A Timeline of African American History in the United States

Across the country and the world, people are rallying behind the Black Lives Matter movement to enact change in a system that has historically been unjust to people of color. Our company recognizes the struggles African Americans have faced throughout history and think now is the time to elevate the voices of the unheard.

While this timeline only highlights some of the key events, movements, and people who have impacted United States history, it gives an overall sense of the conflict and injustice African Americans faced from the Colonial era to modern day. We encourage all readers to explore the resources outlined at the end of this timeline and continue learning about the comprehensive history of African Americans in the United States.


Colonial Era

1607.  Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, is founded.

1619.  Slavery in America begins in Jamestown for the labor-intensive but lucrative tobacco crop.

1650.  Approximately five hundred persons of African origin or descent are now slaves in the Virginia colony.

1662.  Virginia declares that children born to slave women are also slaves.

1676.  Bacon’s Rebellion, the first armed rebellion in the American colonies, occurs. Poor white former indentured servants and enslaved Africans form an alliance against bond servitude. The ruling class responds by hardening the racial caste of slavery in an attempt to divide the two races from subsequent united uprisings.

1705.  The Virginia Slave Codes are passed, in direct response to Bacon’s Rebellion.

1775.  The American Revolution begins.

1776.  The Declaration of Independence is signed.

1780.  An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery is passed in Pennsylvania. It is the first act abolishing slavery in the course of human history to be adopted by a democracy.

1783.  The American Revolution ends.


slavery-cotton-gin-timeline-african-american-historyPhoto: Library of Congress

Post-American Revolution

1793.  The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 is passed in Congress, securing rights for a slaveholder to recover an escaped slave.

Early 1800s.  Westward expansion, along with a growing abolition movement in the North, sparks a national debate over slavery. Southern states want new territories in the West to become slave-holding states.

1800s.  Antislavery northerners helped slaves escape from southern plantations to the North via a loose network of safe houses called the Underground Railroad.

1807.  Thomas Jefferson signs the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves.

1820.  The Missouri Compromise is passed.

1831.  Nat Turner leads a slave revolt in Virginia.

1833. The American Anti-Slavery Society is founded.

1835.  The first recorded lynching of an African American occurs in St. Louis.

1845.  Frederick Douglass publishes his first autobiography and best-known work, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.

1852.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin is published, helping fuel the abolitionist movement.

1857.  In Dred Scott v. Sandford, the Supreme Court case finds that the U.S. Constitution does not protect or recognize free or enslaved African Americans as citizens.

1859.  John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry.


civil-war-timeline-african-american-historyPhoto: Library of Congress

Civil War and Reconstruction

1861.  The American Civil War begins.

1863 .  Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation goes into effect, changing the legal status of 3 million slaves in designated areas of the Confederacy from “slave” to “free.”

1864.  The Fugitive Slave Law is repealed.

1865.  The thirteenth amendment passed, abolishing slavery throughout the United States.

1865.  On June 19, Union soldiers arrive in Galveston, Texas to spread the news of the Civil War end and subsequent freedom of slavery. This will eventually be celebrated as “Juneteenth” across America.

1865.  Mississippi is the first state to legislate Black Codes post–Civil War, restricting rights and discriminating against free African Americans

1868.  The fourteenth amendment is passed, guaranteeing citizenship rights and equal protection under law.

1870.  The fifteenth amendment is passed, guaranteeing that a citizen’s right to vote would not be denied on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.


jim-crow-laws-african-american-history-timelinePhoto: Wikimedia Commons

Jim Crow Era

1885.  A majority of Southern states pass individual state laws requiring separate schools for black and white students.

1887.  The Thibodaux massacre occurs in Louisiana.

1896.  Plessy v. Ferguson legitimizes state laws reestablishing racial segregation in Southern states.

1900.  A majority of Southern states pass laws that required African Americans to be separated from white citizens in railroad cars and depots, hotels, theaters, restaurants, barber shops, and other establishments.

1905.  W.E.B. Du Bois calls for social and political change for African Americans during the Niagara Movement.

1906.  The Atlanta race riot occurs.

1909.  The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is founded.

1916.  The Great Migration begins, where more than six million African Americans move from the rural South to various urban metropolitan areas, including Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and New York City.

1918.  The Dyer Anti-lynching Bill is first introduced, intending to establish lynching as a federal crime. However, the bill is halted in the Senate by a filibuster from Southern states and does not pass until reintroduced in 2020.

1920.  The Harlem Renaissance marks the first time that mainstream publishers and critics turned their attention seriously to African American literature, music, art, and politics.

1921.  The Greenwood massacre occurs, where mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses in the wealthy Black Wall Street district in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It is the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.

1932.  The Tuskegee Institute collaborates with the U.S. government to conduct syphilis experiments on African American men.

1941.  World War II begins.

1941.  The Tuskegee Airmen become the first graduates from an all-African American pilot training program to subsequently fight in World War II.

1942.  Civil-rights leader, James Farmer, founds the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

1947.  Jackie Robinson becomes the first African American to play on a Major League Baseball team.


civil-rights-march-timeline-african-american-historyPhoto: Library of Congress

Civil Rights Movement

1954.  In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court unanimously overturns the decision of Plessy v. Ferguson and legally mandates public schools to integrate.

1955.  Emmett Till is murdered in Mississippi.

1955.  Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man, and the Montgomery bus boycott ensues.

1957.  The Little Rock Nine become the first African American students to attend the previously all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

1960.  Greensboro University sit-ins spark various forms of peaceful protest against segregation across the United States.

1961.  The freedom ride from Washington D.C. to New Orleans occurs.

1963.  Martin Luther King Jr. writes his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

1963.  The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom advocates for the civil and economic rights of African Americans.


martin-luther-king-jr-timeline-african-american-historyPhoto: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

1963. Chicago Public Schools boycott.

1964.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is passed; it prohibits discrimination in public facilities and in the employment of African Americans.

1964.  In Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, the Supreme Court determines that private businesses must abide by the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in public accommodations.

1965.  Malcom X is shot during a speaking engagement in Harlem.

1965.  Three marches are organized from Selma to Montgomery to protest the obstruction of African Americans from voting.

1965.  The Voting Rights Act is passed in response to restrictions of minorities’ voting rights, primarily in the South.

1966.  Led by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton, the Black Panther Movement rises.

1967.  An all-white jury finds seven of the defendants in the murders from the 1964 Freedom Summer guilty. The verdict is hailed as a major civil rights victory as it is the first time anyone in Mississippi has been convicted for a crime against a civil rights worker.

1967.  The United States Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia strikes down all anti-miscegenation laws remaining in sixteen U.S. states.

1968.  The Fair Housing Act is passed to ensure equal housing opportunity for minorities.

1968.  Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

1968.  Shirley Chisholm is  the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress; she will later run for president in 1972.

1971.  Jesse Jackson founds  People United to Save Humanity (PUSH), becoming an influential leader in the civil rights movement after Martin Luther King Jr.

1978.  In Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the Supreme Court rules that the use of strict racial quotas is unconstitutional, but the case also upholds that universities can rightfully use race as a criterion in admissions decisions in order to ensure diversity.

1980.  The Miami race riots occur after the acquittal of four Dade County police officers who caused the death of Arthur McDuffie during his arrest.



Photo: Library of Congress

Modern Day

1982.  President Reagan launches the War on Drugs, creating the Office of National Drug Control Policy to coordinate drug-related legislative, security, research, and health policy. This new law disproportionately leads to the arrest of thousands of African Americans on suspected drug charges.

1986. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is first celebrated as a national holiday.

1991.  Anita Hill testifies against Clarence Thomas in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

1992.  The Los Angeles riots, four days of rioting occur as a direct response to the videotaped beating of Rodney King and the subsequent acquittal of the LAPD officers involved.

1994.  O. J. Simpson is acquitted after almost a year of litigation of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

1995.  The Million Man March is organized by Louis Farrakhan to protest the disproportionate number of African Americans incarcerated.

1997.  African American women participate in the Million Woman March in Philadelphia, focusing on health care, education, and self-help.

2001.  President-elect George W. Bush nominates Colin Powell to be Secretary of State. Condoleezza Rice is also appointed to the position of National Security Advisor for the Bush administration.  This is the first time either post has been held by an African American.

2008.  Barack Obama is elected the 44th President of the United States.

2013.  George Zimmerman, who shot and killed unarmed seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin, is acquitted.


black-lives-matter-trayvon-martin-timeline-african-american-historyPhoto: Wikimedia Commons

2013.  The Black Lives Matter Network  is formed by Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi with the mission to “eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.”

2014.  Eric Garner dies in Staten Island after being placed in a choke hold during arrest by the NYPD.

2014.  In Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown is killed by a police officer, leading to multiple waves of protests and weeks of civil unrest throughout the city.

2014.  Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice is killed in Cleveland, Ohio by a police officer after reports of a male who was “probably a juvenile” pointing a gun that was “probably fake” at passers by.

2016.  Philandro Castile is shot by Minnesota PD  during a traffic stop.

2016.  Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid, and Eli Harold kneel during the national anthem as a form of solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement.

2018.  Stephon Clark died after being shot at least seven times by police in Sacramento, California.

2020.  Black Lives Matter protests in direct response to the death of George Floyd after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by police officer Derek Chauvin. Floyd’s death comes on the heels of two other high-profile cases in 2020 where black citizens, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery and 26-year-old EMT Breonna Taylor, were killed by police officers.


Additional resources to learn about the African American experience and history:

Read one man’s personal reflection and call to action for the Black Lives Matter movement



Monet Hendricks is the blog editor and social media/meme connoisseur for Social Studies School Service. Passionate about the field of education, she earned her BA from the University of Southern California before deciding to go back to get her master’s degree in educational psychology. She currently attends the graduate program at Azusa Pacific University pursuing advanced degrees in school psychology and Applied Behavior Analysis. Her favorite activities include watching documentaries on mental health and cooking adventurous vegetarian recipes.

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