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28 Historic Moments In Black History Everyone Should Know

Through 28 Story Quilts from And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center presents 28 historic moments in African American History.

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The Revolutionary War

Via Freedom Center. Image Credit: General George Washington Welcomes the Services of Slaves and Free Blacks, Connie Horne

1775: General George Washington reverses his policy of rejecting the services of slaves and free African American men in the army.

Five thousand African American soldiers serve during the Revolutionary War, including two predominantly African American units in Massachusetts, one in Connecticut, and one in Rhode Island.

The North Star

Via Freedom Center. Image Credit: Life Scene, Gewndolyn Aqui

1847: Frederick Douglass launches his abolitionist newspaper, The North Star.

Douglass will argue persuasively as a leading light on behalf of African Americans’ rights for the rest of his adult life, advising Abraham Lincoln’s policies during the Civil War and recruiting African American soldiers for the Union.

The Emancipation Proclamation

Via Freedom Center. Image Credit: Emancipation Proclamation, Cynthia Catlin

January 1, 1863: President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring "that all persons held as slaves" within the Confederate states "are, and henceforward shall be free."


Via Freedom Center. Image Credit: Juneteenth, Renee Allen

The Juneteenth liberation occurs nearly 18 months after January 1, 1863, the effective date of the Emancipation Proclaimation. The state of Texas is visited by Union General Gordon Granger, who arrived with 2,000 federal troops and ordered the immediate release all remaining enslaved individuals.

The Reconstruction Era - Post Civil War

Via Freedom Center. Image Credit: 'Buked, Scorned and Resilient, Marlene O'Bryant-Seabrook

Over the course of a little more than a decade, the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments were added to the U.S. Constitution. They were the first attempts by the United States to provide basic Civil Rights for African Americans.

The 14th Amendment

Via Freedom Center. Image Credit: 14th Amendment, Maxine S. Thomas

In 1868 the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified, nullifying the 1857 Supreme Court decision of Dredd Scott v. Sanford, in which the court ruled that African American people were not citizens.

Plessy v. Ferguson

Via Freedom Center. Image Credti: Plessy v. Ferguson, Linda Gray

1896: The landmark Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson holds that "separate but equal" is constitutional, following a series of lower court rulings against Homer Plessy, for his courageous act of civil disobedience, where he refused to retire to the colored coach of the New Orleans to Covington rail line. The decision later paved the way for repressive Jim Crow laws throughout the South.

The First Formal School House For African American Children

Via Freedom Center. Mary Peake: First Colored Teacher, Harriette Alford Meriwether

In the fall of 1861, educator and humanitarian Mary Peake started a school for the children of former slaves. Her first class consisted of 20 children from Camp Contraband, a former refuge for escaped slaves whom the Union Army refused to return to their former plantations. Peake taught her students under a great oak, now known as the Emancipation Tree. The Emancipation Tree continues to stand strong on the campus of Hampton University, as a symbol of freedom and education for all.

Buffalo Soldiers

Via Freedom Center, Image Credit: The Undaunted Buffalo Soldier, Gloria Kellon

On July 28, 1866, Congress authorized the creation of four all-African American regiments in the United States Army. The four units consisted of two cavalry regiments, the 9th and 10th, and two infantry regiments, the 24th and 25th. The cavalry, later dubbed the "Buffalo Soldiers", served with valor and distinction in the Indian and Spanish American wars. The regiment's motto was and is, "We can, We will".

Cathy Williams- Buffalo Girl

Via Freedom Center. Image Credit: Cathy Williams- Buffalo Girl, Allyson Allen

In 1866, Cathay Williams became the first African American woman to enlist in the army. Additionally, Williams was the only woman documented to have served in the U.S. Army posed as a man, serving under the pseudonym William Cathay.

The "Color Line"

Via Freedom Center. W.E.B. Du Bois- The Color Line, Myrya Johnson

1903: African American social scientist and activist W. E. B. Du Bois publishes The Souls of Black Folk, which presents the “color line,” a term used to describe racial segregation in the U. S. after the abolition of slavery, as the major problem of the twentieth century. In 1905, Du Bois will help found the Niagara Movement, demanding full equality for African American persons.

The Founding of the NAACP

Via Freedom Center. Image Credit: United, Sharon Kerry-Harlan

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded on Feb. 12, 1909, coinciding with President Lincoln's 100th birthday. After the horrific events of the Race Riot of 1908, W.E.B. DuBois gathered a group multiracial, multi-religious groups and activists to create the NAACP, in the spirit if the abolitionist movement. For over 100 years, the NAACP has served as the country's most influential African American civil rights organization, dedicated to political equality and social justice.

The Great Migration

Via Freedom Center. Image Credit: Take All The Memories Your Hands Can Hold, Lauren Alisa Austin

Between 1910 and 1960, six million African Americans moved from the rural South to urban areas of North, Midwest and West in search of work and to escape increasingly violent Klan attacks.

The Harlem Hellfighters

Via Freedom Center. La Croix de Guerre, Dawn Williams Boyd

1918: The U.S. Army organizes two African American divisions, the 92nd and the 93rd, through which some forty thousand African American soldiers see combat. General John J. Pershing gives to the 16th Division of the French Army the troops of the 93rd Division, including the 369th Infantry Regiment, the “Harlem Hellfighters,” The Hellfighters spend 191 days in combat, longer than any other American unit in the war. The French government awards the entire regiment, plus 171 men and officers individually, either the Croix de Guerre or the Legion of Merit for their courage and valor. No African American soldier will receive a World War I Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest award for military heroism.

The Harlem Renaissance

Via Freedom Center, Image Credit: In Vogue-The Harlem Renaissance, Linda Gray.

1920: The Harlem Renaissance flourishes in the 1920s and 1930s, allowing African American artists unprecedented opportunities to earn their livings and be acknowledged for their talents.

The literary, artistic and intellectual movement will foster a new Black cultural identity, as African Americans marshal the arts to express their humanity and to demand equality.

The Traffic Signal

Via Freedom Center. Smarter Than a 5th Grader, Charlotte Hunter.

1923: Already known for his invention of a protective safety hood device that helped workers stay alive during a 1917 underground natural gas explosion, Garrett Augustus Morgan goes on to invent the traffic light. He will continue to develop inventions related to improving public safety, including a self-extinguishing cigarette in 1963.

Langston Hughes: the Harlem Renaissance

Via Freedom Center. Image Credit: Far into The Night: The Weary Blues, Sherice Marie Wright

In 1926, Langston Hughes published The Weary Blues, his first book of poetry. The title stanza of the poem reads : I got the Weary Blues/ And I can't be satisfied--? I ain't happy no mo'/ And I wish that I had died." A pivotal force in the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes will go on to become one of the 20th century's most recognized American writers.

The 1936 Summer Olympics

Via Freedom Center. In Memory of Jesse, Julius Bremer

1936: In Berlin, Germany, African American track-and-field athlete Jesse Owens wins four gold medals in the summer Olympic Games, thwarting Adolf Hitler’s plan to use the games to demonstrate “Aryan supremacy.”

The 1940 Academy Awards

Via Freeedom Center. Mammy's Golden Legacy, Laura R. Gadson.

1940: Hattie McDaniel is the first African American actor to be nominated for an Academy Award, which she wins in the category of Best Supporting Actress for her role in Gone with the Wind. No other African American actor will be awarded an Oscar until Sidney Poitier wins in 1958.

Paul Robeson

Via Freedom Center. Image Credit: Paul Robeson as Othello on Broadway, Glenda Richardson

1943: Shakespeare's Othello opens on Broadway, with the African American actor Paul Robeson in the title role. The production will break the record for the most number of consecutive performances.

Henrietta Lacks: HeLa

Via Freedom Center. Honoring Herietta Lacks, Adrienne Cruz

1951: African American tobacco farmer Henrietta Lacks unwittingly provides cells from her cancerous tumor, which are cultured and will live on to form the HeLa immortal cell line, an essential line of cells used in medical research.

Lacks’s cells will prove to be critical biomedical tools in the development of many medical discoveries, including the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping and in vitro fertilization.

Brown v. Board of Education

Via Freedom Center. Marshall, Nabrit, and Hayes, Wendell Brown

1954: In the class -action suit, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in schools is unconstitutional. After serving as one of the attorneys on the trial, Thurgood Marshall will later become the first African American Supreme Court justice.

The Greensboro Four

Via Freedom Center. Image Credit: Sit-In, Ed Johnetta Miller

On February 1, 1960, four courageous students from North Carolina A&T began a sit-in that would inspire similar non-violent, student led demonstrations protesting segregation throughout the South.

The Civil Rights Act

Via Freedom Center. We Are Not There Yet, Gwen Maxwell-Williams

1965: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), established by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, begins operations on July 2.

The government agency’s mission is to “ensure equality of opportunity by vigorously enforcing federal legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment”—particularly discrimination on the basis of religion, race, sex, color, national origin, age or disability.

The Lovings v. Virginia

Via Freedom Center. Image Credit: The Loving Quilt: Repeal of the Virgina Racial Integrity Law, Barbara Ann McCraw

1967: Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, emerge victorious in the case Loving v. Virginia when the Supreme Court unanimously declares Virginia's 1924 Racial Integrity Act unconstitutional. The decision renders race-based marriage bans in the United States illegal.

Mae C. Jemison

Via Freedom Center. Astronaut Mae C. Jemison, Michael Cummings

1992: Dr. Mae Carol Jemison becomes the first African American woman to travel in space when she goes into orbit aboard the space shuttle Endeavor on September 12.

Yes We Can

Via Freedom Center. The Ascension, Linda Gray

2008: On November 4, Democratic candidate Barack Obama defeats Republican candidate John McCain and becomes the first African American person to be elected president of the United States.

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