Time Line of African American History, 1852-1880

The following works were valuable sources in the compilation of this Time Line: Lerone Bennett's Before the Mayflower (Chicago: Johnson Publishing Co., 1982), W. Augustus Low and Virgil A. Clift's Encyclopedia of Black America (New York: Da Capo Press, 1984), and Harry A. Ploski and Warren Marr's The Negro Almanac (New York: Bellwether Co., 1976).

Timeline: 1881-1900
Timeline: 1901-1925


Daniel A. P. Murray born. Born in Baltimore on March 3. Murray, an African-American, was assistant librarian of Congress, and a collector of books and pamphlets by and about black Americans.

Publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, published on March 20, focused national attention on the cruelties of slavery.


Lincoln University chartered. Initially known as Ashmun Institute, Lincoln University was chartered in Oxford, Pennsylvania, on January 1. It was one of America's earliest Negro colleges.


Booker Taliaferro Washington born. Born in Franklin County, Virginia, on April 5, Washington was the first principal of Tuskegee Institute (1881), and was the individual most responsible for its early development. Washington was considered the leading African-American spokesman of his day.


Supreme Court rules on the Dred Scott case. On March 6, the Supreme Court decided that an African-American could not be a citizen of the U.S., and thus had no rights of citizenship. The decision sharpened the national debate over slavery.


John Brown's raid. On October 16-17, John Brown raided the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia (today located in West Virginia). Brown's unsuccessful mission to obtain arms for a slave insurrection stirred and divided the nation. Brown was hanged for treason on December 2.

The last slave ship arrives. During this year, the last ship to bring slaves to the United States, the Clothilde, arrived in Mobile Bay, Alabama.


Abraham Lincoln elected president. Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected president on November 6, 1860.

Census of 1860.

   U.S. population:  31,443,790 
   Black population:  4,441,790 (14.1%)


Slavery abolished in the District of Columbia. Congress abolished slavery in the District of Columbia -- an important step on the road for freedom for all African-Americans.


The Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation took effect January 1, legally freeing slaves in areas of the South in rebellion.

New York City draft riots. Anti-conscription riots started on July 13 and lasted four days, during which hundreds of black Americans were killed or wounded.

The Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Volunteers. On July 18, the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Volunteers -- the all-black unit of the Union army portrayed in the 1989 Tri-Star Pictures film Glory -- charged Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina. Sergeant William H. Carney becomes the first African-American to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery under fire.


Equal pay. On June 15, Congress passed a bill authorizing equal pay, equipment, arms, and health care for African-American Union troops.

The New Orleans Tribune. On October 4, the New Orleans Tribune began publication. The Tribune was one of the first daily newspapers produced by blacks.


Congress approves the Thirteenth Amendment. Slavery would be outlawed in the United States by the Thirteenth Amendment, which Congress approved and sent on to the states for ratification on January 31.

The Freedmen's Bureau. On March 3, Congress established the Freedmen's Bureau to provide health care, education, and technical assistance to emancipated slaves.

Death of Lincoln. On April 15, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated; Vice President Andrew Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat, succeeded him as president.

Ratification of Thirteenth Amendment. The Thirteenth Amendment, outlawing slavery, was ratified on December 18.


Presidential meeting for black suffrage. On February 2, a black delegation led by Frederick Douglass met with President Andrew Johnson at the White House to advocate black suffrage. The president expressed his opposition, and the meeting ended in controversy.

Civil Rights Act. Congress overrode President Johnson's veto on April 9 and passed the Civil Rights Act, conferring citizenship upon black Americans and guaranteeing equal rights with whites.

Memphis massacre. On May 1-3, white civilians and police killed forty-six African-Americans and injured many more, burning ninety houses, twelve schools, and four churches in Memphis, Tennessee.

The Fourteenth Amendment. On June 13, Congress approved the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing due process and equal protection under the law to all citizens. The amendment would also grant citizenship to blacks.

Police massacre. Police in New Orleans stormed a Republican meeting of blacks and whites on July 30, killing more than 40 and wounding more than 150.

Founding of the Ku Klux Klan. The Ku Klux Klan, an organization formed to intimidate blacks and other ethnic and religious minorities, first met in Maxwell House, Memphis. The Klan was the first of many secret terrorist organizations organized in the South for the purpose of reestablishing white authority.


Black suffrage. On January 8, overriding President Johnson's veto, Congress granted the black citizens of the District of Columbia the right to vote.

Reconstruction begins. Reconstruction Acts were passed by Congress on March 2. These acts called for the enfranchisement of former slaves in the South.


Fourteenth Amendment ratified. On July 21, the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, granting citizenship to any person born or naturalized in the United States.

Thaddeus Stevens dies. Thaddeus Stevens, Radical Republican leader in Congress and father of Reconstruction, died on August 11.

Massacre in Louisiana. The Opelousas Massacre occurred in Louisiana on September 28, in which an estimated 200 to 300 black Americans were killed.

Ulysses S. Grant becomes president. Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant (Republican) was elected president on November 3.