African American history began with the coming of slavery to the North American continent in 1619. Since then, African-Americans have constantly struggled against racial prejudice and fought for equal rights. These struggles have produced several iconic people who have contributed immensely to the development of America as a nation. Below is a list of some of the most defining moments in Black American history.
Arrival of the 1st set of slaves (1619)
The first set of African American indentured servants reached the British American colonies in 1619. They arrived in Jamestown, Virginia and were brought by English privateers who seized them from a captured Portuguese slave ship. Within 70 years, every colony already had slaves.
The Stono Rebellion of 1739
In 1739,a band of 20 African slaves in the British colony of South Carolina organized the Stono rebellion. They raided a store and declared their liberty. Although the white colonists succeeded in suppressing this rebellion, at least 60 persons lost their lives. After the rebellion, the authorities penalized slave masters for imposing excessive work or brutal punishments. They also imposed a prohibitive duty on importation of new slaves. Lastly, they started a school so slaves could learn Christian doctrines.
Congress bans importation of slaves in 1808
March 2, 1807, the US Congress banned further importation of slaves. The legislation took effect in 1808 –The law was never strictly followed as the slave trade continued for several decades. Most of the black people already in servitude continued to be enslaved. Even children who were born to slave mothers automatically became slaves.
First anti-slavery newspaper begins publication in 1831
In 1831, William Lloyd Garrison (1805 – 1879) began the publication of the first anti-slavery newspaper “the Liberator”. It became a leading voice in the Abolitionist movement. The publication was the most influential anti-slavery periodical in the pre-Civil War period of American history. It appealed to the moral conscience of the reader, urging for the freedom of all slaves.
The Underground Railroad (1831 – 1861)
It was a network of secret routes, safe houses and hideouts in the US in the 1800s. It was mainly used by enslaved African Americans to escape North to free states or Canada.
Traveling on the Underground railroad was tough and very dangerous. Slaves usually would travel by night, sneaking from one station to the other and hoping they don’t get caught. At least 75,000 slaves escaped using this route. It was supported by abolitionists and others sympathetic to the cause of the enslaved African Americans.
The Dred Scott v. Sanford case of 1857
It was a landmark decision of the US Supreme Court. The court held that the United States constitution was not meant to include American citizenship for black people. The decision was made against an enslaved black man Dred Scott who sued his owners for his freedom. He claimed that he had been taken into “free” US Territory. Therefore, he had been automatically freed and deserved his freedom. Many contemporary lawyers believe it is the worst decision ever to emanate from the US Supreme Court.
Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865) wins the American Presidential Election in 1860
Lincoln became the 16th president of the United States in 1861. He is regarded as one of the most prominent heroes of America due to his stance on the emancipation of slaves. He is also loved for his efforts in saving the Union.
American Civil War
The war broke out in the spring of 1861 mainly due to the uncompromising differences between the free and slave states. The slave states contended the actions of the national government to prohibit slavery. The outcome of the war secured the union and paved way for the freedom and equal treatment of Black Americans.
The Civil War ends in 1865
The American civil war ended with the surrender of the confederate states. Sadly, the great Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The end of the war also led to the prohibition of slavery by the 13th Amendment. The Reconstruction Era began.
1866 – The “Black Codes” & The Civil Rights Act
The all white legislators of the former Confederate states passed the Black Codes governing the conduct of African Americans after the Civil War. They were used to restrict the freedom of Blacks and compel them to work for low wages.
Congress also passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, conferring citizenship on African Americans and granting them equal rights to whites.
1868 – The 14th Amendment
The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868, defining citizenship. This overturns the Dred Scott decision. Two years later, the 15th Amendment was also ratified, giving African Americans the right to vote.
1877 – End of the Reconstruction Era
The era of Reconstruction came to an end. A deal was struck with the South leading to Rutherford B. Hayes becoming president. His presidency was in exchange for the withdrawal of federal troops from the South. Unfortunately, it ended the efforts to protect the civil rights of African Americans. Thousands of Black Americans migrated north to escape oppression.
1881 Jim Crow Laws
The US state of Tennessee passed the first set of “Jim Crow” segregation laws. All the Southern states passed similar laws over the next 15 years throughout the Southern states.
1954 – Brown v. Board of Education
This case declared segregation as unconstitutional.
1955 – Rosa Parks is arrested
In Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks (1913 – 2005) was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man. This defiant act triggered the Civil Rights Movement.
Civil Rights Awareness
In 1957, Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 – 1968) and others established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a keystone of the Civil Rights Movement.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964
The Civil Rights Act was signed, prohibiting discrimination of all kinds. Also, the following year, the Voting Rights Act was passed, outlawing the disenfranchise of African American voters.
The First African American Senator
In 1967, Edward W. Brooke (1919 – ) became the first African American U.S. Senator since Reconstruction. He served two terms as a Senator from Massachusetts.
Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
Barack Obama makes History
Barack Obama (1961 – ) became the first African American to win the U.S. presidential election. Also, he remains the only Black American to be President till date.