights web page.

Loving versus Virginia, 1967

  • banned anti-miscegenation laws (race-based restrictions on marriage).

Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassinated, 1968

  • On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot outside of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. King's assassination precipitated marches and rallies across America and riots erupted in over 100 cities. In the melee, 46 people were killed and 20,000 arrested. From April 5 - 11, there were 50,000 federal and state troops called in to keep order. President Lyndon B. Johnson declared April 7 an official day of mourning. King was 38 years old at the time of his death.
  • I Have A Dream. Audio from a speech delivered at the Lincoln Memorial, August 28, 1963. Audio courtesy of the Internet Archive.
  • "Montgomery Story" Comic Book     A print copy of Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story (1957) is available in the MSU Library Special Collections unit.

Shirley Chisholm, 1968 and 1972

  • In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first African-American woman to serve in the U.S. Congress. A Democrat, she represented the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.
  • In 1972 she became the first African-American woman to run for president with a major political party. Aware that she would not win the nomination, Chisholm explained her motivation for entering the race," The next time a woman of whatever color, or a dark-skinned person of whatever sex aspires to be president, the way should be a little smoother because I helped pave it."

First African-American Astronaut in Space, 1983

  • On August 30, 1983, the space shuttle Challenger blasted off in the dark from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying the first African-American astronaut to go into space. Forty-year-old Col. Guion S. Bluford Jr., a mission specialist, tested the Challenger's mechanical arm, helped launch weather and communications satellites, and performed experiments in electrophoresis

First African-American Miss America, 1983

  • On September 17, 1983, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the first African-American Miss America was crowned. At age of 20, Vanessa Williams of New York had won American's foremost beauty pageant.

Civil Rights Act of 1991

  • adds provisions to Title VII protections, including right to jury trial.

First Female African-American Astronaut in Space, 1992

  • On September 12, 1992, Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman to go into space.

Colin Powell, 2001

Condoleezza Rice, 2005

  • First African American Woman Secretary of State.

Obama Election, 2008, and Presidency, 2009-

For additional postings, see Today in Black History by BlackFacts.com

From Slavery to Civil Rights : A Timeline of African American History.  Use this interactive timeline-based activity to introduce the topic of African-American history through primary sources.  Courtesy of the Library of Congress. 

Also see African American History Day by Day : A Reference Guide to Events / Karen Juanita Carrillo.  Santa Barbara, CA : Greenwood Press, 2012.

Subject Guide

  • Call MSU: (517) 355-1855
  • Visit: msu.edu
  • MSU is an affirmative-action, equal-opportunity employer.
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