Timeline for Americans of African Descent:
1305-1491 The king of Mali, Abu Baraki II, and Mandingo merchant explorers undertake over fifty cross-Atlantic voyages to Central and South American sites.
1444-1882 An estimated 15-20 million or more West Africans (from Ghana, Senegal, Mali, Songhay, Mossi, Bornu, and other regions) were forcibly transported from their homelands to North America. Spain and Britain led in this form of piracy, but slavers also came from Portugal, France, Denmark, Sweden, and Holland.
1492-1565 Africans accompanied explorers on expeditions to the "New" World; for example, Pedro Alonzo Nino navigated for Columbus in 1492 and Nuflo de Olano and 29 other Africans accompanied Balboa in the crossing of Panama. Others accompanied Desoto (1539) and Coronado (1540).
1619 Twenty Africans (17 men, 3 women) are put ashore off a Dutch frigate at Jamestown, Virginia. In 1624, the first black child is born in Jamestown.
1641 Massachusetts becomes first colony to give statuatory recognition to slavery. Connecticut follows in 1650, and during the next hundred years, the remaining colonies do likewise. In 1662 Virginia decrees that children born in the colony will be held bond or free according to the condition of their mother, in contrast to British common law.
1708 First slave revolt in Long Island, New York in which seven white persons are killed, a black woman is burned alive and one Indian and two black men are hanged. New York slaves initiate another revolt in 1712, which is similarly repressed.
1746 The adolescent Lucy Terry composes the first known verses written by an African-American, "Bars Fight, August 28, 1746," published in a history of Deerfield, Massachusetts in 1895.
1765 Jenny Slew files suit in Massachusetts for her freedom and wins. A similar suit by Elizabeth Freeman in 1780 secures freedom for all Massachusetts slaves.
1773 Phillis Wheatley publishes Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (London and Boston). At this time Boston contained an estimated thousand enslaved blacks and twenty free ones.
1775-1781 5,000 African-Americans fight on the colonial side in the Revolutionary War. Anti-slavery societies are formed in Philadelphia and New York in the 1770's and 80's.
1777 Vermont abolishes slavery. Pennsylvania, Connecticut (1784), Rhode Island (1784), New York (1799), and New Jersey (1804) follow suit.
1787 The U. S. Constitution protects slavery where it already exists but bans it from the Northwest Territories; the slave trade is declared protected for 20 years. The Free African Society is established in Philadelphia as the first African American self-help society. An African Free School is established in New York.
1789 Quakers hold first U. S. anti-slavery meeting in Germantown district of Philadelphia.
1790 The first U. S. census records 757,181 persons of African descent, of whom 59,557 are free; about 27,000 are in the North and about 32,000 in the South.
1791 Toussaint L'Ouverture leads Haitian independence movement against France; though L'Ouverture is killed, the French lose control of the island, causing fear to southern U. S. slaveholders. After its annexation in 1803, the Louisiana Purchase becomes the site of frequent slave revolts.
1807 Slave trade legally abolished in Britain and its colonies.
1808 Slave trade banned in the U. S.
1815 Paul Cuffe, a leader in the movement to establish equality for Africans, leads a group of 38 immigrants to Sierra Leone.
1816 African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church is founded, followed in 1821 by the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AMEZ).
1820 Eighty-six African-Americans emigrate from New York to Sierra Leone. The African Company is founded in New York to provide opportunities for African-American actors and actresses.
1821 Two hundred working-class women in Philadelphia form the Daughters of Africa mutual benefit society.
1827 Freedom's Journal, the first newspaper for African-Americans, begins publication in New York. After escaping from slavery, Sojourner Truth begins a long career as an abolitionist.
1829 George Moses Horton, The Hope of Liberty (Raleigh, North Carolina), is the first book of poems published by a black man in the U. S.; David Walker publishes an Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World in Boston.
1830 U. S. census reports 2,328,642 persons of African descent, of whom 319,599 are free. As a result of emancipation laws, only 2,780 African-Americans remain enslaved in the northern states.
1831 The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, is the first slave narrative published by a black woman in the Americas. Nat Turner's Rebellion, though repressed, gives hope to southern slaves. William Lloyd Garrison founds an abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, in Boston.
1832 Maria Stewart becomes the first native-born U. S. woman to begin a public speaking career when she lectures against slavery under the sponsorship of the African-American Society in Boston's Franklin Hall. The New England Anti-Slavery Society is founded; in 1833 the American Anti-Slavery Society is founded.
1834 Slavery abolished in West Indies (and in all British possessions).
1835 Oberlin College becomes the first U. S. college to admit students without regard to race.
1836-39 "Ada" publishes poems in the Liberator.
1838 Frederick Douglass escapes from slavery and begins career as an abolitionist, founding the newspapers North Star and Frederick Douglass's Paper. His Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is published in Boston in 1846.
1841 Ann Plato, Essays, Including. . . Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose and Poetry (Hartford, Conn.), refers to her father's memories of his Native American past.
1848 After escaping from slavery, Harriet Tubman leads hundreds of slaves up the Underground Railway to freedom in Canada.
1850 Fugitive Slave Law permits white men to claim black persons to be their runaway slaves; thousands of Americans of African descent flee to Canada.
1851-52 Alfred Gibbs Campbell publishes an abolitionist newspaper in New Jersey, The Alarm Bell, and his Poems appear in 1883 (Newark).
1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin sells 300,000 copies in its first year.
1853 James Monroe Whitfield, America and Other Poems, is published in Buffalo, New York.
1854 Frances Harper, Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects, appears in Philadelphia. Also in Philadelphia, Elizabeth Jennings is awarded damages at law from the Third Avenue Railroad Company for preventing her from riding the streetcar, thus winning the first anti-segregation suit.
1857 Dred Scott decision essentially opens up entire country to slavery.
1859 Harriet Wilson publishes Our Nig: Or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, the first novel published in the U. S. by an African-American. (Wilson was the fifth African-American known to have published fiction in English. William Wells Brown's 1853 novel Clotel was published in London; Maria R. dos Ris published Ursula in 1859 in Brazil). John Brown leads a raid on Harper's Ferry in the attempt to free imprisoned slaves.
1860 The U. S. census reports 4,441,830 African-Americans, of whom 488,070 are free.
1861 The Civil War begins, and thousands of former slaves flee to Union lines. New schools for African-Americans are founded in Hampton, Virginia, and the Sea Islands near South Carolina. Slavery is abolished in Washington, D. C. in 1862 and the Emancipation Proclamation is signed in 1863.
Post-Civil War Timeline for African-American Poetry:
1865 The Thirteenth Amendment abolishes slavery; in 1868 the Fourteenth Amendment extends the rights of citizenship equally to all irrespective of race. The government charters the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company for African-Americans, which will defraud most of its depositors of their savings when it closes in 1874.
1865 The Freedman's Bureau is established by Congress; it builds 4,000 schools for African-Americans.
1866 Fisk University is founded in Nashville; many other colleges for African-Americans are founded in the next two decades, among them Lincoln University (1866) and Howard University (1867).
1866 Klu Klux Klan organizes in Pulaski, Tennessee, deriving its name from the Knights of the Golden Circle, a secret antebellum white (anti-black) organization organized before the Civil War to promote slave-owning interests. The Klan adopted African-derived Moorish costumes. By 1872 lynching had begun.
1867 Congress divides the Confederacy into military districts and requires the Confederate states to ratify the right of African-Americans to vote. 700,000 African-American men register to vote in 10 Southern states; 660,000 white Southerners registered, but many refused to vote. White southerners bitterly resented the "carpetbaggers" who moved south to help integrate the electoral process.
1867 Howard, Morehouse, and Talladega Universities are established. 1869 Frances Harper's epic Moses, A Story of the Nile, celebrates escape from slavery. Her third volume of poetry, Poems, appeared in 1871, by which time her Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects had reached its twentieth edition. Sketches of Southern Life appeared in 1872 and Atlanta Offering in 1895. 1869 National Negro Labour Union founded; first permitted to join the National Labor Union in 1880s.
1868-1874 40 Black and 120 other state representatives vote to establish an integrated education system, established a university for African Americans, opened public accommodations to all, and established facilities for the handicapped.
1869-1901 Twenty African-Americans served in U. S. House of Representatives; many served as state officials.
1870 The Fifteenth Amendment specifically grants the right to vote irrespective of race.
1870 Hiram Revels became first African-American U. S. senator, representing Mississippi for a partial term; Blanche Kelso Bruch served a full term from 1875-1881; the next African-American senator was Edward Brooke of Massachusetts in 1966!
1870 Philadelphian Richard Greener becomes the first African-American student to graduate from Harvard.
1870s-- c. 1910 intimidation practiced at many levels to prevent African-Americans from voting. Methods used included assault, intimidations, suppression of ballot boxes, removal of polls to secret places, false registrations, and lynching. Peonage system replaces slavery in some areas, as African-Americans arrested on slight pretense and forced to work for white landowners and businessmen under a convict lease system. In some states laws restricted African-American sharecroppers from selling their property and leaving their white employer.
1872 Charlotte Ray becomes the first African-American lawyer.
1872 Pinckney Pinchback becomes the acting governor of Louisiana upon the impeachment of the incumbent.
1874 Joshua McCarter Simpson, The Emancipation Car (Ohio), collects the poems of the three previous decades.
1877 Federal troops withdrawn from the South; African-Americans abandoned to local racial violence. Local laws establishing voting restrictions were often used selectively to bar African-Americans from voting (elaborate poll tax requirements, proof of ability to read and interpret sections of the state constitution, and so on).
1879 A convention of African-Americans gathers in Nashville, Tennessee to discuss ways of combating continuing violence against their communities. Relocation to the west and Liberia were advocated. A ship hired to travel to Liberia was hijacked and sold by hostile white Southerners.
1881 Booker T. Washington founds Tuskeegee Institute, a training institution for African-Americans.
1883-1890 Frances Harper heads the Northern United States WCTU. 1883 Spellman College is opened for women.
1890 Mississippi becomes first state after the Civil War to disenfranchise African-Americans; South Carolina followed suit in 1895, Louisiana in 1898, North Carolina in 1900, Virginia and Alabama in 1901, Georgia in 1907, and Oklahoma in 1910.
1895 W. E. DuBois becomes first African American to obtain a doctorate at Harvard University; in 1903 he publishes The Souls of Black Folks.
1896 Supreme Court decides case of Homer Plessy, who had been arrested for refusing to sit in Louisiana's separate railways accommodations for Black people. The Supreme Court established a requirement of "separate but equal," which remained in force for 58 years, until 1954. Throughout the south, local and state laws enforce segregation in living accommodations, transportation, and places of entertainment. Unions protect white jobs only and African-Americans are gradually forced out of craft occupations. The accommodationist Booker T. Washington becomes the "representative" spokesperson for southern black agrarian workers, whom he admonishes to train for a life of work and discipline, not resistance.
1898 Louisiana passes a "grandfather" clause granting whites immunity from voting restrictions which apply to African-Americans and immigrants; all males entitled to vote before 1867 (the year African-Americans were enfranchised) and their sons and grandsons could not be denied the right to vote. Other states passed similar laws.
1890-1900 Historians estimate that 1,700 southern African-American men and women were lynched; 921 lynchings were reported between 1900 and 1910; 840 between 1910 and 1920; and nearly 400 between 1920 and 1930. Victims included were sometimes burned, mutilated, or dragged through the streets tied to an automobile. The greatest number occurred in Texas (335), Georgia (386), Alabama (276), Mississippi (373), Arkansas (214), Tennessee (196), and Louisiana (313). 8 occurred in Iowa. In another set of statistics, 3,211 lynchings were reported between 1889 and 1918. The most common precipitation for a lynching was a dispute over wages.
1891 Isa B. Wells becomes co-owner and editor of the Memphis Free Speech, which she used to publicize the horrors of lynching. When a mob of whites demolished her printing press and office in 1892, she left for New York to launch an anti-lynching campaign. In 1898 she led a delegation to President McKinley to protest lynchings.
1893 Paul Laurence Dunbar publishes Oak and Ivy at the age of 21, to be followed by Majors and Minors in 1895, and Lyrics of a Lowly Life in 1896. His Complete Poems were issued in 1913, seven years after his death from tuberculosis at age 35.
1905 Niagara Movement formed, including prominent African-American intellectuals; in 1909 this becomes the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, dedicated to obtaining absolute political, civil, and public equality. Booker T. Washington opposed the forming of the NAACP, whose charter was signed by prominent reformers and intellectuals such as William DuBois, Jane Addams, John Dewey, and William Dean Howells. The NAACP founds a newspaper, The Crisis.
1908 Ida B. Wells founds Negro Fellowship League; later she served as vice-president of Chicago's Equal Rights League.
1911 Frances Harper dies at the age of eighty-six, after nearly sixty years of activism for African-American equality and other reformist causes.
1914-1918 400,000 African-Americans serve in the First World War. A training camp for Black officers was established in Des Moines, Iowa, but in general African-Americans were placed in subordinate positions. When white citizens in Houston attacked African-American infantry and 17 whites were killed, 13 soldiers were hanged for murder and 41 sentenced to life in prison.
1916 "Birth of a Nation" introduces moving pictures with a racist depiction of the "reconstruction" era. 1917 Marcus Garvey arrives in Harlem and reorganizes the Universal Negro Improvement Association to promote the establishment of a strong African nation to which African-Americans could emigrate. While in Harlem he founded a newspaper, the Negro World.
1918 African-American soldiers who served in World War I record their disillusion at continued racism at home in The Crisis.
1918 Georgia Douglas Johnson publishes The Heart of a Woman. Later volumes included Bronze (1922) and An Autumn Love Cycle (1928).
1919 83 African-Americans lynched during the "Red Summer of 1919," as the Klu Klux Klan holds 200 public meetings.
1919 The poet Jessie Redmond Fauset becomes literary editor of The Crisis.
1920 The Nineteenth Amendment grants female citizens the right to vote. 1920 Mamie Smith becomes the first woman to record the blues, opening the "race record" market; "Ma" Rainey (Gertrude Pridgett) and Bessie Smith make their first records in 1923.
1922 Claude McKay publishes Harlem Shadows; his Selected Poems were published in 1953, five years after his death. 1923 Jean Toomer publishes Cane, a volume of stories and poems. 1923 Marcus Garvey's Black Star shipping line, acquired for assisting emigration, went bankrupt and Garvey was sentenced to five years in prison for mail fraud; he was deported to Jamaica in 1927.
1925 Countee Cullen publishes Color, his first book of poems, to be followed by the 1927 Copper Sun, The Ballad of the Brown Girl (1928), and The Black Christ and Other Poems (1929). His anthology of Harlem Renaissance poets, Caroling Dusk, appeared in 1927.
1925 Klu Klux Klan membership roles report 8,901,487 members; states with more than 300,000 members included California, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Illinois, Iowa, and Kentucky.
1926 Langston Hughes publishes The Weary Blues. Other volumes of poetry include The Dream Keeper (1932), Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951), Selected Poems (1959), Ask Your Mama (1961), and The Panther and the Lash (1967). 1928 Oscar De Priest, representative from Chicago, becomes the first Black congressman to be elected from a northern state.
1931 Elijah Muhammad founds the Nation of Islam.
1932 Stirling Brown publishes Southern Road.
1933 F. D. Roosevelt establishes a "Black cabinet," among whom was the educator Mary McLeod Bethune, to consider ways to further African-American equality. But African-Americans suffer disproportionately from the Depression; in 1935, African-Americans were one-tenth of the population but one-sixth of those on relief. New Deal government agencies were urged to hire African-Americans.
1933 Billie Holiday records her first album.
1935 Mary McLeod Bethune forms the National Council of Negro Women. 1939 Marian Anderson sings before 75,000 people at Lincoln Memorial. 1936 Jessie Owens wins four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics (angering Hitler). 1936 National Negro Congress founded to promote interests of workers.
1938 Crystal Bird Fauset is elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, becoming first African-American woman legislator.
1940 Robert Hayden publishes his first volume of poetry, Heart-Shape in the Dust; other volumes of poetry included A Ballad of Remembrance (1962) and Words in the Mourning Time (1971).
1941-1945 More than one million African-Americans are drafted into the armed forces during World War II. 1942 Margaret Walker publishes For My People. Her second volume of poetry was Prophets for a New Day (1970).
1942 Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) founded, committed to nonviolent direct action to end discrimination.
1943 Race riots occur in several cities, including Mobile, Alabama; Detroit, Michigan; Beaumont, Texas; and Harlem, New York.
1945 Gwendolyn Brooks publishes A Street in Bronzeville, 1949 Gwendolyn Brooks' Annie Allen receives Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Her other volumes include The Bean Eaters (1960) and Selected Poems (1966).
1954 The Supreme Court mandates integrated education in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education.
1955 Rosa Parks's arrest for refusing to relinquish her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama precipitates first wave of Civil Rights Movement. 957 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. organizes the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
1961 Imamu Baraka (Leroi Jones) publishes his first volume of poetry, Preface to a Twenty-Volume Suicide Note.
1962 Federal troops are ordered to protect James Meredith's right to enter the University of Mississippi; in 1963 Medgar Evers is assassinated.
1963 250,000 Civil Rights activists march to Washington and hear Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
1964 Civil Rights Act of 1964 is passed.
1968 Alice Walker publishes her Once. Her second volume of poetry was Revolutionary Petunias (1973).
1968 Nikki Giovanni publishes Black Feeling, Black Talk. Later books of poetry include Re:Creation (1970) and My House (1972).
1968 Audre Lorde publishes The First Cities, followed by Cables to Rage (1970). 1969 Sonia Sanchez publishes Homecoming, to be followed by We a Baddddd People (1970), It's a New Day: Poems for Young Brothas and Sistuhs (1971) and Three Hundred and Sixty Degrees of Blackness Comin at You (1972).
1971 Ishmael Reed publishes catechism of d neoamercian hoodoo church, and his Selected Poems in 1973.
Britons of African Descent until the Abolition of Slavery:
1677 Though persons of color had been enslaved for some time, a court first ruled in 1677 that black persons could be considered in a list of merchandise (that is, that slavery was legally permissible in Britain).
1706 Another ruling declared black persons free on English soil.
1729 English Law Office ruled that a person enslaved elsewhere did not necessarily gain freedom when brought to Great Britain.
1700s Bristol, Liverpool and London became centers of the slave trade, trafficking in millions of Africans. Slave interests financed a powerful West Indian lobby in Parliament. Slaves continued to be advertised for sale until the last quarter of the century. Most free blacks worked as servants. They gathered in clubs, churches and other meeting places, and banded together to help slaves escape their masters. A 1772 account mentions "black hops," dances to African popular music, and British-Africans were often employed as military musicians.
1765 Granville Sharp began a series of legal battles to defend rights of Africans to be free of seizure, effectively beginning the abolitionist movement in Britain. His A Representation of the Injustice and Dangerous Tendency of Tolerating Slavery appeared in 1769.
1770 Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, born in Nigeria and abducted at the age of 15, published the first memoir by a African-Briton, Narrative of the Most remarkable Particulars in the Life of . . . an African Prince.
1772 In the Somerset case, Lord Mansfield ruled that slaves could not be exported from Britain against their will. Owners sometimes defied the law, however, capturing escaped slaves and forcing them on ship.
1773 Phillis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects was published in London.
1772 Ignatius Sancho's urbane Letters attracted wide circulation. He commented on the pervasive racism he encountered.
1778 A Scottish court ruled that slavery was illegal in Scotland.
1781 The Zong case aroused sympathy; slavers who had thrown 133 slaves into the ocean in order to collect insurance sued when refused payment. Granville Sharp and others brought suit against them but the case seems to have been dropped.
1787 Ottobah Cugoano, kidnapped from Ghana and freed in England, published the first abolitionist treatise by a Briton of color, Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species.
1788 Dolben Act passed, first modest regulation of slave trade.
1789 Olaudah Equiano (1745-97), the eloquent African-descended spokesperson for the abolitionist cause, published The Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano.
1790s The enslavement of African-Britons had in practice almost ceased, largely because slaves succeeded in escaping their would-be masters.
1791 William Wilberforce introduced the first Parliamentary motion to abolish the slave trade in Britain and its possessions.
1796 English court refused to give damages to slave merchant seeking compensation for 128 Africans who had starved to death on a sea voyage, thus ruling that slaves could not be viewed simply as merchandise.
1800 Estimates of numbers of Britons of color vary from 10,000 to 20,000 (pop. of England and Wales was 9,000,000 ).
1807 Slave trading by British subjects and in British possessions declared illegal.
1824 Robert Wedderburn's The Horrors of Slavery published.
1827 Grace Jones, an Antiguan slave brought to England, sued for freedom and lost, though British public opinion was divided on the case.
1832 Reform Bill extended franchise to prosperous upper-middle class Britons.
1833 Slavery abolished in British possessions (though certain exceptions delayed the process of implementation).