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Transportation of first enslaved Africans to Portugal.
When the European colonial powers of Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands forcefully abducted families in Africa to perform the arduous labor required to fuel the New World's economic engine in the 15th century, the slave trade in the Americas officially began. Slavery has existed in Portugal since before the nation's founding. Residents of the current Portuguese territory were frequently forced into slavery before independence and also forced others into slavery. Portugal was a major player in the Atlantic slave trade, which involved the vast trafficking and shipping of slaves from Africa and other areas of the world to the American continent, throughout the Kingdom of Portugal's period of rule after its independence. The Marquis de Pombal forbade the import of slaves into European Portugal in 1761. However, slavery was only outlawed in the African Portuguese possessions in 1869. When Portuguese traders delivered the first sizable quantity of slaves from Africa to Europe in 1444 A.D., the Atlantic slave trade officially got underway.
Hispaniola’s enslaved African import is suspended when Spain’s king dies.
Spain's Ferdinand II died and the importation of the enslaved Africans he had been licensing was suspended by Cardinal Ximenes. It is unclear whether the Cardinal opposed slavery itself, or it was because of the loose method of import licensing that was causing the colonies' Black populations to grow almost out of control. The suspension had little effect, though, as the new Spanish king, Charles V, immediately resumed the issuance of licenses.
1522 (Jan 6)
Diego Colon, governor of the Spanish colony Santo Domingo, introduces strict laws designed to prevent future enslaved Black rebellions in response to the rebellion that had taken place just days earlier.
In response to a well-planned and well-coordinated enslaved Blacks rebellion that had taken place on his sugar plantation, the Nueva Isabela, Diego Colon (a descendant of Christopher Columbus) introduces strict laws designed to prevent future rebellions. These laws restricted the physical movements of the enslaved Africans, prohibited them from bearing arms and accessing weapons, required enslavers to keep strict slave registers, and introduced harsh punishment in the form of physical torture and execution. This would be the model that is eventually passed on during chattel slavery in the US.
A courageous enslaved Moroccan fight for the Spanish in the New World but is ultimately defeated.
Estevanico, an enslaved African from Morocco, accompanied his master, Andres de Dorantes, on an expedition to conquer Florida. Estevanico, born around 1503 in Azemmour, Morocco, had probably been sold into slavery by the Portuguese, who had captured Morocco in 1513 and started selling its people after a drought in 1520. When Estevanico and the explorers arrived in Florida on April 12, 1528, they fought with the native population and lost. The survivors, Estevanico among them, served as the enslaved and medicine men until 1535 when Estevanico, Cabez de Vaca, Dorantes, de Carranza, and Alonso del Castillo Maldonado escaped and headed up the Rio Grande toward the Northwest. In March of 1536, the five-man party met up with a Spanish patrol on the Rio Sinaloa and followed it back to a Spanish outpost. Later that year the group made its way to Mexico where the Viceroy of Mexico asked if they would lead an expedition into Arizona and New Mexico. Estevanico was the only one to accept and, in February of 1539, he led a party to northwest New Mexico. Later that year, however, he was captured by the Zuni tribe and killed as a spy.
England joins the slave trade when English navigator John Hawkins hijacks a Portuguese ship and trades the acquired enslaved Africans at Hispaniola.
English navigator John Hawkins hijacked a Portuguese ship carrying enslaved Africans to Brazil and, thus, English participation in the slave trade began. He traded the enslaved Blacks at Hispaniola for a sizable profit. Queen Elizabeth also profited from Hawkins's slave trade despite having expressed outrage at the institution of slavery.
Eleven enslaved Blacks are brought to New York. They are later freed and develop a free Black community.
Eleven enslaved Blacks were brought to New York in 1626 as indentured or bonded servants. They first lived in lower Manhattan in the area of Fort Amsterdam and Wall Street. They were later freed of their bonds and eventually developed into a free Black community in Manhattan and nearby Brooklyn. However, slavery was legal in New York for another two hundred years.
1638 (Dec 12)
Enslaved Blacks arrive in New England aboard the ship Desire at Boston.
Prior to this date, Blacks had been sold in Boston, but it is not definitely known when the first enslaved Blacks were directly brought to the region. Authorities who claim that enslaved Africans were first brought to New England in 1638 base their contention on an entry in John Winthrop's Journal. Winthrop recorded on December 12, 1638, the arrival of the ship Desire at Boston. The cargo of the vessel, according to Winthrop, included salt, cotton, tobacco, and enslaved Blacks. The statement of Governor Winthrop is the first recorded account of Black slavery in New England.
Massachusetts is the first North American colony to recognize slavery as a legal institution.
Massachusetts recognized slavery as a legal institution, the first of the North American colonies to do so. Section ninety-one of the Body of Liberties of 1641 read: "There shall never be any bond slaverie, villinage or Captivities amongst us, unless it be lawful Captives taken in just warres, and such strangers as willingly sell them-selves or are sold to us. And these shall have all the liberties and Christian usages which the law of God established in Israel. .. This exempts none from servitude who shall be Judged there-to by Authoritie."
The eleven enslaved Africans brought to New Amsterdam via the Dutch West India Company ship petition the director general of the colony, William Kieft, for their freedom and are granted partial freedom.
During this time there were skirmishes with Native American people and the Dutch wanted the enslaved blacks to help protect their settlements rather than join the Native Americans. They were granted partial freedom, where they could buy land and a home and earn a wage from their master, and then full freedom. Their children remained in slavery. During such times, intermarriage with working class whites became common.
Virginia recognizes slavery and establishes “partus sequitur ventrem”, mandating that all children born there inherits the legal status of their mother.
A Virginia statute recognized slavery and established the status of mixed-blood offspring as slave or free in accordance with the status of the mother. Known as "partus sequitur ventrem", this legal doctrine was derived from Roman civil law and translates to "offspring follows belly" (referring to the belly of the mother). The slave codes of Virginia, and those that followed them, were motivated by the growth of the Black population and the fears of uprisings of the enslaved Africans. They were also specifically designed to protect the property in enslaved Blacks. Generally, enslaved Africans; were not allowed to leave the plantation, to wander, or to assemble without permission from the master. They could not own weapons and could not testify against Whites in court. Enslaved Blacks found guilty of murder or rape were to be executed. For petty offenses, they were whipped, maimed, or branded. The codes of the enslaved Africans grew out of the laws regulating indentured servitude, but the slaves, unlike the indentured servants, had practically no rights.
Massachusetts revises their 1641 slavery laws and adopts Virginia’s “partus sequitur ventrem” mandate.
The colony of Massachusetts revised slavery laws established in 1641 to permit the enslavement of a slave's offspring. The law gave children the same status as their mothers.
1688 (Feb 18)
Pennsylvania Quakers adopt an anti-slavery resolution.
Quakers at Germantown, Pennsylvania, adopted the first formal anti-slavery resolution in American history. The Society of Friends declared that slavery was in opposition to Christianity and the rights of man. The Quakers continued their anti-slavery protests throughout the seventeenth century.
Massachusetts jurist Samuel Sewall condemns slavery in his pamphlet.
Boston, Massachusetts, jurist Samuel Sewall condemned the business of slavery in his pamphlet, "The Selling of Joseph". Sewall is also remembered for his public confession of error and guilt in the condemnation to death of nineteen alleged witches during the Salem witch trials.
The birth of abolitionist Gustavus Vassa.
Gustavus Vassa was born and name as Olaudah Equiano in Nigeria. Vassa enjoyed a childhood filled with tribal unity. At the age of ten, he was kidnapped by nearby tribesmen and sold into slavery. He was brought to Virginia where he was purchased by a British sailor, Michael Pacal, who took him to England. There he began his formal education and was given the name Gustavus Vassa, after the sixteenth-century Swedish king. He traveled with his master across the seas, witnessing fighting between the French and the British. He was further educated in London and was baptized in St. Margaret's Church, Westminster, in February 1759. When Vassa requested freedom, his master angrily sent him to the West Indies to be sold. Vassa's new master was a Philadelphia Quaker who taught him commercial arts. Vassa bought his freedom in 1766 and earned his living trading goods from the Caribbean. His interest in abolition was aroused by his exposure to the slave trade and inspired his autobiography, "Interesting Narrative." Vassa died in 1794.
1770 (Mar 5)
Crispus Attucks is the first to die in the Boston Massacre.
Crispus Attucks of Framingham, Massachusetts, an escaped enslaved Black man, died with four other Americans in the Boston Massacre. He was in the forefront of the group that taunted British soldiers during the altercation and reportedly was the first to fall from their fire. Massachusetts later honored Attucks with a statue in Boston. Attucks was born enslaved to Deacon William Brown in Framingham. In November 1750 he escaped slavery at the age of 27. In Boston, African Americans held an annual Crispus Attucks Day from 1858 to 1870.
1775 (Apr 14)
The first Abolitionist society is organized.
Known originally as the Pennsylvania Society for the abolition of slavery, this group included many active Quakers. The Society first worked toward obtaining an abolition law in Pennsylvania and protecting free Blacks from being kidnapped and sold into slavery. After a successful campaign for adequate protective legislation, the Society helped enforce the new laws through committees of correspondence and by employing lawyers to secure the conviction of offenders. The Society suspended its operations during the revolutionary war, although individual members continued active work. The group was reorganized in 1787 as the Pennsylvania Society for promoting the abolition of slavery, the relief of free Blacks unlawfully held in bondage, and improving the condition of the African race.
1775 (Nov 7)
The British promise Blacks freedom if they join them in the revolutionary war.
Lord Dunmore, British royal governor of Virginia, issued a proclamation promising freedom to enslaved Africans who joined the British forces in the revolutionary war. Southerners, especially Virginians, were alarmed and angered. Virginia responded by attempting to convince Blacks that the British motives were purely selfish and promised them good treatment if they remained loyal to the Patriot cause. On December 13, 1775, a Virginia Convention promised to pardon all enslaved Blacks who returned to their masters within ten days. It is not clear how many slaves served with the British, but the war did have an unsettling effect on the institution of slavery. At least 100,000 Blacks ran away from their masters during the conflict. The Dunmore proclamation helped to bolster Southern support for the patriots as the British threatened slavery.
1776 (Jul 4)
The Declaration of Independence is signed. Thomas Jefferson condemns King George for his role in the slave trade and suppressing any legislative attempts to restrain it.
A section that alleged that King George III had forced the slave trade and slavery on the colonies was eliminated at the insistence of representatives from Georgia and South Carolina. Thomas Jefferson had charged King George with waging a "cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither." In the monarch's determination "to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold," Jefferson said he had suppressed "every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce." Historians agree that this was one example of the American exaggerations in the list of grievances against King George III.
1776 (Dec 25)
Prince Whipple, born free but sold into slavery, accompanies George Washington across the Delaware River.
Prince Whipple, a native of Amabou, Africa, accompanies George Washington across the Delaware River. Though Whipple was born free, he was sold into slavery on the way to the colonies where he was sent by his parents to be educated. An 1819 painting by Thomas Sully and a later work by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze depicted a Black man as part of Washington's party. Whipple, whose surname was taken from his master, regained his freedom after serving in the revolutionary war by petitioning to the council and House of New Hampshire in 1779.
1781 (May 8)
Convicted enslaved Black man is reprieved by Virginia governor Thomas Jefferson.
Known as Billy, Will, or William, the mixed-race enslaved Black man of John Tayloe of Virginia was sentenced to death by the Court of Oyer and Terminer, Prince William County, for aiding in the seizure of an armed vessel and feloniously and traitorously waging war against Virginia. Billy argued that his part in the attack was not of his own free will. Two Justices, Henry Lee and William Carr, dissented with the court on grounds that, because Billy was enslaved, he owed no allegiance and, therefore, could not be guilty of treason. Virginia governor Thomas Jefferson moved to pass a reprieve to June 30 through the state legislature. The reprieve was apparently granted, a move that may have evidenced a sense of justice in a slave-holding state, as well as Jefferson's hypothesized anti-slavery views.
1787 (Jul 13)
Slavery is outlawed in the Northwest.
The Continental Congress prohibited slavery in the Northwest territory under the famous ordinance of 1787. Specifically, there could be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the region Northwest of the Ohio River except as punishment for a crime.
1787 (Sep 12)
Prince Hall receives a charter for a masonic lodge for Blacks.
Prince Hall, a veteran of the war for independence, received a charter for a masonic lodge for Blacks. This group was chartered in England as African lodge no. 459. Hall, the first master of the organization, set up additional African lodges in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island during 1797. Hall was born in Barbados, British West Indies, in 1735, the son of an Englishman and a free Black woman. He was apprenticed as a leather worker but abandoned that training to emigrate to Boston. During the revolutionary war, Hall and twelve other free Blacks were inducted into a masonic lodge by a group of British soldiers stationed in Boston. When the British evacuated the area, Hall organized a masonic lodge for Blacks. Hall, a self-educated clergyman, also championed the establishment of schools for Black children in Boston, urged Massachusetts to legislatively oppose slavery, and proposed measures to protect free Blacks from kidnapping and enslavement. Following his death in Boston on December 4, 1807, the African grand lodge became the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, which has become a major social institution in Black America.
Seminole interpreter, Abraham, is born.
Abraham was born into slavery in Pensacola, Florida. His Seminole name was "Sohanac" or "Souanakkc Tustenukle." By the early 1820s he was living in Florida with the slave-holding Seminole Indians, among whom runaway enslaved Blacks often sought refuge. In 1825 Abraham accompanied Seminole chief Micanopy on an official visit to Washington, D.C., and was granted his freedom. Over the next several years, Abraham witnessed many Seminole treaties as an interpreter. During this period, the Seminole were being pressured by the U.S. government to move from Florida; Abraham secretly advised Micanopy to resist this pressure and encouraged the plantation enslaved workers of the area to support the Seminole and the Blacks associated with the Seminole. During the third Seminole war, which began in 1835, Abraham negotiated for peace, eventually persuading Micanopy to surrender. Abraham's settlement provided that the African American allies of the Seminole be allowed to leave Florida with them. On February 25, 1839, Abraham was sent West, where he raised cattle near the Little River in Arkansas. Abraham had two sons, Renty and Washington, and one daughter by his wife, Hagar.
1793 (Mar 14)
Eli Whitney of Massachusetts, a white inventor, obtained a patent for his cotton gin. The invention strengthened the institution of slavery, especially in the South.
Eli Whitney of Massachusetts, a white inventor, obtained a patent for his cotton gin. The invention strengthened the institution of slavery, especially in the South.
Abolitionist and community leader John Malvin is born.
John Malvin was born free to a free mother, Dalcus Malvin, and an enslaved father in Dumfries, Prince William County, Virginia. He was taught reading and spelling by an old enslaved Black person who used the Bible as a teaching guide, and he learned carpentry from his father. He moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1827 to remain free, and he became a community leader and helped with the underground railroad. Malvin married Harriet Dorsey in Cincinnati on March 8, 1829. After his arrests and brief imprisonment as a fugitive slave in 1831, Malvin became interested in emigration and migration. In 1832 he founded the School Education Society in Cleveland to provide a school for Black children. Malvin purchased his father-in-law's freedom in 1833. He was a delegate to the national convention of colored freemen in Cleveland in 1848. During the 1850s Malvin attended meetings of the influential Ohio State conventions of colored citizens and was elected vice president of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society in 1858. Malvin worked to end the Black laws of Ohio, which prohibited Blacks from attending schools and imposed a five-hundred-dollar security bond on Blacks entering the state. At the start of the civil war, Malvin urged Black Americans in Cleveland to organize troops, although it would be several years before Blacks would be allowed to serve. One year before his death, Malvin's autobiography was published in the Cleveland leader as a forty-two-page booklet entitled "Autobiography". Malvin died on July 30, 1880, in Cleveland and was buried in Erie Cemetery.
Activist and community leader James Barbadoes is born.
Little documentation of James Barbadoes's life remains, despite his activism and leadership among free Blacks in Boston. In 1930 Barbados's name appeared on a list of freed Black heads of families in Boston. He was a member of the Massachusetts general colored association and a delegate to the convention of the people of color in Philadelphia in 1831. Barbadoes was also a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society. At a May 1934 meeting of the New England anti-Slavery Society, Barbadoes urged support for William Lloyd Garrison and his abolitionist newspaper, the Liberator. Barbadoes and three others extended an invitation to Garrison to attend a meeting of Black American citizens after that he returned from England. In the 1830s, Barbadoes ran a barbershop and rented rooms in Boston. He died on June 22, 1841, of West India fever after a doomed mission to settle a group of Blacks in Jamaica.
1797 (Jan 30)
Anti-slavery petition presented, and later rejected by Congress.
Blacks in North Carolina presented a petition to Congress protesting a state law that required enslaved Blacks, although freed by their quaker masters, to be returned to the state and to the status of slavery. This first recorded anti-slavery petition by Blacks was rejected by the Congress.
An enslaved African narrative is published, detailing the life of a Connecticut enslaved African known as Venture.
A compilation of stories called "A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture" detailed the life of the former Connecticut enslaved African known as Venture (1729-1805). A son of the prince of the Dukandarra tribe, Venture was born into slavery in Guinea, West Africa. His birth name, Broteer, was changed to Venture by his master who brought him to America. Nicknamed "Black Bunyan," Venture worked to purchase his own freedom at the age of thirty-six, and the freedom of his wife, daughter, two sons, and three other enslaved Africans. The narrative described, and possibly exaggerated, the great feats of work that Venture performed, such as carrying a barrel of molasses on his shoulders for two miles. The depiction of the lives of enslaved and free Blacks in eighteenth-century Connecticut was a key element in the narrative.
New York State passes the Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, which freed no living enslaved Black person.
Although there was movement towards abolition of slavery, the legislature took steps to characterize indentured servitude for Blacks in a way that redefined slavery in the state. Slavery was important economically, both in New York City and in agricultural areas, such as Brooklyn. Based on a model in Pennsylvania, in 1799 the legislature passed the Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery. It freed no living enslaved Black person, in part to allow owners at the time to recoup the most profit from their enslaved Blacks before losing them. It declared children of enslaved Blacks born after July 4, 1799, to be legally free, but the children had to serve an extended period of indentured servitude: to the age of 28 for males and to 25 for females. Enslaved persons born before that date were redefined as indentured servants and could not be sold, but they had to continue their unpaid labor.
Igbo landing revolt and mass suicide by Igbo people who rebelled and drowned their captors.
Known by the American south to be fiercely independent and resistant to chattel slavery, a boatload of roughly 75 captive Igbo people survived the middle passage to be sold at local slave auctions. Chained and packed under the small vessel (named either “The Schooner York” or “The Monrovia”), they rose up in rebellion, took control of the ship, and drowned their captors in what is now known as Igbo landing in Georgia. Though what happened next is unclear, various accounts site they died by suicide by walking into Dunbar Creek. A letter written by Savannah slave dealer William Mein states that the Igbo people walked into the marsh where 10 to 12 drowned and some were "salvaged" by bounty hunters who received $10 a head from the captives’ intended plantation owners (One of which was Thomas Spalding, a Georgia politician). According to some sources, survivors of the Igbo rebellion were taken to Cannon's point on St. Simons Island and Sapelo Island. This has been referred to as the first freedom march in America and has spawned myths and Gullah folklore.
Abolitionist and school founder Sarah Mapps Douglass is born in Philadelphia.
Sarah Mapps Douglass was born into a prominent quaker family in Philadelphia. Her maternal grandfather, Cyril Bustin, owned a bakeshop, was a schoolmaster, and was an early member of the Free African Society. Her mother ran a quaker millinery store adjacent to the family bakeshop, and her father was a founding member of the First African Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia. Douglass was privately tutored, and in the 1820s she opened a school for Black American children that would later receive support from the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. It was through her involvement as corresponding secretary of this society that Douglass became acquainted with Sarah and Angelina Grimke, daughters of a prominent white judge. Their association spurred condemnation from whites, resulting in riots and mob violence in the 1830s and 1840s. Realizing the futility of her struggle against segregation, Douglass in 1853 took charge of the girl's primary department of the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, a job she held until her retirement in 1877. After the Civil War she served as vice-chairperson of the Women's Pennsylvania Branch of the American Freedmen's Aid Commission. Douglass died on September 8, 1882, in Philadelphia.
1807 (Jul 10)
Birth of Solomon Northup.
Northup was a born free Black American man from New York who was tricked, drugged, and kidnapped by 2 men, then sold into slavery in Louisiana for 12 years, before regaining his freedom, thanks to the help of Samuel Bass, a Canadian carpenter and abolitionist. Solomon sued the men involved in his kidnapping and enslavement, but none received punishment, due to a Washington D.C. law prohibiting Black men from testifying against white people. He is well known for his co-written bestselling memoir, "12 Years A Slave", which was adapted and produced as a feature film in 2013, receiving 3 Academy Awards.
1816 (Jan 3)
Stephen Smith, an enslaved Black man, purchased his freedom. He would then go on to become a successful businessman and civil rights activist.
Stephen Smith purchased his freedom from slavery for fifty dollars in January 1816 and, later that year, his release from indentured servitude. Smith had previous experience in the lumber business and soon established his own firm. Smith was born to an enslaved mother, Nancy Smith, in Paxtang, Pennsylvania. At the age of five he was indentured to a patriot of the revolutionary war, Thomas Boude. Great success allowed Smith to dabble in coal, railroading, stocks, and real estate, and eventually brought him into ownership of more than fifty houses and $18,000 worth of stock in New York's Columbia bank. But Smith still faced challenges because he was Black. In 1834, envious Whites attacked his office, and later that year, Smith was warned that he should leave his Columbia community. He remained in Columbia until 1842 when he moved to Philadelphia. Smith attended a national convention for free people of color in New York and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was also an activist who participated in the operations of the underground railroad, the American moral reform society, and the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery society, among many other abolitionist groups. Smith was a benefactor to the institute for colored youth, the home for destitute colored children, the house of refuge, and the Olive cemetery. The house for age and infirm colored persons was renamed the Stephen Smith Home for the Aged, in recognition of Smith, who had donated $28,000 and the ground to build on and made the Home the principal beneficiary of his estate. Smith died in 1873.
1820 (Mar 3)
The Missouri Compromise is approved by Congress, prohibiting enslavement north and west of the 36-30 parallel line within the Louisiana territory.
The famous Missouri Compromise was approved by Congress. Slavery was prohibited north and west of the 36-30 parallel line within the Louisiana territory. Missouri itself entered the Union as a slave state, while Maine entered as a free state.
1822 (Jun 5)
Denmark Vesey’s planned revolt in Charleston, SC is foiled when two enslaved Blacks inform Charleston officials of the plot.
Denmark Vesey, likely born into slavery in St. Thomas before being brought to Charleston, purchased his freedom after winning a lottery around the age of 32. He became a co-founder of the second largest the African Methodist Episcopal church in the nation, attracting over 1,800 members (more than 10% of Blacks in the city, mostly enslaved Blacks). In 1821, Vesey and a few of his followers began to plan a revolt, kill slaveholders in Charleston, liberate the enslaved, and sail to the Black republic of Haiti for refuge. Vesey would review plans of the revolt with his followers at his home during religious classes, inspiring them by connecting their potential freedom to the Biblical story of Exodus, and God's delivery of the children of Israel from Egyptian slavery. By some accounts, the revolt would have involved thousands of enslaved Blacks in the city as well as others who lived on plantations which were located miles away. Two enslaved Blacks, however, who were deeply loyal to their masters, informed the city officials of the plot, who then sent a militia to arrest the plot's leaders and many suspected followers on June 22 before the rising could begin, which was believed to be planned for July 14. No white people were killed or injured. Vesey, about 55 years old at the time, and five enslaved Blacks were among the first group of men to be rapidly judged guilty by the secret proceedings of a city-appointed court and condemned to death. The suspects were allowed visits by ministers; Dr. Benjamin Palmer visited Vesey after he was sentenced to death, and Vesey told the minister that he would die for a "glorious cause". They were executed by hanging on July 2, 1822. In later proceedings, some 30 additional followers were executed. His son Sandy was also found guilty of conspiracy and deported from the United States, along with many others. City authorities ordered that the church should be razed and its minister was expelled from the city.
Theodore Sedgwick Wright graduates from the Princeton Theological Seminary, making him the first Black to graduate from an American theological seminary.
Theodore Sedgwick Wright graduated from the Princeton Theological Seminary, making him the first Black to graduate from an American theological seminary. He then took his lifelong post as pastor of the First Colored Presbyterian Church, also called the Shiloh Presbyterian Church. Wright constantly organized and promoted civil rights efforts. Throughout the 1830s, he lectured for active abolitionist movements and, in 1833, helped found the American Anti-Slavery Society. After withdrawing from the organization in 1840 over the growing trend toward Garrisonian radicalism, he helped form the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. In addition to fighting for freedom, Wright pushed for jury trials in fugitive enslaved people cases and Black franchisement, including an 1840 push for suspension of the property requirement for Black voters. Wright was also active in the temperance movement and missions to evangelize African peoples. Wright was born to R. P. G. Wright in 1797. He received his early education at the New York African Free School. Wright died in 1847.
1831 (Jan 1)
William Lloyd Garrison, a White man, debuts the first issue of “The Liberator,” an anti-slavery newspaper.
William Lloyd Garrison published the first issue of the militant anti-slavery newspaper, the Liberator, with financial aid and moral support from such prominent Black Americans as James Forten of Philadelphia.
1831 (Dec 25)
The great Jamaican enslaved Black revolt led by Baptist preacher Samuel Sharpe becomes the largest enslaved Black revolt in the west Indies.
Also known as the Baptist war, the Christmas rebellion, and the Sam Sharpe rebellion. This eleven-day rebellion led by Baptist deacon Samuel Sharpe, involved up to 60,000 enslaved Blacks (one fifth of the total enslaved Black population) in the colony of Jamaica. The rebels had been paying close attention to the abolitionist movement in London. Thomas Burchell, a white Baptist missionary in Montego Bay working to help liberate the enslaved, went to London for Christmas vacation. The enslaved Africans expected he would return with papers for emancipation from the king, William IV. The Jamaican governor announced however, that no emancipation had been granted. Demanding more freedom and higher wages, they decided to peacefully boycott working the plantations until their demands were met. The rebellion exploded on Dec 27th when the rebels set fire to Kensington estate, causing the colonial authorities to institute martial law and summon Jamaican maroons to help suppress the revolt and they succeeded. About 500 enslaved Blacks were killed in total, with about 200 killed during the revolt and over 300 killed in various forms of judicial execution by the Jamaican government in many times for minor offenses (one recorded execution was for the theft of a pig; another a cow). Suspecting many white missionaries of encouraging the rebellion, some were arrested, tarred, feathered, and later released. Groups of white colonials destroyed Black churches. Historians argue that the brutality of the Jamaican plantocracy during the revolt accelerated the British political process of emancipating the enslaved. When a few white missionaries described how badly they were treated by the colonial militias, the House of Commons expressed their outrage that white planters could have tarred and feathered white missionaries. Parliament passed the slavery abolition Act of 1833 for initial measures to begin in 1834, followed by partial emancipation (outright for children six or under, six years apprenticeship for the rest) in 1834 and then unconditional emancipation of chattel slavery in 1838.
1836 (Feb 1)
The “gag rule” is adopted in the U.S. House of Representatives as a means to completely ignore anti-slavery petitions.
The infamous "gag rule" was adopted in the U.S. House of Representatives. Under the act, anti-slavery petitions were simply laid on the table without any further action. This denial of the right of petition angered former president John Quincy Adams, then a congressman from Massachusetts. Adams fought vigorously against the rule, helping to rouse public opinion in the North. Anti-slavery petitions began to pour into Washington, more than 200,000 of them in a single session. In 1844 the gag rule was rescinded. Its opponents saw it as an effort to deny White men their right of freedom of petition in an attempt to keep Black men enslaved.
1841 (Feb 1)
Mixed-race abolitionist Jeremiah Burke Sanderson makes his first public address in Nantucket, Massachusetts.
Jeremiah Burke Sanderson (1821-1875) made his first public address at an abolitionists meeting in Nantucket, Massachusetts. (Frederick Douglass also gave his first public speech there.) Throughout the 1840s, the Scottish and African-blooded Sanderson, born and educated in New Bedford, Massachusetts, spoke out against slavery in his state as well as in New York, where, in 1853, he joined the National Council of the National Colored Convention. Although Sanderson did not promote immigration of Blacks abroad, he did support the massive migration of Blacks to California in 1854 by going there himself. There he helped many Black religious, social, political, and educational organizations increase their status in American society. Sanderson was elected to the African Methodist Episcopal church positions of secretary of the California conference and state delegate to the church's national conference, but died in a train accident on August 19, 1875, before he was able to serve.
1843 (Dec 27)
The weekly Columbus, Ohio, newspaper “Palladium of Liberty” is founded by Black abolitionist and businessman David Jenkins.
Abolitionist and businessman David Jenkins founded the Palladium of Liberty, a weekly Columbus, Ohio, newspaper that advocated the abolition of slavery. Although the paper ran for little more than a year, it influenced future Black-operated newspapers in the midwest.
1844 (Feb 1)
The birth of Henry Vinton Plummer, minister and activist.
Henry Vinton Plummer was born as an enslaved African in Prince George's County, Maryland. At eighteen, Plummer escaped from slavery after having been sold at least twice. In 1864 he enlisted in the navy and taught himself to read during his year and a half of service. In 1867, Plummer married Julia Lomax; together they had six sons and two daughters. Plummer began ministering in Maryland congregations while preparing to attend Wayland seminary in Washington D.C., from which he graduated in 1879. Upon the recommendation of Frederick Douglass, President Chester A. Arthur appointed Plummer chaplain of the 9th Cavalry in 1884. Championing temperance, Plummer formed the Loyal Temperance Legion for the children of the Black troops at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. Although he was popular among the soldiers, his influence may have been viewed as a threat to the white-run army. In the months following Plummer's proposed plan for the colonization of central Africa by Black American volunteer soldiers, he was accused and convicted of drunkenness. Upon his dismissal, Plummer moved to Kansas where his attempts to return to the service were unsuccessful. He spent the remainder of his life serving his churches. Plummer died in Wichita, Kansas, on February 8, 1905.
1847 (Jun 30)
Dred Scott files a lawsuit in what would become the infamous Dred Scott v. Sandford case. Scott, and enslaved man, declares that his temporary residence in a free territory makes him a free man.
Dred Scott, an enslaved Black man, filed suit in the St. Louis circuit Court claiming that his temporary residence in a free territory should have made him a free man. Scott was a semi-literate man whose travels throughout the country specifically into the free portions of the Louisiana territory, where slavery had been excluded by the Missouri compromise of 1820, and into free Illinois which formed the basis for the case.
1847 (Dec 3)
Frederick Douglass begins publication of the anti-slavery newspaper, North Star.
Black American abolitionist Frederick Douglass began publication of his own newspaper, the North Star. Douglass, a former enslaved individual, became the era's most well-known Black anti-slavery speaker and writer. Born in Tuckahoe, Maryland, in 1817, Douglass was separated in infancy from his mother and had harsh masters as a child. While still very young, Douglass became a house servant in Baltimore, where white playmates taught him to read. His first attempt at escape was thwarted, but in 1838, while working as a ship calker, he managed a successful break from slavery. Further education by anti-slavery groups in the North made Douglass a very lucid speaker and writer. The publication of the North Star was one of the factors that led to Douglass's break with William Lloyd Garrison, the noted white abolitionist and publisher of the Liberator. Garrison saw no need for two major rival anti-slavery publications, but Douglass and other blacks had become convinced that they must play a more leading role in the abolitionist movement, and that included the printing of a newspaper. In later years Douglass was appointed to several political and diplomatic posts, including unofficial advisor to presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, marshal of the district of Columbia, recorder of deeds of the district of Columbia, and minister to Haiti. He also served as president of the Freedmen's bank in 1874.
1848 (Feb 1)
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo concludes, but escalates the debate between the North and the South over slavery in the U.S.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was concluded between the United States and Mexico, ending two years of combat between the countries. Under the terms of the treaty, the present states of New Mexico and California were ceded to the United States. Many pro-slavery Southerners had supported the war, anticipating that new lands would be opened to slavery. Many anti-slavery Northerners had opposed the war, fearing that it was the result of a pro-slavery conspiracy designed to open new territory to slavery. Shortly after the war began in 1846, democratic representative David Wilmot of Pennsylvania introduced an amendment to a pending bill in Congress—to become known as the "Wilmot Proviso"—which sought to prohibit slavery in any territory acquired as a result of the Mexican war. The proviso passed in the House of representatives but was defeated in the senate. The Mexican cession and the status of slavery there precipitated bitter debate between North and South from 1848 to 1850. One proposed solution was offered by President Zachary Taylor, who suggested that California and New Mexico bypass the territorial stage of government and apply directly for statehood, thus nullifying the question of slavery in the Mexican Cession territories. This proposal was unacceptable to the South, for both New Mexico and California would enter the Union as free states, thus upsetting the precarious sectional balance in the U.S. Senate that now stood at fifteen states each. The grounds were laid for the famous Compromise of 1850.
1849 (Feb 1)
The autobiography of James William Charles Pennington is published in London.
The autobiography of James William Charles Pennington, who had escaped slavery when he was twenty-one, was written in 1849. Upon escape, he devoted himself to Christianity and abolition, using his story to gain support and expose the horrors of slavery. His work took him to London as Connecticut's representative at the world's anti-Slavery convention and to Paris, Brussels, Scotland, and Frankfurt as a lecturer. Though Pennington did not support emigration by Black Americans to Africa, he did support the evangelization of Africa's indigenous peoples. In 1855 Pennington helped organize the New York legal rights association, which worked to bring equality to the city's transportation system.
1849 (May 25)
Musical prodigy Thomas Greene Bethune (Blind Tom) is born.
By the time Thomas Greene Bethune was four, the blind child, who was born into slavery, was being exhibited as the "musical marvel" of the Bethune plantation in Georgia. The exhibition of Tom, however, soon turned into exploitation as his owners made several fortunes on his talent, including an estimated $100,000 from an 1866 European tour. Colonel James Bethune even used Tom's talent to benefit the confederacy throughout the civil war. When Tom was 15, colonel Bethune gained guardianship of the boy, supposedly with his parents' consent. In 1865 with the end of the war, an attempt was made to liberate Tom from the guardianship that was akin to slavery. That, however, failed and Tom's "guardianship" was eventually passed on to the colonel's son, and later, the son's widow and her second husband who profited off the last fifteen years of Tom's life. Tom reportedly died penniless on June 13, 1908, in Hoboken, New Jersey. His accomplishments included performances before foreign dignitaries and President James Buchanan, the composition of over 100 piano and vocal pieces, and the mastery of over 700 pieces by European greats such as Beethoven and Bach.
1849 (Jul 1)
Harriet Tubman escapes from slavery in Maryland.
Harriet Tubman, the best-known Black female abolitionist, returned to Maryland and Virginia at least twenty times and is credited with freeing more than three hundred enslaved Blacks. The daring abolitionist was born in Dorchester County, Maryland, in 1823. While working as a field hand as a young girl, she suffered a severe head injury by a weight that an enraged overseer had thrown at another enslaved Black. The damage from that blow caused Tubman to suffer from "sleeping seizures" for the rest of her life. In 1844, she married a free Black, John Tubman, but remained enslaved. In 1849, her master died, and rumors emerged that his enslaved Blacks were to be sold into the deep South. Tubman, along with two of her brothers, escaped. Fearing capture and punishment or death, the brothers returned to the plantation, but Tubman, using the North Star for directions, marched on until she reached Philadelphia. In 1850, Tubman returned to Maryland for a sister and a brother, and in the following year she led a party of eleven Blacks from the South into Canada, leaving behind her husband, who had married another woman. In 1857, Tubman made one of her last trips into Maryland, rescuing her parents and three additional brothers and sisters. The family then settled in Auburn, New York. The family home, purchased from anti-slavery senator William H. Seward, was later turned into a home for elderly and indigent Black Americans. After serving in the civil war as a nurse and a spy, Tubman devoted all of her energy and earnings to this home during the twilight of her life. Tubman, often called "the Moses of her people," died in Auburn in 1913.
1850 (Sep 18)
Congress enacts the compromise of 1850 partially to address the issues of slavery.
Congress enacted the famous compromise of 1850. Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky and other moderate statesmen from both sections drew up this omnibus solution to the problem of slavery in the Mexican cession as well as other outstanding differences between North and South. The provisions of the compromise relating to slavery included the outlawing of the slave trade in Washington, D.C., but the retention of slavery itself; the passage of a new, tougher fugitive slave law to replace the poorly enforced act of 1793; and the admission of California as a free state.
1852 (Mar 20)
Harriet Beecher Stowe, a white woman, publishes the famous novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, detailing the cruelties of slavery.
Uncle Tom's Cabin, a novel by a Northern white woman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, was published in Boston. The book, which exaggerated the cruelties of slavery, evoked sympathy for Blacks in the North and greatly angered the South.
1853 (Apr 1)
William Wells Brown becomes the first Black American author to publish a novel.
William Wells Brown, formerly enslaved, and also an abolitionist, historian, and physician, published Clotel, the first novel written by a Black American, in London. The work, an account of the life of a Black woman whose father was an American president, draws on the legend that Thomas Jefferson had fathered many children by his enslaved mistresses. Brown was born to an enslaved woman and a white slave-owner in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1816. He was educated in St. Louis, Missouri, where he served as an apprentice to the martyred abolitionist editor, Elijah P. Lovejoy. Brown also published "Three Years in Europe": or, "Places I Have Seen," and "People I Have Met" (1852), in which he gave his impressions of such notables as Richard Cobden, Victor Hugo, and Alexis de Tocqueville. Brown was also a regular contributor to William Lloyd Garrison's "Liberator," the "London Daily News," and the "National Anti-Slavery Standard." His reputation as an historian rest largely upon such works as "The Black Man" (1863) and "The Negro" in the American Rebellions (1867). Brown's principal anti-slavery work was as a "conductor" on the underground railroad and as an anti-slavery lecturer. He died in 1884.
1854 (May 30)
The Missouri compromise is repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska act, which further escalates issues between the north and south.
The Kansas-Nebraska act was approved by congress and President Franklin Pierce. In addition to providing formal organization for the two territories of Kansas and Nebraska, the act repealed the Missouri compromise of 1820, thus removing anti-slavery restrictions north and west of the 36-30 parallel line in the Louisiana territory. According to the bill's author, senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, Congress, in the compromise of 1850, had abandoned all efforts to protect or to prohibit slavery in the territories. Therefore, it was only consistent, Douglas reasoned, that the new principle be applied in the Louisiana territory as elsewhere. Southerners viewed Kansas as ripe for slavery. Northern anti-slavery men opposed the prospects of a slave Kansas and the repeal of the compromise of 1820. The contest for control of Kansas between the pro- and anti-slavery forces led to several years of bitter, often bloody, strife in the territory and in congress. In fact, Kansas came to be known as "Bleeding Kansas." The most significant acts of violence were the sacking of the anti-slavery town of Lawrence, Kansas, in May 1856 and the subsequent retaliation by John Brown (who, with his followers, slaughtered five pro-slavery men at Pottawatomie Creek), and the beating of anti-slavery senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts by congressman Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina on the floor of the U.S. Senate, also in the spring of 1856. Sumner had denounced the South and some of its representatives for the "crime against Kansas," the rape of a virgin territory by slaveholders. His remarks against Senator Andrew P. Butler of South Carolina led to the attack by Brooks, Butler's nephew. The acrimony and political confusion in Kansas prevented the territory from being admitted into the union by congress until just before the civil war. On January 29, 1861, Kansas joined the union as a free state, representing the will of the majority of the bona fide residents there.
1854 (Jun 3)
Enslaved fugitive Anthony Burns is arrested in Boston and returned to his master in the south.
Anthony Burns, an enslaved fugitive, was arrested in Boston. His master refused an offer of $1,200 made by Boston citizens for his freedom. Burns was escorted through the streets of Boston by U.S. troops as he returned to the south. The incident was indicative of a growing anti-slavery sentiment in the north, especially following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska act.
1856 (Feb 1)
Wilberforce University founded.
Amidst a cry for the end of slavery, Wilberforce was founded in 1856 as Wilberforce university of the Methodist Episcopal church and named after British abolitionist and philanthropist William Wilberforce. The school was part of a plan to establish education for Blacks in Ohio. Wilberforce was sold to the A.M.E. Church in 1863 and awarded its first bachelor's degrees in 1867. Wilberforce was distinguished as the first Black college and the first college with a Black president.
1857 (Mar 6)
In the Dred Scott v. Sanford case, the U.S. Supreme Court decides that Black Americans are not U.S. citizens, therefore having no rights. Though eventually freed, Dred Scott remained enslaved. The decision fueled the path to the civil war.
The U.S. Supreme Court rendered its decision in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford, declaring that Black Americans were not citizens of the United States and denying the congress the power to prohibit slavery in any federal territory. Scott was eventually freed by new owners. Meanwhile, he remained an enslaved, albeit a famous one, in St. Louis where he worked as a porter. The Dred Scott decision, a clear-cut victory for the south, alarmed abolitionists in the north and fueled the fires leading to the civil war.
1860 (Nov 6)
Abraham Lincoln, unfavorably viewed by southerners as an abolitionist, is elected president.
Abraham Lincoln, viewed by southerners as an abolitionist, was elected president of the United States on a platform opposed to the further expansion of slavery into the territories.
1862 (Apr 16)
Slavery is abolished in the district of Columbia and the formerly enslaved are encouraged to emigrate to Haiti or Liberia.
The U.S. senate passed a bill abolishing slavery in the district of Columbia. Slaveowners were to be compensated at the rate of $300 per slave. One hundred thousand dollars was also allocated for the voluntary emigration of these freedmen to Haiti or Liberia.
1862 (Jun 19)
Slavery is abolished in federal territories.
President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill abolishing slavery in the federal territories.
1863 (Jan 1)
Emancipation proclamation goes into effect
The emancipation proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln, went into effect on January 1, 1863. This proclamation declared that "all persons held as slaves within any state, or designated part of the state, the people whereof shall be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free." With this proclamation more than three-quarters of all enslaved Blacks were set free. And, while certainly a move towards the ending of slavery, the proclamation only applied to those enslaved Africans in states that had seceded from the Union, and not to those slaves living in the four slave states that remained a part of the Union. The emancipation proclamation was, in part, a military tactic by the President. The document notes that emancipation was "an act of justice, warranted by the constitution upon military necessity." The issuing of the proclamation helped to rally support among abolitionists. Enslaved Blacks freed by the proclamation could join the union army. Moreover, it gave the union the moral high ground, helping the union to gain support from other nations. It took time for the message of emancipation to spread. It would not be until June 19, 1865, after the end of the civil war, that word of emancipation would reach the slaves of Galveston, Texas. Ultimately, the emancipation proclamation paved the way for the abolition of slavery at the end of the civil war. And it earned Abraham Lincoln the nick name of the "Great emancipator."
1865 (Dec 18)
The thirteenth amendment is adopted.
The thirteenth amendment, which prohibited slavery or involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime, was adopted.
1868 (Jan 14)
Black delegates promote cooperation in creating state constitutions.
The new state constitutional conventions met in Charleston, South Carolina. Black delegates were in a decided majority. Louisiana had an equal number of Blacks and whites in its convention, while all other southern states had white majorities. The magnanimity of the Black delegates at Charleston was reflected in the words of Black representative Beverly Nash: "I believe, my friends and fellow-citizens, we are not prepared for this suffrage. But we can learn, we recognize the southern white man as the true friend of the Black man. In these public affairs we must unite with our white fellow-citizens. They tell us that they have been disfranchised, yet we tell the north that we shall never let the halls of congress be silent until we remove that disability." The state constitutions drawn up by southern constitutional conventions with Black members in 1867 and 1868 sought to abolish property qualifications for voting and holding office, imprisonment for debt, and slavery.
1881 (Aug 6)
Reverend Henry Garnett is appointed minister to Liberia.
Reverend Henry Highland Garnett was appointed minister to Liberia. In 1816, at the age of eight, Garnett freed himself from slavery after his master died. In 1839 he graduated from Oneida Collegiate Institute and, in 1842, from Troy Theological College.
1885 (Mar 5)
Reverend Moses A. Hopkins is appointed U.S. minister to Liberia.
Reverend Moses A. Hopkins was appointed U.S. minister to Liberia. Hopkins had escaped slavery during the civil war and joined the union army as a cook. He had attended Avery College, Lincoln University, and the Theological Seminary at Auburn, New York, before attaining his position as minister. He had also reportedly organized the Albion Academy in North Carolina with six students under him.
1901 (Oct 16)
Booker T. Washington dines at White House. It is met with criticism.
Booker T. Washington dined with President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House. But the meeting was bitterly criticized by many whites, especially Southerners, as a departure from racial etiquette. The previous year, Washington's autobiography, "Up from Slavery," had been hailed by Southern and Northern whites for its non-vindictive attitude toward the South and its previous slave system. The book has become a classic in American letters, primarily because of Washington's prominence. "
1905 (Mar 1)
In Clyatt v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court remands the case back to the lower court for retrial when two Black men, Will Gordon and Mose Ridley, argue that their thirteenth amendment rights had been violated.
The U.S. Supreme Court remanded Clyatt v. United States back to the lower court. The case was brought to the high court when Samuel Clyatt appealed his conviction for peonage after he had forced two Blacks to return to Georgia to repay a debt. The two Blacks, Will Gordon and Mose Ridley, argued that their thirteenth amendment rights had been violated in that the amendment prohibited slavery or involuntary servitude. The specific charge upon Clyatt, however, was "returning" two men to peonage. The high court ruled that an initial state of peonage was not evidenced, and the case was sent back to Georgia courts for retrial.
1906 (Feb 9)
Paul Laurence Dunbar, the Black poet who was instrumental in making Black dialect an accepted literary form, dies in Dayton, Ohio.
Paul Laurence Dunbar, the Black poet who was instrumental in making Black dialect an accepted literary form, died of tuberculosis in Dayton, Ohio, at thirty-four years of age. Dunbar had been born in Dayton on June 27, 1872, to the formerly enslaved Joshua and Matilda Dunbar. His father had escaped slavery and fled to Canada. But he returned during the civil war to fight with the Massachusetts 55th regiment. Although Paul Dunbar was senior class poet at Dayton's Central High School and the editor of the school newspaper and yearbook, his first career was operating an elevator for four dollars a week. By 1893 he had compiled a book of his verse and was selling it to passengers on his elevator. Two years later he published "Majors and Minors," which received a favorable review by William Dean Howells in Harper's Weekly. That review brought Dunbar national recognition. The following year, his "Lyrics of Lowly Life appeared". Many of these earlier works were published by Orville and Wilbur Wright, who were experimenting with printing newspapers on a homemade press. In the last ten years of his life, Dunbar produced eleven volumes of verse, three novels, and five collections of short stories. Critics generally agree that Dunbar's best works are his poems, particularly those written in dialect. Despite his Midwestern origins, Dunbar's poems deal nostalgically with the pathos and humor of the old South. William Dean Howells considered Dunbar the first Black to ably express an aesthetic appreciation of Black life through verse. Dunbar's biographer, Benjamin Brawley, observed that Dunbar soared above race and touched the heart universal. In a world of discord, he dared to sing his song about nights bright with stars, about the secret of the wind and the sea, and the answer one finds beyond the years. Above the dross and strife of the day, he asserted the right to live and love and be happy. That is why he was so greatly beloved and why he will never grow old.
1913 (Mar 10)
Harriet Tubman, famous for her role in the underground railroad, dies.
Harriet Tubman, often referred to as "the Moses of her people," died in Auburn, New York. A leading Black female abolitionist, Tubman was born in Dorchester County, Maryland, in 1823 and had escaped from slavery in July of 1849. She returned to Maryland and Virginia at least twenty times and is credited with freeing more than three hundred enslaved Blacks. While working as a field hand as a young girl, Tubman was injured when, an overseer threw a weight at another enslaved Black but hit Tubman in the head. The blow caused Tubman to suffer from "sleeping seizures" for the rest of her life. In 1844 she married a free Black, John Tubman, but she remained enslaved. In 1849 her master died, and rumors emerged that his enslaved people were to be sold in the deep south. With two of her brothers, Tubman escaped. Fearing punishment or death, the brothers returned to the plantation, but Tubman, using the North Star for direction, marched on until she reached Philadelphia. In 1850, Tubman returned to Maryland for a sister and a brother, and in the following year she led a party of eleven Blacks from the South into Canada. She left her husband, who had married another woman, behind. In 1857 Tubman made one of her last trips into Maryland to rescue her parents and three additional brothers and sisters. The family then settled in Auburn, New York. The family home, purchased from the abolitionist senator William H. Seward, was later turned into a home for elderly and indigent Blacks. After serving in the civil war as a nurse and a spy, Tubman devoted her energy and earnings to this home.
1974 (Jun 16)
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church elects its first Black moderator, Reverend Lawrence Bottoms.
The Reverend Lawrence W. Bottoms, a Decatur, Georgia, minister, was elected as the first Black moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the United States at its 114th general meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. Bottoms, a sixty-six-year-old native of Selma, Alabama, had long experience as a pastor and leader of Georgia's black Presbyterians. A strong supporter of racial integration and toleration, Bottoms's election placed him at the head of that portion of the Presbyterian Church that broke with its national body to defend slavery before the Civil War.
1975 (Feb 16)
Exhibit on Black history slated to tour country.
The Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, a branch of the Smithsonian Institute, announced that a traveling exhibit on Black history would tour the country as part of the bicentennial celebration. The exhibit would include forty-six illustrated panels, along with artifacts and a written text. Among the characters and events in the exhibit were York, William Clark's slave; Mary Fields, a colorful Western pioneer; Benjamin “Pap” Singleton, an early Black migrationist; Bill Pickett, a pioneer Black cowboy; and Mary Ellen Pleasant, a pioneer civil rights leader. York was a strapping, six-foot interpreter for the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804–1806. His fluency in French and Indian dialects as well as English made him indispensable to the exploration. He was, in fact, seen as the leader of the expedition by the Indians. Because of his services, York was granted his freedom in 1805. “Black Mary” Fields was born in slavery but migrated to Montana after emancipation. She became a friend and confidante of the nuns of Cascade, a restaurant owner, and a mail woman. She often walked through the snow when it was too deep for horses to ensure that the mail got through. Benjamin “Pap” Singleton, one of the earliest “Black Moses,” led an exodus of Blacks from the South to the West in 1879. Between 1870 and 1890, a number of these Western migrations took place as Blacks sought to escape racial oppression in the Post-Reconstruction South. Men like Singleton organized “colonies” to help the Blacks move West, where they often faced legal and extra-legal moves to keep them out of the frontier territories. Once in the West, Blacks founded all-Black towns and worked on the railroads and in cattle drives. It is estimated that there were at least 8,000 Black cowboys during this pioneer era. Among the most famous of the Black cowboys was Bill Pickett, “the Dusky Demon” of the rodeo circuit. Pickett lost his life at age seventy-one, when he tried to make a comeback to the rodeo by roping and taming a wild horse. Mary Ellen Pleasant was born enslaved in Georgia but also became a migrant to the West. She was one of San Francisco's first civil rights leaders and allegedly helped to finance the raid of John Brown at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in 1859.
1977 (Feb 3)
The “Roots” miniseries airs, achieving the highest single ratings ever amassed by a television production.
The “Roots” miniseries, based on Alex Haley's novel of the same title in which he traced his ancestry to Africa and slavery, ended eight nights of presentations on the ABC television network. The Sunday night finale achieved the highest single ratings ever amassed by a television production. The previous top television presentation had been the epic Civil War drama, Gone with the Wind. During the eight nights of programming, "Roots” was watched by more than 130 million viewers.
1978 (Mar 3)
Riaz Hussain Shah pleads guilty in involuntary servitude case after buying a ten-year-old Black girl from her mother to work as a house servant in exchange for $200 and a promise to educate her.
Riaz Hussain Shah, a horticulturist who formerly taught at Miami-Dade Community College, pleaded guilty in federal court in Miami, Florida, to "holding a person in involuntary servitude." Shah admitted that he and his wife, Isharad Majed Shah, an anesthesiologist, bought a ten-year-old Black girl from her mother and employed the child "for at least two years as a house slave." During most of her enslavement, the girl, Rose Iftony, had only one dress to wear, ate rice from a tin plate, and drank from a broken glass. Iftony was ten years old in 1974 when she arrived in the United States from Sierra Leone, where the Shahs paid her mother $200 and promised to educate her. Both of the Shahs, at the time, were registered aliens from Pakistan. FBI agent Joseph Bell called the girl's bondage "the first classic case of slavery in this century [that] the FBI knows of.... That's what used to happen before the Civil War."
1988 (Jan 31)
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the results of a poll showing that 75 percent of Alabama’s white residents favored the continued flying of the Confederate flag over the state capitol at Montgomery.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the results of a poll showing that 75 percent of Alabama's white residents favored the continued flying of the Confederate flag over the state capitol at Montgomery. In December 1987, the Alabama NAACP announced a campaign to remove the flag from the statehouse, and the organization's state director, Thomas Reed, said he would climb the flagpole and tear it down. Yet Alabama governor Guy Hunt assured that the flag would remain unless a majority of Alabamians wanted it removed. The poll also revealed that 63 percent of the four hundred people queried believed that the Confederate flag should fly over state office buildings. But among Whites, 75 percent wanted the flag to continue to fly, while 53 percent of Blacks said the flag should be removed. In 1988, Alabama and South Carolina were the only two southern states that continued to officially fly the Confederate flag. Mississippi and Georgia incorporated the Confederate symbol into their state flags. Some Blacks in these states have periodically protested the use of the Confederate symbol by public agencies and institutions. They contended that its identification with the pro-slavery states in the American Civil War made it a racist emblem.
1988 (Mar 31)
Black American novelist Toni Morrison wins a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her book Beloved, a novel that depicts the agonizing reminiscences of a former enslaved person in post-Civil War Ohio.
Black American novelist Toni Morrison won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her book Beloved. The novel depicts the agonizing reminiscences of a former enslaved person in post-Civil War Ohio. Morrison's work had provoked a controversy in the fall of 1987 when it failed to win the prestigious National Book Award. In January 1988, forty-eight Black writers had written an open letter to the New York Times Book Review protesting that failure as well as the fact that Morrison had never won the even more prestigious Pulitzer. Responding to the announcement of the award, Morrison said, "I think I know what I feel. ... I had no doubt about the value of the book and that it was really worth serious recognition. But I had some dark thoughts about whether the book's merits would be allowed to be the only consideration of the Pulitzer committee. The book had begun to take on a responsibility, an extra-literary responsibility, that it was never designed for." An excerpt from a review of Beloved by author and critic Margaret Atwood in the New York Times, September 13, 1987, follows: "In Beloved, Ms. Morrison turns away from the contemporary scene that has been her concern of late. The new novel is set after the end of the Civil War, during the period of the so-called Reconstruction, when a great deal of random violence was let loose upon Blacks, both the slaves freed by emancipation and others who had been given or bought their freedom earlier. But there are flashbacks to a more distant period, when slavery was still a going concern in the South and the seeds for the bizarre and calamitous events of the novel were sown. The setting is similarly divided: the countryside near Cincinnati, where the central characters have ended up, and a slave-holding plantation in Kentucky, ironically named Sweet Home, from which they fled 18 years before the novel begins. ...Beloved is written in an anti-minimalist prose that is by turns rich, graceful, eccentric, rough, lyrical, sinuous, colloquial, and very much to the point."
1989 (Dec 6)
Nathan I. Huggins, a leading scholar of Black American culture, dies of cancer in Boston, Massachusetts, at the age of sixty-two.
Nathan I. Huggins, a leading scholar of Black American culture, died of cancer in Boston, Massachusetts, at the age of sixty-two. Huggins was the author of works on Black anti-slavery leader Frederick Douglass and on the Harlem Renaissance, the Black cultural movement of the 1920s. Since 1980, he had been professor of history and Afro-American Studies and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research at Harvard University.
1992 (Feb 10)
Alex Haley, author of Roots: The Saga of an American Family and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, dies of a heart attack in Seattle, Washington.
Alex Haley, author of Roots: The Saga of an American Family and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, died of a heart attack in Seattle, Washington. He had been working on a literary project about his hometown of Henning, Tennessee. The first Black American to win literary fame for the delineation of his family history, Haley published Roots during America's bicentennial in 1976. In the book, he brought his family's history to life when he traced his ancestry back to its West African origins. Haley wrote the book after extensive genealogical research that spanned three continents. In 1977, however, Margaret Walker charged that Roots plagiarized her novel, Jubilee, and, later, Harold Courlander claimed that it plagiarized his novel, The African. Courlander received a settlement after several passages in Roots were found to be almost verbatim from The African. Haley claimed that researchers had given him this material without properly citing the source. Roots won a Pulitzer Prize and, a year later, became the basis of one of television's most popular miniseries. The eight-part miniseries, which was viewed by more than 130 million people, provided a frank depiction of the country's formative years and the slavery era. It also reminded viewers that the birth of the nation was not without severe moral complications. Haley was known for his exhaustive research and attention to detail, which are evident in both Roots and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, published in 1965 after a year of intense interviews with the Black Nationalist leader. It has since become the inspiration behind Black filmmaker Spike Lee's biographical film of Malcolm X. Haley also contributed stories, articles, and interviews to Playboy, Harpers, the Atlantic Monthly, and Reader's Digest.
1995 (Mar 16)
Mississippi becomes the last state to adopt the thirteenth amendment (which abolished slavery).
By a unanimous decision, the Mississippi House of Representatives adopted the thirteenth amendment-which abolished slavery—to the state constitution. The state Senate voted to approve the amendment on February 16, 1995. It had been disclosed earlier that the amendment had never been formally enacted. With the symbolic vote, Mississippi became the last of the states that existed in 1865 to adopt the legislation.
1995 (Jun 20)
The Southern Baptist Convention apologizes to Black Americans for the organization’s historical support of slavery.
During the annual conference of the Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta, church members apologized to Black Americans for the organization's historical support of slavery.
1995 (Dec 2)
The U.S. Court of Appeals rules that Blacks could not sue the federal government for damages or an apology for racial discrimination and slavery. The plaintiffs were seeking reparations similar to what Congress had previously awarded to Japanese Americans.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Blacks could not sue the federal government for damages or an apology for racial discrimination and slavery. The unanimous opinion of the three-judge panel upheld several lower court rulings that had considered similar claims. The suit, which had been filed by seven plaintiffs, sought more than $100 million in damages, along lines similar to the reparations the U.S. Congress had previously awarded to Japanese Americans interned during World War II. But the court ruled that the plaintiffs could not seek damages for the enslavement of their ancestors, could not require the judiciary to correct allegedly discriminatory acts by Congress, and failed to point to specific government actions that violated their rights. Judge Pamela Rymer, who wrote the majority opinion, also said that "individuals who complained about historic or current societal discrimination lacked the standing and legal authority to pursue claims in court arising out of the government's failure to do right as they see it." In response to the decision, Samuel Patterson, chairman of the Reparations Committee for African Americans, which sponsored the suit, declared that he was not surprised by it. He said: "You're not going to get anything from a pig but a grunt."