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Black Americans have been a part of the country’s history for centuries,
most notably starting during the large Atlantic slave trade. The first Africans arrived in the United States on a Dutch ship at Point Comfort near Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. Since then, African-American history has become an intrinsic part of American history, with notable people, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama, making their mark on the country’s culture and shared story.
Milestones in US Black History
The first Africans to arrive near Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 were nineteen indentured servants. Within a decade of their arrival, the slave trade into the country would officially begin.
In 1793, The Stono Rebellion, one of the most well-known early slave revolts, occurred in Stono, South Carolina.
In 1808, Congress prohibited the further importation of slaves.
In 1831, the Underground Railroad would begin, eventually guiding the way to freedom for approximately 75,000 slaves.
In 1846, an ex-slave, Frederick Douglass, published an anti-slavery newspaper called the North Star.
In 1849, Harriet Tubman escaped slavery and took on an essential role in the Underground Railroad.
In 1861, the Civil War started.
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln, a Republican president, proclaimed that all slaves would be free.
In that same year, the first regiment of African-American troops were led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw into combat.
In 1870, the 15th Amendment was ratified, giving African-Americans the right to vote.
In 1881, the first Jim Crow segregation laws were passed.
In 1954, the Brown v. Board of Education case would result in the conclusion that segregation was unconstitutional.
In 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus. Her act would be one of the forces behind the Civil Rights Movement.
In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a Dream” speech.
In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was signed, prohibiting discrimination.
It did not get through easily. While proposed by President John F. Kennedy, it met delays in the House and Senate. There was filibustering for fifty-four days. Eventually, the House voted on their version with 61% of Democrats and 80% of Republicans behind it. Similarly, when the Senate voted on their version, 69% of Democrats said “yea” while 82% of Republicans approved of the Civil Rights Act.
In 1967, Edward W. Brooke, running as a Republican, would become the first African-American U.S. Senator since Reconstruction. He went on to serve two terms.
In 2008 Barack Obama, a Democrat, would become the first African-American U.S. president.
- National Public Radio: Black history month: Timeline of key dates in African-American history
- S. Forest Service: Timeline of events in African-American history
- Michigan State University: African American studies research guide: Milestones in black history
Famous Figures and Quotes
Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Booker T. Washington, Thurgood Marshall, and President Obama have all left their mark on history, along with many other notable Black Americans who have made their way into the history books and American culture via politics, the civil rights movement, sports, entertainment, and every other aspect of American life.
“No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.
“In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.”
– Thurgood Marshall, first African-American U.S. Supreme Court member
“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.”
– Booker T. Washington
“If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.”
– President Barack Obama
- Xavier University: Black history month quotes
- University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Black power in American memory
- Washington State University: Famous quotes on nonviolence
Black Culture in the US
African-American culture started as a blend of Central African and Western cultures. It continued to flourish after emancipation and brought us music, art, fashion, dance, cuisine, and more. While it is both influencing and being influenced by mainstream American culture, black culture has also remained distinct.
The culture was first notably recognized in the 1920s and 1930s during the Harlem Renaissance. During that time, we were introduced to authors such as Nella Larsen, and poets such as Langston Hughes and Claude McKay. Jazz, swing, and blues became a part of popular music in the country. We also saw political involvement and the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
- The American Prospect: Black culture and history matter
- University of California, Los Angeles: Redrawing the map of African-American culture and history in the United States
- National Museum of African-American History and Culture: A changing America: 1968 and beyond
Landmarks and Historic Sites Across America
If you are planning a trip, consider adding some of these historical sites and landmarks to your itinerary:
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati Ohio commemorates the Underground Railroad and the network of houses and people involved.
The Birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta, Georgia is part of a national historic site.
The Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia is where Martin Luther King Jr., his father, and his grandfather were pastors.
The Motown Historical Museum in Detroit, Michigan highlights the history of the well-known black-owned record label.
Malcolm X’s Birth Site in Omaha, Nebraska includes a plaza and memorial.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri commemorates the first black professional baseball team, originally established in 1885.
The African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. commemorates the lives of soldiers who fought in the war.
To find more historical places to visit, go to the sites below:
- National Geographic: 12 destinations for African-American history and culture
- North Carolina State University: Beyond the beach: African-American history in coastal Carolina
- National Park Foundation: 6 powerful places to immerse yourself in African-American heritage
Books about Black History
Black history is so much more than just a single chapter in American history. Here are just a few of the many noteworthy books worth picking up:
The Souls of Black Folk was written by W.E.B DuBois in 1903 and discussed perspectives of black people at that time.
The Miseducation of the Negro, written by Carter G. Woodson in 1933, discussed problems in education and the struggle for education rather than indoctrination.
A Taste of Power by Elaine Brown was written from the perspective of a woman and Black Panther insider as the organization struggled with infiltration, police violence, and more.
To find more books, visit:
- Duke University: A Duke reading list of studies of race, politics, and history
- University of Kansas: Black History Month: A University of Kansas reading list
- University of Illinois: 13 essential books on black women’s history
Would you still like to learn more? Check out Colorado State University’s list of books written by Black American authors that have been adapted to film. You can also visit African American History Month for online documentaries and videos. If you would like a more in-depth look, the Library of Congress keeps an online collection of literature.