Black History Timeline: 1800-1896

19th CENTURY

1800 Gabriel Prosser, an enslaved African-American blacksmith, organizes a slave revolt intending to march on Richmond, Virginia. The conspiracy is uncovered, and Prosser and a number of the rebels are hanged. Virginia's slave laws are consequently tightened.

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1807 At the urging of President Thomas Jefferson, Congress passes the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves. It makes it a federal crime to import a slave from abroad.

1808, Congress madated that all importation of slaves from Africa is now banned. This mandate set down more lines for the conflict known as the Civil War. The mandate was trying to be appealed by Southerners in the 1850's but later failed. The importation of slaves is a felony.

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1816 The American Colonization Society is begun by Robert Finley, to send free African Americans to what is to become Liberia in West Africa.

1820 The Missouri Compromise bans slavery north of the southern boundary of Missouri.

1822 The American Colonization Society, founded by Presbyterian minister Robert Finley, establishes the colony of Monrovia (which would eventually become the country of Liberia) in western Africa. The society contends that the immigration of blacks to Africa is an answer to the problem of slavery as well as to what it feels is the incompatibility of the races. Over the course of the next forty years, about 12,000 slaves are voluntarily relocated.

1829 September – David Walker begins publication of the abolitionist pamphlet Walker's Appeal.

1830 October 28 – Josiah Henson, a slave who fled and arrived in Canada, is an author, abolitionist, minister and the inspiration behind the book Uncle Tom's Cabin.

1831 Nat Turner, an enslaved black preacher, leads the most significant slave uprising in American history. He and his band of followers launch a short, bloody, rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia. The militia quells the rebellion, and Turner is eventually hanged. As a consequence, Virginia institutes much stricter slave laws.


1831 William Lloyd Garrison begins publishing the Liberator, a weekly paper that advocates the complete abolition of slavery. He becomes one of the most famous figures in the abolitionist movement.

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1837 February – The first Institute of Higher Education for African Americans is founded. It was founded as the African Institute in February 1837 and renamed the Institute of Coloured Youth (ICY) in April 1837 and now known as Cheyney University of Pennsylvania. The Institute for Colored Youth (ICY), was a school for Black American youth to receive an education and be part of the American society.

1839, Fifty-three African slaves on board the slave ship the Amistad revolted against their captors, killing all but the ship's navigator, who sailed them to Long Island, N.Y., instead of their intended destination, Africa. Joseph Cinqué was the group's leader. The slaves aboard the ship became unwitting symbols for the antislavery movement in pre-Civil War United States. After several trials in which local and federal courts argued that the slaves were taken as kidnap victims rather than merchandise, the slaves were acquitted. The former slaves aboard the Spanish vessel Amistad secured passage home to Africa with the help of sympathetic missionary societies in 1842.

1839 July 2 – Slaves revolt on the La Amistad, an illegal slave ship, resulting in a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court (see United States v. The Amistad) and their gaining freedom.

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1846 Frederick Douglass launches his abolitionist newspaper.

1849 Roberts v. Boston seeks to end racial discrimination in Boston public schools.

1849, Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery and participates in the Underground Railroad. Because of her participation, she later became the most effective and celebrated leader of the movement. She worked hard enough to save seventy Blacks from slavery.

1850 The continuing debate whether territory gained in the Mexican War should be open to slavery is decided in the Compromise of 1850 (includes the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850): California is admitted as a free state, Utah and New Mexico territories are left to be decided by popular sovereignty, and the slave trade in Washington, D.C., is prohibited. It also establishes a much stricter fugitive slave law than the original, passed in 1793.

1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin is published. It becomes one of the most influential works to stir anti-slavery D.

1853 December – Clotel; or, The President's Daughter is the first novel published by an African-American.

1854 Congress passes the Kansas-Nebraska Act, establishing the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. The legislation repeals the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and renews tensions between anti- and pro slavery factions.

1854 Violence erupts in Kansas; commonly referred to as Bleeding Kansas or the Border War.

1857 The Dred Scott case holds that Congress does not have the right to ban slavery in states and, furthermore, that slaves are not citizens. In Dred Scott v. Sandford, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds slavery. This decision is regarded as a key cause of the American Civil War.

1859 John Brown and 21 followers capture the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Va. (now West Virginia.), in an attempt to launch a slave revolt.

1861 April 12 – The American Civil War begins Tens of thousands of enslaved African Americans of all ages escaped to Union lines for freedom. Contraband camps were set up in some areas, where blacks started learning to read and write. Others traveled with the Union Army. By the end of the war, more than 180,000 African Americans, mostly from the South, fought with the Union Army and Navy as members of the US Colored Troops and sailors.

Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Photo Credit: Library of Congress

1862 September 22 – Lincoln announces the Emancipation Proclamation to go into effect January 1, 1863.

1863 President Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation. (Lincoln, however, initially signed the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in 1862.) It was "that all persons held as slaves" within the Confederate states "are, and henceforward shall be free."

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1863 June 1 – Harriet Tubman the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers liberate 750 people with the Raid at Combahee Ferry.

1865  Thirteenth Amendment abolishes slavery.

1865 The Ku Klux Klan is formed in Tennessee by ex-Confederates (May).

1865-66 Black codes are passed by Southern states. It was created to restrict the freedom of ex-slaves in the South.

1867 The Reconstruction Act was passed, that assigned the military of the role of organizing local government. It made sure that ex slaves received the full right to vote, and denied the right to vote to supporters of the confederacy.


1867 February 14 – The college was founded as Augusta Institute by a Baptist minister and cabinetmaker, Reverand William Jefferson White in Augusta, Georgia. The college was housed in Springfield Baptist Church (the oldest independent African American church in the United States).

1867 March 2 – missionaries founded Howard University as a training facility for black preachers. The school named after Civil war hero General Oliver O. Howard, a white man, who was serving as the Commissioner of the Freedman's Bureau. 

1869  Howard University's law school becomes the country's first black law school.  

1868 Elizabeth Keckly (a former slave who became a successful seamstress, civil activist) published Behind the Scenes (or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House).

1868 April 1 – Hampton Institute founded in Hampton, Virginia.

1870 Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, giving blacks the right to vote.  

1870 Hiram Revels of Mississippi is elected the country's first Black senator. Sixteen blacks served in Congress, and about 600 served in state legislatures.  

1871 October 10 – Octavius Catto, a civil rights activist, is murdered during harassment of blacks on Election Day in Philadelphia.

1875 March 1 – Civil Rights Act of 1875 signed. It affirmed the "equality of all men before the law" and prohibited racial discrimination in public places and facilities such as restaurants and public transportation.

1875 The Mississippi Plan to intimidate blacks and suppress black voter registration and voting. Their state government was trying to prevent Black political participation.

1876  Lewis Latimer prepared drawings for Alexander Graham Bell's application for a telephone patent  

1879 The Black Exodus takes place, in which tens of thousands of African Americans migrated from southern states to Kansas.  

1881 Spelman College, the first college for black women in the U.S., is founded by Sophia B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles.

1881  Booker T. Washington establishes the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama. The school becomes one of the leading schools of higher learning for Black Americans and stresses the practical application of knowledge. 

1883  In Civil Rights Cases, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the Civil Rights Act of 1875 as unconstitutional.  

1884  Judy W. Reed, of Washington, D.C., and Sarah E. Goode, of Chicago, are the first African-American women inventors to receive patents. Reed's license is for a dough kneader and roller. Goode's patent for a cabinet bed.

1896 Plessy v. Ferguson, This landmark Supreme Court decision holds that racial segregation is constitutional, paving the way for the repressive Jim Crow laws in the South.  

1896 Ida B. Wells sues the Chesapeake, Ohio & South Western Railroad Company for its use of segregated "Jim Crow" cars.

1887 October 3 – Florida A&M University, is founded which was first named The State Normal School for Colored Students.

1892 Ida B. Wells publishes her pamphlet Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases.

1895 W. E. B. Du Bois is the first African-American to be awarded a Ph.D by Harvard University.

1896 The National Association of Colored Women is formed by the merger of smaller groups

1896 George Washington Carver begins teaching at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama there as director of the department of agricultural research, gaining an international reputation for his agricultural advances.

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