1857 – The U.S. Supreme Court decides the Dred Scott case. The court rules that Scott is still a slave with no standing to sue; that black Americans (slave or free) are not citizens and do not have civil rights protected by the U.S. Constitution; and that neither the territorial government nor the federal government can ban slavery in the territories, thus making the (now-defunct) Northwest Ordinance and Missouri Compromise bans unconstitutional.
1857-1858 – The rivalry in the Kansas Territory between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions results in the establishment of two territorial legislatures, each claiming legitimacy. The pro-slavery legislature at Lecompton drafts a constitution to make Kansas a slave state. Anti-slavery forces boycott the popular referendum on the constitution, which passes and is sent to Congress. Senator Stephen Douglas considers the Lecompton Constitution a perversion of popular sovereignty, but President James Buchanan endorses it. Congress sends the Lecompton Constitution back to Kansas for another referendum. This time, it is defeated overwhelmingly.
1858 – Illinois Republicans nominate Abraham Lincoln for the U.S. Senate. In accepting, Lincoln delivers his “House Divided” speech in which he asserts that the nation can not endure permanently half-slave and half-free. Though Lincoln doesn’t win, he gains notoriety and becomes a contender for the 1860 presidential nomination.
1859 – John Brown, the radical abolitionist and veteran of “Bleeding Kansas,” fails in his attempt to capture the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia and to use the weapons to foment a slave rebellion. Brown and his co-conspirators are hanged, becoming martyrs to the anti-slavery cause.
1860 – Abraham Lincoln is elected president.
The Secretary of the Navy authorizes the enlistment of contrabands (slaves) taken in Confederate territories.
1863 – President Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the Confederate states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” The Presidential Order also authorizes the mustering of black men as federal regiments.
The 54th Massachusetts is organized at Camp Meigs, in Readville, Massachusetts. Free blacks from throughout the North enlist in the 54th. Other training stations, like Camp William Penn, outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are established for training black troops. Between 178,000 and 200,000 black enlisted men and white officers serve under the Bureau of Colored Troops.
1864 – Congress rules that black soldiers must receive equal pay.
1865 – The Civil War ends with a northern victory.
On June 19th, slavery in the United States effectively ended when 250,000 slaves in Texas finally received the news that the Civil War had ended two months earlier.
With their freedom, Southern blacks seek to reunite their families torn apart by slavery, as well as acquire an education (particularly reading and writing). Many leave the South for the West and North.
President Lincoln speaks publicly about extending the franchise to black men, particularly “on the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers.”
The 13th Amendment abolishes slavery throughout the United States.
President Abraham Lincoln is assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.
Many northern states reject referendums to grant black men in their states the right to vote.
Mississippi becomes the first of the former Confederate states to enact laws which severely limit the rights and liberties of blacks. Other Southern states follow with similar legislation.
The Freedmen’s Bureau is established in the War Department. The Bureau supervises all relief and educational activities relating to refugees and freedmen, including issuing rations, clothing, and medicine. The Bureau also assumes custody of confiscated lands or property in the former Confederate states, border states, District of Columbia, and Indian Territory.
1866 – 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 by ex-Confederates in Pulaski, Tennessee.
1868 – The 14th Amendment is ratified making all African-Americans citizens.
Whites begin to attack black and white Republicans to suppress voting. Every election cycle is accompanied by violence, increasing in the 1870s.
1870 – The 15th Amendment is passed permitting black men the right to vote.
Hiram Rhodes Revels becomes the first black member of the Senate.
1872 – A disputed gubernatorial election in Louisiana cause political violence for more than two years.
1874 – Paramilitary groups are founded that act as the “military arm of the Democratic Party” in the South: The White League in Louisiana and the Red Shirts in Mississippi, and North and South Carolina. They terrorize blacks and Republicans, turning them out of office, killing some, disrupting rallies, and suppressing voting.
1877 – The era of Reconstruction ends.
A deal is made with southern democratic leaders which makes Rutherford B. Hayes 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.
1879 – Thousands of African Americans refuse to live under segregation in the South and migrate to Kansas. They become known as Exodusters.
1880s – African Americans in the South reach a peak of numbers in being elected and holding local offices, even while white Democrats are working to assert control at the state level.
1881 – 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.
1884 – Ida Wells sues the Chesapeake, Ohio & South Western Railroad Company for its use of segregated “Jim Crow” cars.
1890 – Mississippi, with a white Democrat-dominated legislature, passes a new constitution that effectively disfranchises most blacks through voter registration and electoral requirements, such as poll taxes and residency literacy tests, which shuts them out of the political process, including service on juries and in local offices.
1896 – 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.