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Time Line: African American History 1619-1900

Tennessee events are marked with the letters “TN” in teal.


---                    Nineteen Africans are shipped to Jamestown, Virginia, on Dutch ships, as indentured servants.  The Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese all send African slaves to work in both North and South America during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.


---                    African slaves are imported to the Hudson River Valley in New York.  


Feb. 2              Eight years after the settlement of Boston, a ship named Desire arrives in Boston with its first African slaves.

---                    Although slavery is never technically illegal in the colonies, Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay are the first colonies to

authorize slavery through legislation as part of the 1641 Body of Liberties.  They will be followed by Connecticut (1650), Virginia (1661), Maryland (1663), New York and New Jersey (1664), South Carolina (1682), Rhode Island & Pennsylvania (1700), North Carolina (1715), and Georgia (1750). 


---                    The triangular slave trade begins about this time—a Boston ship brings African slaves to the West Indies to be traded

for sugar, tobacco, and liquor; these products are then taken to New England to be sold for lumber (including masts for the ships) and manufactured goods. Newport, Rhode Island, and Salem, Massachusetts, will become major ports during this period, which marks the beginning of the extensive introduction of African slaves into the British West Indies to work on the sugar plantations. In some respects it can be considered the first industrial revolution, in which profits result directly from the use of cheap labor.  [Hunt]


---                    The Barbados Slave Code establishes a legal base for slavery in Barbados, denying slaves even the basic rights

guaranteed under English common law, including the right to life, and allows the slaves' owners to treat their slaves as they wish, without fear of reprisal. Thus the West Indies begins the process of making slavery both African and brutal by statute.  [Hunt]

---                    From 1660 to about 1710, slavery converts slowly to the West Indies model. At first the distinction between slavery

and indentured servitude are imprecise.  As the planter class develops, though, slavery is considered essential in establishing such cash crops as rice in South Carolina. Within 50 years, Charles Town (Charleston), South Carolina, will become the largest mainland slave market.  [Berlin]


---                    As the English take control of New York , slaves make up about 20% of the population of the city. [Berlin]


---                    King Philip’s War begins as population growth and new leadership in the New England colonies create tensions between the settlers and the Native Americans over territory and resources.  This exceptionally violent year-long war will decimate both sides, destroy land and property, and result in the end of traditional ways of life in the native communities – hundreds of natives are forced into servitude or sold into slavery in the West Indies, a common practice until around 1720. [Hunt]


---                    By the third decade of the 18th century, a system of organized agricultural slavery is well established in the Chesapeake region.  Virginia’s slave population will grow from 3,000 in 1680 to 27,000 by 1720. 


Feb. 18            The first American protest against slavery is organized by Quakers in Germantown, Pennsylvania.


---                    South Carolina adopts the provisions of the Barbados Slave Code and creates a basic outline for slavery in British

North American colonies.   


---                    Slaves make up more than 17% (1/6) of the population of Philadelphia.


Apr. 7              Nine whites are killed during a New York slave revolt; 21 slaves are executed for murder.


June 20            Georgia is founded.  It is the only colony that ever specifically attempts to make slavery illegal. Its founder James

Oglethorpe, who intends to create a classless society, wants to reserve the land and the jobs for English labor.  Oglethorpe and the other Trustees interview all potential colonists, choosing carpenters, farmers, bakers, and other tradesmen who can build the colony into an efficiently functioning settlement.  Despite the founders’ declared intention of providing a haven for debtors in English prisons, not one such individual is among the original colonists. 


Sept. 9             Slaves revolt in Stono, South Carolina : 25 whites are killed before the revolt is suppressed.


March              A series of suspicious fires and rumors of slave conspiracies cause a widespread panic in New York: 31 black slaves

and five whites are executed as conspirators.


May 19            The Georgia Trustees petition King George II to permit them to repeal the colony’s prohibition against slavery.  By October he agrees to the request.


Jan. 1               Slavery becomes legal in Georgia. 


---                    Landon Carter, a Virginia plantation owner, begins his journal, which provides an intimate look at plantation life and the

isolation, uncertainties, and fears of the planter class.  His journals, written until his death in 1778, also record the Colonies’ movement toward revolution. [Hunt]


September       John Woolman, a New Jersey Quaker, writes in his Journal that he has embarked on a campaign to convince other

Friends to give up their slaves.


Mar. 15            In order not to discourage the settlement of skilled laborers in the state, Georgia prohibits slaves from working as carpenters, masons, bricklayers, plasterers, or joiners.    

Dec. 25            Jupiter Hammon, a New York slave, publishes the poem, “An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penitential Cries.” 


Mar. 5              Runaway slave Crispus Attucks is the first person killed in the Boston Massacre.                         

 June 28            Quakers open a school for black students in Philadelphia .   William Penn holds monthly meetings for blacks, advocating emancipation. n.emancipation.


Jan. 6               Massachusetts slaves petition the state legislature for their freedom.

Sept. 1 The first The first book published by an African American is a volume of poetry by Phyllis Wheatley. 


---                    The first African American Masonic group is organized.

April                The first abolitionist society in the United States is organized in Philadelphia. 

Nov. 16           Lord Dunmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia, issues Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation, the first large-scale emancipation of slaves in American history (when he offers freedom to Virginia’s slaves if they will agree to aid the British cause by serving in the Army.  Within a month, Dunmore raises 800 soldiers, more than doubling his troops. 

Dec. 14            In the Virginia Declaration the Virginia House of Burgesses declares Dunmore’s Proclamation “encouragement to a general insurrection” and threatens all rebelling slaves with a death sentence.

July 4               A section denouncing the slave trade in an early draft of the Declaration of Independence fails to be approved

by the Continental Congress on July 1, when both Northern and Southern slave-holding delegates object; it does not appear in the final draft, adopted on this date.


July 8               A Vermont constitution is published. [Although calling itself a state, Vermont will not be admitted to statehood until March 4, 1791 – it is more of an independent republic at this time], and becomes the first American colony to abolish slavery; a number of others will follow over the next ten years. However, many of the state emancipation laws specify only gradual abolition, beginning with the second or third generation after the law takes effect.  Slaves are listed in the Pennsylvania census through 1850. [Hunt]


---                    Around 5,000 African American soldiers participate in the American Revolutionary War.  

Dec. TN          Robert, James Robertson’s black servant, is among the small party of explorers who select the Fort Nashborough site in Middle Tennessee.  By 1800 nearly half the population of the settlement (154 of 345) are African Americans – all but three of them are slaves.  [Goodstein]

---                    In Commonwealth v. Jennison, slavery is declared unconstitutional in Massachusetts. Chief Justice William Cushing

declares that the state constitution grants rights incompatible with slavery, yet the Massachusetts constitution (1780) will never be amended specifically to prohibit slavery. 


Sept. 17           Although the Continental Congress excludes slavery from the Northwest Territory, the U.S. Constitution (with three

                        clauses recognizing slavery) is sent to the states for ratification. The new Constitution includes the Fugitive Slave

Clause, the three-fifths clause, and a clause prohibiting the abolition of the African slave trade before 1808.  [Foner, Forever Free]

November       The African Methodist Episcopal church is founded in Philadelphia, despite resistance from both blacks and whites who ,

are uncomfortable with the idea of forming independent (not merely segregated) congre-gations.  A.M.E. Founder Richard Allen chooses Methodism as the basis for his church because it emphasizes “the plain and simple gospel,” as well as a strong commitment to education and self-help. When this group unites with churches in other cities in 1816, Richard Allen is elected the first bishop of the A.M.E. Church.  African Americans are creating their own national institutions long before slavery comes to an end.  [Hunt]

---                    Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush join the Pennsylvania Abolition Society and help to write its constitution. The

organization, established in 1784, takes an active roll in litigation on behalf of free blacks. 


Apr. 30            George Washington is inaugurated President (1789-1797).


---                    Thomas Jefferson proposes a Southwest Ordinance similar to the Northwest Ordinance, but the legislation passed by Congress estab Congress establishes no prohibition on slavery in U.S. territory south of the Ohio River.                      


---   TN            The population of the Tennessee Territory is 35,691; of those, 3,417 (9.6 percent) residents are black. . 

March              President George Washington appoints Benjamin Banneker, an African American scientist, to the commission

surveying the District of Columbia. 

Aug. 22           The Haitian war of independence begins when over 100,000 slaves rise up against the greatly outnumbered French planters.  Revolutionary leader  Toussaint L’Ouverture ultimately forms a strategic  alliance with the French but maintains control of the island, becoming military dictator. 


Feb. 12            The first Fugitive Slave Law requires runaway slaves to be returned to their owners, wherever they are found.


Jan. 16 TN      Robert “Black Bob” Renfro, still a slave, is licensed by Davidson County "to sell Liquor and Victuals" in his own

tavern.  (Bob, the slave of Joseph Renfro, had come to Middle Tennessee on John Donelson’s historic river voyage, leaving the group  near present-day Clarksville on 12 April 1780.)  Bob will be involved in several precedent-setting court cases, winning at least three cases before white juries. [Ellis]

June 20            Eli Whitney patents the cotton gin, making cotton both easier and faster to process and revitalizing the demand for

slave labor in the cotton fields.


Mar. 4              John Adams is inaugurated the nation’s second President (1797-1801).


--- TN              Of Nashville’s 345 inhabitants, 154 are black. [Goodstein] Only fourteen of them are free; by 1810 there are 130 free xxxxxxxxxxxxxxblacks in Nashville. [Lovett]

Aug. 30           Gabriel Prosser, a Virginia slave, gathers an army of discontented slaves (estimated at 1000-4000 individuals) and

prepares to attack Richmond.  They are foiled by informants and severe weather.  Prosser and others are captured and hanged. 


Mar. 4              Thomas Jefferson is inaugurated the nation’s third President (1801-1809).

Nov. 10 TN    Nashvillian “Black Bob” Renfro is granted emancipation from his owner Robert Searcy by an act of the Fourth

xxxxxxxxxxxxxTennessee General Assembly.  (Early Tennessee legislatures often sanctioned the voluntary manumission of slaves by their xxxxxxxxxxxxxowners.) [Ellis]


April                Toussaint L’Ouverture, leader of the Haitian slave rebellion, is tricked by Napoleon into leaving Haiti and dies in a

French prison.  His lieutenant, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, carries on the struggle against Napoleon's generals, Leclerc

and Rochambeau.  Hundreds of people die in the fighting; shocking atrocities are committed by both sides. 

Apr. 30            Napoleon, understanding that the loss of Haiti will end his dreams of a Caribbean sugar empire, offers to sell the

Louisiana Territory (which is no longer useful to him) to the U.S. 

Nov. 28           Rochambeau surrenders.  Dessalines declares Haiti to be an independent republic. Because the rebellion is successful,

it will forever after haunt American plantation owners with the specter of violent overthrow; an early response will be the American Colonization Society (1816).  [Hunt]


Mar. 25            The British Parliament abolishes the slave trade.  Although Congress will also ban the importation of slaves into the

U.S. after January 1, 1808, slave shipments to America will continue largely unchallenged until 1859.  


Mar. 4             James Madison is inaugurated the nation’s fourth President (1809-1817).


Jan. 8-10          Louisiana slaves revolt in two parishes near New Orleans .  The largest slave revolt in the United States, it is

suppressed by federal troops.


---                    About 2,000,000 Africans now live in America ; around ten percent of them (roughly 200,000) are free persons of



July 27             Federal troops are sent to destroy a Maroon (runaway-slave) settlement in Apalachicola Bay, Florida.  About 300 Maroons, supported by about 20 Native Americans, hold off the troops from a tightly-constructed fort until a lucky shot from a U.S. cannon hits the Maroons’ powder supply.  Most of  the people in the fort are killed in the resulting explosion; the forty survivors are sent back to Georgia to be sold at auction. 

Dec. 21            The American Colonization Society is established in Washington, D.C. Its upper-class, white male membership -- which

includes James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Francis Scott Key, Henry Clay, and Daniel Webster – consists of both philanthropists and slave owners who, for reasons ranging from altruism to fear, want to enable blacks to return to Africa. They eventually gain Congressional support and provide ships for the purpose; the first settlement (1820) in what is now Liberia will grow slowly, as the settlers struggle against yellow fever and armed resistance from natives.


Mar. 4              James Monroe is inaugurated the nation’s fifth President (1817-1825).

---                    Richard Allen’s Bethel A.M.E. Church hosts the first general mass meeting of blacks to protest the deportation

policies of the American Colonization Society.  Three thousand people attend.


Mar. 6              The Missouri Compromise settles the issue of slavery in the areas obtained by the Louisiana Purchase. Missouri joins the Union as a slave state, while Maine balances it as a free state. All remaining sections of the Louisiana Territory lying north of 36 degrees 30 minutes north latitude are to be free.  (This limitation will later be overturned by the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act and by the 1857 Dred Scott case.) The act provides that any fugitive slave "escaping into any...state or territory of the United States...may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labour or service" – but, as will be reiterated in the Thirteenth Amendment (1865), even in the free territories, "slavery and involuntary servitude ... in the punishment of crimes" is not prohibited.


---                    The Illinois legislature passes a resolution to amend the state constitution to permit slavery.  Anti-slavery activists fight the proposal. They will be successful when the amendment fails in the 1824 election.

May 30            Denmark Vesey, a carpenter and former slave who bought his own freedom in 1800, designs one of the most complex slave plots in history, involving thousands of African Americans in the Charleston, South Carolina, area.  On this date, the plot is revealed by a “house slave,” and Vesey and more than 130 others are arrested; 37 are eventually hanged. 

Aug. 2             Illinois passes a referendum declaring the state free; nevertheless, a complex series of indenture and apprenticeship laws along with frequent  kidnappings of black workers will maintain a system not much different from slavery for many years.           


Mar. 4              John Quincy Adams becomes the nation’s 6th President (1825-1829).


---                    By this time, 2,638 African Americans have migrated to Liberia.


Mar. 16            Freedom’s Journal is published in New York City .  It is the first of about 40 black newspapers that will appear

before the Civil War. 


Mar. 4              Andrew Jackson is inaugurated the nation’s 7th President (1829-1837).

Aug. 10           Following a race riot in Cincinnati, Ohio, more than 1,000 African Americans leave the city for Canada.  

Sept. 20           About 40 delegates from various states meet in Philadelphia for the first national African American convention to discuss xxxxxxxxxxxxx the abolition of slavery.  


Jan. 1               William Lloyd Garrison publishes the first issue of the Liberator, a weekly abolitionist journal, signaling the

emergence of a more militant attitude within the anti-slavery movement. 

Aug. 21           Nat Turner, born during Gabriel Prosser’s slave rebellion (1800), leads a band of 40 slaves from house to house

through Southampton County, Virginia, stabbing, shooting, or clubbing every white person they find.   They kill at least 55 people before being caught and executed.  Virginia and North Carolina courts will execute more than 50 people charged with participating, and vengeful mobs, mobilized by panic, kill 200 more.

December        The Virginia legislature considers a petition to emancipate Virginia’s slaves. A motion to reject it outright is defeated.

                        In the intense debate that follows, one legislator declares slavery “the greatest curse that God is His wrath ever                         inflicted upon a people.” In the climate of fear created by the Nat Turner rebellion, and facing the growing belief that                         slavery may be a hindrance to economic development, the legislature earnestly debates a gradual emancipation statute.  xxxxxxxxxxxxx [Hunt] “The arguments expressed during the Virginia slavery debate...profoundly [shape] the development of                         future justifications for slavery. Faced with an opportunity tto abolish slavery in Virginia, what [results] instead [is] the xxxxxxxxxxxxx ideological cornerstone of the Southern Confederacy.  [Curtis]


---                    The Nullification Controversy pits President Jackson against South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun in a debate

about the rights of a state to nullify federal law.  The first state to have over-planted its soil to the point where its productivity has diminished, South Carolina (concerned that Congress might also claim the power to terminate slavery) declares the increasing federal tariffs null and void and threatens to secede.

Dec. 10            Jackson’s Nullification Proclamation, declaring that states’ rights

justify neither nullification nor secession, is his confrontational response to South Carolina’s action.  The President’s tough stand on the issue demonstrates his confidence in his strong bipartisan support from both sides of the North-South divide.  [Hunt]


May 18 TN     Birth of Davidson County Representative Sampson W. Keeble.  The first African American elected to the Tennessee xxxxxxxxxxxxxxGeneral Assembly, Keeble was born a slave in Rutherford County, Tennessee. 

---                    John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay persuade Congress to pass the Compromise Tariff, which slowly lowers the duties on cotton.

Dec. 3              The first classes are held at Oberlin College in Ohio, one of the earliest colleges to admit African American students. The first black students are admitted in the fall of 1835; by 1860 one-third of its students are black.  Oberlin also pioneers “the joint education of the sexes,” enrolling both males and females from the beginning.  In 1862 Oberlin graduate Mary Jane Patterson is the first black woman to earn a college degree.


May 19 TN     Tennessee holds a Constitutional Convention.  Major issues under discussion include taxation and representation.  Andrew Johnson attempts to curb the influence of slave owners by limiting representation in the General Assembly to the white population alone.  Antislavery groups petition to abolish slavery, but the convention denies their appeals, instead adding language to require the approval of slave owners before passing any statutes related to emancipation.

---                    Black Baptists in Ohio form the Providence Baptist Association; four years later an Illinois group will form the Wood

River Baptist Association. 


--- TN              Approximate birth year of Davidson County Representative Thomas A. Sykes, born a slave in North Carolina to xxxxxxxxxxxxxxunknown parents. 

--- TN              The Cherokee census of North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama , and Georgia lists 16,542 Cherokee and 1,592 slaves xxxxxxxxxxxxxx(not identified by race).


---                    “Free Frank” McWorter becomes the first African American to found a town when he records the plat of New Philadelphia, Illinois. 

June 15            Arkansas is admitted to the Union as a slave state.  It is positioned to balance Michigan, which enters as a free state on January 26, 1837. 


Mar. 4              Martin Van Buren, a Democrat, defeats Whig candidate William Henry Harrison to become the nation's 8th

President (1837-1841).


Sept. 3             Twenty-year-old Frederick Douglass escapes from slavery in Baltimore.   


July 2               Slaves, led by Joseph Cinqué, revolt against the crew of the slave ship Amistad. When they are captured by the U.S.

Navy two months later, they are jailed in Connecticut, a state in which slavery is legal.


--- TN              Sarah Estell, a free black businesswoman, opens a successful ice cream parlor and catering business in Nashville,

where she provides banquets for “firemen, church socials, and political parties.”  Sally Thomas, although still technically a slave, has been permitted to run a laundry business since 1817. She has used the profits to buy her children’s freedom.


Mar. 4              William Henry Harrison is inaugurated the nation’s ninth President.  He develops pneumonia during his inauguration and dies a month later.

Apr. 6              Although the Constitution does not provide for the Vice President to succeed to the Presidency in the event of the President’s death, John Tyler defies a power grab by the cabinet and has himself sworn in as President (1841-1845).  [Winik]

---                            The U.S. Supreme Court upholds a lower court’s decision that the Amistad mutineers are the victims of kidnapping and thus within their rights to secure their freedom in any way possible.  Through private donations, the 35 surviving Africans are able to secure passage back to Africa.

---                    Captured Africans on the slave ship Creole, traveling from Virginia to Louisiana, overpower the crew and sail the ship

to the Bahamas, where the government grants them asylum and freedom.


---                    Joseph Jenkins Roberts becomes the first non-white governor of Liberia.


---                    Members and clergy of the Methodist Episcopal Church split from the church over its failure to pass a promised edict

forbidding members to own slaves.  The new organization is named the Wesleyan Methodist Church in America.   

---                    Although its rules are not as strict as some members would wish, from its 1784 founding in the United States, the

Methodist Episcopal Church has opposed slavery. When a Georgia bishop becomes a slave owner by marriage, the

church splits a second time over the slavery issue, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, becomes a separate entity. 


--- TN           Probable birth year of Shelby County Representative Thomas F. Cassels,  born in Jackson County, Ohio.   His parents xxxxxxxxxxxxxxare “free persons of color” in a community that is a busy hub of Underground Railroad activity.                        

Mar. 3              Florida is admitted to the Union as a slave state, paired with Iowa, which will enter as a free state on December 28, 1846. 

Mar. 4 TN       Tennessean James K. Polk is inaugurated as the nation’s 11th President (1845-1849).         

May 3              Macon B. Allen of Massachusetts becomes the first African American lawyer admitted to the bar.

May 8              The Baptist movement has worked to maintain an uneasy peace among its members by simply avoiding discussion of the topic of slavery.  However, when an 1840 American Baptist Anti-Slavery Convention brings the issue into the open, the Mission Board is forced to take a stand. When the Board refuses to accept Georgia’s nomination of a slave-owner to be sent out as a missionary, 293 Southern leaders representing 365,000 members, meet in Augusta, Georgia, and agree regretfully to withdraw. This group will form the Southern Baptist Convention, which eventually grows to be the largest Protestant denomination in the country.

May 23            Frederick Douglass publishes his biography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. He is 27 years old.

Dec. 11 TN     The Tennessee General Assembly charters the Nashville & Chattanooga Railway. BY 1857-58 Chattanooga is a major

                        railway hub in the South.

Dec. 29            Texas (which has been an independent country since 1836) is annexed and admitted to the Union as a slave state, based

on the terms of the Missouri Compromise.  Wisconsin’s admission as a free state on May 29, 1848, is seen as the balance for Texas. Mexico, never having recognized Texas independence, declares war on the United States.


--- TN              Approximate birth year of Hamilton County Representative William C. Hodge, born in North Carolina.

Apr. 24            Mexican forces attack American troops near the Rio Grande, beginning the Mexican War.

May 13            The U.S. Congress declares war on Mexico.  Since Texas is a slave state, Northerners and Whigs generally oppose the war, while Southerners and Democrats tend to support it.  The U.S. desire to annex California should be considered a major cause of the war.  [Hunt]

---                    The Wilmot Proviso is amended to a bill providing for negotiation of a settlement with Mexico.  A challenge to pro-slavery groups, the Proviso bans slavery in any of the territory acquired in the Mexican war.  Although the amended bill is passed by the House in 1846 and 1847, the Southern-dominated Senate blocks it.  The effect of the debate over the Proviso is to intensify the conflict between the North and the South over slavery. The escalating controversy will lead to Southern secession. The political debate has shifted subtly from abolitionism to free soil. [Hunt]


July 26             The legislature of Liberia declares itself an independent state.  Joseph Jenkins Roberts is elected its first president.

---                    The Free Soil Movement is organized in the United States .  Supporters of the Wilmot Proviso, its members are

abolitionists who are extremely antagonistic toward the extension of slavery into the territories.  Fairly successful as a third party, it sends two Senators and 14 Representatives to the 31st Congress.  Its membership includes many northern Whigs and Democrats who are opposed to slavery.  By about 1854 most Free-Soilers have merged with the Republican party.

Feb. 2              The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ends the Mexican War.  Mexico must yield nearly half of its territory to the U.S. in exchange for $15,000,000.  That territory includes California and the territory of New Mexico, which includes the present-day Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Wyoming, and Colorado.  (The 1853 Gadsden Purchase will add the lower portions of the present-day Arizona and New Mexico.)  Congress begins the battle over slavery in the new territories.


May 10 TN     Birth of Fayette County Representative Monroe W. Gooden near Somerville, Tennessee, to slave Monroe Gooden Sr. and an unknown mother. 

Sept. 19 TN    Birth of Shelby County Representative Greene E. Evans in Fayette County, Tennessee. His mother is a slave on the

plantation of BoswelL Baker Degraffenreid in the northern part of the county.


Mar. 5              Zachary Taylor, a Whig, a cousin of James Madison, and a hero of the Mexican War, is elected 12th President of the U.S.

---  TN             Approximate birth year of Shelby County Representative Leon Howard.

Autumn xxxxxxKnowing she will be sold after her owner’s death, Harriet Tubman escapes from slavery in Maryland. However, she

will return to the South nineteen times, bringing out more than 300 slaves.


---                    As Congress debates the status of slavery in the territory acquired from Mexico, a number of proposals remain on the table: one is the Wilmot Proviso, which would ban all slavery in that territory; another is a measure, sanctioned by President Zachary Taylor, to extend the Missouri compromise line to the Pacific.  Senator Stephen A. Douglas is identified with “Popular Sovereignty,” which eventually emerges as part of the Compromise of 1850.  This plan will permit territorial governments to make their own determinations about slavery.  [Hunt]

June 3 TN       Delegates from nine Southern states meet in Nashville to discuss their concerns about Northern attitudes relating to slavery.  The Tennessee General Assembly, opposed to disunion, refuses to send delegates, but individual counties send 101 delegates to the Nashville Convention (sometimes called the Southern Convention), thus becoming the largest group from any state to participate.  The delegates resist the “Fire-Eaters’” demands for secession but adopt resolutions “asserting the South’s constitutional rights in the territories and the rights and interests of Texas in the boundary dispute.” Although the Convention fails to unite the South, it does call attention to Southern grievances and almost certainly influences the passage of the Compromise of 1850. [Goodstein]

July 4              Falling ill with gastroenteritis after a 4th of July celebration, President Zachary Taylor becomes the second President to die in office. 

July 10            Millard Fillmore is inaugurated the nation’s 13th President (1850-1853).

Sept. 9-20       President Fillmore signs the five bills making up the Compromise of 1850, the passage of which is orchestrated by Stephen Douglas.  The plan will

·         force Texas to relinquish about one-third of its territory in exchange for $10,000,000 from the U.S. Government;

·         organize New Mexico/Arizona and Utah under the rule of “popular sovereignty,” by which each territory can choose its own response to slavery.  Critics protest that it undermines the Missouri Compromise;

·         admit California to the Union as a free state, despite the fact that it upsets the 15-15 balance of free and slave states;

·         abolish the sale of slaves (although not the institution of slavery) in the District of Columbia; and

·         enact a harsh new Fugitive Slave Law that penalizes law enforcement officials for failing to arrest anyone suspected of being a runaway slave, and that requires fines and jail terms for anyone providing food or shelter to runaway slaves.

Nov. TN         Although the Compromise of 1850 reduces the Southern passion for establishing regional unity against the North, fifty

delegates from seven southern states meet for a second Nashville Convention and affirm the right to secede. 


June 5              Harriet Beecher Stowe sells Uncle Tom’s Cabin to the National Era for $300. Despite the paper's small circulation,

the story is widely read as copies pass from hand to hand.  After the last (40th) installment (April 1852), it appears in book form, selling half a million copies by 1857.  Neither slavery nor the Fugitive Slave Law ever recovers its legitimacy.

Oct. 15            Shelby County Representative Isham (Isaac) Franklin Norris is born in Tennessee, probably to slave parents.


--- TN              Approximate birth year of Tipton County Representative John W. Boyd,

born in Covington, Tennessee, to Philip and Sophia Fields Boyd. 

--- TN              Birth year of Shelby County Representative William A. Feilds, born near Fisherville, Tennessee. His mother, who was

                        born in Virginia, is the slave of Jean Field Sanford. Researchers are certain William Feilds and John W. Boyd (above) xxxxxxxxxxxxxxwere cousins, perhaps even first cousins.

Nov.                The defeat of the Whig candidate, Mexican War hero Winfield Scott, by Democrat Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire,

marks the end of Whig party influence in the country. The emerging Republican party, which will take shape over the

next two or three years, will fill its ranks with Whigs, Free Soilers, Know-Nothings, and disgruntled Northern Democrats

Nov. 21 TN    Birth date of Hamilton County Representative Styles L. Hutchins, born in Lawrenceville, Georgia. His father,

William Dougherty Hutchins, is a free man, who owns his own Atlanta barbershop. 


Mar. 4              Franklin Pierce is inaugurated the nation’s 14th President (1853-1857).

---                    William Wells Brown publishes Clotel, the first novel by a black author. The book is published in London while Brown 

                        is still technically a slave.  He will later write The Escape, the first African American play. 

Nov. TN         Nelson G. Merry, a former slave, becomes the first Tennessee African American to be ordained and placed over a congregation. He is named moderator (pastor) of the first Colored Baptist Mission on Pearl Street in Nashville, where he has preached since 1848. 


May 30            Congress passes the Kansas-Nebraska Act, introduced by Stephen Douglas, although it has been condemned by xxxxxxxxxxxxxxFrederick Douglass and others in the anti-slavery movement. By permitting residents of Kansas and Nebrasks to

                        decide for themselves whether to allow slavery in their territories, the bill essentially repeals the 1820 Missouri xxxxxxxxxxxxxxCompromise (which has permitted slavery north of latitude 36o30’) and opens the Northern territory to slavery.  The xxxxxxxxxxxxxxKansas-Nebraska Act will also corrupthe the westward movement: Americans have come tp believe that the 

                        solutions to many issues (overpopulation, mass production manufacturing,  dreams of expansion and adventure) lie in the xxxxxxxxxxxxxxWest (which historian Frederick Jackson Turner will later describe as “the soul of American democracy"). By this time,

                        however, the West is dissolving in terrorism (from violent acts by Border Ruffians, John Brown, and others) and

                        electoral fraud (see 1857 timeline entries on the Lecompton Constitution), and the dream of Jacksonian America is xxxxxxxxxxxxxxcrumbling. [Hunt]

July 6               The first official Republican party meeting takes place in Jackson, Mich., impelled by the feeling of betrayal among

Northern and Northwestern states after the Kansas-Nebraska Act is approved by Congress.  Loyal to the precepts of the Missouri Compromise, it attracts Free-Soilers and others opposed to slavery and becomes powerful nationally when John C. Frémont (“Free soil, free labor, free speech, free men, Frémont!”) is nominated for President in 1856.  Four years later Abraham Lincoln will become the first Republican elected to that office.  The power of the new party is not so much in an anti-slavery agenda (the party never moves beyond the idea of preventing slavery’s expansion into the west) as in its effectiveness in creating a cross-sectional alliance between New England, the mid-Atlantic states, and the old Northwest.  For the first time in American politics, there is a “politicized North.”  [Hunt]


Feb. 26 TN     Hume School, housing 12 teachers and serving all grades, opens in Nashville, one of the first Southern cities to institute a public school system.  (Mobile, Alabama, opened the Barton Academy as a public school in 1836; the North Carolina legislature enacted its first statewide public school law in 1839.) Blacks, excluded from public schools in Nashville and Memphis, must organize their own schools or teach basic skills in churches and Sabbath schools.

Aug. 25 TN    The first train carries passengers (8 miles at 15 mph!) on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad line.


November       Although Democrat James Buchanan wins the popular Presidential voteand survives the electoral college tally, Republican xxxxxxxxxxxxxxcandidate John C. Frémont comes within two states of defeating him.  It is clear that the Republican party has become a xxxxxxxxxxxxxxpolitical force to contend with. 

Dec. TN          A race riot takes place in Nashville – white workers attack free and semi-independent (self-hired) blacks, many of whom

are well-educated and prosperous, tightening the controls on local African American citizens and forcing free black schools to close until after the city’s occupation by Union forces in February 1862.

--- TN              African American education in Memphis is likewise shut down when local whites forbid black residents to learn to read.


Mar. 4              James Buchanan is inaugurated the nation’s 15th President (1857-1861).

March              The Supreme Court rules, in Dred Scott v Sanford , that an African American cannot be considered a citizen of the

United States and thus has no right to sue or to claim other rights of citizenship. The decision is a focal point of the Lincoln-Douglas debates in the 1858 Illinois Senate campaign.  Although Lincoln loses the election, his “house divided” speech and the exposure he receives in the debates catapult him into national prominence. 

Oct. 19            A Constitutional Convention meets in Lecompton, capital city of the Kansas Territory, to draft a state constitution.  Pro-slave delegates push through the Lecompton Constitution protecting slavery.

December        Kansas voters, in an election marked by violence and fraud, ratify the Lecompton Constitution, as free-staters stay

away from the polls in protest.  News reports of the election stir up the North against the slave system, and many northern Democrats, including Stephen A. Douglas, break with the party, voting against President Buchanan’s endorsement of the document and his recommendation to admit Kansas as a slave state.


--- TN              Approximate birth year of Haywood County Representative Samuel A. McElwee, born into slavery in Madison


Jan. 4               Kansas voters, given an opportunity to reconsider the Lecompton Constitution after voting irregularities are charged in the earlier referendum, decisively reject it by a vote of 10,226 to 138! 


---                    The Clothilde, the last ship to carry slaves to the United States , arrives in Mobile Bay, Alabama, with an illegal

shipment of slaves.  Its captain, Tim Meaher, has made a bet that he can sneak in a shipload of slaves under cover of darkness.

--- TN              A group of African Americans in Memphis establishes the Collins Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church, the first

independent black congregation that is not organized under the patronage and control of a white church. 

July 18 TN      Birth of Fayette County Representative David F. Rivers, born in Montgomery, Alabama, to Edmonia Rivers, a free

woman of color, and an unknown father.  

Oct. 16            John Brown and his followers (five of the 13 are African American) attack Harper's Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia),

in an attempt to free and arm the local slaves.    Brown becomes a martyr for abolition.

Oct. 27 TN     The Louisville & Nashville Railroad line, chartered in 1850, is completed between its two namesake cities, 180 miles

                        apart. By the time the Civil War begins in 1861, the L&N will have laid 269 miles of track. Spanning the Union and xxxxxxxxxxxxxxConfederate lines, it will be of use to both armies. Because of Nashville's early occupation by Union forces, it will

                        suffer less damage than other railroads and will be positioned to expand quickly after the war.


--- TN              Slaves now constitute one-fourth of Tennessee’s population and about 15% of the national population. Tennessee’s slaves are valued at $114 million. [Hunt]

---                    Approximately 300,000 free blacks are living in Southern states, primarily in Virginia, Kentucky, and South Carolina.

primarily in Virginia, Kentucky, and South Carolina.

--- TN              Fewer than 20% of Tennessee families own (or can afford to own) slaves. Slave owners in the state hold a median of

15.1 slaves.

---                    In this year “only five Northern states, all with tiny black populations, [allow] black men to vote on the same terms as

white.”  [Foner]

May 16            Abraham Lincoln receives the Republican party’s nomination for President on the third ballot.

November       A four-way party split causes a messy and complicated election: the Democrats have split into two factions,

represented by John C. Breckinridge and Stephen A. Douglas; the Whig candidate, John Bell, carries Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia; and Abraham Lincoln represents the Republicans.  Lincoln’s victory is determined by the electoral college. [Hunt] Although he earns less than 40% of the popular vote nationwide, he wins 180 electoral votes to Breckenridge’s 72, Bell’s 39, and Douglas’s 12.  The failure of the political system to hold the country together sets the stage for inevitable civil conflict.

Dec. 2              In his final speech to Congress, President Buchanan anticipates the impending Southern Secession, arguing that

secession is clearly unconstitutional (as opposed to the right of revolution), but that a Union of consent cannot rest on force.  In other words, no state has the right to oppress another state – if a state secedes, the Union is dead. [Hunt]

Dec. 20            In a convention called by John C. Calhoun to consider secession, South Carolina's delegates vote unanimously to

secede from the Union.  This move, foreshadowed by the demands of the Fire-Eaters (led by Edmund Ruffin, William Yancey, and others) during the Nashville Convention of 1850, has intensified in the face of growing Southern opposition to Jacksonian politics and to Northern abolition and feminist movements.  But the issue comes to a head with the Lincoln’s election, which, to the South, represents a complete breakdown of the political system. [Hunt]


Jan. 29             Kansas is admitted to the Union as a free state.

Feb. 4              Seven states secede to form the Confederate States of America.

Feb 18             Jefferson Davis is inaugurated President of the Confederacy in Montgomery, Alabama, two weeks before Lincoln's


Mar. 4              Abraham Lincoln is inaugurated President, with Hannibal Hamlin of Maine as Vice President.

Mar. 11            The Confederate States of America – at this time consisting of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi,

South Carolina, and Texas – adopts a Constitution. 

Apr. 12            Confederate batteries fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, in the first engagement of the Civil War.

Unified by their response to this attack on their flag, Republicans and Democrats in the Northern tier of states suddenly form what would previously have been an unattainable coalition and come together as Unionists, instantly uniting against this “treason by force.” [Hunt]

Apr. 15            Lincoln issues a call for 75,000 troops to put down the Southern rebellion. Recruitment and military training begin in

earnest, but nobody expects the conflict to last more than a few months.

May 24            General Benjamin F. Butler, in command of Virginia ’s Fortress Monroe, declares fugitive slaves "contraband of war"

and proclaims they can no longer be returned to their owners. [Foner, Forever Free]

June 8 TN       The Tennessee General Assembly votes to secede from the Union, despite evidence that many Tennesseans (possibly a majority) are opposed to secession.

June 28 TN      The Tennessee General Assembly authorizes a draft of free black men into the Confederate army. Most free black men

                        will manage to evade both the Confederate draft and the local sheriffs compelled to enforce it.

Aug. 6             Lincoln signs the First Confiscation Act, authorizing Union seizure of rebel property and ordering Union officers not to

                        return escaped or confiscated slaves who are working or fighting for the rebel forces.


Feb. 16 TN     General Grant accepts the surrender of Fort Donelson as Union forces  breach the Southern defenses and open a corridor to Nashville.

Feb. 21            Nathaniel Gordon, a slave trader from Maine, is hanged in New York City for piracy. Harper's Weekly (March 8)

comments, “For forty years the slave-trade has been pronounced piracy by law, and to engage in it has been a capital

offense. But the sympathy of the Government and its officials has been so often on the side of the criminal, and it seemed so absurd to hang a man for doing at sea that which, in half the Union, is done daily without censure on land, that no one has ever been punished under the Act. The Administration of Mr. Lincoln has turned over a new leaf in this respect. Henceforth the slave-trade will be abandoned to the British and their friends.”

Feb. 23 TN     The Confederate flag is lowered from the Tennessee Capitol as Nashville surrenders to Union forces. Shipmaster

William Driver, a native of Salem, Massachusetts, and a proud Union supporter, offers his personal flag, which he calls “Old Glory,” to be flown from the Capitol.

March TN       Tennessee Senator Andrew Johnson is appointed military governor and arrives in Nashville to head the occupation forces.

Mar.                 Congress adopts an article of war forbidding members of the army and navy to return fugitive slaves to their owners.


Apr. 16            The Confederacy issues a draft order, making all healthy white men between the ages of 18 and 35 liable for a three-

year term of military service.  By September the upper age limit will be raised to 45; by October 11, a man owning 20 or more slaves becomes exempt; by February 1864, the age range will include men between the ages of  17 and 50.

---                    Congress abolishes slavery in the District of Columbia , compensating loyal owners, and appropriates funds for

“colonization” of freed slaves outside the U.S. [Foner, Forever Free]

June 6 TN       Memphis surrenders to Union forces. 

July 2 TN        The Morrill Act allocates federal land or its monetary value to various states for the teaching of “agricultural and mechanical” subjects and military training to students.  After the Civil War Tennessee will designate East Tennessee University (renamed the University of Tennessee in 1879) as a land-grant institution. 

July 17             Congress passes two acts that change the status of slaves and anticipate the Emancipation Proclamation.  

·         The Second Confiscation Act frees the slaves of owners who are actively engaged in rebellion and authorizes military commanders to appropriate those former slaves as military personnel “in any capacity to suppress the rebellion.”

·         The Militia Act authorizes the employment of “persons of African descent” in “any military or naval service for which they may be found competent,” and grants freedom to those slaves and their families.  In other words, Lincoln can now use black soldiers in the Union Army.
By the end of the war in April 1865, a reported 180,000 African Americans will have served in the U.S. Army.

Sept. 23           Lincoln’s preliminary publication of the Emancipation Proclamation is released. While it does not immediately free

                        all slaves, it provides a  forewarning to owners that the rebellion must end by January 1 or the Proclamation will be                         signed.  It takes a surprisingly conciliatory tone, offering aid to states that make provisions for gradual emancipation and                         referring once again to Congress’s April 16 appropriation for colonizing freed slaves somewhere outside the borders of xxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe United States.

Dec. 7 TN       Work on Fort Negley, the largest Union fort west of Washington, D.C. , is completed. The fort has been constructed

over a three-month period by Union soldiers and hundreds of black workers – free and slave – who have been conscripted into service in what is probably the first large-scale use of contraband labor in Tennessee during the war.  With insufficient food, shelter, and clothing, many of these workers will die; most are never paid.  Regrettably, the construction of Fort Negley becomes a model for future projects, as Union officers, lacking laborers, impress black men into service and work them in merciless conditions. [Hunt]

Dec. 31 TN     On the last day of 1862 Union General William S. Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland challenges General

                        Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee at Murfreesboro.


Jan. 1               President Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation.  It frees all slaves in regions under Confederate

control and authorizes the enlistment of black soldiers.  It is important to recognize that it does not outlaw slavery in all areas of the country.  Tennessee, which is under Union control (and whose constitution will be among the first to ban slavery); Southern Louisiana, which has remained loyal to the Union; and the border states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri are exempt from the Emancipation Proclamation, even though slavery exists in its cruelest forms in all six states.  [See September 5, 1864]

Jan. 2               The Battle of Stones River ends.  With 23,000 casualties, it is the second bloodiest battle fought west of the

Appalachians during the Civil War with the highest percentage of casualties on both sides. Rosecrans' repulse of two

Confederate attacks and the subsequent Confederate withdrawal as Union reinforcements arrive goes a long way toward xxxxxxxrestoring Union morale:  Lincoln later writes: "I can never forget you gave us a hard-earned victory, which had there been xxxxxxxa defeat instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over." 

Mar. 3              The Conscription Act/Enrollment Act is passed, requiring enrollment of all able-bodied men in the Union Army,

although they can purchase their exemption by paying $300 or by sending a substitute.  Only 46,347 of the 776,892 men receiving draft notices will actually don a uniform. [Lapham]

May                 Authority is granted for the formation of a U.S. Bureau of Colored Troops.  Andrew Johnson, military governor of the occupation forces, drags his feet about initiating the troops, feeling, among other things, that contraband labor is too essential to pillage for soldiers. [Hunt]

June 20            West Virginia separates itself from Virginia to become a new Unionist state.  Its constitution bans the introduction of slaves into the state but does not address the issue of emancipating the slaves already there. 

Summer TN    Nashville has become a surprisingly dynamic city: it provides medical care, maintenance, and supplies for the war effort and the railroads; it attracts refugees, both black and white (including multitudes fleeing Confederate occupation in East Tennessee, and a huge number of contraband workers and their families); and it supplies food, rest, and recreation for military personnel, including “a licensed and medically regulated prostitution district.”  [Hunt]

July 4               The Confederacy is reeling from three major losses: battles at Tullahoma, Vicksburg, and Gettysburg have taken a huge

toll on Southern forces. Many people mistakenly assume the war is nearly over. However, the South is more resilient

and the Union less sound than people assume.

July 11-13       A week after the Battle of Gettysburg, opposition to the draft and its “rich man's exemptions" sparks a riot in New

York City.

July 18             The 54th Massachusetts Volunteers, an all-black unit, attack Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina. Nearly half

the men in the regiment are killed, wounded, or captured.  Sgt. William H. Carney will become the first African American to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for courage under fire.

July 30             Confederate President Davis announces that black soldiers of the USCT will be treated as escaped slaves and returned

to their owners.  Lincoln ’s response is immediate and harsh; captured USCT soldiers are to be treated as prisoners of

war, and not as escaped slaves. [Foner, Forever Free]

Sept. 10 TN    The Bureau of U.S. Colored Troops opens in Nashville .  More than 20,000 of the 180,000 USCT will be from

Tennessee, and the state will see more than 5,000 casualties. George Luther Stearns, Assistant Adjutant General for the Recruitment of Colored Troops, is put in charge of recruiting in Tennessee.  A fervent abolitionist, Stearns, John Brown’s largest financial backer, even owned the rifles Brown used at Harper’s Ferry.  He recruited the Union’s first African American regiment, the 54th Massachusetts, and will later be a leader in establishing the Freedmen’s Bureau.

Nov. 19           Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address.     

Dec. 2              The statue “Freedom” is placed on top of the U.S. Capitol. Sculptor Philip Reid was a slave in a Maryland foundry when

the statue was cast. 

Dec. 8              President Lincoln announces the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, pardoning Confederates who

                        pledge loyalty to the Union and agree to accept emancipation.   A state can begin the process of  rejoining the Union as                         soon as 10% of a Confederate state’s voters make the pledge. This fairly loose oath, pledging Union loyalty from the                          moment the oath is taken, angers black leaders, Southern Unionists, and Congressional Republicans. Lincoln seems xxxxxxxxxxxxxxmore interested in disrupting the Confederacy than actually implementing Reconstruction. [Hunt]


---                    The black Baptists of the West and South organize the Northwestern Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention.  In 1866 they will merge with the American Baptist Convention to form the Consolidated Baptist Convention, which will support the efforts of black Baptists in several Southern states to form their own conventions. 

January            Radical Republicans are hostile to Lincoln’s policies, fearing that they do not provide sufficient protection for ex-slaves, that the 10% amnesty plan is not strict enough, and that Southern states should demonstrate more significant efforts to eradicate the slave system before being allowed back into the Union. Consequently, Congress refuses to recognize the govern-ments of Southern states, or to seat their elected representatives. Instead, legislators begin to work on their own Reconstruction plan, which will emerge in July as the Wade-Davis Bill. Congress now understands the Confederacy to be the face of a deeply rooted cultural system antagonistic to the principles of a “free labor” society.  Many fear that returning home rule to such a system amounts to accepting secession state by state and opening the door for such malicious local legislation as the Black Codes that eventually emerge.

Feb. 8 TN       Birth date of Jesse M.H. Graham in Clarksville or Nashville, Tennessee.

Mar. 1              Rebecca Lee Crumpler becomes the first black woman to receive a medical degree, graduating from the New England Female Medical College.  Following the Civil War she will work with the Freedmen’s Bureau providing medical assistance to former slaves.  Her Book of Medical Discourses, published in 1883, is one of the earliest medical publications by any African American.

March TN       Military Governor Andrew Johnson, speaking at the dedication of the Northwestern Military Railroad at Johnsonville,

urges Unionists to “go to the ballot box” and vote slavery out of the state.  The railroad, strategic to the success of the Union army’s attack on Atlanta, has been built by thousands of black contraband workers and U.S. Colored Troops. 

June 15            Congress passes a bill authorizing equal pay, equipment, arms, and health care for African American troops in the

Union Army. 

July                  Congress passes the Wade-Davis Bill, which requires a majority vote of state voters to gain readmission to the

Union, restricts many former Confederates from political participation in Reconstruction, and demands that blacks receive not only their freedom but also equality before the law; Lincoln’s July 4 pocket veto of the bill kills it. 

Sept. 2             Sherman takes Atlanta.  That victory will give an enormous boost to Lincoln's Presidential hopes, which have been

damaged by the length of the war and the sense of stalemate the country now feels.

Sept. 5             The new Louisiana constitution abolishes slavery; Maryland, Missouri, and Tennessee will do the same in the next

few months.  Note that these are four of the six states that were exempted from the Emancipation Proclamation.  [See January 1, 1863.]

Autumn TN    Tennessee ’s black leaders organize a torchlight parade to honor Military Governor Andrew Johnson and to petition for

the application of the Emancipation Proclamation to Tennessee.

Oct. 4              The National Colored Men’s Convention meets in Syracuse, New York, chaired by Frederick Douglass.

---                    Beginning of the New Orleans Tribune, in all probability the first African American daily newspaper. 

Nov. 8             President Abraham Lincoln is re-elected, defeating Democratic candidate George McClellan. Andrew Johnson becomes

Vice President, but he and Lincoln barely know each other.

Nov. 30           Terrible Confederate losses in the Battle of Franklin (6,252 casualties in about five hours) all but destroy the Army of Tennessee and completely end its effectiveness.

Dec. 22            Sherman occupies Savannah, completing his march to the sea.


---                    By this point about 180,000 African American men (over 20% of the adult male black population between 20 and 45)

have served in the Union Army, and many more in the Navy.

---                    African-American soldiers comprise 10% of the entire Union Army. These troops suffer extremely high losses:

approximately one-third of all black soldiers enrolled in the military will lose their lives in the Civil War.

--- TN              Four Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company Bank branches will operate in Tennessee (in Chattanooga, Columbia, Memphis, and Nashville) between 1865 and 1874.  A significant resource for the black community, the bank will fail in 1874 following the economic depression of the 1870s, largely through mismanagement and fraud by the white managers of an important Washington, D.C. branch. 

Jan. TN           William Scott begins publication of The Colored Tennessean, the first black newspaper in Nashville.

Jan. 2 TN        John Mercer Langston, founder and dean of the Howard University Law School, speaks at Nashville's second annual

Emancipation Day celebration. 

Jan. TN           The Tennessee General Assembly amends the state constitution to prohibit slavery; voters will ratify the amendment in


Jan. 9 TN        Fisk Free Colored School opens in the buildings of a former U. S. Army hospital. Tennessee Governor W. G.

“Parson” Brownlow advises students to be “mild and temperate” in their behavior toward white people, and warns teachers to be “exceedingly prudent and cautious.”  The school will number 600 students by February and will continue to expand for some time.

Jan. 16             Under Union Gen. Sherman’s Field Order No. 15, 40-acre plots of land are set aside in coastal South Carolina,

Georgia, and Florida for the exclusive use of freed blacks, who can claim “possessory title” with option to purchase.  Sherman’s primary motive is to get rid of the multitudes of refugees following his army – not only are they impeding his military operations, but they are also consuming rations he needs for his troops. [Hunt]

Jan. 31             U.S. Congress approves the abolition of slavery and involuntary servitude, sending the 13th Amendment to the states

for ratification. 

Feb. 1              J. S. Rock, who will be the first black lawyer to practice in the Supreme Court, is admitted to the bar of the Supreme


---                    General Sherman’s army turns north toward the Carolinas and Virginia. 

Feb. 8              Martin Robinson Delany, a writer, publisher, and physician, becomes the first African American to receive a regular

army commission when President Lincoln promotes him to the rank of major in the U. S. Army. 

Mar. 3              A joint resolution of Congress frees the wives and children of soldiers, regardless of their owners' loyalty, [Berlin]  

---                    The U.S. Congress establishes the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (to be known as the

Freedmen’s Bureau); its function is to ease the transition from slavery, offering shelter, medical care, legal services, and educational facilities to former slaves.  Authorized to function for only one year, the bureau will operate until 1868. 

Mar. 4 TN       Abraham Lincoln is inaugurated for a second term, with Tennessean Andrew Johnson as Vice President. Lincoln

pledges “malice toward none and charity for all.”   

Mar. 13 TN     The Confederate States Congress authorizes the recruitment of black soldiers -- slave or free -- to serve in the 

Confederate Army; however, this uncharacteristic move by the Confederate Congress comes too late to prepare any

black troops for battle.  Some scholars believe that as many as 65,000 African Americans may have served the Confederate Army in some fashion: the Confederacy impressed and leased slaves extensively to work on fortifications and other projects; individual slaves sometimes accompanied their masters (usually officers) into war as personal servants; and a few (perhaps including Tennessee legislator Sampson W. Keeble) actually fought, generally to protect their own farms or neighborhoods.   

Mar. 26 TN     Tennessee voters ratify the new state constitution, which includes an anti-slavery amendment.

Apr. 5 TN       The Tennessee General Assembly ratifies the 13th Amendment. 

Apr. 9              Gen. Robert E. Lee surrenders at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. President Lincoln and General Grant give USCT

regiments the honor of being the first troops to occupy the Confederate capital at Richmond.

Apr. 11            In the last speech he will deliver, President Lincoln makes a rare public endorsement of limited voting rights for black


Apr. 14 TN     Lincoln is assassinated. Vice President Andrew Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat, becomes President (1865-1869).

Apr. 26            Confederate General Joe Johnston meets with General William T. Sherman in North Carolina to negotiate a

surrender.  Although CSA President Davis is firmly set against surrender, and many commanders (including Forrest in

Alabama and Kirby-Smith in Texas) still know nothing of these events, the Confederacy’s loss of both Lee’s and Johnston’s armies means that the Civil War has effectively ended.

May 29 TN     President Johnson issues his Amnesty Proclamation; Johnson's Reconstruction strategy disfranchises large land owners

owners (anyone with taxable property over $20,000) and former Confederate military leaders until their individual petitions for amnesty are approved; the federal government also now requires all states to ratify the 13th Amendment.  The most surprising edict among the otherwise strict requirements is that only 10% of the voting population of any Southern state must take a loyalty oath in order for readmission to the Union.  Johnson also intends that each state convention declare secession null and void and repudiate the debt each Confederate state has acquired in the war.  Unfortunately, the state conventions and leadership will openly defy or circumvent him, thus cutting off their best ally in Washington, since Johnson might have been a useful mediator between the former Confederate states and the congressional Republicans.  As a Democrat in a Republican administration that has no respect for him, he is ineffectual against the political realities of 1865-66, even though he has proved himself an anti-secessionist and a convert to the cause of emancipation in Tennessee.  [Hunt]

June                 Southern white men excluded from the general amnesty may begin their appeals for individual pardons on this date.

June 19            “Juneteenth,” the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery -- word of Emancipation finally reaches

slaves in isolated areas of Texas.

August              Southern states open Constitutional Conventions to renounce secession, disavow the Southern debt, and ratify the

13th Amendment. 

Aug. TN         The first State Colored Men’s Convention meets at St. John’s African Methodist Episcopal Church in Nashville.

Delegates call for the final ratification  of the 13the Amendment, as well as full citizenship and black suffrage. There is no apposite response from the Tennessee General Assembly. 

Aug. TN         Night riders expand their terrorist activities throughout Tennessee, causing General George H. Thomas to increase the

Union presence in the state.

September       President Johnson demonstrates a greater tendency to align himself with white Southern land owners, declaring "white

men alone must manage the  South.”  He issues a controversial order to return appropriated land to its former owners, even lands granted to freedmen by Sherman’s January 16 Field Order No. 15.  Because many freedmen have already settled in and begun farming the land, some are stubbornly resistant to leaving. 

October           Southern states put local, state, and congressional elections in process, anticipating full restoration to the Union as soon

as they comply with Johnson’s order 

Nov. 25           Issuance of Mississippi’s first “Black Codes.”  Other states also pass laws imposing restrictions on black citizens:

freedmen can work only as field hands; unemployed black men can be auctioned to planters as laborers; black children can be taken from their families and made to work; blacks refusing to sign labor contracts can be penalized; strict laws control vagrancy, apprenticeship, and public transportation.  In addition, blacks are forbidden to testify against whites

in court, and they cannot serve on juries, bear arms, or hold large meetings. 

December        Ulysses S. Grant makes a victory tour of an unexpectedly friendly South and recommends lenient Reconstruction


Dec. 4              The U.S. Senate and House form a Joint Committee on Reconstruction. More than sixty newly-elected Senators and

Representatives from Southern states (all but Mississippi have consented to the presidential requirements for readmission to the Union) are denied their seats in the 39th  Congress when the Clerk refuses to include their names in the roll call. 

Dec. 6              The 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, is ratified. 

Winter             Nashville, Memphis, and other Southern cities begin to experience an influx of freedmen from rural areas that will double the black population of the South’s ten largest cities within five years.


--- TN              Nashville Normal and Theological Institute opens under the guidance of the American Baptist Home Mission Society.

(Its predecessor, the “Baptist College,” originally a seminary for African American preachers, began in a private home in 1864.)  The school is renamed Roger Williams University in 1883.  Its major buildings will be destroyed by fires of suspicious origin in 1905. 

Jan. 1               By the beginning of 1866 President Johnson has issued individual pardond to more than 7,000 Southern men denied

amnesty under the $20,000 property clause. 

Feb. 2              An African American delegation led by Frederick Douglass meets with President Johnson to advocate black suffrage.  Johnson says he will continue to support the interests of Southern whites and vows to oppose black voting rights. 

Feb. 19            President Johnson vetoes  the bill renewing the Freedmen’s Bureau.

Mar. 27            President Johnson vetoes the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The Civil Rights Bill is designed to put an end to the

Black Codes, which will survive in spite of Congressional efforts and will create a deliberately unequal application of civil law. 

Apr. 9              By overwhelming majorities, both houses of Congress overturn Johnson’s vetoes of both the Freedmen’s Bureau bill and the Civil Rights Act (which prohibits state governments from discrimination on the basis of race).  These are the first major bills to supersede a Presidential veto; the rift between Congress and the President deepens.

Apr. 16            Virginia Freedmen parading to celebrate the Civil Rights Act are attacked by whites; five people die in the ensuing

race riot. 

May 1-3 TN    A race riot in Memphis results in 48 deaths, five rapes, many injuries, and the destruction of 90 black homes, 12

schools, and four churches. 

May 26 TN     The Tennessee General Assembly passes legislation giving persons of color the right to make contracts, to sue, to

inherit property, and to have equal benefits with whites under the laws and regarding protection of life and property. 

June TN          The Ku Klux Klan is founded in Pulaski, TN, by a group of Confederate veterans.

June 13            Congress approves the 14th Amendment and sends it to the states for ratification.  The moderate Republican response to the Black Codes and to Johnson’s failure to make self-Reconstruction work, it becomes the core of moderate Congressional Reconstruction.  It characterizes citizenship as the entitlement of all people born or naturalized in the United States and increases federal power over the states to protect individual rights, while the daily affairs of the states are left in their own hands.  Unpopular with the Congressional Radicals, this amendment will require more than two years to be ratified by the states.

July                  Congress again overrides a Presidential veto to pass the supplemental Freedmen's Bureau Bill.

July 2 TN        Governor (“Parson”) Brownlow, a slave-owner but also a dedicated Unionist, moves to return Tennessee to the Union.

July 19 TN      Tennessee, recognizing that the14th Amendment gives the states broader autonomy to manage Constitutionsl issues

than they expected, becomes the third state – and the first former Confederate state – to ratify the amendment. 

July 24 TN      Tennessee is the first former Confederate state readmitted to the Union.

Thus the state will be exempt from the intensifying conflict between Congress and other former Confederate states.

July 30             A mob of whites attacks a black suffrage meeting in New Orleans; 38 die, 150 are injured.

August              President Johnson undertakes a disastrous speaking tour of the Northern states, accompanied by Ulysses S. Grant;

Johnson’s undignified and spiteful responses to the hostile crowds cost him the support of many Northerners, as well

as the respect of Grant.

Aug. 6 TN      The second Tennessee State Colored Men’s Convention meets in Nashville to advocate black suffrage and to

organize demonstrations at the General Assembly.  Leaders of the movement include Sampson W. Keeble, Nelson G. Merry, Samuel and Peter Lowery, and others.

November       Republicans take more than a 2/3 majority in Congressional elections; they are now guaranteed to override any Presidential vetoes in the coming legislative session. 

Dec. 6              President Johnson announces to Congress that the Union has been restored. 

--- TN              Most of the 356,000 acres confiscated from white Confederate loyalists in Tennessee are returned after 1866.  Most former slaves are no more than gang laborers or, at best, share-croppers, working white farms for shares of produce or extremely low wages.  Only about 400 black Tennessee farmers own their own land by the end of this year.  In Wilson County, for example, blacks own only 30 of the 10,997 acres of farmland. 


Jan. 8               Overriding President Johnson’s veto, Congress grants the black citizens of the District of Columbia the right to vote.  

Feb. 25 TN     The Tennessee General Assembly grants African Americans the right to vote and to hold political office; Governor

Brownlow signs the bill into law the following day. 

Mar. TN          Tennessee’s African American leaders hold their first political meetings to organize the black vote. By the end of 1867

around 40,000 African American men will have registered to vote. 

Mar. TN          The Tennessee General Assembly passes an act to reorganize public schools in the state, with provisions for black and white children to be taught in separate schools. The act reestablishes the office of state superintendent of education, and specifies funding and county supervision of the system.  

Mar. 2 TN       Beginning of “Congressional Reconstruction” – Congress, challenging the ex-Confederate states, Tennessee excepted,

who have refused to ratify the 14th Amendment, passes four Military Reconstruction Acts dividing the South into five military districts – existing state and local governments are placed under authority of military commanders until they meet and adopt new state constitutions, ratify the 14th Amendment, and permit black adult males to participate in the process for the first time. [Hunt]

Mar. 2              Howard University is officially incorporated by Congress.  Named for Major General Oliver O. Howard, Commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau, it is originally conceived as a theological seminary for freedmen, then incorporated as a liberal arts college, primarily for the training of black teachers and preachers, but open to men and women of all races.  It is the third university established in Washington, D.C., after Georgetown University (1789) and George Washington University (1821).

Mar. 23            The Second Reconstruction Act (also passed over Johnson’s veto) instructs military commanders to register voters

and call for constitutional conventions, barring from participation anyone in office prior to the war who “gave aid or support to the rebellion.”  

April TN         Formal political restructuring of the Ku Klux Klan in Nashville, to oppose black equality and Republican leadership.  It lists its purposes as

·         To protect the weak, the innocent, & the defenseless from the indig-nities, wrongs & outrages of the lawless, the violent & the brutal;

·         to relieve the injured & oppressed;

·         to succor the suffering & unfortunate, & especially the widows & orphans of the Confederate soldiers. 

·         Second: To protect & defend the Constitution of the United States

·         Third: To aid & assist in the execution of all constitutional laws, & to protect the people from unlawful seizure, & from trial except by their peers in conformity with the laws of the land. 

May TN          Induction of Nathan Bedford Forrest  into the KKK and his subsequent election as Grand Wizard of the Klan.

June TN          The KKK holds its first anniversary parade in Pulaski, Tennessee.              

Aug. TN         Tennessee holds the South’s first statewide elections to include black voters, electing Republicans in nearly all

                        positions – governor, congressional seats, and most state legislative posts. 

August            President Johnson attempts unsuccessfully to fire Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, triggering a deeper conflict with Congress and causing a final breach with Ulysses S. Grant.

Aug. 22 TN    Fisk University is founded – the first black college in Tennessee .  [Note: there will be no African American students

at Vanderbilt University until Joseph A. Johnson is admitted to the Divinity School in 1953.] 

Sept. TN         Black Nashvillians vote for the first time in city elections, electing two black councilmen; one of the two is not seated,

and a white councilman is appointed to the seat. 

Sept. TN         Central Tennessee College is chartered in Nashville .  Its roots are in a school for freedmen, sponsored by northern Methodist Episcopal missionaries, which opened in the last year of the Civil War. In 1876 Meharry Medical School

                        will become part of Central Tennessee College.  In the 1880s the school will add the departments of law, industrial art, dentistry, and pharmacy.  In 1900 the school will change its name to Walden University.  Meharry will become a separate institution in 1915.

October           Voter registration is completed in the ten Southern states subject to the Reconstruction Acts.

November       Diminishing Republican strength in the Northern states convinces the party to win the South over before the next Presidential election.  The party platform is set up to include equality for African Americans.

--- TN              Thomas A. Sykes is elected to the first of five one-year terms in the North Carolina legislature, serving from 1868-1871.

Dec. TN          First reports of Ku Klux Klan night-riding surface in Middle Tennessee.

Dec. 10 TN     Tennessee Manual Labor University , modeled after Tolbert Fanning’s Franklin College, is established on the

Murfreesboro Road near Nashville by leaders of the Colored Agricultural and Mechanical Association.  Its annual fair each fall serves to build a strong voting base among area freedmen and brings to Nashville such nationally important black political leaders as Frederick Douglass and John Mercer Langston. 


---                    Every legislator pictured in a photograph of the 1868 Louisiana State Legislature is black.  

Jan.-Feb.          Southern lawmakers, both black and white, begin to work together in the constitutional conventions, the first political meetings in U.S. history to include significant numbers of black men.

April                Hampton Normal & Agricultural Institute opens in Hampton, Virginia. Like Fisk, Hampton is supported by the American Missionary Association and serves as a major training ground for thousands of African American teachers. 

May 16            Andrew Johnson is the first President to be impeached by a house of Congress; he avoids conviction and retains his office after being acquitted in the Senate by a single vote on May 26. 

May 20            James J. Harris and P. B. S. Pinchback are the first African American delegates to a Republican National Convention.  They support the nomination of U. S. Grant for President.  Grant is nominated unopposed on the first ballot. 

June 13            Oscar J. Dunn, a former slave, is elected lieutenant governor of Louisiana.

June 22            Arkansas is the 2nd state readmitted to the Union, 2 years after Tennessee.

June 25            Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, and South Carolina rejoin the Union.

July 4 TN        Ku Klux Klan members make a public show of their organization’s strength with parades and confrontations throughout Tennessee. 

July 9               Rev. Francis L. Cardozo (1837-1903) is elected Secretary of State in South Carolina, the first black cabinet member.  In 1865 Cardozo, who was educated in Scotland and New England, founded the Avery Institute of  Charleston, the first secondary school for black children. 

July 14             Alabama is readmitted to the Union. 

July 27 TN      Governor Brownlow calls the TN Legislature into special session to demand that any further Ku Klux Klan activity be

punished with death. 

July 28 TN      The Fourteenth Amendment is finally ratified by enough states to become law.  [Tennessee, July 1866, was the third state to ratify.]

Aug. 28 TN    Nathan Bedford Forrest, who claims 40,000 KKK members in Tennessee and a total of 550,000 that he can

mobilize within a matter of days, insists the Klan is not motivated by racial hatred but threatens only “radicals” – carpetbaggers, spies, and “scalawags.”

September       The Georgia State Legislature expels its newly elected black legislators. The Atlanta Constitution supports the move, 

saying, “The Negro is unfit to rule the State.”  President Grant immediately imposes military rule on the state, but it will be a full year before the legislators are readmitted. 

Sept. TN         Between 1868 and 1870, Greene E Evans is admitted to Fisk University, where he pays his way by hauling gravel,

                        laying sod, and teaching school in the summertime in a schoolhouse he built himself. [Marsh]

Sept. TN         Five African Americans are elected to the Nashville city council.

Sept. 10 TN    Tennessee enacts an “anti-Klan” law with penalties for “prowling” by night, in or out of disguise, “for the purpose of disturbing the peace, or alarming the peaceable citizens”; for advising resistance to the law; or for threatening or intimidating a voter.  Tennessee’s new militia law authorizes the governor to send the state guard into any county where at least 10 “Union men” pledge that the law cannot be enforced or citizens protected without military assistance. 

Sept. 11 TN    President Johnson meets with a group of TN legislators, who assure him that the new militia law will be used only in extreme circumstances, or when federal troops are unavailable.

Sept. 16 TN    Governor Brownlow issues a call for militia companies to form throughout the state and assemble in Nashville.

Sept. 28           The Opelousas Massacre in Louisiana results in the death of  200-300 blacks at the hands of violent whites, many of

them Confederate veterans and prominent citizens.    

Nov. 3 TN      U. S. Grant is elected President.  Southern black men, voting in their first national election, cast 700,000 votes for the Republican ticket.  Many of the less wealthy white voters also vote Republican, reflecting the growing class conflict between poor farmers and wealthy plantation owners.  East Tennessee, a stronghold of Unionism during the war, is already strongly Republican; the high Republican vote in West Tennessee, where most black voters live, reflects a combination of black & white voting power. 


---   TN            Tennessee is the first state to replace a bi-racial Republican state government with an all-white Democratic government, followed by Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia in 1870.  DeWitt Senter ensures his victory in the governor’s race by advocating the registration of ex-Confederate voters. 

---                    Massachusetts elects two African Americans to its State House of Representatives: Edward G. Walker and Charles L. Mitchell become the first African Americans to serve in a legislative assembly. 

Winter TN      The Freedmen’s Bureau reports that there are now nearly 3,000 schools in the South, serving over 150,000 black students. [Integration of schools will come much more slowly: it is not until May 1957 that Bobby Cain, a student

at Clinton High School, Clinton, Anderson County, Tennessee, will become the first African American to graduate from a state-supported integrated public high school in the South.] 

Feb. 26            Congress approves the 15th Amendment, stating that “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” will not be used to bar U.S. male citizens from voting; they  send it to the states for ratification.   

Feb. 27            John W. Menard, elected as a Republican from Louisiana to the House or Representatives, is barred from his seat by white Congressmen and pleads his case to be seated, becoming the first African American representative to speak on the floor of the House.  Congress still refuses to seat Menard.

Mar. 4              U.S. Grant is inaugurated the nation’s eighteenth President (1869-1877).

---                    By the end of the 41st  U.S. Congress, two African Americans will have been seated: Robert Brown Elliott and Joseph

H. Rainey, both of South Carolina.

--- TN              Following a private meeting with President Grant, Nathan Bedford Forrest  issues a document disbanding the Ku Klux Klan, stating that it is "being perverted from its original honorable and patriotic purposes, becoming injurious instead of subservient to the public peace."  Forrest’s actions may be motivated, at least in part, by hopes of avoiding punish-ment for the illegal activities of an organization that is largely out of control.  The Klan has been extremely violent for years under his leadership, and he disbands it only when it comes under intense criticism (and when its work is essentially done — many blacks and Republicans have already been frightened away from the polls).  Whatever Forrest’s motives, Klan violence most assuredly does not end with his declaration.

Apr. 6              President Grant appoints Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett minister to Haiti.  Bassett is the first black American diplomat and the first black American Presidential appointment.  For many years thereafter, both Democratic and Republican administrations will appoint African Americans as ministers to both Haiti and Liberia. 

May 10            The first rail line to cross the continent is completed.  The railroad network that will now develop is the major factor in the emergence of a new industrial age, which will dramatically change the nation’s labor and employment patterns. 

Sept. 11 TN    African American city councilman Randal Brown urges Nashville blacks to join the Black Exodus and homestead movement westward; other leaders express concern about the Chinese laborers being brought in to replace black workers.

October           As brutal attacks on African Americans continue throughout the South, Georgia legislator Abram Colby, the black son of a white planter, is kidnapped and whipped by the Klan.  Although his back is permanently injured and he loses the use of his left hand, he returns to the legislature and continues to campaign against Klan violence.

Nov. 16 TN    Tennessee rejects the 15th Amendment, and does not join other states  in post-ratifying it until 1997.  It will be the last state to ratify. 


---                    The 1870 Census shows that African Americans make up 12.7% of the U.S. population (4,880,009 of 39,818,449).

--- TN              Although blacks comprise one-third of Middle Tennessee’s population, only six percent of black families own their own land.  In West Tennessee, where African Americans are 40% of the population, most are laborers or sharecroppers. 

---                    Most of the black members remaining in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, leave (with the denomination's blessing) to form the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (today’s Christian Methodist Episcopal Church). 

--- TN              Due to the political skills of African American leader Edward Shaw, who holds the post of wharf master in Memphis, Shelby County elects as many as six black city councilmen during the 1870s and 1880s. 

--- TN              A series of yellow fever epidemics will devastate Memphis for the next decade, killing hundreds of people, and even

causing the State of Tennessee to revoke the city’s charter in 1879 because of the collapse of the city’s financial base.

--- TN              A large number of convicts are leased from the main prison in Nashville to three separate railroad companies in


Jan. 10             Grant proposes a treaty to annex what is now the Dominican Republic in an effort to find land where freed slaves can

settle.  The Senate Foreign Relations committee opposes the plan, and the treaty is never approved.

Jan. 10 TN      The Tennessee Constitutional Convention begins.

Jan. 26             Virginia is readmitted to the Union.

Feb. 3              Jasper J. Wright, an African American judge, is elected to the South Carolina Supreme Court. 

Feb. 17 TN     The 15th Amendment to the Constitution is ratified by 29 of the 37 states, guaranteeing the right of African American

men to vote.  1869: Nevada, West Virginia,  North Carolina, Louisiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine, Massachusetts, Arkansas, South Carolina, Penn-sylvania, New York (which then rescinds its approval), Indiana, Connec-ticut, Florida, New Hampshire, Virginia, Vermont, and Alabama.  1870: Missouri, Minnesota, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Kansas, Ohio, Georgia, Iowa, and (satisfying the 29-state requirement, in case NY’s withdrawal is effective) Nebraska.  The amendment is rejected by Maryland, Kentucky, & Tennessee.  Eventually all the remaining states post-ratify the amendment: Texas (2-18-1870), New Jersey (2-15-1871), Delaware (2-12-1901), Oregon (2-24-1959), California (4-3-1962), Maryland (5-7-1973), Kentucky (3-18-1976), and Tennessee (April 3, 1997).  

Feb. 23 TN     The Tennessee Constitutional Convention ends, having adopted the Constitution that is still in effect today.  It outlaws slavery and ensures universal suffrage.  The Supreme Court will later strike down provisions forbidding interracial marriage, blocking integrated schools, and allowing a poll tax.

Feb. 23            Mississippi is readmitted to the Union.

Feb. 25            Hiram Revels, a Republican from Mississippi, is sworn in as the first black member of the United States Senate.  Ironically, Revels is elected to fill the position vacated by Jefferson Davis nearly 10 years earlier.  Revels serves only through March 4, 1871, the remainder of Davis’s vacated term. 

Mar. 17            North Carolina Governor Holden sends for federal troops to help control the Ku Klux Klan.  Public backlash will cost him the next election.

Mar. 30            Texas is readmitted to the Union.

May 31            President Grant signs the First Enforcement Act. These “Force Acts” make the bribing, intimidation, or racial discrimination of voters  federal crimes.  They also authorize the use of federal troops against the KKK, outlawing conspiracies to prevent the exercise of constitutional rights.  Three such laws are passed between May 1870 and April 1871.  All are declared unconstitutional in United States v. Cruikshank (1876) 

July 15             Georgia is readmitted to the Union – the last of the Confederacy to return.

Dec. 12            Joseph Hayne Rainey, born a slave in 1832, is sworn in to fill an unexpired term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

                        A South Carolina Republican, he will be re-elected four times, serving until 1879, thus becoming the longest-serving xxxxxxxxxxxxxxblack Congressman until the 1950s. 


---                    The General Assembly establishes branch penitentiaries in the East Tennessee coal fields and begins the practice of leasing prisoners to work in the mines.  By 1884 the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railway Company has taken complete control and leases the entire prison population. 

Mar. 4              During the 42nd U.S. Congress, there are five black members in the House of Representatives: Benjamin S. Turner of

Alabama; Josiah T. Walls of Florida; and Robert Brown Elliot, Joseph H. Rainey, and Robert Carlos DeLarge of South Carolina.

Apr. 20            The Ku Klux Klan Act becomes law, allowing President Grant to suspend habeas corpus in enforcing the

Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

Autumn TN    LeMoyne College (later to be called LeMoyne-Owen College ) opens in Memphis with nearly 300 students and three

active departments: normal, commercial, and music. 

Oct. 6 TN       The Fisk Jubilee Singers leave Nashville on their first American concert tour to raise money for the college. Among

the eleven students on the tour is baritone Greene Evans, who will be elected to the General Assembly ten years later.  Director George White has planned a route in keeping with the Underground Railroad: over the next eighteen months, beginning in Cincinnati, the group will visit Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., giving hundreds of performances, and raising $40,000 for Fisk University.  Although the Singers perform many types of music, it is their performance of Negro spirituals that awakens an interest in this genre of music and becomes the distinctive signature of the group. 

Oct. 12            Congress listens to testimony from victims of Klan violence in the South. Grant takes action: having ordered the Ku

Klux Klan in SC to disperse and surrender arms, he quickly sends in federal troops to suppress the Klan.

Oct. 17            The last of a series of anti-Klan enforcement acts is passed, providing protection to African Americans voting in

federal elections.  Nonetheless, both black and poor white voters will increasingly be kept from voting by locally enforced poll taxes as well as literacy tests and property ownership requirements.  However, blacks do represent a considerable voting force in the South for some time, sometimes combining with various groups of “populist” white voting blocs. African American political disfranchisement will not be complete until after the enactment of the Mississippi state constitution in 1890.


--- TN              The Memphis Weekly Planet becomes West Tennessee’s first African American newspaper.

---                    Vanderbilt University is chartered under the name of  Central University of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Feb. 27            Charlotte Ray (daughter of Charles Bennett Ray, who has been editor of the Colored American, an important early

New York newspaper, and is also pastor of the Bethesda Congregation Church) graduates from Harvard University.

She is the first African American woman lawyer in the United States and the first woman admitted to the bar in the

District of Columbia, which has removed the term “male” from the requirements for the bar. 

Mar. 4 TN       The Fisk Jubilee Singers perform for Vice President Colfax and members of Congress but are forced to leave their

Washington, D.C., hotel because of their race. 

Mar. 5 TN       The Fisk Jubilee Singers perform for President Grant at the White House.

May 1              At the Liberal Republican Convention in Cincinnati, party leaders, displeased with vindictive Reconstruction policies

and corruption (which they call “Grantism”) nominate newspaperman Horace Greeley.

May 6 TN       The Fisk Jubilee Singers embark on a year-long concert tour of Great Britain that will earn $50,000 for the

university and earn them invitations to sing for Queen Victoria and other European monarchs.

May 22            President Grant signs the Amnesty Act, restoring full civil rights to all white Southern men except about 500 former

Confederate leaders .

June 5              At the Republican Convention in Philadelphia, the party re-nominates Ulysses S. Grant on the first ballot.

July 1               Congress terminates the Freedmen’s Bureau July 9   The Democratic party joins the Liberal Republicans in nominating Horace Greeley for President.  [See entry for May 1, 1872]

Sept. 21           John Henry Conyers of South Carolina becomes the first black student at the Annapolis Naval Academy.

Nov. 5             Ulysses S. Grant  is re-elected with a popular majority of 763,000 and an electoral college majority of 286-66 over

opponent Horace Greeley.

Dec. 9              Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback of Louisiana becomes the nation’s first African American governor; however,

because of white antipathy he serves only very briefly, leaving office on 13 January 1873.


--- TN              James T. Rapier, educated in Nashville’s free black schools, becomes the first black congressman from Alabama.

Jan. 6 TN        Samson W. Keeble takes his seat as the first African American member of the Tennessee State Legislature in the 38th xxxxxxxxxxxxxxGeneral Assembly, 1873-1875. He is appointed to the committees on Immigration, Military Affairs, and Tippling

                        and Tippling Houses, and is later added to the committee on Charitable Institutions.  He introduces three bills, none of xxxxxxxxxxxxxxthem successful, and frequently speaks in favor of protecting the wages of laborers. 

Winter             The New York Tribune publishes a series of articles accusing black lawmakers in South Carolina of corruption.

Mar. 18 TN     Samson W. Keeble  introduces House Bill No. 506, to protect laborers and to secure their wages; it passes the

first reading but does not receive a second – the legislature adjourns one week later.

Apr. 13            The Colfax Massacre—a paramilitary group known as the White League, part of a "shadow government" in Louisiana

(and similar in many respects to the Ku Klux Klan), clashes with the state militia, which is largely black.  Three members of the White League die in the attack, but about 100 black men are killed, nearly half of them slaughtered in cold blood after their surrender.  Similar incidents occur about the same time in Coushatta and New Orleans.  President Grant sends federal troops to restore order. 

---  TN             Frederick Douglass, speaking in Nashville, urges black Tennesseans to stay and fight for racial justice rather than to

join the Black Exodus west. 

Sept. 18           The Panic of 1873 plunges the nation into a depression.


---                    Democrats control both Houses of Congress for the first time since before the Civil War.

June 29            The Freedmen’s Bank closes.  Originally created to provide a safe place for black soldiers to deposit their pay, the bank rapidly becomes the financial base of many in the African American community, devastating them when it closes.  Contrary to what depositors have been led to believe, the bank’s assets are not protected by the federal government.  In spite of desperate attempts to revive the bank (Frederick Douglass pours thousands of dollars of his own money into an effort to save it), half the depositors will eventually get back only about 60% of their money; others receive nothing.  Some depositors and their descendants spend as many as thirty years petitioning Congress for reparation.

Fall                  As the fall elections approach, reports of Southern violence, political corruption, and economic depression give a

considerable advantage to the Democrats, who will take control of Congress when it convenes in 1875. 


---   TN            Knoxville College opens during this year as a normal school sponsored by the United Presbyterian Church of North

America.  Designated a college in 1877, it offers teacher training; college courses in classics, science, and theology; classes in agriculture, industrial arts, and medicine.  Because, in these early years, so few blacks are prepared for higher education, the college initially offers classes from first grade through college level.  The elementary department will be discontinued in 1926 and the academy (high school) in 1931. 

Jan. 26             Andrew Johnson is elected to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat from Tennessee.

Mar. 1              The Forty-Fourth Congress, which has six black members and is still under the control of the Republicans, passes the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which outlaws racial segregation in public facilities and housing and prevents the exclusion of African Americans from jury service.  (Not enforced in the South, the law will be struck down by the Supreme Court in 1883.)

Mar. 5              Blanche Kelso Bruce takes his seat as the United States Senator from Mississippi. He will be the first African American

Senator to serve a full six-year term.

Mar. 11 TN     The Tennessee Legislature passes House Bill No. 527 permitting racial discrimination in transportation, lodging, and

places of entertainment.  The Bill receives Senate approval before the end of the month and is signed into law (Chapter 130).

Mar. 23 TN     Chapter 90 of the Acts of Tennessee 1875 orders the establishment of a state normal school or schools, the creation of a State Board of Education, and the requirement that separate schools “for white and colored pupils” should be established. 

May 5 TN       The Fisk Jubilee Singers return to the U.S., having raised $50,000 for the University during a year-long British tour. 

July 5 TN        African American preacher Hezekiah Hanley holds a celebration of racial unity in Memphis. Among the invited guests

are Nathan Bedford Forrest and other former Confederate generals.

July 31 TN      Andrew Johnson dies of a stroke and is buried in Greeneville, Tennessee.

Dec. 1 TN       The Inaugural Exercises of the State Normal College, known as “The Peabody State Normal School of the

University of Nashville,” are held in the House of Representatives.  This particular institution accepts white students only.


--- TN              Styles L. Hutchins graduates from University of South Carolina Law School and is admitted to the South Carolina bar.

--- TN              William F. Yardley, a Knoxville politician, becomes the first African American to campaign for governor of Tennessee.

Apr. 5 TN       The Colored National Convention meets in the House Chamber of the Tennessee General Assembly. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia are represented. Tennessee delegates are W. Sumner, Abram Smith, Edward Shaw, and James C. Napier. Former Louisiana Governor Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback and Senator H.S. Smith of Alabama deliver speeches considered the “high point of the convention.” The Convention’s efforts to choose and endorse a Presidential candidate are unsuccessful, although Edward Shaw, Memphis wharf master, speaks out strongly against the Grant administration.  [Walker]

Oct. 13 TN     Meharry Medical College, the first American college for the training of African American physicians, opens in Nashville. The Freedmen’s Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church helps establish Meharry as a department of Central Tennessee College. 

Nov. 7             Edward Bouchet becomes the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from an American institution (Yale University). 

Nov. 8             The bitterly disputed Presidential election takes place between candidates

                        Samuel J. Tilden (D) and Rutherford B. Hayes (R).

Nov. 9             Because of allegations of voting fraud in four states, there is no certain victor in the Presidential election. Tilden

receives 184 electoral votes and Hayes, 165; 21 votes are uncertain. Both candidates claim victory. 

--- TN              John W. Boyd  is elected as magistrate of the Ninth Civil District, Tipton County. 


---                    By this year about 2,000 African American men have held/are holding public office, "ranging from member of

Congress to justice of the peace.”  In spite of prohibitions against educating slaves, “83 percent of the black officials [are] able to read and write.”  Twelve percent of them are lawyers  or school teachers. [Foner]

--- TN              From an African American prison population of 33 percent at the main prison in Nashville, the number has now risen to

67%.  Other Southern states also have predominantly black prison populations, far out of proportion to the percentage

of blacks in the general population. 

--- TN              Sampson W. Keeble is elected a magistrate in Davidson County. He will servie until 1882.

Jan. 24             Congress appoints a 15-member electoral commission to resolve the disputed election. In what is little more than a back-

room deal, the Republicans agree to abandon Reconstruction policies in exchange for the Presidency.  The so-called “Compromise of 1877” results in an end to military intervention in the South and restores “home rule.” 

Mar. 5 TN       Rutherford B. Hayes is inaugurated the nation’s nineteenth President (1877-1881).  He quickly withdraws federal troops from the South, and ends federal support for the remaining Reconstruction governments.  This agreement officially ends Reconstruction.  The South begins the process of codifying and enforcing segregation.  Although Tennessee will elect a number of black politicians over the next few years, the last African American state legislator will end his term in 1893, and no other will be seated until 1964.  Violations of black civil rights will not again be addressed on a national scale until after World War II.

Mar. 15            The Nation reports that “the great body of the Republican party is ... opposed to the continuance at the South of the policy of military interference and coercion as pursued by General Grant.” 

June 14            Henry Ossian Flipper becomes the first African American to graduate from West Point.


--- TN              James Carroll Napier, an 1872 graduate of the Howard University Law School, is elected the first black city councilman in Nashville, serving five terms.  He will later serve as Register of the United States Treasury under President William Howard Taft (1911-1913). 

--- TN             Thomas F. Cassels  is appointed assistant attorney general of Memphis.   


--- TN              East Tennessee University, one of the earliest land-grant colleges, is renamed the University of Tennessee.


---                    The 1880 Census shows that African Americans make up 13.1% of the U.S. population (6,580,793 of 50,155,783).

---                    Styles L. Hutchins becomes the first black attorney admitted to the Georgia bar, despite legal efforts to block him

from taking the test.

---                    The National Baptist Convention, USA, has its beginnings in a meeting of 150 Baptist pastors in Montgomery, Alabama.

--- TN              Even at this late date, 50%-60% of rural freedmen continue to work as wage laborers, many on the same farms on

which they were once slaves. 

--- TN              Four African Americans are elected to the Tennessee General Assembly: John W. Boyd of Tipton County,

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxThomas Frank Cassels and Isaac Norris of Shelby County, and Thomas A. Sykes of Davidson County.


--- TN              The Black Exodus to Kansas and other Western states, which began about 1872, comes gradually to an end.  More than 2,400 people have migrated from Nashville alone. 

--- TN              During 1881, despite the black representatives in the House, the 42nd Tennessee Legislature passes the first “Jim Crow” law in the South, requiring the segregation of the races on railroad cars.  By 1900 all Southern states will have segregated their transportation systems, a move sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896 with the Plessy v. Ferguson decision.  Future laws will be passed that discriminate against African Americans regarding public school attendance, housing, and the use of public facilities such as restaurants, theaters, and hotels.  In 1967, when the Court rules miscegenation laws unconstitutional, 16 states will still have laws prohibiting interracial marriage.  It will be November 2000 before Alabama, the last hold-out, repeals its law – although 40% of the electorate votes to keep it!

---  TN             John W. Boyd, a Republican, represents Tipton County in the 42nd and 43rd General Assemblies, 1881-1885. He is appointed to the committees on Immigration, New Counties and County Lines, and Tippling and Tippling Houses. 

---  TN             Thomas Frank Cassels  is a Republican from Shelby County,  serving in the 42nd General Assembly from 1881 to xxxxxxxxxxxxxx1883.  He is appointed to the committees on Education and Common Schools, Judiciary, Privileges and                           Elections, and Public Roads. 

--- TN              Isaac F. Norris is a Republican from Shelby County, to serve in the 42nd  General Assembly from 1881-1883.  He is xxxxxxxxxxxxxxappointed to the committees on Banks, Claims, Immigration, and Public Grounds and Buildings. 

---  TN             Thomas A. Sykes represents Davidson County in the legislature, in spite of decreased black voting strength brought on xxxxxxxxxxxxxxby a new poll tax and acts of violence against blacks.  A Republican, he is appointed to the committees on Claims                          and Penitentiary.

--- TN              Styles L. Hutchins opens a law office in Chattanooga and becomes a partner in a newspaper, The Independent Age,

of which he is editor. 

Jan. 11 TN      Isaac F. Norris introduces House Bill No. 33, relating to labor contracts between employer and employee. It passes

its first reading and  is referred to the Judiciary Committee.  It passes its second reading February 22.

Jan. 12 TN      Thomas A. Sykes introduces House Bill No. 70, proposing to repeal Chapter 130 of the Acts of 1875 and end

racial discrimination in the use of public facilities and transportation.  It passes first and second readings.

Jan. 12 TN      Thomas F. Cassels introduces House Bill No. 73, “to prohibit unlawful carnal intercourse of white persons with

negroes, mulattoes and persons of mixed blood descended from the negro race, and to proscribe the punishment for violation thereof.”  It passes first and second readings.

Feb. 15 TN     Isaac F. Norris  introduces House Bill No. 276, “An Act instructing the Trustees of the Tennessee University, to make

                        arrangements for persons of color who may be entitles to admission." It passes its first reading and is referred to the

Judiciary Committee; after passing its second reading, it is referred to the Committee on Education and Common Schools, where it is tabled.

Feb. 16 TN     Thomas A. Sykes introduces House Bill No. 289, to admit African  American students “into the school for the blind at Nashville and the school for the deaf and dumb at Knoxville, in separate accommodations provided for them.”  The bill passes its first reading and is referred to the Judiciary Committee.  A week later it passes its second reading. 

Feb. 17 TN     Thomas F. Cassels  introduces House Bill No. 312, “An Act to

repeal Chapter 131 of an act passed March 19, 1879.”  It passes its first reading and is referred to the Judiciary Committee, where it is tabled.

Feb. 24 TN     After two vicious lynchings in Springfield, the General Assembly has passed a resolution condemning “this violation of law as tending to subvert all government, and as deserving prompt punishment”; legislators have also passed a bill to punish any sheriff whose negligence allows a prisoner to be taken from his custody “and put to death by violence.”  Hoping to take advantage of the legislature’s unanticipated disposition toward justice, Thomas F. Cassels  introduces House Bill No. 478  to compensate families of the victims of mob violence.  His bill passes the first reading but dies in committee. 

Feb. 25 TN     House Bill No. 33  (by Isaac F. Norris), relating to labor contracts,  passes its third reading by a vote of 38-25.

Feb. 26 TN     Isaac F. Norris  introduces House Bill No. 510, concerning the payment of wages of laborers.  It passes its first reading and is referred to the Judiciary Committee.  It passes its second reading 29 March; there are no further references.

Mar. 4              James A. Garfield is inaugurated the nation’s twentieth President (1881).

Mar. 10 TN     Thomas A. Sykes  introduces House Bill No. 560, to eliminate discrimination against blacks in jury selection for circuit and criminal courts. The bill passes its second reading March 29 but is apparently tabled before being brought to a vote.

Mar. 10 TN     On its third reading, Sykes’ House Bill No. 70 (to repeal Chapter 130) is rejected by a vote of 31-29 when five

Republicans join Democrats in voting against it.

Mar. 24 TN     House Bill No. 73  is taken up as a special order.  A number of amendments are offered; Cassels' attempt to call the

previous question on the passage of the bill fails for lack of a second; a motion to table the bill and all amendments prevails.

Mar. 30 TN     The four black legislators [Boyd, Cassels, Norris, and Sykes] file a protest against the rejection of House Bill No. 70, saying that Chapter 130 “authorizes railroad companies and their employes, unjustly, cruelly, wantonly, without just cause of provocation, and in violation of the common law and the laws of the general government, to oppress and

                        discriminate against more than four hundred thousand citizens of the State of Tennessee, and the colored people of all other States who may desire to travel in Tennessee,” and that it “wickedly, cruelly, and inhumanly attempts to deny to persons aggrieved by the provisions of the said act any remedy or redress of grievances in the State courts of Tennessee.”

Mar. 30 TN     Isaac F. Norris  introduces House Bill No. 682, concerning discrimination against railroad passengers (referring to Chapter 130, Acts of Tennessee, 1875).  The bill passes its first and second readings (March 30 and March 31), but is subsequently tabled.

Mar. 30            House Bill No. 289, admitting black students into the school for the blind and the school for the deaf and dumb, passes

by a vote of 59-1 and becomes law.

Apr. 7 TN       The Tennessee House of Representatives passes a “compromise” bill, Senate Bill No. 342, permitting “separate but equal” facilities for African Americans on trains.  This bill requires railroad companies either to partition off a portion of a first-class car for black passengers who have paid first-class fare, or to provide separate cars for blacks.  Having passed the Senate 18-1, it passes the House 50-2.  Norris and Sykes vote against the bill; Boyd is absent; Cassels abstains.  Thirteen other Southern states will follow Tennessee’s lead and segregate public carriers over the next few years. 

Apr. 14 TN     The General Assembly passes a $10,000 appropriations bill for the State Normal College, which will be augmented by

a $6,000-9,000 grant from the Peabody Education Fund for student scholarships. 

Apr. 14 TN     The State Board of Education reports that it is authorized by the General Assembly to spend "$10,000 annually for

Normal School purposes,” $2,500 of which is reserved “for the normal education of colored teachers.”  The Board meanwhile invites the state’s black colleges to submit proposals “to educate the colored candidates for teachers.”

June 3 TN       The State Board of Education asks the governor to notify the legislature “that only $2,500 in gross is appropriated for the Colored Normal School.” 

June 15 TN     The State Board of Education appropriates $50 per year for the education of each African American scholarship

student.  That gives each Senatorial district two black students, who will be appointed by the Senator from that district from among those receiving the highest scores on a standard examination.  The schools approved for the education of normal students are Knoxville College, Knoxville; Freedmen’s Normal Institute, Maryville; Fisk University, Nashville Theological and Normal Institute, and Central Tennessee College, Nashville; and LeMoyne Normal Institute, Memphis.

July 2               President James Garfield is shot by assassin Charles Guiteau.  Garfield will lie in the White House for weeks, mortally

wounded but clinging to life as doctors attempt to save him.

July 4               The first president of Tuskegee Institute, Dr. Booker  T. Washington, who was born a slave, officially opens the Normal

School for Colored Teachers in Macon County, Alabama.  Washington is a champion of vocational education as a means to African American self reliance.

Sept. 19           President Garfield dies, more than eleven weeks after he was shot.  Chester A. Arthur, a Republican from Vermont, becomes the twenty-first President (1881-1885).

Nov. 30 TN    Jessee [sic] Graham is listed in the State School Board minutes as a recipient of a Peabody Scholarship to attend

Fisk University. 


--- TN              More than half the convicts in the Tennessee State Prison at Nashville are now being leased out as laborers. 

--- TN              Between 1882 and 1930 Tennessee has 214 confirmed lynching victims: most in middle and west Tennessee, most

(83%) African Americans.

--- TN             Charles Spencer Smith founds the Sunday School Union of the A.M.E. Church at 206 Public Square, Nashville. The

publishing house is the first and only steam printing establishment owned and managed by an African American.

Smith, elected in 1874 to a term in the Alabama House of Representatives, received a medical degree from Central xxxxxxxTennessee College in 1880,  In 1900 he will become a bishop of the A.M.E. Church and in 1911 will be the first black xxxxxxxto receive a Doctor of Divinity degree from Victoria College in Toronto. [Roseman]

---                    The Supreme Court rules in United States vs. Harris that the Klan Act (see May 31, 1870) is partially unconstitutional,

asserting that Congress’s power under the 14th Amendment does not apply to private conspiracies.

  Apr. 6 TN     In the second extra House Session, Thomas A. Sykes  introduces House Bill No. 3, “To exempt educational institutions from taxation.”  It passes the first and second readings and is referred to the Committee on Education and Common Schools.  It is eventually tabled.


---                    A flood of civil rights cases strikes down the federal Civil Rights Act of 1875. Congress may no longer legislate on

civil rights issues unless states pass discriminatory laws.

--- TN              Leonidas (Leon) Howard is elected to represent Shelby County in the 43rd General Assembly from 1883 to 1884.  A xxxxxxxxxxxxxxRepublican, he helps defeat two blacks (one is Isaac Norris) running on the Democratic ticket.   He is appointed to                          the committee on Military Affairs.

--- TN              Samuel Allen McElwee, a Republican, is elected to the 43rd (as well as, later, the 44th and 45th) General Assembly,

                        xrepresenting Haywood County from 1883-1888.  He is appointed to the committees on Military Affairs and Public                           Printing. 

 --- TN             David F. Rivers is elected to represent Fayette County as a Republican in the 43rd and 44th General Assemblies,

                        1883-1886, although he is not able to serve his second term. He is appointed to the committees on Education and

                        Common Schools, Federal Relations, and Public Printing. Although there are twice as many black residents in Fayette xxxxxxxxxxxxxxCounty as white, the county will send only two African American representatives to Nashville: Rivers (1883-1884)
and Monroe W. Gooden (1887-1888).

--- TN              John W. Boyd  serves a second House term representing Tipton County. He is appointed to the committee on 

                        Federal Relations.

Jan. 5 TN        Samuel A. McElwee  introduces House Bill No. 12, To amend the law establishing a State Normal School. The bill

passes its first reading and is referred to the Committee on Education and Common Schools.  It passes its second reading on 16 January.

Jan. 5 TN        Leon Howard  introduces House Bill No. 34, to repeal Chapter 130 of the Acts of 1875. The bill is referred to the

Judiciary Committee, where it is tabled. 

Jan. 10 TN      Leon Howard introduces House Bill No. 129, To repeal sections 2437a and 2437b of the Code, in regard to illicit

intercourse.  It passes first reading and is sent to the Judiciary Committee, where it dies.

Jan. 10 TN      Saml. A. McAlwee [sic] and Jesse M. H. Graham are listed as recipients of Peabody Scholarships to attend Fisk


Feb. 8 TN       In his annual report to the General Assembly, Governor William Brimage Bate (1826-1905) recommends legislation

authorizing the appointment of an Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction, who will be responsible for the education of African American students. 

Feb. 15 TN     House Bill No. 12 has been made the special order for the session, having been passed over three times earlier.

                        McElwee reduces the appropriation to black students, but the House votes to table the bill; however, they prove                         willing to approve the committee’s bill on the same subject and appropriate $3,300 per year for normal school xxxxxxxxxxxxxxscholarships for African American students, making each scholarship worth $50.

Feb. 15 TN     Leon Howard introduces House Bill No. 493, Providing for the appointment of an Assistant Superitendent of

Public Schools.  It passes its first and second reading and is referred to the Committee on Education and Common Schools, where it is tabled.

Feb. 19 TN     Samuel A. McElwee introduces House Bill No. 526, “to amend section 4000 of the Code, in regard to selecting

jurors.”  The bill passes its first and second readings, but there are no further references to it after that.

Feb. 20 TN     Leon Howard  introduces House Bill No.556, To repeal part of the Act relating to inn-keepers, common carriers,

etc.  The bill passes its first and second readings but is tabled by the Judiciary Committee.

Feb. 27 TN     John W. Boyd introduces House Bill No. 663, To prevent discrimination by railroad companies in passenger rates

paying first-class fare. This bill is one of several representing the black legislators’ more tightly focused effort to weaken the power of Chapter 130 of the Acts of 1875.  It passes its first and second readings and is referred to the Judiciary Committee.

Mar. 21 TN     After hours of debate, Leon Howard offers an amendment repealing only the provision of the Act of 1875 that pertains to railroads; it is defeated by a vote of 64-27.

Mar. 24 TN    W. A. Milliken offers an amendment to Boyd's House Bill No. 663, requiring railroad companies to provide separate cars for different passengers.  It passes by a vote of 56-19, with Boyd voting against it, and Howard and McElwee (both deeply opposed to the separate-but-equal provision) abstaining.

Apr. 24 TN     David F. Rivers is listed as the recipient of a Peabody Scholarship in the minutes of the State Board of Education.  Appointed by Senator Cason, District 12, he attends Roger Williams University. 

May 1 TN       Eben S. Stearns, President of the Peabody Normal College, lists the "Requirements for Obtaining and Holding Peabody

Scholarships at the Normal College at Nashville, Tenn.”  Students meeting all the scholarship requirements can receive up to $200 per year for board and other college expenses. 

Oct. 15            The Supreme Court declares the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional, finding that the 14th Amendment forbids

states, but not individual citizens, from discriminating. 

Nov. 26           Death of Sojourner Truth (Isabella Baumfree, born 1797), ardent abolitionist and powerful public speaker. 


--- TN              Ida B. Wells files a lawsuit against the Chesapeake & Ohio & South-western Railroad Company for segregation on the company’s railroad cars.  Thomas F. Cassels is her first lawyer. [Goings] Wells will soon replace him for being too accommodating to the railroad lawyers.

Feb. 28 TN     More than 300 black leaders from 17 Tennessee counties meet in Nashville to discuss the role of African Americans in

local and national elections. The largest delegations are from Shelby County, with 62 delegates; Davidson, 52; and Haywood, 48.  Thomas F. Cassels, serving as chairman, shares his concerns that many current state laws violate the constitutional rights of black Tennesseans.  James C. Napier, the keynote speaker, stresses the need for political unity among black voters. Samuel A. McElwee’s demand that black unity occur within the Republican party stirs up enormous controversy.  The convention ends by warning that failure to support black causes will erode black commitment to the party.

--- TN              At the State Republican Conventiom Samuel A McElwee is elected temporary chairman and is chosen as one of two

delegates (the other is General George Maney) to the Chicago Presidential Convention, which nominates James G. Blaine.

June 24            John Lynch is the first black to be elected chairman of the Republican National Convention. 

Nov. 4             Grover Cleveland, a Democrat from New York, is elected president.

--- TN              John W. Boyd challenges his loss in the Senate election for Tipton and Fayette counties, claiming fraud when the

                        District 4 ballot box mysteriously disappears. Although he carries his challenge to the State Senate, members vote

                        mysteriously disappears. Although he carries his challenge to the State

                        to seat his opponent. 


--- TN              Greene E. Evans is elected Republican representative from Shelby County to the 44th General Assembly, 1885-1886.  He is on the committee on Education & Common Schools.

--- TN              William A. Feilds is elected to represent Shelby County in the 44th General Assembly from 1885-1886.  A Republican, Feilds is a school teacher and principal in the 5th  Civil District of Shelby County.  He is appointed to the committees on Federal Relations, Internal Improvement, and Public Roads.

--- TN              William C. Hodge is the first black legislator elected from Hamilton County, serving as a Republican in the 44th General Assembly from 1885-1886.  He is appointed to the committees on Education and Common Schools, Military Affairs, and Penitentiary.

--- TN              Samuel A. McElwee, serving a second term in the legislature representing Haywood County, receives the Republican nomination for Speaker of the House.  Though the nomination is largely symbolic in the Democratic-controlled legislature, McElwee receives 32 votes.  He serves on the committee on Banks. During this year his wife dies, leaving him with two small children.  Placing the children with relatives, he enters Central Tennessee College, earning a law degree the following year. 

--- TN              David F. Rivers is listed in the Biographical Directory of the Tennessee General Assembly, Volume II, 1861-

1901, as a member of the 1885 General Assembly, but does not appear in any records in the House Journal for that year.  According to family members, Rivers, having been driven out of Fayette County by racial violence, does not serve out the legislative term to which he has been elected but moves to Nashville and takes a position teaching theology at Roger Williams University. 

Jan. 15 TN      William A. Feilds introduces House Bill No. 119, To make school attendance compulsory.  It passes its first reading and is referred to the Committee on Education and Common Schools.

Jan. 19 TN      William C. Hodge introduces House Bill No. 139, To amend the road law of 1883.  It passes first reading and is referred to the Committee on Public Roads.  It is tabled on its second reading on February 27.

Jan. 19 TN      William C. Hodge introduces House Bill No. 140, To amend the road law.  It passes first reading and is referred to the Committee on Public Roads.  On its second reading on February 27, it is tabled.

Jan. 19 TN      William C. Hodge ntroduces House Bill No. 141, to repeal Chapter 130 of the Acts of 1875.  It passes its first reading, and then, on 29 January, its second reading.

Jan. 19 TN      William A. Feilds introduces House Bill No. 151, requiring employers to pay employees the amount promised in their

advertisements.  The bill passes its first reading and is referred to the Judiciary committee.  It will pass its second reading on January 24.

Jan. 19 TN      Greene E. Evans  introduces House Bill No. 156, To amend the road law. It passes first reading and is referred to the

Committee on  Public Roads.  Returned to the House on March 2, it will be tabled.

Feb. TN          In his annual report to the General Assembly, Governor William Brimage Bate (1826-1905), for the second time, urges

legislation authorizing the appointment of an Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction, responsible for the education of African American students.

Feb. 14 TN     Greene E. Evans presents House Bill No. 447, to repeal Chapter 130 of the Acts of 1875. The bill passes first and

second readings, but then is referred to the Judiciary Committee, where it dies.

Feb. 18 TN     Samuel A. McElwee introduces House Bill No. 495, To protect married women and their children." It passes its

first and second readings and is referred to the Judiciary Committee.  On February 28 it is withdrawn without explanation.

Feb. 19 TN     Greene E. Evans presents House Bill No. 514, at the request of Governor Bate, providing for the appointment of an xxxxxxxxxxxxxxAssistant State Superintendent of Public Instruction.  The bill passes its first and second readings, and is then sent to                          the Committee on Education and Common Schools, of which Evans is a member, where it is tabled.

Feb. 27 TN     House Bill No. 141, on third reading, is defeated by a vote of 49-20.

Mar. 2 TN       House Bill No. 151  is rejected.

Mar. 3 TN       House Bill No. 119 is tabled.

Mar. 4              Grover Cleveland becomes the nation’s 21st President (1885-1889).

May 20 TN     The State School Board asks the General Assembly to repeal the act reducing the salary of the State Superintendent. 

May 25 TN     The General Assembly meets in extraordinary session.  They will meet through June 12.

May 27 TN     Greene E. Evans introduces House Bill No. 29, To provide for the appointment of an Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.  It passes first and second readings and is referred to the Committee on Education and Common Schools, where it is tabled.

May 27 TN     William A. Feilds introduces House Bill No. 34, To empower Managers of Teachers’ Institutes to examine and issue certificates, to be approved by the County Superintendent.  It passes first and second readings and is referred to the Committee on Education and Common Schools, where it is tabled.

June 3 TN       William C. Hodge introduces House Bill No. 63, To provide for the protection of the ballot box.  It passes first and second readings and is referred to the Committee on Elections, where it dies.

June 25            African American priest Samuel David Ferguson is ordained a bishop of the Episcopal church; he will serve until his death in 1916.   


--- TN              The Sunday School Union, where the first Sunday school literature by African Americans is published, moves from Bloomington, Indiana, to a five-story brick and stone building at 206 Public Square in Nashville.

--- TN              This year will see the establishment of the first African American-owned drug store in Nashville.

Feb. 20 TN     The State Board of Education submits payment for sixty-one African American students who have received State

Normal (Peabody) Scholar-ships to attend Central Tennessee College, Fisk University, Knoxville College, and Roger Williams University

--- TN             Samuel A. McElwee receives a law degree from Central Tennessee College in Nashville. 

Sept. 20 TN    Nashville’s first public high school for African American students opens: Meigs Public School offers the first classes for

9th and 10th graders; new courses for 11th  graders will be added in the 1887-1888 school year.  Ten years later (1897-1898 school year) the high school department at Meigs is transferred to Pearl High School, from which the first class will graduate on 2 June 1898.

Dec. 8              The American Federation of Labor is organized, signaling the rise of the labor movement.  Black Americans are excluded from all major unions of the period. 


--- TN              Monroe W. Gooden, the only Democrat among the African American legislators, is elected to represent Fayette

county in the 45th General Assembly from 1887-1888.  He is appointed to the committees on Agriculture and Federal Relations.

--- TN              Styles Linton Hutchins, a Republican, begins his legislative term, representing Hamilton County in the 45th  General Assembly from 1887-1888.  He is appointed to the committees on Education and Common Schools, and New Counties and County Lines.  

--- TN              Samuel A. McElwee, a Republican, is elected to a third term representing Haywood County. He is appointed to the

committees on Charitable Institutions, Elections, and Judiciary.  Gooden, Hutchins, and McElwee are the last African Americans elected to serve in the Tennessee General Assembly until Memphis voters elect A. W. Willis in 1964, more than 75 years later. 

--- TN              Booker T. Washington invites Samuel A. McElwee to be commencement speaker at the 1887 graduation exercises of

Tuskegee Institute. 

Jan. 7 TN        In the wake of a brutal lynching in West Tennessee, Samuel A. McElwee introduces House Bill No. 5, to prevent mob xxxxxxxxxxxxxxviolence. The bill passes its first and second readings and is referred to the Judiciary committee. McElwee makes xxxxxxxxxxxxxxseveral attempts to have the bill declared the special order for the session (Feb. 16, 21, and 22).

Jan. 12 TN      Styles L. Hutchins introduces House Bill No. 136, to repeal a section of the Chattanooga charter making poll taxes a requirement for voting in city elections.  It passes its second reading a week later.

Feb. 9 TN       Styles L. Hutchins introduces House Bill No. 447 to regulate convict labor, a system that has replaced slave labor in

the South: new laws are sending many African Americans to prison for minor offenses, and convicts are being forced to do jobs that are now unavailable to free laborers.  The bill passes its first and second readings and is referred to the Committee on Penitentiary, where it is tabled.          

Feb. 22 TN     House Bill No. 5, to prevent mob violence, having been delayed for several days, is at last made the special order for

for the afternoon session.  Samuel A. McElwee makes a powerful speech in its support, demanding reform: “I stand here today and enter my most solemn protest against mob violence in Tennessee . . . .Great God, when will this Nation treat the Negro as an American citizen? . . . As a humble representative of the Negro race, and as a member of this body, I stand here today and wave the flag of truce between the races and demand a reformation in Southern society.”  The Judiciary Committee offers a substitute bill.  By a 41-36 vote, both bills are tabled.  

Mar. 5 TN       Morristown Seminary and Normal Institute, Morristown, Tennessee, is designated as one of the colleges eligible for

Peabody Scholarship students “of African descent.” 

Mar. 23 TN     House Bill No. 136, to amend the charter of Chattanooga to eliminate poll taxes, passes on third reading.  The ease of the bill’s passage suggests that whites have not yet realized the effectiveness of the poll tax as a method of restricting black voters from exercising their rights.

Jun. 19 TN      Sampson W. Keeble dies of “a congestive chill” (probably malaria) in Richmond, Texas, and may have been buried

                        there. He is listed with his daughter and son-in-law on a gravestone in Greenwood Cemetery on Elm Hill Pike in

                        Nashville, near the graves of James C. Napier and publisher R. H. Boyd.

Aug. 15           Eatonville, Florida, becomes the first African American township to be  incorporated into the United States. 

Dec. 7 TN       Central Tennessee College, Fisk University, and Roger Williams University ask the State Board of Education to urge

the General Assembly “to restore the former appropriations for colored scholarships to $3300.” 


--- TN              Samuel A. McElwee attends the Republican National Convention in Chicago as one of two delegates representing Tennessee.  Thomas F. Cassels serves as a Republican Presidential elector. 

---                    Two large African-American-owned banks open during the year: the Savings Bank of the Grand Fountain United Order of the Reformers (Richmond, Virginia) and Capital Savings Bank (Washington, D.C.). 


--- TN              With more than a 2/3 majority in both Houses of the General Assembly, Tennessee Democrats disfranchise black voters

in the state by passing four restrictive bills sponsored by Senators Myers, Dortch, and Lea, as well as reinstating a poll tax urged by Governor Robert L. Taylor. [See entry titled “Disfranchising Laws” in Tennessee Encyclopedia of History & Culture: .]  This is the first legislative session in nearly ten years in which no African American representative is seated.

--- TN              The General Assembly, for reasons that are unspecified but probably related to the same political climate that permitted

the passage of laws limiting black suffrage, cuts the appropriation for “colored normal scholarships” from $3,300 to $1,500 per year, making each individual scholarship worth only $22.70.  In his 1889 Annual Report of the State School Board to the Legislature, Board Secretary Frank Goodman protests the cuts and requests that the original appropriation be restored. [Lauder]

Mar. 4              Benjamin Harrison becomes the nation’s 22nd President (1889-1893).

Mar. 30 TN     Cabell Rives Berry, Senator from Williamson and Marshal Counties, introduces an amendment to Senate Appropriations

Bill No. 456, making the item"Colored Normal Department" call for "$3,300 per annum instead of $2,500 per annum,

as the bill now provides.”

--- TN              Senate Appropriations Bill No. 456, with amendments added by the Senate Committee of Finance, Ways & Means

(none of which change the scholarship appropriation in any way) will pass both the Senate and the House before the end of the 1889 session.  This vote is particularly surprising in light of the disfranchising bills passed during the session.


---                    According to the 1890 census, African Americans make up 11.9% of the U.S. population (7,488,676 of 62, 947,714).

--- TN              The Black Northern Migration draws thousands of black Tennesseans to the industrial cities of the North. Between

1870 and 1930 Tennessee’s black population declines to 18.3% from an earlier figure of 25.6%. 

---                    The American Baptist Publication Society no longer publishes the writings of African American ministers because

Southern white readers have objected to them. 

---                    “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman is elected governor of South Carolina.  An apologist for violence against blacks, Tillman calls

his victory “a triumph of ... white supremacy." His words are generally more inflammatory than his policies -- he makes

an effort to curb lynching in his state, while also advocating segregation and disfranchisement of black voters. 

Nov. 1             The Mississippi Plan becomes law on this date.  It uses literacy and "understanding" tests to disfranchise minority

voters.  Similar statutes will be adopted by South Carolina (1895), Louisiana (1898), North Carolina (1900), Alabama (1901), Virginia (1901), Georgia (1908), and Oklahoma (1910) 


--- TN              The Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company (TCI) uses convicts as strikebreakers when coal miners strike.

Violent uprisings continue until 1895, when the General Assembly ends the practice of convict leasing.

--- TN              Vigilante groups produce havoc throughout Tennessee.  A Sevier County groups known as the White Caps begins a

reign of terror, beating and occasionally killing people (primarily women) they believed to be “lewd or adulterous.”  Their activities continue nearly unchecked until 1896.

--- TN              Approximately 235 African Americans will lose their lives to lynchings this year; 204 black Tennesseans will be lynched

during the years between 1890 and 1950. 

March TN       After Ida B. Wells speaks out in The Memphis Free Speech against a recent lynching, a white mob burns the

newspaper office.  Wells is forced to move out of the state to guarantee her safety,

May 20 TN     Frederick Douglass speaks at the First Colored Baptist Church in response to recent lynchings in Nashville and


Dec. 1 TN       Dr. Miles V. Lynk, a graduate of Meharry Medical School and the first African American physician in Madison County,

publishes the first national medical journal for black physicians, The Medical and Surgical Observer.  He is 21 years old.  He will later found the University of West Tennessee, earn a law degree, serve as Dean of the School of Nurse Training of Terrill Memorial Hospital in Memphis, and become the ninth recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from the National Medical Association.

Dec. 27            Biddle University (NC) defeats Livingstone College (NC) 5-0 in the first footabll game between teams from black



--- TN             Working as an emigration agent for a railroad company, Isaac F. Norris moves his family to the newly opened xxxxxxxxxxxxxOklahoma Territory, where he will continue to be active in politics..  


Mar. 4              Grover Cleveland is sworn in to his second term as President, the first covering the years 1885-1889, and the second

running from 1893-1897.

--- TN              After about 50 years of the practice known as convict leasing, the Tennessee General Assembly finally addresses the

issue and passes legislation to construct a new state penitentiary and abolish convict leasing at the expiration of the lease contract in 1896.

--- TN             David F. Rivers takes a position as pastor of the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Kansas City, Kansas. By 1900 he

will be serving as pastor of the Berean Baptist Church in Washington, D. C.


---                    African American workers are hired by the Pullman Company as strike breakers after a costly strike by employees.


--- xx               Jesse M. H. Graham becomes editor of the Clarksville Enterprise.

Feb. 20            Death of Frederick Douglass.

Sept. 18           Booker T. Washington delivers the “Atlanta Compromise” address at the Atlanta Cotton States Exposition. He asserts

that the “Negro problem" will be resolved if the South abides by a policy of gradualism and accommodation. Much of

what Washington proposes is black self-help: African Americans will rise socially and politically if they work, save, and xxxxxxxgain an education, but whites must be willing to accept and encourage this effort.

Sept. 24           The National Baptist Convention of the United States is created by the union of several smaller Baptist organizations.  The Baptist church becomes the nation’s largest African American religious denomination. 

Dec. 4              In the state Constitutional Convention, South Carolina adopts a new constitution containing an "understanding" clause

designed to eliminate black voters. 


--- TN       xxx Samuel L. McElwee and James Napier are named to the original committee of the Negro Department of the

Tennessee Centennial.  Both will withdraw before the Exposition opens on May 1, 1897.  [Couto]

--- TN              Richard H. Boyd establishes the National Baptist Publishing Board, which is reportedly the oldest extant African-

American-owned publishing company.

May                 The U.S. Supreme Court, in Plessy v. Ferguson, upholds Louisiana statute requiring "separate but equal"

accommodations on railroads, saying segregation is not necessarily discrimination.  Justice Harlan’s dissent (“The Constitution is color-blind!”) insists that all segregation is  inherently discrimination, that states cannot impose criminal penalties upon a citizen who merely wants to use public highways and carriers.  It is this very argument that will eventually be used to win Brown v. Board of Education (1954).

July 21             The National Association of Colored Women is established, with Mary Church Terrell as its first president.

Nov. 3             William McKinley, an Ohio Republican, is elected President.



---TN xxxx      Jesse M. H. Graham is elected as a Republican representing Montgomery County in the 50th General Assembly.

He arrives in Nashville to find his seat contested on the first day of session.  Although he is provisionally seated on 4 January 1897, his election is subject to investigation by the Committee on Elections.  The committee decides on 20 January that neither Graham nor the challenger is entitled to the seat (Graham, because he does not have the required three-year legal residence).  The House passes a resolution declaring Graham’s seat vacant by a vote of 76-0, with 23 not voting.

Mar. 4              William McKinley is inaugurated as President (1897-1901).

May 1 TN       The Tennessee Centennial Exposition opens in Nashville, to run until October 31. It was a successful effort to stimulate

the economy after a 20- year period of economic depression.

--- TN              During 1897 Tennessee Coal (TCI) pays Louisiana $18.50 a month for a "first-class" state convict.


Apr. 21            The Spanish-American War begins.  Black volunteers make up sixteen regiments, four of which will see combat. Five

African Americans win Congressional Medals of Honor for their valor.

Apr. 25            Announcing their judgment in the case of Williams v. Mississippi, the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Mississippi

Constitution, which requires voters to pass a literacy test in order to receive a ballot.  This law, clearly aimed at disfranchising black voters, places the power of interpretation in the hands of local, politically appointed registrars.

June 2 TN       The first class graduates from Pearl High School, Nashville’s African American high school.

Sept 9 TN       Death of former Representative William A. Feilds, a member of the Shelby County Court, whose surviving members

                        publish a resolution honoring his service..



Link to Timeline Sources.