African-American History Timeline


2012 by Cathy Helman and Jean Leeper


1619 Twenty African slaves arrive in the English colony of Jamestown, Virginia and become indentured servants.     


1688 Pennsylvania Quakers pass an anti-slavery resolution.


1776 Declaration of Independence proclaims "All men are created equal"


1777-1804 Vermont, Pennsylvania, Massachucsetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey ban or phase out slavery.


Ca 1788 North Carolina Yearly Meeting Quakers developed plans on how to deal with Friends who 'have not yet cleansed their hands of slave holdings'.


1793 Congress passes the first Fugitive Slave Act, making it a crime to harbor an escaped slave or interfere with his or her arrest.  Responsibility for returning slaves fell on officials in the state from which the slave escaped. "...either by oral testimony or affidavit taken before and certified by a magistrate of any such state or territory, that the person so seized or arrested, doth, under the laws of the state or territory from which he or she fled, owe service or labour to the person claiming him or her ..."


1804 Underground Railroad is established.  By the 1830s the term "Underground Railroad" was commonly used to describe this network to freedom.


1808 Importation of Slaves to the United States becomes illegal.

"1808 The North Carolina Yearly Meeting appointed a committee of seven to have under its care the 'people of color' who were suffering extreme hardship. This committee worked out a system where ownership of Blacks could be transferred to authorized agents who would receive them... Beginning with a very small number, the Blacks thus held 'in the trust of the Society of Friends in North Carolina' soon reached 400 ... by 1824 --- to more than 700 ... Friends migrating to free territory were asked to accept 'ownership' of several Negroes whom they would agree to set free upon arrival in Ohio and Indiana ... as the years passed, people in other states became unwilling to received an ever-increasing number of liberated Blacks, as they had no skills except working in cotton fields ... It was generally agreed that Quakers should not encourage slaves to run away, but what should they do when fugitives came to them seeking shelter and assistance? IN ESSENCE, it was a conflict of human rights verses property rights. A great many Southern Quakers ... came to the conclusion that they could not in good conscience turn down human pleas for assistance ... often in the dead of night ...", summarized from page 131-134, The Carolina Quaker Experience, by Seth Hinshaw, 1984

Thus we see their involvement in the Underground Railroad increasing.

1850 Second Fugitive Slave Act required citizens to assist in the recovery of all  fugitive slaves and allowed slave catchers to forcibly return slaves to their masters for profit.   Rewards and bounties established.  Harboring and aiding became dangerous and risky for area citizens.  A $500.00 bounty was offered for identifying people who assisted runaway slaves. " ... shall grant certificates to such claimants, upon satisfactory proof being made, with authority to take and remove such fugitives from service or labor, under the restrictions herein contained, to the State or Territory from which such persons may have escaped or fled." Harriet Tubman returns to Maryland to guide members of her family to freedom via the Underground Railroad.  Later she and others helped slaves escape to the North and Canada.

1857 Dred Scott Decision.  U.S. Supreme court legalizes slavery in all the territories, exacerbating the sectional controversy and pushing the nation toward civil war.  Slaves declared the  property of their masters and all rights of citizenship taken away.

" . . . We think they [people of African ancestry] are . . . not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word "citizens" in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. . . ." — Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, speaking for the majority


1861 Civil War begins in Fort Sumter and lasts until April 1865 with abolition of slavery.


1863 President Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation in Jan. and thus frees the slaves of the Confederate states in rebellion against the Union.


1865 13th Amendment of the Constitution abolished slavery.


1868 14th Amendment recognizes former slaves as U.S. citizens. 


1870 15th Amendment grants African American men voting rights.


During the late 1860s and early 1870s you even had *people of color in the state legislatures and many exercised their right to vote.


1876 By 1876 the nation was prepared to abandon its commitment to equality for all citizens regardless of race. As soon as freed slaves gained the right to vote, secret societies (like Ku Klux Klan) developed in the south. The "Donkey Devil" also developed. They took the skin of a donkey and got inside and run after the former slaves. At this time the north pretty much decided to let the south solve their own problems. So the next white southern generation deprived the people of color of their right to vote, hold office, and in many places, people of color, could not own land, the south found reasons to fine the people of color, then place them in forced labor because they had no money to pay, usually made up, fines and ordered that public and private facilities of all kinds be segregated by race.


1950 - 1960 Thus we end up with the civil right movement of the 1950s and 1960s, trying to give back the people of color their rights; leading to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968.


*In 1863 the minutes of Salem Iowa Monthly Meeting of Friends used the term "people of color" when they were talking about how to help these recently freed colored Freedmen. Thus I have choice to use it. The Quakers believe that all humans "people" are of equal worth. They reject the social class hierarchy and encourage equal treatment for all human beings.





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