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Black History Timeline

1500s Black plantation slavery begins in the New World when Spaniards import slaves from Africa to replace Indians
who died from harsh working conditions and disease.

1619 A Dutch ship with 20 African slaves aboard arrives in the English colony of Jamestown, Virginia.

1644 The first black legal protest in America occurs when 11 blacks successfully petition the government of New
Amsterdam for their freedom.

1827 Freedom's Journal becomes the first black-owned and operated newspaper in the United States. The paper
counters racist commentary published in the mainstream press.

1839 Slaves revolt on the Spanish slave ship Amistad in the Caribbean. After their arrest in Long Island Sound,
former U.S. president John Quincy Adams successfully defends the rebels before the Supreme Court.

1790 President George Washington appoints Benjamin Banneker, a free black man, mathematician and landowner,
to the District of Columbia Commission.

1827 On March 16, Freedom's Journal becomes the first black-owned and operated newspaper in the United States.

1831 Nat Turner leads the only effective, sustained slave rebellion in U.S. history. Turner's rebellion put an end to the
white Southern myth that slaves were either contented with their lot or too servile to mount an armed revolt.

1836 Alexander Lucius Twilight becomes the first black elected to public office; he serves in the Vermont legislature.
He is also the first African-American college graduate.

1847 Frederick Douglass begins publication of the North Star, an antislavery newspaper. Douglass was one of the
most eminent human-rights leaders of the 19th century. His oratorical and literary brilliance thrust him into the
forefront of the U.S. abolition movement, and he became the first black citizen to hold high rank in the U.S.

1850 Harriet Tubman returns to Maryland to guide members of her family to freedom via the Underground Railroad.
Later helping more than 300 slaves to escape, she comes to be known as the "Moses of her people."

1863 In the midst of the Civil War, President Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation. 180,000 African-
Americans enlist with the Union Army.

o In January, Hiram R. Revels of Mississippi becomes the first African-American elected to the U.S. Senate.
o Joseph Hayne Rainey is the first black elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

1905 The Niagara Movement, an organization of black intellectuals led by W.E.B. DuBois, is founded. The group calls
for full political, civil and social rights for African Americans and is the forerunner of the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People.

1914 Sam Lucas becomes the first black actor to star in a full-length Hollywood film. Lucas played Tom in Uncle
Tom's Cabin.

1922 Aviator Bessie Coleman, who later refuses to perform before segregated audiences in the South, stages the
first public flight by an African-American woman.

1928 Poet and novelist Claude McKay publishes Home to Harlem, the first fictional work by an African-American to
reach the best-seller lists.
Character Counts! Chronicle: Black History Timeline 2

1936 Track-and-field athlete Jesse Owens wins four gold medals in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. His victories
derail Adolf Hitler's intended use of the games as a show of Aryan supremacy.

1939 Singer Marian Anderson performs at the Lincoln Memorial before an audience of 75,000 after the Daughters of
the American Revolution refused to allow her to sing at Constitution Hall.

o Benjamin Oliver Davis Sr. becomes the first black general of the US Army.
o Hattie McDaniel becomes the first black to receive an Oscar for her supporting role in Gone With the Wind.

c. 1942 Bebop is born out of the musical experiments of jazz musicians in Harlem, including saxophonist Charlie
Parker, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, and pianist Thelonious Monk.

1941 The Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American pilots in the U.S. military, fly with distinction during WWII.

o Ebony magazine is founded by John H. Johnson of Chicago.
o Nat King Cole becomes the first black with his own network radio show.

1948 The NAACP pressures President Harry Truman to sign an Executive Order banning discrimination by the
Federal government.

1950 Ralph J. Bunche, undersecretary of the United Nations, is the first black to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

1954 On May 17 the U.S. Supreme Court rules unanimously in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that racial
segregation in public schools violates the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

1955 Rosa Parks, secretary of the Montgomery, Ala., chapter of the NAACP, refuses to surrender her seat when
ordered by a local bus driver, leading to the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-56.

1956 Arthur Mitchell, future director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, becomes the only black dancer in the New York
City Ballet.

o Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry, becomes the first drama by a black woman to be produced on
o Ray Charles records "What'd I Say," which becomes his first million-seller, and exemplifies the emergence
of soul music, combining rhythm and blues with gospel. Trumpeter Miles Davis records Kind of Blue, often
considered his masterwork, with composer-arranger-pianist Bill Evans and tenor saxophonist John
o Motown Records is founded in Detroit, Michigan, by Berry Gordy, Jr.

1960 The sit-in movement is launched at Greensboro, N.C., when black college students insist on service at a local
segregated lunch counter. These protests eventually lead to more than 60 stores officially desegregating their

o The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. writes "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" and delivers his “I have a Dream”
speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
o Sidney Poitier wins the Academy Award as best actor.

o Martin Luther King Jr. is the youngest person awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He is 35.
o Congress passes the Civil Rights Act.
o Malcolm X founds the Organization of Afro-American Unity.

1965 The Voting Rights Act is passed. The bill outlaws states from requiring citizens to pass a literacy test to qualify
to vote.
Character Counts! Chronicle: Black History Timeline 3

1966 Stokely Carmichael, organizer and spokesperson for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee,
introduces the term "Black Power" as a social and political agenda.

1967 Thurgood Marshall is the first African American to be appointed to the Supreme Court.

1982 NAACP and supporters prevent President Ronald Reagan from giving a tax-break to the racially segregated
Bob Jones University.

o Guion Steward Bluford Jr. is the first African American in space.
o Vanessa Williams, Miss New York, is crowned Miss America.

o Colin Powell is appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, making him the first black officer to hold the
highest military post in the United States.
o Oprah Winfrey becomes the first African-American to own her own television and film production company,
Harpo Studios, Inc.

1991 When avowed racist and former Klan leader David Duke runs for US Senate in Louisiana, the NAACP launches
a voter registration campaign that yields a 76 percent turn-out of Black voters to defeat Duke.

o Mae Jemison becomes the first African-American woman astronaut, spending more than a week orbiting
Earth in the space shuttle Endeavour.
o Carol Moseley-Braun becomes the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate, representing
the state of Illinois.

2000 Over 50,000 people march on the capitol building in Columbia, South Carolina to protest the flying of the
Confederate Battle Flag. This is the largest civil rights demonstration ever held in the South to date.

2002 Halle Berry becomes the first African-American woman to be awarded an Oscar for best actress in a leading

2007 Over 60 years after their service in the United States Air Corps, the Tuskegee Airmen are collectively awarded
with the Congressional Gold Medal.

List compiled from the following sources:

1. NPR: “Black History Month 2003: Timeline of Key Dates in African-American History”
2. NAACP: “Timeline: Trace NAACP History”
3. Wikipedia: Black Power, OAAU, I Have a Dream, Tuskegee Airmen