18 Important Moments in Black History

1. 1773: Phyllis Wheatley, a Boston slave, becomes the first African-American to publish a work

Her book of poetry is titled Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral and focuses on her upbringing and on religion. After its publication, Ms. Wheatley travels to London to promote it, and George Washington comments that he likes her work.

Phyllis Wheatley was born in Gambia, Senegal and was forced into slavery at the age of seven.

Also in 1773, slaves in Massachusetts petition the government for their freedom.

2. March 2, 1807: President Jefferson passes a law forbidding Americans to participate in the slave trade

At the time, the United States had a population of 4,000,000 slaves.

3. 1833: The New York Anti-Slavery Society begins a weekly newspaper called The Emancipator

The weekly publication is run by many free northern African-Americans.

4. 1845: Frederick Douglass completes his book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Douglass, one of the most famous abolitionists of all time, wrote about his experiences as a slave and his escape from slavery seven years before.

He later advises President Lincoln to allow former slaves to fight for the Union during the Civil War.

5. 1850: Sojourner Truth publishes The Narrative of Sojourner Truth

6. January 31, 1863: Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation

Lincoln ordered the freedom of slaves inside the Confederacy. An estimated 200,000 slaves are freed as a result of this proclamation.

7. December 6, 1865: the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified

The 13th Amendment declares: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

8. 1875: Booker T. Washington graduates from the Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia

Twenty-one years later, Harvard University grants him an honorary master’s degree for his work in education.

In 1901, he publishes his autobiography Up From Slavery.

9. 1895: W.E.B. Du Bois becomes the first African-American student at Harvard to receive a Ph.D. (which he earns in History)

The next year, he publishes his doctoral dissertation, “The Suppression of the African Slave Trade.” In 1903, he writes one of his most famous works, The Souls of Black Folk, a collection of essays reflecting on his own experiences and on his perception of race relations in the South.

In 1905, he helps set the Niagra Movement in motion – a movement dedicated to helping African-Americans gain social and political freedom. In 1917, Du Bois leads a silent march through New York City streets in protest of Jim Crow laws and ongoing lynchings.

Du Bois dies in Ghana on August 27th, 1963, one day before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Hearing of his death, leaders at the March honor Du Bois with a moment of silence.

10. February 12, 1909: the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is founded in New York City by Ida B. Wells-Barnett, W.E.B. Du Bois, Mary White Ovington, and Henry Moskowitz

President Obama addresses the NAACP Convention in 2009

11. July, 1944: Irene Morgan, a mother of two, refuses to give up her seat on a Greyhound bus in Virginia bound for Baltimore

Two years later, the Supreme Court rules in Irene Morgan vs. Virginia that segregation in interstate travel is unconstitutional.

12. May 17, 1954: the Supreme Court rules 9-0 in Brown v. Board of Education that school segregation is unconstitutional

This ruling dismisses the 1896 Supreme Court “separate but equal” ruling. Certain states are slow to enforce this ruling.

Daisy Bates, the president of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP, works hard to get the Board of Education in Arkansas to recognize this new law. Her work leads to the admission of the Little Rock Nine to Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

Watch footage of the Little Rock Nine

13. December 1, 1955: Rosa Parks is arrested and imprisoned for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus

This brave act spurs the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott that lasts 381 days and is one of the most memorable moments of the early Civil Rights Movement.

14. August 29, 1957: the United States Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1957

This was the first act of Civil Rights legislation since Reconstruction in America.

The act helps to protect every U.S. citizen’s right to vote and establishes a Civil Rights Commission whose duty is to investigate acts of discrimination and injustice. The Act also led to the creation of a Civil Rights Division within the Department of Justice.

15. May 29, 1958: Ernest Green becomes the first of the Little Rock Nine to graduate from Little Rock Central High School

As graduation day approaches, rumors swirl that Ernest Green might be harmed accepting his diploma.

His principle urges him not to attend the ceremony and tells him he will mail him his diploma, to which Ernest Green replies, “not in this lifetime.” Of the Little Rock Nine, Ernest Green has said, “For all nine of us, the common thread was the importance of school and education; we all had adults in our families who thought that we had the right to be there.”

An Interview with Ernest Green

16. August 23, 1963: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his famous “I have a dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

250,000 people march to the nation’s capital advocating civil rights and liberties.

Watch Dr. King deliver his speech

17. 1993: Carol Moseley Braun becomes the first African-American woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate

Carol Moseley Braun is also the second African-American elected to the Senate since Reconstruction.

She represents the state of Illinois where she grew up, went to school, and worked for years.

In 1994 she builds the Educational Infrastructure Act that aims to give money to those under-resourced schools and educational organizations that need it most.

18. November 4, 2008: Barack Obama is elected the 44th President of the United States, and the first African-American President of the United States

In his victory speech, President-Elect Obama talks about Ann Nixon Cooper, a 106 year-old African-American woman who was born one generation after slavery. He describes what she has seen in her life:

“She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons – because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

“And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America – the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

“At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

“When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs, a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

“When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

“She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that ‘We Shall Overcome’. Yes we can.

“A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination.

“And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.”

Watch President-Elect Obama deliver his acceptance speech on the night of his election

5 thoughts on “18 Important Moments in Black History

  1. Monica Williams-Mitchell says:

    Just a point of clarification — can a president PASS a law? Sign one, yes; veto one, definitely, but I just don’t see how a president can pass a law (see number 2 on your list) Did he promote it and use influence to get it passed? If so, please clarify. Thanks!

  2. Ken Maddox says:

    In item 2, may I suggest it be edited to read “signs into law” in place of “passes a law”.
    The president of the US has no power to ‘pass a law’.

  3. Sherall Hardy says:

    Black History is also America History, Canada’s History and The United Kingdom Celebrates Black History in October…

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