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Black Heritage - Black History Month

Known today as Black History Month, the observance began as Black History Week in 1926. The commemoration was started by Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), respectfully known as the Father of Black History. Dr. Woodson initiated the then week-long celebration as a way for teachers, laypersons, churches and organizations to educate and highlight the accomplishments and contributions made by African American to the history and culture of the United States of America and world. His legacy of extensive research, recording, collecting, and publishing of African American history and contributions began in 1915 when he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). The objective of ASLAH was to disseminate historically accurate information and decrease the lack of information available about African Americans. His work countered the narrative that Blacks had no history prior to slavery and were inferior to other ethnicities.

Julian Francis Abele (architect)

Julian Francis Abele (architect)

Julian Abele (1881-1950) was the first African American architect to attain professional acclaim. He enjoyed a long and illustrious career and many of the buildings that bear his design stamp have endured to become American landmarks.

Between 1906, when he joined the all-white firm of Horace Trumbauer, until his death in 1950, Abele designed or contributed to the design of some 250 buildings, including Harvard's Widener Memorial Library, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Free Library, and New York University's Institute of Fine Arts, originally a private residence and one of Manhattan's grandest addresses in its day.

Abele's race, coupled with his self-effacing personality, meant he would not be widely known during his lifetime, outside Philadelphia's architectural community. In 2016, Duke University renamed its main quadrangle Abele Quad to recognize his design contributions to its campus’ original academic and residential buildings.

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Victorine Quille Adams (Maryland state & local politician)

Victorine Quille Adams (Maryland state & local politician)

Victorine Quille Adams (1912-2006) was the first African American woman elected to the Baltimore City Council. She served four terms from 1967 to 1983. Her tenure on the city council inaugurated the continuous presence of African American women in Baltimore City politics. A native of the city, she sought to improve political representation, civic participation, and economic opportunity for all Baltimoreans.

In 1946, five years after Maryland ratified the 19th amendment, Adams founded the Colored Women's Democratic Campaign Committee (CWDCC). Its first campaign resulted in the 1954 election of the first African American elected to the Maryland State Senate, Harry Cole. Adams and CWDCC also mobilized support for Verda F. Welcome, resulting in her 1962 election as the first African American woman in the Maryland Senate.

Adams became a successful entrepreneur in 1948 and opened Charm Center, the only black owned and operated clothing store for women in Baltimore. In 1966, she successfully ran for the Maryland House of Delegates and later won a seat on the Baltimore City Council. She created the Baltimore Fuel Fund, a public-private partnership that raised money from charitable contributions to help families needing financial assistance with heating costs. The fund humanized government assistance and its model was eventually replicated by other Maryland cities.

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George Edward Alcorn, Jr. (physicist/inventor)

George Edward Alcorn, Jr. (physicist/inventor)

George Edward Alcorn Jr. is an atomic and molecular physicist. In 1984 Alcorn and his colleagues patented a device to detect extraterrestrial life: the imaging X-ray spectrometer. He has also studied missile trajectory and orbits, invented components for semiconductors, and designed instruments used in space. For his work Alcorn earned NASA's Inventor of the Year Award and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2015.

After earning his Ph.D. in 1967, Alcorn began his career as a scientist in the semiconductor and aerospace industries before starting at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in 1978. He helped develop technologies used for the Freedom space station, as well as identified how to promote NASA-developed technologies within government, business, and universities. Few people have the training needed to understand the implications of Alcorn's work, or the details of his eight patents. Much of his work is classified as top secret by the U.S. government.

Alcorn has encouraged others, especially minorities, to follow in his footsteps through his work as a university professor and as a youth tutor. He taught electrical engineering at both Howard University and the University of the District of Columbia.

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Patricia Bath (ophthalmologist/inventor)

Patricia Bath (ophthalmologist/inventor)

In 1988, Patricia Bath (1942-2019) became the first African American female doctor to receive a patent for a medical invention. She developed a laser device to remove cataracts. She developed a new field called community ophthalmology, which provides quality eye care to underserved populations.

Bath earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Hunter College in 1964 and then attended Howard University Medical School. Two jobs solidified her decision to incorporate social consciousness into her career. From 1968 to 1969 she worked as an intern at the Harlem Hospital and completed an ophthalmology fellowship at Columbia University. Bath noticed the contrasts between the patients and quality of medical care at the two locations. She convinced her Columbia University colleagues to operate free of charge on blind patients at Harlem Hospital's Eye Clinic.

In 1974, Bath became the first African American woman surgeon at the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center. She was also a dedicated professor at Charles R. Drew University. Bath founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness and served as president until her death in 2019. A children's book about her life, The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes, was published in 2017.

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Beyoncé (singer/producer)

Beyoncé (singer/producer)

Born in 1981 Beyoncé Giselle Knowles, the singer first became famous as a member of the popular R&B group Destiny's Child. After launching her own successful solo career in the early 2000s, she took on new challenges, including acting in films, most notably in 2002's Austin Powers in Goldmember and 2006's Dreamgirls.

By 2017 Beyoncé had six hit albums and more than 20 Grammy Awards to her credit. Her albums included Dangerously in Love, I Am ... Sasha Fierce, and Beyoncé. She released her sixth album, Lemonade, in 2016. It became the highest selling album of the year, in addition to winning a Grammy.

Beyoncé and her husband Jay-Z released an album together in 2018 as The Carters. Everything Is Love debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 charts. In 2019, she released Homecoming: The Live Album to critical acclaim. She earned the Grammy Award for best music film for the documentary Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé. She provided the voice of Nala in the 2019 remake of The Lion King and was featured on the soundtrack album The Lion King: The Gift.

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William Wells Brown (novelist/abolitionist)

William Wells Brown (novelist/abolitionist)

William Wells Brown (1815-1884) escaped to freedom and became the first African American to publish a novel or play. He was also an abolitionist and an internationally acclaimed lecturer.

Born a slave, Brown taught himself to read and write. While working on a steamboat, he escaped and in 1834 settled in Canada. Brown's published first work was his memoir The Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave (1842). He eventually became an important link in the Underground Railroad, helping slaves escape to freedom, sometimes concealing them aboard his ship until they could be put ashore in a friendly port.

In 1843, Brown was invited to lecture for the Anti-Slavery Society and soon gained renown as a public speaker. The American Peace Society chose him as their representative to the Peace Congress in Paris in 1849. Brown remained in Europe for several years. His first novel, Clotelle, or the President's Daughter published in London in 1853. His play, The Escape, or a Leap for Freedom, was published in 1858. Brown also studied medicine and was active in the temperance, women's suffrage, and prison reform movements.

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Patrisse Cullors (Black Lives Matter co-founder/artist)

Patrisse Cullors (Black Lives Matter co-founder/artist)

Patrisse Cullors is an activist and artist based in Los Angeles, California. She is a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, which campaigns against racial injustice and violence toward black people. She also campaigns for LGBTQ rights and identifies as a queer activist. In 2018 she published When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir.

In 2019, Cullors co-founded the Crenshaw Dairy Mart art space in Inglewood, Los Angeles, after she earned a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) at the University of Southern California. At Prescott College in Arizona, she designed and founded an MFA program called Social and Environmental Arts Practice.

Black Lives Matter protests grew across the US and internationally following the May 25, 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Nearly 100,000 people attended the June 7, 2020, protest in Hollywood, California. Cullors spoke and said only radical shifts can stop police violence. "The demand of defunding law enforcement becomes a central demand in how we actually get real accountability and justice, because it means we are reducing the ability of law enforcement to have resources that harm our communities."

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Angela Davis (political activist/professor)

Angela Davis (political activist/professor)

Angela Davis has never wavered in her quest for women's rights and the eradication of poverty and oppression.

She was born in 1944 in Birmingham, Alabama and as a young girl attended civil rights demonstrations with her mother. In 1965 Davis graduated from Brandeis University and earned her doctorate from Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany. The University of California at Los Angeles hired her as an assistant professor of philosophy in 1969 and she quickly became a popular teacher on campus.

Davis joined several groups, including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Black Panthers, as well as the Communist Party. She was also involved in demonstrations calling for parole of the imprisoned Soledad Brothers. On August 7, 1970, a teen-aged sibling of one of the brothers staged a violent escape attempt at the Marin County Courthouse. The firearms used were traced to Davis and she fled into hiding. The FBI found her in New York City and extradited her to California, where she was held in prison for over a year. Davis was tried and acquitted of all charges in 1972.

In subsequent decades Davis has continued as a University of California professor and an activist for national health care, civil rights, and prison reform. She has written over ten books and lectures throughout the world.

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Kamala Harris (US Senator/Vice-President of the United States)

Kamala Harris (US Senator/Vice-President of the United States)

Kamala Harris was elected Vice-President of the United States in 2020, alongside her running mate Joe Biden. With the win, she became the first woman, first African American, and first South Asian American to be elected to serve as Vice-President.

Kamala Devi Harris was born in 1964 in Oakland, California, a child of a mixed-race marriage. Though Harris would most often be identified as African American, she also highly valued her Indian heritage and her grandmother, who she saw on visits to the Indian city of Chennai. Harris spent her early years in Berkeley, where her parents attended college and worked in the civil rights movement.

After graduating from high school in Montreal, Canada, Harris returned to the US to attend Howard University in Washington, DC, where she earned her bachelor's degree in 1986. She received her law degree in 1989 from the University of California and went to work as a law clerk in the district attorney's office in Alameda County.

Though an experienced prosecutor by 2003, Harris was a relative newcomer to politics when she was elected San Francisco district attorney. However, her hard work, respectful leadership style, and sincere concern for the most vulnerable members of society introduced integrity and positive social change to an office that had often been controversial. In 2010, Harris made history when she became the first woman and African American elected California attorney general. In 2016, Harris became only the second African American woman to be elected to the US Senate.

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Jeremiah Hawkins (politician/first mayor of North Brentwood, MD)

Jeremiah Hawkins (politician/first mayor of North Brentwood, MD)

Jeremiah Hawkins (1862-1940) was born in the Brandywine district of southern Prince George’s County to parents who had been enslaved. He became interested in politics and participated as a circuit court juror in all Black court cases. He was also a delegate for the Brandywine voting district at the county’s Republican Party conventions.

In 1905, he and his wife Emma Quander Hawkins moved to North Brentwood, at that time called Randallstown. They owned and operated a dairy business. He continued his political participation by leading the town’s civic organization and its efforts to become an incorporated town, which occurred in 1924. Hawkins served as the town’s first mayor and remained active in state and local politics until his death in 1940.

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Carla Hayden (Librarian of Congress)

Carla Hayden (Librarian of Congress)

Carla Hayden is the first woman and the first African American to lead the Library of Congress. She is a veteran of the Chicago Public Library and Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library, as well as a former president of the American Library Association (ALA).

Born in 1952, in Tallahassee, Florida, Hayden grew up in Chicago. She earned her undergraduate degree from Roosevelt University and went on to earn two advanced degrees, including a Ph.D., from the University of Chicago. She began her career with the Chicago Public Library in 1973 as a library associate and children's librarian and rose through the ranks to become deputy commissioner and chief librarian.

In 1993, she became executive director of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. In 2002, Hayden's storied career made her a natural candidate for the ALA presidency. Upon winning she announced that "equity of access" was one of her primary goals and urged her colleagues to "rededicate ourselves to maintaining that seamless web that helps our customers reach their dreams. Libraries and librarians are truly lifelines for so many."

In 2016, Hayden began her 10-year term as Librarian of Congress. She has noted that in the not-so-distant past, it was illegal for African American slaves to learn to read, a crime punishable by dismemberment. "So, to have an African American heading up the world's largest library is not quite an oxymoron, but it speaks to the history."

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Spike Lee (filmmaker/director)

Spike Lee (filmmaker/director)

Spike Lee is known for powerful films such as She's Gotta Have It, School Daze, Do The Right Thing, Mo' Better Blues, Malcolm X, and many others. His 2018 film BlacKkKlansman earned him an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay. Lee made history in 2020 when he was named the first African American to preside as jury president of the Cannes Film Festival.

Shelton Jackson Lee was born in 1957 and grew up in Brooklyn. Lee's mother exposed him to black art and literature from an early age. He attended Morehouse College and majored in mass communication. Following his mother's unexpected death in 1977, Lee's friends tried to cheer him with frequent trips to the movies, which ignited his passion for film.

"Fight the Power," the theme song to his 1989 film Do the Right Thing, could easily be Spike Lee's personal motto. From his earliest days as a student filmmaker, Lee has shown a willingness to tackle relevant black issues. Following the box office success of his earliest films, Hollywood's gates opened to a new generation of young African American filmmakers. Lee relishes his role as path-paver. "Every time there is a success, it makes it easier for other blacks. We have so many stories to tell...We just need more black filmmakers."

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Patrick Mahomes (football athlete/Super Bowl MVP)

Patrick Mahomes (football athlete/Super Bowl MVP)

Patrick Mahomes became one of professional football's most celebrated quarterbacks before his 25th birthday. In his second year with the Kansas City Chiefs, he led the team to the 2019 American Football Conference (AFC) title game, and a year later, led his team to a Super Bowl championship--the Chiefs' first NFL title in half a century.

Mahomes had already collected the league Most Valuable Player (MVP) honor in 2018--making history as the youngest ever to win the award--and was voted MVP of Super Bowl LIV. In July 2020, the Chiefs made Mahomes the richest player in NFL history with a 10-year, $503 million contract extension. The deal was also the richest contract ever signed by a player in any North American sport.

Mahomes was a gifted athlete at a young age. He played baseball and football and excelled at basketball too. In March 2014, Mahomes committed to playing football for Texas Tech University. In 2017, he declared his eligibility for the NFL Draft and the Kansas City Chiefs took him as the 10th pick. Mahomes became their starting quarterback in the 2018 season and finished the year with 50 TD passes--tied for second-most in a single season in NFL history.

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Walter Dean Myers (writer)

Walter Dean Myers (writer)

Walter Dean Myers (1937-2014) was one of the best-known African American writers of children's and young adult literature. Starting in the late 1960s, Myers published dozens of books for young readers seeking realistic stories and recognizable characters who tackled issues such as teen pregnancy, crime, imprisonment, drug abuse, and school shootings. He also addressed historical topics in both fiction and nonfiction books and wrote many biographies of notable African Americans. Myers often collaborated with his son Christopher Myers, a respected illustrator.

The author of more than ninety books, Myers’ most famous titles were Fallen Angels, Monster, and Scorpions. He received numerous awards and honors, including the Coretta Scott King Award. As the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature from 2012-2014, he spoke at schools and libraries throughout the US encouraging children to read. Myers told Marti Parham in Jet, "I'm never going to stop writing. It's my hobby as much as it is my profession...I do this because I love it. I'll write until I die."

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Mary Church Terrell (political activist/organizer)

Mary Church Terrell (political activist/organizer)

Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954) was an educator and political activist who dedicated her life to improving social conditions for black Americans. She helped to start the National Association of Colored Women and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Both former slaves, Mary’s parents instilled in her the importance of religion and education. In 1879, she was accepted at Oberlin College, one of the few integrated universities in the US, where she earned a bachelor's degree. She and educator/lawyer Robert Terrell married in 1891.

In 1892, Terrell led a local Washington, DC club, the Colored Women's League, which later merged with other black women's organizations to become the National Association of Colored Women. Terrell was elected its first president. NACW’s agenda of social reform included establishing day care centers for children of black working mothers, as well as campaigning for female suffrage, equal rights for blacks, and repeal of Jim Crow laws.

In 1895, Terrell became the first black female elected to the Washington, DC Board of Education. She also participated in the 1901 founding of the NAACP. She published her autobiography A Colored Woman in a White World in 1940. Although nearly 90 years old, Terrell led demonstrations in 1949 at segregated local restaurants and she was part of a small group that sued one that refused to serve them. The case went to the Supreme Court, where she testified. Their case won in 1953 and DC began desegregating.

Terrell lived just long enough to learn of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, which effectively ended segregation in public schools. She died on July 24, 1954.

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Raphael Warnock (pastor/US Senator)

Raphael Warnock (pastor/US Senator)

In January 2021, Raphael Warnock became the first Democratic African American US Senator elected from a southern state since Reconstruction. In 2005 Warnock became senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, the spiritual home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Born in Savannah, Georgia in 1969, Warnock earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. in systematic theology from Union Theological Seminary in New York. He served as youth pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York and as senior pastor at Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore. Warnock came to prominence in Georgia politics in 2014 as a leader of the campaign to expand Medicaid in the state.

Warnock authored the 2014 book The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness, in which he investigates whether the true mission of the black church is to save souls or to transform the social order. He argued that there is room for both approaches to work in harmony.

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Ida B. Wells-Barnett (journalist)

Ida B. Wells-Barnett (journalist)

Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931) was a woman ahead of her time--courageous, independent, assertive, and outspoken. The eldest of eight children, she was born a slave in Holly Springs, Mississippi, in 1862. She later became the owner and editor of her own Southern newspaper, crusading at great personal risk against the illegal lynching of Black people and injustices of segregation.

Devoting herself to Black progress and racial equality, Wells-Barnett played a leading role in the Black women's club movement, as well as the creation of national organizations like the NAACP. Her reputation as a fearless activist was secured by her tenure at the Memphis weekly Free Speech and Headlight. She purchased a one-third ownership and became its editor in 1889. Never one to shun controversy, her militant editorials added to her growing reputation for fearlessness. Wells-Barnett died in 1931. In 2020, she was recognized for her vital journalistic role with a posthumous Pulitzer Prize.

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August Wilson (playwright)

August Wilson (playwright)

August Wilson (1945-2005) was a modern–day griot who eloquently chronicled black American life. His ten plays, including Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running, and Seven Guitars, have been performed across the US, transporting audiences on odysseys of black life through Wilson's focus on identity, culture, and history. He was the first African American to have two plays running simultaneously on Broadway and is one of seven American playwrights to win two Pulitzer Prizes.

When Wilson began writing his plays, he had little experience with theater, having only seen two plays, and no formal training. He had no particular method of writing his plays but admitted to relying on what he called the "4 Bs"--the blues; fellow playwright Amiri Baraka; author Jorge Luis Borges; and painter Romare Bearden--to help him craft his stories. Wilson claimed, "When I saw [Bearden’s] work, it was the first time that I had seen black life presented in all its richness, and I said, 'I want to do that--I want my plays to be the equal of his canvases.'"

August Wilson carved his signature on American theater by capturing the changing texture of black life with his plays, each covering a different decade of the 20th century. The skill with which he did this earned him two Pulitzers, a Tony Award, and seven New York Drama Critics Circle Awards, in addition to 23 honorary degrees.

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Carter G. Woodson (scholar/father of Black History)

Carter G. Woodson (scholar/father of Black History)

Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) was born on December 19, 1875 in New Canton, Virginia, to parents who were former slaves. He officially began high school at 20 years old after securing enough money to care for himself. He graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in Huntington, West Virginia in two years and went on to earn both bachelor’s and master's degrees. In 1912, he became the second African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University and was the first descendant of slavery to do so.

One of Woodson’s most significant accomplishments was the establishment of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, known today at the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASLAH). To disseminate scholarly work on Black history and culture, he also created The Journal of Negro History, today known as The Journal of African American History.

Woodson discovered that all Americans were miseducated and lacked knowledge of the extraordinary accomplishments and contributions African Americans made to the world. His solution was development of a curriculum and kits for educators, laypersons, churches and organizations to utilize during a week-long celebration known as Black History Week.

Black History Week was celebrated in February because it coincided with the birthdates of Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln. In 1976, it became Black History Month. Woodson’s life and legacy are honored locally in Washington, DC with ASALH’s headquarters, with his home a National Park Service historic site and with a life-sized statue of him.

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Jane Cooke Wright (physician/cancer researcher)

Jane Cooke Wright (physician/cancer researcher)

American physician Jane Cooke Wright (1919-2013) was a prominent cancer researcher who made many contributions to the early field of chemotherapy.

Wright graduated from Smith College in 1942 and New York Medical College in 1945. She trained at Harlem Hospital, where she served as a resident in internal medicine for several years. In 1948, Wright's father founded the Harlem Hospital Cancer Research Foundation to investigate the possibilities for and effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs in cancer treatment. Wright joined the staff as a clinician in 1949.

In 1952 after her father’s death, Wright became the head of the foundation. Because the drugs used in chemotherapy could be harmful to patients, Wright worked to develop treatment guidelines with maximum benefit to patients. She had the joy of seeing some of her patients with advanced stages of cancer recover and live for years after treatments.

In 1967, Wright became associate dean and professor of surgery at New York Medical College. At a time when African American women physicians numbered a few hundred in the US, Wright was the highest ranked African American woman at a nationally recognized medical institution. She developed a program of study into cancer, heart diseases, and stroke, as well as a program to teach doctors how to use chemotherapy. Wright retired from the college and active cancer research in 1987.

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Black History Month is celebrated in February because it coincides with the birthdates of Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln. Each is credited with significantly impacting the lives of African Americans. In 1976, Black History Week became a Black History Month. The month-long commemoration was officially observed by President Gearld Ford as part of America’s Bicentennial celebrations. It has been celebrated by each president since then and is supported across the U.S. by people of various ethnicities and backgrounds. According to ASALH, “ the promotion of Black History Month is one of the most significant components of advancing Dr. Woodson’s legacy.”


Smith, J. C. (2020). Black History Month. The American Mosaic: The African American Experience. Retrieved December 29, 2020, from

Brown, K. B. (2020, July 26). The Founders of Black History Month: Our History. Retrieved December 29, 2020, from

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Black Heritage Timeline



The first African American indentured servants arrive in the American colonies. Less than a decade later, the first slaves are brought into New Amsterdam (later, New York City). By 1690, every colony has slaves.


The Stono Rebellion, one of the earliest slave revolts, occurs in Stono, South Carolina.




Eli Whitney’s (1765 – 1825) cotton gin increases the need for slaves.


Congress bans further importation of slaves.




In Boston, William Lloyd Garrison (1805 – 1879) begins publication of the anti-slavery newspaper the Liberator and becomes a leading voice in the Abolitionist movement.


Approximately 75,000 slaves escape to the North using the Underground Railroad.




Ex-slave Frederick Douglass (1818 – 1895) publishes the anti-slavery North Star newspaper.


Harriet Tubman (c. 1820 – 1913) escapes from slavery and becomes an instrumental leader of the Underground Railroad.




Congress passes another Fugitive Slave Act, which mandates government participation in the capture of escaped slaves.

Boston citizens, including some of the wealthiest, storm a federal courthouse in an attempt to free escaped Virginia slave Anthony Burns (1834 – 1862).


The Dred Scott v. Sanford case: congress does not have the right to ban slavery in the states; slaves are not citizens.




Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865) is elected president, angering the southern states.


The Civil War begins.




Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation proclaims that all slaves in rebellious territories are forever free.


Massachusetts 54th regiment of African American troops led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (1837 – 1863) marches out of Boston on May 28th, heading into combat.




The Civil War ends.

Lincoln is assassinated.

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting slavery, is ratified.

The era of Reconstruction begins.


The “Black Codes” are passed by all white legislators of the former Confederate States.

Congress passes the Civil Rights Act, conferring citizenship on African Americans and granting them equal rights to whites.

The Ku Klux Klan is formed in Tennessee.




The 14th Amendment is ratified, defining citizenship. This overturns the Dred Scott decision.


The 15th Amendment is ratified, giving African Americans the right to vote.




The era of Reconstruction ends.

A deal is made with southern democratic leaders which makes Rutherford B. Hayes (1822 – 1893) president in exchange for the withdrawal of federal troops from the South, and puts an end to efforts to protect the civil rights of African Americans.


Thousands of African Americans migrate out of the South to escape oppression.




Tennessee passes the first of the “Jim Crow” segregation laws, segregating state railroads.

Similar laws are passed over the next 15 years throughout the Southern states.


Plessy v. Ferguson case: racial segregation is ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court.

The “Jim Crow” (“separate but equal”) laws begin, barring African Americans from equal access to public facilities.




Brown v. Board of Education case: strikes down segregation as unconstitutional.


In Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks (1913 – 2005) is arrested for breaking a city ordinance by refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man. This defiant act gives initial momentum to the Civil Rights Movement.




Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 – 1968) and others set up the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a leading engine of the Civil Rights Movement.


The Civil Rights Act is signed, prohibiting discrimination of all kinds.




The Voting Rights Act is passed, outlawing the practices used in the South to disenfranchise African American voters.


Edward W. Brooke (1919 - 2015) becomes the first African American U.S. Senator since Reconstruction. He serves two terms as a Senator from Massachusetts.




Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.


The PGCMLS Oxon Hill Library opens, including the Sojourner Truth African American Research Collection in Oxon Hill, Maryland.




President Lyndon Johnson (1908 - 1973) signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968 prohibiting housing discrimination.


Arthur Ashe (1943 - 1993) becomes the first African American man to win the U.S. Open.




Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise a black-gloved fist during the playing of the U.S. national anthem at the Olympics in Mexico.


Shirley Chisholm (1924 - 2005) is sworn in as the first Black woman elected to Congress.




Guitarist Jimi Hendrix headlines the Woodstock Music Festival in upstate New York.

Late 60s-Early 70s

Rise of the Black Power Movement




Shirley Chisholm becomes the first Black woman to campaign for a major party presidential nomination.


Civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman establishes The Children’s Defense Fund.




Baseball player Hank Aaron (1934 - 2021) of Atlanta Braves hits his 715th career home run.


President Gerald Ford (1913 - 2006) officially recognizes Black History Month, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”




Based on the Alex Haley novel, the miniseries “Roots” airs its finale, which is watched by 36 million households.


Colonel Guion Bluford, Jr. (1942 - ) becomes the first African American to go to space as part of the Challenger Space Shuttle crew.




Vanessa Williams (1963 - ) is crowned the first Black Miss America.


Jesse Jackson (1941 - ) becomes the second African American to mount a U.S. presidential candidacy.




The first federal holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is observed on the third Monday in January.


Oprah Winfrey (1954 - ) launches a syndicated talk show. It later became the highest-rated talk show in history.




Douglas Wilder (1931 - ) becomes the first African American to be elected governor of a state (Virginia).


Four white Los Angeles police officers are acquitted of beating African American Rodney King (1965 - 2012). The verdict led to five days of riots in Los Angeles.




Engineer and physician Mae Jemison (1956 - ) becomes the first Black woman to go to space as part of the Space Shuttle Endeavour crew.


Toni Morrison (1931 - 2019) is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first Black woman to earn the honor.




Carol Moseley Braun (1947 - ) becomes the first Black woman, and only the second African American, to be elected to the US Senate.


Black men rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for the Million Man March.




Black women gather for the Million Woman March in Philadelphia.


Colin Powell (1937 - 2021) is appointed the first Black secretary of state.




Condoleezza Rice (1954 - ) takes office as the first Black woman secretary of state.


Barack Obama (1961 - ) becomes the first African American to win the U.S. presidential race.




The death of Black high school student Trayvon Martin (1995 - 2012) and the acquittal of George Zimmerman (1983 - ) spark nationwide protests and the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.


In Ferguson, Missouri, unarmed Black teen Michael Brown (1996 - 2014) is shot dead by white police officer Darren Wilson (1986 - ), resulting in weeks of protests.




The National Museum of African American History and Culture opens as the newest Smithsonian Institution Museum in Washington, DC.


Quarterback Colin Kaeperick (1987 - ) takes a knee during the national anthem before a football game to protest police brutality.




Amanda Gorman (1998 - ) becomes the first National Youth Poet Laureate.


Three unarmed African Americans are fatally killed. On February 23, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia; on March 13, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky; and on May 25, George Floyd in Minnesota. The killings also resulted in nationwide and global demonstrations supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as changes to federal and state policing laws.




Kamala Harris (1964 - ) becomes the first Black and South Asian woman elected Vice-President of the United States.


June 19 is the first celebration of Juneteenth as a U.S. federal holiday, which commemorates the emancipation of African American slaves.


Work Cited:

Black History: Timeline of the Post-Civil Rights Era

Black History Milestones: Timeline


The First Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad for many of us symbolizes the journey African slaves went on in the name of freedom. But, contrary to popular belief, the first path wasn’t south to north. Instead, it was north to south.

The Breathtaking Courage of Harriet Tubman - Janell Hobson

Take a closer look at the life of escaped slave and American icon Harriet Tubman, who liberated over 700 enslaved people using the Underground Railroad.

The Electrifying Speeches of Sojourner Truth - Daina Ramey Berry

Get to know the story of Sojourner Truth, a woman born into slavery who became known as a powerful orator and outspoken activist.

Why should You Read Sci-fi Superstar Octavia E. Butler? - Ayana Jamieson and Moya Bailey

Explore the works of science fiction visionary Octavia E. Butler, whose novels, such as “Parable of the Sower,” influenced the growing popularity of Afrofuturism.

The Birth of Hip Hop

In 1973, DJ Kool Herc set up his turntables and introduced a technique at a South Bronx house party that would change music as many people knew it. His ability to switch from record to record — as well as isolate and repeat music breaks — led to the discovery of the hip hop genre.

Obama's 2008 Election

During the 2004 Democratic National Convention, a first-term senator named Barack Obama from Illinois delivered a speech that exuded excitement, charisma and spark. Four years later, he found himself on that same platform as he launched his campaign to become the president of the United States.

What Black Lives Matter Means to an 11-year-old

In June of 2020,11-year-old Californian Jolia Bossette decided to use her fifth-grade graduation speech as an occasion to give voice to her thoughts and feelings. In her speech, she reminisced about how she was "the cutest thing," as a toddler and asked, "But when did I stop being cute and start being scary?"

Why All Americans Should Honor Juneteenth

In Texas and across the country, emancipated African Americans began celebrating annually, with parades, concerts, and picnics. “Being able to go wherever they want and being able to wander about; for enslaved people, it was an expression of their freedom,” says Hill. “Formerly enslaved people celebrating, in public, their newfound freedom, was an act of resistance.”

Afrofuturism Mixes Sci-fi and Social Justice. Here’s How it Works.

Black people are rarely featured in sci-fi and fantasy films — that is, unless that black person is Will Smith. How do black people get to exist in the future? Afrofuturism, a scholarly and artistic movement that imagines the future through black people’s experiences is one answer. The term was coined in 1994 by culture critic Mark Dery in his "Black to the Future" essay.

Black Excellist: 10 Trailblazing Black Visual Artists

African American artists have helped shape the visual culture of the United States by working outside of the convention of their respective fields while defying discrimination and professional stereotypes. Often channeling their familial backgrounds and personal experiences in their work, these creative figures have influenced and inspired much of American art's evolution. Collectively, their bodies of work should not only be seen as a narrative of the African American experience of their time, but also a powerful expression of cultural protest.

Marcus Garvey: Leader of a Revolutionary Global Movement

Marcus Garvey was born in Jamaica and experienced the impacts of colonization at the hands of the British. As a result, he developed a passion for improving race relations and launched a Black Nationalism movement that would seek to elevate black people throughout the world.

Henrietta Lacks: The Woman With the Immortal Cells

In this episode of Black History In Two Minutes or So hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr., with additional commentary from Hasan Jeffries of Ohio State University, we explore how the morally questionable obtaining of Henrietta Lack’s cells led to medical advancements we still receive benefits from today.

The Massacre of Tulsa's "Black Wall Street"

Nearly 100 years ago, a white mob destroyed an American neighborhood called “Black Wall Street,” murdering an estimated 300 people in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That incident — known as the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre — has been largely left out of US history books. Today, a century later, the city still has a lot of questions. For one, where are the bodies of the victims? As the city's mayor re-opens the search for mass graves, we take a look at what happened back in 1921…and why finding these graves still matters to the people of Tulsa.

The Lost Neighborhood Under New York's Central Park

In the Vox series Missing Chapter, Vox Senior Producer Ranjani Chakraborty revisits underreported and often overlooked moments from the past to give context to the present. Join her as she covers the histories that are often left out of our textbooks. Our first season tackles stories of racial injustice, political conflicts, even the hidden history of US medical experimentation.

Notes of a Native Son: The World According to James Baldwin - Christina Greer

In the 1960s, the FBI amassed almost 2,000 documents in an investigation into one of America’s most celebrated minds. The subject of this inquiry was a writer named James Baldwin, one of the best-selling black authors in the world at the time. What made him loom so large in the imaginations of both the public and the authorities? Christina Greer explores the life and works of James Baldwin.

The Most Feared Song in jazz, Explained

John Coltrane, one of jazz history’s most revered saxophonists, released “Giant Steps” in 1959. It’s known across the jazz world as one of the most challenging compositions to improvise over for two reasons - it’s fast and it’s in three keys. Braxton Cook and Adam Neely give me a crash course in music theory to help me understand this notoriously difficult song, and I’m bringing you along for the ride. Even if you don’t understand a lick of music theory, you’ll likely walk away with an appreciation for this musical puzzle.

Aretha Franklin’s Musical Genius in 2 Songs

Aretha Franklin will always be the Queen of Soul. In the 1960s songs like “Respect” became the symbol for political and social change. It’s likely the reason her music moved so many people wasn’t necessarily the lyrics, but the way she delivered them.

How One Journalist Risked Her Life to Hold Murderers Accountable - Christina Greer

In the late 1800’s, lynchings were happening all over the American South, often without any investigation or consequences for the murderers. A young journalist set out to expose the truth about these killings. Her reports shocked the nation, launched her journalism career and a lifelong pursuit of civil rights. Christina Greer details the life of Ida B. Wells and her tireless struggle for justice.

An Unsung Hero of the Civil Rights Movement - Christina Greer

Learn about the life of Bayard Rustin, a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, a gay rights activist, and one of Martin Luther King’s closest advisors.

Speak Your Truth Oral History project

Speak Your Truth! Oral History Project @ Oxon Hill - Do you have a story to share?

Online Resources

Research African American history and culture, including primary sources, timelines, audio clips, photographs, maps, and images.

This online community is dedicated to training and sharing resources for researching African American Genealogy. It's a good entry point if you're starting out and are interested in the basics.

Contains millions of records from The United States Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands between 1865 -1872. Records contain names of people across the United States including formerly enslaved African Americans, those who were free before the Civil War, white southerners, northern educators, elected officials, and more.

OverDrive offers thousands of downloadable audiobooks and eBooks, all free with your Prince George's County Memorial Library System library card. There is a limit of 10 items per customer, checked out at any time.

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