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This Day in History
Black History Month celebrates the contributions of African Americans to American history and culture.
Get the facts about the origins of Black History Month, the creation of the NAACP and famous firsts in African American history.
In the 1950s and 1960s, civil rights activists in the United States used nonviolent protest, civil disobedience and legal action to end segregation and pursue equality for all Americans.
Slavery and its legacy have shaped American history, from the Civil War to Reconstruction in the 1860s and 1870s to the struggle over civil rights a century later.
Did You Know?
Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman elected to the House of Representatives. She was elected in 1968, and represented the state of New York.
- Slavery comes to North America
- Rise of the cotton industry
- Nat Turnerâ€™s Revolt
- Abolitionism and the Underground Railroad
- Dred Scott case
- John Brownâ€™s raid
- Civil War and emancipation
- The Postâ€“Slavery South
- "Separate But Equal"
- Washington, Carver & Du Bois
- NAACP founded
- Marcus Garvey and the UNIA
- Harlem Renaissance
- Africanâ€“Americans in WWII
- Jackie Robinson
- Brown v. Board Of Education
- Emmett Till
- Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott
- Central High School integrated
- Sitâ€“in movement and founding of SNCC
- CORE and Freedom Rides
- Integration of Ole Miss
- Birmingham church bombed
- "I Have a Dream"
- Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Freedom Summer and the "Mississippi Burning" murders
- Selma to Montgomery march
- Malcolm X shot to death
- Voting Rights Act of 1965
- Rise of Black Power
- Loving v. Virginia
- Fair Housing Act
- MLK assassinated
- Shirley Chisholm runs for president
- The Bakke decision and affirmative action
- Jesse Jackson galvanizes black voters
- Oprah Winfrey launches syndicated talk show
- South Central riots
- Million Man March
- Colin Powell becomes secretary of state
- Triumph in Hollywood
- Barack Obama becomes 44th U.S. president
Slavery comes to North America , 1619
To satisfy the labor needs of the rapidly growing North American colonies, white European settlers turned in the early 17th century from indentured servants (mostly poorer Europeans) to a cheaper, more plentiful labor source: African slaves. Beginning around 1619, when a Dutch ship brought 20 Africans ashore at the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia, slavery spread quickly through the American colonies. Though it is impossible to give accurate figures, some historians have estimated that 6 to 7 million slaves were imported to the New World during the 18th century alone, depriving the African continent of its most valuable resource—its healthiest and ablest men and women.
After the American Revolution, many colonists (particularly in the North, where slavery was relatively unimportant to the economy) began to link the oppression of black slaves to their own oppression by the British. Though leaders such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson—both slaveholders from Virginia—took cautious steps towards limiting slavery in the newly independent nation, the Constitution tacitly acknowledged the institution, guaranteeing the right to repossess any “person held to service or labor” (an obvious euphemism for slavery). Many northern states had abolished slavery by the end of the 18th century, but the institution was absolutely vital to the South, where blacks constituted a large minority of the population and the economy relied on the production of crops like tobacco and cotton. Congress outlawed the import of new slaves in 1808, but the slave population in the U.S. nearly tripled over the next 50 years, and by 1860 it had reached nearly 4 million, with more than half living in the cotton–producing states of the South.
Rise of the cotton industry, 1793
In the years immediately following the Revolutionary War, the rural South—the region where slavery had taken the strongest hold in North America—faced an economic crisis. The soil used to grow tobacco, then the leading cash crop, was exhausted, while products such as rice and indigo failed to generate much profit. As a result, the price of slaves was dropping, and the continued growth of slavery seemed in doubt. Around the same time, the mechanization of spinning and weaving had revolutionized the textile industry in England, and the demand for American cotton soon became insatiable. Production was limited, however, by the laborious process of removing the seeds from raw cotton fibers, which had to be completed by hand. In 1793, a young Yankee schoolteacher named Eli Whitney came up with a solution to the problem: The cotton gin, a simple mechanized device that efficiently removed the seeds, could be hand–powered or, on a large scale, harnessed to a horse or powered by water. The cotton gin was widely copied, and within a few years the South would transition from a dependence on the cultivation of tobacco to that of cotton. As the growth of the cotton industry led inexorably to an increased demand for black slaves, the prospect of slave rebellion—such as the one that triumphed in Haiti in 1791—drove slaveholders to make increased efforts to protect their property rights. Also in 1793, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which made it a federal crime to assist a slave trying to escape. Though it was difficult to enforce from state to state, especially with the growth of abolitionist feeling in the North, the law helped enshrine and legitimize slavery as an enduring American institution.
Nat Turnerâ€™s Revolt, August 1831
In August 1831, Nat Turner struck fear into the hearts of white Southerners by leading the only effective slave rebellion in U.S. history. Born on a small plantation in Southampton County, Virginia, Turner inherited a passionate hatred of slavery from his African–born mother and came to see himself as anointed by God to lead his people out of bondage. In early 1831, Turner took a solar eclipse as a sign that the time for revolution was near, and on the night of August 21, he and a small band of followers murdered his owners, the Travis family, and set off toward the town of Jerusalem, where they planned to capture an armory and gather more recruits. The group, which eventually numbered around 75 blacks, murdered some 60 whites in two days before armed resistance from local whites and the arrival of state militia forces overwhelmed them just outside Jerusalem. Some 100 slaves, including innocent bystanders, lost their lives in the struggle. Turner escaped and spent six weeks on the lamb before he was captured, tried and hanged.
Oft–exaggerated reports of the insurrection—some said that hundreds of whites had been killed—sparked a wave of anxiety across the South. Several states called special emergency sessions of the legislature, and most strengthened their slave codes in order to limit the education, movement and assembly of slaves. While supporters of slavery pointed to the Turner rebellion as evidence that blacks were inherently inferior barbarians requiring an institution such as slavery to discipline them, the increased repression of southern blacks would strengthen anti–slavery feeling in the North through the 1860s amd intensify the regional tensions building toward civil war.
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