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June 19 is the first celebration of Juneteenth as a U.S. federal holiday, which commemorates the emancipation of African American slaves.
Kamala Harris (1964 – ) becomes the first Black and South Asian woman elected Vice-President of the United States.
Three unarmed African Americans are fatally killed. On February 23, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia; on March 13, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky; and on May 25, George Floyd in Minnesota. The killings also resulted in nationwide and global demonstrations supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as changes to federal and state policing laws.
Amanda Gorman (1998 – ) becomes the first National Youth Poet Laureate.
Quarterback Colin Kaeperick (1987 – ) takes a knee during the national anthem before a football game to protest police brutality.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture opens as the newest Smithsonian Institution Museum in Washington, DC.
In Ferguson, Missouri, unarmed Black teen Michael Brown (1996 – 2014) is shot dead by white police officer Darren Wilson (1986 – ), resulting in weeks of protests.
The death of Black high school student Trayvon Martin (1995 – 2012) and the acquittal of George Zimmerman (1983 – ) spark nationwide protests and the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.
Barack Obama (1961 – ) becomes the first African American to win the U.S. presidential race.
Condoleezza Rice (1954 – ) takes office as the first Black woman secretary of state.
Colin Powell (1937 – 2021) is appointed the first Black secretary of state.
Black women gather for the Million Woman March in Philadelphia.
Black men rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for the Million Man March.
Carol Moseley Braun (1947 – ) becomes the first Black woman, and only the second African American, to be elected to the US Senate.
Toni Morrison (1931 – 2019) is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first Black woman to earn the honor.
Engineer and physician Mae Jemison (1956 – ) becomes the first Black woman to go to space as part of the Space Shuttle Endeavour crew.
Four white Los Angeles police officers are acquitted of beating African American Rodney King (1965 – 2012). The verdict led to five days of riots in Los Angeles.
Douglas Wilder (1931 – ) becomes the first African American to be elected governor of a state (Virginia).
Oprah Winfrey (1954 – ) launches a syndicated talk show. It later became the highest-rated talk show in history.
The first federal holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is observed on the third Monday in January.
Jesse Jackson (1941 – ) becomes the second African American to mount a U.S. presidential candidacy.
Vanessa Williams (1963 – ) is crowned the first Black Miss America.
Colonel Guion Bluford, Jr. (1942 – ) becomes the first African American to go to space as part of the Challenger Space Shuttle crew.
Based on the Alex Haley novel, the miniseries “Roots” airs its finale, which is watched by 36 million households.
President Gerald Ford (1913 – 2006) officially recognizes Black History Month, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Baseball player Hank Aaron (1934 – 2021) of Atlanta Braves hits his 715th career home run.
Civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman establishes The Children’s Defense Fund.
Shirley Chisholm becomes the first Black woman to campaign for a major party presidential nomination.
Rise of the Black Power Movement
Guitarist Jimi Hendrix headlines the Woodstock Music Festival in upstate New York.
Shirley Chisholm (1924 – 2005) is sworn in as the first Black woman elected to Congress.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise a black-gloved fist during the playing of the U.S. national anthem at the Olympics in Mexico.
Arthur Ashe (1943 – 1993) becomes the first African American man to win the U.S. Open.
President Lyndon Johnson (1908 – 1973) signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968 prohibiting housing discrimination.
Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
The PGCMLS Oxon Hill Library opens, including the Sojourner Truth African American Research Collection in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
Edward W. Brooke (1919 – 2015) becomes the first African American U.S. Senator since Reconstruction. He serves two terms as a Senator from Massachusetts.
The Voting Rights Act is passed, outlawing the practices used in the South to disenfranchise African American voters.
The Civil Rights Act is signed, prohibiting discrimination of all kinds.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 – 1968) and others set up the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a leading engine of the Civil Rights Movement.
In Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks (1913 – 2005) is arrested for breaking a city ordinance by refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man. This defiant act gives initial momentum to the Civil Rights Movement.
Brown v. Board of Education case: strikes down segregation as unconstitutional.
Ex-slave Frederick Douglass (1818 – 1895) publishes the anti-slavery North Star newspaper.
Plessy v. Ferguson case: racial segregation is ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court.
The “Jim Crow” (“separate but equal”) laws begin, barring African Americans from equal access to public facilities.
Tennessee passes the first of the “Jim Crow” segregation laws, segregating state railroads.
Similar laws are passed over the next 15 years throughout the Southern states.
Thousands of African Americans migrate out of the South to escape oppression.
The era of Reconstruction ends.
A deal is made with southern democratic leaders which makes Rutherford B. Hayes (1822 – 1893) president in exchange for the withdrawal of federal troops from the South, and puts an end to efforts to protect the civil rights of African Americans.
The 15th Amendment is ratified, giving African Americans the right to vote.
The 14th Amendment is ratified, defining citizenship. This overturns the Dred Scott decision.
The “Black Codes” are passed by all white legislators of the former Confederate States.
Congress passes the Civil Rights Act, conferring citizenship on African Americans and granting them equal rights to whites.
The Ku Klux Klan is formed in Tennessee.
The Civil War ends.
Lincoln is assassinated.
The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting slavery, is ratified.
The era of Reconstruction begins.
Massachusetts 54th regiment of African American troops led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (1837 – 1863) marches out of Boston on May 28th, heading into combat.
Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation proclaims that all slaves in rebellious territories are forever free.
The Civil War begins.
Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865) is elected president, angering the southern states.
The Dred Scott v. Sanford case: congress does not have the right to ban slavery in the states; slaves are not citizens.
Congress passes another Fugitive Slave Act, which mandates government participation in the capture of escaped slaves.
Boston citizens, including some of the wealthiest, storm a federal courthouse in an attempt to free escaped Virginia slave Anthony Burns (1834 – 1862).
Harriet Tubman (c. 1820 – 1913) escapes from slavery and becomes an instrumental leader of the Underground Railroad.
Approximately 75,000 slaves escape to the North using the Underground Railroad.
In Boston, William Lloyd Garrison (1805 – 1879) begins publication of the anti-slavery newspaper the Liberator and becomes a leading voice in the Abolitionist movement.
Congress bans further importation of slaves.
Eli Whitney’s (1765 – 1825) cotton gin increases the need for slaves.
The Stono Rebellion, one of the earliest slave revolts, occurs in Stono, South Carolina.
The first African American indentured servants arrive in the American colonies. Less than a decade later, the first slaves are brought into New Amsterdam (later, New York City). By 1690, every colony has slaves.