September 19th, 1881
Booker T. Washington Holds First Classes at Tuskegee Institute
The Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, now Tuskegee University, was authorized by Alabama House Bill 165 and founded on July 4, 1881. Under the state's system of rigid segregation, the school was intended to be a state-funded educational institution for black students. The Alabama legislature appropriated $2000 for teacher salaries and established a board of commissioners to begin organizing the institution. As headmaster, the board chose Booker T. Washington, a 25-year-old African American graduate of the Hampton Normal Agricultural Institute.
When classes began on September 19, 1881, Washington was the only teacher and instructed the inaugural class of 30 students out of a one-room shanty near the Butler Chapel AME Zion Church. Born into slavery in Virginia, Washington was a strong promoter of education, economic advancement, and personal responsibility among African Americans. He stressed the virtues of patience, enterprise, and thrift, and believed aggressive protests for equal rights were counter-productive. Much of Washington’s philosophy was reflected in the early Tuskegee curriculum, which emphasized skilled trades and religious study.
Washington served as the head of Tuskegee Institute until his death in 1915. Under his leadership, the school’s enrollment swelled to more than 1500 students and accumulated an endowment of nearly $2 million. Washington successfully advocated for legislation to make Tuskegee independent of the State of Alabama and oversaw the construction of many campus buildings. Today, Tuskegee University continues to thrive as an historically black institution, now open to students of all backgrounds and boasting a student body of more than 3000. With property stretching across more than 5000 acres, Tuskegee University is the only college or university campus in the nation designated a National Historic Site.
January 22nd, 1883
Supreme Court Strikes Down Law Criminalizing Terrorism by KKK
In 1876, Crockett County, Tennessee, Sheriff R. G. Harris and nineteen armed men removed four African Americans, Robert Smith, William Overton, George Wells, Jr., and P.M. Wells, from the local jail and beat them, killing one.
Federal prosecutors brought criminal charges against Sheriff Harris and his accomplices under the Force Act of 1871, commonly known as the Ku Klux Klan Act or the Civil Rights Act of 1871. Introduced by progressive Republicans to extend the protection of federal law to African Americans in states that refused to protect them from racial terror and violence, the act made it a federal crime for individuals to conspire for the purpose of depriving others of their right to the equal protection of the law.
On January 22, 1883, the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Harris dismissed the indictments against the sheriff and his accomplices and declared that the Force Act was unconstitutional because the Fourteenth Amendment limited Congress to taking remedial steps against state action that violated the Fourteenth Amendment and applied only to acts by states, not to acts of individuals.
Harris dealt a devastating blow to congressional efforts to combat the widespread violence and terrorism targeting black Southerners during Reconstruction and left African Americans unprotected against lynching.
January 29th, 1883
Supreme Court Upholds Anti-Miscegenation Laws
In November 1881, a jury in Clarke County, Alabama, convicted Tony Pace, a black man, and Mary Cox, a white woman, under section 4189 of the Alabama Code, which criminalized "fornication" and "adultery" between persons of different races and outlawed interracial marriage. Pace and Cox were sentenced to two years in prison.
On January 29, 1883, in Pace v. Alabama, the United States Supreme Court unanimously upheld their convictions, reasoning that the anti-miscegenation statute was not discriminatory and did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because the penalty applied equally to each member of the interracial couple.
Pace failed to overturn the reasoning of the Alabama Supreme Court, which had held that fornication between persons of different races was exceptionally "evil" because it could result in the "amalgamation of the two races, producing a mongrel population and a degraded civilization, the prevention of which is dictated by a sound public policy affecting the highest interests of society and government."
State courts in the South relied on Pace to uphold anti-miscegenation laws until 1967, when the United States Supreme Court overturned it in Loving v. Virginia and invalidated anti-miscegenation statutes in the sixteen states that still enforced them.
October 15th, 1883
United States Supreme Court Strikes Down Civil Rights Act of 1875
In 1875, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which forbade racial discrimination in access to public accommodations and facilities. Over the ensuing years, a number of African Americans sued businesses that denied them access to segregated facilities. In 1883, the Supreme Court heard five of those cases, and, on October 15, 1883, struck down the Civil Rights Act of 1875 in an 8-1 decision known as the Civil Rights Cases.
In the Civil Rights Cases, the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment, which was cited as the constitutional authorization for the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and mandates “equal protection of the laws,” does not apply to private entities. According to the Court, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applied only to actions taken by state governments or laws passed by state governments, and did not give Congress the power to regulate the actions of private entities. Writing for the majority less than twenty years after ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, Justice Joseph Bradley questioned the necessity and appropriateness of laws aimed at protecting black people from discrimination:
"When a man has emerged from slavery, and, by the aid of beneficent legislation, has shaken off the inseparable concomitants of that state, there must be some stage in the progress of his elevation when he takes the rank of a mere citizen and ceases to be the special favorite of the laws, and when his rights as a citizen or a man are to be protected in the ordinary modes by which other men's rights are protected."
The Supreme Court’s decision in the Civil Rights Cases eliminated the only federal law that prohibited racial discrimination by individuals or private businesses, and left African Americans who were victims of private discrimination to seek legal recourse in unsympathetic state courts. Racial discrimination in housing, restaurants, hotels, theaters, and employment, became increasingly entrenched and persisted for generations. It would take more than eighty years for the federal government to outlaw discrimination with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
September 1st, 1884
Chinese American Child Denied Admission to Public School in San Francisco
During the week of September 1, 1884, Joseph and Mary Tape, immigrants from China who had lived in the United States for over a decade, attempted to enroll their eight-year-old, American-born daughter, Mamie Tape, in San Francisco’s Spring Valley School. Principal Jennie Hurley denied the Tapes’ request on the basis of their race, and State Education Superintendent William Welcher supported that decision. Welcher justified the denial in part by noting that even the California Constitution described Chinese-Americans as “dangerous to the well-being of the state.”
In response to the school’s refusal to admit their daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Tape sued. On January 9, 1885, a California Superior Court judge ruled in the Tapes’ favor, holding that denial of admission would be a violation of California state law and the United States Constitution. The state appealed the ruling to the California Supreme Court, which affirmed the lower court’s ruling and held that Chinese students had a right to public education; the decision did not, however, prohibit the creation of segregated schools.
In response, the California legislature passed a bill requiring public school districts to create separate schools for Chinese-American students and to prohibit Chinese-American students from attending schools attended by white children. When Mamie arrived for school after the California Supreme Court's decision, she was denied entry because her vaccinations were not up to date. By the time the Tape family was able to comply with the vaccination requirements, a new school had been opened for Chinese-American students and Mamie was forced to enroll there.
The Mamie Tape case occurred in the midst of extensive discriminatory treatment of Chinese-American children in California's public schools. Until 1880, Asian-American students were forbidden from attending public schools altogether. The law excluding Chinese-American students from public schools attended by whites, which was passed in the wake of the Mamie Tape case, was enforced until the late 1920s.
September 2nd, 1885
White Miners Riot Against Chinese Laborers in Rock Springs, Wyoming
In 1885, the Union Pacific Railroad employed 500 coal miners in Rock Springs, Wyoming, two-thirds of whom were Chinese. White miners, angry that the railroad was hiring Chinese miners to take their jobs, decided to drive the Chinese out of Rock Springs.
On September 2, 1885, a dispute broke out between white and Chinese miners when both groups wanted to work in the same part of the mine. Later that day, 100 whites gathered with guns, hatchets, and knives and marched toward “Chinatown,” where the Chinese lived, to brutally attack and riot against them. The Chinese workers attempted to flee but the white miners fired at them while they ran.
Twenty-eight Chinese people were killed in the massacre and another fifteen were badly wounded. The white miners looted and burned all seventy-nine houses belonging to the Chinese, leaving "Chinatown" demolished. In the days following the riot, federal troops were brought in to establish order. They set up camp between the white area of town and "Chinatown," to prevent more violence, and remained there for the next thirteen years. Although fourteen miners were arrested in connection with the riot and murders, no one was ever convicted of a crime.
Today, there is little evidence of the massacre. There is no burial ground for the victims because at the time “Orientals” were banned from white cemeteries; instead, the victims were cremated and their ashes returned to China. Congress eventually authorized an indemnity to China in the amount of $147,748, but the United States government never assumed legal responsibility for the massacre.
On the 100th anniversary of the massacre, historians from Western Wyoming College placed a plaque in Rock Springs City Park, which reads: “This riot was precipitated by a decade-long deliberate company policy of importing Chinese miners to lower wages, break strikes and neutralize efforts to organize labor unions. Abetting the violence and cruelty was a virulent nationwide racism that viewed the Chinese as willing slave laborers and morally degenerate.”
February 25th, 1886
Anti-Chinese Convention Held in Boise, Idaho
During the second half of the nineteenth century, an increase in mining activity and railroad construction led to a massive influx of Chinese immigrants into Washington Territory, which later became the State of Idaho. By 1870, Idaho was home to more than four thousand Chinese residents, and they comprised nearly 30 percent of the population. “Chinatowns” existed in many Idaho cities, and the new immigrants formed thriving communities.
Chinese immigrants in Idaho faced severe hostility, which manifested in discriminatory statutes, disparate treatment in courts, and even violence. In 1866, the Idaho Territorial Legislature levied a tax of five dollars per month on all Chinese residents. Chinese residents were not permitted to testify against whites in court, and acts of violence committed against the Chinese were rarely investigated or punished. Idaho public sentiment against the Chinese culminated in an anti-Chinese convention held in Boise on February 25, 1886. At the convention, white residents of Idaho voted to expel Chinese citizens.
In the decades following, white Idaho residents undertook a campaign of violent removal of Idaho’s Chinese population. Mobs frequently destroyed Chinese homes and businesses, and in 1887, a white mob murdered thirty-one Chinese miners in the Hell’s Canyon Massacre.
During the 1890s and 1900s, a number of towns including Bonners Ferry, Clark Fork, Hoodoo, Moscow, and Twin Falls forcibly expelled their Chinese residents. By 1910, Idaho’s once-thriving Chinese population had nearly disappeared.
July 10th, 1887
Hinds County Grand Jury Reports Horrible Prison Conditions in Mississippi
On July 10, 1887, the grand jury of Hinds County, Mississippi, released a report revealing the horrific conditions faced by state prisoners under the convict leasing system, which permitted private companies to lease prisoners from the state for use as laborers.
The grand jury observed that many prisoners who had been leased were emaciated due to inadequate food provided by leasing companies. Most exhibited scars and blisters that were an indication of severe beatings. Many suffered from tuberculosis and some bore signs of frostbite. Of 204 prisoners leased in January 1887, twenty had died by June of the same year. Twenty-three additional leased prisoners were returned to the state penitentiary due to illness or disability, where they found no relief:
"We found twenty-six inmates of the hospital, of whom several have been lately brought there off the farms and railroads. Many of them are afflicted with consumption and other incurable diseases, and all bear on their persons marks of the most inhuman and brutal treatment. ... They are lying there dying, some of them on bare boards, so poor and emaciated that their bones almost come through the skin; many complaining for the want of food. ... One poor fellow burst out crying and said he was literally starving to death. We actually saw live vermin crawling over their faces, and the little bedding and clothing they have is in tatters and stuff with filth."
The grand jury’s report concluded, “God will never smile on a State that treats its convicts as Mississippi does.”
Similar convict leasing systems operated for decades in Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Most of the prisoners subjected to convict leasing were black and many were convicted of dubious offenses such as vagrancy or changing employers without permission. Because the Thirteenth Amendment permitted involuntary servitude as "punishment for crime," convict leasing was a legalized form of slavery that continued into the 1940s, forcing hundreds of thousands of African Americans to work under atrocious conditions at hundreds of sites throughout the South. For many of those leased, the sentence proved deadly.
September 14th, 1887
Elderly Leased Prisoner in Georgia Writes Letter to Former Owner Seeking Help; Dies 17 Months Later
In the years following Reconstruction, Georgia leased its prisoners to three different private companies for $500,000 for a term of twenty years. Between 1870 and 1910, the convict population in Georgia grew ten times faster than that of the entire state – and discriminatory laws fueled the bulk of that growth. An 1882 investigation revealed that “coloreds” served sentences “twice as long as whites for burglary and five times as long for larceny,” the two most common crimes.
One of the largest beneficiaries of the leasing system was Joseph E. Brown, who was chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court and had previously served as Georgia’s governor. Brown leased 300 Georgia prisoners to work at his Dade Coal Mines, netting him profits of $100,000 per year. In return, the Georgia treasury received approximately seven cents per prisoner per day. By 1880, Brown’s convict leasing scheme had made him a millionaire, and one newspaper declared that he had “turned a coal mine into a gold mine.”
In 1882, almost 50 percent of Georgia’s prisoners were serving a sentence of ten years or more, though, according to reformer George Washington Cable, “ten years is the utmost length of time that a convict can be expected to remain alive in the Georgia prisons system.”
On September 14, 1887, one such prisoner, former slave Lancaster LeConte, wrote to his former owner, Joseph LeConte, begging for $65 to help get his three-year sentence for “receiving stolen goods” overturned. Prisoners leased to Dade Coal Mines regularly worked from dawn to dusk in ankle-deep water. A 74-year-old man, the conditions at Dade had rendered Lancaster LeConte nearly immobile and he feared he wouldn’t survive his sentence.
“I am hear in prison for the term of three years for rescving som stolen goods,” Lacaster wrote, “and my helth is so bad that I donnt think I will to suav them out, so I thought I had done anougf for you in slavery time to ask you to please asist me now in my trubles.”
Lancaster LeConte’s letter went unanswered. He died in custody seventeen months later, according to a brief entry in the prison log: “Lancaster LeConte; Receiving Stolen Goods; Colored; 75; Arrived June 3, 1887; Died Feburary 13, 1889.”
November 8th, 1889
Leesburg, Virginia: Young Black Man Lynched for Frightening White Girl
On November 8, 1889, 18-year-old Orion “Owen” Anderson was taken from jail in Leesburg, Virginia, and lynched by an angry mob. Anderson, a young black man, was jailed under accusation of attempted assault and rape. He was alleged to have worn a sack on his head and frightened a white girl, Mary Leith, who was the daughter of a Loudon County community leader, on her walk to school. There were no witnesses to the incident and the girl could not identify the assailant. Anderson was charged with the “crime” because a sack was found near him, and he allegedly confessed after his arrest.
After midnight, a group of 40 men on horseback, almost all of whom were wearing masks and rags on their faces, rode into town. After taking the night watchman prisoner, three of the men gained entry to the jail by pretending that they had a prisoner who needed to be admitted. Once inside, they took Owen Anderson from his cell, carried him to the freight depot of the Richmond & Danville Railroad, hung him, and shot his body full of bullets. The members of the mob were seen riding through town on horseback afterward, but no one tried to apprehend them or claimed to recognize them. Owen Anderson was buried in the town’s pauper’s cemetery.
Leesburg’s newspaper, the Mirror, reported the assault and lynching on November 14, calling it “a terrible warning,” and stating that, “The fate of the self-confessed author of the outrage should serve as a terrible admonition to the violators of the law for the protection of female virtue.” Of the lynch mob, the Mirror reported that, “A band of resolute men, determined that however much their action might be deplored by those preferring that the law should take its course, they would themselves become the avengers.”