Cover Story

Race in America: A historical timeline

Issue: "A new division, a new dream," Aug. 25, 2001

1616
A Dutch privateer sails into Chesapeake Bay, seeking supplies. Its English pilot, Marmaduke Raynor, helps broker the deal with Jamestown officials: 20 blacks, captured in raids of the West Indies, in exchange for the needed provisions. 1637
After winning a skirmish against the Pequod Indians at Mystia, the Massachusetts militia sends the captured women and children to the West Indies, to be sold as slaves. The ship is the Desire. It returns loaded with African slaves for Connecticut farms. Like the blacks bought by the Jamestown colony, they're considered indentured servants-a status held by many whites. Indentured servitude is at least theoretically limited to a specified number of years, but increasingly, this part of the "agreement" is neglected. In 1652 Rhode Island will pass a law limiting "involuntary servitude" to 10 years. 1641
Massachusetts makes an attempt to regulate slavery; its Body of Liberties says "there shall never be any bond slaverie, villinage, or captivites amongst us unless it be lawfull captives taken in just wars, and such strangers as willingly selle themselves or are sold to us. And these shall have all the liberties and Christian usages which the law of God established in Israell concerning such persons doeth morally require. This exempts none from servitude who be Judged thereto by Authoritie." 1645
Captain Philip Taylor, a landowner in Northampton County, Va., complains his slave Anthony doesn't work hard enough; eventually he agrees to give part of a corn field to Anthony. "I am very glad of it," Anthony responds. "Now I know myne owne ground and I will worke when I please and play when I please." 1655
The Virginia Colony declares that "by Common Law the Child of a Woman slave begott by a freeman ought to bee free," citing English Common Law that says a child inherits the legal status of the father. The case is brought by Elizabeth Key, or "Black Bess" as she is called. Bess is the mulatto daughter of Thomas Key and his black slave; as a child she had been indentured to a Colonel Humphrey Higginson for nine years. But now, wanting to prove her free status before marrying William Greensted, she presses the court to affirm the Common Law. It does so, ordering that "the said Elizabeth ought to bee free and that her last Master should giver her Corne and Cloathes and giver her satisfaction for the time shee hath served longer than shee ought to have done." 1662
More and more cases like Black Bess's push the Virginia legislature to reconsider "whether children got by any Englishman upon a negro woman should be slave or Free." In the end, it goes against centuries of Common Law by ruling that those children "borne in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother." 1664
A Maryland law says that Christian baptism will have no effect on a slave's legal status. Europeans and white colonists are used to slavery, but throughout history it has been political (those on the losing side of a war were liable to be enslaved) or religious (many Christians and Muslims routinely enslaved each other; Capt. John Smith, for example, was forced into slavery for a time by Muslims). Conversion has, until now, been an unofficial but common route to freedom. 1680
Seeing that slavery is more and more racially based, the English minister Morgan Godwyn writes that "these two words, Negro and Slave, are by common usage grown Homogenous and Convertible." 1691
Interracial marriages are outlawed in Virginia. Massachusetts will pass a similar law in 1705, and soon most colonies will criminalize such unions. 1699
A new Virginia law requires that blacks leave the colonies within six months after being freed. Allowing free blacks to stay, the Assembly reasons, would cause "great inconveniences, by their either entertaining Negro slaves, or receiving stolen goods, or being grown old and bringing a charge upon the country." 1705
Virginia legislators draft the first "slave codes," in an attempt to control the growing slave population. These codes, soon copied by other colonies and many cities, make it illegal for slaves to earn wages, travel freely, gather in groups, carry firearms, or testify in court. In New York City, for example, no "Negro, Mulatto, or Indian slave" over the age of 14 may be on the street at night without a lantern or candle. Transgressors of this law "shall be Whipped at the Publick Whipping Post (not exceeding Forty Lashes) if desired by the Master or Owner of such Slave or Slaves." In New Orleans, a "Code Noir" is passed in 1724 that not only regulates slaves, but also kicks out the Jews. 1733
The king of Spain, hoping to cause more trouble to the English and to bolster his colony in Florida, issues an edict granting freedom to any runaway slave who reaches St. Augustine. Hundreds of slaves make their way south, and in 1738 the local governor will grant blacks their own townsite, to be known as Fort Mosa, a few miles north of St. Augustine. 1734
The Trustees of the Colony of Georgia, under James Oglethorpe, outlaw both slavery and rum (though beer is encouraged as a temperate beverage). Lawyers are also banned. All three rules are gradually relaxed. 1739
Word reaches Charleston, S.C., that England and Spain are at war; some of the colony's 40,000 slaves see this as their chance to escape to Fort Mosa in Spanish Florida. At Stono Landing, south of Charleston, a group of 20 slaves meets early on the morning of Sept. 9. They break into Hutcheson's Store at Stono Bridge, kill two shopkeepers, and take the guns and powder. They begin marching south. By the time armed whites gather and catch up, the number of slaves has grown to between 60 and 100. In the battle 40 slaves and 20 whites are killed. Officials later display the heads of the rebellion's leaders on poles. This first organized slave uprising causes South Carolina and other colonies to enact harsher slave codes. Drumming is also outlawed, on the suspicion that slaves communicated using drums. 1741
Authorities in New York City uncover a planned slave uprising and move to prevent it by hanging 18 slaves, burning another 13 at the stake, and deporting 71 more. Four whites are hanged for conspiring with slaves, "Spanish Jesuits," and the Spanish Crown. Catholic priests are arrested and charged with inciting slaves to burn down the city. 1756
Forty percent of Virginia's 250,000 residents are slaves. 1761
The Society of Friends (Quakers) bars slave traders from its congregations (though many Quakers still own slaves). Quakers will soon take the lead in the abolitionist movement; Pennsylvania pamphleteer Anthony Benezet will labor to show the evils of slavery and the humanity of blacks. His 1771 book, Some Historical Account of Guinea, will serve as the basis of John Wesley's most fiery sermons against slavery. 1763
Fort Mosa is abandoned, and the former slaves and their families leave with the Spanish as Spain cedes Florida to England. 1770
Former slave Crispus Attucks and a few shipmates come upon a scuffle between some British redcoats and townspeople on Boston's King Street. John Adams, in defending the redcoats in court, would later say that this "stout Mulatto fellow" (the son of a black man and an Indian woman) seemed "to have undertaken to be the hero of the night, and to lead this army with banners, to form them in the first place in Dock Square, and march them up to King street with their clubs." Attucks is the first man killed in the scuffle that will soon be called the Boston Massacre. 1772
A ruling by an English judge shows the dilemma slaves in the American colonies face. Lord Chief Justice William Murray rules in a case involving a slave named James Somerset that "as soon as any slave sets foot on the soil of the British Islands he becomes free." When news of the decision reaches the colonies, they see a predictable increase in runaways as slaves escape, hoping to make their way to England somehow. At the same time, patriotic fervor for liberty isn't limited to whites. Many slaves simply wish the sentiment to be enlarged. One group of slaves in Boston wrote to the colonial legislature that "we expect great things from men who have made such a noble stand against the designs of their fellow-men to enslave them." 1775
British Commander Thomas Gage proposes using slaves to help quash the American rebellion. "Things are coming to that crisis that we must avail ourselves of every resources, even to raise the Negroes, in our cause." Lord Dunsmore, aboard a Royal Navy ship off Williamsburg, issues a proclamation that any slaves who join the redcoats will be freed. Soon he has 300 men in his "Ethiopian Regiment," who all wear "Liberty to Slaves" embroidered on their uniforms. Virginia newspapers reported "boatloads of slaves" rowing and sailing out to reach the British ships and the British-controlled Sullivan's Island. General George Washington fears the effect of Dunsmore's proclamation; "if that man is not crushed by spring," Washington writes, "he will become the most formidable enemy America has; his strength will increase as a snowball rolling; and faster, if some expedient cannot be hit upon to convince the slaves of the impotency of his design." The expedient will emerge, but not as a military maneuver. The crowded camps of runaway slaves are ravaged by an outbreak of smallpox in the spring of 1776. 1776
In his initial draft, Thomas Jefferson includes slavery in his list of grievances against King George III. The Crown has "waged cruel war against human nature itself," Jefferson writes, by violating the "most sacred rights of life and liberty" of Africans. This passage is edited out. 1777
Vermont prohibits slavery in its new state constitution. 1778
Thomas Jefferson persuades the Virginia legislature to prohibit the further importation of slaves. 1781
A young slave named Quok (or Quaco) Walker escapes from his master in Massachusetts and takes shelter with a neighbor. When his master finds him, he beats the young man with a whip handle, then brings charges against the neighbor for luring away his property. Walker brings a suit against his master, which soon goes to the Massachusetts Supreme Court. That body will rule in 1783 that since the state constitution of 1780 says that all men are born free and equal, slavery is illegal. New Hampshire's court will hand down a similar ruling, while Pennsylvania abolitionists will accomplish the same thing legislatively, with the nation's first manumission (freedom) statute. 1782
When the British evacuate Charleston, S.C., nearly 6,000 former slaves leave with them. 1785
The New York Manumission Society is founded after "violent attempts lately made to seize and export for sale several free Negroes." The Society isn't overtly abolitionist; John Jay, its first president, is a slave owner who says, "I purchase slaves and manumit them when their faithful services shall have afforded a reasonable retribution." But the Society works faithfully toward an end to slavery in the state. It will be the force behind New York's final manumission law, which will be adopted in 1817 and will grant freedom to all slaves born before July 4, 1799, to take effect on July 4, 1827. 1787
The Northwest Ordinance prohibits slavery in the territory north of the Ohio River. In the Constitutional Convention's Connecticut Compromise, a state's representation in the House will be determined by the total of its white population, plus three-fifths of its slave population. Also, the Constitution includes an option to ban the import of slaves in 1808. 1791
Virginia planter Robert Carter frees his 500 slaves, citing his Christian beliefs. In his deed of manumission he writes, "I have for some time past been convinced that to retain them in Slavery is contrary to the true Principles of Religion and Justice, and that therefor it was my duty to manumit them." 1792
When St. George's Methodist Church in Philadelphia remodels, it sends its black worshippers back to some newly installed gallery pews. When black ministers Richard Allen and Absalom Jones arrive for services one Sunday morning and kneel in their usual places, ushers demand they move. Allen asks for a moment to finish his prayer, but the usher responds, "No, you must get up now, or I will call for aid and force you away." Allen, Jones, and the entire black portion of the church's congregation arise and walk out. The incident shows the tension that will soon lead to the formation of the first black denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Allen will pastor Bethel African Methodist church, or "Mother Bethel." 1793
The first federal Fugitive Slave Law is enacted. 1794
Eli Whitney perfects and patents his cotton gin, making cotton highly profitable and resurrecting slavery, which as an institution may have been dying. In 1803, South Carolina will resume the import of slaves, as cotton passes tobacco as the nation's leading export. 1804
New Jersey becomes the final Northern state to enact a manumission law. 1807
Congress bans further import of slaves, effective Jan. 1, 1808. 1811
Charles Deslondes leads 400 other slaves in a well-organized rebellion, killing two whites, liberating blacks, and burning plantations in St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes in Louisiana. Whites flee and Deslondes soon marches on New Orleans. His forces meet U.S. troops on River Road, outside the city. The slaves are routed, with 66 killed. Twenty-two slaves are tried and executed; authorities put their heads on poles along River Road to serve as a warning to other slaves. 1820
Congress accepts the Missouri Compromise; Missouri is admitted into the union as a slave state and Maine as a free state. Future states carved from the rest of the Louisiana Purchase will be free. The African nation of Liberia is founded by the American Colonization Society, as a place to send former slaves. 1826
Pennsylvania bucks the federal Fugitive Slave Act by making "kidnapping" of escaped slaves a crime. Other Northern states, including Connecticut, Vermont, and Ohio, pass similar "personal liberty laws." The U.S. Supreme Court will eventually strike down Pennsylvania's statute in Prigg vs. Pennsylvania (1842), ruling that owners have a right to recover fugitive slaves. 1831
Nat Turner leads a slave revolt in Virginia. His band of about 70 slaves moves from plantation to plantation, sparing no whites. The death toll is 57, including a number of children, by the time the authorities catch up to the rebels. Turner himself flees and remains at large for a time, but is eventually captured and hanged. The Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper edited and published by William Lloyd Garrison, is founded. 1832
Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice, a white actor, brings his stage musical Jim Crow to New York. With burnt cork on his face and ending with the chorus, "weel about and turn about and do jis so, eb'ry time I weel about I jump Jim Crow," Rice is called out for encore after encore. 1837
Congress ducks the issue of slavery by enacting a "gag resolution," declaring that it has no power over slavery, and therefore "all petitions, memorials, resolutions, propositions, or papers relating in any way" will be permanently tabled. 1840
The abolitionist movement, already fractious, splits over the side issue of women's rights. William Lloyd Garrison boycotts the first world Anti-Slavery Conference in London because women are excluded. 1845
Baptists split when the American Baptist Home Mission society, a division of the General Baptist Convention, refuses to appoint slave owners as missionaries. Delegates from 310 southern churches meet in Augusta, Ga., to form the Southern Baptist Convention. The Methodist Episcopal Church also splits into Northern and Southern bodies when Georgia Bishop James O. Andrews refuses an order to give up his slaves or resign his post. 1846
Dred Scott, a household slave owned by army surgeon Dr. John Emerson, asks a Missouri court for his freedom, on the grounds that he had lived with his master for a time in Illinois, a free state. The case will make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will rule in 1857 that blacks are "beings of an inferior order" and have "no rights which white men are bound to respect." 1849
Learning she was to be sold, a young slave woman named Harriet Tubman escapes into the woods of Maryland and makes her way to Philadelphia. She then returns to the South to rescue her parents, her sister, and more than 300 other slaves. Blacks begin calling her "Moses" and white plantation owners post a $40,000 reward for her capture. She will become the most successful conductor on the Underground Railroad, a network of hideouts and helpers for runaway slaves. She will threaten to shoot stragglers on those journeys: "If he's weak enough to give out, he'd be weak enough to betray us all, and all who had helped us; and do you think I'd let so many die just for one coward man?" She'll never have to carry out this threat, but at least one man finds new reserves of strength to go on, upon learning that she would. 1850
Congress attempts to strengthen the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act to make it easier (and safer) for Southern slave owners to recapture their runaways in Northern states and territories, but the first person arrested under it is a New York freedman named James Hamlet. An outraged public raises $800 to redeem him. Recapturing slaves remains difficult and dangerous; in Pennsylvania, for example, Deputy Marshall Henry Kline and slave owner Edward Gorsuch pursue two fugitives to the town of Christiana. Local Quakers and freed blacks intervene, and in a gunfight Gorsuch, a Quaker, and three blacks die. 1854
Congress, dissatisfied with the Compromise of 1850 (which involved letting California in as a free state, and ceding the issue of slavery to the states), passes the Kansas-Nebraska Act, establishing the principle of "popular sovereignty"-letting territories themselves choose whether to be slave or free. Whigs, Free-soilers, and abolitionist Democrats, dissatisfied with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, form the Republican Party at a meeting in Wisconsin. 1855
The most dire predictions about the Kansas-Nebraska Act prove true; pro-slavery and abolitionist interests rush settlers into the Kansas territory. The opposing forces clash with guns. A rigged election puts a pro-slavery territorial governor and legislature in place, and they immediately enact severe laws against anti-slavery "agitation." Abolitionists declare the territorial legislature illegal and form their own; they stockpile arms and appoint James H. Lane as military commander of the Free State party militia. By the spring of 1856 skirmishes are common, and in May the town of Lawrence is captured and sacked by pro-slavery forces, led by a U.S. marshal. In retaliation for the Lawrence incident, abolitionist John Brown will lead a party in an attack on pro-slavery settlers at Pottawatomie Creek, killing five of them. 1859
In October, John Brown leads a raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Va. His goal is to incite a slave rebellion and supply it with arms. His band of 22 men captures the arsenal and holds local citizens hostage. But slaves fail to respond to his call for revolution, and two days later he surrenders to a force of U.S. Marines, led by Col. Robert E. Lee. Brown is found guilty of treason and hanged at Charles Town, Va. 1860
The word secession is heard throughout the South, even before the November election of Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln prevails, South Carolina is the first state to dissolve its union with the United States. Its "Declaration of Immediate Causes" justifies the move on the grounds that the United States had elected a president "whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery." Ten other Southern states will soon follow South Carolina into a Confederacy. Four slave states-Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri-remain loyal to the Union. 1861
Confederate forces open fire on the garrison at Ft. Sumter, S.C. The Civil War begins. More than 180,000 blacks will fight for the Union. 1862
President Lincoln issues his Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all slaves in the areas of rebelling states not controlled by Union forces shall be, on Jan. 1, 1863, "then, thenceward, and forever free." 1865
Five days after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrenders to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, President Lincoln is assassinated. Vice President Andrew Johnson, a former slave owner, is sworn in as president. He won't be up to the task of reigning in Radical Reconstructionists in Congress, and the harsher Reconstruction measures will further embitter the South. Congress introduces and quickly ratifies the Thirteenth Amendment, outlawing slavery. 1866
Congress passes its first Civil Rights Act, granting citizenship to blacks born in the United States. But the legislative measure is in doubt, as it so clearly clashes with the U.S. Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision. Lawmakers decide the best route is to enforce it with a constitutional amendment that will be ratified as the 14th Amendment on July 28, 1868. The 15th Amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote to all citizens, regardless of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude" will be ratified two years later. 1870
Mississippi minister Hiram Revels, the son of free blacks, becomes the first black U.S. Senator, winning the Senate seat once held by Jefferson Davis. Blacks also win seats in Southern state legislatures; a black man, Pinkney B.S. Pinchback, becomes governor of Louisiana. 1872
These victories at the polls end abruptly when Congress restores the right to vote to most Confederate supporters, and at the same time shows an increasing unwillingness to defend black voters and elected officials. Southern states begin enacting poll taxes and establishing property requirements for voting. These are the first of the Jim Crow laws that will segregate the South. 1881
Newly graduated teacher Booker T. Washington moves to Tuskegee, Ala., and begins holding classes in a small church building on Zion Hill. This will become the Tuskegee Institute. In 1896 an Iowa State University graduate, George Washington Carver, will head the Institute's agricultural department, and will equip a mule wagon with tools and exhibits. He and his teaching assistants will take their "Movable School" around to the sharecroppers in the area, teaching them how to maintain the soil and diversify their crops. 1884
Property ownership and the vote are the most pressing needs for blacks, writes African-American writer and activist T. Thomas Fortune in his book Black and White. Denial of these is "the great social wrong which has turned the beautiful roses of freedom into thorns to prick the hands of the black men of the South." Land ownership has been a contentious question since the close of the Civil War, when the federal government considered and then rejected plans to parcel out the plantation lands to the slaves who had worked them. In the end, President Johnson and Congress gave most of the lands back to their pre-war owners and encouraged blacks to return to the same fields, albeit for wages, or for shares of the crop, with sharecropping providing a meager living for ex-slaves and their families. Many blacks look westward; in 1889-90, lands in the Oklahoma Territory will be open for settlement to non-Indians, and thousands of blacks respond. All-black towns will be established, such as Langston City; by 1900 more than 55,000 blacks will be living in the territory. 1887
Schoolteacher Ida B. Wells, who had refused to move from the first-class train seat she'd purchased, loses her suit to the Tennessee Supreme Court, when it rules that the railroad had the right to demand she repair to a second-class smoking compartment, because of her race. "I felt so disappointed," she writes in her diary. "O God, is there no redress, no peace, no justice in this land for us?" 1891
Referring to Liberia as "the Promised Land" for American blacks, AME Bishop Henry McNeal Turner calls for a massive emigration to that country. The American Colonization Society circulates his letters about Liberia through black churches. Hundreds of blacks travel east, only to find that the Society has neither boats nor funds nor any real hope of being able to sustain an exodus. Some of these disappointed people travel westward, to the Oklahoma Territory, while others remain and find work in the cities. 1892
Black Codes in many Southern states allow for black men to be arrested for petty crimes and assigned to forced labor; the most common charges are vagrancy and loitering. Some states, including Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, have programs that allow prison officials to lease convicts to private firms; in Tennessee, most of these men are sent into the coal mines. But in August, white miners (unhappy with the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company for giving their jobs to the convicts) join with the prisoners to burn down the convict camp and free the prisoners at Tracy City, Tenn. The state militia is called out and subdues the rebellion, killing one black leader, Jake Witsen. Thousands attend his funeral, and within a year, the Tennessee legislature will vote to end the convict leasing system. 1895
Booker T. Washington makes his controversial "Atlanta Compromise" speech at a trade exposition. He discourages blacks from leaving the South or depending on Northerners for assistance. He suggests instead that they better their own lives, by striking a bargain with whites: in return for better working conditions and better pay, blacks would abide by the law and not press for radical political change. He acquiesces to segregation: "In all things that are purely social, we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress." He will later elaborate that "I believe it is the duty of the Negro-as the greater part of the race is already doing-to deport himself modestly in regard to political claims, depending upon the slow but sure influences that proceed from the possession of property, intelligence, and high character for the full recognition of his political rights." Not all black leaders agree; T. Thomas Fortune tells an audience "we are here today as representatives of 8 million freemen, who know our rights and have the courage to defend them." W.E.B. Du Bois will break with Washington in his 1903 book, The Souls of Black Folk, advocating more strident steps against racism. 1896
In Plessy vs. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds segregation: As long as the separate facilities are equal in quality, there's no discrimination. Therefore, the Court says, the Jim Crow laws are constitutional actions by state legislatures. 1898
When a black man is appointed postmaster in the town of Lake City, S.C., some whites react violently. A mob surrounds his home at night and burns it, with the postmaster and his family still inside. When they try to escape, they are shot as they emerge from the house. During the two decades leading up to 1900, more than 100 reported lynchings of blacks occur each year. In 1899, black churches will set aside a day of fasting and prayer for justice; schoolteacher Ida B. Wells (fired after she wrote a newspaper article pointing out the inferior quality of the public schools set aside for blacks) becomes an anti-lynching activist. 1900
The Jim Crow laws are now both entrenched and effective. Louisiana, for example, has poll taxes, literacy tests, and property requirements to discourage blacks from voting. In 1896, 130,344 blacks were registered to vote there. Four years later, there are 1,342. 1906
More than half of all blacks are members of churches; the largest black denomination is the National Baptist Convention, with 2.2 million members, followed by the AME Church with about 500,000. Scholar W.E.B. Du Bois writes that "Baptism, wedding and burial, gossip and courtship, friendship and intrigue-all lie within these walls." Two-thirds of the members of the National Baptist Convention are women. 1910
Du Bois and his Niagara Movement of black Northern intellectuals join with white liberals to form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. 1916
The Great Migration begins when industrial firms in the North send recruiters to the South with promises of higher wages and better living conditions for black workers. In the first three years alone, half a million blacks will leave the agricultural areas of the South for the Northern cities, especially Chicago, New York, and Pittsburgh. Predictably, this rush will cause some racial tension. In East St. Louis, Ill., when thousands of blacks arrive to work in the aluminum plants, factory owners use them to replace striking whites, and a race riot breaks out. Forty blacks and nine whites are killed. Thousands of blacks are burned out of their homes. A worse riot occurs in Chicago, where blacks and whites clash for five days. Riots break out in more than 300 cities. 1920
But the Great Migration bears other fruit; four black men pen Shuffle Along, a musical that will signal the start of the Harlem Renaissance. Much comes out of this small New York neighborhood during the next decade, but Langston Hughes will later write, "I remember Shuffle Along best of all. It gave just the proper push-a pre-Charleston kick-to that Negro vogue of the '20s that spread to books, African sculpture, music, and dancing." 1925
Howard University Professor Alain Locke publishes his book about The New Negro, an identity and a movement that can bring together the best elements of Booker T. Washington's conscientious compromise and the NAACP's and Du Bois's more assertive approach, along with the optimism of the Great Migration. Two principles will guide the New Negro: self-respect and self-reliance. 1931
Nine black youths are pulled from a train in Paint Rock, Ala., along with two white women. The women claim to have been raped at knifepoint. The boys, ages 12-20, are jailed in nearby Scottsboro. More than 10,000 would-be spectators show up for the trials of the boys. A Tennessee attorney (who is drunk) is appointed to defend the boys in the Alabama court-he's assisted by a local lawyer-and given less than half an hour to meet with his clients before the trial starts. Their already inadequate defense falls apart when the boys begin accusing each other; the jury deliberates for only two hours before finding all nine boys guilty. All but the 12-year-old are sentenced to the electric chair. At first, the NAACP balks at getting involved, and by the time it does, a branch of the U.S. Communist Party has stepped in to defend the boys. The new attorneys win a stay of execution just 72 hours before all eight of the condemned are scheduled to die. In the second trial, which begins in March 1933, the defense closes with one of the alleged victims, Ruby Bates, admitting that they made up the story of the rapes. The second jury brings back guilty verdicts, but after a public outcry Judge James Horton sets aside the verdict, based on the evidence, and orders a new trial. A third trial opens in November 1933; it also ends with a guilty verdict, which the U.S. Supreme Court in 1935 sets aside because the jury rolls had been tampered with. The fourth trial opens in January 1936. Five are found guilty, four are freed. Eventually, all five of those convicted are cleared of the charges, the last being freed after World War II. 1933
Eleanor Roosevelt befriends NAACP leader Walter White and black activist Mary McLeod Bethune; she soon pushes her husband, President Roosevelt, toward a stronger stance on civil rights. Particularly after the election of 1936, the first lady endorses laws abolishing the poll tax and making lynching a federal offense. FDR uses the New Deal to advance the cause, issuing executive orders that will force the WPA and other agencies to end discrimination in hiring, training, and awarding contracts. In 1941 his Executive Order 8802 will ban racial discrimination in government and the defense industry. 1939
Renowned vocalist Marian Anderson, born to a working-class black family in Philadelphia but trained in Europe, returns to the United States to tour. When she's booked into Constitution Hall, the Daughters of the American Revolution (who own the venue) refuse to let her perform there. Eleanor Roosevelt, the DAR's most prominent member, resigns from the group in protest. Interior Secretary Harold Ickes opens the Lincoln Memorial to Anderson; 75,000 attend her performance, and millions more listen to a radio broadcast of the event. 1941
When the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, Mess Attendant First Class Doris "Dorie" Miller is gathering up laundry aboard the USS West Virginia. He hears the alarm for general quarters, but finds his battle station, an antiaircraft battery magazine, already wrecked by torpedoes. He rushes on deck and begins carrying wounded sailors below; when this task is completed, he mans a Browning .50 caliber machine gun (for which he was never trained). He fires for about 15 minutes, until he runs out of ammunition. By this time, the West Virginia is sinking and officers order the crew to abandon ship. Miller will receive the Navy Cross for his valor. 1943
The "Zoot Suit Riots" in Los Angeles (in which police clashed with dapper blacks and Latinos) are eclipsed by the events on a hot summer day in Detroit, when fights break out between blacks and whites at Belle Isle Amusement Park. After a night of destruction and looting by blacks, federal troops arrive to put down the riot. The final tally is 34 dead, 675 injured, and more than 1,800 arrested. 1946
The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Morgan vs. Virginia that segregated seating on interstate public transportation is unconstitutional. Irene Morgan of Virginia had refused to give up her seat on a Greyhound bus ride to Baltimore. In the spring of 1947, 16 men will test Southern compliance with the ruling by taking what they call "Freedom Rides" across state lines. Their "Journey of Reconciliation" is put together by the Congress of Racial Equality, a Chicago-based group. The Freedom Riders meet with resistance, of course; on one trip, three Riders are arrested in North Carolina and sentenced to 21 days of hard labor on a prison farm. But they are committed to nonviolent resistance, and their Journey will be the model for further Freedom Rides in the summer of 1961. 1947
Jackie Robinson signs with the Brooklyn Dodgers and becomes the first African-American to play in major league baseball. He bats right and throws right; in 1949 this second baseman will be named the National League's MVP, hitting a league-leading .342 and driving in 124 runs. 1948
President Truman ends segregation in the armed forces. 1954
Oliver Brown of Topeka, Kan., was upset that his third-grade daughter couldn't go to the school just five blocks from their home-instead, she was bused across town to the school for blacks. He sued the school board, and his case is one of the five the Supreme Court hears on school segregation. The Court rules in Brown vs. Board of Education that "in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." It's a broad ruling, broad enough that eventually lower courts will order not only desegregation but integration by forcing districts to bus students from predominantly black neighborhoods to predominantly white schools, and vice versa. This will often be done not only against the wishes of many whites, but also against the wishes of many black community leaders. 1955
Local NAACP leader Rosa Parks challenges the segregated bus service in Montgomery, Ala. On the morning of Dec. 1, she takes a seat at the front; when the bus driver tells her to give her seat to a standing white man, she refuses. A police officer called to the scene asks why she won't obey the driver; "I don't think I should have to," she responds. Parks is arrested, and soon bailed out by NAACP co-workers. The plan was to make this a test case, but events soon overtake plans and a bus boycott commences. Buoyed by its success, black leaders meet to plan their strategy; to his surprise, the young minister Martin Luther King Jr. is chosen by the others to lead the new Montgomery Improvement Association. He never veers from his commitment to nonviolent resistance. "I want to say that we're not here advocating violence," he says later that evening, to a gathering at the Holt Street Baptist Church. "I want it known throughout Montgomery and throughout this nation that we are a Christian people. We believe in the teachings of Jesus. The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest." 1956
On the night of Jan. 30, two months into the Montgomery bus boycott, Coretta Scott King and a friend hear a thud on the front porch of the King home (Martin Luther King Jr. is attending a meeting); the women run to a back room, where the Kings' daughter is sleeping. The stick of dynamite that had landed on the porch blows up, destroying the porch and shattering windows. By the time King arrives home, 15 minutes later, hundreds of blacks have gathered; some are armed, all are angry. King calms the crowd. "We believe in law and order. Don't get panicky, don't get your weapons. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.... We want to love our enemies. Be good to them. Love them and let them know you love them." 1957
The school board in Little Rock, Ark., announces its plan to "voluntarily" desegregate its schools, starting with the all-white Central High School. Seventy-five black youths volunteer to attend Central; the board picks 25, then cuts that number to nine. Arkansas Gov. Orville Faubus (with an election looming) calls out the Arkansas National Guard to keep the students from entering the school; eventually President Eisenhower will send in federal troops to escort the students in. The pressure on these nine kids is tremendous, and one finally gives in. Minnie Jean Brown, after suffering weeks of unrelenting jeers, pours her bowl of chili on the head of one of her tormenters. The cafeteria workers (all blacks) applaud. Minnie Jean is suspended from Central High School and finishes out the school year in New York City. 1959
The fringe group Nation of Islam begins winning mainstream black support. The African-American newspaper Philadelphia Courier writes that NOI leader Elijah Muhammad "may be a rogue and a charlatan, but when anybody can get tens of thousands of Negroes to practice economic solidarity, respect their women, alter their atrocious diet, give up liquor, stop crime, juvenile delinquency, and adultery, he is doing more for the Negroes' welfare than any other Negro leader." A rising leader within the NOI is Malcolm Little, renamed by Elijah Muhammad as Malcolm X while in prison for burglary. Malcolm X will emerge as a harsh critic of civil-rights leaders who advocate integration. 1960
Four college students from the all-black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College plan a protest at the all-white lunch counter at the Woolworth's department store in Greensboro. On Monday morning, Feb. 1, with scrubbed faces and their best clothes, they enter the department store, buy a few items, and sit down at the lunch counter. When asked to leave, their spokesman, Ezell Blair Jr., says politely, "I beg your pardon, but you just served us [in accepting their money for items], why can't we be served here?" They refuse to leave until they're served; the manager closes the store early and the youths return to school. Word spreads about their protest, and on Tuesday morning, 19 students sit politely and ask to be served at the Woolworth's counter. More than 80 show up on Wednesday, and since there's no more room, they descend on the neighboring S.H. Kress store's lunch counter. 1961
Activists travel through the South to test enforcement of a U.S. Supreme Court order that all bus terminals be desegregated. Again organized by the Congress of Racial Equality, these new Freedom Riders arrive and use the water fountains, benches, waiting areas, and restrooms previously reserved for whites. They also ask to be served at the lunch counters. They encounter violent resistance; in Anniston, Ala., for instance, their bus is firebombed. President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy work to persuade activists to change their focus from confrontation to voter registration. 1963
Martin Luther King Jr. is jailed in Birmingham, Ala., for marching on Good Friday. Local ministers publish a letter in a Birmingham newspaper calling for "moderate" change and an end to the protests. King responds with his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail": "I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say 'Wait.'" The protests get bigger. On May 2, police detain more than 600 children. On May 3, Police Chief Bull Connor tells his forces to set upon protesters with fire hoses. Detailed press accounts-including coverage on the new medium of television-shame the Kennedy administration into acting. A plan to desegregate Birmingham is brokered and announced on May 7. King and others plan to follow up their Birmingham success with a 100,000-person March on Washington. More than 250,000 arrive and hear King's "I Have a Dream" speech. But on Sept. 15, just weeks after the march, a bomb explodes in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham as people are gathering for the morning services. Four girls, ages 11 to 14, die in the blast. 1965
Congress passes the Voting Rights Act, giving the 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution some legislative teeth. It authorizes federal supervision of voting and voter registration in states with a history of discrimination. Martin Luther King leads a 5-day, 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery. Five days of riots destroy much of the Watts district of Los Angeles; the riots begin when residents see a black driver harassed by white patrolmen; the final toll is 34 dead and more than $35 million in property damage. 1966
Black militants Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton establish the Black Panthers and quickly become involved in violent confrontations with police and federal authorities. The Black Panthers are overtly Marxist (preaching that the poor and oppressed will revolt and overthrow the capitalistic system). Law enforcement officials crack down on the Panthers in 1969, arresting 348 of them for offenses ranging from robbery to assault and murder. 1968
After making his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech the night before, Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated on April 4. Riots break out in more than 100 cities and towns nationwide, leaving 39 people dead. President Johnson sets aside April 7 as a day of mourning. 1971
The Congressional Black Caucus forms, with the goal of pressuring the Democratic Party to be more attentive to African-Americans. This approach isn't radical enough for some; activists gather in Gary, Ind., the next year for the National Black Political Assembly. They craft the "Gary Declaration" that says relying on either the Democrats or the Republicans is useless: "History leaves us no other choice. White politics has not and cannot bring the changes we need." But the separatism of the Gary Declaration is quickly abandoned, and the CBC is back to endorsing white Democrats by the 1972 campaign season. 1974
U.S. District Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. orders Boston to begin busing school children from schools in the poor and predominantly black Roxbury neighborhood to schools in the white Charlestown neighborhood, and vice versa, in an effort to achieve integration. Protests turn violent; buses are stoned. But many opponents of busing-both black and white-say the debate isn't about racism, it's about community pride, and the rights of parents to send children to their neighborhood school. 1977
The television miniseries Roots, based on the Pulitzer-winning novel by Alex Haley, is watched by a record 130 million viewers. 1978
White student Allan Bakke wins his lawsuit against the University of California at Davis, as the U.S. Supreme Court rules that denying him admission while admitting black students with lower test scores is reverse discrimination. The Court declares racial quotas unconstitutional. It does not dismantle affirmative action; the Court upholds a congressional program that sets aside 10 percent of public-works money for minority contractors. 1984
Jesse Jackson makes a serious bid for the Democratic nomination for the presidency, winning 3.5 million votes in the primaries. The Cosby Show premiers and soon becomes the most popular series on television. 1985
Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode, who is black, authorizes the aerial bombing of the headquarters of a militant black organization called MOVE, which has built a back-to-nature commune in the middle of the Powelton Village neighborhood. A police helicopter drops a bomb, but it misses the bunker atop the house and instead burns down an entire city block. Eleven people die, including five children; 61 row houses are destroyed and 250 are left homeless. A special commission, appointed by Goode, will later contend that "dropping a bomb on an occupied row house was unconscionable." A jury will order the city to pay $1.5 million to survivors. 1987
Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls, a player once cut from his high-school basketball team, averages 37.1 points per game, and will lead the league in scoring for the next seven consecutive seasons. He'll earn three league MVP awards. By the time he retires (for the first time) in 1993, he'll have a career average of 34.7 points per game, the best in NBA history. 1988
Jesse Jackson's second bid for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination earns 7 million votes in the primaries. 1992
Four white police officers are acquitted of using excessive force on Rodney King, despite videotape footage showing them beating him. The acquittals spark the worst race riots in American history; after four days of rioting, there are 55 dead and 2,383 injured. More than 8,000 people are arrested and property damage tops $1 billion. 1994
Six black Secret Service agents sue the Denny's restaurant chain for systematic discrimination, alleging the chain keeps blacks waiting, offers inferior service, and in some instances even requires that blacks pay for their meals up front. This soon becomes a class-action lawsuit, with nearly 300,000 plaintiffs. Denny's agrees to settle the suit for $54 million, and to work with the NAACP on improving service to minorities. 1995
O.J. Simpson goes on trial after his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, is found murdered outside her Los Angeles home. Her friend, Ron Goldman, was also killed. After the most publicized trial in history with continual coverage on cable television, the mostly black jury acquits him. Americans are sharply divided in their reactions; most blacks, who have known police corruption and racism before, are elated. Most whites are horrified, believing that Simpson has bought the verdict with high-priced lawyers who weren't afraid to play "the race card" to win. 1997
Eldrick "Tiger" Woods wins the 1997 Masters Tournament. He will win it again in 2000, along with the PGA Championship, the U.S. Open, and the British Open, becoming the first player ever to hold all four crowns at once. 2001
General Colin Powell is sworn in as the nation's first black secretary of state. A few days into his tenure he tells some visiting schoolchildren it's not that big a deal. "It isn't that unique to see somebody in a position like mine. That's what makes this country so great, that you can see this kind of change. But that change was fought for. We got it because of people like Martin Luther King, whose birthday we recently celebrated, Rosa Parks, and so many other people who struggled."

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