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Generations of Pride: African American Timeline

A Selected Chronology
By Kathryn M. Harris


A Dutch ship with twenty African blacks aboard arrives at Jamestown, Virginia. Captured, sold, and stolen from their native land, these Africans are likely the first permanent involuntary settlers of the black race in what is now the United States of America.


Slavery is recognized by statute in Virginia; the slave codes of Virginia are developed to protect "slaves as property" and to protect white society from "an alien and savage race." Though modeled after indentured servitude laws, the codes prohibit any rights for slaves.  


The French government authorizes Sieur Antoine Crozat to open slave trade in the province of Louisiana, which includes the Illinois country.  Crozat never implements this authorization.



Philippe Renault purchases African slaves in Santo Domingo and brings a number of them to the Illinois country to work in his proposed mines.  


"Le Code Noir ou Recueil de Reglements" ("The Black Codes…"), a system of stringent rules for holding and managing slaves in the province of Louisiana, is issued.



A French census lists 330 African Americans residing in Illinois.  


Illinois becomes a part of Virginia after conquest by George Rogers Clark during the American Revolution.


Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable (1745?-1818) establishes a trading post at what is now Chicago. 



Virginia cedes its western lands (including Illinois) to the United States government.  


Article VI of the Northwest Ordinance prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude in the Northwest Territory, which includes Illinois. However, Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Territory, interprets Article VI so that those who currently hold slaves may continue to do so.




298 African - Americans are residing in the Illinois country per the U. S. Census of Indiana Territory; 135 are slaves and 163 are free persons of color.

Congress creates the Indiana Territory (which includes Illinois) from the Northwest Territory.  


The Indiana Territory governing council develops a "slave code," a system of long-term indentures which is equivalent to slavery.  


The Indiana territorial assembly re-enacts the 1803 code, legally authorizing the indenture system.  


Illinois becomes a separate territory, due partly to the influence of those desiring that Illinois be admitted into the Union as a slave-holding state.  


781 African Americans are living in Illinois Territory per the U. S. Census: 168 are slaves and 613 are free persons of color. 


Territorial legislation prohibits further migration of free Negroes into Illinois and allows indentures. All Negroes in the territory are required to register with the clerk of the court of common pleas of the county in which they reside.  


The Illinois territorial legislature authorizes the use of slaves in the salt works (saline mines), thus providing a legal context for general slavery.  


In December, a campaign begins for Illinois’ admission to the Union, supported by antislavery factions.  


In December, Illinois becomes a state, adopting a constitution which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude but which permits an indenture system.

1,173 African-Americans are living in the Territory per the Illinois Territorial Census; 847 are servants or slaves and 326 are free persons of color.  


Future Illinois Governor Edward Coles (1822-1826) migrates from Virginia, manumitting (freeing) his own slaves en route and giving each family 160 acres of land in his newly adopted state.  


1,512 African-Americans are residing in Illinois per the State Census; 668 are slaves; 469 are free persons of color; 375 blacks are enumerated with no designation.

1,374 blacks are living in Illinois per the United States Census; 917 are slaves and 457 are free persons of color.  


The struggle over legalizing slavery dominates politics in Illinois.  


On December 5, Governor Coles calls upon the legislature to abolish slavery in Illinois.  


In March, Governor Coles is sued for having manumitted his slaves—a clear violation of the state’s "Black Codes" ("Black Laws"). Found guilty in lower courts, this verdict is later overturned by the State Supreme Court.

In August, voters defeat a call for a constitutional convention to permit slavery in the state.



2,384 African-Americans are residing in Illinois per the U. S. census; 747 slaves and 1,637 free person of color.  


"Free" Frank McWorter founds the town of New Philadelphia in Pike county. He arrives in Pike county around 1830 from Kentucky "Free" Frank, a former slave, buys freedom for himself, his wife Lucy, and fifteen other family members for about $15,000. McWorter dies in 1854. New Philadelphia survives until the 1880s.  


The Illinois General Assembly adopts resolutions which condemn abolition societies and approves the U. S. constitutional sanction of slavery in slave-holding states.


After moving his abolitionist press from St. Louis, Missouri to Alton, Illinois in 1836, Elijah P. Lovejoy is murdered by pro-slavery mob.  


3,929 African-Americans are residing in Illinois per the U. S. census: 331 slaves and 3,598 free persons of color.  


William de Fleurville ("Billy the Barber") opens his Springfield barber shop in "a new building opposite the north front of the State House." Born in Haiti, Fleurville (Florville) arrived in New Salem in 1831 and met young Abraham Lincoln, who became his life-long friend. Fleurville retained Lincoln as his attorney for various business dealings, including real estate transactions. At his death in 1868, he is among Springfield’s wealthiest citizens  


Samuel S. Ball, a native Virginian, is ordained to the ministry in the black Baptist church and is instrumental in organizing the "Colored Baptist Association and Friends to Humanity." Elder Ball, as he is known, ministers to churches in Springfield and Jacksonville. By 1851, Ball espouses the tenets of colonization and is an ardent and vocal advocate of the "Liberia Movement" and of the American Colonization Society.  


The Illinois constitutional convention adopts a proposal (to be submitted separately to the voters) which prohibits migration of free Negroes to Illinois. 


In March, voters overwhelmingly approve a new state constitution. Article XIV, ratified separately by a large majority, prohibits free persons of color from immigrating to Illinois and prevents slave owners from bringing slaves into the state for the purpose of setting them free.


5,436 African-Americans are residing in Illinois per the 1850 Federal Census.  


The legislature makes it a crime to bring a free Negro into the state.  


Dred Scott, a Missouri slave, sues for his freedom in state and federal court. He contends that his residence of twenty years earlier at Fort Armstrong in Rock Island, Illinois, gave him the right to be free. The state and federal courts, and eventually the Supreme Court, reject Scott’s argument. The Dred Scott decision declares that no African merican, free or slave, is a "full citizen" and therefore cannot sue; further, the decision states that Congress cannot prohibit slavery in the states and territories. Chief Justice Roger Taney writes in his opinion that black Americans have "no rights which any white man is bound to respect."


7,628 African-Americans are living in Illinois per the 1860 census.  


In September, President Abraham Lincoln issues his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that the rebellious states abandon their hostilities or lose their slaves by January 1, 1863.  


The Emancipation Proclamation is signed on January 1 declaring slaves "free" in all states and territories that are in rebellion against the Union, excluding Northern states.

The Twenty-ninth United States Colored Infantry is the first Civil War regiment composed almost entirely of Illinois blacks. The exact number is probably higher, but approximately 1,811 Illinois African-Americans are identified as serving in U. S. infantry, artillery, and cavalry units during the War.


John Jones, an abolitionist and Underground Railroad station manager, publishes The Black Laws of Illinois … and Why They Should Be Repealed. His lobbying efforts are influential in the repeal of these laws by the legislature in 1865. Jones, a wealthy Chicago tailor, later serves as Cook County commissioner (1871-1875).


The Illinois General Assembly repeals the state’s black laws and becomes the first state legislature to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution which abolishes slavery in the United States.  


28,762 African-Americans are residing in Illinois per the 1870 Federal Census.  


One year after the Great Fire, Chicago mayor Joseph Medill appoints the city’s first black fire company of nine men and the first black police officer.  


The Illinois General Assembly passes a law forbidding segregation in public schools.


John W. E. Thomas of Chicago is elected state representative, the first black to hold this office in Illinois.  


The earliest black Illinois newspaper of which records are extant, the Conservator, is founded in Chicago (the paper is later published in Springfield). It is edited by Ferdinand Lee Barnett, husband of the anti-lynching activist and publisher, Ida B. Wells-Barnett.  


46,368 African-Americans are residing in Illinois per the 1880 Federal Census.  


The Illinois General Assembly passes a civil rights act which forbids racial discrimination in restaurants, hotels, theaters, railroads, streetcars and other places of public accommodation and amusement.  


Augustine Tolton (1854-1897) of Quincy is ordained the first black Catholic priest in Illinois.  


E. H. Wright is the first black appointed to a major state job, a bookkeeper and railroad incorporation clerk in the Office of the Secretary of State.  


57,028 African-Americans are residing in Illinois per the 1890 Federal Census.  


The first black appointed to Chicago’s law department, Franklin A. Denison, serves for six years under two mayors as assistant prosecuting attorney.

African-American surgeon Daniel Hale Williams (1858-1931) organizes Provident Hospital in Chicago, the first hospital with an integrated medical staff in the United States; he performs the first open-heart surgery in 1893.  


The Eighth Illinois National Guard Regiment composed of African-American principally from the Chicago area, is called to active duty in the Spanish-American War.


85,078 African-Americans are residing in Illinois per the 1900 Federal Census.



The Chicago Defender, the largest black newspaper in Illinois today is founded by Robert S. Abbott (1870-1940).

Lucy Parsons, Chicago anarchist and participant in the 1886 Haymarket Riot, is one of only two females in attendance at the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World Convention in Chicago. 


Springfield Race Riot (August 14-15) leads to the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. 


Kewanee native Eva Monroe becomes matron of the Lincoln Colored Home in Springfield which she establishes for black children and widows. An ardent civic worker, Monroe’s memberships include the National Association of Colored Women, the Women’s Relief Corps, and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.  


109,049 African-Americans are residing in Illinois per the 1910 Federal Census.  


The Chicago American Giants, managed by Andrew "Rube" Foster begin dominance in the Negro Baseball League winning the championship every year but one from 1911-1922. Foster dies in the state mental hospital at Kankakee in 1930. A player, manager, and executive in the League, Foster is voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981 and is called the "Father of Black Baseball."


Oscar DePriest is elected the first black alderman in Chicago.


In May and July Illinois National Guard troops are sent to East St. Louis to quell race riots.  


The Eighth Illinois National Guard Regiment is sworn into United States service as the 370th Infantry; it reaches France in June, and serves at St. Mihiel and Argonne Forest during World War I. Lt. Col. Otis B. Duncan Springfield, becomes the highest-ranking African-American officer to serve in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF).


Chicago Race Riots (July 27-August 2) are ignited by an incident at a beach where a young black boy drowns; the riot causes, thirty-eight deaths, more than five hundred injuries, and leaves over one thousand residents homeless.  


The "Great Migration" significantly increases the African-American population in Illinois. Restrictive immigration laws which are passed in the 1920s severely diminish the availability of European immigrant laborers in Illinois factories and industries. Robert S. Abbott’s Chicago Defender and the Illinois Central Railroad play a significant role in luring blacks from the Deep South to the North, especially Chicago, to work in the Pullman railway factory, steel foundries, and slaughter houses. The 1930 census reflects an 81% increase from 1920 in Illinois’ African-American population.


182,274 African-Americans are residing in Illinois per the 1920 Federal Census.

Violette N. Anderson is the first black woman to be admitted to the Illinois Bar.  


Anthony Overton establishes the Douglass National Bank and the Chicago Bee newspaper. The Overton Hygenic Building, which houses Overton’s thriving cosmetics and health products business, becomes an "anchor" in Chicago’s Black Metropolis in 1923. The Chicago Bee provides "healthy competition" to Abbott’s Chicago Defender. The Overton Hygenic Building is placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.  


Albert B. George of Chicago is elected to the municipal court bench, the first elected black judge in Illinois.

Adelbert H. Roberts of Chicago, who serves three terms in the Illinois House of Representatives, is the first black elected to the Illinois State Senate. A commemorative statue to his General Assembly Service stands in the Capitol rotunda.

Fannie Barrier Williams (1855-1944), lecturer, civic leader, clubwoman, and journalist, becomes the first black and the first woman to serve on the Library Board of Chicago.

Vivian Gordon Harsh (1890-1960) becomes the first black librarian at the Chicago Public Library (CPL). As the first head librarian at the George Cleveland Hall branch library on Chicago’s south side, she begins the "Special Negro Collection," a small but significant collection of books on black history and literature. In 1970, CPL renamed the collection in her honor; in 1975 the Vivian G. Harsh Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, which exceeded 70,000 volumes, was moved to the newly constructed Carter G. Woodson Regional Library.


Frederick Wayman "Duke" Slater signs with the Chicago Cardinals football team (1927-1931); he plays while attending law school. Slater, born in Normal, later serves as Chicago Municipal Court Judge in 1966.


Oscar DePriest of Chicago is seated in the United States House of Representatives, becoming Illinois’ first black congressman from the North. (Negro congressmen had represented the South during the era of Reconstruction.) 


328,972 African-Americans are residing in Illinois per the 1930 Federal Census.  


Katherine Dunham and her Chicago Negro School of Ballet troupe perform at the Chicago Beaux Arts Ball. An anthropologist, choreographer, teacher, and social activist, Dunham transforms modern dance by the infusion of elements of African and Caribbean folk culture and rhythms. Dunham appears in Broadway musicals and feature films. In 1968, Dunham moves to East St. Louis and founds the Katherine Dunham Center for the Performing Arts at Southern Illinois University, which continues today. Her many visits to the Caribbean, especially to Haiti, cause her to develop a sincere love, appreciation, and understanding of that culture. In 1994, her deep convictions about the plight of the Haitian people cause her to stage a hunger strike in protest against the U. S. immigration policies toward the Haitian people.  


The Illinois General Assembly passes a law which forbids racial discrimination on state contracts for public works and buildings.  


Arthur W. Mitchell of Chicago is elected to the United States House of Representatives, the first Democratic African-American congressman in the United States.  


Chicago author Richard Wright (1908-1960) publishes Native Son; it is set in Chicago and is the first major novel about the black experience in America. Wright’s name is one of thirty-five Illinois authors named on the frieze of the Illinois State Library, Springfield.  


387,446 African-Americans are residing in Illinois per the 1940 Federal Census.  


The Illinois General Assembly passes a law which forbids racial discrimination in all defense contracts in the state.


Ellsworth Dansby of Decatur, one of the "Tuskegee Airmen," becomes the first African-American master sergeant in the first black fighter squadron—the 99th Fighter Squadron—during World War II. Dansby later serves on the Decatur Board of Education and Board of Directors of the Decatur/Macon County Opportunities Corporation; he dies in 1989.  


John H. Johnson publishes the Negro Digest, the first periodical devoted to reprinting and featuring articles of special interest and importance to the black community. The magazine paves the way for the Chicago-based Johnson Publishing Company’s successes with such magazines as Ebony and Jet.  


An order of Governor Dwight H. Green establishes the Illinois Inter-racial Commission, an advisory committee charge "to investigate every phase of a difficult problem—housing, employment, education, etc.—to prevent disturbances in our state…and to promote mutual understanding among our people."

The Chicago Mayor’s Commission on Race Relations, known after 1945 as the Commission on Human Relations becomes the first such municipal commission in the United States.  


The Chicago City Council passes an ordinance which forbids discrimination in employment in Chicago.  


Mahalia Jackson gospel singer and Chicago resident, records "Move On Up a Little Higher," which sells over eight million copies. ‘The "Queen of Gospel Music," Jackson records more than thirty gospel albums during her career, many of which feature songs of Thomas A. Dorsey, also a Chicago resident and the "Father of Gospel Music." Jackson appears at Carnegie Hall, the Newport Jazz Festival, Constitutional Hall, and Albert Hall in London. Jackson dies in 1972. "Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin sings the Dorsey favorite "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" at Jackson’s funeral.  


Percy Lavon Julian (1898-1975) is awarded the Spingarn Medal, the highest honor of the NAACP. A chemist, Julian synthesizes the drug which today is used to treat glaucoma. In addition, he perfects a method to extract sterol from soybean oil which leads to the development of cortisone, a widely accepted treatment for arthritis.



645,980 African-Americans are residing in Illinois per the 1950 Federal Census.

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917) becomes the first black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Annie Allen, a volume of poems. Upon the death of Carl Sandburg in 1968, Brooks is named Illinois Poet Laureate by Governor Otto Kerner. She is one of the thirty-five Illinois authors named on the frieze of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.

Carter G. Woodson, scholar, author, historian and "father" of "Negro History Week" which began in February, 1926, dies in Washington, D. C. Woodson receives degrees from the University of Chicago; he organized the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History; he edited and founded the Journal of Negro History (1916-1982) and the Negro History Bulletin (1937-).  


Sam Hairston signs with the Chicago White Sox and is the first American-born black on the team. Cuban-born Minnie Minoso is the first black ever to don a White Sox uniform.  


Edith Spurlock Sampson (1901-1979), Chicago, is appointed by President Harry S. Truman to serve on the United States delegation to the United Nations General Assembly; she is also the first black woman to be appointed as a judge in Illinois, the first woman to graduate from Loyola University School of Law, and the first black to hold an appointment with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Eddie Macon and Ollie Matson sign with the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Cardinals respectively and are among the first blacks in the National Football League.  


Joseph D. Bibb heads the Department of Public Safety, the first black department director in the executive branch of state government.

Ernie Banks hits his first home run for the Chicago Cubs; his is the first black player for the Cubs.  


Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till, Chicago, visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi, is murdered for speaking to a white woman. His mutilated, water-logged body is viewed by nearly 10,000 people after its return to Chicago for burial in September. The NAACP calls Till’s murder a "lynching."  


Floy Clements, Chicago, is the first black woman elected to the Illinois General Assembly.  


Chicago native Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) is the youngest playwright to win the New York Drama Critics Circle Award (1959) for A Raisin in the Sun, the first play by a black female to be presented on Broadway. An adaptation of some of her unpublished work, To Be Young, Gifted, and Black, was produced posthumously off-Broadway in 1969. Raisin, the Tony Award winning musical adaptation of Raisin in the Sun, was first produced in 1974 on Broadway.  


The 1960 Federal Census lists 1,037,470 African-Americans in Illinois.  


Corneal Davis (1902-) state representative from Chicago, helps pass legislation which forbids employment discrimination in Illinois and which establishes the Fair Employment Practices Commission. In 1943 Davis, a vigorous proponent of equal rights, and then-NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall had successfully brought suit against the Cairo Board of Education for failing to pay black teachers the same scale as their white counterparts. Davis is also the first African-American to serve as Assistant Minority Leader in the Illinois General Assembly (1971).  


Margaret Taylor Goss Burrough’s poem, "What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black?," is published. Burroughs founded the DuSable Museum of African-American History (formerly the Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art) in 1961. Appointed by Mayor Harold Washington to the Board of Chicago Park District, Burroughs has been reappointed by subsequent mayors and is eligible to serve until 1998.  


Dr. Martin Luther King is stoned by an angry mob while leading a peaceful demonstration in Chicago in August. This follows his July visit when he had addressed crowds of more than 40,000 people and launched a drive to rid the city of discrimination, especially in housing. King’s contribution to the civil rights movement of the 1960s is immortalized by a statue that stands on "Freedom Corner" (2nd and Capitol Streets) in Springfield, facing the Capitol and a statue of Abraham Lincoln.  


Winston E. Moore heads the Cook County Jail, Chicago, and is the first black to administer a major jail in the United States.  


Black Panther Party members Mark Clark and Fred Hampton are killed in a raid at the Chicago headquarters. Panther members claim that their leaders were "murdered;" police claim that the Panthers were stockpiling weapons. The incident foments support and sympathy for the Panthers and their objectives.  


1,425,674 African-Americans are residing in Illinois per the 1970 Federal Census.  


Cecil A. Partee (1921-1994) becomes the first black President Pro Tempore of the Illinois Senate.

Anna R. Langford is the first black woman elected alderman in Chicago.

James E. Williams, Sr. is the first black mayor of East St. Louis.

Chicago political and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson (b. 1941) founds Operation PUSH: People United to Save (later Serve) Humanity. Jackson later makes two unsuccessful runs for the presidency.  


Marva Collins establishes the Westside Preparatory School, an alternative educational institution for black children on Chicago’s West Side. Westside Prep features educational basics, critical thinking skills development and an inter-disciplinary approach to instruction and learning that are conductive to nurturing and enhancing each child’s intellectual potential.


Centralia native Roland W. Burris (1937-) becomes the first black elected to a statewide constitutional office as comptroller of the state. A Democrat, Burris is re-elected in 1982 by more than one million votes and leads the Democratic state ticket in the election. In 1990, Burris is elected Attorney General after serving three terms as State Comptroller. He launches an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 1994.


1,674,467 African-Americans are residing in Illinois per the 1980 Federal Census.

Joyce Tucker becomes the first black woman to serve in the Governor’s cabinet as Director of the Department of Human Rights.  


Harold Washington (1922-1987) is elected the first black mayor of Chicago.  


In Chicago, 43rd Street from South Oakenwald Avenue to State Street is re-named "Muddy Waters Drive" to honor the contributions to American music of this Chicago guitarist. The Chicago blues style which he created and popularized in the 1940s-1950s, inspires such populas artists as Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, and Janis Joplin. Waters, whose real name is McKinley Morganfield, won six Grammy Awards in the 1970s.  


Walter "Sweetness" Payton (1954-), Chicago Bears running back, retires as the National Football League’s all-time leading rusher with a career total of 16,726 yards.  


Jackie Joyner-Kersee (1962-), a native of East St. Louis, sets a world record of 7,215 points in the heptathalon at the U. S. Olympic trials. She wins two gold medals at the 1988 Olympic Games and a gold and bronze medal at the 1992 Olympic Games.

Oscar Micheaux, pioneer black film-maker is honored with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Born in Metropolis, Micheaux gains prominence as the first African-American to write, direct, produce, and distribute films. Micheaux released over thirty films from 1919-1937.  


1,869,000 African-Americans are residing in Illinois per the 1990 Federal Census.  


Michael "Air" Jordan leads the Chicago Bulls to the first of three consecutive National Basketball Association (NBA) championships. Jordan then retires from basketball and plays baseball with the Birmingham Barons, a minor league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.  


Carol Moseley-Braun (1947-) of Chicago becomes the first black woman elected to the United States Senate.


Lorraine H. Morton is elected the first black female mayor of Evanston, home of Northwestern University.  


Dana Howard of the University of Illinois receives the prestigious Butkus Award.  


Jess Jackson, Jr. is elected to the House of Representatives in the 2nd Congressional District.

Louis Farrakhan, of the Nation of Islam, leads the "Million Man March" of African-American men to Washington, D.C.  Many African-American men from Illinois attend the march.  


Michael Jordan,leads the Chicago Bulls to their fourth championship and a 72 - 10 season, the best in league history.  He also sets NBA records with his eighth scoring title and fourth Most Valuable Player designation.  


President Bill Clinton gives a formal apology for involving blacks in the Tuskegee syphilis experiment(1932 - 1972) without their knowledge.

7 African Americans awarded Medals of Honor for their efforts in World War II.


Following the Chicago Bulls sixth championship win, Michael Jordan again retires from the National Basketball Association.  


USDA settles class-action suit with black employees.


Illinois Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks dies on December 12. 


Retired General Colin Powell becomes the first black Secretary of State.

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